The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every pivotal moment from the night before in one place.
1) Have the Celtics hit rock bottom after weekend losses to Detroit, Washington?
On paper, the Boston Celtics are contenders. They have elite wing play with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — both playing at an All-Star level — with a shot-creating point guard in Kemba Walker, a defensive specialist who can hit threes in Marcus Smart, a roster of solid role players, and one of the smartest coaches in the game. On paper, Boston matches up better with Brooklyn than any other East team. On paper, the Celtics are a threat to come out of the East.
On the court, the Celtics are a mess.
Following weekend losses to some of the East’s weaker sides in Detroit and Washington, the Celtics are 5-10 in their last 15 games and have fallen to .500 for the season. The Boston defense hasn’t been impressive the last 15 games, but the bigger problem is on offense, where they are 23rd in the league in that stretch (109.1 points per 100 possessions), with none of the ball movement we expect from a Stevens team (28th in assists in those 15 games).
Beyond that, the eye test shows a team that just got out-hustled and out-executed. The Boston offense is a lot of standing around right now, not a lot of movement and making plays for each other.
This feels like rock bottom. This looks like the kind of team that needs a shakeup.
Boston fans might be reaching for the panic button. Some are asking for Stevens’ head (I don’t get that, but it’s a regular thing on Celtics Twitter) and/or a roster change — Danny Ainge needs to do something with that Gordon Hayward trade exception to fill in what this team lacks without Hayward. Especially after an offseason where he didn’t want Myles Turner.
However, in the Boston locker room, there appears to be no panic.
Walker after Sunday’s loss: “We’re just not playing the way we know that we’re capable of playing. That has to be fixed… It can’t get no worse than this. So we’re gonna fix it for sure… Positive? It ain’t many positives. I’m gonna be honest. We just are not good right now. But it’s very controllable…
“To be honest, I could care less what people think. That’s not what this is about. This is about us. This is about us getting better. We will. We’ll figure it out. Every year is different. Every season is different. We have a whole new team. We have young guys. That’s on us, that’s on myself and some of the guys who have been around. We’ve got to change some things, and we will. We will.”
Brown: “I think we can flip things around at any moment. I always have faith in this organization and team and our coaching staff. We sucked [Sunday]. We haven’t played well over the last few games for whatever reason, but I believe we can turn it around at any moment.”
There are legitimate issues, and most revolve around injuries, COVID-19, and lineup stability. There has been no consistency of rotations, and nobody off the bench — outside of rookie Payton Pritchard — has stepped up and demanded minutes.
The Celtics core has barely been together this season. Walker missed the first 11 games of the season getting his knee right (he had maybe his best game of the season Sunday), Tatum missed time with COVID-19, Brown has been in and out of the lineup, and Smart has been out the last seven games with a calf injury.
The Celtics’ four best players — Tatum, Brown, Walker, Smart — have played a total of 28 minutes together this season, which accounts for 57 possessions. Boston simply has not been whole.
We don’t know what a fully functional Celtics team looks like yet.
What we do know is the one on the court right now isn’t working. The good news is in the East, .500 is still good enough for the fifth seed, and the Celtics are just half-a-game back of hosting a first-round playoff series. There is a lot of time to get healthy, get some help, and get things right.
But this weekend needs to be rock bottom for the Celtics.
2) Another day, another Damian Lillard game-winner
In the clutch moments of a game — especially with CJ McCollum still out injured — shouldn’t Damian Lillard get the Houston James Harden treatment? Double him at halfcourt, get the ball out of his hands, dare anyone else to beat you. Lillard is the most clutch player in the NBA right now, he’s earned that respect.
With just more than :30 seconds left in a time game (so they would get another possession at least), Dallas matched up Dorian Finney-Smith — a quality defender — on Lillard in isolation. We know how that is going to end.
Dame is unreal… #RipCity
— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) February 15, 2021
That was the ballgame. The Trail Blazers went on to get the 121-118 victory.
Lillard finished with 34 points and 11 assists, which was barely enough to outduel an impressive Luka Doncic, who finished with 44 points and nine assists. He had a shot at a three to win it all, but it just didn’t fall.
3) The Lakers may be without Anthony Davis for a while after Achilles scare
If this were the worst possible outcome, Anthony Davis would not have been doing postgame media, answering reporters’ questions. Yet there he was Sunday night. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the Lakers are likely going to be without Davis for a little while. In his second game back after missing a couple of games due to Achilles tendinosis, Anthony Davis had to leave the Lakers game against Denver Sunday night after re-injuring his Achilles trying to drive around Nikola Jokic in the second quarter.
Anthony Davis leaves Lakers-Nuggets after suffering a lower leg injury. He was grabbing at his Achilles, but walked off gingerly under his own power.pic.twitter.com/wLtXrrrDQP
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) February 15, 2021
Davis was done for the night (although he stayed in and hit his free throws) with what the team called a strain. An MRI will come on Monday to detail everything.
Davis said after the game that early medical suggested it is not a tear/rupture, but rather a return of his Achilles tendinosis. Just this time, it will sideline him more than two games.
“I don’t want to mess around with this type of injury,” Davis said.
He shouldn’t, and the Lakers can’t afford to risk it. It doesn’t really matter if the Lakers give up a few games in the standings, as long as Davis and LeBron James are healthy come the playoffs Los Angeles is the team to beat. Achilles injuries are overuse injuries, they come with time, and both Davis and the Lakers need to rest this and get him healthy, no matter how long it takes.
BONUS THING TO KNOW: Russell Westbrook had a good Sunday in the Wizards win against Boston — 13 points, 11 assists, and nine rebounds — but his reaction to an air balled free throw was my favorite thing from Sunday.