With the addition of play-in games to the 2021 NBA playoffs, the scramble for seeding is wilder — and more important — than ever, with almost every game down the stretch having significant postseason implications.
Here’s a breakdown of all the key games from Saturday and what the results mean for the seedings, plus a look at what the play-in matchups would be if the season ended today:
The Celtics hosted the Miami Heat Sunday afternoon in a game that would go a long way toward determining which of these two teams would have a shot at reaching the 4-5 series in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and which would be headed toward an appearance in the NBA’s first-ever play-in tournament.
It didn’t take long to figure out which way things would go.
The Heat jumped out to an early double-digit lead and never looked back, leading wire-to-wire in a 130-124 victory here at TD Garden. Miami, which led by 26 at halftime, is now tied with the Atlanta Hawks for fifth in the East, with the Heat sitting two games ahead of the Celtics in seventh with four games to play.
Miami and Boston will play again here Tuesday night in a truly massive game, with the winner clinching the tiebreaker – and, if Miami wins, virtually guaranteeing Boston will take part in the play-in tournament.
If Boston was to lose Tuesday, both Miami and Atlanta would possess the tiebreaker and be up at least two games in the loss column with three to play, leaving only a complete collapse by the New York Knicks, Boston’s opponent in the regular season finale a week from Sunday, as a possible path out of the play-in for the Celtics.
As it stands now, Sunday’s loss has left Boston, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, with an 81 percent chance of being in the play-in tournament.
The race for spots 4-6 in the East, however, is going to be complex. New York sits a half-game in front of Miami and Atlanta in the East standings entering their Sunday afternoon game with the Clippers.
The closeness of the standings is equaled by the split of tiebreaker scenarios among the three teams, as New York holds the tiebreaker edge over Miami, Atlanta has the tiebreaker over New York, and Miami holds the tiebreaker over New York.
And while of immediate concern to all three teams will be avoiding the play-in, they also would love to get into a 4-5 series and avoid having to play either the Milwaukee Bucks or Brooklyn Nets in the first round – only adding to the stakes for what should be a frenetic final few days of the regular season. — Tim Bontemps
Play-in matchups following Saturday’s games
Play-in games to be held May 18-21
Game 1: No. 8 Charlotte at No. 7 Boston — winner is No. 7 seed in playoffs
Game 2: No. 10 Indiana at No. 9 Washington — winner moves on in play-in; loser is eliminated
Game 3: Indiana/Washington winner at Boston/Charlotte loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs
Game 1: No. 8 Golden State at No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers — winner is No. 7 seed in playoffs
Game 2: No. 10 San Antonio at No. 9 Memphis — winner moves on in play-in; loser is eliminated
Game 3: Memphis/San Antonio winner at Lakers/Golden State loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs
Bobby Portis declining his option with Milwaukee Bucks, agent says
The most the Bucks can offer Portis is a $5.9 million exception, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
The 26-year-old Portis was one of the more effective sixth men in the NBA, averaging 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds during the regular season while averaging 52.3% shooting from the field.
He was a major contributor during the Bucks’ run to the NBA championship, averaging 8.8 points and 5.0 rebounds during the postseason.
Kevin Durant powers Team USA’s rout of Czech Republic on record night
SAITAMA, Japan — The best thing Team USA had going for it this summer was Kevin Durant committing to play. Saturday he reminded everyone why.
On a night when he became the all-time leading American scorer in the Olympics, Durant added another tremendous performance to his Team USA resume in a 119-84 victory over the Czech Republic.
The victory assured Team USA second place in their group and a place in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Their opponent and game time will be determined in a draw Sunday with the only certainty being there cannot be a rematch with France until at least the semifinals.
Because of their two blowouts wins the last two games, Team USA will end up with a favorable position and avoid top medal contenders Australia, Spain and potentially even Luka Doncic-led Slovenia in the quarters.
Durant finished with 23 points on 8 of 11 shooting, which of course was important for the cause, but his playmaking and defense was just as helpful as he put up eight rebounds and six assists as well. In the third quarter he was masterful, scoring 10 points with four of his assists as it went from a tight game into a comfortable blowout.
He’d had a pedestrian start in Tokyo, scoring just 20 points total in the first two games and shooting just 40%. Even in the run-up games in Vegas, Durant wasn’t moving at full speed as he admitted everything seemed like practice and he shot just 43% percent. Then he fouled out of the opening loss to France, a key factor in the Americans’ offensive struggles.
With Doncic, who scored 48 points in his first Olympic game, off to an impressive start and Australia’s Patty Mills putting up great performances, Durant had faded into the background in the tournament’s first week.
All that lethargy was gone Saturday as he looked for his shot early. The Czechs had gotten off to a strong start, making eight of their first 11 shots and building a 10-point lead. But Durant led a charge to overtake them, his 3-pointer in the second quarter giving the U.S. the lead for good.
It was a relevant basket, not just because it put the team in front, but because it pushed Durant past Carmelo Anthony for the all-time scoring lead. Durant’s international career is impeccable including the 2010 World Cup in Turkey, where he established himself as a centerpiece of the national team for the next decade.
It was also a slump-breaker evening for Jayson Tatum, who had his best game of the summer as he put up 27 points with five 3-pointers. Tatum, who was bothered by a minor knee injury in Vegas, had lost his starting spot. Coach Gregg Popovich had positioned him to be an impact scorer off the bench but he was shooting just 40% in the first two games.
Jrue Holiday, who was again terrific defensively as he pressured the ball relentlessly and picked off three steals, had 11 points.
The Czechs were led by Blake Schlib, who played at Loyola-Chicago, with 17 points.
Boston Celtics acquire Josh Richardson, trade Tristan Thompson in separate 3-team deal
The Boston Celtics were involved in a pair of moves to reshuffle their roster Friday that saw them ship out center Tristan Thompson and bring back three players: guard Kris Dunn and center Bruno Fernando from the Atlanta Hawks and guard Josh Richardson from the Dallas Mavericks.
The first deal saw Thompson wind up with the Sacramento Kings, guard Delon Wright go from Sacramento to Atlanta and Dunn and Fernando wind up in Boston, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Boston also received a 2023 second-round pick in the deal, sources said.
Later Friday, Boston struck another deal, with sources confirming that the Celtics landed Richardson from the Mavericks by using the remainder of the trade exception created by the sign-and-trade deal that sent Gordon Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets in November.
Boston now has 13 players with fully guaranteed contracts for next season and are around $5 million in guaranteed money below the projected luxury tax line of $136.6 million for the 2021-22 season, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
The Celtics will enter free agency next week with at least one significant decision ahead of them: the possibility of re-signing guard Evan Fournier, whom they acquired with the remainder of the Hayward trade exception in March in the hours leading up to the trade deadline. With their current roster situation, re-signing Fournier would push the Celtics well into the luxury tax for next season.
Richardson, who will turn 28 in September, is about to play on his fourth team in as many years in the wake of back-to-back disappointing seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers and Mavericks. After being acquired by the Sixers in a sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler two summers ago, Richardson struggled to find a fit in Philadelphia. Then, after being swapped for Seth Curry during the 2020 NBA draft in November, Richardson averaged 12.1 points for Dallas but tied a career low in shooting 33 percent from 3-point range.
He also went from starting all but three regular season games for the Mavericks to coming off the bench for all seven games of Dallas’ first-round playoff series loss to the LA Clippers — including playing less than 10 minutes in each of the final three games of that series.
Richardson, who had a player option for the 2021-22 season, will exercise that option to remain under contract as part of this deal.
Thompson, 30, averaged 7.6 points and 8.1 rebounds in 54 games for the Celtics last season, his first time playing anywhere outside of Cleveland, where he spent the first nine years of his NBA career. But with the emergence of third-year center Robert Williams III, plus the return of center Al Horford as part of the Kemba Walker trade last month, there wasn’t a need for Thompson any longer in Boston.
Now, though, he’s headed to Sacramento, where he will give the Kings insurance at the center spot with starter Richaun Holmes set to be an unrestricted free agent Monday.
Dunn, 27, played just four games during the regular season as he dealt with multiple injury issues, and then saw a total of 33 minutes of action across five playoff games during Atlanta’s run to the Eastern Conference finals. If healthy, the former Providence College star could provide the Celtics some defense on the wing.
Fernando, who will turn 23 in August, averaged 1.5 points across 33 games last year for Atlanta. He was the 34th pick in the 2019 NBA draft.
Wright averaged 10.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 63 games split between the Detroit Pistons and the Kings last season. The 29-year-old, now playing for his sixth team, gives Atlanta some depth in the backcourt behind Trae Young, where he can either be his backup or play alongside impending free agent Lou Williams if the Hawks are able to re-sign him.
All five players involved in both deals are on contracts that will expire at the end of the 2021-22 season. Richardson will make $11.6 million next season; Thompson is set to make $9.7 million; Wright will make $8.5 million; Dunn will make just over $5 million and Fernando is set to make $1.7 million.
The Athletic was first to report the Celtics acquiring Richardson.
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