Shootaround (April 21) -- Isaiah Thomas should suit up for Game 3 tonight
Plus, Billy Donovan voices support for Russell Westbrook and more news tidbits
No. 1: Thomas expected to join Celtics for Game 3 — By his own admission, Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas has dealt with the hardest week in his life. He flew home to the Seattle area after Game 2 to mourn with family over his younger sister’s death in a car accident. As Game 3 of the Celtics’ first-round series looms tonight (7 ET, ESPN), Thomas should be on the court come game time, writes Adam Forsberg of ESPN.com:
The Boston Celtics gathered Thursday afternoon at the United Center for an off-day practice without All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Stevens said Thomas, who returned home to Tacoma, Washington, to be with family following the death of his younger sister, is expected to rejoin the team late Thursday night and be ready to play in Friday’s Game 3 of a first-round series against the Chicago Bulls.
The Celtics are hopeful that Thomas’ brief trip home will help him cope with loss of Chyna Thomas, who died Saturday in a one-vehicle accident in their home state of Washington. The rest of the Celtics’ roster traveled to Chicago on Thursday afternoon.
Teammate Avery Bradley said he talked with Thomas on Thursday and thinks the visit will help Thomas as he grieves.
“Being with family at a time like this I think is very important and it’s very helpful,” said Bradley, a fellow Tacoma native who has helped console Thomas in recent days. “And us being his extended family, I think us continuing to send him positive texts, I know that always helps.”
“There’s been a lot going on since before the playoffs started with the whole Isaiah situation,” said Marcus Smart. “That’s a lot of burden on his shoulders, and it affects us, too. That’s our brother and when he goes through it we all go through it.
“You can see it in Isaiah. He’s never missed six free throws in a game in his career [like he did in Game 2]. We just have to get together. It’s good for him to have this break and go to see his family. We just have to come together as a group.”
Stevens was noncommittal when asked about whether the Celtics would make any changes heading into Game 3 after being outplayed in Tuesday’s Game 2 loss.
When pressed on possible changes to the starting lineup, Stevens said simply, “I don’t know. Maybe. We’ll see.”
Stevens has often resisted the urge to tinker this season, particularly given the way his starting lineup thrived when everyone was healthy this season. During Tuesday’s Game 2, Stevens went with Tyler Zeller as the second-half starter at center in place of Amir Johnson and Boston was more competitive on the glass.
Celtics forward Jae Crowder acknowledged that something has to change for the Celtics.
“I think we gotta adjust, in some way, some fashion. Something has to change,” said Crowder. “Whether it be a coverage, whether it be a lineup, whether it be anything, something has to change because [the Bulls] are comfortable at this point. The playoffs are all about adjustments.”
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No. 2: Donovan has more praise for Westbrook — Russell Westbrook put forth a night to remember in Game 2 against the Houston Rockets, logging a 51-point triple-double in Oklahoma City’s loss. But Westbrook took some flak after the game for the 18 fourth-quarter shots he took and for the Thunder’s offense. Coach Billy Donovan isn’t going to do anything but support his star player and did exactly that yesterday, writes Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com:
Thus far in the playoffs, however, his individual brilliance hasn’t translated into wins against the Houston Rockets.
“Let’s be honest,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said Thursday after his team practiced in Oklahoma City. “When Russell has been off the floor for us, there’s been a differential.”
In the Thunder’s 115-111 loss in Game 2, the team simply couldn’t function without Westbrook on the court. OKC was outscored by 15 when Westbrook was on the bench. By comparison, the Rockets were plus-2 with their MVP candidate, James Harden, on the court or off the court.
Of particular importance was a 90-second stretch at the end of the third quarter in which the Rockets went on a 12-3 run to cut OKC’s 12-point lead to three with Westbrook on the bench. He rushed back into the game to start the fourth quarter, forgoing the extra two or three minutes of rest he normally takes at the start of the quarter, and played the full 12-minute period.
Whether that contributed to Westbrook’s 4-for-18 shooting in the fourth quarter is hard to say. No player has missed as many shots (14) in one quarter of the playoffs in 20 years. But Donovan says Westbrook has earned the right to play all of the fourth quarter and take all those shots.
“I have an enormous amount of trust and confidence after being with Russell this season for 82 games and seeing the ways he’s closed out games and different things that he’s done,” Donovan said. “I trust him when he’s got the ball in terms of making decisions.
“Sometimes, when the ball goes in the basket, people have a tendency to say, ‘Wow! This was just an unbelievable performance!’ And ‘Is he the best closer in the game?’ And then when they don’t go in, it’s gonna be, ‘Did he take too many shots?’
“I think there’s always a balance there. Are there some shots and better ball movement we could have? Absolutely. Are there some shots that he took and plays that he made that I wouldn’t take back? Absolutely. I think you’re always looking to find that balance where we can collectively function as well as he can.”
What Westbrook could really use, besides his normal rest at the start of the fourth quarter, is some help carrying the load offensively. Defensive specialist Andre Roberson has been the Thunder’s second-leading scorer in each of the first two playoff games, averaging 14 points a game in 36 minutes. That’s a nice bonus for the Thunder (and potentially Roberson, who will be a restricted free agent this summer), but it underscores what they’re not getting from players they normally count on for scoring.
Collectively the trio of lottery picks — Victor Oladipo, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams — the Thunder have surrounded Westbrook with is averaging just 20 points a game.
Oladipo has really struggled from the floor in the first two games, hitting just 5 of 26 shots. According to ESPN Stats & Information, over the last 30 years, there have been almost 1,100 instances of a player taking at least 25 shots in his team’s first two games of the playoffs. Oladipo’s field goal percentage of 19.2 percent is the third worst among all of them.
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No. 3: Jazz players fully support Snyder’s ways — Tonight, the Utah Jazz will host their first playoff game since May 7, 2012. The LA Clippers are in town for Game 3 (10 ET, ESPN2) and as Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune points out, Utah wouldn’t be in this spot or have confidence in the playoffs were it not for their coach, Quin Snyder:
The journey has been long enough and strange enough that Quin Snyder jokes he doesn’t remember all the stuff, or all the possessions he has lost with each move. But the Utah Jazz coach has picked up a thing or two along the way.
“Resiliency has been something that I’ve had to learn,” Snyder said. “Hopefully that helps. This is a long season. The playoffs are a long season. There are going to be ups and downs.”
And as the Jazz dig in for Game 3 of their first-round playoff series with the Clippers, tied at one game apiece, they are missing their star center. So they will lean even more on Snyder, at the helm of an NBA playoff team for the first time, to guide them through to the second round.
Friday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena will mark the third playoff game of Snyder’s head coaching career.
On the opposite bench, Clippers coach Doc Rivers has more than 150 of them, including an NBA title, on his résumé.
Snyder’s players nevertheless have plenty of faith.
“It doesn’t seem like he’s a rookie coach in the playoffs at all,” forward Gordon Hayward said this week.
The 50-year-old Snyder usually is well-caffeinated and never seems to be short on energy around his players. The guy his players call Coach Q has focused that energy on his X’s and O’s while preparing his team for its ninth meeting with the Clippers since the start of preseason.
“He’s always intense, so it’s hard to go up from what he usually is,” shooting guard Rodney Hood said. “But the preparation is different. A lot more film, a lot more on the scouting report that we go through.”
“Really, the game plans have been unique and special all year,” Hayward said, “and have been a lot of the reasons why we’ve won despite our injuries.”
Can Snyder do it again without the league’s leading shot blocker?
“I’m very confident in him,” said Derrick Favors, who started Game 2 at center with Gobert out. “He’s a smart guy. Real smart coach. He makes adjustments on the fly, and you’ve just got to be ready. I think he’s done a great job so far.”
George Hill, meanwhile, expects the text messages from his coach to come in past midnight.
“He gives us a lot of different ideas of what he’s thinking,” the point guard said.
“He’s one of the smartest coaches I’ve been around,” Hill said.
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No. 4: Report: Prokhorov selling 49 percent of Nets — Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has seen his team go from potential Eastern Conference contender a few seasons ago to a team clearly rebuilding. In that time frame, Prokhorov has taken more and more of a less visible role with the team. According to Bloomberg.com’s Yuliya Fedorinova, Prokhorov will be selling a portion of his ownership stake in the team:
Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov wants to sell 49 percent of the Brooklyn Nets, the professional basketball team in New York that he fully owns, according to RIA Novosti.
A buyer for the stake hasn’t been found yet, Prokhovov said, according to the news service. His spokesman didn’t comment immediately when contacted by Bloomberg News.
Prokhorov said in November that he’d hired Allen & Co. to find a local minority investor for the Nets “to further strengthen the team’s New York presence in order to expand upon our business and community relationships.” He didn’t say at that time how much of the club he planned to sell.
The former Russian presidential candidate’s Onexim Sports & Entertainment paid $223 million in 2010 for an 80 percent stake in the team and a 45 percent share of its home arena. Prokhorov consolidated ownership of the team and its Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn in 2015, buying the remaining shares from Bruce Ratner’s Forest City Enterprises Inc. in a deal that valued the team at $875 million and the arena at $825 million, including debt. The Nets ended the 2016-2017 season in last place in the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference, winning 20 games and losing 62.
The billionaire has also been looking to offload some of his Russian assets in the past year.
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant is hopeful he’ll be able to play in Game 3 on Saturday … David Fizdale had some amazing comments about Kawhi Leonard before Game 3 … Rudy Gobert won’t suit up for Game 3 tonight against the LA Clippers … LeBron James moved up a couple notches in the all-time playoff leaderboards last night …