WATCH: Are the Boston Celtics finally starting to learn how to close out games?

Or can we expect another step back soon to come?

In the space of less than a week, the Boston Celtics managed to close out a pair of close games against the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls that resemble games they have struggled to win in past weeks this season save for the final result, with the Celtics managing to secure the win with connected, engaged play to finish the games.

Is the team finally learning how to close out close games? This seemingly simple but damningly difficult challenge for Boston has stymied the Celtics in a host of games tracing back to the very first game of the season, but is showing signs that the young team is finally learning how to ensure they can hold on to close leads or claw back from late deficits to get a win.

Watch the video embedded below to hear what the hosts of the CLNS Media podcast “The Garden Report” have to say about the recent late-game returns of the Celtics, and see if you agree on whether it is actually a promising development or just a new iteration of the fool’s gold that has passed itself off as growth in the past.

This post originally appeared on Celtics Wire. Follow us on Facebook!

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Brooklyn Nets quotes: James Harden, Steve Nash react to Kevin Durant’s injury

Here’s what Nets players and coach Steve Nash had to say after Kevin Durant left Saturday’s game.

The Brooklyn Nets did what they had to do on Saturday night. This came in the form of them defeating the New Orleans Pelicans, even if it saw them losing Kevin Durant mid-way through the second quarter. Durant was having a solid game up until that point, but a collision with Bruce Brown left him no choice but to stay out for the rest of the game.

Fortunately, the Nets sat back to witness James Harden handle the scoring duties. His knack to facilitate was second to none as usual as his double-double led the way, serving as enough to put away New Orleans.

After the game, the Nets sounded off on the victory.

For first time in long time, Bills fans enjoy full home playoff win: ‘The best fans in the world’

For first time in long time, #Bills fans enjoy full home playoff win: ‘The best fans in the world’

It had been a very long time since Buffalo Bills fans watched a playoff game at home, in full capacity… but it seems like it was worth the wait.

The last time the Bills played a home playoff game in front of a full crowd was December 1996 (last season was very limited seating due to the COVID pandemic).

Fast forward to 2022 and thanks to a 47-17 blowout vs. the division rival, New England Patriots, Sunday was one big party for the Bills Mafia.

Leading up to the game, there had been quite a bit of trash talk from both Boston media and Patriots fans regarding the number of tickets available to the game and the cheap prices of those. Many attributed it to the subzero temperatures, cold for even Buffalo’s standards.

In the end though, the Bills Mafia was there in full force, like they always are and it didn’t go unnoticed.

“It was awesome. These are the best fans in the world,” Bills quarterback, Josh Allen, told CBS during his postgame interview. “They deserve it. To share this experience with them… to hear the energy and excitement in this building today, it was unbelievable. Extremely blessed and honored to be a part of the Buffalo Bills and Bills Mafia they’ve been awesome. Hopefully we can get one more, we’ll see.”

Allen was asked more about the specifics of getting it done in the playoffs against a team and coach that has notoriously tortured Bills fans in recent history.

“It feels good for the fans, I know that,” Allen said during his press conference. “I’m glad we could give that to them, but at the end of the day it’s a playoff game that we advanced on. Doesn’t matter what we did this week, or last week, or the week before. What matters is what we do going forward.

Like Allen, long-time veteran defensive end Jerry Hughes called Bills fans the best.

“A home playoff game, here with our fans,” Hughes said. “The mafia up in the stands cheering, being crazy, being what they are, you know, the best fans in the NFL. It felt amazing to actually have that opportunity to be here.”

Bills tight end Dawson Knox, who had two touchdowns and narrowly missed a third, admired the bravery of one fan in particular.

“We saw a dude shirtless,” Knox said to reporters laughing. “That crowd always finds a way to get us going, no matter if we’re up or down, playoffs or not. Best fanbase in the world, not even close.”

Bills defensive tackle Harrison Phillips had a unique viewpoint on sharing this moment tonight with the fans. Phillips has had to really fight through injuries during his time in Buffalo, but won a starting job down the stretch and is seemingly enjoying every moment.

“This is the first time we were able to do this in a really long time,” Phillips said after the win. “One thing I’ve been really trying to do this year is smell the roses and live in the moment a little bit, so after the game… just took an extra breath and walked around that stadium one more time.

“Not just how much it means to us, but to the fans that are there. These are rare to come by, you know it’s not promised that you can play at home in front of these fans and just wanted to really live in the moment and take this in as something that we’ll remember for the rest of our careers… of our life.”

While it is certainly special to win at home in front of your fans, doing it against the New England Patriots means just a little bit more if you’re a Bills fan. It’s something the Bills players are aware of.

“I think it’s big for the people in this community and the people around h  ere to be a part of that game against that opponent,” Bills safety Micah Hyde  said after the game. “Just because we know the history and what’s happened the last 20-plus years.”

Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds shared the same sentiment.

“This is my fourth year playing against those guys and you definitely feel it,” Edmunds said. “Just in the locker room, just in the community and everything. Just because, you know, based on the past, the history between Buffalo and New England, but it’s amazing. Those the type of games you wish for. The type of games we grew up wanting to be in. And just to have it, playoff atmosphere, that made it 10 times better in front of our fans, man. It was loud out there. They bring it each and every game, so it felt good. The energy always feels good.”

Bills head coach Sean McDermott said that whether it’s New England or someone else, it’s still only one game. Nevertheless he understands what it means for Bills fans.

“I’m more happy for our fans,” McDermott said to the media. “It’s not often a coach can enjoy the last six minutes of a game and kinda look up in the stands and see the fans enjoying it at home. I’m happy for them more than anything.”

McDermott was asked what he saw when he looked into the crowd. “Just a lot of people having fun it looked like,” McDermott continued. “I’m happy for them. A lot of hardworking people in this community that get up every morning, pack their lunch and go to work. So, glad to see they can enjoy something like that.”

While the Bills win guarantees them a spot in the divisional round next weekend, who they play and where they play remains to be seen based on the outcome of the Chiefs vs. Steelers game.

If the Chiefs win, the Bills will head to Kansas City next weekend. If Pittsburgh pull the upset, Buffalo would then host the Cincinnati Bengals in Orchard Park.

If this is in fact the only home playoff game for the Bills this season, what a game it was. After many fans waited 25-plus years for this moment, one coan say the Bills delivered.

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Lakers player grades: L.A. blown out by Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Here is how the Los Angeles Lakers graded after getting blown out on the road by the Denver Nuggets.

The Los Angeles Lakers had a night to forget after getting blown out by the Denver Nuggets, 133-96.

Denver finished the first quarter with a five-point lead at 34-29, but that’s when it started going south for Los Angeles. The Lakers just couldn’t stop the Nuggets at any point on the defensive end. If Denver had a 3-point look, it went in. If Denver wanted to attack the rim, it was an open layup line.

Denver’s rookie Bones Hyland popped off in the first half and Nikola Jokic turned in a 17-point, 13-assist, 12-rebound triple-double, but everyone on the Nuggets had the hot hand. The Nuggets shot a whopping 57.5% from deep on 40 attempts, while the Lakers hit just 10-of-30 (30%).

The Lakers, on the other hand, got a solid game from Dwight Howard, but that was it.

Here is how the Lakers, now 21-22 on the season, graded individually from the loss:

OKC Thunder player grades: Thunder fall short as Cavs mount 18-point comeback in win

The Thunder were not able to keep its 18-point lead as the Cavaliers were able to squeeze by with a close road win

The Oklahoma City Thunder were able to lose in entertaining fashion as the Cleveland Cavaliers manages to steal a road game with a 107-102 win. The Thunder led by as much as 18 points but the Cavaliers used a 15 point advantage in the second half to close this gap and complete the comeback.

The Cavaliers, who came into the game ranked third in the league in team defensive rating at 104.9, held the Thunder to 102 points. Now while the point total is low, I thought the Thunder shot the ball pretty efficiently against one of the best defensive teams in the NBA as they had a 43.4/ 37.0/ 90.9 shooting splits. The difference in the game came with turnovers, where the Thunder committed 15 compared to the Cavaliers’ seven total. This gave the Cavaliers four extra shot attempts and in a five-point loss, those extra possessions were extremely crucial.

For the Cavaliers, Darius Garland and Evan Mobley led the way. Garland finished with 27 points and 18 assists while Mobley finished with 20 points and five rebounds. Jarrett Allen also chipped in with a 13 point and 13 rebound double double.

Overall, this was a fun game that showed the Thunder were able to keep up with the most overachieving team in the league. The team has nothing to be ashamed about with its efforts and should not hang their head in losing an 18-point lead against the up and coming Cavaliers. With all that said, let’s take a look at player grades.

Brooklyn Nets grades: Nets take care of Pelicans in blowout

James Harden’s double-double leads the way for Brooklyn in their 15-point win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Nets had many obstacles come their way against New Orleans, but in the end, they prevailed. James Harden (27 PTS, 15 ASTS, 8 REBS) had yet another masterclass and the rookies showed off and showed out in the contest.

Overall, Brooklyn outrebounded the Pelicans 44-35. Although the team allowed 12 offensive boards, it didn’t matter. New Orleans couldn’t even capture a lead throughout the whole game. As for Brooklyn, their bench also showed up, scoring 32 points in all.

Kevin Durant (12 PTS) was forced to leave the game in the second quarter after apparently injuring his left knee. There will be an MRI on the injury tomorrow morning.

As the game progressed in his absence, the Nets maintained the energy offensively although they let up a little in the third quarter defensively.  They allowed 36 points in the period, marking the most points New Orleans scored in a quarter for the entire game.

In the end, the starters combined for 88 points and it was more than enough to get the victory. Brooklyn’s defense on the perimeter, holding the Pelicans to 29% accuracy from there, was key in withstanding a possible rally.

Steve Nash and his squad will be back at it on Monday when they take on the Cleveland Cavaliers.

NBA mock draft: Who Rockets could take with two 2022 first-round picks

For The Win draft guru Bryan Kalbrosky sees Duke’s Paolo Banchero and teammate Wendell Moore Jr. as potential NBA draft fits with the Rockets.

With the 2021-22 NBA regular season now over halfway completed and college basketball in the middle of conference play, mock drafts are becoming more intriguing and valuable to monitor.

After all, a team like the Houston Rockets that currently sits at the bottom of the Western Conference knows they have very strong odds to draft high in the first round. Moreover, the track records for many available college players are coming into better focus, since many of the top prospects are now facing off quality opposition on a more regular basis.

The Rockets are currently slotted to have two first-round picks in the 2022 NBA draft: Their own, along with the higher pick between Miami and Brooklyn. As of now, Houston’s pick is likely to be high in the draft, while the Miami/Brooklyn pick appears likely to be in the 20s — since both the Heat and Nets appear poised to easily make the playoffs.

As of Saturday, the Rockets (12-32) had the league’s third-worst record. Scroll on for a look at the draft lottery odds, should that position hold, along with insight by For The Win’s Bryan Kalbrosky on who they might take with each of their two first-round selections in 2022.

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Report: Boston Celtics reached out to Suns’ to trade for Jalen Smith, with Dennis Schroder the likely offer

Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer shares that he believes Boston offered the German floor general for the young big man recently.

There have been rumbles of the Boston Celtics having some trade interest in Phoenix Suns big man Jalen Smith despite the potential limitations there might be on bringing back the Maryland product due to the Suns having declined his team option for next season earlier this year.

There have also been rumbles that the Celtics are looking to move off of veteran backup point guard Dennis Schroder given the team is unlikely to be able to re-sign him due to limits placed on their current contract in the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

So it probably should not surprise one to hear reporting from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer that he has heard that Boston reached out to Phoenix regarding Smith. He further related that “Dennis would be the clear outgoing piece since their salaries match and Boston is looking to offload him” in a recent appearance on the “Suns Solar Panel” podcast (via Bright Side of the Suns’ Brandon Duenas).

While Duenas isn’t crazy regarding Schroder’s fit, he does note Fischer pointing out that the German guard played one of his best seasons of his career backing up Chris Paul, so there might be something worth exploring there for the Suns.

On Boston’s end, it would provide a little cap relief with Smith earning $1.4 million less than Schroder’s $5.8 million this season as well as a little more competent help in the team’s somewhat thin frontcourt.

This post originally appeared on Celtics Wire. Follow us on Facebook!

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WATCH: Is there a market to trade for veteran Boston Celtics guard Dennis Schroder?

If so, what sort of returns could the team hope for?

There have been lots of rumbles around the NBA media sphere that veteran Boston Celtics reserve point guard Dennis Schroder might be among the most likely players in the league to be traded ahead of the 2022 trade deadline, but at least for now, the German floor general remains in green and white.

This raises the question, with other players already having beaten Schoder to the punch in changing teams, of exactly how robust of a trade market is there for the Celtics sixth man. Are their teams in the league looking to move players to get him on their team? Or is this simply wishful thinking for fans of the Celtics?

The hosts of the CLNS Media podcast “Celtics Beat” Evan Valenti and Adam Kaufman discuss this on their most recent episode of the pod with guest Mark Murphy of the Boston Globe.

Watch the clip embedded above to test the temperature of the Dennis Schroder trade market from their perspectives, and see if you agree with their logic.

This post originally appeared on Celtics Wire. Follow us on Facebook!

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ESPN’s Kevin Pelton out on splitting up Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum any time soon

Though the day could one day come, in Pelton’s estimation, that day is still far off.

When the Boston Celtics are not playing well this season — which seems to happen as often as it doesn’t — there has been a fair amount of click-hungry analysis suggesting that perhaps the path to more wins might be to split up the team’s two young All-Star forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Rightly panned by fans of the team and most local analysts, the narrative is getting picked up by national writers. And while some have poked and prodded it in ways that irritate the Jays themselves and their fans both, not all of them are buying such a prospective path for the Celtics.

One such national analyst is ESPN senior writer  Kevin Pelton, who lets his feelings on such a strategy be known in a recent column.