Three things to Know: Mitchell goes off for 40, adds to growing Celtics’ concerns
Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.
1) Mitchell goes off for 40, adds to growing Celtics concerns
“There’s no moral victories in this s***. We got to win games. Period.”
That was Jaylen Brown after the Celtics dropped their third straight and fourth in five games Monday night, this time to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who outlasted the Celtics in overtime 118-114. Boston was without Jayson Tatum for this game (knee contusion), but the concerns are broader than that.
Whether they are bored waiting for the playoffs or a little tired (or both), the Celtics are scuffling a little right when teams should be flipping the switch and fine-tuning for a playoff run.
There are reasons for concern in Boston.
First, give the Cavaliers their due — particularly Donovan Mitchell, who dropped 40 on a team built to slow elite wings, and his dunk in OT was hellacious. Mitchell has been spectacular in Cleveland this season and this is just an extension of his play all season.
Evan Mobley had 25 points and 16 rebounds as he has found more of a groove the second half of the season, and Lamar Stevens gave the Cavs some clutch play. The Cavaliers are now 7-0 this season in overtime.
As for Boston, this feels more like an issue of focus and desire than systemic issues.
The Celtics have struggled of late with transition defense, which in their case is a matter of hustle and execution. Tied to that is defensive rebounding — the Celtics are the best defensive rebounding team in the NBA this season, but they have lapses in key moments (and did again Monday).
Then there are the player issues. Grant Williams missed free throws that could have avoided OT — after telling Mitchell he would make both — and has had his struggles lately. Brown and Jayson Tatum are playing at All-NBA levels (Tatum will end up in the top five in MVP voting), but they have not been consistent down the stretch of late. Marcus Smart looks a step slower on defense at points.
Last season, Ime Udoka knew how to get through to this team and had them hustling and executing at a high level by the end. Does Joe Mazzulla have that in him? Mazzulla has been fantastic as a coach all season, keeping the continuity and not letting the Udoka situation become a distraction, but can he get this team focused for a playoff run (and is he a good playoff coach)? His biggest tests are ahead.
These are first-world problems — the Celtics are 45-21 with the third-best record in the NBA despite the recent slip-ups. But this team is all-in, title or bust, and they are being tested.
There are no more moral victories, this team needs to win some games.
2) Where do things stand with Ja Morant and the Grizzlies? An update.
After a day of news updates and a lot of hand-wringing in the media, here is where things stand with Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies a few days after he flashed a gun on his own Instagram Live stream from a club Saturday morning.
• He remains “away from the team” following the incident, and tonight (Tuesday), he will miss his second game, this one against the Lakers (who will be without LeBron James).
• Morant likely will be out longer than the two games initially mentioned by the Grizzlies, with coach Taylor Jenkins saying, “There’s not a definitive timeline [for a return]. I mean, we have said that it’s gonna be at least these two games, you know, we’re taking it one day at a time. I mean, this is going to be an ongoing healing process.”
• Police in Glendale, Colorado (part of the Denver metropolitan area), where the gun-waiving incident occurred, are investigating to see if any laws were broken. Colorado is an open carry state, but there are some restrictions and many questions about whose gun it was and how it got to the club.
• The NBA is investigating as well, with the focus on whose gun it was and how it got to the club. The league has a policy against guns on team properties or having them while traveling on team business — if Morant is found to have brought his gun on a team plane, he will face some level of league suspension (could be a handful of games, could be more).
• Regardless of where the gun is from, there is speculation the league could add an official suspension on top of the Grizzlies just having him be away from the team. The difference is pay — Morant is still collecting checks while away from the team, a league suspension (or an official team suspension, phrasing the Grizzlies have yet to use) is without pay.
• The Grizzlies conducted a team meeting, led by veteran Steven Adams, about behavior and going out on the road — that was a couple of days before Morant went to the club and flipped on Instagram Live.
• Sponsors have plans to feature Morant in the coming months — a Powerade commercial will be all over your television/streaming device during March Madness, and his signature Nike shoe drops next month. That hasn’t changed, but you can be sure the sponsors have noticed (and likely had a conversation with him).
• Morant released a statement over the weekend: “I take full responsibility for my actions last night. I’m sorry to my family, teammates, coaches, fans, partners, the city of Memphis and the entire organization for letting you down. I’m going to take some time away to get help and work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being.”
• The Grizzlies players and organization have wrapped their arms around him and see this as an opportunity to help a young man find his path, not simply punish him. There had been concerns about his off-the-court behavior and the behavior of his associates, the Grizzlies see this as a chance to change that dynamic and to do so not simply through discipline.
• It’s ultimately on Morant. Those associates around him are there partly because he is the breadwinner of the group — if Morant says, “things are like this from now on” they will fall in line because he has the power. He is the man making choices now, and he is wise to take some time, reflect on everything and decide what he wants his path to be.
3) Joel Embiid, James Harden keep putting on a show for the 76ers
While Boston is scuffling a little, Philadelphia looks like a team finding its groove.
Joel Embiid scored 42 points on 11-of-16 shooting (with 19 free throws), while Harden added 20 assists (as well as 14 points and nine rebounds), and the 76ers pulled away from the Pacers late to win 147-143.
This was a fun game to watch and the kind of night that has coaches pulling their hair out — there was little-to-no defense. It was an old-school shootout, but the Sixers found a way to get a win. Tyrese Maxey scored 24 and Jalen McDaniels added 20.
The 76ers have won 3-of-4 on a tough road trip.