Celtics aim to frustrate Giannis Antetokounmpo again in Game 2

Getty Images
2 Comments

ASSOCIATED PRESS — Each time Giannis Antetokounmpo touched the ball, he was swarmed by various Boston Celtics’ defenders. Whether it was Jayson Tatum or Al Horford, Antetokounmpo experienced a difficult time in Game 1 and so did the rest of the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.

Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is optimistic his star will bounce back and he will find out if Antetokounmpo recovers from a rough series opener Tuesday night when the Bucks host the Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“As great as he’s been, he hasn’t been perfect every night,” Budenholzer said. “He’s hard on himself, so there will probably be some point where I put my arms around him and tell him, ‘You’re going to be great.'”

The series will shift to Boston for Game 3 on Friday night and Milwaukee hopes to avoid joining the 2018 Toronto Raptors as the only top seed to fall behind 2-0 in this round under the current 16-team format that began in 1984.

On Sunday, the Celtics opened the series by cruising to a 112-90 victory, mostly because of how they defended Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo scored 22 points but shot 7 of 21 and did not hit his first basket until the second quarter and Milwaukee was dominated in the second half after trailing by two at halftime.

“Whenever I got in the paint and I (spun) or tried to change direction, a second guy was right there,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’ve just got to go watch tape. If they’re going to play like this the whole series, I’ve got to be able to make the right pass and trust my teammates to knock down shots.”

Milwaukee shot 34.8 percent and had 11 shots blocked. Antetokounmpo shot 4 of 15 in the paint and was 2 of 10 when guarded by Horford or Aron Baynes.

It was Milwaukee’s lowest shooting percentage in a postseason game since Game 6 of the 2015 first round against the Chicago Bulls.

“Well, they hit us in the mouth,” Milwaukee point guard George Hill said. “That was pretty surprising. But it’s the playoffs and you have to learn how to hit and get back up.”

Besides counting on Antetokounmpo recovering from one of his worst games of the year, the Bucks are hoping others can help them recover from the third-worst loss by a No. 1 seed in a series opener under the league’s current format.

Khris Middleton was held to 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting while Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez finished with a combined nine points on a combined 2 of 10 from the floor.

Boston is unbeaten in the postseason and is attempting to start a postseason with six straight wins for the first time since 1985-86. The Celtics are allowing 91.4 points per game in their first five playoff games and getting enough offense by scoring 101.8 points per game.

Besides the stifling defense, the Celtics also shot 54 percent. It was their highest field goal percentage in a conference semifinal game since Game 5 in 2010 at Cleveland.

“I think we definitely played like a team tonight,” Boston forward Gordon Hayward said. “I’ve talked about it all year, but we have so many different guys that can step up and make plays and make shots. Seemed like guys tonight made timely buckets all over the place. We’re trying to draw together and come together here and accomplish one goal. This is a good start to that.”

Kyrie Irving opened the series with 26 points and 11 assists while Horford added 20 and 11, respectively. Afterward, it was Horford’s defense on Antetokounmpo that had the Celtics buzzing.

Horford was on the floor at the same time as Antetokounmpo for 22 minutes. During those minutes, Antetokounmpo made 2 of 11 shots, had two shots blocked by Horford as the Bucks posted a 63.3 offensive rating in those minutes.

“Our focus was to make sure that we just made it tough on him every time, just making sure he earned everything he got,” Horford said. “I felt like we did a pretty good job of that.”

If the Celtics can defend as effectively as they did in Game 1, they will get a 2-0 lead in this round for the third straight season.

 

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

0 Comments

In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.

Billy Donovan to choose Bulls’ starting PG during training camp

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Chicago Bulls v Minnesota Timberwolves
Getty Images
0 Comments

Speaking at Chicago’s media day, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said he will choose his starting point guard over the course of training camp. Lonzo Ball was expected to reprise his role as the starter, but he recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his troublesome knee and raised some eyebrows at media day when he said he couldn’t run or jump. Simply put, there is no guarantee we even see him at all this season.

Donovan is fortunate that he has a plethora of options though, as Goran Dragic, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White will all battle it out. “We’ll have to see how these guys gel and mesh once training camp starts and we start practicing,” Donovan said. “But I think we have enough back there that we can get the job done from that standpoint.”

Dragic is the most “seasoned option” to use Donovan’s own words and would be the safe pick, but at 36 years old, he doesn’t exactly raise Chicago’s ceiling. Plus, Donovan already hinted at managing his minutes throughout the season.

Alex Caruso is Chicago’s best defender and is going to play a massive role whether he starts or comes off the bench, although the latter seems more likely since he’s not a natural point guard.

Coby White showed improvement as a shooter last season, hitting 38% of his triples. However, it’s no secret that his name has been in the rumor mill and the Bulls hardly mentioned him at media day.

With that said, I think Ayo is the dark horse to start after showing some serious promise during his rookie season. In 40 starts, Ayo put up 10.9 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.1 triples and 1.1 steals and was one of the best perimeter defenders on the team. Zach LaVine went out of his way to hype up Dosunmu at media day as well, so you have to love his chances of running away with the job.

Anthony Davis says his goal is to play in all 82 games

0 Comments

Anthony Davis played 40 games last season, and 36 the season before that. Charles Barkley has nicknamed him “street clothes.”

In a critical season for him and the Lakers, the biggest question with Anthony Davis is not his skill set and if he can be elite, but how much can the Lakers trust him to be on the court? Davis said on media day his goal is to play all 82 games (speaking to Spectrum Sportsnet, the Lakers station in Los Angeles).

A full 82 may be optimistic, but Davis saw last season as a fluke.

“Last season, I had two injuries that you can’t really control. I mean, a guy fell into my knee, landed on the foot,” Davis said earlier at media day. “And the good thing for me is that the doctors after they looked at us, they could have been, like 10 times worse.”

Davis talked about his workout regimen, getting his body both rested and stronger for this long season, knowing more will be asked of him. New coach Darvin Ham wants to run more of the offense through Davis, but all the Lakers’ plans are moot if Davis and LeBron James are not healthy and on the court for at least 65 games this season.

“The focus of my game is being available…” LeBron said Monday. “Availability is the most important thing in his league and to be able to be available on the floor.”

Ham has to walk a line of pushing this team to defend better, show a toughness it lacked last season, and make the playoffs in a deep West while keeping his stars’ minutes under control. In a league all about recovery, the Lakers need to prioritize that, too.

“Just being efficient with how we practice, how we manage shootarounds, how we manage their minutes,” Ham said Monday. “I don’t need ‘Bron or Ad playing playoff minutes in October, November, December.”

It’s the first days of training camp, everyone is feeling good, everyone is rested, and everyone is optimistic. The real tests for the Lakers and Davis start in a few weeks — and just how much will the Lakers’ stars play.

Report: Celtics reach out to former assistant Larranaga about joining Mazzulla’s staff

0 Comments

The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for a veteran assistant to put on the bench next to 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the man thrust into the head coach’s chair for a title contender in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension.

Who better than a guy who spent nine years on the Celtics’ bench? Boston reached out to Jay Larranaga, currently on the Clippers bench, about returning to the East Coast, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Clippers had no turnover on Tyronn Lue’s staff heading into this season. Mazzulla has become a trusted member of the Clippers staff, working a lot with the big me on the roster. However, if the Celtics back up the Brink’s Truck, the Clippers will not stand in his way if he wants to leave. It’s a question of comfort level, lifestyle, and of course money for Larranaga.

The Celtics made Mazzulla their interim head coach after an investigation found a “volume of violations” of team policy by Udoka, who had an improper relationship with a team staff member. So far the Celtics and Udoka have been able to keep the details of what happened under wraps, but league sources described the situation to NBC Sports as “ugly” and “messy,” especially if/when those details do find their way to the public.

For Celtics players, just getting back on the court, practicing Tuesday and focusing on basketball — not the turmoil around the franchise — was a good thing.

“Once we got out on the court, it was just nice to get back out the court and review our defense and to talk about offense and doing what we do,” Al Horford told the Associated Press. “It’s a good thing to just play basketball. That’s what we’re here for. It’s important to just start this thing back up again.”

Getting another coach on the bench will be important for the Celtics as well.