On an August afternoon inside the NBA’s Walt Disney World Resort campus, the Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers sure made it feel like June. After a back-and-forth final frame, Boston captured the 128-124 win as Portland’s road to a play-in tournament in the Western Conference hit a speed bump.
Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards failed in their best chance to gain ground on the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic, while the Memphis Grizzlies fell to 0-2 for the restart after a close loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Sunday night’s prime-time showdown features the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets — both debuted with wins in the bubble — as Giannis Antetokounmpo & Co. look to clinch the East’s No. 1 seed with a victory (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
PAST BUBBLE INTEL: July 30 | July 31 | Aug. 1
The latest buzz
Jaylen Brown puts on an explosive scoring performance putting up 30 points as the Celtics down the Trail Blazers 128-124.
Boston’s bet on Tatum and Brown is paying off
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Still dealing with a minutes restriction as he continues to build up strength in his balky left knee, Celtics star Kemba Walker was forced to sit and watch from the sidelines during the fourth quarter of his team’s frenetic matchup with the Blazers.
But as Walker looked on while Boston’s two young wings, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, powered the Celtics to a victory with a combined 64 points — tied for the most the two have scored in any game together in their careers, per ESPN Stats and Information research — any frustrations he felt from having to watch were replaced by excitement for the future.
“They were special,” Walker said. “In order for us to be a great team, those two guys are going to have to go at it every night, they’re going to have to balance off each other.
“They’re gonna have to love each other, because their talent level is unreal, and it could take our team to great heights when they’re playing basketball on that kind of level.”
A team built around Tatum and Brown playing at an elite level for the next decade is why Boston resisted the temptation to trade for available stars over the past several years. Instead of moving one of them for anyone from Anthony Davis to Kawhi Leonard to Paul George to Jimmy Butler, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge instead chose to stand pat, betting on his young talent to rise to that level in the future.
Sunday was the latest indication that bet may just pay off.
Tatum was spectacular early, shrugging off an awful 2-for-18 performance against the Bucks by scoring 21 points in the first half and finishing with 33 points plus a career-high eight assists. On one of those assists, Tatum hit Brown in the corner for an incredibly difficult shot to help put the game away in the final minute.
Brown, meanwhile, scored 16 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, making one spectacular shot after another to stymie a furious push from Portland, which is fighting for a playoff spot.
The Celtics don’t have such problems. Boston will almost certainly be the No. 3 seed when the postseason begins in a couple weeks. But for the Celtics to make the kind of playoff run they hope to, they’re going to need Brown and Tatum to play like this on the biggest stages. So far this season, both have taken dramatic leaps forward, paying off Boston’s faith in their shared development. And, as Sunday showed, when the lights get bright, they are both capable of rising to the occasion. — Tim Bontemps
All in the family
Before Russell Westbrook took the floor for the Houston Rockets in Sunday’s main event, his wife Nina shared a photo of their three children watching the television.
Magic win, but Isaac re-injures knee
Jonathan Isaac goes down with an apparent left knee injury in the fourth quarter after a layup attempt and is required to leave the game in a wheelchair.
Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac left Sunday’s game against the Sacramento Kings in a wheelchair after suffering what appeared to be a left knee injury.
Isaac drove the lane and did a hop-step between two defenders when he immediately fell to the floor untouched while clutching his left knee in pain with 9:19 left in the fourth quarter.
The Magic won 132-116 to keep their lead for the 7-seed. But losing Isaac costs Orlando one of their best defenders and stunts the growth of a player who had worked to come back after injuring the same knee on January 1.
Nets win crucial matchup in race for No. 8
Without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and a slew of other players, the Brooklyn Nets were written off inside the bubble before the games even began. But as the clock wound down on Sunday afternoon, a trio within the organization’s core made sure that the group would have at least one memorable moment on the Walt Disney World campus — getting another step closer to a playoff berth in the process with a 118-110 win over the Washington Wizards.
Caris LeVert scored a game-high 34 points, outscoring the Wizards 14-12 by himself in the final seven minutes of play, while big man Jarrett Allen chipped in with 22 points and 15 rebounds and sharpshooter Joe Harris added 27 points of his own.
Caris Levert dominates the field from every range possible, collecting 34 points as Brooklyn knock down Washington 118-110.
“We realized we really needed to win right there,” LeVert said. “Guys who’ve been here, myself, JA and Joe, we kind of took it into our own hands like ‘We can’t lose this game.’ We know what’s at stake, we can’t lose this game. We just went in there and gave it everything we had.”
With the win, the Nets are now seven games ahead of the Wizards with six to play. Washington will need to be within four games of the No. 8 seed after the seeding schedule to qualify for a play-in tournament.
“It’s huge,” Harris said. “Obviously, you look at the schedule and you look at the standings and you realize the importance of teams that are sort of all jockeying for the same position. We’re obviously competing to try and get in the playoffs, and there’s no guarantees with the play-in format … these games are extremely important for us.” — Nick Friedell
Zion not getting frustrated with minutes limit, losses
New Orleans Pelicans star rookie Zion Williamson says it has been hard to watch from the sideline as the team lost their first two games in the NBA bubble while his minutes have been limited.
“It’s very tough to be honest because as soon as I start to break that sweat, I look over and that horn is for me and I have to come out the game,” Williamson said Sunday. “Also, when I do catch the flow of the game, like I said, that horn goes off and it’s for me.” — Andrew Lopez
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Houston Rockets | 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC
There’s a decent chance the Bucks might drop 190 points on Houston. But then again, the Rockets might return the favor, because the microball is still cooking. James Harden didn’t show any signs of rust, and for the most part, Houston just continued on with what it was doing in March. If anything, the restart might have given the Rockets more of a chance to work out some issues, and a showdown against the Bucks is a great chance to try it out in a rematch of both teams’ season opener. Milwaukee, meanwhile, will again be without Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton. — Young
Full scoreboard for Aug. 2
In a close battle, the Washington Wizards failed in their attempt to gain any ground on the Brooklyn Nets in the race for eighth in the Eastern Conference. The Orlando Magic, who beat the Nets on Friday to take hold of the 7-seed, look to regain their slim lead when they play the Sacramento Kings, who need to bounce back from Friday’s demoralizing loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
The San Antonio Spurs secured a huge win Sunday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, and with the Portland Trail Blazers’ loss earlier in the day, San Antonio has now leapfrogged Portland for the No. 9 seed in the Western Conference.
7. Orlando Magic | 31-35 (.470) | —
8. Brooklyn Nets | 31-35 (.470) | —
9. Washington Wizards | 24-42 (.364) | 7.0 GB
8. Memphis Grizzlies | 32-35 (.478) | —
9. San Antonio Spurs | 29-36 (.446) | 2.0 GB
10. Portland Trail Blazers | 30-38 (.441) | 2.5 GB
11. Sacramento Kings | 28-37 (.431) | 3.0 GB
12. New Orleans Pelicans | 28-38 (.424) | 3.5 GB
13. Phoenix Suns | 27-39 (.409) | 4.5 GB
Full standings | Playoff matchups
Monday’s must-see games
Memphis Grizzlies vs. New Orleans Pelicans | 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
It’s a must-win situation for the Pelicans, who dropped their first two games in Florida. After Saturday night’s loss to the LA Clippers, Pelicans small forward Brandon Ingram said, “We probably can’t lose any more games” if the Pelicans want to make their playoff push. New Orleans has a 2-0 advantage on Memphis this season, so the Grizzlies will be looking for a bit of payback.
Monday’s matchup will be the second contest of the season between South Carolina natives Ja Morant and Zion Williamson. Williamson (24 points) had the upper hand on Morant (16 points) in the first meeting, although the Grizzlies were missing Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke in that game. — Andrew Lopez
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Utah Jazz | 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
This will be the third game for each team and both will be hoping for better performances than they had in game No. 2. Each team opened up play in Florida with a win Thursday but stumbled Saturday — Utah losing to Oklahoma City 110-94, and Los Angeles falling to Toronto 107-92.
A win against Utah will clinch the best record in the Western Conference for the Lakers with five games to go before the playoffs. Meanwhile, Utah is in fourth place in the West, a game back of Denver for No. 3. Both teams will be looking to fix their offenses and get back on the right track. — Lopez
Credit: Source link