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NBA PM: Celtics Showed Resilience in Game 3

The Boston Celtics showed grit in stepping up and beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3

James Blancarte

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Many NBA fans have been excited for the potential second rematch between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Last year’s NBA Finals included arguably as much drama and intrigue as any in recent history. This season both teams have been playing well and by many metrics were the two best teams in the regular season.

In the playoffs, the two teams have been steamrolling opponents, making an NBA Finals rematch appear to be all but certain. While fans indeed have been waiting for the potential to continue the rivalry between the two teams, they also wait for the rematch for another reason.

The playoffs so far have largely lacked drama, which can be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on one’s perspective. There had been a chance that the two NBA Finals opponents would have arrived without having lost a single game. The possibility that the two NBA Finals teams would be undefeated sounds intriguing but is also solid proof that the playoffs have lacked drama for the two best postseason teams so far.

On Sunday, the Cavaliers, who came out to the Space Jam Monstars theme music due to their seemingly unbeatable play, lost to the Boston Celtics in Game 3. The game ended with everyone holding their breath, waiting for Celtic’s guard Avery Bradley’s three-pointer to finish bouncing around the rim. When the ball finally dropped, the Celtics had finally finished the upset, coming back from a 21-point deficit and leaving the Cavaliers stunned.

In stealing Game 3, the Celtics saved NBA fans by injecting a little drama into this series and prevented both the Cavaliers from entering the Finals undefeated.

Marcus Smart helped us appreciate the heart the Celtics have when describing the moment the team found out at halftime of Game 2 that Isaiah Thomas had been hurt and that he wouldn’t be returning for the remainder of the playoffs.

“IT [Isaiah Thomas] sent out a text saying and let us know he was not gonna be with us anymore. That was devastating. He’s a big key to this team,” Smart said. “So, we lost our brother who couldn’t be in this battle with us, we understand it, we thank him for it. But he kept talking to us and you know you can still do it. Everyone was counting us out and we just kept believing in ourselves.”

Smart spoke highly of Thomas as a leader, a supportive teammate and what he meant to the team. Yet it was Thomas’s absence that gave Smart the opportunity to have a career game with 27 points, seven assists and five rebounds while hitting seven of 10 three-pointers.

Avery Bradley hit a similar note, saying the following after losing Game 2 and Thomas to injury.

“It was hard. You know it was embarrassing.  I know everyone leaving the arena after last game, we were all pretty down. Once we were able to get together the next day, we decided that we’re just going to go out and play hard,” Bradley said. “We knew that if we came out and played hard we would give ourselves a chance. We saw that tonight and we’re going to continue to play like that the rest of series.”

Although he didn’t shoot well from the field (8-23), Bradley scored twenty points and helped to orchestrate this victory. Led by Bradley and Smart, who together led the team in minutes played, the Celtics stepped up on a night in which nearly everyone expected the Celtics to lose, including Las Vegas odds makers.

However, LeBron James touched on Thomas’s absence from a different angle.

“They play so freely without IT,” James said. “And they just made play, after play, after play and we couldn’t weather the storm.”

The Celtics moved the ball, didn’t have to wait for Thomas to initiate most of the action on offense and everyone got involved and contributed. As Thomas and Smart said, they were determined to play hard and not back down. In this game, six different players scored in double figures for the Celtics, including backup forward Jonas Jerebko, who had previously been out of the rotation. In fact, Jerebko hit a big shot on a play that had been originally designed for Bradley.

“I mean [the play] was for me to lay the ball up,” Smart stated. “But it was a play that I knew that if they helped, Jonas [Jerebko] would be wide open and he was able to knock down the shot.”

In addition, the Celtics were now no longer relying on a player who is severely undersized on the defensive end and can create a number of negative defensive mismatches, which can hurt the team. According to ESPN’s Defensive RPM metric, Thomas ranks dead last among point guards (by far) with a -4.17 score. Thomas is an unbelievable player and it’s hard to argue they are better without him. However, for one game, the Celtics played with energy, rallied without their fallen leader and exploited the advantages of playing without him.

The Celtics brought more energy and caught the Cavaliers off guard. And even though a number of things had to go in favor of the Celtics for them to win this close game, the Cavaliers were reminded that they are beatable, especially when James has an off night.

“I had a tough game period,” James said bluntly. “Me personally, I didn’t have it.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens discussed the team’s approach to guarding LeBron.

“Well, first of all, I think there is only so much you can do. We just tried to be as solid as possible. We tried to switch a little bit less.” Stevens said. “We have a couple of guards that are bigger guards. And we just tried to rotate bodies on him.”

Without Thomas, the Celtics were able to use a bevy of bigger guards and forwards on James to attempt to disrupt his play. James can reflect on how a suddenly more capable defense was able to hold him to only 11 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists, while missing all four of his three-point attempts and figure out what he can do to adjust as he also prepares for the NBA Finals.

Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue described James’s off night.

“He’s human, he’s going to have a night like this,” Lue said. “He didn’t shoot the ball well and we still had a 20-point lead.”

The Cavaliers need to be able to compensate when James is being defended well and is having a poor game. When discussing this loss, which certainly is a disappointment for a team that had been playing so well, James struck a more positive note after the game.

“I’m kind of glad it happened the way it did,” James said. “I feel that some adversity is all part of the postseason. I feel like you have to have some adversity in order to be successful.”

Winning without much resistance, without having to fight back from deficits and fight back on nights when your best player or players aren’t playing well can be detrimental in the long run. Looking forward, this game can serve as a wake-up call or a learning experience on how to adjust when James is limited or when another team is rolling.

“And so, I’m glad, I mean, if it was going to happen [letdown loss], let it happen now and let us regroup,” James said. “Let us regroup and get back to playing desperate basketball which they did tonight and so we got to be a lot better.”

James recognizes this as an opportunity to be humbled and embrace the need for better effort and a sense of urgency. When the NBA Finals do finally come around, the Cavaliers will most likely be the underdogs and perhaps this learning moment will help them adapt more effectively.

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NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role

The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.

James Blancarte

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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.

The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.

On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.

Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.

“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .

Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.

Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.

“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.

In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.

Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.

“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”

If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.

Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.

“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”

After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.

Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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