Hawks' Millsap "a nightmare" to Celtics

Hawks' Millsap "a nightmare" to Celtics

ATLANTA – The best player in this Boston-Atlanta playoff series came into the NBA as an undersized, second-round pick.

And no, I’m not talking about Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas who’s generously listed at 5-foot-9. I’m talking about Atlanta’s three-time All-Star Paul Millsap, who has been Boston’s worst nightmare this season. The 6-8 power forward, drafted out of Louisiana Tech in the second round (47th overall) of the 2006 NBA draft, is averaging 22.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game against the Celtics in four matchups this season while shooting 57.6 percent from the field and 42.9 percent on 3s.

His 22.5 points scored per game average is his highest against any team the Hawks have faced four times this season. In addition, he also had 139 blocked shots, which was the fifth-highest total in the NBA this season. And his 147 steals was ninth-best total in the league.

"Millsap is a very good player,” Boston’s Avery Bradley told reporters prior to the team departing for Atlanta. “Good players like that in the NBA, they're going to score. All you can do is try to make every possession hard on them. That's what we're going to try to do.”

Boston will try and mix in different players throughout the series on Millsap, although look for Amir Johnson to spend the most time trying to limit Millsap.

“Amir is going to take the challenge,” Bradley added. “I know he's excited about it. He's preparing and today he went hard in practice. He knows that he has a load and he's going to be playing against a good player. He should want to take that challenge. All his teammates, we have his back. We want to take the challenge. I want to guard (Jeff) Teague. I want to guard whoever is on their team that is playing well for them. That has to be our mindset from everybody."

The play of Millsap especially against the Celtics, goes against the belief that Atlanta’s strength is their roster balance and that they are a team whose components collectively is far greater than the talent of one individual player.

And then you see the Hawks play and realize that while there’s some truth to that, Atlanta has a difference-maker that for the Celtics at least, has been a nightmare to deal with all season. 

The Celtics understand just how talented Millsap has been this season not only against them but other teams as well. And he makes an impact in a multitude of ways. He score around the basket as well as from the perimeter.

Although he shot 31.9 percent on 3s this season, that number improved to 42.9 percent against the Celtics.

Figuring out the best way to handle Millsap’s versatility will be among the biggest challenges for Boston on Saturday.

“We're very versatile as well,” Celtics big man Jared Sullinger told reporters. “With guys like Kelly (Olynyk), Jonas (Jerebko), even Amir and Tyler (Zeller). We're very versatile. We're looking forward to this matchup and understanding we have a very good chance (to win). We just have to handle our business the way we normally do and have a different mindset of business and intensity going into Game 1.

Sullinger added, “Whoever wins, it's going to be a big battle. We know what the guards can do. Just the bigs have to bring that extra oomph and understand we're guarding someone like Millsap, who is a very good basketball player. Al Horford is a very good basketball player. We have multiple bigs who can do multiple things at multiple times, so we're ready for it.”

Chest pains and lack of sleep lead to medical leave for Cavs coach Lue

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Chest pains and lack of sleep lead to medical leave for Cavs coach Lue

CLEVELAND - Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence from the team to address health issues that have included chest pains and loss of sleep.

Lue said Monday in a statement that tests have offered no conclusion about what the issue is and offered no timetable for his return. The coach said he feels he needs to step away "and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation" from which to coach the rest of the season.

Here's a portion of Lue's statement:

I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is.

"While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team. I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season," Lue said. "My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the championship we are all working towards."

A stress-filled season for the Cavs has taken a toll on the Lue, 40, a former Celtics assistant under Doc Rivers who led them to the 2016 NBA championship after taking over for David Blatt midway through that season. They are j40-29, third in the Eastern Conference, behind the second-place Celtics and East-leading Toronto Raptors, and have endured roster shake-ups, injuries and other distractions as they try to return to the NBA Finals.

David Aldridge of TNT reports that the plan is for Lue to return in a week. The NBA playoffs begin April 14. 

"We all want great players, we all want the best teams, but with that comes a lot of pressure as well. And what Ty Lue has had to go through this year with that team, with the trades and the injuries and the pressure, it's unrelenting," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "So I hope that he gets healthy and is able to get back in time for the playoffs and help that team win as many games as possible."

Lue spent the second half of Cleveland's victory in Chicago on Saturday in the locker room because of an illness, the second time this season he left a game because he wasn't feeling well. The former NBA guard also sat one out against Chicago at home in December.

Associate head coach Larry Drew coached the second half of Saturday's game, the finale of a six-game, 11-day road trip. Cleveland is back home to host Milwaukee on Monday.

"We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues," general manager Koby Altman said.

Charlotte coach Steve Clifford also left his team to address his health this season. He took six weeks off. Medical tests revealed that the 56-year-old Clifford did not have any internal problems, but the doctor's diagnosis was the coach was suffering from severe sleep deprivation.

AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.

© 2018 by The Associated Press


Where are the Celtics' points going to come from?

Where are the Celtics' points going to come from?

BOSTON – It was a short, two-game road trip for the Celtics and the results – one win, one loss – were akin to how things have been for them lately - seemingly every success has been balanced with some sort of struggle.

And because of that, it’s hard to get a read on how they will bounce back following a 108-89 loss at New Orleans in a game that reinforced one of Boston’s biggest struggles most of this season – scoring points.

Boston averages 104.3 points per game, which ranks 20th in the NBA.

Since the All-Star break, Boston has averaged 110.7 points per game, which ranks 12th in the NBA.

But the team Boston fielded right after the break isn’t the same one we see on the floor now as the Celtics try to make the most of a roster that has been decimated by injuries in recent weeks.

And while there’s plenty of areas in need of improvement, Celtics coach Brad Stevens knows he has to figure something out for an anemic offense that has been a major factor in Boston losing three of its past four.

“We’re going to have moments where we’ll struggle to score with this group right now,” Stevens said. “And we just have to play a more concerted game, a more intentional game.

Stevens added, “this is a hard team for us to match up with, in full. You knew there were going to be some issues otherwise. There were some times where were probably let go of the rope in the second half and it cascaded on us.”

Here are five other takeaways from the loss to New Orleans:

There’s no getting around the fact that Al Horford has to play better than we saw on Sunday, even with an Anthony Davis on the opposite bench. With a pair of starters (Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown) out as well as a key reserve (Daniel Theis), he’s the lone member of Boston’s current Big Three whose health is not an issue. And while we praise Horford for all the intangibles he brings to the game, Boston needs him to keep doing that and then some, as they try to navigate their way through the end of this regular season and hopefully have a close-to-full complement of players when the postseason arrives.

Sunday was one of Jayson Tatum’s more aggressive performances of late, as he attacked the rim off the dribble, hit the open jumper and maybe most significant, consistently kept an opponent on their heels. He led the Celtics with 23 points, but you had the feeling he could have gone off and had an even more impressive game. With so many core guys out with injuries, Tatum has to look for his shot more often. There are few players so young in the NBA with such a varied skill set that appears to be expanding before our very eyes.

There were many things that jumped out from the loss, but few stand out like the string of free throws missed by Abdel Nader. With Boston trailing by six points early in the fourth quarter, Nader was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer. And on the same play, the Pelicans were whistled for a technical foul. Nader, a 72 percent free throw shooter going into the game, missed all four free-throw throw and followed that up by missing the first of two free-throw attempts afterward. Fans may be down on Nader, but he still has the confidence of his head coach. “I believe in all these guys,” Stevens said. “At the end of the day, Abs has been a very good free throw shooter his whole career. He was going to step up and have three right after (the technical foul free throw), and I thought he could step up and make the first one. So, I told him the next time we’re on the court I’m going to tell him to (shoot the technical free throw) again because I believe in him.”

There’s no question Greg Monroe is becoming a lot more comfortable with the Celtics’ system and the role they need him to play in it. But Aron Baynes’ status as the team’s starting center remains on strong footing. The Celtics have been the top team defensively in the NBA most of this season, and the play of Baynes has been a key to that success. Monroe matching up with backups off the bench, more nights than not, is a favorable advantage for the Celtics.

?And when he has it going a bit which was the case against the Pelicans, those are the nights when he’ll see more time than Baynes which happened on Sunday as Monroe played 25-plus minutes compared to just 14 for Baynes.

We love the “Next Man Up” approach that the Celtics have been about all season. No Celtic has benefited more from this, than Terry Rozier. There is a level of confidence that he plays with that would not be present if it weren’t for the additional opportunities he has been given to become more of a leader with Kyrie Irving missing games from time to time, as well as the extended absences of Marcus Smart. Against the Pelicans, he had 13 points on 6-for-16 shooting. He grabbed seven rebounds while dishing out five assists with just one turnover. He’s had better games, obviously. But those numbers are becoming the kind of numbers he puts up with more consistency which bodes well for Rozier and the Celtics with the playoffs less than a month away.