Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Celtics continue to project confidence as defense falls apart weeks before playoffs. The Boston Celtics have eight games left before the playoffs begin — playoffs that almost certainly will start on the road in Indiana. This is when Boston should be building momentum and confidence for a deep playoff run…
The Boston Celtics have lost four games in a row. In that stretch their defense is fourth worst in the NBA, clustered around Memphis and Washington and other teams missing the postseason. In their last 10 games, their defense is bottom 10 in the NBA.
“I know we’ve been here plenty of times before saying the exact same thing — ‘We’re gonna get it, we’re not worried about it’ — but we can’t put extra extra extra stress and more weight on ourselves,” Smart said… “”We got to take a deep breath, breathe, just relax — and then go out there and have fun and play basketball.”
“I never worry about how we’ll respond,” said Irving. “We’ve proven that. We just have to be consistent with that and be committed to it, that’s all. We have a lot of great guys in this locker room and they are committed to winning. We have winners in this locker room as well, so I’m never worried about trying to go back and respond with these guys. They are a resilient group who have proven that for the last year and a half we’ve been together.”
“I don’t think we’ve given any reason to suggest that [Boston can figure it out] right now,” said Stevens “But I think, ultimately, we’ll see how the rest of this story plays itself out.”
Stevens asked for message to the fans: “We’re to the point where, rightfully so, we’ll be doubted. We’ve earned that. Now it’s time to buckle up and make a run.”
It’s better the Celtics are confident than panicking… but if Celtics fans wanted to panic, I wouldn’t blame them.
When Boston made it’s unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season (despite no Irving or Gordon Hayward) it was on the back of an elite defense. Tatum and Terry Rozier got deserved credit for stepping up and taking on the offensive load, but what kept the Celtics going through all of that was a defense that could slow any team down, anchored by Al Horford playing elite ball in the paint. That was the foundation of their success. It should have been again this season.
Now, that Celtics foundation seems built on sand. Boston was up 18 on Charlotte with less than nine minutes to go Saturday then gave up 30 more points the rest of the way and lost. The Celtics’ four straight losses are to three playoff teams and a Hornets team playing with the desperation of a team trying to hang on to its playoff hopes (keep reading down to item No. 2). Give those teams credit — and give
the Spurs credit for doing what they do and executing the game plan, and for LaMarcus Aldridge for just going off.
I can envision a scenario where Boston, playing a shorthanded Pacers team in the first round, gets pushed six or seven games but starts to find its groove and by the end is playing with the confidence and teamwork we saw last season. Those kinds of leaps can happen in the playoffs. Then the Celtics bring that increased level of play up against a Bucks team without that playoff experience (and maybe without Malcolm Brogdon) and suddenly Boston is dominating like the team we expected preseason. That absolutely could happen.
But watch the Celtics the past week or so and it’s hard to envision that scenario. We’re 74 games into the season and it feels a little late for “We’re gonna get it, we’re not worried about it.”
2) Charlotte will not let its playoff dreams die, even if it takes a Jeremy Lamb prayer to keep them alive. Saturday night the Hornets came from 18 points down to the Celtics to stay within two games of the Miami Heat and the playoffs.
Then on Sunday, Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard looked like the closer the Raptors need him to be. Toronto was down 13 midway through fourth but went on 18-3 run to take lead, with Pascal Siakam (10 points in fourth) making plays Leonard hitting the shots when it mattered, including the apparent game-winner.
Then Jeremy Lamb did this from 48 feet.
Unreal. Siakam even made a good defensive play to tip the ball into the backcourt.
Watch Kemba Walker’s reaction in the last angle of that video — he had popped out from the far side and the hope was likely he would get the ball, but he was well defended. When Lamb took his shot Walker turns his back and throws down his arms in disgust. That was never going to go in… until it did.
Charlotte is still two games back of Brooklyn and Miami, who are tied for the 7/8 seeds in the East, and fivethirtyeight.com gives the Hornets just a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs. It’s still a longshot. But so was Lamb’s shot. Sometimes desperation heaves work out.
3) LeBron James drops triple-double, “I will not cheat the game.” The Lakers are out of the playoffs. There is more interest in who will coach the team next season (and who will be on the roster) than there is in the remaining games. For the sixth straight year, the Lakers are just playing out the string.
That didn’t stop LeBron from dropping a 29-11-11 triple-double on the Suns in a Lakers’ win Sunday night (Kyle Kuzma had 29, too).
LeBron is not going to cheat the game. He would never anger the game gods like that.
Charlotte closed Saturday game on a 30-5 run, much of it fueled by Kemba Walker who had 18 of those points and was 4-of-6 from three. It was a punch-to-the-gut loss for the Celtics that was reminiscent of the low point of the season, the back-to-back blown leads against the two teams from Los Angeles.
“Judge us when we have our full lineup,” Irving said [Al Horford, Aron Baynes, and Gordon Hayward were out]. “But obviously when we come out and play like this with a bunch of young guys down the stretch, figuring things out … things are bound to happen but there’s no excuses….
“It’s one-on-one,” Irving said. “Down the stretch, I try to come in and help as much as possible. We should have probably trapped him more like every other team does in the league but we didn’t. He torches us every time we play them so it’s no surprise.”
What does the team talk about after a game like this?
“Being more mature down the stretch,” Irving said.
Of course, this is going to fuel the “is Kyrie happy?” and “is he going to leave this summer?” talk, but doing any of that before seeing what taste the playoffs leave in his mouth is premature.
Irving is right to be frustrated, however. With everyone. Here we are entering late March and we’re still asking “when are the Celtics going to get it together?” Most teams do trap/double/blitz Walker because he’s a one-man show and the theory is to let anyone else beat you. Walker did get some of those late 18 on catch-and-shoots working off the ball, but the critical ones late he was one-on-one with the ball in his hands — and he’s an All-Star, maybe All-NBA level player, he’s hard to stop.
Overlooked in this, the Celtics shot 2-of-19 in the final 8 minutes of the loss. It’s not just defense that blows a lead, it’s not scoring. Irving was 1-of-5 overall and 0-of-4 from three during the Hornets run. There is plenty of blame to go around.
The question is can the Celtics get on the same page and fix it before the playoffs?
Kemba Walker sparks 30-5 Hornets run in fourth to beat Boston 124-117
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Charlotte had three veterans out of action and three first- or second-year players in the lineup down the stretch. The Hornets hardly looked like a team capable of rallying from an 18-point deficit against the Boston Celtics.
But that is exactly what the Hornets did.
Kemba Walker scored 18 of his game-high 36 points in the fourth quarter and the Hornets rallied to a 124-117 victory over the Celtics on Saturday night.
“You just keep playing,” said Walker, who also had 11 rebounds and nine assists in his 23rd game of 30 or more points this season. “In the league, anything can happen. Once one team gets momentum, things can change really fast.”
That’s what happened as Charlotte closed the game on a 30-5 run that included all 18 of Walker’s fourth-quarter points. The Hornets trailed 112-94 with 8:22 remaining.
“Obviously, when you lose an 18-point lead, there is a lot of things that go wrong,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought they did a good job of chipping away at it. (And) we did everything that the book is written on to lose a game that you are up 18 at that point.”
Rookie Miles Bridges scored a career-high 20 points, Marvin Williams and Malik Monk added 13 points apiece and second-year player Dwayne Bacon scored 11. Another rookie, Devonte Graham, made two key defensive plays during the fourth quarter as Charlotte won its second straight, improved to 33-39 and kept its faint postseason hopes alive.
Boston fell to 43-30 with its third straight loss.
In front of a sellout crowd of 19,438 at Spectrum Center, Kyrie Irving scored 16 of his team-high 31 points in the first quarter as the Celtics appeared to take control of the game.
But Charlotte rallied and closed within 64-63 at halftime.
After the Celtics built the game-high 18-point lead with 8:22 left. Charlotte scored on 12 of its last 19 possessions to catch and pass Boston. Walker scored his 18 fourth-quarter points in the final 7:43, including two clinching free throws with 5.9 seconds left.
Boston scored twice on its final 20 offensive possessions.
“This game was over in the beginning of the fourth quarter,” Irving said. “We took our foot off the gas pedal, got it to a five-point game and momentum shifted from there.”
It was Charlotte’s largest come-from-behind win of the season and largest comeback in more than a year.
The Hornets now have 10 wins in games in which they trailed by 10 or more points, the largest previous comeback in a 125-118 home win over Chicago in which they trailed by 15.
It was the franchise’s largest comeback since Charlotte trailed by 23 points in a March 21, 2018, win at Brooklyn.
“We were down 18 in the fourth quarter, so I love the way they stuck with it,” Charlotte coach James Borrego said. “Kemba drove a lot of that fourth quarter, but you have to give Marvin a lot of credit, the way he battled and Miles’ big steal down the stretch, Devonte’ took two big charges and his defense really ignited us as well so I think it was just a fantastic, overall team effort.”
When Aron Baynes went out with a twisted ankle against Philadelphia, it was quickly clear how much they missed the big man in certain matchups — they need his size against the Joel Embiid‘s of the world. The MRI came back clean and while Baynes is out Saturday against the Hornets but could return Sunday for the Celtics.
Boston is still thinking about adding some big man insurance, some experience, and some depth for the stretch run in the form of Greg Monroe, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. The deal is not yet inked, however.
Free agent center Greg Monroe has agreed to a 10-day contract with the Boston Celtics, league sources tell @TheAthleticNBA@Stadium.
There is some familiarity here, Monroe played an efficient 26 games with Boston last season. He averaged 10.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists a game, with a PER of 23, going about 19 minutes a night. This season he signed with Toronto, where he played 38 games off the bench but was traded to the Brooklyn Nets who waived him.