Takeaways from a wild first weekend of NBA playoffs


The NBA playoffs lived up to the hype through the opening weekend, with some great duels, some upsets, and just as everyone expected a Rui Hachimura explosion.

Here are our takeaways from the first eight games of the NBA playoffs.

• Adam Silver forgot to turn injuries off before the NBA playoffs started.

• The most devastating of those injuries could be the bruised back of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are saying the right things and talking “next man up,” but if this lingers beyond this first round (assuming the Bucks get out of it) it changes things at the top of the East. We’ll have to see where he is Wednesday and beyond.

• It’s a sound strategy against the Lakers: Don’t let LeBron James or Anthony Davis beat you. Make anyone else do it. For example, if Rui Hachimura wants to shoot 3-pointers, you let him, he was hitting 29.6% from beyond the arc since joining the Lakers.

Hachimura said “Bring it” and in the second half he was 5-of-5 from 3 on his way to a team-high 29 points. Here is what Desmond Bane said postgame, via Damichael Cole at the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

“That was our game plan going in,” Bane said. ” Make him hit shots, and he did. Tip your cap. That’s probably the best game he’s had in his career. Seven-game series, let’s see if he can do it again on Wednesday.”

That is the right way to approach this, make Hachimura beat you again, he has not been that consistent over his career. However, Memphis also might want to do a better job on closeouts against him.

• The other key to the Lakers’ win — something that is repeatable and we have seen increasingly since the All-Star break — is Austin Reaves as the secondary playmaker the Lakers needed behind LeBron James. And, for the closing stretch of this game (when the Lakers dominated), Reaves was the primary shot-creator for the Lakers. Reaves absolutely can do this again as he continues to play himself into a bigger and bigger contract for next season.

• Of course, what really matters in that series is the health of Ja Morant — the Grizzlies were in a back-and-forth game down four with 5:48 left when he re-injured his hand and left the game. The Grizzlies lost by 16. That’s not a coincidence. The teams play again Wednesday.

Kawhi Leonard is insanely good at basketball. Sometimes that gets forgotten in discussing him as the poster child for load management. Sunday was a reminder of why the Clippers do that — a rested and fresh Leonard can play with anyone, and they need that in the playoffs. (Especially in this first round, without Paul George.)

• Great stat from Clippers must follow/read Justin Russo: Since KD arrived in the Valley of the Sun the team has taken 40% of its shots from between the restricted area and the 3-point arc (essentially mid-rangers, not a shock on a team with Durant/Booker/Chris Paul). In Game 1, that was 70%, and while the Suns shot well on them (49%) the Clippers are good with that shot profile. Also, the Suns’ percentage of attempts from 3 fell from 32% since Durant arrived to 23% in Game 1.

Put more simply: the Clippers’ best chance of winning this series is to win the battle from 3. Los Angeles did that by 12 points in Game 1.

• It also helps when Leonard outduels Kevin Durant. Not sure how sustainable that is.

• That game also sums up the Russell Westbrook experience with the Clippers — 3-of-17 shooting, they can’t count on him to consistently carry the offense, but since switching L.A. teams he has found ways to make plays and influence games.

• This is why nobody wanted to play the Heat in the first round.

• But Miami losing one of its two quality playmakers in Tyler Herro is a huge blow. That puts more on Jimmy Butler‘s plate, and the Heat need Kyle Lowry (or Gabe Vincent, or Victor Oladipo, or someone) to step up.

• It’s been said a million times but it can’t be said enough: Jalen Brunson is worth every penny.

• Was Josh Hart the second-best pickup in the league at the trade deadline? (We’re still giving the top spot to that Durant guy.) He’s the perfect Tom Thibodeau player, which showed in the Knicks’ Game 1 win.

• Are we all done sleeping on the Kings?

• This is how a dangerous team answers a challenge. A Stephen Curry 3 fading into the corner is the kind of dagger shot the Warriors thrive on, but the Kings just ran their offense and Fox walked into a 3 of his own at the other end.

• We’ve had evidence for 82 games these are not the same Warriors. That playoff muscle memory better kick in on Monday because if the Warriors are down 0-2…

• The Warriors did a good job holding Domantas Sabonis in check, and blowing up the Kings’ dangerous dribble-handoff game. Sabonis shot 61% from the floor this season but was 5-of-17 in Game 1 with twice as many turnovers (four) as assists (two). It will be interesting to see the adjustments Mike Brown and the Kings bring to Game 2.

• Don’t expect another huge Malik Monk outing, he has been hot and cold all season long in Sacramento. Also don’t expect Keegan Murray and Kevin Huerter, to shoot 0-of-8 from 3 again.

James Harden looked slowed the last couple of weeks of the regular season coming off that hamstring injury, and while his raw numbers looked good in the opener against the Nets — 23 points and 13 assists — he was missing two-pointers (1-of-8). He did hit seven 3-pointers, he wasn’t terrible, but if/when the Sixers play the Celtics in the next round, Harden can’t just be good enough, he has to be elite. He has to be better than this.

Report: Mavericks have no interest in Irving sign-and-trade with Lakers that brings back Russell

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving may say he doesn’t want to be in the middle of NBA free agency speculation, but when he sits courtside in Los Angeles at a couple of Lakers’ playoff games he has to know that will spark talk.

LeBron James has sent his not-so-subtle message he wants more help, and the rumors he’s open to a reunion with Irving are nothing new. All of that has driven a lot of speculation in recent weeks of a Lakers’ sign-and-trade to reunite the core of the Cavaliers’ 2016 title team. While Irving is a free agent, the Lakers have made clear they intend to re-sign Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura as restricted free agents, making signing Irving directly off the table (unless he wants to take a massive pay cut and play for the midlevel exception, which his actions indicate he does not). If Irving comes to the Lakers, it’s on a sign-and-trade.

Then who goes back to Dallas in this trade? The speculation centered on free agent D'Angelo Russell signing and trading to play next to Luka Dončić. However, the Mavericks have no interest in that, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

A popular topic all week, in the wake of Denver sweeping the Lakers out of the Western Conference finals, was the notion that L.A. could emerge as a potential sign-and-trade destination for Dallas’ free agent-to-be Kyrie Irving.

While we await a clear indication about the Lakers’ intentions there, with no verifiable signal to date that pursuing Irving is among their offseason priorities, league sources say that the Mavericks would have no interest in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers that features D’Angelo Russell as the primary Dallas-bound player. All indications are that the Mavericks remain intent on re-signing Irving

While the questions of fit between Dončić and Irving remain, when the Mavericks traded for Irving they committed to this path, both financially and on the court. If Irving walks in free agency Dallas has no way to replace him, and they are better off with him than without him. Irving is a much better player than Russell and with Dončić on the roster the Mavericks are a win-now team. Their preference is clear.

As for Irving, he wants to get paid (remember he opted in with the Nets rather than leave to play for less, then pushed for a trade when Brooklyn would not give him the extension he wanted). There is logic for both Dallas and Irving to work out a new contract and, if this marriage doesn’t work out, trade him down the line. The only questions are money, years, and does Irving really want to be in Dallas (he has said he does).

League sources have told NBC Sports that the Lakers’ front office’s primary focus is not on Irving. While the Lakers could clear as much as almost $30 million in cap space, free agency is not the path the Lakers appear to be walking. Re-signing Reaves and Hachimura and putting them next to LeBron and Anthony Davis — both of the Lakers stars make more than $40 million next season — plus rounding out the roster has the Lakers quickly pushing above the cap and into the tax, and the second tax apron is within sight. The Lakers are more likely to make moves like picking up the $16.5 million team option on Malik Beasley and trading him and or other players for the shot creation and shooting they want. A Russell sign-and-trade is certainly in play, or they could bring him back, just not on anything near the max Russell likely wants (more likely a deal starting around $20 million a year). Russell was good for the Lakers in the regular season and had a 31-point playoff game to close out the Grizzlies, plus a 21-point game against the Warriors, he just was in a bad matchup against Denver.

Irving to the Lakers is a long shot. But if LeBron wants it, and Irving wants it, nothing is off the table.

Reactions from NBA players to White’s game-winning putback for Celtics


It was an all-time classic game, one that could be part of a legendary chapter in Celtics’ lore. Boston was on the verge of being sent home for the summer by the Miami Heat when Derrick White‘s putback as time expired won the Celtics Game 6 and forced a Game 7 Monday night.

NBA players were as stunned and excited as fans everywhere. Check out the reactions from players around the league — and a few others — to the Celtics’ dramatic win.

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 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.

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.