Boston Celtics vs. Brooklyn Nets
One team in this matchup projects to be a difficult and gritty playoff opponent and a sneaky conference finals contender; the other team in this matchup is the Brooklyn Nets. The Boston Celtics defeated the Brooklyn Nets 126-120, behind a historic 54-point performance from Jayson Tatum. It was Tatum’s fourth 5o-point game, tying him with Larry Bird for the most 50-point games in Celtics history. Tatum finished the night with 54 points (16-30 FG, 8-15 3PT), five rebounds, three assists, and it was his hockey assist that led to a dagger Jaylen Brown three to stamp out all hope for the Nets. Jaylen Brown added 21 points, four rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Marcus Smart finished the game with 14 points, three rebounds, nine assists, and one steal. Al Horford finished the game with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block. Robert Williams III tallied 10 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals, and five blocks.
This Celtics roster thins out after the seventh man, but depth is much less important in the playoffs and their defense looks like it could be “championship level.” The Celtics are 13-2 in their last 15 games and Jayson Tatum appears to be growing into the player and playmaker the Celtics need to reach their full potential. They are just two games in the loss column behind the Bulls and Bucks. I’d be surprised if they don’t overtake the Bulls for the fourth spot in the Eastern and if Milwaukee and Philadelphia aren’t careful they could sneak into third. As a non-Celtics fan, I’m haunted by how well this team has come together. Be on the lookout for this group, they are once again a real threat in the East.
This Nets’ season has obviously long since gone off the rails. It went off the rails the moment Kyrie Irving refused to get vaccinated and that decision no doubt played a role in James Harden’s decision to stop competing and passive-aggressively force his way out of Brooklyn. One can’t help but think that this Nets season will be a wasted one. The team is small on the perimeter, lacks any reliable three-and-D players, and one of their two best players still can’t play in home games. Furthermore, both of their two best players are prone to injury, and the third star they traded for when they moved James Harden is dealing with a back injury. Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum appear to still be friends, but I might have to re-evaluate any relationship that routinely saw me get cooked this bad.
Despite the loss, Kevin Durant played well, finishing the game with 37 points (12-21 FG, 4-9 3PT), six rebounds, eight assists, one steal, and two blocks. Kyrie Irving added 19 points, four rebounds, six assists, and three steals. Bruce Brown tallied 16 points, six rebounds, five assists, one steal, and one block. LaMarcus Aldridge chipped in with 14 points, five rebounds, one assist, and one block off the bench. It was a quiet game for Seth Curry, who finished the contest with eight points, two rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Of note from this game, Seth Curry is still starting with Kevin Durant back and even if Ben Simmons were able to return to play this season, he would almost certainly assume Bruce Brown’s forward spot. Speaking of Bruce Brown, the University of Miami product is playing extremely well of late. With the departures of De’Andre Bembry and Javon Carter, Brown’s wing defense, energy, and playmaking as a roller in the pick-and-roll are once again vital elements for the Brooklyn Nets—which is probably a bad thing for their championship hopes. Patty Mills appears to be the odd man out post-Harden trade.
Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns 132-122 behind strong fourth-quarter performances from Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Middleton finished the game with an impressive 44 points (16 in the fourth), eight rebounds, five assists, and one steal. Holiday notched 17 points in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 24 points, two rebounds, nine assists, four steals, and one block. Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled out with 1:12 left to play, but finished the game with 19 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, one steal, and three blocks. Serge Ibaka and Jordan Nwora both scored in double figures off the bench. Ibaka finished the game with his first double-double as a Buck: 14 points, 10 rebounds, one assist, and two blocks. Nwora added 12 points, five rebounds, and one steal. Grayson Allen tallied 10 points, one rebound, six assists, and two steals. Just when you thought the Bucks were beginning to show meaningful deficiencies that could impact their playoff run, they rattle off three impressive wins against top teams in both conferences, beating the Heat, Bulls, and Suns in quick succession. While it remains an impressive, galvanizing victory, the Suns were missing a few key players.
The shorthanded Phoenix Suns came up just short in this highly anticipated finals rematch. It’s unfortunate that the Suns were forced to play this game without Chris Paul (thumb injury), Devin Booker (health and safety), and Cam Johnson (thigh contusion), but the remaining healthy players made the Bucks earn this victory. The Suns never seem to lose their identity and they always play together, operating as intricate hive-mind on both ends of the floor. In the absence of the Suns’ all-star backcourt, Deandre Ayton stepped up with a hyper-efficient performance, finishing the game with 30 points (14-19 FG, 1-1 3PT), eight rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Cameron Payne tallied 23 points, two rebounds, eight assists, and one block in his spot start. Jae Crowder finished the game with 19 points, five rebounds, and seven assists. Landry Shamet notched 17 points, one rebound, five assists, one steal, and one block. Mikal Bridges finished the game with 14 points, six assists, and one steal. Aaron Holiday turned in a decent performance off the bench as well, finishing the game with 8 points, three rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
Washington Wizards vs Phoenix Suns
The Washington Wizards defeated the Indiana Pacers 133-123 in Kristaps Porzingis Wizards’ debut. Porzingis scored a team-high 25 points (7-12 FG, 3-4 3PT) and added five rebounds and two blocks. Kyle Kuzma notched 23 points, five rebounds, eight assists, one steal, and two blocks. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tallied 19 points, two rebounds, five assists, and one steal. Deni Avdija (10), Daniel Gafford (10), Ish Smith (13), and Tomas Satoransky (10) all scored in double figures off the Wizards bench. Raul Neto exited the game early with an ankle injury. The Wizards were 17-42 from three, exceeding their season average of 10 threes a game. Thomas Bryant received a DNP-CD. With the Nets’ loss earlier on Sunday and their looming matchup with the Hornets, the Wizards can still cling to their play-in game hopes.
Six Pacers players scored in double figures, led by Malcolm Brogdon, who finished the game with 27 points, four rebounds, four and four assists. Goga Bitadze got hot early after starting center Isaiah Jackson got into foul trouble and rode that hot streak to a 20-point, six rebound evening. Buddy Hield was just 2-7 from three, but he continues to provide the Pacers with some surprising secondary or tertiary playmaking. He finished this game with 19 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. Tyrese Haliburton finished the game with 15 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists, and three steals. It appears that Brogdon’s return to play might slightly reduce Haliburton’s shot attempts and scoring volume, but will not significantly affect his playmaking. Jalen Smith played 29 minutes off the bench and tallied 15 points, six rebounds, three assists, and one block. Duane Washington Jr. notched 11 points, two rebounds, and 1 assist. Isaiah Jackson played just seven minutes and tallied just six points, five rebounds, and two blocks.
Houston Rockets vs. Memphis Grizzlies
The Houston Rockets defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 123-112 behind strong performances from their (at least for now) core triumvirate—Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr., and Jalen Green. Porter Jr. scored a game-high 29 points (11-21 FG, 4-10 3PT) and added two rebounds, five assists, and one block. Wood tallied 28 points (8-12 FG, 4-7 3PT), 13 rebounds, one assist, one steal, and two blocks. Jalen Green finished the game with 24 points (8-17 FG, 2-7 3PT), eight rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon finished the game with 12 points, six rebounds, two assists. Garrison Mathews notched finished the game with 10 points, three rebounds, one assist, and two steals off the bench. Jae’Sean Tate had a quiet scoring night, finishing the game with 4 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and one steal.
Anytime the Grizzlies lose these days it’s surprising. However, they failed to slow down the upstart Rockets, allowing them to shoot 52% from the field and giving up 22-second chance points. The Rockets also shot 13-34 from three, while the Grizzlies shot just 5-26. That’s the ball game right there. The loss superficially drops them to the three seed in the conference. However, the Grizzlies will win a tiebreaker over the Warriors as long as they remain at the top of the Southwest Division. The Warriors would have to win the second seed outright and such a proposition looks precarious given their current four-game losing streak. The Grizzlies are still in a great position heading into the playoffs as long as they don’t experience an unexpected lull—although the Jazz are hot on their heels all the same. In this game, Desmond Bane led the charge with 28 points, two rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block. Steven Adams added 23 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, one steal, and three blocks. Ja Morant had a rare off night and finished the game with 22 points (7-20 FG, 0-3 3PT), four rebounds, six assists, and two steals. Jaren Jackson Jr. finished this game with just 8 points, three rebounds, one steal, and one block. JJJ has had a breakout defensive season, putting to bed some of the doubts about his ability to anchor a playoff-caliber NBA defense, but he’s still yet to put it all together on the offensive end. He’s averaging 16.3 points a game, but shooting just 41% from the field (a career-low) and 31% from three. In his best scoring season in 2019-20, Jackson averaged 17.4 points a game and shot 46% from the field and 39% from three. I suspect teams will try and make Jackson beat them in the playoffs, maybe even throwing undersized players on him and daring him to try and score over or through them. The usually potent Grizzlies bench was quiet as well in this game, as no reserve scored in double figures.
Utah Jazz vs Oklahoma City Thunder
Not too long ago, both Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were injured and the Jazz looked like a team approaching a collapse. However, since their two best players have been reintegrated, they’ve returned to their early-season form. After defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 116-103, the Jazz are now 8-2 in their last 10 games. During that stretch, Donovan Mitchell has been on fire, and he had another solid game last night, but it was Bojan Bogdanovic who ultimately stole the show. Bogdanovic scored a game-high 35 points (11-19 FG, 11-18 3PT—umm, excuse me!) and added five rebounds and three assists. Mitchell finished the game with 24 points (9-19 FG, 4-11 3PT), four rebounds, 10 assists, and one steal. Jordan Clarkson added 20 points, two rebounds, and two assists off the bench. Rudy Gobert tallied 12 points, 17 rebounds, one assist, and one block. Royce O’Neale finished the game with nine points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder in scoring, finishing the game with 33 points (11-23 FG, 0-4 3PT), seven rebounds, eight assists, four steals, and one block. Aleksej Pokusevski tallied 12 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block. Darius Bazley finished the game with 11 points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal, and three blocks. Olivier Sarr (checks notes), yes Olivier Sarr notched 11 points, nine rebounds, one steal, and two blocks off the bench. Tre Mann has been starting in place of Josh Giddey and has shown some promise, but he had a rough game last night, as he finished the contest with just 6 points, four rebounds, and three assists. The Thunder, unfortunately, had a lengthy list of injury absences in this contest: Ty Jerome (hip), Kenrich Williams (knee), Lugentz Dort (shoulder), Derrick Favors (back), Josh Giddey (hip), Mike Muscala (ankle), Isaiah Roby.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs Toronto Raptors
The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Toronto Raptors 104-96. Lauri Markkanen and Evan Mobley both notched double-doubles in leading the Cavs to victory. Markkanen led the Cavaliers in scoring with 22 points and added 12 rebounds and one block. Mobley finished the game with 20 points, 17 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. Darius Garland also notched a double-double, finishing the game with 17 points, three rebounds, 10 assists, and two steals. Kevin Love nearly tallied a double-double off the bench himself, finishing the game with 15 points, nine rebounds, and one assist. Cedi Osman finished the game with 17 points, one rebound, three assists, and two steals. It was a sorely needed victory for the Cavs, as they had lost seven of their previous 10 games. Every game matter as they cling to their position above the play-in tournament in the standings. However, Jarret Allen was forced to leave this game with a bruised quad, only playing 10 minutes and tallying six points, two rebounds, and two blocks. After the game, it was announced that he also fractured his finger and is out indefinitely. Caris LeVert missed his sixth straight game, but he was listed as doubtful rather than out, possibly indicating he’s inching closer to a return.
Pascal Siakam had some rough games at the end of February, but the calendar’s turn to March has brought about the more potent Siakam we’ve grown accustomed to this season. Siakam led the Raptors in scoring and finished the game with 24 points (8-22 FG, 1-4 3PT), four rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block. Chris Boucher started and tallied 21 points (8-13 FG, 3-5 3PT), seven rebounds, one assist, three steals, and one block. Gary Trent Jr. added 19 points, three rebounds, one assist, and two steals. Scottie Barnes played the role of point guard in Fred VanVleet (knee soreness) and Malachi Flynn’s (strained left hamstring) absence. Barnes finished the game with 19 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and three steals. Precious Achiuwa was the only bench player to score and he finished the game with 8 points, six rebounds, and two steals. The Raptors were also without OG Anunoby (finger).
Denver Nuggets vs. New Orleans Pelicans
After missing the previous game with a non-covid illness, Nikola Jokic returned to action and immediately reminded everyone why his name belongs near the top if not at the top of the MVP list. Jokic finished the Nuggets 138-130 overtime victory over the New Orleans Pelicans with a 46-point triple-double—46 points (16-22 FG, 3-5 3PT), 12 rebounds, 11 assists, three steals, and four blocks. It was Jokic’s league-leading 17th triple-double of the season. Jokic scored 30 of his 46 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including two free throws to tie that game with 3.2 seconds left in regulation. The sheer range of skills he exhibited was dizzying. Take, for example, this ridiculous relocation three a la Steph Curry or Klay Thomson around the 9:00 minute mark of this video. I mean come on! Jokic once again put the team on his back and dragged them to a needed victory like he’s been doing all season. With reinforcements in the form of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. potentially on the way, the Nuggets could be an unpleasant matchup come playoff time. Aaron Gordon also had a strong game, finishing the contest with 28 points (9-17 FG, 0-5 3PT), eight rebounds, two assists, one steal, and two blocks. Monte Morris added 18 points, three rebounds, eight assists, and one block. JaMychal Green tallied 10 points, eight rebounds, and one assist. Bones Hyland finished the game with 11 points, three rebounds, and three assists. Will Barton played just 24 points due to a left ankle sprain and finished the game with 9 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
The New Orleans Not-On-Herbs nearly claimed another victim in this game. Prior to this loss to the Nuggets, the Pelicans had won four games in a row by an average of 26.8 points. They beat the Suns, Lakers, Kings, and Jazz during that stretch and nearly vanquished the Nuggets, but for Jokic’s brilliance. While it wasn’t enough to secure the victory, Brandon Ingram had an explosive game himself, as he finished the contest with 38 points, five rebounds, nine assists, and one block. His night also included a beyond half-court heave that splashed home to end the first half. CJ McCollum added 24 points, five rebounds, nine assists, and one steal. Jonas Valanciunas finished the game with 19 points, 14 rebounds, and two assists. Devonte Graham notched 12 points, one rebound, three assists, and one steal. Mr. Not-On-Herb Himself aka Herb Jones, finished the game with 7 points, four rebounds, two assists, and three steals.
New York Knicks vs Los Angeles Clippers
The Knicks dispatched with Los Angeles Clippers by a score of 116-93. RJ Barret‘s newfound ability to consistently get to the free-throw line is one of the few positive for the Knicks this season. Barret continued that trend in this game as he finished with a game-high 24 points (8-18 FG, 1-2 3PT, 7-7 FT) and added nine rebounds and four assists. Immanuel Quickley added 21 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and one steal off the Knicks’ bench. Cam Reddish tallied 17 points in 25 minutes as well. Alec Burks finished the game with 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal, and two blocks. Mitchell Robinson notched a double-double with 12 points, 11 rebounds, one steal, and two blocks. Julius Randle‘s finished the game with 10 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Randle’s tendency to yoyo from a good game to a bad one continues apace.
In an odd twist, it was the Clippers bench that did a fair amount of the heavy-lifting for the offense. Three Clippers bench players scored in double figures, including the two leading scorers for the team. Amir Coffey played 30 minutes off the bench and led the team in scoring with 16 points, he also added one rebound and three assists. Isaiah Hartenstein tallied 14 points, two rebounds, four assists, and one block in his reserve role, and Luke Kennard notched 10 points and four rebounds. Robert Covington scored just six points, but did add four rebounds, two steals, and two blocks. Terrance Mann led the team in minutes with 31 and finished the game with 11 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Reggie Jackson—uncomfortable with doing anything but tormenting Russell Westbrook—finished this game with 10 points, seven rebounds, and four assists.