Celtics

Stars, studs and duds: Marcus Smart spurs turning point vs. Bucks

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Stars, studs and duds: Marcus Smart spurs turning point vs. Bucks

MILWAUKEE – No matter how bad Marcus Smart may shoot the ball, good things tend to happen when he’s on the floor.

The Milwaukee Bucks learned this first-hand on Thursday night as the Celtics pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 96-89 win. 

Returning to action after missing the last two games nursing a left ankle sprain, Smart had eight points while missing eight of his 10 shots from the field. 

His defense will always be his biggest strength, but Smart’s playmaking skills were instrumental in the game’s momentum swinging Boston’s way near the end of the third quarter.

After a step-back jumper by Kyrie Irving cut Milwaukee’s lead to 63-59, it was Smart who found Al Horford in perfect position to drain a 3-pointer. Moments later, Horford hit another one to give Boston the lead.

Horford made big shots, obviously. 

But he was quick to praise the play of Smart for setting him up. 

“I really have to give all the credit to Marcus Smart on that,” Horford said. “He just sees the game in ways that a lot of times we don’t even see it. He recognized that my guy was kind of falling asleep on the weak side. He got me open there for back-to-back threes and I felt like that was a big turning point in the game.”

Said Smart: “Al’s a unique player that we have that can dominate from the inside and the outside. So as a guard, it’s our job to get him the ball.”

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And recognize how to deal with smack-talk. 

Both of Smart’s made baskets came about because of a Bucks rookie basically egged him on. 

“I don’t even know his name,” said Smart, who added that the rookie told him, “you’re trash.”

Smart had a message for the young fella. 

“I said, ‘listen, this is my first game back. I’m playing on two hurt ankles; still got more playing time than you,’’’ Smart recalled telling him. “And I hit my first three. He said, ‘Good, that’s one.’ Then I hit the second one and I pointed at him and said, ‘that’s two; two more than you got!’’’

Smart added, “It was fun. One day that’ll be him doing it.”

Here are the other Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 96-89 win over Milwaukee which extended Boston’s winning streak to three in a row. 

STARS

Al Horford: We have seen Horford deliver defensively and at times, provide a nice offensive punch. But on Thursday, he was absolutely outstanding at both ends of the floor and was far and away the best performer on the court. Horford finished with a near double-double of 27 points and eight rebounds in addition to dishing out four assists.

Kyrie Irving: Irving came to the rescue of Boston’s offense several times when it bogged down on Thursday, the kind of offensive juice the Celtics need from their best one-on-one scorer. He finished with 24 points on 10-for-18 shooting along with seven assists and just two turnovers. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo: Horford defended Antetokounmpo better than anyone has all season. But the Greek Freak still put up big numbers, a reminder as to why even in defeat he’s one of the best in the game now. He finished with a double-double of 28 points and 10 rebounds along with dishing out seven assists. 

STUDS

Aron Baynes: Whether he’s coming off the bench or starting, by the end of the night he will make his presence known. Baynes’ plus/minus for the game was a team-best +8. In addition, he scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but maybe his most memorable play of the night was drawing a blocking foul against Giannis Antetokounmpo that prevented the Greek Freak from a powerful dunk. He stayed on the floor for a few seconds longer than usual, only to bounce back up and get ready for the next play. 

Malcolm Brogdon: The league’s reigning Rookie of the Year was one of the few scoring options the Bucks could turn to in the second half who actually produced at a fairly consistent clip. He would finish with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists along with a blocked shot.

DUDS

Thon Maker: He didn’t play a ton of minutes, and the reason was obvious. He was easily the most ineffective starter for the Bucks, missing three of his four shot attempts. But more than his lack of scoring, the Bucks just weren’t very good when he was on the floor which was validated when you see that he had a plus/minus of -11 which was worse than any other Bucks player on Thursday. Brad Stevens changed up his starting lineup for matchup purposes. The Bucks might think about doing the same with Maker who does not match up well with the Celtics’ big men.

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A weeks-late realization that the Celtics kind of did chase LeBron out of the East

A weeks-late realization that the Celtics kind of did chase LeBron out of the East

Jayson Tatum's Game 7 dunk did not influence LeBron James' decision to leave the Eastern Conference, no matter how much I will continue to say it daily. 

The truth, as we've all realized, is that LeBron's mind was made up long before Tatum boomed him right in the face. 

But while it wasn't about that specific play, it kind of was about Tatum dunks. And Jaylen Brown dunks. And Al Horford dunks. And these heartbreakers. 

For as much as we talk about the Celtics having a wide-open path to the NBA Finals now, the truth is they had that anyway if LeBron stayed with Cleveland. The ever-careful superstar had to know his options were to either stay in the East and get smoked by the Celtics or go out West and get smoked by the Warriors. If the results are the same, he might as well experience them in a nicer city. 

James' decision to go to the Lakers clearly wasn't about winning. If it were, he would have explored options like the Celtics, Rockets or taken the 76ers seriously.

His decision to leave the Cavaliers, however, had to at least be partially about winning. Just being home for Cleveland isn't enough; it was the fact that it could be a winner that got LeBron to return in the first place. With it no longer a title contender because of the Celtics' roster, staying in Cleveland was probably no longer worth it for James. 

What's interesting is that the Celtics knew it, too. Jaylen Brown's comments last week about wishing LeBron stayed in Cleveland were bang-on. Now that LeBron's gone, the Celtics' waltz to a Warriors matchup will be accompanied by talk from dumb people that they weren't able to do it when LeBron was in the conference. 

Here's why it's a smart move PR-wise on James' part: If LeBron stayed in the East and got beaten by the Celtics every year, people -- dumb people, but people nonetheless -- would talk about a torch being passed and how James was no longer dominant because he wasn't winning. 

The West presents a different narrative. Do you know what you're considered to be if you lose to the Warriors in the West? A victim. A victim of a super team and a victim of Kevin Durant's cowardice (the dumb people's words, not mine). 

So LeBron made an easy choice to leave Cleveland and the Celtics had to factor into it at least a little. If Kawhi Leonard eventually joins him, perhaps he can see the Celtics in the NBA Finals one of these years. That's a big "if" considering what we just saw Paul George do, but the fact of the matter is that LeBron's road to the finals was blocked whether he was in Cleveland or Los Angeles. 

Did LeBron run away from the Celtics? Not necessarily, but he clearly saw the effect the Celtics would have had on him if he stayed in Cleveland. It wasn't as pretty as L.A. 

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Get to know the newest Celtic, Walt Lemon Jr.

Get to know the newest Celtic, Walt Lemon Jr.

BOSTON – Walter Lemon Jr. has agreed to a two-way contract with the Boston Celtics, becoming the third player ever with such a designation for the Celtics.

He played four years at Bradley before taking his game overseas to play in Hungary, Istanbul, Greece, Germany and later returning to the United States to play for the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants of the Gatorade League.

But what do we really know about the newest member of the Celtics family?

Here’s a look at five facts about Lemon who, as a player with a two-way contract, will spend up to 45 days with the Celtics while the rest of his time will be spent with Boston’s G-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws:

*Despite being 6-foot-3, Lemon Jr. is comfortable playing above the rim. That’s evident by him competing in Slam Dunk contests both in college (2014 and 2015) and in the G-League (2016).

*Finished his career at Bradley ranked among the school’s top-10 in scoring, assists, and steals.

*Best scoring game in the G-League last season was a 40-point outburst against the Maine Red Claws, the team he will be playing with most of this upcoming season.

*Became the first player in school history to be named the Missouri Valley Conference Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2014.

*On July 26 he will turn 26 years old.

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