Posts Tagged ‘Boston Celtics’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry won’t sit 4 weeks to heal injury | Gentry rips Pelicans’ effort vs. Mavs | Report: McCollum could have played last night | Raptors try to get by while Carroll mends | Lee officially out of Celtics’ rotation

No. 1: Curry unlikely to rest four weeks to heal troublesome shin — Several storylines follow the Golden State Warriors on a near-nightly basis now — whether or not they can surpass the NBA record of 72 wins set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, when coach Steve Kerr will return to the sidelines and whether or not Stephen Curry will suit up each night as he deals with a nagging shin injury. The first two questions remain unclear in terms of an immediate answer, but for the time being, Curry won’t be out of the lineup for weeks on end to heal the injury. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons has more on why Curry isn’t at risk if he keeps playing on the injury:

Warriors point guard Stephen Curry isn’t interested in sitting out four weeks to let the painful contusion on his left shin heal, and a noted orthopedic surgeon with a specialty in treating sports injuries says that’s just fine.

“He’s not risking his career or anything by this,” said Dr. Brian Schulz, who works for the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. “He’s just going to have to deal with pain, which he’s proven in the past is not a big deal for him.

“It’s not a serious thing, but it’s definitely something that could annoy him.”

Curry has been plenty annoyed by the injury, which occurred in the Warriors’ victory over Utah on Dec. 23. He has been kicked three times in the same spot since then, despite sitting out the Warriors’ back-to-back set last week in Dallas and in Houston.

It happened again in the third quarter Tuesday, when Curry’s shin smacked into the leg of Lakers center Roy Hibbert. The Warriors had to call a timeout calm the pain for Curry, who talked his way back onto the court.

“I’m not going to sit out four weeks, so we’ve just got to figure out how to protect it when I’m out there on the floor and keep playing,” said Curry, who is listed as questionable for Friday’s game at Portland on the team’s injury report. “We’ve done a good amount. I’ve just had a couple of unlucky plays. We’ll keep addressing it and keep treating it, I’ll keep playing, and hopefully, over time, I’ll get through it.”

The Warriors have been experimenting with different shin pads to protect Curry, and Schulz says anything that limits the force of the impact on the sensitive area is the correct way to go about it.

“The other option, which I know he’s not going to do, is just sit out until it goes away,” Schulz said. … “It’s not a structural-damage kind of thing. He’s not risking further damage, other than the fact that if he keeps banging it, it may linger around longer.”

Data curated by PointAfter

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Blogtable: Game at Fenway Park a good idea, a bad idea or a wild idea?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: What’s wrong with Phoenix? | Thoughts on a game at Fenway? | Tougher to officiate in MLB or NBA?



VIDEOPluses and minuses of playing an outdoor game

> The Celtics reportedly are interested in playing a regular-season game outdoors at Fenway Park. Is this a good idea, a bad idea, or just a wild idea that will never happen?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: I love this idea! Why not? Though, as someone who broadcast outdoor preseason games — in California — for TNT, make sure you bring a coat! When the sun went down, geez, it got cold. Maybe on St. Patrick’s Day — it might be more than 12 degrees outside by mid-March. Maybe. (Of course, you’d have to limit beer sales on St. Patty’s, ’cause that could wind up being Disco Demolition Night bad.)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMy buddies and I played our ugly brand of schoolyard basketball on the outskirts of Chicago well into November and again as early as March. So that potentially works, calendar-wise, in Boston. But we had one huge advantage over any NBA operation in scheduling our playground games — we woke up, saw what the weather was like and only then decided if we were going to hoop. Rainy? Windy? Chilly? Nope, nope, nope. The chilly part would be the easiest for the Celtics to thwart, I presume, with big ol’ sun lamps, space heaters and maybe electric coils positioned under the court. A big canopy for rain? Uh, not so good. Wind screens that somehow wouldn’t block the view? Good luck with that. It’s the unpredictability rather than the severity of the elements that makes this a better idea for Houston than for Boston.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIf you’re gonna go gimmick, go big gimmick. So as long as it’s in February, I’m all for it. May the ghost of Red Auerbach blow cigar smoke in their faces.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: B and C. It’s a bad idea. While the concept worked with exhibition games near Palm Springs in October, the key words to remember are “exhibition games,” “Palm Springs” and “October.” The absolute worst that could have happened would be a preseason contest would have to be called off because of unexpectedly bad weather. The worst thing that did happen was bad wind one year, while the weather other times was good to perfect. But Boston from Halloween to April is obviously far less dependable. Spring can be nice, but does anyone want to risk putting a game on the schedule and then having it snowed out with possible playoff implications on the line? If the Celtics keep the date open at the arena as well for fallback duty, then we may have something. Decide, say, two days before whether Fenway will happen. The idea works under that scenario. But Outdoors Or Bust is a bad idea and a wild idea.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com Will. Never. Happen. A game outdoors in the snowy north? Not sure who hatched this idea, but basketball is meant to be played in comfort, without worrying about the elements. November through April in Boston is unforgiving. Or am I missing something?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It sounds like a possibly OK idea (weather permitting) for a preseason game in early October. It sounds like an awful idea for any other time on the NBA calendar.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think it’s a wild idea that no doubt will happen if it’s already being floated around as a possibility. It would be spectacle for sure, especially if the game could be played before the New England weather goes from that crisp fall air to bone-chilling cold. A season-opener or even a test-run for a preseason game and it might work. But anything after Halloween could come with serious weather-related complications. I love Fenway Park, I don’t need to see basketballs bouncing anywhere near it. TD Garden works just fine!

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I hope it’s the windiest day on record. Along the same lines I’d also like to see PGA golfers playing a tournament on a $16 public course. Let the pro golfers stand on our bare-dirt tee boxes and putt our slow bumpy greens. Let the NBA players gauge the wind while shooting free throws. (For DeAndre Jordan, it might actually help.)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: In concept, it seems pretty cool. Fenway is more than just a baseball stadium, it’s an historic architectural site, and if the Celtics could figure out some way to guarantee the weather will be conducive to playing basketball, it seems like it would be an awesome spectacle. The weather part might be the toughest hurdle, as it may not be warm enough for an outdoor game until the spring, when the Celtics (and any willing opponents) may be in a playoff chase, which might make them less likely to submit to an outdoor game.

With Jack gone, Nets facing winter of discontent


VIDEO: Jack leaves game with knee injury

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — What little hope the Brooklyn Nets had for making a return to the playoffs this season may have just left the borough.

Earlier Sunday the Nets announced point guard Jarrett Jack will miss the remainder of the season following surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a meniscus tear in his right knee. Jack suffered the injury during Saturday night’s 100-97 win at Boston. That win put the Nets at 10-23 on the season, the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Jarrett Jack was never a classic pass-first point guard, but on these Brooklyn Nets he wasn’t asked to play that role. Through 32 games, Jack was averaging 12.8 points and 7.4 assists. He was Brooklyn’s most reliable player on the perimeter, and its best option to create some sort of opportunity when the offense was breaking down. Jack’s absence will likely be felt as strongly off the court as it will be on the floor — Jack was particularly well-liked in the Brooklyn locker room, both by his teammates and media.

Brooklyn’s path forward without Jack is murky. In the immediate future, the Nets will likely insert third-year point guard Shane Larkin, who has thus far averaged 6.6 point and 3.8 assists in 29 games, into the starting lineup. Veteran guard Donald Sloan, who made the Nets out of training camp and has seen action in 13 games, could also see an increase in playing time. Joe Johnson can ostensibly handle the ball and run an offense, but after logging over 40,000 minutes over 16 seasons, the miles seem to have caught up to him this season, as he is shooting a career-worst 36 percent from the floor.

To replace Jack’s production, the Nets will likely rely more on Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, who have proven to be a capable duo on the interior when healthy, combining to average 35.6 points and 17.9 rebounds. Forward Bojan Bogdanovic has scored in double figures in 10 of his last 13 games. Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was probably Brooklyn’s best perimeter defender before an ankle injury in December, and his return could come around the All-Star break.

Long-term, the Nets’ future has just as many questions, with answers that are even tougher to find. That the Nets were able to defeat the Celtics on Saturday night was no small irony, as the Nets leveraged their immediate future several seasons ago thanks to the Celtics, by trading numerous draft picks for what turned out to be less than two seasons of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. As a result, the Celtics own Brooklyn’s first round picks in 2016 and 2018, as well as the ability to swap first round picks with the Nets in 2017.

Brooklyn’s best chance to improve in the short-term likely resides in free agency. After taking on salary for years, the Nets have recently worked to get under the luxury tax, and don’t have much financial flexibility to immediately go out and sign a replacement for Jack. They could apply for a Disabled Player Exception to generate some economic wiggle room, but would still need to create a roster slot. With Johnson’s contract expiring this summer and the Nets holding a team option on the contracts of Jack and Markel Brown, and with the salary cap expected near $90 million thanks to the NBA’s new television contract, the Nets could enter next summer with $30 million to spend.

But the summer is still months away. This season, the Nets were already one of the NBA’s worst teams. Now they just lost their leader, and still have 50 games left to play.

It may be a long, cold winter in Brooklyn.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 3


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry reinjures leg, Warriors win in overtime | Jack injures knee, will have MRI | Pistons, Pacers end with theatrics | Pop says Crawford will be missed

No. 1:Curry reinjures leg, Warriors win in overtime After leading the Golden State Warriors to a historic 29-1 start to the season, Stephen Curry missed the last two games while resting a shin injury. It is no coincidence that the Warriors went 1-1 without Curry, the NBA’s leading scorer at 29.7 points per game. Curry made his return last night against the Denver Nuggets, but had to exit in the second quarter after aggravating his injury. As Ethan Strauss writes for ESPN.com, even down to six players, the Warriors managed to win in overtime even without the MVP…

After missing the two previous games with a left shin contusion suffered Monday against the Sacramento Kings, Curry reinjured the shin and departed to the locker room with 2:15 remaining in the second quarter.

According to Curry, the injury occurred when a Nuggets player made contact with his leg in the second quarter.

“I got kicked,” Curry said after the game.

Curry confirmed it was a reinjury of his earlier contusion and said he was hit “right in the same spot, playing defense. It’s funny. I guess whenever you hurt something, [if] you try to play through a little bit of discomfort and try to get out there, something happens. Just got to deal with it.”

Curry’s injury left the Warriors with only six available players due to myriad other injuries.

Of the overtime victory Golden State gained despite depletion, Curry praised, “Chips stacked against them, short bench, guys playing 40-plus minutes, found a way to scrap and claw, get stops down the stretch, fight through the fatigue factor, make a couple plays on the offensive plays as well. Gutsy win.”

On how he felt going into the game, Curry said, “I felt pretty good, just somewhat fresh legs and didn’t have to compensate for anything. Just sucks that was the spot that I got hit in. See how it feels for Monday.”

Further elaborating on his prognosis, he added, “I know exactly what happened. It’s just a matter of how it feels tomorrow and go from there. It’s not as bad as the first time it happened, so that’s good news.”


VIDEO: Curry reinjures left leg

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry’s absence could be brief | Butler: Hoiberg ‘holding me accountable’ | Kobe relishes final Boston trip

No. 1: Curry’s injury absence may be brief — The Golden State Warriors are 29-1 this season with reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry in the lineup … and 0-1 without him. Last night, the Warriors suffered a 114-91 throttling on the road in Dallas as J.J. Barea carved up the Golden State defense time and again. The good news for Golden State fans, though, according to Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, is that Curry isn’t going to miss much more time:

The Warriors seemingly got good news Wednesday when the results of the MRI exam on StephenCurry’s lower left leg showed only a bruise, possibly costing him just one game.

Interim head coach Luke Walton, who is saddled with filling the gaping hole left by the league’s MVP — as seen in the Warriors’ 114-91 loss to Dallas on Wednesday — said the only real relief would have been a medical report declaring Curry healthy and available to play right away.

“We told the guys that we need everyone else to step up, but not with an individual attitude: ‘I’m going to go get these points for us.’ It’s got to be: ‘We are going to do this, we’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to look for our shots, we’re going to attack, and we’re going to create for our teammates,’” Walton said. “It’s got to be a team effort to fill that type of void.…

“It’s always interesting to see how guys will rise to that challenge and still get after it and compete. I think we have guys who will try to do that.”

Curry headed to the team bus after the game, wearing a Chewbacca backpack and electing not to talk to reporters about his injury.

The MVP is considered day-to-day, with the Warriors even leaving open the chance of him playing at Houston on Thursday. Walton said being without Curry for a brief time won’t change the way the Warriors approach games.

Shaun Livingston started Wednesday, and Andre Iguodala also logged point-guard minutes, but the Warriors like to monitor the minutes of the players in their 30s with injury histories. So Ian Clark, who scored a personal-high 21 points Wednesday, could receive extended playing time until Curry returns.

“Knowing Steph, he’ll want to get back on the court as soon as possible,” Walton said. “Having the record that we do is definitely a luxury, as far as it not being necessary for him to come back too soon.…

“But he’s one of those guys who wants to be out there. He wants to be with his team, and he wants to be competing. A lot of that will be decided between the medical staff and Steph.”


VIDEO: Dallas drops Golden State in Texas

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Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Dec. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan pays tribute to Kobe | Cavs right ship with team meeting | Spurs find ways to win | Report: Burks opts for surgery

No. 1: Jordan pays tribute to Kobe Kobe Bryant is in his 20th season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, so its easy to forget that Bryant was actually drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, and later traded to the Lakers. Bryant returned to Charlotte last night on his farewell tour for his final game in the Queen City, and while Hornets owner Michael Jordan couldn’t make it in person, the Hornets welcomed Kobe with a video message from Jordan before the game. As ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, Kobe appreciated the tribute…

Bryant said he spoke with Jordan on Sunday and knew the video would be shown.

“It was awesome. It was awesome,” Bryant said. “He and I — as he said in the video — we talk pretty often. But it was pretty funny to see some of the reactions of my teammates. I was sitting next to Julius Randle before the game. He was like, ‘Yo, that’s amazing!’ I was like, ‘What?’ [He said] ‘That was Michael Jordan!'”

Bryant added, “We talk fairly often. I know he’s enjoying a little vacation time. I told him I was a little jealous. He said, ‘You’ll be here soon enough.'”

While Jordan transitioned into an ownership role for an NBA team, Bryant said he doesn’t expect to follow the same path.

“No, he and I differ entirely when it comes to that,” Bryant said. “He’s a mathematician. He loves math. He loves numbers, loves dealing with numbers. I don’t. I could care less. I suck at math. So from that perspective, I’m not going to be looking at cap numbers and all that other stuff. I just have no interest in it.”

Bryant again was warmly received by a road crowd that chanted his name at numerous points throughout the game, including when the buzzer sounded.

“It’s been like that every city, fortunately,” he said. “Here it’s a little bit different because this is the city that drafted me, so my journey started here. As brief as it was, it still started here. That has a little more value to it.”

But perhaps no stop means as much — or carries as much personal history for Bryant and his team — as the stop Wednesday, when Bryant will play his final game in Boston against the archrival Celtics, a team Bryant faced twice in the Finals. The Lakers lost in 2008, then won in 2010.

“Love-hate fest sort of thing,” he said of what he is expecting from the crowd. “I’m bringing my family down because my kids have never even been to Boston. They’ve never even been to Boston. I’m looking forward to them getting a chance to see the city a little bit and then just experience the green. It’s just a different green. I want them to be able to see that.”

Bryant also said he misses playing the villain, which meant being booed at road arenas.

“Yeah. It was just so natural to me for so many years,” he said. “It became something that just felt comfortable. It felt a little awkward at first, to be honest with you, to get this praise, but I’m glad they didn’t do this many, many years ago because it’s like kryptonite. It would’ve taken away all my energy and all my strength because I relied a lot on being the villain. Sometimes, the best way to beat the villain is to give them a hug.”


VIDEO: Jordan Honors Kobe

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Morning Shootaround — Dec. 22


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The Thunder are rolling | As the Bulls turn | Garnett makes final(?) visit to Boston | Blazers’ backcourt in good hands

No. 1: The Thunder are rolling For a team with championship aspirations, it was exactly the kind of game they needed to win: A close game, on the road, against another contender. And for the Oklahoma City Thunder, just as important was how they beat the Los Angeles Clippers, with their superstar duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking over down the stretch, hitting key shots and getting a huge defensive stop. It was the Thunder’s eighth win in nine games, and don’t look now, but the Thunder have climbed among the Western Conference’s elite. As Anthony Slater writes in The Oklahoman, they’ll take it…

With 5.8 seconds left on Monday night in the Staples Center, Kevin Durant’s all-world offense put the Thunder in front.

Then just before the buzzer, his underrated defense sealed OKC’s biggest road win of the young season — 100-99 over the Clippers in Los Angeles.

As an emotional but surprisingly sloppy game navigated toward the finish, the pendulum of momentum swung wildly in the final minutes. Both sides nailed big shots, but committed equally huge turnovers.

With 10 seconds left, after a Chris Paul steal and layup, the Clippers had a one-point lead. OKC called timeout and then Billy Donovan called Durant’s number.

Off the ensuing inbound, Durant raced toward the right wing, created enough space against solid defense from Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and then rose for a 19-footer with the game in the balance.

“It was the most care-free I felt the whole game,” Durant said. “Try not to think about it. If I miss it, store it in the memory bank and be better next time. If I make it, move on.”

On this night, Durant’s made it. But it may not have been his biggest play of the game.

Now leading 100-99, the Thunder still needed a stop. And it had trouble creating them against Chris Paul on Monday night.

Paul finished with 32 points and 10 assists, done on an efficient 11-of-19 shooting. But his biggest attempt was a miss.

Paul, like Durant, drove right as the final seconds ticked down and found one of his most comfortable spots. From about 12 feet out, Paul hit Serge Ibaka with a little stepback and seemed to create enough space to get off a short fadeaway.

But Durant left his man, Wesley Johnson, in the corner and surprised Paul, reaching over just in time to slightly block the fadeaway, causing it to fall far short of the hoop.

“He had no other choice but to shoot it,” Durant said. “I knew he was gonna shoot it, so I wasn’t gonna sit there and let him. It was a second on the clock. He had no other options. And he’s 6-feet and I’m 6-11.”

As the ball bounced away and time expired, Durant let out a yell and huge fist-pump, untucking his jersey and staring down the courtside row that featured Drake and Floyd Mayweather.

“I feel like my defense has grown,” Durant said. “Coaches challenged me at the start of the year just to step it up to another level on the defensive end. I’ve just been trying to play as hard as I can.”

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No. 2: As the Bulls turn The Chicago Bulls had a high profile coaching change during the offseason, swapping out Tom Thibodeau for Fred Hoiberg, while mostly keeping their core players intact. Yet there has been more than enough drama early on this season, with the most recent bump in the road coming from Jimmy Butler, who said Hoiberg needed to “coach harder.” Getting a win can fix a lot of things, but last night the Bulls couldn’t even get that against the struggling Nets, losing 105-102, and possibly losing big man Joakim Noah for an extended time. As Nick Friedell writes for ESPN.com, right now the Bulls have a few things that need fixing…

“We had no togetherness at all,” Hoiberg said. “We had no toughness.”

When the eulogy of the 2015-16 Bulls is written at the end of the season, that may well be the opening line.

All the flaws the Bulls were supposed to fix in the wake of Jimmy Butler calling out his new head coach after Saturday’s loss to the New York Knicks were as clear as they ever were on Monday. Players coasted through much of the game against a weaker opponent. Rotations and pairings didn’t have consistency and went through spells of inefficiency. The defense, which has been solid much of the season, was porous most of the night. For all the talk and good vibes emanating from the Advocate Center on Monday morning after Butler said he cleared the air with both his teammates and coach, the Bulls still looked like a team with no identity and no answer on how to find one.

“What was missing tonight, I feel, has been missing a lot of the games,” Bulls big man Pau Gasol said. “I think it’s just a sense of urgency. We cruise for most of the game and then when we have our backs against the wall we turn it up, we pick it up and we try to give ourselves a chance. But some of those times it’s just too late and then other teams are in rhythm, they’re confident, and you lose games like this one.”

Losing games is one thing; losing games fewer than 48 hours after your best player called out your first-year head coach is another. For the Bulls to perform this way against a Brooklyn team that came into this game with a 7-20 record and a five-game losing streak is embarrassing to a group of players that came into this season believing they could contend for a championship.

“We were outplayed in every aspect of the game,” Butler said.

When asked for an explanation as to why the intensity isn’t there consistently for this group, Butler didn’t have a good answer.

“There is no explanation, truthfully,” Butler said. “It’s supposed to be there all the time. We talk about it. Obviously it’s not. It is a concern. We have to fix it as a group.”

In order to fix these problems, that would mean the Bulls would have to come together as a group. With the way they have performed this season, and for much of last season, there’s no reason to believe that’s actually going to happen. The Bulls look like a group that doesn’t like playing with each other. The unity that was prevalent in years past is gone. Butler has been vocal about being the leader of this group, but in order to be the leader players have to want to follow what a person says. Up to this point in the season, the Bulls still don’t have a leader. They haven’t taken to Hoiberg’s system and they haven’t responded to Butler’s challenges.

“We all have to take responsibility,” Gasol said. “We all have to take it personally. This has to hurt. If it doesn’t hurt, then we have a problem that might not be correctable.”

That’s the problem for the Bulls. They say the right things but they don’t follow the words up with the right actions. When asked about Butler’s comments, Gasol, who wasn’t in New York City on Saturday after being given the night off to rest, actually seemed to agree with Butler’s sentiment. The veteran believed Butler should have kept his commentary “indoors” but didn’t condemn him the way he could have.

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No. 3: Garnett makes final(?) visit to Boston Minnesota big man Kevin Garnett has been sitting out the second half of back-to-back games, a kind of self-preservation employed by many NBA veterans. But it meant that Garnett didn’t play last night in Boston, a homecoming game of sorts for the Big Ticket, who won a title in 2008 as a member of the Celtics. With the clock ticking on Garnett’s career, it was perhaps KG’s last visit to Boston, and even if he wasn’t going to get off the bench, as Steve Bulpett writes in the Boston Herald, fans in Boston couldn’t wait to shower KG with love…

Kevin Garnett was stoic for nearly 47 basketball minutes and the time in between.

The Garden crowd had gone from several “We want KG” chants to a “KG-KG-KG” shout to a “Thank you, KG” refrain, but the object of the affection, in uniform but not playing for the Timberwolves on the second day of a back-to-back, held his emotions in check.

Then Brad Stevens called a 20-second timeout with 1:02 left, ostensibly to get his starters out of the game — and maybe to help Jordan Mickey get his varsity letter.

Then the disco beat began to thump from the speakers above.

Then “Gino,” the Celtic video victory cigar, appeared on the video screen in all his American Bandstand glory, and Garnett could hold it in no longer.

He smiled. He pointed to the screen. He laughed. He turned and acknowledged the crowd that had been showering him with love all evening.

Yes, Kevin Garnett — the man so compulsively competitive that he swats away opponents’ shots taken after the whistle — was digging the scene with his team down by 15 points.

With the home team ahead by as many as 22 in the last quarter, the given was that Gino would make an appearance. The only question was whether KG would have the same reaction he used to when the video was a more frequent part of Celtic home games, a love affair that began for Garnett during the 2007-08 championship season.

But Gino was the irresistible force last night.

“That was classic,” said Garnett after the 113-99 final. “That was like cherry on top for me. My teammates were looking at me like, ‘What is this?’ I was like, ‘I’ll explain it later.’

“But thank you. Thank you for whoever put the Gino on. I know my guys here put it on for me, so I appreciate it. I appreciate that.”

Longtime Celtics fan Wilson Tom got Garnett a “Gino” T-shirt before the game, but KG chose to wear Wolves’ warmups instead of civilian clothing, which probably served to raise the fans’ hopes.

“On back-to-backs, very difficult for me, regardless of what I look like out here,” Garnett said as he stood by a wall in the hallway outside the visitors’ dressing room. “I think that’s a tribute to, you know, obviously a work ethic and things I put into this. Making 39 look like 25 these days. But it’s very hard. It’s hard to even come into this building and not want to, want to play.

“But the appreciation that not only the city, but the Mass. area and the northeast, they’ve given me, the love is unconditional. I’m very appreciative. I definitely heard all the chants.”

He appreciated, too, the spontaneous outpourings from the crowd, though the one about wanting him begat some mixed emotions.

“I really wanted them to stop that, because I didn’t know if Sam (Mitchell, the coach) was going to actually put me in,” KG said with a laugh. “I was like, please, please. But it was cool. Like I said, appreciation is . . . unconditional appreciation is overwhelming. So thank you guys for that. I appreciate that.”

(Little chance of Mitchell being sentimental. He seemed perturbed when asked about the fans’ shouts for KG. “It was nice,” he said after a pause.)

Garnett drank it all in, as he did when he first returned as a Brooklyn Net.

“I think I’ll always have that kind of reaction here,” he said. “Boston’s always been a special place in my heart, probably always will. That outcome tonight wasn’t the way I wanted it to be, (but) it was a great homecoming. It felt really good to be in the building.”

Asked what Boston meant to him, KG didn’t hesitate.

“Everything,” he said. “It meant everything. I like to say that Minnesota made me a young man. I grew up when I came to Boston. I learned a lot coming from the Minnesota situation and I applied it in my Boston situation. I got all but great memories here.”


VIDEO: Garnett receives standing ovation in Boston

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No. 4: Blazers’ backcourt in good hands When LaMarcus Aldridge announced this summer that he was leaving for Portland for San Antonio, and Wesley Matthews also decamped for Dallas, it raised as many questions in PDX as it did answer them in their new cities. But the emergence of C.J. McCollum, alongside All-Star Damian Lillard, seems to have answered a lot of doubters. And as our Shaun Powell writes, the Blazers have a backcourt ready to carry them for the foreseeable future

The teammates that play together, hang out together and carry the Blazers together also managed to get injured together in the same game. And so, we’ve learned something else about the quickly-formed bond between guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum: They even limp alike.

This is bad, because the Blazers were missing their heart and soul Monday against the Hawks. But in a warped kind of way, this is good, because their two most important players once again have shown to be clearly in step even when those steps are painful.

“They’re so much alike,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “That’s why they’re great together. They compliment each other well because of the problems they cause for other people and their ability to create for each other.”

Lillard has plantar fasciitis in his left heel and missed a game, a first for him in four-plus seasons; his streak of 275 straight games played is third-longest among active players. Also on Sunday against the Mavericks, McCollum sprained both of his ankles; he also sat against Atlanta but could return sooner. Lillard and McCollum perhaps carry bigger backpacks than any tandem in basketball, definitely from a buckets standpoint. They generate 44 percent of Portland’s points and just over half of Portland’s assists. Any basketball that the Blazers use have more fingerprints from Lillard and McCollum than pebbles.

With the Blazers in the beginning stages of a rebuild, Lillard and McCollum are all that separate the Blazers from being the Sixers of the Western Conference. Or close to it. The hope in Portland is that once the Blazers are ready to win again, McCollum and Lillard will still be in their prime and not worn down from the experience.

At the moment, they’re dangerous together, two smallish guards with the right amount of quickness and shooting to cause headaches and matchup issues for teams, and their development has been both effortless and rapid. They are more peanut butter and jelly than oil and water, showing no signs of conflict or inability to share the wealth and load.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” said McCollum. “We knew this was inevitable. We knew it was going to happen eventually. We just didn’t know when.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Joakim Noah will have an MRI today on his injured shoulder … John Wall injured his ribs during a win against the Kings, but says he doesn’t expect to miss any gamesDeron Williams says maybe he just wasn’t built for New YorkDavid West on his decision to leave Indianapolis for San Antonio … The Rockets say reports of Dwight Howard‘s unhappiness brought them together … The Sixers say Joel Embiid is making stridesKristaps Porzingis would like to sell you a mattress

Morning shootaround — Dec. 20


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Bulls’ ‘transition’ game in crisis | Welcome back, Kyrie | Tweaking the Trail Blazers | Taking Celtics from solid to super

No. 1: Bulls’ ‘transition’ game in crisisJimmy Butler‘s criticism Saturday night in New York of new head coach Fred Hoiberg‘s work style seemingly peeled back the curtain on an issue that is costing the Chicago Bulls chemistry and ultimately victories. If, as Butler alleges, Hoiberg hasn’t been tough enough on the Bulls in practices or on game nights, the responsibility for that falls … everywhere in the organization. Certainly it’s on Hoiberg to do whatever it takes, even if riding herd on grown men isn’t what earned him this job via his success in college at Iowa State. It’s on the Bulls players, who have been less than professional in their preparation and focus on multiple nights, whether they’ve won or lost. And it’s on management – chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, VP of basketball John Paxson and Gar Forman – for giving the locker room the license to drift sideways last season during the Cold War with since-fired Tom Thibodeau, and still sees the team saddled with some of the bad habits that produced. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com analyzed the team’s plight overnight:

First and foremost, it’s not every day that an NBA player calls out his head coach so publicly. Former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was a taskmaster, and the relationship between his players, including Butler, frayed last season before he was fired at the end of the season. But despite all the friction, no player ever called out Thibodeau publicly. They couldn’t stand him at times because of his domineering ways, but they always respected him because of his work ethic. Twenty-five games into Hoiberg’s tenure, he has to face the reality that his best player just called him out on a public stage.

While it has been clear to many around the team that the Bulls are struggling to adjust to Hoiberg’s style after five years under Thibodeau, that storyline, at least in the short term, will ride shotgun next to this one: How will Butler’s comments be received within the organization?

It’s possible that Butler might face some disciplinary action for calling out his coach in the media. But it’s also possible that Butler was speaking not just for himself, but for other teammates who also feel that Hoiberg’s style isn’t working for them. Either way, the foundation for Butler’s future as the face and voice of the Bulls will either be cemented or crushed by his comments on Saturday. They might serve as a turning point for a player who desperately wants to be seen as the focal point of the organization — a final vocal push to get out from underneath Derrick Rose’s long shadow.

Or, Butler’s comments may become the beginning of the end for a talented player who bit off more than he can chew within the organization. To say that Hoiberg has the full support of the front office would be an understatement. Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive VP John Paxson have supported Hoiberg both publicly and privately at every turn. He signed a five-year, $25 million contract six months ago and is entrenched as the coach for the future.

But that’s where this saga gets tricky for the Bulls. Butler was supposed to be the future king of the roster, the player they would build around, after signing a five-year extension worth over $90 million in July. Along with Hoiberg, Butler was supposed to be at the forefront of everything the Bulls did. Now, those questions will be left under a microscope for the rest of the basketball world to see.

So with Monday’s game against Brooklyn looming before a couple days of practice and the Christmas date at Oklahoma City, the Bulls and their fans are waiting for the next shoe to drop like…

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No. 2: Welcome Back, Kyrie! — As excited as NBA fans are for the Christmas Day slate of games, with Cleveland at Golden State as the holiday’s centerpiece, they ought to be at least a little jazzed about the Philadelphia at Cleveland matinee today. OK, the Sixers will be responsible for 50 percent of the basketball offered up at Quicken Loans Arena, but the game marks the 2015-16 debut of Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. Back finally from his recovery from knee surgery, which ended his playoffs in June in Game 1 of the Finals, Irving hardly could be more eager. “I’m pretty [expletive] excited to be back out there,” he told reporters Saturday. Our man Shaun Powell wrote about Irving’s comeback challenge and so did Jason Lloyd, the Cavs beat man for Ohio.com:

It has been a long time coming.

He fractured his kneecap in Game 1 of June’s NBA Finals after fighting knee problems throughout the postseason. The Cavs and Irving remained cautious and conservative during his rehab. He was finally cleared for full practices a couple of weeks ago and he kept building for this moment.

It has been clear for about a week Irving would make his debut against the 76ers. Realistically it’s an easier opponent to begin against since they’re the worst team in the league and it will serve as a way for Irving to ease back into competitive basketball. He’ll be on a minutes restriction to start, but doesn’t anticipate problems falling back in rhythm with his old teammates.

“There is no specific reason on why now,” he said. “Just wanted to take the doctor’s precautions as well as our team’s precautions. Obviously, as a competitor, you want to get out there. But for me, I let go of all my selfish, inside emotions and just put them aside and did what was best for my body and did what was best for the team.”

The Cavs went 17-7 in Irving’s absence and remain atop the East despite not having a full roster for any game this season. They ended the Oklahoma City Thunder’s six-game winning streak Thursday night despite missing Irving, Mo Williams and Iman Shumpert.

That just reiterated to Irving a team that finds ways to win regardless of who is on the floor.

“There’ll be an adjustment period, but knocking the rust off is something I’m looking forward to,” Irving said. “It’s not like I’m coming in and just trying to take 15 to 20 shots right after I come off injury. It’s just trying to gel back in and continue to play the right way. My basketball knowledge, I’m pretty confident in coming in and not trying to overdo it in any single way and just be aggressive.”

***

No. 3:Tweaking the Trail Blazers — There was some player-on-coach criticism in Portland, too, though it didn’t rise nearly to the level of Butler’s comments about Bulls boss Hoiberg. Big man Mason Plumlee had made a plea after Friday’s loss in Orlando for the team to add variety to its 3-point-heavy attack. So by Saturday, Blazers coach Terry Stotts was responding to Plumlee’s remarks and the player was rephrasing some of the things he said or meant, as reported by Jason Quick of CSNNW.com:

After Saturday’s practice in Miami, Plumlee clarified that he wasn’t taking a shot at Blazers coach Terry Stotts and his offensive system, but rather pointing out the Blazers have to do more than just shoot threes.

“We have guys who are really shooting the three well, but you can’t live and die by the shot,’’ Plumlee said in Miami. “We have to add to it. I’m not being critical. Guys like Dame, CJ and A.C. do that very well, and we have to complement that in some way.’’

When the notion of broadening the offense was later brought up to Stotts, it was apparent the coach had heard Plumlee’s suggestion.

“Is that Mason’s interview?’’ Stotts interjected before the question was finished.

When told it was, Stotts had an answer ready.

“I’m open to expanding the offense, but the truth is we’ve been in the top 10 most of the year in offense, and offense has not necessarily been a problem,’’ Stotts said. “We are in the top 10 in 3-point field goal percentage … that’s a strength of ours. Our passing, moving and cutting has been good, so my biggest concern … obviously I’m always concerned about both ends of the court … but my biggest concern is where we are defensively and how we improve defensively.’’

Plumlee’s answer in Orlando was generated from a question asking whether the Blazers have figured out their identity. He noted on Saturday that his answer Friday suggested the Blazers could make defense one of their traits.

“I guess when I was saying that, I’m thinking offensively and defensively,’’ Plumlee said. “We got our butts kicked in the paint last game and it puts pressure on those guys to be perfect from three-point range. You can’t do that.’’

Plumlee also noted that he could help the Blazers in forging a more well-rounded offensive identity by becoming more consistent inside. He pointed to his last two offensive games –- 4-for-14 at Oklahoma City and 2-for-6 at Orlando – as evidence.

“As a big guy, you should be around 50 percent,’’ Plumlee said. “So, speaking to myself, I’ve got to convert better, because I’ve had opportunities. Just finishing plays and getting more second shots. Getting offensive rebounds. But we have to find some kind of presence other than three’s … I guess that’s what I’m saying.’’

***

No. 4:Taking Celtics from solid to super — The rebuild in Boston has gone well, fairly smoothly and relatively quickly. The Celtics are admired for the energy and teamwork they bring on most nights, and coach Brad Stevens already is considered one of the league’s best despite his modest tenure. But good doesn’t stay good for long, not in an NBA market so accustomed to great. Writing for SBNation.com, Paul Flannery looked at the challenges facing Boston as it tries to take the next, ambitious step:

When they play well together they can beat anyone in the league and when they don’t, they can get “exposed,” to use Stevens’ word from the Atlanta loss. One can look at their net ratings and other exotic measures and say that they’ve underachieved a bit, but it’s hard to look at their roster and reach the same conclusion.

The Celtics have a lot of solid players, but with the exception of [Isaiah] Thomas, they lack the kind of scorers who can take over games. Thomas has been great this season, but he’s the only one who is truly capable of creating his own shot in their halfcourt offense and his size limitations are an issue when teams switch taller defenders on him in the closing moments.

That’s not to say they have a bunch of scrubs. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder are both having wonderful seasons, arguably the best of their respective careers. Every team in the league would love to have them on their side. Evan Turner has become a valuable and trusted reserve. Amir Johnson has been everything they hoped when they signed him in free agency and Jared Sullinger has put his career back on track. Marcus Smart was playing well before a knee injury kept him out of the lineup and Kelly Olynyk has had a breakthrough year defensively. (Seriously, he’s been very good on that end of the floor.)

That’s a solid team most nights, and Stevens has consistently said that he’s happy with the team’s progress. He hinted on Saturday that a lineup change may be coming and one possibility would be limiting David Lee’s minutes in favor of Jonas Jerebko and playing more smallball. Lee is the only regular with a negative net rating and the C’s have been more than five points better when he’s off the floor.

But that’s tinkering on the margins. If the Celtics are going to move beyond this stage then Danny Ainge will have to make a move. There’s been speculation for months — years even — about Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, but that seems unlikely at this juncture. There has never been universal agreement in the team’s front office that Cousins is the player to go all in for and it’s not even certain that Cousins would be available at all.

A knockdown shooter would definitely help matters, considering their woeful 33 percent mark from behind the arc, but there aren’t many of them available right now. Denver’s Danilo Gallinari, for example, can’t be traded until February. Not that the Nuggets have shown any interest in moving him either. The NBA’s version of parity has produced a number of interesting side effects and one of them is the notion that with more teams competing for playoff spots, there are fewer sellers than usual.

As it stands, the Celtics’ best chance to land a game-changing player is in this summer’s draft where they own Brooklyn’s pick without protection as the latest installment of the KG/Paul Pierce heist. In addition to their own choice, they also have Dallas’ first round selection (top-7 protected) and Minnesota’s first rounder if it falls out of the top 12 picks (doubtful, but not out of the realm of possibility). They’ve also got a bunch of second rounders with protections too numerous and complex to list here. Suffice to say, they’ve got a lot of picks coming and more on the way in the future from Brooklyn and Memphis.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Look out, rest of the NBA! LeBron James has a new obsession and all you can do while he pursue it is to line up and stand idly by: he’s working on his free throws. … No one needs to worry about the L.A. Clippers, according to point guard Chris Paul, except maybe the Clippers and their fans. … Kevin Durant, an unabashed Kobe Bryant fan, had a whole new batch of raves about the Lakers guard after their dinner together Friday night in OKC. … Trevor Ariza was just a local kid when he met Bryant, who eventually would become a teammate and rival, and he lauds the Lakers’ retiring star as well. … The Miami Heat have taken strides this season but aren’t quite ready to say “kumbiya!” … John Wall had to play a whole bunch of minutes to get Washington past Charlotte, but if the Wizards aren’t careful, Wall might join their long list of injured players.

Breaking down the parity in the East


VIDEO: Jeremy Lin’s 35 points lead the Hornets over the Raptors in overtime

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers’ win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday put the Eastern Conference back over .500 (76-75) in games against the West. While the West has only six teams with winning records, the East has 10.

Only 2 1/2 games separate the second place Bulls from the 10th place Celtics in the standings. Teams Nos. 2-10 in the East all have 14, 15 or 16 wins.

That makes for a lot of good matchups between teams fighting for playoff position. And there are three of them on League Pass Friday night: Hawks-Celtics (7:30 ET), Raptors-Heat (8 ET) and Pistons-Bulls (8 ET).

Beyond the Cavs, no team has distinguished itself as a favorite to win a round or two in the playoffs. They all have reasons to believe in them and reasons to doubt them. Here’s a rundown of Teams 2-10 in the East…

20151218_east_2-10_over

Atlanta (15-12) has the experience. It was the No. 1 seed last season and is one of only two teams within the group that won a playoff series earlier this year. But the Hawks are 7-10 since Nov. 13 and have played the easiest schedule among these nine teams.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ BOS, 12/20 @ ORL, 12/23 vs. DET, 12/28 @ IND

Boston (14-12) has a top-five defense, has a point differential of a team that’s actually 17-9, and has played the toughest schedule among these nine teams. But they’ve actually played the worst defense (by a wide margin) in games played within the group. They allowed the Pistons, a bottom-10 offensive team, to score 119 points on Wednesday.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. ATL, 12/23 @ CHA, 12/26 @ DET

Charlotte (15-10) ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but has played five more home games than road games. It’s also fair to wonder if Kemba Walker will continue to shoot as well as he has, having been the league’s worst shooter over the first four seasons of his career.
More vs. the group this month: 12/23 vs. BOS

Chicago (15-8) has the best record, but the seventh-best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) among these nine teams. Ten of their 15 wins have come by six points or less, and they’ve been outscored by 41 points in their eight games against the other eight teams on this list, having lost three straight within the group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. DET, 12/28 vs. TOR, 12/30 vs. IND

Detroit (15-12) is 5-2 within the group after Wednesday’s win over the Celtics, but five of those seven games have been at home. Overall, the Pistons have been 9.3 points per 100 possessions better at home than on the road. Only Milwaukee (12.3) has a bigger differential.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ CHI, 12/22 @ MIA, 12/23 @ ATL, 12/26 vs. BOS

Indiana (15-9) is a top-10 team on both ends of the floor, is 8-3 (6-0 at home) in games played within the group, and has a point differential of a team with a 17-7 record, which would have them tied with the Cavs for first place in the conference. The Pacers certainly have the best resume of the teams on this list. But their starting lineup has been pretty bad, especially defensively.
More vs. the group this month: 12/28 vs. ATL, 12/30 @ CHI

Miami (15-9) ranks third in defensive efficiency and has the talent to be a top-10 offense if it gets its starting lineup on the same page. But the Heat have played a home-heavy schedule thus far and are 3-6 (1-4 on the road after Monday’s win in Atlanta) in games played within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. TOR, 12/22 vs. DET, 12/26 @ ORL,

Orlando (14-11) is another team with a top-10 defense and has won its last five games against non-Cavs East opponents. But the Magic have the ninth-best NetRtg in the East and have played the fewest games within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/20 vs. ATL, 12/26 vs. MIA

Toronto (16-11) is one of only two teams (Chicago is the other) with three wins over the four best teams in the league (Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City and San Antonio), getting last week’s win over the Spurs without two starters. But the Raptors’ offense has been rather anemic in its seven games within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ MIA, 12/28 @ CHI

20151218_east_2-10

Three of these teams will have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and at least two of them aren’t going to even make the postseason. Maybe at some point between now and April 13, it will get easier to distinguish the contenders from the pretenders.

Blogtable: Rondo’s suspension long enough?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Lasting impression from Warriors’ start? | Who’s getting traded? |
Rondo suspension harsh enough?



VIDEOThe Starters discuss Rajon Rondo’s suspension

> Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo was suspended one game for directing anti-gay slurs toward referee Bill Kennedy. Was the suspension enough?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com The suspension was enough. A player went ballistic and got nasty at a referee. Nothing new to see here. I’m not descending into a debate over the relative ugliness of vile remarks – why a particular six-letter slur is worse than common seven-letter, 10-letter and 12-letter slurs – and I’m not a believer in “protected classes” when it comes to sports or to speech. If you say something boorish, cloddish and cruel, you take the penalty hit same as anyone else and then you live with that on your reputation.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comProbably. But Rondo then deserved another game or two for his insincere Tweets, where he never mentioned the words “sorry” or “apology.”

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Michael Grange of Rogers Sportsnet had the best perspective: There is no way a white player would have gotten one game for multiple racial slurs against Kennedy, an African-American, so one game shouldn’t be enough for this. I don’t know if two games addresses it or three games, but something more than one. Then he distributed an apology so weak that he, or someone on his behalf, had to try again a day later. GM Vlade Divac and coach George Karl had to face the questions because Rondo wouldn’t.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Enough? Not really. Had Rondo said that to another player, it could be explained as one of those terms that immature men use to insult another. But Rondo had to know about Kennedy, who was not exactly a secret in the NBA. Rondo should’ve gotten at least three games. And why haven’t his fellow NBA players denounced him? Or do they just save their scorn for guys like Donald Sterling?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com No. The NBA has been a leader in regard promoting equality among all people and denouncing any kind of discrimination. But a one-game suspension doesn’t send enough of a message, which was made clear by Rondo’s first attempt at an apology. A three-game suspension would have been more appropriate and a stronger message of what the league stands for.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Nope. The suspension needed to be accompanied with some sensitivity training for Rondo and anyone else who believes it’s cool, okay or acceptable to disrespect someone else like that in the workplace. It sounds trivial to some, but sometimes you need to learn a bit more about the impact and power of certain words before you toss them around without any regard for what they can do to people. Sticks and stones … and words, too.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIf anyone said anything of this nature in racial terms to Rondo, then we would all be supporting Rondo to no end. Society has been late to recognize anti-gay bigotry, which is why the response should be based less on precedent and much more so on the values that ought to be embraced and encouraged going forward. As much as I wish the suspension had been more severe, the most meaningful response was always going to come from the public. Rondo is being held to account in ways that transcend the powers of any league.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe way to really get a player’s attention isn’t through his wallet, it’s by keeping him away from the game. And from that standpoint, I think suspending Rondo for a game is a great way to get his attention. Should the suspension have been longer? To me, one game feels like a tangible punishment, but perhaps one not quite strong enough. If Adam Silver really wanted to make a statement, a two- or three-game suspension (and accompanying loss of salary) would have resonated loudly.