Celtics

Was this an NBA Finals preview?

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Was this an NBA Finals preview?

From Comcast SportsNet
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- With his All-Star point guard on the bench with three early fouls, two-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant took it upon himself to keep the Oklahoma City Thunder rolling. After he did, even the mighty Miami Heat never could recover. Durant had 28 points, nine rebounds and tied his season-high with eight assists, Kendrick Perkins added a season-best 16 points and the Thunder opened a difficult stretch in their schedule by beating Miami 103-87 on Sunday night. The two title contenders opened the day tied for the second-best record in the NBA, three games behind the Chicago Bulls in the race for the top overall seed in the playoffs. West-leading Oklahoma City edged ahead into second, with the rematch 10 days away in Miami. "I think it was a good test for us," said Perkins, who has set new season scoring highs in two straight games. "We came out and did what we needed to do and protected home court. ... Now, we've got to move on. I don't think we should ride a rollercoaster over this one win." Oklahoma City had a season-high 13 steals and forced Miami into 21 turnovers that led to 28 Thunder points. Miami's big three -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- combined for 15 of the giveaways. "We will own this one," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They jumped us. Everybody saw it. They had us on our heels and they were the aggressors." Wade led Miami with 22 points but also committed a season-worst six turnovers. Bosh had 18 points and five turnovers, and James ended up with 17 points, seven assists and four turnovers. "Some of it was attack turnovers and some of it was careless turnovers," James said. "We started the game with a turnover. From there on, we turned the ball over." Oklahoma City took the lead for good in the first 4 minutes of the second quarter, then built on it after All-Star Russell Westbrook picked up his third foul with 7 minutes left before halftime. Durant played a bigger role in orchestrating the offense, hitting a layup in transition and a foul line jumper but also setting up Perkins' two-handed slam and James Harden's fast-break layup during a 12-2 burst for the Thunder. Harden's layup bumped the lead up to 55-42 with 2:01 to go before halftime. "KD was just phenomenal. I think he took the matchup well with LeBron, he did his job and he almost had a triple-double tonight," Perkins said. "That's what we need out of him every night." The Heat made a brief 8-0 comeback spurt, fueled by back-to-back turnovers by Harden, and pulled to 91-83 after Shane Battier's second straight 3-pointer with 7:14 remaining. Perkins put an end to that rally by getting open for two-handed slams on consecutive possessions, and Durant nailed a 3 with 3:20 remaining to push Oklahoma City's lead back out to 100-85. Spoelstra then pulled James, Wade and Bosh with 96 seconds left facing a 16-point deficit. "They beat us in all facets of the game -- from the beginning to the end," James said. Serge Ibaka and Harden each scored 19 for Oklahoma City and Westbrook finished with 13 points, one game after going for a career-high 45 in a double-overtime win against Minnesota on Friday night. The Thunder will travel to face the Los Angeles Lakers and host Chicago next Sunday in their tough 11-day stretch. Oklahoma City shot 67 percent in the first half and never let Miami -- the league's second-best defense, allowing opponents to shoot only 38 percent -- piece together enough stops to mount a rally. Ibaka had a two-handed slam, Durant followed with a right-handed jam off of Westbrook's alley-oop and the lead stretched to 68-53 following Ibaka's putback with 7:04 left in the third quarter. Wade hit a pair of 3-pointers but couldn't spark a Heat comeback. Even when he finished the third quarter by hitting a buzzer-beater from four steps beyond midcourt, it didn't give Miami any momentum. Wade sat out the first three minutes of the final period, then didn't attempt a shot after checking back in. "I'd rather not comment on that," he said. When asked whether he wanted the ball in his hands, he said, "I don't want to talk about the offense." Before the game, Spoelstra called Miami's stretch of three straight road games -- and five of six -- an opportunity to take a step forward. "We've been disappointed in our play on the road in general since the All-Star break," Spoelstra said. Instead, the Heat continued a rough patch with five losses in their last seven road games. During a 14-game home winning streak spanning the past two months, Miami is only 10-7 on the road. "Our most important thing right now is to find a next level of basketball. We don't necessarily even know if we have another level or two but we want to keep on pushing to get to that point and find a better consistency than we've had the last three weeks," Spoelstra said beforehand. "When we're playing on the top of our game, we feel we can win anywhere. But we're not quite there yet." NOTES: The Heat are tied for the franchise's best start after 47 games at 35-12. ... The game included four of the NBA's top six scorers -- Durant, James, Westbrook and Wade. ... Miami's season-worst turnover total is 22. ... Harden had a career-worst seven turnovers, two more than he'd ever had before.

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

BOSTON – You had to figure Golden State’s explosive offense would probably come up a little short scoring-wise against the Boston Celtics and their top-rated defense. 

But for them to score 88 points – that’s about 32 below their average – was very one of those, “where the hell did that come from?” moments. 

And it was exactly what the Celtics needed to escape with a 92-88 win that extended their winning streak to 14 in a row but maybe most important, put the entire league on notice that this streak they’re on right now … it’s real. 

“They wrote us off coming in, saying Golden State was gonna beat us, and do this and do that,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “We came out and played basketball. Even though we got down, the make-up of our team is staying in; we’re resilient.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s signature win of the season, 92-88 over Golden State which extended Boston’s winning streak to 14 straight. 

 

BROWN’S GROWTH

Jaylen Brown was playing with a heavy heart less than 24 hours after the death of his best friend. But as we’ve seen in this still-young season, Brown is very much one of the league’s emerging talents. He certainly played that role on Thursday in leading Boston with 22 points with seven rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.  

 

TALE OF TWO HALVES FOR TATUM

There’s something about the second half of games against elite players that brings out the best in Jayson Tatum. When Boston opened the season at Cleveland, Tatum was noticeably better in the second half than the first. And in Thursday’s win over Golden State, it was more of the same. In the first half he had just two points only to finish with a 10-point second half (7 coming in the fourth) for a 12-point game on 2-for-5 shooting. 

 

AL HORFORD

As well as he’s played, a strong case can be made for Horford being a league MVP instead of their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving. Horford tallied a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds to go with a pair of assists. Horford now has six double-doubles this season which equals his double-double total from all of last season. 

 

MARCUS SMART

As much as you know Smart makes great effort plays consistently and does indeed make a difference when he’s on the court, his shooting woes are reaching critical mass even as Boston continues to gobble up wins. In the last five games, Smart has averaged 7.6 points. That’s not too bad, right? But then you look and see that he’s shooting 19.2 percent (10-for-52) in that span. Ouch! So far, the Celtics have been able to find success despite his shooting struggles. But you have to anticipate at some point it’ll catch up with them. 

 

SHORTENED ROTATION

For most of this season, pretty much everyone who suits up for the Celtics, have played. But against the Warriors, it had the feel of a playoff-like rotation with head coach Brad Stevens playing 10 guys with nine reaching double digits in minutes played. Considering how the second unit struggled to make shots (they missed 17 of their 19 shot attempts), it’s understandable why head coach Brad Stevens leaned a little heavier than usual on his second unit.

A. Sherrod Blakely’s Starting 5: Unmasking the NBA’s best

A. Sherrod Blakely’s Starting 5: Unmasking the NBA’s best

BOSTON –  The NBA has seen its share of early-season injuries, some resulting in guys out for the season (Gordon Hayward) while others missing just a couple games (Al Horford out two games with a concussion).

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And then there’s Kyrie Irving, who suffered a facial fracture that kept him for one game. He was supposed to wear a plastic protective mask for a couple weeks. Instead, it lasted one game and part of another before Irving decided to ditch it.
 
Kyrie’s mask got me to thinking … who are the best masked men in the NBA?
 
Today's Starting Five will include the top 5 masked men in the annals of NBA history, in addition to the top 5 teams, MVP candidates, rookies and defenders:
 
TOP 5 MASKED MEN


1. Rip Hamilton, Detroit – Worn initially for protection, his mask became an iconic look for the three-time All-star.

2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers – Mask worn in 2012, the last year Bryant appeared in the playoffs.

3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City – He looked and played like a superhero in his first game with a mask in 2015, tallying 49 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Philly.

4. LeBron James – Ever the fashion-forward one, James wore a black, carbon-fiber mask to protect his broken nose in 2014.

5. Kyrie Irving - He played with a mask for 19 games in 2013, averaging 24.5 points and 47.5 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from 3-point range.
 
TOP 5 MVP CANDIDATES


1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee – The addition of Eric Bledsoe has helped rack up some wins, strengthen Antetokounmpo’s chances atop the MVP leaderboard.

2. Kevin Durant, Golden State – Shooting better than 50 percent from the field, Durant has stepped his passing game (career-high 5.0 assists now) up this season while continuing to pile up the wins.

3. James Harden, Houston – Not having Chris Paul around most of this season and still winning, is a reminder of how Harden has played at a consistently high level against all comers.

4. LeBron James, Cleveland – Three straight wins and the Cavs are well on their way to getting back into the thick of things, with LeBron leading the way.

5. Al Horford, Boston – In his last three games, he’s shooting 76.6 percent and has been a central figure in Boston’s rise to the top of the NBA standings.
 
TOP 5 ROOKIES


1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia - He has eight double-doubles and a pair of triple-doubles to his credit this season. He’s the rookie everyone is chasing now.

2. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas - You have to watch this guy play. Would be getting a lot more pub if the Mavs had a better record.

3. Jayson Tatum, Boston - Had a rough start against the Warriors, but bounced back and made key plays down the stretch helping Boston get the win.

4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers - The late first-round pick has been an absolute Godsend to the Lakers, able to contribute in a multiple of ways.

5. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers - He has been up and down like most rookies. But his court vision alone will keep him on the floor for many years to come.
 
TOP 5 DEFENDERS


1. Al Horford, Boston - He’s the best defender on the NBA’s best team defensively. It makes sense for Horford to be the pace-setter in this category.

2. Rudy Gobert, Utah - A towering presence, this 7-foot-2 big man will once again be a top-3 finisher when it comes to the league’s highest defensive honor.

3. Draymond Green, Golden State - The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Green is the rare player who can defend all five positions at a fairly high level.
 
4.  Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City - His ability to defend guards as well as switch out defensively is a huge plus to the Thunder.
 
5. Aron Baynes, Boston - You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who utilizes the NBA’s rule of verticality  better than Baynes.
 
TOP 5 TEAMS


1. Boston – Winning 14 games, that’s one thing. But to beat Golden State along the journey? That’s special.

2. Golden State – Loss to Boston be damned, the Warriors are still the team everyone emulates … even now.

3. Houston – Can score with the best of them, but until they defend at a high level their success will remain limited primarily to the regular season.

4. Minnesota – It’s still early, but it’s hard to imagine the Timberwolves going anywhere but up the Western Conference standings.

5. Detroit – Outside of Boston, there may not be a bigger surprise in the NBA thus far than Detroit.