The pro sports term ‘owner’ is sparking new and necessary debate.
A recent report from TMZ Sports, states several teams in the NBA are considering eliminating the term “owner” when referring to the (now here’s the tricky part) owner of a franchise. The prevailing thought being the term “owner,” in a league overwhelmingly comprised of Black players, is racially insensitive at best and at worst a harbinger of deep seeded resentments and divisions of otherness stretching back to colonial slavery.
Let’s unpack this.
What is an owner? According to Merriam-Webster.com, a noun. A person who owns something: one who has the legal or rightful title to something: one to whom property belongs.
Sounds pretty simple and straightforward. Individual X purchases team Y for a specific amount of money. That individual now owns said franchise/team. But what is the franchise or team? Is it the logo? Is it the name of the franchise/team? This individual now has legal title for what? What property belongs to the owner?
In a 2018 episode of HBO Sports’ The Shop: Uninterrupted, comedian Jon Stewart brings up the subject of sports owners and if the labor of people is the primary product of your ownership endeavor, doesn’t the term “owner” sound feudal in nature? Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, said the term “owner” shouldn’t be used.
That exchange gets to the crux of the matter entirely. What is actually owned? A franchise/team is nothing without the human beings working in their various roles. From players, coaches, and trainers, to the individuals working on the business and operations side. Without these men and women, a team is a hollow vessel just a logo and a name that appears on uniforms, paraphernalia and letterhead.
Yes, in practice, an individual owns the team/franchise. But that is only a concept or an idea. It does not become tangible or real until you have the players and people (read: labor). You don’t own people. At least, not anymore, according to the laws of the United States of America.
One of the things we, as a consuming public, have a difficult time processing is sports. For us, it is entertainment. Something to escape the monotony of day-to-day life. A place where “we” go to have fun for a few hours. Always remember for the players, particularly, this is not entertainment. This is their livelihoods. It’s how they put food on the table and support their families.
At your place of employment, do you and your colleagues refer to the person (if alive) who founded the business as the owner? Maybe some of you do and some don’t. If you worked at the Global Investment firm KKR, would you ever refer to Henry Kravis as your “owner”? What if you worked at The Home Depot? When Arthur Blank visits the store where you work, would you say “there is our/my owner?” Maybe you would. Maybe you wouldn’t. Perhaps it’s just semantics and not a big deal.
On a recent episode of ESPN’s The Jump, host Rachel Nichols, sportswriter Jackie MacMullan, and former player, Stephen “Stak” Jackson, discussed the issue.
We can all agree. The optics of majority white owners and majority black players (again, read: labor) does not look good. Language matters. We need to move past these, at best antiquated, and at worst abhorrent ways in which we classify human beings. But as Nichols, MacMullan and Stak asked in their discussion, what is being implied and inferred by the term “owner”? In this case, context matters as well.
Based on the previously mentioned TMZ report and conversations happening around the league, it is clear many of the players and teams are having very serious discussions about the use of the word “owner”. It’s not that hard to change the title to CEO, Chairman, Managing Partner or something that makes it clear who is in charge. As the person who had the resources and wherewithal to purchase a team/franchise, that is a right you are afforded.
But, where the subtle difference lies between sports and other businesses, is the labor force, and the NBA labor force is extremely powerful. If enough players, and it seems like there are, don’t like the term “owner” it will be changed. The obvious question that needs to be asked is, why are players feeling this way?
We don’t have to look any further than the current NBA Finals. During game three, Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry dove into the front row chasing after a loose ball. Lowry was shoved and repeatedly told to “go f--- yourself!” by a man, who as it happens, is Golden State Warriors “minority owner” Mark Stevens.
As an “owner”, Stevens is afforded certain rights and privileges. One of them being courtside seats for his team’s NBA Finals games. But putting his hands on Lowry and shouting obscenities at him is not within his rights. One can easily make the argument that Stevens’ mentality and his status as an “owner” emboldened him to behave in a truculent manner towards Lowry.
Stevens has since been fined $500,000 and banned from all games and team activities for one year. According to NBC’s senior media reporter Dylan Byers, Stevens will likely be forced to sell his shares in the Golden State Warriors before the start of next season; a loss that could see him gain a cool 180 million profit.
Since the incident, many NBA players have come out in support of Lowry including LeBron James and the Warriors own Draymond Green. Following the game three incident, Green said:
“Any time you're in a situation where you can do no right, like in defending yourself, you're vulnerable. So I think it's no different when you start talking of anybody in any ownership group in the league. You're held to a different standard. You can say it's unfair or not, like whatever your opinion is on it, whether you're one way or the other, that's just the reality of it.”
Green is on record saying we should remove the term “owner”, and following up on Green’s comments Lowry said:
“And I can say for sure that guy makes me feel like that. Mark Stevens, whoever his name is, makes me feel like he's one of those guys. Draymond with that, I remember him saying that. I believe it's true. We call it the ‘Board of Governors,’ but people in the world would call it the ownership. It should be changed. And a guy like that definitely shows that's what he feels, to me.”
That’s the thing about feeling otherness or believing race plays a part in the way in which an individual is treated. Unless you have first-hand experience with it, you have no idea. Anyone can spot the white hood wearing overt and obvious bigot. But it’s the countless day to day microaggressions, that look, that tone, or that implication made by someone not wearing a white hood that leaves you feeling some type of way in white spaces and tirelessly explaining yourself to those who can never fully understand.
To be clear. Changing the name from owner to something else will not stop racism, classism, or any form of otherness. It would, however, be in lockstep with the times we live in and human decency. At its core, that’s what this is about. Recognizing and allowing all people, their humanity. We cannot have that when words like “owner” demean and strip away their NBA players humanity. For all you purists and traditionalists, please, let’s not waste any breath on the “tradition” of sports. There are many things we call “tradition”, all in the name of a game, that are just plain stupid.
Five Thoughts From The Raptors' 101-96 Game 4 Win Over the 76ers, Including Player Grades, Kawhi on If He's a Cyborg And Jimmy Butler on What He Wants From Ben Simmons (Video)Read Now
The Raptors defeated the 76ers 101-96 on Sunday in Philadelphia to even this best of seven series at two games a piece. Here are five thoughts from the game.
1. Kawhi Leonard is a cyborg
Actually, calling him a cyborg is disrespectful to the time and care he puts into his craft. He is the best player in the playoffs, not named Kevin Durant. Leonard finished the game with 39 points (13-20 from the field, including 5-7 from three), 14 rebounds, and 5 assists. He did have 7 turnovers, which he didn't like. But that's mainly a function of his high usage rate. He played a team high 42 minutes and the Raptors needed him in every single one of them to scratch out this road win.
Leonard is never rushed, or hurried on the floor. No matter the game scenario, whether trapped or late in the clock. His mind seemingly accesses a rich vault of knowledge and he applies the appropriate basketball move to the situation. It's really a thing of beauty. Whomever lands Leonard this offseason, has the core piece on a championship team. But, all that will be settled this summer. For now, he is carrying the Raptors on his back and they head back to Toronto for game 5 with a chance to solidify home court with a win and a 3-2 series lead on Tuesday night.
Following the game in his postgame media availability, Leonard talked about how he is able to remain poised in any situation.
2. Joel Embiid pump fakes and other things...
Embiid is a career 31% shooter from three. During the season, and in the playoffs he is shooting 30%. Not abysmal, but certainly the person you'd want shooting crucial threes - if you're the Sixers' opponent - as you can live with those percentages. But it's a funny thing. Embiid's pump fake from three manages to get several defenders to bite, and then he rumbles to the rim for a higher percentage shot. It's such a slow fake that it even marvels Embiid that people bite on it. In a recent article from Bleacher Report, Embiid said: "I shoot 30 percent from three, but guys still jump when I shot fake and I don’t know why."
It worked a few times early on Sunday, but as the game wore on defenders stopped biting. Danny Green actually halfway bit on it in the second quarter and let Embiid go by him and poked the ball out from behind on a heads up play. But that was the least of Embiid's "issues" on Sunday.
Prior to the game, whispers around Wells Fargo Center were that Joel was very sick last night. Nothing was confirmed pregame. However during the game it appeared that he was laboring a bit and he seemed to come up wincing after a dunk in the first half. At the conclusion of the game it was revealed that Embiid was indeed ill Saturday night and didn't sleep much prior to the game.
At this time of the year, nobody is 100%. But in Embiid's case, he's got the balky knee with tendinitis, which doesn't allow him to keep his cardio going to remain in ideal basketball shape. His body type is one that is prone to put on pounds, and if he is not meticulous about what he eats, he could gain unnecessary weight. Add all that with his gastrointestinal virus he had earlier in the series, he called it the shits, you can see how problems arise. Still in all, while his stat line wasn't up to his standards, 17 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. He was a +17 for the game which shows the impact he can have. Even when limited.
There will be no rest from here on out. They will play every other day for the duration of this series and that includes flights back and forth from Philly to Toronto. Not the best setup for recovery. But, this is what he signed up for and he will battle as long as he's able.
Following the game 76ers head coach Brett Brown talked about Embiid's various health issues and what that means for the team going forward.
3. Jimmy Butler IS the adult in the room
That is what Brett Brown often refers to Butler as. The playoffs are the reason Elton Brand, Sixers GM, acquired him. There are certain players wired for the big stage and heightened moments of intensity. It isn't that they always perform or are infallible. It's that they remain confident and don't treat the situation any differently. Butler has fashioned a career as an NBA all-star out of sheer drive of will, work ethic and defiance. He knows he's not as talented as Embiid or Ben Simmons, but he knows when the heat is on, he has the temerity to believe he can deliver against anyone.
He was at his best on Sunday and almost singlehandedly won the game for the Sixers. He finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists in a team high 40 minutes of action. He played excellent defense on Kawhi at times, was the engine and catalyst for the Sixers. Whenever they needed a bucket he was the one to go get it and he had the crowd engaged from the opening tip. For as good as Embiid and Simmons are, Jimmy has the experience in the playoffs, along with JJ Redick, that this team desperately needs.
They will need all of that and more on Tuesday night in Toronto for game 5.
Following the game, Butler talked about the team's mindset, and his headed into game 5. He also shared some insight into what he wants from Ben Simmons.
4. Just enough help
In the days off between games 3 and 4 the talk was about the lack of help Kawhi was getting from his teammates. Particularly from Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. They combined for 42 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 3 blocks. A considerable step up from their combined lackluster game 3 performances. But going forward, Kawhi will need more from the "others." To be fair, the game was pretty disjointed and choppy. Raptors head coach Nick Nurse admitted as much following the game. But he was happy that Gasol took and made a couple threes, and that Ibaka took some threes. Nurse added, "hopefully in Toronto he'll be able to throw a couple in."
If you believe in NBA cliches, role players play better at home, so it stands to expect a bit better output from the supporting cast. More than anything, they need to be reliable threats to do something positive on offense. Late in Sunday's game, the Sixers trapped Kawhi and forced the ball to someone else, to see if they could make a play. For the most part the Raptors were okay, but they looked more engaged. As well as Kawhi is playing right now, he may be able to do it by himself. But, when these guys get open looks they need to take the shots with confidence and knock them down. The Raptors were good all season, even with a little shot conversion variance and a dip in percentage due to tighter defense, they should still be able to hit open shots at a reasonable rate. If they do, they can take a hold of this series.
5. Player Grades
We broke out the player grades in the first round for the Nets as that was the team we covered all season at BSO. Since we don't cover either the 76ers or Raptors regularly, we will do grades for both sides. We will limit the grades to players that saw 25 minutes of action or more.
Kawhi Leonard - 5 stars
We talked about Kawahi at the beginning of this piece. He was the best player on the floor and did everything his team needed to secure the win.
Jimmy Butler - 5 sars
Normally inclined to ding a star for not securing the win, but Butler did just about everything for the 76ers. He was big on both ends and late in the game when execution was a problem for Philadelphia, he was the only one that tried to dictate the action.
JJ Redick - 4 stars
He finished with 19 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. He was 4-7 from deep and the Raptors were not really able to exploit him on defense. He fought hard over screens and remained tethered to his man on defense. JJ is as stabilizing a presence as Butler. He's a veteran of several playoff battles and knows where he needs to be on both ends of the floor. He's a pro.
Joel Embiid - 3 stars
Not your typical Embiid night on the stat sheet. If it had been his normal production, he would've gotten 4 stars. But down the stretch he missed some key free throws and a layup that would've either tied the game or kept Philly within one possession. However, he was a +17 so he had tremendous impact in his limited capacity because of illness.
Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry - 3 stars
This is sort of like a combined grade. But they were each better than 1 star. As a collective unit they were good. They all made shots tonight, Ibaka was good on the glass, and defensively they had a couple key moments. Again, they'll need to be better in Toronto if they want to get a stranglehold on this series. But good signs on Sunday.
Danny Green - 2 stars
He finished with 11 points, going 8-8 from the line. But his three point shot has been off and he committed a lot of fouls on Sunday. He needs to take more shots and keep the Sixers defense honest.
Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons and James Ennis III - 2 stars
They were a combined -29 on the floor. There were periods where you forgot Ben Simmons (an all-star) was out there. Part of that was Toronto limiting the 76ers transition game, but Ben also missed a bunch of chippies and bunnies and the rim. When they did get out in transition he was a little indecisive, and late in the game he was part of the Sixers' spacing issues.
Tobias shot 7-23 from the field and missed 11 three pointers. If he converts at even a tick less than his normal rate, the 76ers win Sunday's game. Many of the looks were wide open, so Brett Brown and the team will happily accept that. He just needs to connect.
Ennis wasn't that bad, he was the most productive guy off the bench and did connect on 3 of 7 from deep. He'll need to be productive in the minutes he gets on Tuesday, as he's the guy Brown trusts off his bench right now.
Pascal Siakam - 1 star
Siakam is suffering with a calf injury, but he played 28 minutes and only had 9 points. He missed some easy ones at the rim. His shot is also off. This is a tough grade because we are putting a lot of pressure on Siakam who is still a young player in this league. Yes, he's most improved. But for much of the season he played like an all-star and borderline All NBA player. But, this is the playoffs, a completely different game than the regular season. It's also his first taste of this level of competition. He'll get better. But he wasn't good on Sunday night.
Five Thoughts From The Nets' 112-108 Game 4 Loss to The 76ers, Including Player Ejections And Nets' Player Grades (Video)Read Now
Here are five thoughts from the Nets' game 4 loss to the 76ers on Saturday afternoon at the Barclays Center. Philadelphia now leads this best of seven playoff series 3-1.
1. Jared Dudley vs. Everyone
The thirteen-year veteran is, in many ways, the heartbeat and identity of this year's Nets team. His veteran presence and stability has allowed a player like D'Angelo Russell to flourish, and he's an adult in the locker room to help get head coach Kenny Atkinson's messages heard.
We know about the comments Dudley made regarding 76ers guard Ben Simmons prior to game three. Simmons responded and put it on Dudley and the Nets. In game four, it was obvious Dudley came out with the intention of setting a tone. Anytime he was matched up on Simmons (which is a clear advantage for the 76ers) Dudley would be extra physical, using his leverage and veteran savvy to frustrate the second-year guard. After a big defensive stop on Simmons in the first half, Dudley was extra charged up, clapping vehemently and imploring the crowd at Barclays Center to let the 76ers hear them. Shortly thereafter on a 76ers turnover, Dudley was inbounding the ball and he rushed to grab the ball, going through Simmons who was "in the way" as he was trying to get the game moving. He later hit a three and taunted Simmons.
Dudley's intentions were clear from the jump. The 76ers were not going to come into Brooklyn and punk the Nets. Yes, Philadelphia may be the more talented team. But Dudley wanted his teammates (whom are all playoff neophytes) to recognize that the playoffs are about leveling up and you must match the opponent's physicality.
This all reached a boiling point in the third quarter. Jarrett Allen was going up for a shot at the rim and Joel Embiid blocked him and the refs called a foul. On the replay and in the arena it looked like mostly ball, but also a "hard playoff foul." Dudley took exception, came charging in and pushed Embiid. A brief melee ensued, Dudley and Jimmy Butler were issued double technicals and ejected, and Embiid was charged with a flagrant foul.
This decision seemed a bit overboard as no punches were thrown. But the officials wanted to take charge of a game and a series that has gotten very chippy. On the surface it was a win for the Nets, Dudley was able to get one of the 76ers most important players in Butler ejected.
Following the game, a lot was said on both sides about Dudley, the physicality and ejections.
Embiid and Butler said they knew something was coming from Dudley.
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson talked about Jared Dudley postgame and what he means to the team.
2. Playoff Intensity
There is a level of physicality that the playoffs bring. You are playing the same team, a minimum of four times, a maximum of seven over the course of two weeks. The bumps and touches on screens and in the post get more agitating as the series progresses. The defense is stingier and tighter. The stakes are also higher.
Saturday afternoon's game was pivotal for both squads. Going back to Philadelphia for game five, with the series tied at 2-2 or the 76ers leading 3-1 would be huge either way.
The series has gotten more physical, these teams don't like each other, and there has been a lot of talking. This is playoff basketball. The last two games, the 76ers have ratcheted up their intensity and the Nets were unable to match. For most of game four the Nets were the aggressors, and save for a few miscues down the stretch, this game was theirs for the taking.
Following the game, Caris LeVert and D'Angelo Russell talked about the intensity of the series and the challenge of staying mentally connected for 48 minutes in a playoff game.
3. Kenny Atkinson's playoff coaching
Much like his team, the grade is incomplete until the series ends. Whether that's on Tuesday in Philadelphia or if the Nets can get it back to Brooklyn for a game six on Thursday will impact his overall "coaching grade." But for his first time as a head coach, he's shown some flexibility and is willing to admit errors and mistakes.
One of the hallmarks of this team is their preparedness for games. Credit Atkinson and his staff. They have a game plan and the players do their best to execute. There is a fine line between overreacting to everything and making adjustments to help your team win. Caris LeVert has been the Nets' best player this series. He had been coming off the bench, until Atkinson started him on Saturday. LeVert played a team high 42 minutes and scored 25 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and handed out 6 assists. He was efficient on offense and connected on defense.
The Nets were better defensively on Saturday, Atkinson scrapped the zone and sent doubles at Embiid and backed off Simmons. The Nets were up six points with under six minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Down the stretch there were some questionable calls, turnovers, and with the game in the balance the ball was in Jarrett Allen's hands for the Nets. The latter is not ideal, but they were in this game.
No doubt there were some play calls Atkinson would like to have back, but in the end, he is learning about playoff basketball on the fly much like his young team.
Prior to the game, Atkinson spoke on the pressures of playoff basketball.
4. Joel Embiid is good at basketball
Stop the presses. That was an earth shattering statement. This is an all NBA center and someone who might finish in the top 5 in MVP voting this season. He played 32 minutes and finished the game with 31 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 6 blocks and 2 steals. A monster performance after missing game three with tendinitis.
In the first half he played just under eleven minutes and had 11 points. He took it to the Nets in the second half, reading the double team, making the correct pass. When single covered he faced up and went straight into his move, and he and Ben Simmons had a nice two man game working.
There are stretches where Embiid looks like the most dominant player in the league. He has that capability and is a future league MVP, if he can stay healthy. The Nets have no answer for him and neither does anyone else.
Following the game, Ben Simmons talked about the two man game between himself and Embiid.
5. Nets Player grades
Joe Harris - 2 stars
He finished with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and was a +9. Harris was better connected defensively and aggressive getting through and around screens on Saturday. However, his three ball has gone missing in the postseason. He has only made three from long distance this series and is shooting under 20%. He led the league during the regular season at 47%. That means he's due for a big game five, right?
Jared Dudley - 3 stars
He would've gotten 0 stars last game, if that's how my arbitrary system worked. But for as bad as he was in game three, he was excellent in game four. The box stats won't jump out at you. 8 points, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and a +12. It was his energy and intensity that fueled the Nets for much of this game, despite being ejected in the third quarter. But his "spirited play" got Jimmy Butler ejected, that's a win for the Nets.
Jarrett Allen - 2 stars
Yes, the box score says 21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a +5. However, he mostly finished lobs, which is a good thing. But those points were largely invisible and in the game's crucial moments he fell to the floor going to the basket for the potential game winner and got the ball taken from him by Ben Simmons.
D'Angelo Russell - 3 stars
He has a tough matchup going against Ben Simmons, who is an All NBA level defender. Still, he finished with 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. Not the most efficient game from the floor, but was 4-9 from deep. He hit a couple big shots late, and his ball fake before he goes to the three is masterful.
Caris LeVert - 4 stars
As mentioned earlier. He got the start, played a team high 42 minutes and led the team in scoring. He was very good on both ends and is the Nets best player.
Spencer Dinwiddie - 3 stars
This was tough. Dinwiddie had a very efficient offensive game, scoring 18 points on 12 shots, and he was 3-6 from deep. He had a rough afternoon on defense committing 5 fouls and getting caught on a couple screens and pin downs.
DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson & Treveon Graham - 1 star each
All three very ineffective in their time on the floor, a combined 0-12 and a -29.
Five Thoughts From The Nets' 131-115 Game 3 Loss to The 76ers, Including Ben Simmons Laughing at Jared Dudley and Nets' Player Grades (Video)Read Now
The Nets lost to the 76ers 131-115 in game three at the Barclays Center on Thursday night. They are now down 2-1 in this best of seven playoff series, here are five thoughts.
1. Ben Simmons vs. Jared Dudley is kind of a thing, but not really
We all heard and read the quotes from Nets veteran Jared Dudley prior to game three about the Sixers’ young star.
"Ben Simmons is a great player in transition. And once you get him into half court, he's average."
You could argue there is validity in Dudley's statements. There are certainly players around the league that feel that way.
Simmons had a nice response prior to the game for Dudley.
Before we dissect what happened on the floor Thursday night. Brett Brown provided his thought process on how he likes to use Simmons, and if that changes when Joel Embiid is off the floor.
Simmons was excellent on Thursday night. He had 31 points, 9 assists, and 3 blocks in the win. He excelled in transition as expected, and he also controlled the game in the half court. He shot 84% from the field and 81% from the free throw line. He and JJ Redick found a nice rhythm in the third quarter using dribble handoffs, quick curl screens, and rim dives that led to a plethora of points and/or drawn fouls.
The idea that he is average in the half court is misleading. Yes, he doesn't shoot the ball outside of 12 feet during a game, but we all see him working on it during warmups and he makes more than his fair share. Part of it is the way Simmons prefers to play, and with Embiid on the floor, the spacing is too tight and it limits, to some degree, what Simmons does best.
BSO spoke exclusively to David Simmons, Ben's father, pregame and he said his son is developing well and is already an all-star in his second year in the NBA. Saying, "His shot will come and when it does, what will people say then?"
Unfortunately for Ben and the 76ers, his development is on an accelerated timeline. This is no longer the "trust the process" era. Philly is going for it all now, and that means Ben will have to get out of that comfort zone and accelerate his progression. It may be unfair, but that's where the team is.
Back to Simmons vs.Dudley. It's decidedly one way and it's not close. There was a funny moment during the game when Dudley is called for a foul and while he's pleading his case to the official, Simmons just laughs at him. Dudley finished with 0 points in 16 minutes.
2. It’s a make or miss league
So cliche, but it’s true. At its core the game is about making shots. The 76ers shot 48% from the field and 40% from three, going 11-27. They scored 131 points. The Nets shot 41% overall and 20% from three, going 8-39. The three ball has been vital for the Nets this season. They were top 5 in attempts and makes during the regular season. In the playoffs they are number 1 in attempts and number 2 in makes. When they shoot it as poorly as they did Thursday night, they’ll lose games. It’s pretty simple. Joe Harris went 0-4, Rodions Kurucs 0-3, and D’Angelo Russell 2-9.
Credit the 76ers defense for closing out relatively well on shooters but these were shots that were falling, particularly for Russell, in game one and a good portion of game two.
But at the end of the day, the Nets scored 115 points in a playoff game, yes the pace was accelerated a bit but that’s enough points to win. What they can’t do is give up 131. In the last two games in this series the Nets have given up a combined 276 points…
3. The Nets defense was poor
Let’s be clear about something. The 76ers have more top end talent than the Nets. They didn’t start Joel Embiid Thursday night and still ran out a lineup of Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, JJ Redick and Boban Marjanovic. That being said, defense is about effort and competing. When Philly ratchets the intensity up a level in the third quarter as they’ve done the past two games, the Nets don’t seem to be able to match them.
The Sixers were able to run the same play three or four consecutive times in the quarter with Ben and JJ. Yes, part of that is that Boban and Ben set tremendous screens. They are big bodies and physical. The Nets’ communication needs to be better and, easier said than done, they have to fight harder through those screens or switch. The latter may cause some matchup problems, again as the Nets don’t have the personnel for that type of sustained switch-ability.
Following the game Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson talked about the team’s defense.
Ben Simmons, JJ Redick and Tobias Harris talked postgame about what they were able to do offensively against the Nets.
4. Caris LeVert is ready for the big stage
LeVert finished with 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals. He attacked the rim, used floaters and made 3 of 8 from three. This is the LeVert the Nets saw early in the season prior to the dislocated foot injury that forced him to miss 42 games. Had he been healthy the entire season, he would’ve gotten the necessary reps and gone through the ups and downs that a “go to” guy needs to prepare for the postseason. As it happens he came back right before the all-star game and used the Nets final run towards the playoffs to get himself back in “game shape” and now he’s ready.
It’s a small sample size, but in the playoffs, LeVert is averaging 20 ppg on 58% eFG and 64% TS. The eye test is showing that LeVert is aggressive and not overawed by the moment and believes he can go toe to toe with anyone on the 76ers.
The Nets will likely lose the series, but this is an important step in LeVert’s and the team as a whole overall maturity and development.
5. Player Grades
We’re going to try something new in the postgame thoughts and give out player grades for the Nets during the playoffs. The grading system will be stars. 5 stars is the best and 1 star is the worst. There will also be incomplete grades given out, if a player’s situation warrants it.
Caris LeVert – 4 stars
See the comments about LeVert above. If they won, he would’ve gotten 5 stars.
DeMarre Carroll – 2 stars
Carroll finished with 6 points in 27 minutes, yet somehow was a plus 2. He hit his two threes in the first half and otherwise was nowhere to be found. Despite the blowout loss, Carroll impacted positive things on the floor for the Nets, just not enough.
Rodions Kurucs – 1 star
3 points, 5 rebounds and -15. Kurucs is a rookie in his first playoffs experience. After his hot start when he joined the team, things started to tail off as they headed towards the all-star break. At times on the floor, he floats in and out of the action and that’s to be expected. The one thing he needs to do is knock down open shots when he gets them. Right now he’s not doing that.
Jarrett Allen – 2 stars
15 points, 6 rebounds, and -11. He was one of the culprits on the defensive end Thursday night. He is in his second year and developing. His rebound rate needs to increase and he’ll need to start taking and making those open corner threes. There were a few times on Thursday when the Nets had good ball movement and Allen would find himself wide open in the corner and instead of taking that three, he would pass it to a player that was being defended.
Joe Harris – 1 star
The all-star three point champion is not shooting it as well as he did in the regular season. Small sample size, but he’s only making 30% of his threes. He is a combined -65 in the first three playoff games. His assignments defensively on the 76ers are tough, so it’s hard to kill him. But, he needs to be better fighting through screens and has to be able to hold up and provide resistance on switches.
D’Angelo Russell – 3 stars
This was a tough grade. Looking at the box score, he scored 26 points on 26 shots. But the eye test said his misses were at inopportune times and he was not able to impact the game defensively at all. DLO is not an all NBA defender, but as the point guard he needs to be able to pressure the point of attack or at least provide resistance. That point of attack is Ben Simmons, so that’s no easy task. But this is playoff basketball.
Jared Dudley – 1 star
If 0 stars were an option that’s what he’d get. No impact on either end of the floor and he poked the bear with his comments about Ben Simmons. Whether or not Simmons said it motivated him. It definitely did.
Spencer Dinwiddie – 2.5 stars
Dinwiddie and LeVert were good sparks off the bench. He had some nice moments, was aggressive, but only made 1 of 4 from three. He made some contributions defensively, but not enough to make a difference.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – 2 stars
A very weird stat line and game for RHJ. 14 points but 10 of his points came from the free throw line. He was definitely aggressive and tried to spark the club and do the most with his minutes. Defensively he was solid, probably the best Nets player (either him or Caris) but the issue is on offense where he doesn’t positively impact spacing and works best as a finisher.
Why we must hold Kyle Korver accountable.
Utah Jazz player Kyle Korver deserves our applause and admiration. In his Players’ Tribune piece he admitted to something. He is a member of a privileged class. Privilege is defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
As a member of this privileged class he recognizes there is something he doesn’t have to deal with, that impacts the majority of his teammates and more than 75% of his colleagues in the NBA: racism. Racism is defined as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.
Korver made it clear he is aware of his privilege when he expressed his feelings on the situation of his teammate, Thabo Sefolosha, that occured when they were members of the Atlanta Hawks. Sefolosha had his leg broken in a case of excessive force and brutality at the hands of the NYPD in an obvious racial profiling incident. At the time of the incident, Korver admitted to first thinking, “Well, if I’d been in Thabo’s shoes, out at a club late at night, the police wouldn’t have arrested me. Not unless I was doing something wrong.”
Korver also reflected on Oklahoma City Thunder MVP Russell Westbrook’s interaction with a couple of fans at the Jazz home arena in Salt Lake City during a game last month. He wrote, “This wasn’t only about Russ and some heckler. It was about more than that. It was about what it means just to exist right now — as a person of color in a mostly white space. It was about racism in America.”
Again, Korver deserves praise for recognizing and admitting his privilege, as well as calling a spade a spade, and using the word racism. Too often, many white people will go through mental gymnastics to avoid using the word, because it’s such an ugly and vile concept. But, that is what racism is, ugly and vile. Korver went to a place Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller wouldn’t go, following the Westbrook incident. In a statement Miller read to Jazz fans following the incident, she said:
This should never happen. We are not a racist community. We believe in treating people with courtesy and respect as human beings. From time to time, individual fans exhibit poor behavior and forget their manners and disrespect players on other teams. When that happens, I want you to jump up and shout ‘stop.’ We have a code of conduct in this arena. It will be strictly enforced.
Whether Miller believes the greater Salt Lake community is racist or not, is kind of beside the point. Something happened and is happening between NBA players and some fans. This isn’t an isolated situation, it’s a reflection of the larger issue in the macro society, and a prominent white player on her team says something needs to be done. Korver writes,
“How can I — as a white man, part of this systemic problem — become part of the solution when it comes to racism in my workplace? In my community? In this country?”
He knows he doesn’t have all the answers, but believes the following:
“I know that, as a white man, I have to hold my fellow white men accountable.”
This is where the rubber meets the road. Admitting privilege is hard, calling out racism as a white person is hard, holding other white people accountable for their racism is harder. How does Korver plan to do this? Standing up and applauding after a racist fan is banned from the arena for life, while the right thing to do, is the bare minimum and easy. What are his plans for actually holding his fellow white men accountable?
Racism is a foul scourge woven into the fabric of this country that manifests itself in many obvious, and not so obvious (to some), ways. How will Korver work to root this out? He laid down the challenge of holding his fellow white men accountable, so we (the collective) must hold him accountable to his words. Will he call out his fellow white athletes across sports to stand with him in solidarity for their teammates and colleagues of color?
Many of my colleagues in media often romanticize about the healing power of sports and the great responsibility athletes have to use their platforms for good. Kyle Korver has made a step in the right direction. Who else will Korver solicit for support? What other prominent white athletes will step up?
Since Korver’s piece published he has received a lot of “atta-boys”, retweets, and likes on various social media platforms. Now what? Holding people accountable is hard. Will he campaign against policies that continue to marginalize people of color, even if that means impacting some of his own privilege? When working to eradicate the scourge that is racism, will he recognize that we don’t have the luxury to do it in a manner that makes white people comfortable? Does he know what it truly means to hold people accountable in this way?
Korver said it is incumbent on him to listen and educate himself on racism in America. That is true. It is also on him to act. If he means what he says, and we must take him at his word, the information he seeks is out there. If he doesn’t know, he’ll quickly come to know what the injustices his teammates, colleagues and people of color talk about daily. He’ll come to know, if he doesn’t already, the inherent advantages the privileged classes are afforded at the expense of others. But, what will he do?
Yes, that’s a lot on Korver’s shoulders, but he wrote the words. This is on him and other members of the privileged class. It is not the job of the oppressed to educate the oppressor, though people of color will continue to do so. What will you do once you’re educated Kyle Korver? Actions speak louder than words.
Thoughts on Nets' Win Over The Heat, Including D-Wade on His Final Game And The Meaning of Family (Video)Read Now
The Brooklyn Nets defeated the Miami Heat 113-94 on Wednesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to close out the regular season. Brooklyn's record is 42-40 and they have made the playoffs for the first time since the 2014-2015 season. They are the #6 seed in the eastern conference and begin the playoffs on the road this Saturday at the Philadelphia 76ers.
Last night was also the final game in the legendary career of Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade. The three-time champion, eight-time all NBA, and thirteen-time all star is a sure fire first ballot Hall of Famer, and probably the third best shooting guard of all time. The arena was filled with emotion, tribute, respect, and all the things.
Here are some thoughts from last night.
D-Wade's final game, maybe justifiably, overshadowed the night for Brooklyn. But we must give general manager Sean Marks, head coach Kenny Atkinson, their staffs, and most importantly the players props for a tremendous season. It wasn't all roses for Brooklyn this year. During a brutal eight game losing streak that had the squad 10 games below .500 in early December and headed to the lottery, things were bleak. D'Angelo Russell wasn't playing fourth quarters, Caris LeVert was injured, and questions about it ever working in Brooklyn were everywhere.
But this group, led by veterans Jared Dudley, Ed Davis and DeMarre Carroll, steadied the ship. D'Angelo Russell started to play like an all-star and #2 overall pick, Spencer Dinwiddie was in talks for sixth man of the year, and rookie Rodions Kurucs played like a lottery pick during stretches. The Nets won 19 of their next 24 games and vaulted themselves above .500 and into playoff contention.
Right before the all-star break Caris LeVert returned from injury, and as a team the Nets bunkered down and believed they could make the playoffs. They thought it earlier in the season, even in the wake of that rough stretch. You could say the Nets have been in playoff mode the last few weeks. Pulling out must win games and securing their seeding.
Now comes the fun part, and a level of basketball this group has never experienced. Ask any NBA player what the difference is between the regular season and the playoffs and the one word you will hear repeatedly is intensity. You play the same team over the course of a seven game series. There are no back to backs and often two or three days rest between games. That leads to stars playing more minutes and increased energy for physical play on the defensive end. Teams know each others plays and counters. Coaching and player adjustments are magnified in the playoffs.
But this is what it's all about. Brooklyn has developed a core of very good young players. Marks and Atkinson want to build a sustainable "championship level program". This is a huge step in that process.
âFollowing the game, during his media availability, Atkinson talked about the Nets jump from one of the worst teams in the league to the playoffs.
Emotion, Brotherhood, and Respect
Wednesday night was all about Wade in many respects. Despite the loss, he finished his final NBA game with a triple double. 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The sellout crowd at Barclays Center was in a lather hours before the 8:00 pm local tip. They were there to hopefully catch a glimpse of greatness, one last time. It was an emotional atmosphere the entire night. There is something about sports that even the most cynical, myself included, can't deny. When we witness the end of an era, or storied career it elicits something deep inside of us. Maybe it reminds us of our own mortality. Maybe it brings us back to a time in our lives that was special. Whatever IT is, these moments are special and you have to consider yourself fortunate to have witnessed it in some way.
âThe famed "banana boat crew" was in he house at Barclays on Wednesday night. LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony were all in attendance to support their banana boat brother on his final night as an NBA player. Much can be debated and said about these men and it has. What is undeniable is the genuine love and respect they have for one another. In a competitive alpha male environment like the NBA, these men set a standard on how personal relationships can have a lasting impact on one's life. ESPN's Rachel Nichols summed it up best in a post on Instagram:
During Wade's "One Last Dance" tour he's exchanged jerseys with veterans, young guys, journeymen, and stars, players of all levels. He's received unanimous respect. As a member of the NBA fraternity, and that's not a large group, it means so much to have earned the respect of your peers and the players that came before you. Wade has earned that in spades. An excellent player on the floor, class act off the the floor, and a leader in the community and ambassador for this great game.
âIf you haven't seen the latest Wade commercial. Check it out.
âDwyane Wade is a family man. He's very close with his sisters and his mom, buying the latter a church. He is married to actress Gabrielle Union and they recently had a daughter, Kaavia James Union Wade, via surrogate. The Wade's are also parents to three children from Dwyane's previous marriage.
We have been privy to the comings and goings of the Wade family for years in part because of their celebrity status and the nature of the times we live in. We've also seen Dwyane's oldest son, Zaire, essentially grow up before our eyes. Dwyane and his then girlfriend, who became his first wife, had Zaire while he was in college at Marquette University. A sobering reality for any twenty-something year old, let alone someone with pro basketball aspirations.
But Wade had a dream, and with the birth of Zaire, he knew the kind of father he wanted to be and family he wanted to raise and he set out and accomplished it. No doubt with many ups and downs, successes and failures along the way.
Following the game, Wade talked about the importance of family and what it means to him for his oldest son Zaire to experience this journey with him.
Black athletes making salaries in the multi-millions creates jealousy and animosity among certain “fans.”
NBA arenas are becoming increasingly hostile work environments for the players. What gives? Why does it seem like there is a segment of fans who routinely cross the line when engaging with NBA players? What is the “imaginary line” fans shouldn’t cross when speaking about athletes? Why do some fans feel entitled to say whatever they want to athletes?
Let’s look at the relationship between fan and athlete. Among the four major team sports, the relationship between fan and player is most intimate in the NBA. The best seats in any NBA arena are literally on the floor, steps away from the action. NBA players don’t wear helmets or masks or equipment that obstructs them from the fans’ view. This “closeness” makes the relationship different because these players are recognizable. Couple that with the social media era (which NBA players dominate) and you have a situation where fans think they “know” these players.
Two instances during this current NBA season have placed the athlete-fan relationship under the microscope. Oklahoma City Thunder all-star Russell Westbrook engaged in a back and forth with a fan in March, where the fan and his wife reportedly told Westbrook to “get on your knees like you’re used to.” Westbrook responded and said, “I’ll fuck you up, you and your wife.” Westbrook was fined $25,000 by the NBA for engaging with the fans using threatening language, and after an investigation was concluded, the Utah Jazz banned the fan from the arena for life. In January, Golden State Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins was called a n***er by a Celtics fan at TD Garden in Boston. Cousins reported the fan to the arena security and, according to reports, the Celtics banned the fan for the remainder of this season and all of next season.
Behavior like this from fans towards athletes should not be a surprise to you. If you’ve ever been to an arena or stadium, no doubt you’ve heard some wild things being said by fans, directed towards athletes.
What is a fan? A fan is shorthand for fanatic. A person who is extremely enthusiastic about and devoted to an interest or activity. A person exhibiting excessive enthusiasm and intense uncritical devotion toward an interest or activity.
Whether in attendance or watching on your HD television, how many people do you see either dressed excessively in team gear, or mascot costumes, or in full body paint of their teams' colors? This type of devotion is valorized by many of my fellow colleagues in the media and is often depicted as “true fandom.” To be fair, if that’s how you want to show support for your team, it’s your business.
But at what point do we go too far in legitimizing this type of behavior? Why is this overzealous behavior deemed OK and a prerequisite for being a “true fan”? At what point did the fans become an actual part of the game?
Fifteen years ago at the Palace at Auburn Hills, during a Pacers versus Pistons game, the unthinkable happened. A hard foul occurred in the game and a fight ensued on the court between several of the players. In the aftermath of the fight, as the officials were restoring order and determining fouls and ejections, a “passionate Pistons fan” who embodied the feelings of “his team” threw a cup of beer at then Pacers player Ron Artest. All hell ensued as Artest charged into the stands and a melee erupted and spilled out onto the floor between some fans and the players.
The NBA took swift action, recognizing its customer base (which is overwhelmingly white) would likely not react well if severe punishment was not meted out to these Black players. A precedent was established by then commissioner David Stern. The league was on the side of its customers and the players had to be kept in line. This was backed up by the mandatory dress code and a few other, if we’re being generous, “coded policies.”
That was a dangerous moment for the NBA. The action, while seemingly just in the moment, had unintended consequences and reinforced an old adage: The customer is always right. But are they?
In the time since that incident at Auburn Hills, the league’s profitability, popularity and value have increased. The fan experience has changed as well. With the addition of backboard, and sideline tracking cameras. The league’s push on social media to deliver more content to the fans, the game and sport — one could argue — has been catered towards them. On the surface as a business, any rational person could understand the importance of that and why it is necessary. The NBA is competing for mindshare and fan interest with millions of other things. There needs to be a revenue stream from a fan base to continue to support this multibillion-dollar business. But at what cost?
Fans have long held onto the right that they can say whatever they wish to players in an arena because their ticket allows them to do so. Of course they are wrong. While a fan is well within his or her right to boo the opposition or heckle at a grade school level, comments about race, sexuality, players’ families cross the line. All fans know this. But some choose to cross the line anyway for whatever reason. The biggest one being that they fear no repercussion. These fans have come to believe that they are a part of the game. While it’s true they are part of the atmosphere, they are not a part of the game on the floor.
In wake of these recent incidents, the NBA has sent a memo to its 30 teams asking them to create a PSA or a league-developed spot to stress the “importance of respect and civility in NBA arenas.” But will that be enough? Why do people at their place of work (players) have to now engage themselves in the process of alerting security and team personnel about abhorrent behavior?
Yes, sports are a microcosm of the larger society in which they inhabit. Athletes making salaries in the multimillions no doubt creates a level of jealousy and animosity among some fans. In the larger society, it is safe to say racial animus has grown, and yes, some fans have feelings about their income relative to the income of these players, playing a game. We can’t escape the realities. They are a part of life.
The intimacy and fan experience should be treated the same way we often tell players their experience as a professional athlete is: it is a privilege. Being a fan of the NBA and one of its teams is a privilege. Just because you decide to spend money on a ticket, that does not give you permission to engage in activity that in larger society nobody would find appropriate. We must put the onus on the league and its teams to stress that fact. We would love to have you be a part of our fan experience and enjoy our beautiful game, but we expect you to honor the hallmarks of basic humanity and decency. The memo by the league to its teams was a step in the right direction. But will it have the desired effect? Time will tell.
Five Thoughts From The Nets' 131-121 Loss to The Bucks, Including Eric Bledsoe on If His Matchup With D'Angelo Russell is Personal (Video)Read Now
Here are five thoughts from the Nets' loss to the Bucks on Monday night at the Barclays Center.
1. Playoff like atmosphere in the 3rd and most of the 4th
The Nets dug themselves an early hole, falling behind 35-20 at the end of the first quarter. The Bucks blitzed them from the start. Brooklyn shot 7-25 (28%) from the field in the first, while Milwaukee was 13-23 (56%). Some of that was Milwaukee's defense, but the Nets also missed shots, and defensively they were not sound and allowed Eric Bledsoe and Sterling Brown to get downhill on them and force the action.
Brooklyn found their footing defensively and started making shots in the second quarter. When the buzzer sounded to head into halftime, Milwaukee's lead was cut to five.
In the third quarter was when both teams really engaged in what a playoff game would look like. Mini runs and answers. Counters on defense and offense and at the end of the third, Milwaukee's lead had been cut to two. The crowd was into it and both teams exhibited a playoff type of intensity that you can't muster consistently during an 82 game regular season.
Even in the 4th, after the Bucks jumped out to a 10 point lead and it looked like Milwaukee Bucks' all NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was about to take over, the Nets battled back and got within three at one point. This is the type of intensity the Nets will need, and more, if they are going to make the playoffs and win a game or two.
A potential playoff berth would be a new experience for this Nets team. In fact, meaningful basketball this late in the season is a new experience. But this is all part of general manager Sean Marks' and head coach Kenny Atkinson's master plan, to build a championship level program in Brooklyn.
2. Caris LeVert's aggressiveness
LeVert had his best game since coming back from injury. He scored 24 points on 15 shots, handed out 6 assists, and grabbed 4 rebounds. He was aggressive in his drives to the paint, something we mentioned after Saturday's game against Boston. He was confident in his shot, he made 4-8 from three. He got his hands on loose balls defensively and he showed playmaking ability and the return of the two man game with Jarrett Allen.
The Nets are 39-39, they are currently the #7 seed in the playoffs. They are a half game behind the Pistons and a half game ahead of Miami. With four games remaining, (Raptors, Bucks, Pacers and Heat) they will likely need to go 2-2 to feel comfortable in securing that playoff berth. LeVert will have to play like he did Monday night, which was what he looked like early in the season before the injury.
It was always going to take a while for LeVert to regain his rhythm and timing. Maybe Monday night was the breakout and signs of things to come.
Atkinson spoke about LeVert in his postgame media session.
3. Eric Bledsoe vs. D'Angelo Russell
In what appears to be a matchup that both guys take personally, Bledsoe finished with 29 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and the win to Russell's 28 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and a loss. Russell was named as an all-star replacement in February. A spot Bledsoe believes, he should have deserved more consideration for. Either way, it feels that when these two have matched up this season, there is a bit of extra juice.
During one point in the game Russell scored on Bledsoe and let him know about it, typical hoops type competition. There were a few plays defensively when Bled really got into Russell and on offense really attacked him downhill.
Bledsoe was the far more efficient player Monday night, needing only 19 shots to score his 29 points. Russell needed 27 shots to score 28 and turned the ball over six times.
Russell's efficiency has dropped of late. For the month of March he shot just 41% from the floor and 32% from three. This could be the byproduct of a number of factors, including: defenses keying in on him, fatigue, and lineup fluctuations. Whatever the reason, he will need to elevate his play down the stretch and in the playoffs. Again, this is uncharted territory for Russell and the Nets. Progress isn't always linear.
Following the game Bledsoe talked about going up against Russell, he told Black Sports Online that it isn't personal and he (Bledsoe) has played well all season, not just against Russell and the Nets.
4. Foul hunting on pick and rolls
Late in the fourth quarter with the game still yet to be decided it looked as though the Nets were hunting fouls on pick and rolls. Specifically Russell, coming off screens. No doubt there was contact on many of the plays as there always is in the NBA. Players try to show officials that they are indeed fouled and hope to get favorable whistles. In a tight game, free points without the clock moving are critical.
The Nets as a team have not quite mastered that subtle art as well as some other teams have in the league. Russell is certainly not as skilled in the arts as say, James Harden.
In his postgame media availability, Kenny Atkinson talked about the challenge of getting officials to see contact around screens in the NBA.
5. Mike Budenholzer
At 58-20 the Bucks have the best record in the NBA. They are the #3 team in offensive rating (113.5), #1 in defensive rating (104.5), and #1 in net rating (9.0). They have the presumptive league MVP or runner-up in Giannis Antetokounmpo. All signs this season have suggested the Bucks are an NBA Finals caliber team. That is due in large part to the presence of head coach Mike "Bud" Budenholzer.
Bud was most recently the head coach in Atlanta where he guided the Hawks to the playoffs in four of his five seasons at the helm. When he arrived in Milwaukee the consensus among the basketball media was that he would be able to get more out of this talented Bucks roster than Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty were able to. So far, so good. Bud's 5 out offense has unlocked Giannis into a terror that is dominating the league on both ends, and they appear to have very little weaknesses as a squad.
Of course with only a few games remaining in the season. The real test will begin in the postseason. Being the #1 seed and best team in the regular season doesn't guarantee success in the playoffs. During Bud's second season in Atlanta they won 60 games and were the #1 seed in the conference. They lost in the conference finals.
Still in all, Bud is an excellent coach and has a temperament that suggests he learns from previous disappointments and he has this Bucks team ready for a deep playoff run.
Before the game in his media availability, Bud talked about the balance between playing well heading into the postseason and rest, as well as the injuries the team has suffered the last few weeks.
Five Thoughts From The Nets' 110-96 Win Over The Celtics, Including D'Angelo "Ice in My Veins" Russell (Video)Read Now
The Brooklyn Nets secured a much needed win over the Boston Celtics at the Barclays Center on Saturday night, as they push towards the playoffs. Here are some thoughts.
1. D'Angelo Russel's third quarter
DLo finished the game with 29 points, 10 assists and was a +24. He scored 20 of those points in the third quarter, where the Nets pushed their lead. He scored in a variety of ways, threes, floaters, and layups. DLo has been the bellwether for this team. When he has good games and is efficient scoring the ball, the Nets usually win. He was electric in the third, with the help of an attacking Caris LeVert (more on him later) and that was the deciding quarter. He almost matched the Celtics in scoring for the quarter, as they only scored 22 points. The lead never got below double digits.
DLo talked to the YES Network's Michael Grady following the game.
2. Nets' defense
It was much better on Saturday night than it had been on their recent 2-5 road trip. Brooklyn held the Celtics to 96 points on 42% shooting. In the deciding third quarter, the Celtics shot 38% and turned the ball over six times. To be fair, this was the second night of a back to back for the Celtics, and they were without their best player, Kyrie Irving, and Al Horford. Still in all, a win is a win. The Nets clamped down defensively, especially in the third, but it really began with increased effort in the second quarter.
Brooklyn grabbed 35 defensive rebounds, 72% of what was available in the game. They closed out possessions well and limited second chance opportunities.
3. Caris LeVert's rim attacks
It wasn't a particularly stellar stat line for LeVert. He finished with 15 points on 5-13 from the floor, and he was a -7. His shot distribution is what was interesting. Of his 13 shots, 9 were inside the free throw line, with the remaining 4 shots from three. LeVert has been uneven in his play, since returning from injury just before the all-star break. But, that was expected. His timing and rhythm are off and likely won't return until next season. Unfortunate, as he emerged as a real go to guy, earlier in the season.
Regardless, LeVert's attacks put pressure on the defense all night and he was able to draw three fouls with his drives. His ability to do that in the playoffs and convert at a higher clip will be critical not only to his development, but the team's overall growth, as they hope to make the playoffs.
4. Playoff mode activated
The Nets have five games remaining on their schedule, and to be safe they are likely going to need to win at least two of the next five. That would give them a .500 record for the season. That won't be easy. Two of the five are against the east leading Bucks, one against the Raptors, one against the Pacers, and a final game against the #8 seed Heat. All playoff teams, who besides the Bucks and Raptors, are still battling for seeding.
This is uncharted territory for Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson and his players. But their fate lie in their own hands. If they win, they're in. That makes it pretty simple.
Atkinson talked about the team's position pregame.
5. Nets' bench celebrations remain the best
This Nets team has been pulling for each other all season long. When you're in the arena at the games, you can feel the joy and energy from the guys on the bench as they support the players on the floor. Theo Pinson is the leader of the bench mob celebrations.
During DLo's hot third quarter, the bench players couldn't contain themselves. It may seem like a small thing, but team chemistry on a squad with no playoff experience, trying to make the playoffs, is huge.
Russell went from potential first-round bust to All-Star on a playoff team
"I've seen a lot of growth, really in all areas. Maybe the most important area, is as a team leader ... that said, the point guard is always going to have the most complex job of ball distribution, mixing in an aggressive attack, to score and set up playmaking opportunities. There's real nuance to all that stuff. But he's smart. He wants it, and I've really loved how he's played. He gets a little better every day."
Those were the words of Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle at the beginning of the season about his then-starting point guard, Dennis Smith Jr.
A lot has happened since then: uneven play from Smith, some immaturity, and the emergence of a rookie named Luka Doncic. Fast forward to today and Smith is now a member of the Knicks, on a completely gutted roster (or a young rebuilding one, at least) looking to find stable footing and develop into the player many thought he could be when Dallas selected him No. 9 overall in the 2017 draft.
But for Smith and the Knicks to be hopeful, they needn't look any farther than across the Brooklyn Bridge at the development of D'Angelo Russell.
NBA fans know the story. In 2015, Russell was drafted No. 2 overall by the Lakers, who saw Russell as a player with "star" potential that could help usher in their next period of glory during life after Kobe. But it was never meant to be. Russell never got the opportunity to be "mentored" by Bryant. Then there was the "Snapchat incident" -- but that terrible lapse in judgment, poor play, immaturity and the drafting of Lonzo Ball led to Russell's 2017 draft day deal to the Nets.
Now Russell is an All-Star and it's safe to assume the Lakers wouldn't mind having this version of him right now. Such is the plight of young point guards in a dynamic NBA, where we want immediate results.
Like Doc Rivers recently told the NY Post of Russell: "Sometimes, you've just got to wait on a kid."
But for the Knicks, the development of Russell at least shows what they could have in Smith.
Most point guards don't fully develop until the age of 22 or 23, or their third or fourth season in the league. Looking at both Smith and Russell's rookie years, there are some similarities (Smith's rookie numbers also compare favorably with another athletic point guard and former league MVP in Oklahoma City)
Even though their games aren't carbon copies, Smith would do well using Russell as a blueprint. Both players are good at reading their defender in ball screen and pick-and-roll action; the 6-foot-5 Russell is very good at it. Smith, standing at 6-foot-3, would do well studying that part of his game.
Imagine advanced-level ball screen and pick-and-roll skills coupled with pure athleticism?
In terms of personality, there are some similarities, too. As rookies, both could be described as headstrong point guards with something to prove. Russell, though still out to prove his doubters wrong, has developed a calmness. Yes, part of it is maturity. But, it's also the situation he's in and the relationship he has with his head coach, Kenny Atkinson.
Roadmap to Success
Year one in Brooklyn was a bit rocky for Russell, but before it was derailed with an injury, he was starting to get it. Russell was averaging career-highs in points per game (15) and assists per game (5.2). His per 36 numbers were great at 21.7 ppg and 7.3 apg. He began developing a relationship with Atkinson and the seeds of trust were planted.
In year two, now his fourth season in the league, Russell is an All-Star. The presence of veteran leaders like DeMarre Carroll, Ed Davis, Jared Dudley, and Shabazz Napier have all helped with the young point guard's development and maturity. He is averaging career highs across the board: 20.4 ppg, 6.8 apg on 36 percent shooting from three.
He also has the highest usage rate of his career at 31 percent. During a rough stretch for the Nets in late November and early December, Russell was in a slump and being pulled in and out of the lineup during crunch time because of ineffective play. During a players' only film session, Russell sought help from his veteran teammates, asking "What am I doing wrong? How can I be better?"
The result was improved play from the young point guard, including the best month (January) of his professional career, and the team recording an 11-4 record and establishing themselves in the playoff race.
Self-awareness is among the most important skills any person can possess. In that moment of poor play, Russell humbled himself and asked for help. He wanted to be better, but not just for himself.
The NBA is made up of approximately 470 players. The ego and bravado that exists is overwhelming. Rightfully so. You have to be extremely good at basketball to make it in this league. Humility is not an easy virtue for this level of professionals.
Russell credits Atkinson and the situation in Brooklyn for his success. At his All-Star media availability in Charlotte when asked about working with Atkinson he said: "He's been great. He's gotten better as well. I think just with the youth that we have on the coaching staff and as players, we're all getting better together. It's a good feeling."
There is a trust that has developed between the two and it has unlocked freedom for Russell.
If Smith can develop a bond with head coach David Fizdale, the sky's the limit for him. For his part, Fizdale wants that for Smith.
"I want to put the ball in his hands a lot and get him out in the open court and get him a lot of space. Give him some freedom to make some mistakes and while he's learning," Fizdale told ESPN of Smith, adding, "But man, there's no doubt about it. The kid's a talent and hopefully we can bring it out consistently."
The Challenge of Staying the Course
The NBA, much like society, is about immediate gratification. We need results now. General managers, coaches and players are seemingly judged game to game. But development, growth and improvement are not linear. It's not true in life, why should sports be any different?
There are ups and downs, and maximizing potential in the NBA is all about fit and situation. For the elite talent within the league, they will thrive and grow into their talent regardless of where they are. But for the other 99 percent, it is incumbent upon organizations to have a plan, a roadmap, and stick to their core principles (of course leaving room for some flexibility). Giving up a year or two in for the next shiny, new prospect or idea is generally bad for business.
In Brooklyn, the Nets clearly have a plan and it looks to be with Russell as a cornerstone of said plan. Can the same be said of the New York Knicks? We'll wait and see what the plan is for Smith Jr.