Celtics vs. Warriors: Three critical things to watch in Game 2 Sunday

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SAN FRANCISCO — Of the 16 times the home team lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals, 14 times they bounced back and won Game 2.

However, the two times the home team lost Game 2, they did not bounce back to win the series.

Which is why, even though they seemed loose at practice on Saturday, the Warriors admitted they need to play with more desperation in Game 2 Sunday night (8 p.m. ET on ABC).

“We played about 40 great minutes, which will not get it done at this point in the season,” Klay Thompson said. “We are going to play with desperation tomorrow, and I think that’s when we are at our best.”

The Celtics are not the Mavericks — they are much better defensively, they are longer and more athletic, and Boston has a balanced attack where multiple players are a threat to score at all times. This is a very good team and Golden State got its wake-up call in Game 1.

Here are three things that will be critical in deciding Game 2.

1) Can the Warriors get out in transition?

It may seem counterintuitive, but you can blame the Warriors’ defense for a large part of their offensive struggles in the fourth quarter of Game 1, scoring just 16 points.

With Boston’s hot shooters setting the tone, seemingly every trip down the court Golden State was taking the ball out of the basket and then having to go against a set Celtics’ defense. No team is scoring consistently against this Boston defense when it gets set. The Warriors’ offense thrives when they get stops or force turnovers, then push the pace and get the opposing team scrambling and in chaos. There wasn’t enough of that.

The Warriors need to up the pace in Game 2 — they need to get more stops, then they need to hit their shots in transition. Golden State shot 4-of-9 on its fast break opportunities in Game 1 (using the NBA’s conservative selection of fast break shots). Cleaning the Glass said the Warriors had a 114.3 offensive rating in transition in Game 1, which for context would have been the worst in the league over the course of the regular season.

Tied to that, the Warriors need to finish better around Robert Williams at the rim — Golden State shot 13-of-29 (44.8%) in the paint in Game 1 (Draymond Green was 2-of-8). More transition buckets at the rim would help, but the Warriors also just need to shoot better closer to the basket. Williams’ athletic shot-blocking bothered them for stretches.

2) Jayson Tatum gets rolling

Despite his 3-of-17 shooting night in Game 1, Tatum thought he impacted the game positively with his 13 assists.

“I had more assists than points last game. So I feel like I made the right play more often than not,” Tatum said. “You know, it’s not much to overthink.”

That said, he knows he has to play better and pick up the scoring in Game 2 — and every game this postseason where Tatum has struggled, he’s bounced back with at least 30 the next time out.

He’s not worried about turning things around. He’s done it before.

“Once you’ve done something before, you know how to respond,” Tatum said. “I’ve had some bad shooting nights in the NBA. So it’s like, I’ve been here before. I know what to do next game. I think a lot of it is mental. You don’t let it creep into your mind. I can’t do nothing about what happened last game. I missed those shots and it is what it is. It’s all about how to prepare and get ready for the next one.”

3) Can the Warriors get Jordan Poole going?

In our series preview PBT Extra video, I said Jordan Poole would be the big X-factor in this series, while NBC’s Corey Robinson chose Al Horford. Round 1 goes to Robinson, that was a good call.

But if the Warriors are going to bounce back in Game 2, they need more out of Poole.

My doubts about Poole this series began with his vulnerability as a defender, but that wasn’t his biggest issue in Game 1 — he was respectable on that end. The Warriors even went with a box-and-one defense for while with Poole on Tatum. That worked better than expected. But in the fourth, the Celtics targeted Poole some, and he was a team-worst -19 for the game.

The bigger issue was Poole struggled on offense, with nine points on 2-of-7 shooting and four turnovers. Poole is the Warriors’ second best shot creator right now (with Thompson not entirely himself again), and they need that on the court — which means he needs to defend well enough Kerr can leave him out there. Then Poole needs to attack the paint and make plays.

“I just tell Jordan to relax and not be too hard on yourself,” Klay Thompson said. “He reminds me of my younger self. You want to be great every night, but the nature of the beast, it’s not like that, unfortunately. There’s going to be lulls and there’s going to be highs, and just stay even-keeled and realize it’s the war of attrition at this point in the year.

“So as long as you stick to your process, great things are going to happen. He’s already proved how vital he is to our team.”

Warriors’ assistant coach Kenny Atkinson was more direct about Poole, speaking to Dustin Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“He’s got to stay aggressive,” Atkinson said. “We’re not winning this thing without him. That’s just the truth of it, and he knows it.”

Poole is among the players Golden State needs to bring a little desperation energy on Sunday to even this series. If he doesn’t things get much harder for the Warriors.

 

Brianna Stewart heads to New York on first day of WNBA free agency

Las Vegas Aces v Seattle Storm - Game Four
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Former MVP Breanna Stewart is headed to New York.

The most coveted free agent this offseason, who won the WNBA MVP award in 2018, announced on social media that she was going to New York with a photo of her in a Liberty shirt. Stewart had spent her entire career in Seattle since the Storm drafted her first in 2016. She won two championships with the team in 2018 and 2020.

The 28-year-old wing has averaged 20.3 points and 8.6 rebounds in her WNBA career. She missed the 2019 season with an Achilles injury.

By coming to New York it brings Stewart closer to home. She grew up in Syracuse which is an hour flight from New York. It also is an easier flight to Spain to see her wife Marta’s family.

New York representatives, including coach Sandy Brondello and owner Clara Wu Tsai met with Stewart in Turkey last week. Stewart had narrowed her choices down to Seattle and New York before choosing the Liberty.

The move turns the Liberty into an instant championship contender. New York is one of the WNBAs original franchises, but has never won a championship. The Liberty already added 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and Kayla Thornton through a three-way deal to complement 2020 No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu.

The news was met with elation on social media by Jones, Ionescu and Nets star Kevin Durant, who said on a podcast that he had reached out to Stewart to get her to come to New York.

Stewart was the second big-name free agent to announce her intentions to play for another team this season. Candace Parker said last weekend that she was going to sign with the Las Vegas Aces and officially did.

“As I’ve gone through free agency this time around, of course I’m thinking of where I can compete for my third championship, but the words home and family are what I kept coming back to,” Parker said. “After evaluating the landscape together with my family, we’ve decided the Las Vegas Aces are the right organization for us at this point in our lives. To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

Wednesday was the first day that free agents could sign with teams. Other moves announced included:

— Brittney Sykes with Washington

— Lexie Brown and Stephanie Talbot with Los Angeles

— Teaira McCowan with Dallas

— Alysha Clark with Las Vegas

Many free agents were waiting for Stewart to make her decision, including Courtney Vandersloot.

Vandersloot announced on social media that she wasn’t returning to Chicago, where she had spent her entire career. She has led the league in assists six times during her 12-year career and helped the Sky win the 2021 WNBA championship.

“To the Sky organization who drafted the little guard from a mid-major and believed in me from the jump, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Vandersloot wrote on Instagram. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have realized my dreams because of you. Although I never planned for this day to come, I have decided it is time for me to pursue a new beginning.”

Stewart and Vandersloot are currently playing together in Turkey.

While Stewart and Vandersloot will be playing for different WNBA teams this season, Brittney Griner, who is also a free agent, announced in December when she returned home from her 10-month ordeal in Russia that she planned to remain with the Phoenix Mercury. Her long-time Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi is also a free agent, but she too is expected to go back to Phoenix.

Weather strands Pistons in Dallas, forces postponement of Wednesday game vs. Wizards

Winter storm, Minneapolis, December 2022
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The Detroit Pistons talked smack to Luka Dončić and paid the price, watching him drop 53 on them Monday night.

Then the Pistons have been stranded in Dallas ever since. In recent days, freezing temperatures have grounded more than 2,000 flights out of both the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field, impacting thousands of passengers. The weather also has hit the Pistons, who were supposed to fly home to Detroit to take on the Wizards on Wednesday night. The league has officially postponed that game.

“Due to severe weather conditions in the Dallas area, the Pistons have been unable to fly back to Detroit after their game on Monday at American Airlines Center,” the league said in its official release. “The date for the rescheduled game will be announced at a later time.”

The Wizards have won six in a row and are 12-5 in their last 17, jumping them back into the play-in picture in the East.

This is not the only game that could be lost due to the weather in Dallas, the Pelicans — fresh off a loss to the Nuggets on Tuesday — may not be able to fly into the city for their Thursday game.

Freezing temperatures are expected to continue in Dallas through Wednesday, warming up slightly on Thursday, but by Friday getting up to a relatively balmy 50 degrees and sunny.

Watch Dennis Schroder hit the most casual half-court buzzer beater ever

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Act like you’ve done it before.

The Lakers’ Dennis Schroder drained a half-court buzzer-beater against the Knicks — turning his back on the shot and being completely non-pulsed when it happened.

The Lakers had been 2-of-16 from 3 before that shot, and they ended up needing those points. Despite a historic triple-double from LeBron James, the Lakers had to go into overtime to beat the Knicks, 129-123.

Three things to Know: Is Nikola Jokić going to win third straight MVP?

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Is Nikola Jokić going to win third straight MVP?

That’s a weird headline to write just days after Joel Embiid outplayed Nikola Jokić head-to-head. Embiid absolutely is in the MVP mix again this season — 33.6 points and 10 rebounds per game with strong defense will do that — and that 47-point game is the kind of thing that sticks in voters’ minds. Jayson Tatum, Luka Dončić and Giannis Antetokounmpo are in there, too (not sure Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry will play enough games to win the award).

But Jokić is averaging a triple-double this season — 25.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10 assists — and his team is in first place in the West. It’s a season worthy of a third straight MVP. If someone is going to dethrone him, well, you come at the king, you best not miss.

Jokić had 28 points, 16 rebounds and 15 assists on 10-of-14 shooting in the Nuggets’ win over the Pelicans on Tuesday night — Denver is now 16-0 this season when Jokić has a triple-double.

Heading into the season there was a sense MVP voters would be hesitant to make it a historic three straight MVPs for Jokić — putting him in Larry Bird and Bill Russell territory — when the Nuggets haven’t been to the Finals yet. However, Denver sits atop the West and looks like a contender with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. healthy.

Plus, Jokić’s numbers are undeniable — the Nuggets are 20.2 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court this season. They win because of him, Denver gets outscored by 8.5 points per 100 when he is off the court. And we’re not going to dive into EPM, VORP and the rest of the advanced stats, just know they love Jokić like no other, too.

Jokić may not win his third MVP, there are other deserving guys in the mix and we have 30+ games to go this season. Just don’t be shocked if he does, he has been that good.

2) LeBron has historic night as he chases big his historic night

LeBron James is now just 89 points short of passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. He probably passes KAJ next week, Abdul-Jabbar has 38,387 career points, LeBron is now at 38,299.

First he made some history on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. LeBron had a triple-double of 28 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, making him the first player in NBA history to have a triple-double in his 20th season.

More impressively, with those 11 assists he moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash into fourth on the NBA’s career assists list. Think about that for a second, the league’s all-time leading scorer is fourth in assists, too.

The Lakers couldn’t hold on to a late lead in regulation — LeBron missed a couple of long jumpers that could have sealed the win — and Los Angeles needed overtime to get the 129-123 victory. They needed it after dropping two games to start this road trip. Anthony Davis moved back into the starting lineup and the Lakers need to string together a few weeks of wins to climb back into the play-off — or even the play-in mix — or all this history by LeBron will be squandered by the franchise.

3) Banchero, Henderson lead group that will make Rising Stars worth watching

The Rising Stars challenge is often the forgotten child of All-Star weekend. It takes place on Friday night and isn’t all that interesting.

This year may be different — a deep cast of talent will play in the new format that was a hit last season. The 28 players will be divided into four teams of seven, with those four teams going into a tournament bracket. The games were not timed, but players competed to a target score of 40 — something that last season led to the young stars defending and playing hard. It was entertaining.

Here’s the list of who will be playing:

Rookies

Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic), Jalen Duren (Detroit Pistons), AJ Griffin (Atlanta Hawks), Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons), Walker Kessler (Utah Jazz), Bennedict Mathurin (Indiana Pacers), Keegan Murray (Sacramento Kings), Andrew Nembhard (Indiana Pacers), Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets), Jeremy Sochan (San Antonio Spurs), Jalen Williams (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Sophomores

Jose Alvarado (New Orleans Pelicans), Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors), Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder), Jalen Green (Houston Rockets), Quentin Grimes (New York Knicks), Bones Hyland (Denver Nuggets), Evan Mobley (Cleveland Cavaliers), Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans), Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets), Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic)

The G-League team will consist of:

Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite), Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite), Mojave King (G League Ignite), Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Memphis Hustle), Mac McClung (Deleware Blue Coats), Leonard Miller (G League Ignite), Scotty Pippen Jr. (South Bay Lakers)

It’s a group worth watching on Friday night (Feb. 17) of All-Star weekend.