Three takeaways from Boston’s Game 1 beatdown of Toronto


If any franchise knows taking your opponent to the woodshed in Game 1 doesn’t matter the rest of the series, it’s the Boston Celtics.

It still feels good for the guys in Green. Boston thumped the Toronto Raptors in Game 1, winning 112-94 and cruising through much of the second half (they were up 17 at the break).

Toronto is now 0-2 against Boston in the bubble, having not led for a second in either game. The Raptors are 11-0 against everyone else.

Game 2 of the series is Tuesday. Here are the three big takeaways from Game 1.

1) Boston took away Toronto’s transition game, Raptors struggled in the halfcourt.

In the regular season, 18.4% of Toronto’s possessions started in transition (second highest in the league), and they had a 125.3 offensive rating on those plays. Put in counting stats terms, Toronto averaged 18.8 fast break points a game, most in the league.

Boston shut that down — Toronto had seven fast break points — and Toronto struggled to score in the halfcourt.

Just look at the Raptors shot chart.

After the game, Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said he thought the Raptors had more than seven fast break points and questioned the quality of the Celtics’ transition defense. That’s coach-speak — he knows how critical transition defense is for his team in this series, so he sent them a message through the media.

Boston will be able to limit Toronto in transition all series (playoff games tend to slow down), which is why the Raptors need to score more in the halfcourt.

2) About the Raptors halfcourt offense…

It wasn’t pretty. Don’t take my word for it, look at Nick Nurse.


Toronto’s three primary shot creators — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam — combined to shoot 13-of-44 (29.6%) and they were 3-of-19 from three (15.8%). The trio did combine for 18 assists, but they were not successful generating offense. Toronto had a 90.4 offensive rating.

Boston switched everything pick at the top of the key — the Celtics have the depth of personnel to do that with Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown/Marcus Smart— and Toronto could not find the mismatch. Boston chased the Raptors shooters off the arc and VanVleet, in particular, struggled to find space to operate in the middle of the court. The kick-outs to the corners were not there.

The alleged mismatches are against Boston’s undersized frontcourt, but Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are not the kinds of players who punish the other team for going small (Marc Gasol had 7 points, Ibaka 15 off the bench). Toronto had 38 points in the paint for the game, that’s not punishing anyone.

To be fair, the Raptors’ shooters just missed shots they usually hit. VanVleet is too good to go 2-of-11 again. Also, they were out of sync on offense and can create better looks, something that likely returns next game.

“We didn’t do as well as we wanted, but that’s why it’s a seven-game series,” Siakam said after the game.

He’s right. Siakam usually can do damage posting guys up, but the length and athleticism of guys like Smart make that harder. Still, Siakam missed bunnies he usually hits.

The halfcourt struggles, however, are not new.

Toronto’s offense all season long looked fantastic against the weaker teams in the league (top five), but against the league’s best teams the Raptors’ offense was average. Good teams — and Boston is that — knew how to defend them and the Raptors offense was pedestrian when it couldn’t feast on transition buckets. I could say, “this is where they miss Kawhi Leonard,” but that horse is dead, no reason to beat it.

Toronto has to find a way to score more efficiently in the halfcourt or this series will be short.

3) Boston’s offense was good enough, but Brad Stevens wasn’t happy.

Stevens was unhappy with the Celtics offense postgame, and while it was balanced it the Cs generated only a 105.7 offensive rating. Not great, although the Raptors had the best defense in the bubble coming into this game, and second-best in the regular season. They are not easy to score upon.

Tatum and Smart each had 21 points, and Smart found his shot going 5-of-9 from three. Boston was getting to the rim at will early, and that meant the Time Lord Robert Williams was getting buckets (he had 10 points on the night).

Boston was balanced, Tatum had 17 and Kemba Walker had 18, including the shot of the game.

Expect Boston to be more efficient on the offensive end next game.

Although if they keep defending this well it may not matter.



Report: ‘Strong optimism’ Anthony Edwards could return to Timberwolves Sunday

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves
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What looked so bad when it happened may only cost Anthony Edwards three games.

Edwards rolled his ankle last week but could be back Sunday when the Timberwolves travel to Golden State, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.

Edwards is averaging 24.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game this season, and he has stepped up to become the team’s primary shot-creator with Karl-Anthony Towns out for much of the season. The Timberwolves have been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when Edwards is off the court this season.

Towns returned to action a couple of games ago, and with Edwards on Sunday it will be the first time since November the Timberwolves will have their entire core on the court — now with Mike Conley at the point. With the Timberwolves tied for the No.7 seed in an incredibly tight West (they are 1.5 games out of sixth but also one game out of missing the postseason entirely) it couldn’t come at a better time. It’s also not much time to develop of fit and chemistry the team will need in the play-in, and maybe the playoffs.

Nets announce Ben Simmons diagnosed with nerve impingement in back, out indefinitely

NBA: FEB 24 Nets at Bulls
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Ben Simmons — who has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup all season and often struggled when on the court — is out indefinitely due to a nerve impingement in his back, the team announced Friday.

A nerve impingement — sometimes called a pinched nerve — is when a bone or other tissue compresses a nerve. Simmons has a history of back issues going back to his time in Philadelphia, and he had a microdiscectomy about a year ago, after he was traded to Brooklyn.

With two weeks and nine games left in the season, logic would suggest Simmons is done for the season. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Simmons has done some individual workouts but nothing with teammates, however, he would not say Simmons is shut down for the season or would not participate in the postseason with Brooklyn.

Simmons had not played since the All-Star break when he got PRP injections to help deal with ongoing knee soreness. When he has played this season offense has been a struggle, he has been hesitant to shoot outside a few feet from the basket and is averaging 6.9 points a game. Vaughn used him mainly as a backup center.

Simmons has two fully guaranteed years and $78 million remaining on his contract after this season. While Nets fans may want Simmons traded, his injury history and that contract will make it very difficult to do so this summer (Brooklyn would have to add so many sweeteners it wouldn’t be worth it).

The Nets have slid to the No.7 seed in the West — part of the play-in — and have a critical game with the Heat on Saturday night.

Frustration rising within Mavericks, ‘We got to fight hard, play harder’


If the postseason started today, the Dallas Mavericks would miss out — not just the playoffs but also the play-in.

The Mavericks fell to the No.11 seed in the West (tied with the Thunder for 10th) after an ugly loss Friday night to a tanking Hornets team playing without LaMelo Ball and on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas is 3-7 with both Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić playing, and with this latest loss fans booed the Mavericks. What was Jason Kidd’s reaction? Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We probably should have been booed in the first quarter,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said…. “The interest level [from players] wasn’t high,” Kidd said. “It was just disappointing.”

That was a little different than Kyrie Irving’s reaction to the boos.

Then there is franchise cornerstone Luka Dončić, who sounded worn down, by the season and the losing in Dallas.

“We got to fight hard, play harder. That’s about it. We got to show we care and it starts with me first. I’ve just got to lead this team, being better, playing harder. It’s on me….

“I think you can see it with me on the court. Sometimes I don’t feel it’s me. I’m just being out there. I used to have really fun, smiling on court, but it’s just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons, not just basketball.”

Dončić would not elaborate on what, outside basketball, has frustrated him.

Look at seeds 5-10 in the West and you see teams that have struggled but have the elite talent and experience to be a postseason threat: The Phoenix Suns (Devin Booker, plus Kevin Durant is expected back next week), the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry and the four-time champions), the Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis and maybe before the season ends LeBron James).

Should the Mavericks be in that class? On paper yes, they have clutch playoff performers of the past in Dončić and Irving, but an energy-less loss to Charlotte showed a team lacking the chemistry and fire right now that teams like the Lakers (beating the Thunder) and Warriors (beating the 76ers) showed on the same night.

The Mavericks feel like less of a playoff threat, especially with their defensive concerns. They don’t have long to turn things around — and get into the postseason.

Watch Anthony Davis score 37, spark Lakers to key win against Thunder


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony Davis had 37 points and 14 rebounds, Dennis Schröder added 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and the Los Angeles Lakers got a vital victory for their playoff hopes, 116-111 over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

Lonnie Walker scored 20 points in an impressive return to the rotation for the Lakers, who won their third straight to move even with Minnesota in seventh place in the Western Conference standings despite the injury absences of LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell.

“It was a must-win game for us,” said Davis, who made 15 of his 21 shots. “We had to come out and get this game, and we came out offensive and defensively just playing extremely well. … We’ve got to .500, and now it’s time to get on the other side.”

With Davis leading the way on both ends of the court, Los Angeles (37-37) reached .500 for the first time this year. The Lakers started the season 2-10, but they’re 12-6 since the trade deadline with a rapidly cohering roster and the looming return of the NBA’s career scoring leader.

“This team is locked in and connected,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “The vibe and the spirit have been great. Guys are really trying to figure out how we can be better. That’s what you want. … Guys are competing because they know what they’re representing. They know the history of the franchise they’re representing.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey scored 27 points apiece for Oklahoma City, which lost for only the fourth time in 12 games down the stretch. The Thunder (36-38) dropped into a tie with Dallas for 10th in the West despite holding the Lakers to only 42 points in the second half after LA put up 41 in the first quarter alone.

“That’s a testament to our ability to scrap and hang in there,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said. “That’s how you want teams to score against you. All the things they got down the stretch are things we’re willing to live with. It’s hard to slow that down.”

Russell sat out with a sore right hip, joining James on the sideline at an important game for the Lakers’ playoff hopes. Los Angeles still improved to 8-5 during James’ latest injury absence.

Oklahoma City erased all of Los Angeles’ early 17-point lead when Gilgeous-Alexander’s jumper tied it at 102-102 with 5:25 to play. Davis responded with three points, and Walker hit a tiebreaking shot with 3:50 left.

Schröder replaced Russell in the starting lineup and had another standout game, including six points in the final 3:18 while the Lakers hung on. Walker got his most significant playing time since early March in Russell’s absence, and the former starter responded with four 3-pointers.

“I’ve just been in the gym, being positive and focused on what we’re trying to accomplish,” Walker said. “I love these guys, and I’m fortunate to play with them.”

Ham said Russell’s hip injury was “not too serious, but serious enough where we need to manage it.”

Gilgeous-Alexander played despite the Thunder being on the back end of consecutive games. The Thunder have been resting him in the second game of recent back-to-backs.