Jayson Tatum

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Report: Anthony Davis ‘wouldn’t completely rule out’ staying in Boston without Kyrie

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Anthony Davis still wants to be traded out of New Orleans.

This isn’t a surprise. David Griffin — the new Grand Poobah in New Orleans — made a very public play about trying to keep Davis in a Pelicans’ uniform, but that was always mostly about perception (both with fans and other agents/players about how the organization is different now). He was always going to have to deal Davis.

Talk in Boston about Davis has picked up in the wake of their disappointingly early exit from the playoffs. The Celtics were always seen as the team with the right mix of good young players, draft picks, and a veteran or two that New Orleans would want in a trade.

However, what if Kyrie Irving leaves? That would be just fine with Celtics fans after his playoff struggles, but the plan was always to pair Irving and Davis. If Irving bolts for New York or Los Angeles or wherever, should Boston still make the trade? Could they keep Davis past the summer of 2020, when he is a free agent? David Aldridge of The Athletic has an update on that front:

I’ve heard that Davis wouldn’t completely rule out staying with the Celtics without Irving, but the odds of him re-upping in that scenario are significantly lower.

That’s the smart approach from Davis, the one Paul George took in Oklahoma City (and maybe Kawhi Leonard took in Toronto) — don’t decide before the first game what you’re going to do the next July. Let it play out.

That said, if Boston has to send Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum out to New Orleans to make the trade work, what does this team look like? Davis has already done the “me against the world” thing in New Orleans, he wants to be on a better team now.

There is still so much up in the air that predicting draft night trades and July moves are impossible. This much we know, however: Danny Ainge has a lot of work to do in Boston.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens: ‘I did a bad job’

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Celtics president Danny Ainge said coach Brad Stevens deserved the least blame “by far” for Boston’s problems this season.

But after the Celtics’ season disappointingly ended in the second round, Stevens held himself accountable.

Stevens, via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

“I’ll be the first to say that, as far as any other year that I’ve been a head coach, it’s certainly been the most trying. I think I did a bad job,” said Stevens. “Like, at the end of the day, as a coach, if your team doesn’t find its best fit together that’s on you. So I’ll do a lot of deep dives into how I can be better.”

“Bad job” might be too strong. But Stevens didn’t do a good-enough job.

Stevens has proven adept at positioning lesser players to succeed. Given the most-talented roster he’s ever had, he didn’t push the right buttons.

To be fair, this was a difficult situation. Kyrie Irving can be petulant, and his impending free agency only added drama. The Celtics need Gordon Hayward heavily contributing to reach their potential, but he often struggled through his first season back from injury. Young players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier are hungry for bigger roles.

But these are the types of issues coaches must manage on good team.

Stevens raising Boston’s floor. He must improve his ability to raise the ceiling.

Kyrie Irving on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s free throws: ‘It’s getting ridiculous at this point’

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The Celtics kept fouling Giannis Antetokounmpo in their Game 2 loss to the Bucks last night.

Kyrie Irving sounded agitated about that.

Irving (warning: profanity in the above video):

I mean, it’s inevitable. Guy comes down almost six times in a row and gets free throws. What are you really going to do? It’s slowing the game down. So, the run that you would hope to make in a quarter like that doesn’t happen. Shot 22 on the game. I mean, it’s getting ridiculous at this point. It’s just slowing the f—ing game down.

Hopefully, we can even out the free throws – not just in the fourth quarter.

The refs have a difficult job. We have a difficult job. Obviously, I can sit up here and can complain. We know the disparity and what it is. But I’m not going to put all the emphasis on the refereeing. I think that there are a lot of controllable thing on our end that we can be better at. Obviously, the officiating is going to be part of it. Hopefully, you wish that things could go you way. But they don’t. We have to be able to respond in a better circumstance. We’ve just got to respond better, and I think that we will do that going into Game 4.

Though Irving swore and had the tone of someone complaining about officiating, he didn’t really say anything egregious. He actually put the onus on the Celtics, not the referees.

As he should have. Antetokounmpo earned his 22 free throws last night. Boston just had no way to slow him other than fouling.

Al Horford remains a good defender of Antetokounmpo, but Horford was especially effective in Game 1 because of the Celtics’ excellent help defense. Antetokounmpo has learned he can’t spin and probe as much against Boston. He’s now aggressively attacking the rim before help can slow him. Though Horford has handled that OK, other defenders – Marcus Morris, Jayson Tatum, Semi Ojeleye – can’t keep up. So, they keep fouling.

If the Celtics stop fouling, they might allow Antetokounmpo to shoot better from the field. There’s no easy answer against a superstar like him.

Also: I find Irving’s complaint about the halting flow strange. The free throws definitely helped the Bucks. But I’m not sure how the game’s long duration benefited one team over the other.

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Down 0-2, it’s hard to see Houston’s path past Warriors

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Down 0-2, it’s hard to see Houston’s path past Warriors. And that’s not because of Harden’s eye. At some point, the Houston Rockets need to win a game in Oracle Arena to take the series from Golden State.

However, it feels like they had their chances and missed. The Warriors came into Game 1 on short rest, with bad ankles, turned the ball over 20 times, and still won. Game 2 is where the Rockets started to find their flow from distance, hitting 17 threes and shooting 42.5 percent from deep. On the season, the Rockets were 26-7 when making at least 17 threes (and 2-0 when they made exactly 17 threes). Houston racked up a 114.7 offensive rating in Game 2 that was right at their elite regular-season average.

Yet the Rockets head home for Game 3 down 0-2. The Warriors won Game 2 115-109 and seemed in control most of the way.

Houston has to win 4-of-5 in this series and the Warriors have yet to have that monster, can’t-miss-a-shot breakout game we all know is coming at some point.

Well, Warriors not named Kevin Durant have not had those games. KD has been the best player on the floor in this series — through two games he has matched James Harden’s 64 point total, plus KD has provided key defense and rebounds.

Steve Kerr was not messing around this series, he went all in from the opening tip — he started the Hamptons’ five lineup — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Durant, and Draymond Green — in both games. And leaned on that group. In Game 2 that lineup played just shy of half the game (23.7 minutes) and was a +12.

Iguodala has had a bounce in his step at age 35 and played well, with 16 points, five rebounds, four assists, and some good defense in Game 2. The Warriors also were dominant on the offensive glass in Game 2, with 18 offensive rebounds, creating second chances on 37 percent of missed shots. Houston cannot allow that many extra shots and chances for Golden State.

Despite that, the Rockets hung around in this one, and there are things that can improve at home. Chris Paul has been good — 18 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and some good defense in Game 2 — and has matched Curry’s output. However, the Rockets need last season’s CP3. Austin Rivers had an impressive night off the bench. Eric Gordon has been knocking down shots and can get hot.

If those guys can take a step forward alongside a healthy Harden — more on that in item No. 2 — and the Rockets can win Game 3 at home. They need to win Game 3 at home. Or this series is really over.

One other note on Game 2: Notice we have not mentioned the officiating. Both teams were on their best behavior, there was very little chirping at the officiating crew about calls. Clearly, that came as a directive from both coaches and through team leaders — focus on the game — plus the quick-trigger, no-nonsense crew of Scott Foster being there had teams thinking twice about complaining. It was a nice change of pace from Game 1.

2) James Harden gets hit in the eye and bled from it. It bothered him in Game 2, and he doesn’t know what comes next. The Rockets need the full James Harden experience in Game 3 to keep their season hopes alive.

But he needs to be able to see the basket clearly for that to happen. Will he be able to? After the game he was squinting and bothered by the camera lights in the interview room.

“It hurt,” Harden said of the inadvertent swipe by Draymond Green that injured his left eye. “I could barely see. Just try to go out there and do what I can to help my teammates. It’s pretty blurry right now.

“Can’t see nothing. Barely can see.”

Will that be better by Game 3 on Saturday? Hopefully. Time off should help. But nobody really knows.

Harden still had 29 points on 9-of-16 shooting after the injury, he got to the rim and made threes, but his eye was clearly bothering him. To win in this series the Rockets need Harden to be the best player on the floor, to dominate, and his eye injury is not going to help with that.

Green, to his credit, checked in on Harden both on the court at the time of the injury and after the game.

There is one other injury to track — Stephen Curry dislocated the middle finger on his left (non-shooting) hand in the first quarter.

The training staff popped it back in, taped up his finger and Curry was back out there. Still, it’s worth watching to see if that impacts Curry’s ball handling or flow in Game 3.

3) Milwaukee makes its adjustments, dominates third quarter, evens series at 1-1. Brad Stevens, the ball is in your court.

That’s because Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer made his adjustments for Game 2. For one, he started Nikola Mirotic in place of Sterling Brown. However, the bigger change was going to a switching-heavy defense, something Milwaukee did little of in Game 1 (and not a bunch during the season).

“I mean they’ve got the guys who can do that,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said from the podium after the game. “They did it last year a lot and so that’s an easy thing for them to adjust to. And I thought they did a really good job of it. Basically, Giannis and smaller were doing that.”

It worked. The game was close until Milwaukee went on a 24-2 run in the third quarter. Boston scored just two points in the final seven minutes of the third, and those misses (and a few turnovers) fueled chances for the Bucks to get out and run, and we all know Giannis Antetokounmpo is unstoppable in transition.

The Bucks won 123-102, dominating the second half and tying the series at 1-1 heading back to Boston.

Antetokounmpo looked like an MVP to be with 29 points and 10 rebounds, but he got help. Khris Middleton was 7-of-10 from three. Eric Bledsoe was a force on both ends of the court.

Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving struggled going 4-of-18 shooting and not getting generating a call that sent him to the free throw line. He wasn’t alone in struggling, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier were each 2-of-10, Jaylen Brown 5-of-12, Gordon Hayward 1-of-5.

At home for Game 3, expect the Celtics to shoot better. Stevens will make some counter adjustments, and we are going to have a long and intense series on our hands.

Celtics aim to frustrate Giannis Antetokounmpo again in Game 2

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Each time Giannis Antetokounmpo touched the ball, he was swarmed by various Boston Celtics’ defenders. Whether it was Jayson Tatum or Al Horford, Antetokounmpo experienced a difficult time in Game 1 and so did the rest of the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.

Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is optimistic his star will bounce back and he will find out if Antetokounmpo recovers from a rough series opener Tuesday night when the Bucks host the Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“As great as he’s been, he hasn’t been perfect every night,” Budenholzer said. “He’s hard on himself, so there will probably be some point where I put my arms around him and tell him, ‘You’re going to be great.'”

The series will shift to Boston for Game 3 on Friday night and Milwaukee hopes to avoid joining the 2018 Toronto Raptors as the only top seed to fall behind 2-0 in this round under the current 16-team format that began in 1984.

On Sunday, the Celtics opened the series by cruising to a 112-90 victory, mostly because of how they defended Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo scored 22 points but shot 7 of 21 and did not hit his first basket until the second quarter and Milwaukee was dominated in the second half after trailing by two at halftime.

“Whenever I got in the paint and I (spun) or tried to change direction, a second guy was right there,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’ve just got to go watch tape. If they’re going to play like this the whole series, I’ve got to be able to make the right pass and trust my teammates to knock down shots.”

Milwaukee shot 34.8 percent and had 11 shots blocked. Antetokounmpo shot 4 of 15 in the paint and was 2 of 10 when guarded by Horford or Aron Baynes.

It was Milwaukee’s lowest shooting percentage in a postseason game since Game 6 of the 2015 first round against the Chicago Bulls.

“Well, they hit us in the mouth,” Milwaukee point guard George Hill said. “That was pretty surprising. But it’s the playoffs and you have to learn how to hit and get back up.”

Besides counting on Antetokounmpo recovering from one of his worst games of the year, the Bucks are hoping others can help them recover from the third-worst loss by a No. 1 seed in a series opener under the league’s current format.

Khris Middleton was held to 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting while Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez finished with a combined nine points on a combined 2 of 10 from the floor.

Boston is unbeaten in the postseason and is attempting to start a postseason with six straight wins for the first time since 1985-86. The Celtics are allowing 91.4 points per game in their first five playoff games and getting enough offense by scoring 101.8 points per game.

Besides the stifling defense, the Celtics also shot 54 percent. It was their highest field goal percentage in a conference semifinal game since Game 5 in 2010 at Cleveland.

“I think we definitely played like a team tonight,” Boston forward Gordon Hayward said. “I’ve talked about it all year, but we have so many different guys that can step up and make plays and make shots. Seemed like guys tonight made timely buckets all over the place. We’re trying to draw together and come together here and accomplish one goal. This is a good start to that.”

Kyrie Irving opened the series with 26 points and 11 assists while Horford added 20 and 11, respectively. Afterward, it was Horford’s defense on Antetokounmpo that had the Celtics buzzing.

Horford was on the floor at the same time as Antetokounmpo for 22 minutes. During those minutes, Antetokounmpo made 2 of 11 shots, had two shots blocked by Horford as the Bucks posted a 63.3 offensive rating in those minutes.

“Our focus was to make sure that we just made it tough on him every time, just making sure he earned everything he got,” Horford said. “I felt like we did a pretty good job of that.”

If the Celtics can defend as effectively as they did in Game 1, they will get a 2-0 lead in this round for the third straight season.