Celtics show they’re class of East in season-opening win vs. 76ers

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Opening night in the NBA arrived on Tuesday, with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers perhaps previewing a future Eastern Conference playoffs matchup.

It did not disappoint.

Play started out relatively even, although the contrasting styles of each team was immediately apparent. The Sixers, a bit rattled by Boston’s defense, struggled from 3-point range. Philly made up for that inequity by quickening their pace, attacking the rim and grabbing 12 points in transition in the first half alone.

What the 76ers were unable to counter was just how well Boston game-planned for their non-shooters. Markelle Fultz was not fully confident in his jumper. Ben Simmons shied away from any open opportunities, and didn’t make a basket farther than nine feet. It’s certainly not a death knell for the Sixers, but it will once again be something to watch this year.

For their part, Philadelphia’s defense did what it was designed to do against the Celtics in the first half. Boston grabbed 16 points from mid-range, and while they shot a healthy percentage, that was certainly not where coach Brad Stevens wanted his offense to operate.

As the third quarter opened, it was the Celtics who began to pull away thanks to help from its bench. Marcus Morris dropped 16 points, much of it in the third and fourth quarters. Terry Rozier added 11 points, along with eight rebounds and an assist.

Boston opened the half with a 30-point third quarter, followed by allowing the 76ers just 21 points in the fourth. The best defense in the league from a year ago, the Celtics put the clamps on a Sixers offense that just didn’t seem to have enough counterpunches ready for Stevens’ plan.

Simmons finished with an impressive stat line of 23 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks. For Boston, Jayson Tatum led the way with 23 points, nine rebounds, and three assists.

The Celtics took home the very first win of the season, 105-87, over Philadelphia.

Meanwhile for Boston, the stories that most have been waiting to read are those of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, both returning from injury. The two are Boston’s biggest stars, and have been stuck in the training room as the team around them rallied to become a playoff favorite.

To that end, neither performed particularly well on Tuesday.

Irving and Hayward shot a combined a 6-of-26 from the floor, adding single-digit rebounds. Hayward didn’t record an assist, and the Celtics were instead led by Tatum, Al Horford, and Marcus Morris.

Even with the middling performance of their most prominent stars, the Celtics showed us two things on Tuesday night. First, Boston’s defense is still for real. The team with the best defensive rating last season held the Sixers to just 19 percent shooting from 3-point line, and Stevens’ defensive strategy against the likes of Simmons, Fultz, and Embiid was impressive. Simmons and Embiid personally thrived in the box score, but their teammates weren’t able to benefit off of them thanks to Boston’s rotational prowess.

And while it’s just one game into this young season, the Celtics also showed that there is a clear delineation between them and Philadelphia at this juncture. Many believe the Celtics to be a Finals-ready team, and that the Sixers have more growing to do. Philadelphia clearly has some significant roster weaknesses — particularly around shooting — but the sheer depth in Boston is what separates them from their competition.

We will have to watch what happens with Irving and Hayward, and whether they can get stronger as time goes on. Hayward mentioned that he still feels a little odd jumping off of the leg he injured during the first game of last year. But if he both he and Irving come on as the regular season months roll along, they will certainly be additive to what is the best roster in the East.

Lakers, Hawks wear “Enough” jerseys to support shooting victims, Adam Silver backs them

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LOS ANGELES — Saturday afternoon at Staples Center, 60 miles from the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks that left a dozen innocent victims dead at a country and western bar, the Clippers and Bucks took to the court wearing black shirts that said “Enough” on the front and had the name of the victims on the back.

Sunday night in Los Angeles, the Lakers and Hawks wore the same thing. Support for the victims was on everyone’s mind.

“Probably the same that went through everybody’s mind: ‘Not again.’ Or, ‘Wow. What the hell?'” LeBron James said when asked his first thoughts upon hearing of this latest shooting. “Probably some more explicit terms that I won’t say right here. It’s just how do we clean up this….

“It all comes back to this gun situation that we have in America and gun violence. I don’t want to go into that right now, but I can do it at a later point. We know that these people are just being able to go and buy guns and do things with them, and innocent lives are being taken at young ages. Young ages.”

Unlike other professional sports leagues, the NBA has encouraged its players to speak out and make social statements. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was at the Laker game Sunday night and backed those thoughts speaking to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“As I’ve always said, our players aren’t just ballplayers, they’re citizens,” Silver told ESPN… “They have strong feelings about what’s happening in society and they react to them. I think this was something that was a groundswell within the league. It came from the players and it spread by word of mouth from one team to another.

“It obviously began here in California and other teams around the league supported them,” Silver continued. “Again, I support our players’ desire to speak out on issues that are important to them and important to society.”

While the latest mass shooting took place in Southern California, the large number of them is uniquely American and not confined to one region. NBA players, like most Americans, want to find ways to change this tide.

“It’s a national thing, it’s a tough time right now with the mass shootings,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said pregame. “Specifically being [in Los Angeles] with the most recent being in Thousand Oaks. It’s unfortunate, it’s sad…

“I think [the shirt] is just trying to solidify that there’s a presence around the NBA that’s thoughtful about the people that have lost their lives, and the people who were present there, and just the community that is here in Southern California. I think it’s a great statement, I know the Clippers and Milwaukee kind of started it out yesterday and everybody’s doing it, but I think it’s more of a statement to say our condolences, and that we’re with the people that have been affected by this.”

If you like the shirts the Clippers wore, they are now for sale, with the proceeds going to the families of the victims.

LeBron James: “I suck from the free throw line right now”

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LOS ANGELES — With the Lakers down one at home and just :21 seconds left in the game, LeBron James drove the lane and was fouled by rookie Omari Spellman. LeBron walked up calmly to the free throw line…

And the first shot clanked off the rim and bounced out.

Then LeBron missed the second free throw, too.

The Lakers escaped with the win thanks to Kyle Kuzma keeping the ball alive with offensive rebounds, eventually allowing LeBron to make up for his misses with a putback dunk that proved to be the game winner (aided by a Tyson Chandler dunk).

But LeBron missing clutch late free throws is a thing this season.

LeBron is owning it.

“I’m garbage,” LeBron said sitting in front of his locker postgame. “I suck from the free throw line right now. I’ll get my rhythm back but I thank Kuz [Kuzma] for giving us another opportunity. He gave me another shot so I tried to get him another shot.”

LeBron has had free throw and shooting slumps before, and he will snap out of it. The Lakers have won three in a row in spite of that, but against teams they should beat right now (stumbling Minnesota, Sacramento, and Atlanta). Things get tougher Wednesday against Portland and heading out on the road after. The Lakers margins are slim right now and if LeBron doesn’t shake out of this slump at some point it will come back to bite them. Of course, he knows that better than anyone.

Watch Jimmer Fredette’s 75-point game in China

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BEIJING (AP) — Former BYU star Jimmer Fredette scored 75 points in a Chinese Basketball Association game Sunday, the last 40 in the fourth quarter of the Shanghai Sharks’ 137-136 loss to the Beikong Fly Dragons.

Fredette gave Shangai a two-point lead on a layup with 7.2 seconds left, but Pierre Jackson countered with the winning 3-pointer for Beikong. Jackson had 63 points.

Fredette was 24 of 34 from the field, going 7 of 10 from 3-point range, made 20 for 21 free throws and had eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals in 43 minutes. He set a league record with the 40-point fourth quarter.

Fredette is in his third season in China. His previous career high of 73 came in a double-overtime game in his first year with the Sharks. He played for Sacramento, Chicago, New Orleans and New York in the NBA.

Report: Pelicans rebuffed Wolves on Jrue Holiday in Jimmy Butler trade talks

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The Minnesota Timberwolves finally found a trade partner for Jimmy Butler in the Philadelphia 76ers. The league is expected to finalize the deal early this week and get Butler on his way back to the Eastern Conference.

Before everything went down with Philadelphia, the question on the lips of just about everyone in the NBA was why something hadn’t happened sooner regarding Butler. Between the Houston Rockets and the Miami Heat, there appeared to be suitors abound.

Rumored offers notwithstanding, one team that reportedly tried to get into the mix was the New Orleans Pelicans.

According to a report from ESPN, the Pelicans tried to get Butler in conversations with the Wolves, but rebuffed when Minnesota asked for Jrue Holiday back in return.

Via ESPN:

Minnesota desperately tried to cobble together trade offers in the past week, including extensive discussions with New Orleans, league sources said. The Pelicans are limited on tradeable assets, but desperate to find star power to keep Anthony Davis for the long run. The Pelicans wouldn’t include point guard Jrue Holiday in its offer, nor multiple draft picks, league sources said.

Robert Covington and Dario Saric were the eventual package that the Timberwolves got in exchange for Butler, which is completely reasonable and helps Minnesota be less top-heavy with their rotations moving forward.

Asking for Holiday and multiple picks seems like a bit of a stretch, but it’s not surprising given the rumored negotiating tactics by the Timberwolves front office over the course of this entire saga.

Good for New Orleans for not budging on Holiday, even as the rumor of Anthony Davis potentially exiting their franchise via a trade demand seems to be ramping up lately.

I don’t know how Butler will fit with the Sixers, but I’m glad this story appears to have reached its final chapter.