NBA

No Simmons, no worries for Embiid's 76ers as Suns lose NBA opener to Jokic's Nuggets

By Sports Desk October 20, 2021

The Philadelphia 76ers put aside the Ben Simmons drama for 48 minutes as the championship-chasing team opened their NBA season with a 117-97 win at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Simmons was nowhere to be seen in New Orleans after the disgruntled All-Star – demanding a trade – was suspended on Tuesday for "conduct detrimental to the team" following reports he was ejected from practice by head coach Doc Rivers.

The 76ers – last season's Eastern Conference top seeds – played without Simmons on Wednesday and made light work of the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans behind Joel Embiid (22 points), Furkan Korkmaz (22 points), Tobias Harris (20 points and 12 rebounds) and new starting point guard Tyrese Maxey (20 points, seven rebounds and five) for their first season-opening road win since 2004.

Korkmaz sizzled in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 points on four-for-four shooting from three-point range – the most points in a quarter by a Sixers bench player since Lou Williams in 2011.

 

 

LaMelo leads Hornets rally, Brown has career night

LaMelo Ball put on a show as he helped the Charlotte Hornets come back to pip the Indiana Pacers 123-122. The reigning Rookie of the Year put up 31 points, including seven three-pointers – tying a career high, nine rebounds and seven assists to fuel Charlotte's rally. The Hornets used a 24-0 run – in which Ball scored 12 points – in the third period to the stun the Pacers. Chris Duarte (27 points, six three-pointers and five rebounds) became the first Pacers rookie with 25-plus points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus threes in a game since Jamaal Tinsley in 2002.

A career-high 46 points from Jaylen Brown was not enough as the Boston Celtics lost a wild showdown with the New York Knicks 138-134 after double overtime. Brown's tally was the most points ever by a Celtics player in a season opener. The Knicks withstood the Celtics thanks to Julius Randle (35 points) and debutant Evan Fournier, whose 32 points were the most by a player on debut in franchise history.

Jo Morant had 37 points – the second most on opening night in franchise history, behind only his 44-point haul last season – in the Memphis Grizzlies' 132-121 win at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Memphis posted 73 points by half-time – tying the fifth-highest first-half scoring total in their history.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic's 27 points and 13 rebounds guided the Denver Nuggets past last season's NBA Finals participants the Phoenix Suns 110-98.

CJ McCollum (34 points), Damian Lillard (20 points and 11 assists) and Jusuf Nurkic (20 points and 14 rebounds) combined for 74 points but the Portland Trail Blazers still lost 124-121 to the Sacramento Kings, who were led by Harrison Barnes' 36 points and eight three-pointers.

 

Forgettable debut for Rockets rookie

The second pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Jalen Green endured a baptism of fire midweek. The Houston Rockets rookie finished with nine points on four-of-14 shooting from the field, while he made just one of six three-pointers. His minus-37 was the worst plus-minus by a Rockets rookie in a game in the last 20 seasons – tied for the fourth worst by any Rocket in that span. The Rockets were taken down 124-106 by Minnesota Timberwolves trio Karl-Anthony Towns (30 points and 10 rebounds), Anthony Edwards (29 points) and D'Angelo Russell (22 points).

Back on home court for the first time since February 2020, the Toronto Raptors' long-awaited return to Canada ended in a disappointing 98-83 loss to the Washington Wizards. Toronto missed 19 of their first 21 three-pointers, finishing seven of 34 from beyond the card. They were just 30.9 per cent from the field overall.

Suns star Devin Booker was far from his best against the Nuggets, finishing three-of-15 shooting for 12 points in 30 minutes of action.

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  • Jaylen Brown insists the Boston Celtics' defensive input is the 'key' after Game 5 win Jaylen Brown insists the Boston Celtics' defensive input is the 'key' after Game 5 win

    Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown insisted his side will continue to win games with their defense after defeating the Miami Heat 93-80 on Wednesday.

    The Celtics recovered from a disappointing first half to take a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, setting up a chance to clinch the series and an NBA Finals berth on their home floor.

    Boston scored only 37 points in the first half, shooting 25 per cent from beyond the three-point arc, but only trailed by five points at the main interval.

    Brown asserted that their defence is critical in limiting the damage when they are not clicking on the offensive end, keeping the team in games.

    "Our defence is key," he said after the win. "Every night we come out and hang our hat on that side of the ball. It was great to have, even in a limited role, Marcus [Smart] and Rob [Williams III], to be able to be out there, because their presence on that side of the ball is felt.

    "Every night we give ourselves a chance with our defence. We didn't play great in the first half but we only gave up 42 points. Kept us in the game, we were down five, got settled in the second half and the game opened up and it was over from there.

    "Our defence is what continues to win us games and we've got to keep hanging our hat on that defensive side of the ball."

    In what has been a primarily defensive series, Game 5 was no different, with Miami generating a great amount of offensive impact from their defensive stops.

    Brown was a prominent figure in that regard, coughing up four of Boston's 10 turnovers for the half as the team shot 38.2 per cent from the floor.

    The 25-year-old took over in the second half, however, not turning the ball over once while scoring 19 points off eight-of-12 shooting.

    Post-game, he said there was little variation in approach, despite a dressing down in the first half from Celtics coach Ime Udoka.

    "We knew if we took care of the basketball, we would get some open opportunities and knock them down," Brown said. "Just continue to play basketball and be aggressive, that's why basketball is 48 minutes.

    "I think he [Udoka] was talking to the whole team. I wasn't the only person to have some turnovers but it is what it is. I'm going to keep being aggressive, keep getting into the paint and making them stop me.

    "Miami do a really good job of slapping down, reaching and grabbing and making it tough for you, so it's a little bit of both. I've got to do a better job for sure, but overall as a team, we've got to do a better job too."

  • A tale of two halves as Jaylen Brown lifts Celtics to crucial Game 5 win against the Heat A tale of two halves as Jaylen Brown lifts Celtics to crucial Game 5 win against the Heat

    The Boston Celtics claimed critical home-court advantage and a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, earning a gritty 93-80 Game 5 win against the Miami Heat on Wednesday.

    In all four quarters the Celtics held the Heat to 23 points or fewer, but the offensive side of the ball was also far from clicking early on.

    The Heat led 19-17 at quarter-time and after winning the second frame 23-20, they held an incredibly low-scoring 42-37 lead at the long break.

    In the first half, both teams shot under 39 per cent from the field and 26 per cent from three-point range, but the Heat were winning the physical battle on the boards, pulling in nine offensive rebounds to just two for the Celtics.

    The two teams also combined for just six fast-break points in the first half, illustrating the slow, grinding pace of play as both defences locked in, forcing better ball and man movement.

    Back in Game 1, also in Miami, the Heat who came out of the locker room for the third quarter and went on a rampage to swing that game, but this time the shoe was on the other foot.

    The Celtics doubled up the Heat in the third period, winning it 32-16 as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford found rhythm on the offensive end.

    Boston led 69-58 after three quarters, and extended that lead to 23 points in the opening minutes of the final frame, as Brown knocked down three big triples.

    After a first half where he was the subject of plenty of criticism for his loose ball handling – with four first-half turnovers – Brown made the difference after half-time, finishing with 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting and five-of-nine from long range. He also had no turnovers in the second half, and the biggest dunk of the game.

    Jayson Tatum was also at his playmaking best, with 22 points on a mediocre seven-of-20 shooting, but he added 12 rebounds and nine assists, consistently creating opportunities for shooters off the dribble and showing advanced ability to make reads as play unfolded.

    The real story of the Celtics' success was their ability to take away the three-point line for the Heat, though.

    With Jimmy Butler's jump shots not falling – finishing with 13 points on four-of-18 shooting – Miami simply had no avenue to reliable outside scoring.

    The Celtics' ability to chase hard over the top of screens and dribble hand-offs made life miserable for Max Strus and Duncan Robinson, taking away their catch-and-shoot opportunities and turning them into dribblers, far outside their comfort zones. 

    Strus finished zero-of-nine from the field, missing all seven of his three-point attempts, while Robinson was four-of-12, including three-of-10 from long range. As a team, the Heat were just seven-of-45 (15 per cent) from beyond the arc.

    Instead, the Celtics dared the Heat to beat them inside, banking on the stoutness of their terrific interior defensive duo of Horford and Robert Williams III. That pairing combined for 17 rebounds, five blocks, two steals and just one foul.

    Game 6 will head back to Boston, meaning the first-seeded Heat need to win on the road to save their season and force a Game 7.

  • Marcus Smart set for Celtics return in Game 5, Tyler Herro remains out for Heat Marcus Smart set for Celtics return in Game 5, Tyler Herro remains out for Heat

    The Boston Celtics will receive a big boost for their crucial Game 5 clash against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, with Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart returning to the line-up.

    Smart missed Game 4 after suffering an awkward ankle injury in Game 3. 

    Adding to the Heat's problems is the fact that Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro will not return for Game 5, having not recovered from the groin strain that also kept him out of Game 4.

    With each side missing one of their key players, the Celtics were buoyed by the performance of backup point guard Derrick White, who posted a handy stat-line of 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals in his first start since missing Game 2 for the birth of his child.

    White's performance – especially on the defensive end – will likely cement his position in the rotation above fellow bench guard Payton Pritchard as Smart returns to the equation.

    On the other side, it was Victor Oladipo shining off the bench as he tried to fill Herro's shoes, with the former All-Star scoring 18 of the Heat's first 28 points in Game 4, going on to finish with 23 points, six assists and four rebounds. 

    He also had a plus/minus of plus four from his 30 minutes, meaning the Celtics won the 18 minutes he was off the floor by 24 points.

    Game 6 will head back to Boston on Friday, before a potential Game 7 back in Miami, if required.

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