Three things to know: Why couldn’t the Pelicans or Grizzlies win the West?

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans
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1) Why couldn’t the Pelicans or Grizzlies win the West?

If forced to predict today who will come out of the West and make the NBA Finals, I would lean Golden State Warriors. While they are barely above .500 (14-13) and have been inconsistent all season — because of middle-of-the-pack defense and up-and-down play from their bench — they have Stephen Curry playing like an MVP, have started to figure things out, and show in flashes they can get back to playing at a championship level (see Saturday’s the win over the Celtics as example 1A). The Warriors have coasted much of this season, looking like a bored championship team waiting for the games to matter again.

But if something shifts and it’s not the Warriors, why can’t it be the Pelicans? Or the Grizzlies?

In a West where no team has run away and looked like a contender, the teams we thought were maybe a season or two away could be threats right now. They are the top two teams in the West standings.

The Pelicans beat the Suns twice over the weekend, including on Sunday 129-124 in overtime (granted, no Devin Booker for Phoenix in that one).

New Orleans has all the traditional marks of a contender: 18-8 record with a +6.9 net rating that is second best in the NBA, with a top-five offense and defense. In Zion Williamson they have a playoff matchup nightmare, and when paired with Brandon Ingram (currently out with a left big toe sprain but expected back in the next week) and CJ McCollum, the Pelicans have guys who can create their own shot late in the clock or against elite defenses.

New Orleans’ impressive defense — led by on-ball hawk Herbert Jones, but with other solid defenders such as Jose Alvarado and Jonas Vaanciunas — has been the biggest surprise with this team. It’s also the thing there are questions about once it gets tested under serious playoff pressure. But if the Pelicans can continue to defend, they will be a matchup nightmare for everyone.

The same is true of the Grizzlies. Ask the Warriors about their title run last season and they will say Memphis was a more challenging matchup for them than even the Celtics — the Grizzlies are just far more athletic than the Warriors.

Count me in the group that thought Memphis would plateau this season — no sneaking up on teams, and they lost quality role players in De'Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson. I didn’t expect a step forward. Yet even with their second-best player, Desmond Bane, having missed the last 13 games with a sprained toe, the Grizzlies have top-10 offense and defense with a +2.9 net rating (seventh best in the league). Ja Morant is playing at an All-NBA level, giving them the shot-creating superstar they need, and there is plenty of depth around him.

We’re still more than four months from the start of the playoffs and a lot can shift — the West could look very different come mid-April. Trades will happen, injuries will happen, teams will climb up and fall off. But right now, approaching the one-third mark of the season, the Pelicans and the Grizzlies sit first and second in the West. It’s time we started including them in the list of potential contenders in the West.

2) A.J. Griffin is the Hawks’ go-to guy for game-winner. Again.

That’s two for A.J. Griffin. The rookie had a dramatic game-winner last month and did it again for the Hawks on Sunday in the wildest ending to a game we have seen all season.

The game was tied 119-119 after Coby White drained a 3-pointer with 22.8 seconds left, and the Hawks wisely held the ball and looked for what they thought would be the last shot of the night. After getting doubled on every pick-and-roll in the OT, Trae Young waived off the pick, attacked in isolation, and knocked down a pull-up midranger with :01 left to put Atlanta up by two.

Chicago had one last chance and everyone knew the Bulls’ preference was to get the rock to DeMar DeRozan. They did, he missed but Bogdan Bogdanovic fouled him on the 3-point attempt. DeRozan sank all three and the Bulls had a 122-121 lead with just :0.5 left.

The Hawks had one-last chance and got Griffin free inside for the game-winner.

That loss was a punch to the gut for a struggling Bulls team.

3) RIP Paul Silas

“Probably one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever been around.”

That’s what LeBron James said of Paul Silas, his first coach in the NBA — and LeBron echoed a lot of people with that sentiment.

Silas died at the age of 79, a story first reported by Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe (and since confirmed by others).

Silas is the father of Houston Rockets coach Stephen Silas.

The elder Silas played 16 seasons in the NBA and was a defensive rock for two Boston Celtics title teams during the Dave Cowens era, plus he was a critical part of Seattle’s title team of 1979. He never left the game, becoming an NBA coach after he retired and doing so for a dozen seasons, including coaching LeBron in Cleveland.

Silas is best remembered on the court as a solid anchor to the Cowens/John Havlicek Celtics, where he won two rings. He went on to win a third with the Seattle Supersonics in 1979. His coaching career included stops with the Clippers, Hornets, and Cavaliers, coaching players such as Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, and LeBron.

He finished his career with more than 10,000 points and 10,000 rebounds, one of just 38 players ever to do according to Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference.

Tributes poured in as the news got out around the NBA.


Our thoughts are with the Silas family.

Three takeaways from wild night where Celtics force Game 7 thanks to Derrick White


You were not alone in being stunned, blown away or whatever other description you can conjure up for the finish to Game 6. Look at the reaction from around the NBA.

The Celtics won 104-103 on a dramatic putback from Derrick White to force a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

1) What. An. Ending.

When was the last time any one of us saw a game this entertaining, this dramatic? Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, highlighted by the LeBron James chase-down block on Andre Iguodala? Game 7 of the 2019 second-round series between the Raptors and 76ers, the one with Kawhi Leonard‘s corner shot that bounced around on the rim three times before falling? There are others on the list, but whatever game you choose, this one enters the conversation of all-time greats.

On a night where they struggled from 3 — 7-of-35 for the game — the Celtics were still up 10 midway through the fourth quarter and seemingly in control. Then Boston gave it all away, slowing the pace down and not executing — or Miami seized the moment, depending on your perspective. While the Celtics got tight and struggled with their shot in those final five minutes, the Heat went on a late 15-4 run sparked primarily by Jimmy Butler (15 points in the fourth) and Duncan Robinson, with Miami attacking and pushing the pace, drawing fouls and getting to the line. It was a stunning turnaround.

Those drawing fouls included Butler drawing a three-shot foul on Al Horford with :03 seconds remaining. Butler drained all three free throws to put the Heat up one. Boston called a timeout to set up the final play, which didn’t go to plan — Marcus Smart took a turnaround 3 — but worked out thanks to Derrick White.

“I was passing it in. [Gabe] Vincent was on me, and he kind of was up top denying [Jayson Tatum], so I couldn’t get him the ball,” White said of the play. “And they did a good job of denying [Jaylen Brown], too and [Marcus] Smart flashed, hit him, and there really was nobody on me, so I just spaced to the corner, and when he shot it just tried to crash. Ball came to me, I made the shot.”

If Boston wins Game 7, White’s putback will be remembered in Boston sports lore like Dave Roberts stealing second for the Red Sox in their legendary 0-3 comeback against the Yankees. It was that kind of moment, that kind of play which capped off the wildest of nights.

2) The Heat will need more from Butler, Adebayo in Game 7

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. They were going to win because their role players stepped up — Caleb Martin (starting over Kevin Love) was the Heat’s best player on the night scoring 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting with 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

All of that made up for the fact Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not good enough for the first 43 minutes of this game. The two Heat stars shot a combined 7-of-35 up until that late run where Butler got a 3 to fall and got to the line a few times. It was almost enough, but the Heat need Butler to set a better tone in Game 7.

“Like I told the guys on the bench, I told the guys in the locker room, that if I play better, we’re not even in this position, honestly speaking,” Butler said. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

“Jimmy leads with everything — his spirit, his soul, his competitive nature,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler pregame. “It’s all out there on his sleeves. That’s what we love about him.”

Butler looks a little tired and a little less explosive, but give the Celtics’ defense credit, they have packed the paint and cut off Butler’s drives, and their length clearly bothers his shot inside. Joe Mazzulla, who drew the wrath of Celtics fans early in this series, deserved credit for his adjustments in this series.

Butler and Adebayo have to rise above them in Game 7. Caleb Martin can not again be the best Heat player on the floor. Spoelstra is right, everything with the Heat starts with Butler and he has to summon up one more elite game.

3) Jayson Tatum owned the first half as Celtics’ best players stepped up

While Miami’s best players struggled, Boston’s best players stepped up.

At the front of that line was Jayson Tatum, who 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting with two assists in the first half. While he wouldn’t score in the second half until some free throws midway through the fourth, Tatum hit some clutch shots down the stretch and finished with 31.

Jaylen Brown added 26 points despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart finished with 21.

All of that made up for a dreadful night shooting from 3, the Celtics were 7-of-35 on the night. Shoot 20% from 3 in Game 7 and they will lose, that Boston got away with a win on an off-shooting night like that is lucky.

However, their stars are used to stepping up in elimination games, they have just done it three times in a row, and they did it in Game 7 against these same Heat a year ago. Do Boston’s stars have one more great game in them?


Watch Derrick White putback force Game 7 as Celtics edge Heat


What. A. Game.

In the best game of these playoffs — as good as one in any postseason — it looked like the Miami Heat were going to get a culture win on a night their star Jimmy Butler was off his game until the final minutes. Three Butler free throws with :03 remaining put the Heat up by one, but the Celtics got one last chance. Marcus Smart short-armed that chance, but Derrick White was hustling along the baseline.

Miami gets the 104-103 win to even the series 3-3 and force a Memorial Day Game 7 back in Boston.

This was the kind of ugly, gritty game the Celtics tend to give away. They were certainly not at their peak in this one, shooting 7-of-35 from 3 as a team — usually a stat that leads to a loss for this Celtics team, which leans into the 3-pointer.

What saved them was a brilliant first half from Jayson Tatum, some solid play from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart in the second half, and an off night at the worst time for the Heat stars.

The first half was the Tatum show as he scored 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting, with 11 free throws and a couple of assists. He was attacking and aggressive, and the rest of the Celtics offense flowed off that and they got the lead up to 11.

However, the Heat closed that lead down to four at the half, 57-53, thanks largely to 9-of-15 shooting from 3.

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not the stars the Heat needed — they shot a combined 7-of-35 until the final minutes of the game — but the Miami role players stepped up. Caleb Martin got the start over Kevin Love and was the Heat’s best player on the night with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting plus 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

With their stars off their game the Heat struggled to score in the third, starting the quarter shooting 5-of-24 (20.8%), yet by the time the quarter was over the Heat were still only down seven. Miami was hanging around in a game they should have been blown out of.

That’s because the Celtics shot 5-of-25 from 3 through 3 quarters, plus Boston had 11 turnovers through three (compared to four for the Heat).

Tatum finished with 31 points to lead Boston, Jaylen Brown had 26 despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart added 21.

Boston had a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter but gave it away with missed shots and sloppy play under pressure. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler hit a big 3-pointer, kept attacking, and got to the free throw line with the chance to put his team ahead in the final seconds. And did. It looked like a classic, gutty, Heat culture win.

And then Derrick White happened.

And now there is a Game 7.

Milwaukee Bucks reportedly to hire Adrian Griffin as head coach

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors
Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

Buzz had been growing for a week that Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin was the favorite Bucks coaching candidate of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nick Nurse had his backers in the organization, but in a superstar-driven league, the wishes of players like the Greek Freak hold a lot of sway (especially with him up for a new contract in a couple of years).

The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly hiring Griffin as their next head coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This reaction from Fred VanVleet should tell you all you need to know about how the Raptors players felt about Griffin.

This hire is a gamble by the Bucks, turning the keys of a contender over to a rookie coach, but Griffin is more than deserving of a shot. Griffin spent eight years as a role player in the NBA — after going undrafted out of Seton Hall hand having to play in the Philipines — and then got into coaching, starting as an assistant in Milwaukee from 2008-2010. Griffin is seen as a defensive-first coach with a strong player development background (he worked with Jimmy Butler in Chicago). He’s been at or near the top of the “guys who deserve a shot” list for years and was in consideration for the open Raptors job in Toronto.

Instead, he now takes over a contender, although with a roster that is getting older and more expensive fast (free agent center Brook Lopez turns 35 this year, Khris Middleton is 31 and has a $40.4 million player option, Jrue Holiday is 31 and extension eligible come the fall).

Griffin will replace Mike Budenholzer, who was let go despite winning a championship with this team in 2021. Budenholzer is a process guy and was considered too rigid and slow to make adjustments in the playoffs, and this year’s first-round elimination by the No. 8 seed Miami Heat was seen as the culmination of that (even though Antetokounmpo missed two games due to a back injury). Griffin will bring a different voice and some new looks to a Bucks team still in its championship window.

Don’t be surprised if the Bucks hire a former NBA head coach to be Griffin’s lead assistant, to give him a veteran voice as a sounding board.

Nurse had been considered one of the frontrunners for this job, but now looks like someone destined to land in Philadelphia or Phoenix.

Heat guard Gabe Vincent reportedly to play in Game 6


Officially, Heat guard Gabe Vincent is listed as questionable for a critical Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. He missed Game 5 due to a sprained ankle suffered late in Game 4 but was a partial participant in Saturday’s shootaround, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

However, a report from Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports points to what everyone expects: Vincent will play in Game 6.

Miami needs him back if they are going to win Game 6 at home and end this series (the Heat lead the series 3-2).

Not just because Vincent has averaged 17.5 points per game this series, but because of his ball handling and shot creation. In the second half of Game 4 and through Game 5, the Celtics changed their defensive game plan, becoming aggressive at jumping passing lanes, bringing doubles on drivers, and trying to force turnovers. During the regular season the Celtics were a bottom-five team in forcing turnovers by design — they bet that their impressive one-on-one defenders could make shots difficult and so off-ball defenders largely stayed home on guys off the ball and didn’t take risks. That changed and Miami struggled to adjust in Game 5, with Kyle Lowry — starting in place of Vincent — having three costly early turnovers.

Vincent back in the lineup could help counter the Celtics’ defense. Miami also needs great games from Jimmy Butler (who looked tired in Game 5) and Bam Adebayo, who also had an off game in Boston.

The Heat want no part of a Game 7, they need to close this series out Saturday night. They need Vincent to do that.