After leading the New York Knicks not only to their first playoff appearance in eight years, but also securing the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 96-92 win over the Boston Celtics, Julius Randle said he isn’t interested in discussing how far the Knicks have exceeded their lowly preseason expectations.
“It didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now,” said Randle after finishing with 20 rebounds, seven assists and seven rebounds in Sunday’s win over the Celtics. “People really didn’t believe in us at the start of the season … it’s about what we believe in the locker room.”
And, after a season in which the Knicks have repeatedly defied expectations, they feel confident they can continue to do so in the postseason. They’ll have homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs against the No. 5 seed Atlanta Hawks.
But while everyone in Gotham was happy after Sunday’s game, there were plenty of anxious feelings when the Celtics — sitting virtually everyone in their rotation ahead of Tuesday’s play-in game, having already been locked into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference — pulled to within one possession late in the fourth quarter.
The Knicks, though, eventually held on, ensuring they would finish ahead of Atlanta by virtue of sweeping the series between the two teams and earning the right to host the first two games in their first-round series beginning next weekend at Madison Square Garden.
“Hey look, the bottom line is getting a win,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said, when asked if his team took their undermanned opponent lightly. “We talked about it before the game, if you’re in the NBA you’re a great player. And so they pose a lot of problems. They played a terrific game, which I knew they would they’re a well-coached team. And no matter who you’re playing against, you have to play for 48 minutes.”
Ultimately, though, the Knicks did just enough to win, and get themselves into a first round series with the Hawks, another young team making its first appearance in the playoffs in a few seasons. And while the Knicks did sweep the three meetings between the two teams in the regular season, Thibodeau wasn’t hearing anything about the Knicks having an advantage over their playoff opponents.
“That means nothing going into the playoffs,” Thibodeau said. “So the regular season is the regular season. When you play those games there are a lot of things that go into it. There could be players out. There could be travel involved.
“We know how well they’re playing. They’ve gotten a lot better as the season has gone on. So we’re going to have to be ready. We’re going to have to play a 48 minute game.”
Sunday’s win also marked a notable occasion for the team’s top two players, Randle and RJ Barrett — both of whom are making their first trip to the playoffs.
For Randle, it’s been a long time coming, as this is his seventh NBA season and his third team.
“Extremely,” Randle said, when asked if he was ready for the playoffs. “The way I prepare from game to game I don’t think my habits are going to change. I think I do a good job of preparing myself to play on a night-to-night basis and it will be the same thing [for the playoffs].”
For Barrett, Sunday’s win was validation for an impressive sophomore season for the 6-foot-6 guard, who said he accomplished a goal he set for himself when the Knicks took him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
“It feels amazing, especially doing it with a group of guys who were here last year through some tough times,” Barrett said. “We were able to turn the program around and we have a bunch of new pieces. That’s really what it is how we worked hard and nobody really gave us a shot but we’re here.”
“We brought Knicks fans what they want — brought them back to the playoffs. But before I got drafted, this is what I envisioned. This is what I wanted to do. I’ve always said I’m a winner. I had a feeling I’d be part of multiple teams that will get to the playoffs.”
New Orleans Pelicans officially name Willie Green as next head coach
The New Orleans Pelicans officially named Willie Green as their next head coach Thursday.
Green is coming off a stint as an assistant with the Phoenix Suns, who just made a run to the NBA Finals, which delayed the timing of the Pelicans’ announcement.
“After an extensive and collaborative search, Willie stood out among an impressive group of candidates as the best person to lead our team moving forward,” Pelicans governor Gayle Benson said in a statement. “We are very happy to welcome Willie as our new head coach and we look forward to working with him to guide our team on the court as we work towards bringing a championship to New Orleans.”
Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin called Green, a 12-year NBA veterans one of the “most respected assistant coaches in the NBA.”
“He brings a vast amount of basketball knowledge and experience to our team as both a coach and former player, along with exceptional leadership qualities and an innate ability to connect with players, staff and fans alike,” Griffin said in a statement.
Green spent three seasons as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors before joining Phoenix.
“I want to thank Mrs. Benson, David Griffin, and the entire Pelicans organization for having faith in me to lead this talented group of players moving forward,” Green said. “It’s a blessing and an honor to get this opportunity in a special place like New Orleans. I look forward to getting to work and immersing myself and my family into the local community.”
As a player, Green made the playoffs in seven of his 12 seasons including the lone year in New Orleans (2010-11), one of just seven playoff trips the team has made in franchise history.
That season, Green made it on a team coached by Monty Williams and led by point guard Chris Paul. Now the Pelicans are hiring Green away from a Suns team led by Williams and Paul.
Green replaces Stan Van Gundy, who mutually agreed to leave the Pelicans after just one season. The Pelicans went 31-41 last season, a disappointing result after the season started with playoff aspirations. In the end, New Orleans didn’t even make the Western Conference play-in.
At 39, Green becomes the third-youngest coach in the NBA behind Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault and Memphis’ Taylor Jenkins.
Thousands turn out for Milwaukee Bucks championship parade
MILWAUKEE — Thousands of fans lined downtown Milwaukee streets on Thursday to catch a glimpse of their beloved Bucks in a parade to celebrate the city’s first NBA championship in half a century.
Six police officers on horseback clopped past cheering fans at the head of a procession that included a hook-and-ladder fire truck, occasionally blaring its horn, and open-air buses and flatbed trucks carrying Bucks stars, including Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday, and the trophy they captured Tuesday night with a Game 6 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Fans could be heard chanting, “Bucks in 6,” an odd but beloved rallying cry with roots in a former Bucks player’s fruitless prediction in 2013 that the team would take down the playoffs’ top seed at the time.
Antetokounmpo held his son, 1-year-old Liam, atop a bus as fans along the route chanted “MVP!” Later, he shot a basketball into the crowd.
“Milwaukee, we did it, baby! We did it!” Antetokounmpo said to a cheering crowd in Deer District, the area outside the Bucks’ Fiserv Forum. “This is our city, this is our city. Man, we did it! Unbelievable.”
Neil and Rachana Bhatia, both 34 and from suburban Waukesha, brought 1-month-old son Zain to Deer District, saying they wanted to give Zain an early taste of being a Bucks fan.
Neil Bhatia called winning the title “surreal.”
“It unifies the city and puts the city on a global stage,” he said. “It’s great for the city and the state. It’s just bringing everybody together to celebrate something that hasn’t happened in 50 years.”
Said longtime Bucks fan and Milwaukee native Dameon Ellzey: “In my neighborhood, you could hear everybody on their porches screaming. Black, white, Asian. In a city like Milwaukee, that’s big.”
Milwaukee has long ranked among the most segregated cities in America. Team president Peter Feigin called it “the most segregated, racist place” he had ever experienced, remarks he later softened. As the Bucks drove toward a championship this year, some people were cheered by the diversity of the massive crowds that gathered in Deer District to watch the Bucks on big TV screens.
The team’s ascendance has invigorated a Midwestern city far from the NBA’s more cosmopolitan venues like Los Angeles, Boston or Miami — cities that have traditionally found it easier to attract the game’s top players. One reason fans have embraced Antetokounmpo is his loyalty to the team that drafted him eight years ago when he was 18.
Police estimated 100,000 people jammed Deer District for Tuesday night’s Game 6. Though the coronavirus pandemic has lessened compared to a year ago, the level of cases in both Wisconsin and Milwaukee County still is rated by the state as high, with daily new cases in the county roughly tripling over the past two weeks to 80 per day.
City health officials noted Thursday that announcements of the parade had urged that unvaccinated people wear masks. Few were visible among fans on the parade route or outside the arena. The city health department said its contact tracing team would closely monitor the event.
Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services, predicted the two large gatherings would lead to more COVID-19 cases.
“We are concerned,” she said. “We know people wanted to be jubilant and celebrate, but we know half the state is fully vaccinated and half the state is not and I assume the same is true for people in the Deer District and the arena. And I didn’t see half the crowd masked.”
Bill Russell to auction most of his prized NBA memorabilia
BOSTON — The most decorated man in NBA history will be giving the public a chance to own some of the prized memorabilia from his Hall of Fame career.
Bill Russell announced Thursday he is offering hundreds of items from his personal collection, including trophies, rings, basketballs, jerseys, letters, photos and other keepsakes. The items span his 13-year career as a player and coach for the Boston Celtics and also feature mementos chronicling his work during the civil rights movement and beyond.
Highlights of the trove include the first (1957) and last (1969) of the NBA-record 11 championship rings he won in Boston, four of his five NBA Most Valuable Player trophies and his 1956 U.S. men’s basketball Olympic gold medal.
“There are a few pictures I’ll keep for myself, but the rest I will share with the world,” Russell said in a video statement.
The sale will be conducted by Hunt Auctions, which has overseen the auctions of such sports greats as Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, Gale Sayers and Johnny Unitas.
The auction is tentatively scheduled for Boston this fall or winter.
Russell said one reason he decided to sell the items was to provide a portion of the proceeds for the Boston-based nonprofit Mentor, which he co-founded more than three decades ago. The group’s aim is to strengthen mentoring relationships.
An additional donation will be made to Boston Celtics United for Social Justice, which focuses on addressing racial and social inequities in the Boston area.
Hunt Auctions president Dave Hunt said his group is honored to handle Russell’s collection.
“There’s not a lot of folks at Bill Russell’s level. The air gets real thin,” Hunt said. “There’s just certain names of certain players that just transcend the sport, that changed the sport.”
It is unclear how much any one of Russell’s items will bring, but similar auctions overseen by Hunt have delivered big numbers. The most notable was in 2019 when a rare game-worn Babe Ruth Yankees road jersey dating to 1928-30 sold for $5.64 million. The auctioneer said that broke the record for the most expensive piece of sports memorabilia sold.
Hunt noted that among the items Russell is keeping is the Presidential Medal of Freedom given to him in 2011 by Barack Obama.
There’s also the letter Jackie Robinson wrote to Russell after Russell and other Black Celtics players boycotted a game in Lexington, Kentucky, after being denied service at a hotel.
“It’s just an amazing piece and it’s very difficult to put a monetary value on an item like that,” Hunt said. “But what better way for this to be shared than directly from the person who participated, and doing good as well as a result of that offering.”
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