Five things the Boston Celtics must do to beat the Golden State Warriors

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Oddsmakers — which also means the general betting public — are backing Golden State in the Finals. Our partner, PointsBet, has installed the Warriors as -150 favorites (the Celtics are +125).

The computer models love the Celtics. For example, 538’s model (which has not been high on the Warriors all season) gives Boston an 80% chance of winning banner No. 18.

Personally, I see this as a tight series, going at least six games. I am picking the Warriors in seven, but it’s not a pick I make with tremendous confidence — the Celtics can win this series.

However, if the Celtics are going to raise another banner to the rafter, they need these five things to happen.

1) Boston’s defense has to hold Golden State in check

On March 16, the Boston Celtics went into the Chase Center and shut down the Warriors, holding them under a point per possession (96.2 offensive rating for Golden State). One has to be careful reading too much into a regular season game — this is the one where Marcus Smart dove for a ball and rolled up Stephen Curry‘s foot, meaning the Warriors’ leading scorer played fewer than 14 minutes — but in the minutes that mattered, the Celtics defense was a problem for the Warriors.

Historically, switching defenses give Golden State the most trouble. Boston is the switch happiest defense in the NBA this season, but they do it because they have five quality defenders on the court — they are not hiding anyone. Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart will likely start on Curry, but forcing a switch to get Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, or Robert Williams III presents its own challenges.

This is where the question of health comes in. Both Smart and Williams were slowed against the Heat by injuries, if they are not 100% it gives the Warriors a place to attack — and they will be relentless about it.

The Warriors’ constant motion offense — on and off the ball — is a different level of challenge for the Celtics. This isn’t Jimmy Butler or Giannis Antetokounmpo in isolation over and over, the Warriors have multiple shot creators with Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole, and once they have a team scrambling in rotation the ball flies around to the open man.

One stat to watch: Points in the paint. Or, more specifically, shots at the rim. These were two of the best teams in the league this season at keeping teams away from getting shots in the restricted area; if one team starts getting inside and getting points, it will signal a defense breaking down.

The Celtics have better personnel to deal with the Warriors’ attack than any team Golden State has faced. If Boston can force Curry and Poole to create shots just for themselves and score on jumpers — but not get the ball flying around to other open shooters — they can live with the results. And it may be enough.

2) Which team gets buckets in transition?

Boston looked its best against Miami when it got out and ran (we saw that in stretches of Game 7).

In their four playoff losses, the Warriors have averaged 16.3 turnovers a game.

In a series where points will be at a premium, if the Warriors get sloppy with the ball and let the Celtics get out and run, it will cost them. The Warriors’ style of play lends itself to some turnovers, but they have to be careful against an elite defense than can make things much more difficult.

The reverse is true as well. We all saw what happened when the Celtics — particularly Tatum and Brown — got sloppy with their handles, turned the ball over and let the Heat get out and run. Now substitute in Curry and Thompson on those breaks — it’s a recipe for disaster in Boston. Those 11-0 runs the Heat put together will be 17-0 runs at the hands of the Warriors — and teams don’t recover from those and beat Golden State.

The key to this series may be this simple: If the Warriors are forced to go against a set, halfcourt Celtics defense, they will struggle to score consistently. If they can get out and run, if they can get offense early in the clock on quick pin-downs and other actions — running off Boston misses — they can make it tough for the Celtics to keep up.

3) Jayson Tatum takes a star turn

This is the stage where the biggest stars cement their legacy. If there is any doubt about that, take a look at Stephen Curry and what three rings — and some elite Finals performances — have done to elevate him to All-Time great status. (Although he still doesn’t have a Finals MVP trophy, if the Warriors win there will be tremendous pressure on the voters to give him one.)

Tatum finished sixth in NBA MVP voting this season. If he wants to be considered in the Curry/Kevin Durant/Giannis Antetokounmpo tier of players, he has to show out with a huge series on the biggest stage. At this moment, a 10-point Game 3 or disappearing in the fourth quarter of Game 6 is magnified — and not forgotten.

Andrew Wiggins will draw the Tatum assignment to start the series, and he did as good a job as could be expected on Luka Doncic in the last series. Wiggins will be asked to repeat that effort.

For the Celtics to win, Tatum has to be the Finals MVP. He has to be that guy.

That said, he can do it through playmaking as well. If the Warriors throw everything at slowing Tatum, Brown and Smart have to step up.

4) Boston has to target Curry and Poole

While it will be difficult for the Warriors to easily target a weak link in the Celtics’ defense (assuming they are healthy), there are clear targets for the Celtics to go at in pick-and-roll coverages.

That starts with Curry. For too many fans, Curry has an undeserved reputation as a poor defender (going back to LeBron James hunting him in the Finals), and that’s not true. He’s a solid defender, especially in a team setting, but he’s often the weakest link on the court for a Warriors team whose defense is often overlooked (they had the best or second-best defense in the league, depending on your advanced metric of choice this regular season).

The reason to target Curry is to wear him down a little, maybe get him in foul trouble, and just limit his effectiveness. Curry will put out the effort, and the Warriors are great about helping him with late doubles, but he will be tested.

Poole is the weakest defensive link in the Warriors rotation, and he is an offensive spark plug, if the Celtics can play him off the court at points it’s an advantage. Boston needs to be ruthless about this.

5) Can Boston show poise in the big moments

Boston had the chance to close out Miami at home in Game 6 yet watched Jimmy Butler rip it out of their hands as the Celtics’ depth came up far short. Boston had a double-digit lead deep in the fourth quarter of Game 7 in Miami and watched the Heat go on an 11-0 run that put Miami within a made 3 of very possibly being the team still playing. Boston lost Game 5 at home to Milwaukee in the previous series.

Boston has had moments of lost poise all playoffs — that can’t happen against Golden State. The Warriors are too good, and they are exceptional at burying teams who lose focus for a few minutes. The Celtics have to take advantage of all their opportunities, because there will not be many of them.

Are these Celtics ready for that moment?

They need to be, or this is all over.

Sharpe out, Knicks center Jericho Sims reportedly in for Dunk Contest

NBA: DEC 14 Knicks at Bulls
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High-flying Trail Blazers rookie Shaedon Sharpe was the first name leaked as taking part in the All-Star Saturday Night Dunk Contest.

Now he has decided to pull out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic, to be replaced by second-year Knicks center Jericho Sims.

Sims joins G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin, and the New Orleans Pelicans’ Trey Murphy.

Sims is incredibly athletic — he recorded the third-highest vertical leap in the history of the NBA Draft Combine. In games, he rolls and dunks. Hard. He’s also played an expanded, but still limited, role for Tom Thibodeau this season, getting into 43 games and averaging 3.8 points a night.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City. The event will be broadcast on TNT.

 

NBA trade deadline tracker: latest news, rumors, deals

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Things are going to get insane in the run-up to the NBA trade deadline, at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. There’s already been a blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to Dallas, which will spawn other deals, and every team is looking for upgrades large or small. Will the Lakers make upgrades? What contenders will deepen their bench, and what teams will pivot toward the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes? We will have all the latest NBA rumors, news, and any deals that get done in one place. It’s going to get wild, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Feb.8, 11:30 A.M.: The Nets want to make moves to keep Durant, but not everyone wants to help them

• The Brooklyn Nets took the Mavericks’ trade package for Kyrie Irving in large part because it gave them players who could help them right now in Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith. Brooklyn isn’t done, they are working hard at the deadline to find other “win now” players who can help them be a playoff threat with Durant. However, teams interested in trading for KD this summer — and there are a lot of them — are not willing to help Brooklyn out, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN said on the Hoop Collective podcast. There is a little gamesmanship going on as teams try to force the Nets into a tough spot and clear the path for Durant to demand a trade. Again.

• Add the Raptors to the Pelicans and Timberwolves as teams talking to the Nuggets about backup point guard Bones Hyland. He remains one of the two or three most likely players to be traded at the deadline.

• Speaking of the Raptors, they have talked to the Spurs about a trade for center Jakob Poeltl, according to Marc Stein. As he notes, that’s an interesting move because it is not a “let’s blow this thing up” move, that’s a “let’s retool and win now” move, which makes it less likely the Raptors move someone such as O.G. Anunoby.

• Sources have told NBC Sports that the Raptors are not looking to trade Pascal Siakam (or, at least not at this trade deadline). He is their best player, they either will retool around him or, if they do blow it up (unlikely but possible), they will want the kind of massive deal easier to get in the offseason than at the deadline.

• The Wizards, Raptors, and Celtics also are interested in Poeltl.

• Also from Marc Stein, the Magic are not looking to move Gary Harris, or at least they need to be blown away by an offer. Every young team needs a quality veteran or two in the locker room to teach them how to be NBA professionals, Harris is filling that role in Orlando.

Eric Gordon has been on the trade block since before the Avengers killed off Thanos (or, it feels that way), but this time it is likely he gets moved. The Suns and Clippers — two teams searching for guard help — are at the front of the line, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

TRADE: It’s official: Nets Kessler Edwards to the Kings

Kings receive: Kessler Edwards
Nets receive: Cash, draft rights to David Michineau (who plays for Napoli Basket in Italy)

Analysis: As noted below when we first mentioned this trade could happen, this is a salary dump by the Nets, who free up a roster spot and $8 million in salary and tax. Edwards had fallen out of the Brooklyn rotation this season, but Sacramento gets a look at a young wing defender, reportedly sending him to their G-League team to get a little run and show what he can do. Edwards, a second-round pick (number 44 overall in 2021 out of Pepperdine), has a $1.9 million player option for next season.

Feb. 7, 8:05 P.M.: Warriors softening stance on trading James Wiseman

• It’s incredibly difficult to throw in the towel on a No.2 pick, and the Golden State Warriors rarely make in-season trades. However, with the defending champs hovering around .500 — and now without Stephen Curry for maybe a month — Golden State is softening its position on a possible James Wiseman trade, reports Anthony Slater at The Athletic. Same with Moses Moody, a developing young guard who can’t help the Warriors much this season. What are the Warriors looking for? Veterans who can help this season, at just about any position across the board.

• It’s not trade related but passing it along anyway: Kevin Durant will miss the All-Star Game due to his knee injury, the Nets announced. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will appoint his replacement.

• Also being reported about All-Star weekend: the Trail Blazers’ Shaedon Sharpe has pulled out of the Dunk Contest.

Feb. 7, 4:10 P.M.: Don’t bet on a Durant trade at the deadline. This summer…

• We are very close to another trade, but it’s another cap space move primarily: The Nets will send second-year forward Kessler Edwards to the Kings in exchange for cash, reports both Shams Charnia at The Athletic and Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. The Kings, looking for defense, get a young wing defender they can roll the dice on, while the Nets open up a roster spot for future moves and save $8 million against the tax. Edwards showed some potential as a rookie, but in his second year (on a deeper Brooklyn team) he has been outside the rotation, and not impressed when he has gotten into games. He has a team option for $1.9 million next season. Edwards can veto the trade because of Bird Rights issues but is expected to approve it.

• It’s now official, Mat Ishbia has taken control of the Phoenix Suns organization. We don’t know what kind of owner Ishbia will be, but there is a sense he will spend more willingly and be more aggressive than the Robert Sarver regime – he reportedly is pushing for the team to make a splash at the trade deadline — which is good for Suns fans and the league. Plus, he will clean up the troubles in the organization that pushed Sarver out.

Feb. 7, 3:05 P.M.: Don’t bet on a Durant trade at the deadline. This summer…

• Kevin Durant and the Nets are talking about the long-term (and likely short-term) direction of the franchise, but Brooklyn is not making its other superstar available to teams, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This provides details and is in line with what sources from other teams have told NBC Sports (and I have reported previously): They are under the impression the Nets are going to try and build a contender around KD this season, maybe including another deal or two, and try to convince him to stay. If Durant ends up on the move, it will be over the summer.

• The backup big man market is one of the most crowded at the trade deadline, but you can add another name to it: JaVale McGee. Dallas is looking to move on, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports.

• The Nuggets and Pistons are the teams talking to New York most recently about a Cam Reddish trade, according to Ian Begley of SNY.TV. Reddish remains one of the players most likely to be on the move by Thursday.

• Kyrie Irving practiced with the Mavericks today — he was the first player to the facilities — and is expected to make his debut with the team Wednesday night.

Feb. 7, 1:29 P.M.: Is potential of Durant on the move hurting Anunoby market?

• Interesting note from Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports: While there are a lot of teams still interested in a trade for Raptors wing O.G. Anunoby — the Pelicans, Grizzlies, Knicks, Pacers, Trail Blazers, Lakers, Suns, and Nets are interested — a number of those teams would prioritize Kevin Durant if he puts his trade demand back on the table this summer. With that, said teams don’t want to give up too much for Anunoby now. The market is getting soft, Anunoby is a favorite of GM Masai Ujiri in Toronto, so maybe he stays put at the deadline.

• It’s far more likely the Raptors trade Fred VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr. at the deadline. VanVleet has become one of the most talked about names in the last few days. That said, the Raptors are listening to offers, at least.

• What are the Celtics looking to do at the trade deadline? Use their $5.9 million trade exception, reports friend-of-the-site Keith Smith.

• Also from Fischer at Yahoo: Mason Plumlee appears to be the Hornet most likely to be traded.

TRADE: Heat send Dewayne Dedmond to the Spurs

San Antonio receives: Dewayne Dedmon, 2028 Heat second-round pick
Heat receive: Cash

Analysis: This is a salary dump by the Heat, and it cost them a second-round pick. Maimi now has some room under the salary cap and two open roster spots, allowing them to bring in a player — via trade or the buyout market — and convert Orlando Johnson’s two-way contract to full-time, he has played well for them. The Spurs get a second-round pick and are expected to waive Dedmon, making him a free agent.

Feb. 7, 11:55 A.M.: Lakers interested in Conley and Beasley from Jazz

• After striking out on Irving, the Lakers are reportedly engaged in talks to send Russell Westbrook and both of the first-round picks they can trade (2027 and 2029) to Utah for Mike Conley and Malik Beasley, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN. While the sides undoubtedly talked, that sounds like a rumor from the Jazz camp. The Lakers have hoarded those picks to swing for a home run, and with Conley declining this season at age 35 — and with a guaranteed $24 million on the books for next season eating up the Lakers’ cap space over the summer — this doesn’t sound like a move the Lakers would suddenly pivot and accept. The Jazz have rebuffed all offers for Conley so far, keeping the asking price high and banking on the desperation of buyers.

• The Chicago Bulls are at least listening to offers for defensive guard Alex Caruso, but they are reportedly keeping the price sky-high — two first-round picks. Don’t expect a deal, while Caruso brings value that’s a star-level asking price.

• This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has watched a minute of Brooklyn Nets basketball this season, but ESPN’s Bobby Marks says Ben Simmons has zero trade value right now. Also, the note on Durant being a summer move was something sources told NBC Sports and we wrote about previously.

• If the Miami Heat can’t find a new home for the disappointing Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline, this summer they will return their focus to using his salary in a deal for a disgruntled superstar such as Kevin Durant or Bradley Beal, reports Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. That sounds on brand for the Heat.

• Along those lines, the Washington Wizards plan to keep Beal and re-sign Kyle Kuzma.

• Veteran Furkan Korkmaz has been bumped from his regular spot in the 76ers rotation this season and wants to be traded to a place he can get some run. Philly is looking for a new home for him as well as Matisse Thybulle.

• No, LeBron James is not happy the Lakers missed out on Kyrie Irving, but he’s pivoting to what’s going on today.

“I can’t sit here and say I’m not disappointed on not being able to land such a talent, but someone I had great chemistry with and know I got great chemistry with on the floor that can help you win championships. In my mind, in my eyes. But my focus has shifted now my focus has shifted back to where it should be, and that’s with this this club now and what we have in the locker room.”

Kyrie Irving says at times he “felt very disrespected” in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics
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Kyrie Irving says he is happy. He said he feels celebrated and respected by his new team in Dallas.

While fans in Brooklyn, Boston and Cleveland may snicker and say “wait for it…”, a happy Irving right now is a good thing for a Mavericks team desperate to put a high-level shot creator next to superstar Luka Dončić. Irving emphasized his joy in playing the game while speaking to the media Tuesday after his first practice with his new team. He praised the Mavericks organization while saying he sometimes didn’t feel respected in Brooklyn. Here are Irving’s comments, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I just know I want to be places where I’m celebrated and not just tolerated or just kind of dealt with in a way that doesn’t make me feel respected,” Irving said after Tuesday’s practice at USC’s Galen Hall. “There were times throughout this process when I was in Brooklyn where I felt very disrespected and my talent — I work extremely hard at what I do. No one ever talks about my work ethic, though. Everyone talks about what I’m doing off the floor, so I just wanted to change that narrative, write my own story and just continue preparing in the gym, and now that I’m in Dallas, just focus on what I control.”

Irving makes it hard not to talk about his off-the-floor choices when he does things that keep him away from his team, such as his vaccination status a season ago, or a Tweet earlier this season promoting a movie with anti-Semitic themes that led to an eight-game suspension by the Nets.

When on the court, Irving’s skills are unquestionable — he has the league’s best handles and averages 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, plus he is shooting 37.4% from 3. It’s those skills he wants to bring to Dallas and make the focus. He wants to move on from the negativity surrounding him in Brooklyn.

Irving cited a lack of “transparency and honesty from people in the front office” as a reason he did not feeling comfortable continuing his career with the Nets…

“I don’t want to go into too many details because it’s water under the bridge now,” said Irving… “I wish them well. I left them in fourth place. I did what I was supposed to do, took care of my teammates, was incredibly selfless in my approach to leading, and I just want to do all the right things for myself — not to appease anybody that had something negative to say about me or judge me. This basketball game — just, it’s fun, and I want to keep it that way.”

If it stays fun and about basketball, this will be an excellent trade for the Mavericks. Irving will have to prove his critics wrong by keeping the spotlight on the court.

NBA, sports world reacts to LeBron James setting all-time scoring record

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James is now the leading scorer in NBA history.

He passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with a turnaround jumper in the third quarter Tuesday night, and with that the fans filling Crypto.com Arena exploded, having witnessed history. The reaction was similar among his peers and fans on social media, but the praise for LeBron has been pouring in all season. Here are some highlights of the reaction to LeBron setting this historic record, both from Tuesday night and the buildup to that moment throughout the season.

“But I think when you talk about LeBron, LeBron is in his own category. Just with the way he came into the league, and he never disappointed his fans, his teammates, and his owners, by winning championships by being able to help players get paid, you know, and then, you know, at the end of the day, he he’s about winning, he’s a competitor, and he’s never talked about records. You know, he’s just the only thing that he has really talked about is trying to win championships.” —Dallas Mavericks coach and Hall of Fame player Jason Kidd

“LeBron has done it so differently to me because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.” —Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers

“It used to anger me when he first came in, and if he made a pass, somebody said he should have shot it. And if he shot the ball, he should have passed it. It really would anger me because they would just deal with the negative. And it was sort of a fake, negative in a way, the guy was doing everything great handling himself great, young kid with all that attention, doing what he’s doing. I just thought he was wonderful.” —San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich

[On how LeBron reached this record without a score-first mentality] “I think empowering teammates the way he has done throughout the course of his career, he’s made his teammates threats, with where you have to account for them. And when you have to account for others… it allows you to operate more effectively with less traffic and you’re able to do what you need to do for the team in terms of scoring.” —Lakers coach Darvin Ham

“Congratulations to LeBron on breaking one of the most hallowed records in all of sports by becoming the NBA’s all-time scoring leader. It’s a towering achievement that speaks to his sustained excellence over 20 seasons in the league. And quite amazingly, LeBron continues to play at an elite level and his basketball history is still being written.” —NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

“[The NBA] gave the keys to the whole entire business to an 18-year-old kid and now he’s 38 years old and he’s still dominating. I don’t think we should be surprised. I think we should congratulate him and celebrate him as much as possible.” —Kyrie Irving