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NBA roundup

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Celtics forward Jaylen Brown takes a foul shot. PHOTO: All-Pro Reels

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With the play-in games behind us, the National Basketball Association now steps into the more serious stage of its postseason competition.

The Boston Celtics, the number-one overall seed, gave their fans a slight case of angina when they dropped the second game of their best-of-seven series to the eighth-seeded and undermanned Miami Heat — thus losing their home court advantage — before winning the next three contests to wrap up that series four-games-to-one.

With many fans of the Green stating, “It’s Championship number 18 or bust,” the team still show signs of inconsistency in their play.  Critics of this year’s edition of the Boston Celtics point to this erratic play as a matter of concern.

While a lingering calf injury to center/forward Kristaps Porzingis continues to keep him sidelined, forcing more minutes to be played by 39-year-old veteran Al Horford, the Celts moved into the second round of postseason competition against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell walks the ball up the court. PHOTO: Erik Drost

A disturbing pattern has come to pass over the last couple of seasons as the Celtics have become vulnerable on their home court. A 14-14 playoff record exemplifies the point that is being made here. Part of that dilemma was exhibited in this current series with the Cavaliers. The Celtics looked dominant in game one only to look putrid in game two on their home floor.  This came on the heels of a dominant regular season in which Boston compiled a glittering 37-4 home-court record. 

The game two fiasco showed the glaring weakness of this team: When they are not making three-point shots they fail to play defense and rebound. Donovan Mitchell (29 points, 8 assists) and Evan Mosley (21 points and 10 rebounds) were the central principles of destruction in game two, getting help from teammates who came along for the ride.

Jayson Tatum, the team’s top player, received major criticism for his subpar play and laissez-faire postgame comments.  And while some fans have taken the approach of “this was just a bad game for the team,” others have voiced the opinion that this Celtics squad is just not ready to be NBA champions.

Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the number-two star of the team, responded to their poor play with a strong showing in game three in Cleveland.

The star duo combined for half of the team’s 44 rebounds. They scored 34 of the team’s 50 points in the paint in the team’s solid 106-93 victory. 

Another positive sign was the fact that Jrue Holiday (18 points, 5 assists and 8 rebounds) was allowed to handle the basketball and run the team instead of Tatum and Brown dominating the ball from the top of the key and making plays for themselves.

On Monday night, the C’s remained undefeated on the road, beating an undermanned Cavs team 109-102. Cleveland was without their star guard Donovan Mitchell, who was sidelined with a calf injury. This was a tough shooting night for Boston, but they pulled away late and now hold a 3-1 series lead. Jayson Tatum led all scorers with 33 points.

In other NBA Playoff series, the surprisingly tough New York Knicks, coached by former Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau, have ridden the heroic play of Jalen Brunson into the semi-final round of the NBA Eastern Conference postseason competition.

New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson. PHOTO: Erik Drost

Brunson, the son of former Salem High School and Boston Shootout star Rick Brunson, has become the toast of the Big Apple with four straight 40-point games as the undersized and undermanned Knicks have played inspired basketball to date. But due to season-ending injuries to Julius Randle, Bojan Bogdanovic, Mitchell Robinson along with recent injuries to O.G. Anunoby (hamstring), and Brunson himself, it will be hard for the Knicks to continue their playoff run.

Following an embarrassing 121-89 loss to the home team Indiana Pacers, the Knicks find themselves locked in a 2-2 series with the younger, deeper, and stronger Pacers team.

Game five in New York is critical for both teams, but even more to the walking-wounded New York Knickerbockers and star Brunson, who has limped through games three and four (shooting 16-for-42 overall) in this series with injuries to both of his feet.  That fact, and the    defensive strategy that put former Celtic Aaron Nesmith as the primary defender on the 6’2” Brunson has taken its toll.

Coach Rick Carlisle’s defense on the all-star will remain in place for the rest of this best-of-seven series.  Brunson is playing too many minutes with the 6’5” Nesmith putting punishment on him, along with help from scrappy T.J. McConnell. The Knicks may not have enough healthy players to beat the Pacers.

In the Western Conference playoffs, the NBA defending champion Denver Nuggets, after dropping the first two games of their best-of-seven semi-final series on their homecourt, showed their grit and championship poise by going into Minnesota and whipping the home team Timberwolves in games three and four to even the series at two games apiece.

Neither team has won a game on its home court to date — an oddity in NBA history.   

The Dallas Mavericks and top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder are locked up in a major struggle. The series went to 2-2 when the Mavericks blew a 14-point lead at home scoring only 14 points in the third quarter. Mavericks star Luka Doncic had a chance to tie the game with 10 seconds to go but missed a free throw. Dallas only shot 12 for 23 from the charity stripe.

And while all this was going on the Atlanta Hawks won the top pick in this year’s NBA lottery — the first for the franchise in 50 years.

Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA, NBA Playoffs, Sports

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