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Boston Celtics hold players-only meeting in wake of Marcus Smart’s comments, collapse vs. Bulls

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The Boston Celtics had a players-only meeting ahead of Wednesday’s 92-79 win in Orlando over the Magic, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The meeting came in the wake of Boston’s fourth-quarter meltdown Monday against the Chicago Bulls, as Boston went from being up 14 at the start of the fourth to losing by 14 — and dropping to 2-5 on the season — thanks to Chicago outscoring Boston 39-11 on its home floor.

Celtics guard Marcus Smart then said during his postgame media session that the team’s two young All-Stars, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, need to pass the ball more.

The three players discussed both the collapse and Smart’s comments, sources told Wojnarowski, with sources also saying it was emotional at times.

“The last few days, we’ve just been focused on Orlando,” Brown said after scoring 28 points in Boston’s win. “That was the goal: come out, try to get a win. That was it. Team meeting — just an opportunity to talk as a group, get some communication going in, and move forward.

“At the end of the day, we’ve been playing basketball together for a long time, all of us, especially our core group. So when it comes down to it, it’s all about trying to find ways to win, and that’s what the conversation was about, et cetera. The last two days, we’ve just been focused on Orlando, and now we’re focused on Miami.”

After Monday’s loss, Smart unloaded in his postgame news conference, saying Brown and Tatum need to become better distributors and that the team has to have him do more than simply stand in the corner and wait for the ball to come.

Brown said after Wednesday’s game that Smart’s comments weren’t necessarily helpful.

“Obviously in the midst of trying to win games, it’s something that we probably didn’t need,” Brown said. “But we all communicate and talk to each other. So we’re always trying to find ways to win and I’m open to any and everything when guys bring it to me, coaching staff. I’m always watching film trying to better myself and be a better basketball player and find ways to make my teammates better. So it felt good to get a win today.”

Boston has made a point of discussing Brown and Tatum’s need to grow as playmakers both throughout the preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season. But Tatum’s assist numbers are down so far this season, dropping from 4.3 to 3.7 per game, despite playing more minutes, while Brown has dropped from 3.4 to 2.5 per game.

The need for them to both grow in that area was made more acute by Boston’s decision to trade Kemba Walker, along with a first-round pick, for Al Horford this offseason, as Boston looked to both improve its defense and better balance its roster. While point guard Dennis Schroder is leading the team in assists this season with 6.4 helpers per game, he’s largely come off the bench behind Smart, putting the onus on Tatum and Brown to distribute the ball.

Tatum, meanwhile, has struggled mightily to open the season, shooting 39.5 percent from the field and 27.1 percent from 3-point range. Those percentages weren’t helped much in Wednesday’s game against Orlando, as Tatum finished 4-for-16 from the field and 1-for-6 from 3-point range.

“I can do a lot of things better,” Brown said. “Try to find ways to get guys going, talking to Jayson, trying to find ways to get him going. Just making our teammates better. I think that’s part of being a leader and things like that. I still have a lot of growth to do that I’m actively working on. But that’s my challenge and I’m focusing my energy on that. Just continuing to watch film and get better and see how I can make my teammates better.”

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Coach Tom Thibodeau removes struggling Kemba Walker from New York Knicks’ rotation

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New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters Monday afternoon that he is removing guard Kemba Walker from not only the team’s starting lineup but also the rotation as a whole, beginning with Tuesday’s showdown with the crosstown-rival Nets in Brooklyn.

“It’s a tough decision to make, but you always have to do what you think is best for the team,” Thibodeau said after practice Monday in explaining his decision. “I view Kemba as a starter, and so it’d be tough to play three small guards together. I gave it consideration, and I’ve got great respect for who Kemba is as a person and all he’s accomplished in this league.

“But I have to do what I think is best for the team.”

In this case, Thibodeau decided that meant benching Walker in favor of Alec Burks. Walker, a four-time All-Star and New York City basketball legend, returned home this past summer on a two-year, $20 million deal after being bought out by the Oklahoma City Thunder following a trade from the Boston Celtics.

After seeing Burks go for 23 points in 39 minutes in Saturday’s win in Atlanta over the Hawks — a game Walker didn’t play in after scoring 17 points in New York’s loss to the Phoenix Suns at Madison Square Garden the night before — Thibodeau has opted to put him in the starting five moving forward.

“I want to tighten the rotation. I liked the way the team functioned, so it will be similar to what we did in the Atlanta game.”

Walker, 31, is averaging career lows across the board, including points (11.1), rebounds (2.6), assists (3.1), field goal attempts per game (9.8) and minutes (24.5). After a hot start to the season, his numbers have tailed off dramatically, as he averaged 10 points on 39% shooting overall — and 29% from 3-point range — through 12 games in November.

Meanwhile, New York’s starting lineup has simply not worked. Entering Monday night’s action, the team’s typical starting lineup — Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson — is the NBA’s most-used five-man lineup, logging 287 minutes. It has also been outscored by 15.6 points per 100 possessions in those minutes, and has what would be the NBA’s worst defensive rating (118.9). Individually, the Knicks are being outscored when Walker is on the court by 13 points per 100 possessions, and are outscoring teams by 11 points per 100 possessions when he isn’t.

Walker spent the past two seasons in Boston after the Celtics signed him to a four-year max contract in 2019 to replace Kyrie Irving once the latter left to sign his own max deal with the Nets. After making the All-Star team his first season and helping Boston reach the Eastern Conference finals with strong play in series victories over the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors along the way, Walker struggled with knee issues last season, missing 29 games in the regular season and the final two games of Boston’s five-game loss to Brooklyn in the first round.

In his first significant move as president of the franchise, former coach Brad Stevens chose to trade Walker to the Thunder, along with the No. 16 pick in July’s NBA draft, to bring center Al Horford back to Boston. Horford has seamlessly fit right into Boston’s lineup, particularly with starting center Robert Williams missing chunks of multiple games with various injuries early on this season.

Walker, on the other hand, eventually agreed to a buyout with the Thunder, allowing him to return home to New York to play a smaller role with his hometown team. But after being benched down the stretch repeatedly over the past several weeks, along with other members of the starting lineup, as New York’s bench has consistently outperformed it, Thibodeau decided Monday to take things a step further.

The Knicks are currently 11-9, putting them in the middle of the tightly bunched Eastern Conference standings. New York is three games behind the East-leading Nets and one ahead of the 76ers in 11th.

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Blake Griffin, out of Brooklyn Nets’ rotation, preaches patience, knows ‘that’s not my decision’

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NEW YORK — Falling completely out of the Brooklyn Nets‘ rotation was not something Blake Griffin saw coming.

After starting 17 games this season, Griffin has sat the past two games after Steve Nash inserted LaMarcus Aldridge into the starting lineup.

“No, I mean listen, [Aldridge] has been playing unbelievable,” Griffin said. “So, I totally get starting him, especially Joe [Harris] has been out, and I totally get that.

“Being completely out of it, though, I didn’t necessarily see that coming. But that’s not my decision. As players it’s our job to do whatever coaches see best, so at this point that’s what it is.”

Griffin, a six-time All-Star, was averaging a career-low 5.5 points to go with 4.9 rebounds while shooting just 16.1% from behind the 3-point arc. The power forward is shooting a career-low 31.8% overall from the field. Last season with the Pistons and Nets, Griffin averaged 11 points, 4.9 rebounds, 42.3% shooting overall and 34.1% 3-point shooting.

“Well, I feel for him,” Nash said. “That’s not easy. You know it’s tough when you go through a rough stretch of play and the world kind of caves in on you a little bit. I’ve been there and understand it. We have to give other guys an opportunity at this point, but Blake’s had a great attitude. I really admire him for being positive through this and keeping himself ready so if his opportunity comes back, he can have an impact.”

With Harris out for potentially four to eight weeks after he will undergo ankle surgery, the Nets need more shooting around Kevin Durant and James Harden. Aldridge has been one of the Nets’ best players this season, averaging 13.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 58% shooting from the field in just 22.1 minutes per game.

Griffin said he has been in touch with some of his former teammates, including DeAndre Jordan, since Nash’s decision. Jordan started the season as a starter before losing his spot in the starting five early last season.

“I have seen [and] have had great examples,” Griffin said. “DeAndre last year, he is a guy that I talked to that reached out. A lot of the guys from last year reached out. He did a really great job with it. I told him that. That is how I am going to try to do it as well.

“Just be a professional and do exactly what you are supposed to do,” Griffin added of what message his former teammates told him. “It may sound like not good advice, but in this situation, everybody always needs to hear the right thing.”

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Brooklyn Nets’ Joe Harris to undergo ankle surgery, out 4-8 weeks, agent says

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NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris will undergo surgery on his injured left ankle and is expected to miss four to eight weeks, with optimism he can return on the shorter end of that timeline, Harris’ agent Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Nets head coach Steve Nash said Harris’ surgery will address “a little bone particle” in the ankle and hopefully allow the shooter to move forward from the injury. Harris has missed the last six games since injuring his ankle in a win at Oklahoma City on Nov. 14.

“He is going to have a scope and then we’ll see what that means once they’ve had the procedure,” Nash said after Nets practice. “We think this is a really positive thing that can put this situation behind him long term rather than risking reoccurrences or uncertainty with the injury.”

Harris is averaging 11.3 points and shooting 46.6% from behind the 3-point arc this season.

“There’s a little bone particle in there,” Nash said. “Just the uncertainty of it, just better to take it out. We thought that it would potentially sort itself out because it’s been there but it’s not. Hopefully that’s the end of it.”

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