Wednesday NBA Roundup: Celtics Justified in Standing Pat at Trade Deadline – Bleacher Report

BOSTON, MA - March 1: Jae Crowder #99 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 1, 2017 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2017

On the one hand, the Boston Celtics’ 103-99 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night is a single win—a blip of success in a long season against a team missing two of its most important players.

On the other, no win for the Celtics is just another win anymore. It’s a statement, a reminder, a referendum on their decision to stand pat at the trade deadline despite, per ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe, Jimmy Butler and Paul George being available, if not within reach.

The vast majority of people, it seems, believe Boston should have went all-in this season. Cleveland is plowing through without Kevin Love and J.R. Smith. LeBron James is playing more minutes per game than anyone not named Kyle Lowry and working toward a seventh straight NBA Finals cameo; he might be tired. If there was an opportunity to parlay assets into a top-10 (Butler) or top-25ish (George) player, this season seemed like the time to do it.

But the Celtics aren’t willing to pay market value for another star. That much became clear before the Feb. 23 deadline, when NBA.com’s David Aldridge mapped out team president Danny Ainge’s preferred plan (via CelticsBlog’s Brian Robb):

The picks will work themselves out. Boston has about 600 first-round picks in the next five years, so they’ll make it work. That part I’m not worried about. I think it really comes down to [Jae] Crowder. In terms of real tangible players, I think Danny would like to go into the playoffs with [Marcus] Smart, Bradley, Crowder defensively, along with [Jimmy] Butler, [Al] Horford, [Isaiah] Thomas offensively. I think he feels like that’s the only way they’ll be able to compete with a team like Cleveland.

If the goal is to steal a superstar New Orleans Pelicans-style, the Celtics made the right call.

The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers lose leverage leading into the summer, with another full season ticking off Butler’s and George’s respective deals. Ainge might be able to swing a deal for one of the two by dangling whomever he selects with the Brooklyn Nets’ pick, Tyler Zeller (if his salary gets guaranteed) and one of Avery Bradley or Jaylen Brown. Maybe he gets away with offering less value.

In the meantime, the Celtics head into this summer with a clear, almost effortless path toward max cap space.

Most of this year’s top free agents will stay put, but the Gordon Hayward-in-green specter is real. He played for Brad Stevens at Butler, giving Boston a wide-open pipeline to his ear, even though his comfy gig with the Utah Jazz probably hasn’t left him with wandering eyes. And if he won’t come, perhaps a high-end role player or two will.

Plus, by actually turning the Nets pick into a player, the Celtics reserve the right to trade their own 2018 first-rounder in advance of the draft. Their capacity to keep Bradley, Brown and Crowder while getting a Butler or George increases twofold if they’re able to include those kinds of extra cookies.

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 9: Al Horford #42 of the Boston Celtics high fives his teammates Avery Bradley #0 and Jae Crowder #99 of the Boston Celtics during the game against the Toronto Raptors on December 9, 2016 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE T

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This is a risk—a genuine one. Just as the Celtics could find themselves with an embarrassment of riches, wondering whether they even need Butler or George, they could whiff on free agents. They could see Brooklyn fall in the lottery and/or find out neither Chicago nor Indiana has lowered its asking price.

Still, when a worst-case scenario leaves you with a top-four prospect, a bunch of cap space and the means to overpay for an All-NBA talent via trade, you roll the dice on the best-case scenario.

Especially when, as currently constructed, you’re already the foremost threat to Cleveland’s Eastern Conference reign.

That’s the unheralded part of all this: Consolidating assets into Butler or George wouldn’t have made the Celtics any more dangerous immediately. It would have taken time to integrate such a big piece, a project best tackled during training camp rather than the final one-third of the regular season. 

Some laugh at the notion of Bradley or Crowder being the line(s) Ainge isn’t willing to cross. But there’s not a championship-defining, LeBron-blocking drop-off between what Boston has and what it seemingly could have had. The snark so many of us dole out, myself included, is almost always accompanied by this caveat:

Yes, on Wednesday night, the Cavaliers were missing Love and Smith. They were trying to incorporate newcomer Deron Williams, who missed a wide-open, potential game-winning three at the end:

Cleveland still wouldn’t fold.

There were 24 lead changes. LeBron James notched his seventh triple-double of the season with 28 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Kyrie Irving pumped in 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting and reminded us all his body composition is 5 percent water, 95 percent pure magic: 

One more thing falls the Cavaliers’ way, and we’re talking about a short-handed win—a declaration all their own.

But the Celtics have dealt with injuries themselves. Only one of their lineups has appeared in 23 contests. Bradley is just two games into his return from an Achilles injury, and already he’s assuming some of the toughest defensive assignments, even if he’s not winning every battle. He is Boston’s midseason blockbuster acquisition:

Thomas is the Celtics’ superstar. Not the silhouette of one, but an actual superstar. He came up with 31 points, five assists and a game-high plus-13 in his team’s most important matchup to date.

Horford, another star, couldn’t get his own offense going, so he doled out 10 assists and grabbed 10 rebounds. Brown kept coming on the defensive end. Smart has never been a better distributor (eight assists).

None of Boston’s games against Cleveland this season have been determined by more than six points. The defense, a weakness for much of this year, is eighth in points allowed per 100 possessions over the last 15 games. 

Everything is coming together for Boston at the best possible time. It may not be enough to dethrone the Cavaliers; it probably won’t be. If and when Boston falls, default criticism will target an idle trade deadline. But while the jury is still out on the value of that play, the decision to defer cannot be impugned.

The Celtics are good enough now, legitimate enough as is, to warrant their inaction. 

 

Here Come the Knicks (JK, LOL, LMAO)

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 1:  Carmelo Anthony #7 and Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks high-five during a game against the Orlando Magic on March 1, 2017 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,

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Faced with the opportunity to drop a game closer to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference tankathon, the Knicks knicksed, this time to the tune of a 101-90 victory, their first double-digit win since…Jan. 18.

This is simply unacceptable. The Knicks have a realistic chance to fall into Dennis Smith Jr. draft-day territory if they play their cards right. The return of the triangle, coupled with them being them, should be enough to finish with the second- or third-worst record in the East. Sigh.

On the bright side, Kristaps Porzingis’ return from a sprained ankle went off without any mega-hitches. Sure, Evan Fournier almost killed him:

And no, Derrick Rose still doesn’t know how to pass:

All in all, though, Porzingis’ night was a success. He moved pretty well on both ends of the court, hit the floor a couple of times without issue and collected 20 points and nine rebounds.

Everything needs to be about him moving forward, win or lose. On this night, seeing him in the game on the heels of an injury scare was worth more than the victory itself.

Oh, the Knicks are now four games back of the East’s final playoff spot. This is irrelevant, because they aren’t making the postseason. But they’re going to talk about it like it matters, so we might as well too.

 

Pelicans Need to Trade Boogie

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 01:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans is fouled by Marcus Morris #13 of the Detroit Pistons during the fisrt half at the Smoothie King Center on March 1, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ack

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The Pelicans are only winless during the DeMarcus Cousins era when DeMarcus Cousins plays.

After losing their first three games coming out of the All-Star break, the Pellies blitzed the Detroit Pistons 109-86. With Cousins serving a one-game suspension for receiving his 18th technical foul, Anthony Davis detonated for 33 points, 14 rebounds and three assists on 11-of-17 shooting—including an 11-of-11 display from the foul line. Jrue Holiday pitched in 22 points and five assists, while Dante Cunningham caught fire from beyond the arc, drilling four of his seven three-point attempts en route to tallying 16 points.

New Orleans was visibly more in sync on the offensive end without Cousins. It also helped that the Pistons were playing the second end of a back-to-back after beating the Portland Trail Blazers in overtime on Tuesday.

Four games still separate the Pelicans from the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed, but making the playoffs isn’t as important as getting that first win with Cousins. Formations of this caliber, between him and Davis, take time to jell. Cousins needs to make sure he’s keeping his emotions in check, since each subsequent suspension bilks him of invaluable reps alongside his new superstar running mate.

Meanwhile, in Pistons Land, the tides of this game turned for good once Andre Drummond was ejected in third quarter. Detroit trailed by just six points at the time but was outscored 36-19 over the final 13-plus minutes.

Coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy was, naturally, unhappy:

Drummond could have used a happier ending. He found himself at the center of rumors prior to the trade deadline and, to this point, isn’t having a profound impact on the Pistons’ performance. An in-progress 13-point, 17-rebound effort would have helped reshape the narrative in a win.

Worse still, Detroit as a whole has some ‘splaining to do:

Every game holds meaning for the Pistons from here on. They’re clinging to a one-game lead for the East’s Final playoff spot and missed an opportunity to offset the drubbing the ninth-placed Miami Heat handed the Philadelphia 76ers.

At least they’ll get a crack at the Joel Embiid-less Sixers themselves Saturday night.

 

Don’t Mess with Kawhi

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 1: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs shoots the ball against the Indiana Pacers during the game on March 1, 2017 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. Kawhi Leonard (31 points, 10 rebounds) hit a fadeaway jumper with 2.

Mark Sobhani/Getty Images

What a 72 hours it almost was for the Indiana Pacers. 

They upset the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on Monday and were mere seconds away from beating the San Antonio Spurs in hostile territory Wednesday. Unfortunately (for them), Kawhi Leonard exists:

This is the type of game-winner that triggers nostalgia (apparently):

Can you picture it now? Little cyborg Kawhi going one-on-five with towering androids inside the rec room of the underground laboratory in which he grew up, mimicking last-second isolations.

In other news, the Spurs are on track for 64 wins and trail the suddenly Kevin Durant-deprived Golden State Warriors by 3.5 games in the race for first place. Just saying.

 

Hurry Back, Kyle

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 01: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors is fouled by Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards during NBA game action at Air Canada Centre on March 1, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees t

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Remember how the Toronto Raptors won their first three games out of the All-Star break without Kyle Lowry? Remember how excited we were? How convinced we were they could keep eyes on the East’s No. 3 and No. 2 seeds without him?

About that…some of us jumped the gun. The Washington Wizards whupped the Raptors on Wednesday. They won by just nine points but led by as many as 24 and only bent during super-ultra garbage time.

There’s no need to sound the alarm in Toronto. Washington has been the East’s best team since Christmas, and Lowry will return from his wrist injury at some point.

Raptors fans can, however, do two things to ease potential pain during this trying time. First, y’all definitely need to hold a vigil for Serge Ibaka after this stuff by John “Point Guard But Also a Center” Wall:

Second, and most importantly, get used to the idea of fourth place. It is your team’s destiny.

 

Long Live Moreyball

Here’s everything you need to know about the trey-drenched smackdown the Rockets handed the Los Angeles Clippers in three tweets:

For those who care, Houston also clinched the tiebreaker over Los Angeles, just in case the Clippers catch up to them in the playoff ladder (they won’t). Long live Moreyball. And Patrick Beverley.

 

Wednesday’s Final Scores

  • New York Knicks 101, Orlando Magic 90
  • Miami Heat 125, Philadelphia 76ers 98
  • Atlanta Hawks 100, Dallas Mavericks 95
  • Denver Nuggets 110, Milwaukee Bucks 98
  • New Orleans Pelicans 109, Detroit Pistons 86
  • Washington Wizards 105, Toronto Raptors 96
  • Boston Celtics 103, Cleveland Cavaliers 99
  • Minnesota Timberwolves 107, Utah Jazz 80
  • San Antonio Spurs 100, Indiana Pacers 99
  • Houston Rockets 122, Los Angeles Clippers 103
  • Brooklyn Nets 109, Sacramento Kings 100

 

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast co-hosted by B/R’s Andrew Bailey.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com and are accurate leading into games on March 1.

Wednesday NBA Roundup: Celtics Justified in Standing Pat at Trade Deadline – Bleacher Report

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