Celtics

About Last Night in the NBA: Raptors roll, Lillard shines, Nuggets rally

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About Last Night in the NBA: Raptors roll, Lillard shines, Nuggets rally

WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT 

FORSBERG: There’s the Raptors we expected

Celtics fans were a little bit too giddy to see both the Sixers and Raptors drop their Game 1s on the other side of the East bracket. Philly bounced back Monday night while pretty much producing Boston’s entire Game 1 scoring output as part of an absurd third-quarter offensive outburst. Then, on Tuesday night, the Raptors steadied themselves by thoroughly throttling the Magic, 111-82. 

The scary part for Celtics fans: Kawhi Leonard scored 37 points on 15-of-22 shooting over 33 minutes. Kyle Lowry shrugged off a scoreless Game 1 and put up 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Danny Green didn’t even score and the Raptors led by as much as 34 and never trailed. Boston fans should be praying to the basketball gods that Marcus Smart’s oblique feels better should the Celtics and Raptors cross paths in May.

Leonard’s big night is also troublesome because it’s a reminder that this isn’t the Raptors of the old, the one that wilted on the big stage and couldn’t get past Round 2 in the East. Leonard brings experience and championship composure. Boston’s best hope is that the Raptors and Sixers wear each other out a bit in Round 2.

Game of the night was in Denver where the Nuggets rallied from 19 down to save their season. Gregg Popovich should have thrown Jamal Murray’s game ball in the stands after all the big shots Murray hit in closing time to seal that win. Also, these playoffs need more Isaiah Thomas (DNP).

BLAKELY: The Raptors are alive; Portland's potent potential; Nuggets get rocked, then rally

Just when it seemed the Raptors were barreling towards another year of early postseason extinction, they remind us all why they spent a good chunk of this season as the league's front-runner in terms of their overall record. 

Kawhi Leonard (37 points) was a matchup nightmare (again) for Orlando, and unlike Game 1 he had some help last night from Kyle Lowry.  Scoreless in Game 1, Lowry redeemed himself with a strong stat line (22 points, seven assists, four rebounds, two steals) to remind us all as to why he's a five-time All-Star. They haven't wrestled home court away from Orlando yet, but it seems just a matter of time before the Magic will pull a postseason disappearing act. 

Damian Lillard isn't under the radar, but you watch him play and think just how big a deal he would be in a bigger market with more exposure. He's not just the best player on that Blazers roster, he's a top-5 point guard in this league, right up there with Steph Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving.

This series with Oklahoma City is far from over, but you have to like what the Lillard-led Blazers were able to do in their two wins. 

Denver is a more talented team than San Antonio, and it took the Nuggets a while to start playing like it in a must-win Game 2 matchup. A big-time third quarter for Gary Harris and an even better fourth quarter for Jamal Murray not only gave Denver the win but a much-needed confidence jolt as the series shifts to San Antonio for Games 3 and 4.

SO... THAT HAPPENED


NUMBER OF NOTE

The Thunder went 5-for-28 (17.9%) on 3-pointers in Game 2 against the Blazers, and are now shooting 16.4% on 3's in the series (10-for-61).

THEY SAID IT...

"We gave up 38 points in the fourth quarter. End of story." 

--Spurs HC Gregg Popovich, loquacious as always, after San Antonio blew a 19-point second-half lead. (Actually, they allowed 39 in the fourth, but we don't want to antagonize Pop.)

TUESDAY'S SCOREBOARD

  • Raptors 111, Magic 82 (Series tied 1-1)
  • Nuggets 114, Spurs 105 (Series tied 1-1)
  • Trail Blazers 114, Thunder 94 (Series tied 1-1)


WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT

FORSBERG: Fiiiiiiinally, Game 2

It’s rather absurd that there were 78 freakin’ hours between tip-offs of Games 1 and 2 between the Celtics and Pacers. It’s been quite the slog considering how electric the rest of the playoffs have been (and what a rock fight Game 1 was for Boston and Indiana).

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Tuesday that he isn’t married to the starting 5 that he trotted out in Game 1 but wasn’t about to offer any hints on potential tweaks (all of Boston’s rotation players were wearing starter green when practice opened to reporters on Tuesday). 

Said Stevens: "We reevaluate everything every day. I don’t want to overreact. I don’t think we played great at the start of either half, but I didn’t think we were bad. I thought we guarded, we tried to do the right things. I thought that we had some offensive possessions that could have been better, but that was the whole game, and Indiana had a lot to do with that and I don’t want to take that away from them. We’ll reevaluate it every day but that’s what it is right now."

While Jaylen Brown had a quiet offensive night in Game 1, the guess is that the defensive success the Celtics had will encourage Stevens to stick with him in place of injured Smart with the starters. What’s more likely to cause tweaks in these playoffs are the potential chess match and, should Indiana start tinkering how it deploys its bigs, maybe Boston is forced to counter further out in the series.

SHERROD: Carry-all Kyrie

The Celtics need Kyrie Irving to score. They need him to get others involved as well. He also is tasked with elevating his defense. How about a couple of hot dogs, hold the mustard and ... yes, the Celtics are asking a lot of Irving in this series with his workload only increasing in its scope and importance following Marcus Smart's oblique injury suffered against Orlando on April 7. 

“I miss him,” Irving said. “He makes my job a lot easier; just because I don’t have to dribble the ball as much or create as much. You have a second lead guard that can go out there and just really make decisions; make good decisions for our team.”

The absence of Smart has transformed playoff Kyrie into Carry-All Kyrie because the Celtics have little choice but to lean on the six-time All-Star to elevate his play on all levels with scoring, play-making and defense being the Big Three. 

But he'll need some help, too. 

Marcus Morris was that guy in Game 1, scoring 20 points which equaled Kyrie Irving's team-high total for Game 1. 

Who will it be tonight?

Terry Rozier? Gordon Hayward? Jaylen Brown?

TONIGHT'S SCHEDULE

  • Pacers at Celtics, Game 2 (BOS leads 1-0) — 7:00 pm, NBC Sports Boston (Celtics Pregame Live at 6:00 pm)
  • Pistons at Bucks, Game 2 (MIL leads 1-0) — 8:00 pm, NBATV
  • Jazz at Rockets, Game 2 (HOU leads 1-0) — 9:30 pm, TNT

Celtics' Kyrie Irving seems Brooklyn-bound; is Al Horford next?

Celtics' Kyrie Irving seems Brooklyn-bound; is Al Horford next?

BOSTON -- For weeks we have heard about Kyrie Irving reportedly taking his talents to Brooklyn next season. 

Well, he may not be the only Celtics player ballin’ for the Nets in the near future. 

In addition to Kyrie Irving, Al Horford is another potential addition to what could be an immense offseason haul for the Nets, according to a league source. 

The source cited three main reasons why 32-year-old Horford is a viable option for the Nets. 

ON THE RISE

Brooklyn is coming off a return to the playoffs following a three-year hiatus. The Nets were one of the peskiest, hardest-playing teams in the East and garnered the praise of many including Celtics players and coaching staff. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was among the first to publicly proclaim last season's Nets squad was good enough to be in the playoffs.

“I’d be surprised if this team’s not in the playoffs,” Stevens told reporters back in January. “They’re awfully good. Again, they’re really well-coached. I love the way they play. They play hard, they play together. Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do and they do it every night. They don’t get outside of it. Shooters shoot, drivers drive, guys that can do both do both, rollers roll. They look like a team. They’ve done a great job of building that over time. (Head coach) Kenny (Atkinson) has done a great job, his staff’s done a great job and they’ve got good players.”

But the Nets realized that they had to add great talent; the kind that can build off of last season’s first-round exit to the Philadelphia 76ers. 

The Nets didn’t waste much time once the season ended by swinging a deal with the Atlanta Hawks that created a pair of max-salary slots, presumably to bring in Irving and one of his best friends, Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant. 

However, Durant’s Achilles injury in the playoffs complicated matters. 

While the Nets are still among the teams whose interest in Durant remains strong as ever despite an injury that’ll likely keep him out for most if not all of the 2019-2020 season, there’s a growing sense among league executives that he’ll re-sign with the Warriors. 

And with the framework for an Anthony Davis trade to the Los Angeles Lakers already agreed upon, Brooklyn will find itself in the market for a max or near-max salary player who provides versatility, experience and can make a difference on the floor. 

Horford checks off all those boxes. 

FAMILIARITY

Horford is given a lot of credit for how he went from being a back-to-the-basket player to one of the best “stretch” bigs in the NBA in a very short period of time. 

His evolution into a three-point threat began under the tutelage of Atkinson, an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks at that time who now is Brooklyn's head coach.

The two maintained a strong relationship even after Horford left for Boston and Atkinson assumed his first head coaching job in the league with the Nets. 

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Atkinson has never held back his praise for Horford’s game, or how impressed he has been with how Stevens utilized him in a variety of ways. 

“Sometimes as coaches we hold back guys sometimes,” Atkinson told reporters prior to a Brooklyn-Boston game in 2017. “I can even see with Brad he's doing even more things than he did Atlanta. I see him handle the ball a lot more at the top of the key and bringing the ball up sometimes. It's impressive. I know Al was thirsty and hungry to kind of embrace that new big man role. And he didn't shy from it. That was the thing that impressed me in Atlanta. When we asked him to do more, get out of his comfort zone, he embraced it, rather than some guys they don't embrace that role. So that's a real credit to him, and then, again, for Brad giving him the freedom to do those things."

SALARY CAP SPACE

When the Nets agreed to trade Allan Crabbe to the Atlanta Hawks, it generated enough salary cap space for the Nets to sign a pair of max-salary players. So with Irving expected to join them this summer, there’s room for Horford as well.

Horford, who became a free agent after opting out of the final year of his deal with Boston that would have paid him $30.1 million for this upcoming season, had made no secret about being open to the idea of taking less money than a max salary for the security of additional years with a title contender. 

It is that latter dynamic in all this - finding a title contender - that league executives believe more than anything else factored in Horford’s decision to opt out of his contract and eventually walk away from a new deal in Boston. 

It's also unclear if the Celtics, well aware that they’re likely to not be in title contention this season, were willing to provide the kind of salary or number of years Horford was seeking with the knowledge that they’re not necessarily built to be among the elite teams even with his return. 

Meanwhile, the Nets already have a young all-star in D’Angelo Russell, who is a free agent this summer, as well. They have a young big in Jarrett Allen whose presence would allow Horford to play both power forward and center at times, if needed. And while Boston’s offense had its share of ups and downs last season, the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop game between Irving and Horford was strong. 

And while Celtics fans will certainly be disappointed to see Al Horford leave, there’s a lot about where Brooklyn is now that makes a lot of sense for Horford in achieving both his individual as well as team goals going forward.

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Al Horford rumors: Ex-Celtic expects this contract in free agency

Al Horford rumors: Ex-Celtic expects this contract in free agency

To say the Boston Celtics' offseason plans have changed would be an understatement.

News broke Tuesday night that Al Horford, who declined his $30.1 million player option for the 2019-20 season Tuesday, is no longer expected to sign a new contract with the Celtics and will look for a deal elsewhere.

It was a surprising development, and one apparently caused by a disagreement on contract terms. Here's what The New York Times' Marc Stein reported late Tuesday night:

The C's reportedly had hoped to sign Horford to a three-year deal. But the 33-year-old apparently believes he can find another team that will pay him more over a longer period.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski essentially confirmed Stein's report Wednesday morning on "SportsCenter."

"He has a belief, and I think his agent has a belief, that there is likely a four-year deal for him at 33 years old that would pay him significantly more than the Celtics were willing to offer," Wojnarowski said of Horford.

Wojnarowski added that Horford "almost certainly" will depart the Celtics in free agency beginning June 30 amid reports that Boston still has hope it can work out a deal with the veteran big man.

According to the Boston Herald's Mark Murphy, the C's believe Horford already has a new destination in mind.

Losing Horford and All-Star guard Kyrie Irving -- who reportedly has signaled his intentions to sign with the Brooklyn Nets -- would be a gut punch for the Celtics, who would have to pivot to a new plan after losing two of their best players for zero return.

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