- The Kyrie Irving blockbuster and the Celtics‘ lack of activity at the trade deadline generated most of the headlines during the 2017/18 league year, but Danny Ainge has done a nice job filling out the roster with under-the-radar acquisitions, writes Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com. Forsberg points to the signings of players like Aron Baynes, Shane Larkin, and Daniel Theis as moves that paid off for Boston.
- While the Celtics have done an admirable job complementing their big veteran contracts with affordable rookie deals, the team will have to look ahead and consider which players are long-term keepers when their youngsters start getting second contracts, tweets Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports. As Mannix notes, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier will be up for raises soon, with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to follow down the road.
Stein suggested last month that coach Gregg Popovich should have a one-on-one discussion with Leonard after the season to repair the relationship. Now he writes that it may be too late for that to make a difference.
Rumors of strained feelings between Leonard and the Spurs have escalated in the playoffs as he chose to remain with his doctors in New York rather fly to California to support his teammates. Popovich, who has taken veiled shots at Leonard before, raised them to a new level in responding to a question about LaMarcus Aldridge after Monday’s game.
“He plays through everything,” Popovich said of Aldridge. “I can’t imagine being more proud of a player as far as playing through adversity and being there for his teammates night after night after night. He’s been fantastic.”
While Aldridge is deserving of the kind words, the double meaning was clearly aimed at Leonard, who hasn’t been with the Spurs despite receiving medical clearance from team doctors in February. He remains in New York after traveling there last month to consult with his personal physicians about treatment for a lingering quad injury that limited him to nine games this season.
San Antonio will face a major decision in July when Leonard becomes eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension that would pay him more than $200MM. If Leonard doesn’t agree to an extension and the Spurs refuse to trade him, the clock will being ticking toward next summer when he can opt out of a $21.33MM salary and become an unrestricted free agent.
There’s more news today regarding Leonard:
- The Spurs have expected for weeks that Leonard wouldn’t return for the playoffs, relays Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post. Bontemps expresses similar doubts about Leonard’s future in San Antonio, although the relationship with Popovich remains solid. Nearly every team will be interested if Leonard becomes available in trade, but Bontemps expects the Lakers and Clippers to be among the most active, along with the Sixers, who could offer Markelle Fultz and two first-round picks in this year’s draft. He also mentions the Celtics, who are stocked with young talent, and the Cavaliers, who might be willing to part with the unprotected Nets’ pick in an effort to convince LeBron James to stay.
- Popovich denied his comments on Aldridge were directed at Leonard, relays Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. Told that a lot of people were interpreting his words that way, Popovich responded, “Who are these lots of people? Who are they? Did you count them? I think you just made that up.”
- Aldridge serves as a reminder that broken relationships between teams and players can be repaired, notes Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. Aldridge issued a trade request last summer, but Popovich smoothed things over in an offseason meeting that led to Aldridge signing a three-year extension and turning in his best season since coming to San Antonio.
- Don’t forget to vote in our poll on what the Spurs should do about the Leonard situation this summer.
President of basketball operations Danny Ainge announced this morning that Hayward is going to Indianapolis to work with a top specialist in running mechanics. The goal of the visit is to help him improve his form as he continues to recover from a fractured left ankle. The Celtics and Hayward both have prior experience with the specialist.
Ainge added that Hayward continues to make encouraging progress from the brutal opening-night injury that wiped out his first season in Boston. Hayward was shown jogging on the court with Celtics trainer Jason Smeathers in a recent video.
- Al Horford and Terry Rozier were among the key contributors in the Celtics‘ Game 1 win over Milwaukee on Sunday. In separate pieces for NBC Sports Boston, A. Sherrod Blakely explores how the franchise is getting its money’s worth out of its investment in Horford, and examines how Rozier has become an integral part of the Celtics’ roster. Rozier will be extension-eligible for the first time this offseason.
Jazz star rookie guard Donovan Mitchell is questionable to play in Game 2 against the Thunder because of a left foot contusion, Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News reports. Mitchell, who scored 27 points with 10 rebounds in his playoff debut, is optimistic he’ll play Wednesday after undergoing an MRI. “I can walk. I’m good. I’m not limping,” Mitchell told Woodyard and other media members.
In other injury-related news:
- Rockets power forward Ryan Anderson could return from an ankle sprain to play in Game 2 of their series against the Timberwolves, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. He missed the last four regular-season games and Game 1. “The last I heard is he had a good workout before the game,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told Feigen. “He has a real good shot [to play on] Wednesday and definitely on Saturday.” Anderson shot well against Minnesota this season, averaging 12 PPG while making 50% of his 3-point tries.
- Trail Blazers small forward Maurice Harkless has been upgraded to questionable for Game 2 against the Pelicans, Jason Quick of NBC Sports Northwest tweets. Harkless missed the last 10 games with a left knee injury. Harkless averaged 14.8 PPG in his last six outings prior to the injury.
- Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving is already walking around without a noticeable limp just a little over a week after knee surgery, Taylor Snow of Celtics.com writes. Irving underwent season-ending knee surgery April 7 to remove two screws in his left knee. “I had just got done literally 10 minutes ago talking to our training staff and the people who are working most closely with him, and they feel great about his early [progress] a week in, or whatever it is,” coach Brad Stevens said. “That’s exciting, that’s encouraging. Again, he’s going to make a full recovery.”
- The Celtics might regret not trading their own first-round pick for Grizzlies swingman Tyreke Evans to fortify their bench, Sean Deveney of the Sporting News opines. It’s possible but certainly no slam dunk that the Celtics will get a useful player with the No. 27 overall pick, Deveney continues. Boston didn’t know at the time it would lose Kyrie Irving for the postseason but Game 1 against the Bucks showed how badly the team could use a playmaker off the bench, Deveney adds.
Game 1 is in the books for all eight of the NBA’s first-round playoff matchups, and several of those games set up potentially fascinating series. Six of the eight higher seeds held their home-court advantage in the first game, but some of those favorites looked a little shaky in their victories, leading to plenty of speculation about first-round upsets.
We’ll start with the weekend’s biggest upset, which took place in Cleveland, where the Pacers dismantled LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Game 1. It won’t be a surprise if the Cavs eventually pull out this series, but their 98-80 loss on Sunday was something we haven’t seen since James returned to Cleveland in 2014. In their last three first-round series, the Cavs have swept the Celtics, Pistons, and – one year ago – the Pacers.
Of course, these Pacers are a much different team than the squad swept out of the postseason a year ago. Victor Oladipo looked like the best player on the floor on Sunday, and players like Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Lance Stephenson looked great in supporting roles. This Pacers team was overlooked and underappreciated all season, and appear poised to give the Cavs all they can handle in round one.
The other Game 1 upset occurred in Portland, where the Pelicans edged out a two-point win over the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis (35 points, 14 rebounds) was the best player on the court in that game, but Jrue Holiday‘s impact shouldn’t be understated. Besides posting 21 points and seven assists, Holiday also locked up Damian Lillard on the other end of the court — Lillard made just six of 23 shots.
The Pelicans don’t have a whole lot of standout talent behind Davis and Holiday, but Nikola Mirotic (16 points, 11 rebounds) stepped up as a reliable third option on Saturday. If he – or another Pelican – can continue to support Davis and Holiday throughout the series, New Orleans should have a chance.
Elsewhere, the Raptors, Rockets, and Thunder had to battle to the end to hold off the Wizards, Timberwolves, and Jazz, respectively, but came away with Game 1 victories. The Bucks pushed the Celtics to overtime before losing Eric Bledsoe and Giannis Antetokounmpo to foul problems and ultimately losing the game. None of those four favorites is a mortal lock to advance, though Houston is probably close.
The Warriors and Sixers took care of business with comfortable wins over the Spurs and Heat, respectively.
What do you think? Will we see an upset – or multiple upsets – in the first round of the postseason? Which lower-seeded teams do you think look like the best bets to advance to round two?
Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!
- Marcus Smart said he hopes to be ready to return to the court for a potential Game 7 of the Celtics‘ opening-round series or Game 1 of a potential second-round matchup, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe relays (Twitter link). The combo guard, who is recovering from surgery on his right thumb, hasn’t played since early March.
- Celtics coach Brad Stevens is planning a tighter rotation for the playoffs, relays Tom Westerholm of MassLive. That means reduced playing time for Abdel Nader and Guerschon Yabusele, but Westerholm expects Semi Ojeleye to get minutes because he can match up defensively with Bucks’ star Giannis Antetokounmpo.