Celtics

About last night: Leonard's 45 way too much for 76ers in Game 1

About last night: Leonard's 45 way too much for 76ers in Game 1

WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT

Kawhi goes off; Nuggets put away pesky Spurs

Kawhi Leonard gets major props for what he brings to the floor defensively, but it was his dominant showing offensively that has heads turning. He lit up the Sixers for 45 points in their Game 1 tilt, the kind of performance that reminds us all as to why the Raptors were so willing to roll the dice on having for what’s essentially a one-season rental with the possibility of re-signing him to a longer-term deal. Look for Philly to have Ben Simmons spend more time defending Leonard in Game 2. Along with scoring 14 points on 7-for-8 shooting, Simmons was one of the few Sixers who did a decent job defending Leonard. 

As for the Nuggets, if you don’t know about Nikola Jokic by now … you will in the coming weeks. The footwork, court vision and overall feel for the game is unlike any big man going now. And in the most important game of the season, he was delivering on all levels before finishing with a triple-double of 21 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, not to mention three blocked shots and a steal for good measure. 

And as the No. 2 seed in the West, they are living proof of how important the regular season can be to a team’s chances at postseason success. 

There’s a good chance that the Nuggets don’t win this series if Game 7 wasn’t on their home floor. Not only did they feed off the energy from their fanbase, but those same fans were so loud that Spurs big man Lamarcus Aldridge could not hear his teammates or coaching staff telling him to foul down the stretch in an effort to extend the game. That allowed some precious seconds to tick off the game clock, helping Denver secure the series-clinching win. 

To have a crowd so engaged was a far cry from where the franchise was when Mike Malone was hired four years ago. 
 
"You looked in the stands, it was witness protection night," Malone told reporters of his early days as the team’s head coach. "There was nobody here. To see where we've come in four years, to being a team that won a Game 7 at home and advancing to the second round for the first time in a while, is incredible. It's almost surreal at times."

SO... THAT HAPPENED


NUMBER OF NOTE

81.3 percent -- Kawhi Leonard's 2-point shooting percentage in Game 1 (13-for-16). That's the highest 2-point FG% in a 45-point playoff game since at least 1984.

THEY SAID IT

“One? Alright. That was great!”
-- Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard, not the most loquatious baller in the association, responding to a one-question walk-off “interview” with TNT sideline reporter Ros Gold-Onwude.

SATURDAY'S SCOREBOARD

  • Raptors 108, 76ers 95 (TOR leads series 1-0)
  • Nuggets 90, Spurs 86 (DEN wins series 4-3)

WHAT WE'LL BE WATCHING

“Playoff” Kyrie meets The MVP?

Of course we won’t see Kyrie Irving matched up against Giannis Antetokounmpo, but that won’t prevent much of the spotlight in this series being shined brightly upon the two All-Stars.

There’s no getting around how their individual play will dictate the direction this series takes. In the first round, Irving found a nice balance between when to dominate the game and when to be a decoy that allowed others (Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown for example) to step up into a more promiment, high-impact role.

Antetokounmpo has been the front-runner for the league’s MVP award for weeks, and his control was just as great during Milwaukee’s four-game sweep of the Pistons in the first round. Boston has an army of players who will spend time trying to limit Antetokounmpo or at least make the bevy of shots he takes tough as can be. 

Not even the snowfall on Saturday here in Milwaukee (yes, snow in late-April; welcome to playoffs in the midwest!) can dampen the mood for what should be one of the better second-round pairings. 

SUNDAY'S SCHEDULE

  • Celtics at Bucks, Game 1 -- 1:00pm, ABC (Celtics Pregame Live on NBC Sports Boston at noon)
  • Rockets at Warriors, Game 1 -- 3:30pm, ABC
     

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Countdown to Celtics Camp: Who will be the Celtics' most impactful rookie?

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Countdown to Celtics Camp: Who will be the Celtics' most impactful rookie?

When the Boston Celtics open training camp next month, they will have a whopping eight first-year players on the court. That number will include four drafted rookies, two summer league standouts on camp invitations, an undrafted two-way player, and a European import.

In the fourth installment of our Countdown to Camp series, we asked our NBC Sports Boston panel to pick which of those rookies will have the biggest impact on the Celtics during the 2019-20 season.

Boston drafted four rookies in Romeo Langford (14th overall), Grant Williams (22), Carsen Edwards (33), and Tremont Waters (51). They later signed undrafted swingman Max Strus to one of their two-way deals, while summer league standouts Javonte Green and Tacko Fall are coming to camp with a chance to compete for a final roster spot. The Celtics also signed French 7-footer Vincent Poirier to add another body to their frontcourt.

That’s a lot of youth and inexperience but, then again, only four Celtics players have more than three years of NBA experience overall in Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, and Enes Kanter. Which is to say that there will be plenty of opportunities for younger players to make an immediate impact if they prove themselves ready for immediate minutes.

Typically, you might lean towards the lottery pick but Langford missed all of summer league while rehabbing from thumb surgery and will be playing a bit of catchup when camp opens.

Given Boston’s new-look frontcourt following the departure of Al Horford and Aron Baynes, it would seem a solid bet to suggest that Grant Williams or Poirier might have the clearest path to contributing. As you’ll read below, our panel leaned heavy in that direction and we’d probably be inclined to agree with their pick.

But we could also make the case for Edwards, an elite bucket-getter at the college level who showed at summer league that he’s not bashful about getting up shots. The departure of Terry Rozier could open an opportunity for backup guard minutes and if Edwards can give a little offensive jolt to the second unit, he could carve out minutes.

Scoring against rotation NBA players won’t be as easy as it was against rookies and roster hopefuls at summer league but Edwards can create his own shot, brings some rugged defense, and will have a chance to stake his claim for backcourt minutes.

Abby Chin: Grant Williams

The Celtics need all the help they can get in the frontcourt. The opportunity is there. And I feel like there’s a lot of hype surrounding the smart, versatile, if a little undersized, Tennessee product. I’m expecting big things.

 

A. Sherrod Blakely: Grant Williams

The team's lack of depth and overall uncertainty in the frontcourt means all their bigs, Grant Williams included, will get a chance to play. He won't wow us with his numbers but his basketball savvy will come in handy on some nights and play a role in the Celtics winning more games than most anticipate.

 

Max Lederman: Grant Williams

Williams already has an NBA body (strength wise, at least) and is a smart, winning player. I was also really impressed with his willingness to let the game come to him in summer league, which shows me he'll be fine in whatever role the team asks him to play. He's also a concrete wall setting screens.

Countdown to C's Camp: Awards predictions>>>

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Isaiah Thomas jokingly vows to never play defense again after thumb injury

Isaiah Thomas jokingly vows to never play defense again after thumb injury

Isaiah Thomas' latest attempt to return to NBA stardom suffered a setback this week when he suffered a thumb injury, which is expected to keep him sidelined for six to eight weeks.

The veteran point guard, who signed with the Washington Wizards in July, tweeted Wednesday he suffered the injury playing defense. 

You have to give Thomas credit for injecting a little humor into what is obviously a difficult situation for him.

Thomas quickly became a beloved figure in Boston despite his short tenure with the Celtics. He suffered a hip injury playing for the C's during the 2016-17 season, and he was dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston in August of 2017. Thomas has struggled to stay healthy and regain his All-Star form since that trade, and the the Wizards will be his fourth team since leaving Boston.

It's safe to say the basketball world is rooting hard for Thomas to make a successful comeback from his latest injury.

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