Bucks-C’s: Jaylen Brown Arrives; BOS Lead Series 2-0

Jayson Tatum wore some pretty nifty Laker gold color sneakers and that was his lone highlight of his night against Milwaukee, as the Celtics cruised to a 106-120 pummeling of the favored Bucks. The C’s now hold a 2 games to none lead over Milwaukee, each team will be off until Friday when the series will resume in Wisconsin at the Bradley Center.

Outside of Tatum’s low scoring of four-points on two-of-nine shooting, the Celtics played basically the perfect game. Jaylen Brown officially has his coming out party, knocking down jumper after jumper, finishing with thirty. Milwaukee made the mistake of going under every time the Celtics ran a dribble handoff (DHO) for Brown, willing to dare the second-year forward to shoot, he did and with great success. Bucks coach Joe Prunty did not adjust, and despite Brown developing himself as a fine deep threat, adhered to a seemingly outdated version of his scouting report.

Milwaukee went deep into their bench, unlike in Game 1, and found mixed results. Malcolm Brogdon again proved to be more ready for the playoffs than veteran guard Eric Bledsoe, notching 10-points in eighteen-minutes; Shabazz Muhammad come off the bench and was right hot out the gate, scoring 11-points in just twelve-minutes. But neither saw for the floor for very long. Sterling Brown didn’t log a single-minute until the fourth quarter when the Celtics already were way ahead. Tyler Zeller played only five-minutes and prospect Jabari Parker humiliated himself in the brief stint he had out there, giving zero effort on defense in a sequence after a missed shot, the C’s got back in transition, his assignment (Jaylen) was left open in the left corner for what seemed like forever, got a couple dribbles in before he drilled a three-pointer to stifle a Milwaukee rally. Parker finished with a miserable negative-15 and proved his critics correct that he isn’t ready for prime time.

Prunty continues to gift the Celtics by playing the wrong guys, not giving defensive, high-energy scorer Matthew Dellavedova more time, even with Tony Snell (again) scoring only two-points in twenty-two minutes. Quite ironic, given in Milwaukee’s season-opener against the Celtics, Delly was a key cog in the Bucks defensive identity, scoring fifteen-points and iced the contest with a 25-foot three. It’s baffling to see him out of the rotation.

To add insult to injury, Khris Middleton continued to shoot the lights out, picking up right where left off after a thirty-one point Game 1, scoring twenty-five points, but only receiving 14 attempts, converting on 11. Once again, Middleton and Giannis were the lone pulses of a dying Bucks team, combing for fifty-five points, while most of Milwaukee’s supporting cast floundered. But shooting was not the issue for Milwaukee, despite being down by as much as twenty, they managed to shoot 59.7% from the field. It’s the little matter of Milwaukee going seven-of-seventeen from the charity stripe and committing fifteen turnovers that played a big role in what could be a demoralizing defeat.

On the Celtics side of things, business was good. Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris continued to flourish. T-Ro scored 23, while Mook chipped in 18 off the bench, including two very important jump shots late in the final period when it looked like the Bucks were about to mount a last ditch effort run. Morris is clearly unfazed by the chaos around him, able to rise to the occasion when called on. It’s no wonder why he’s become such a critical part of Weird Celtics Twitter.

So, in the most unlikeliest of events, the shorthanded Celtics took it to the Bucks and now are in complete control of this series not many (including me) expected to win. Course, this is far from over. But the way the Celtics are moving the ball, getting every shot they’ve ever wanted, and how Milwaukee looks ready to be put out of their misery, you can’t help but get ideas of just how far this scrappy band of backups can go.

GAME NOTES:
Al Horford continued to dominate in the post, and midrange, scoring 16 points off of 7-Of-11 shooting, putting in five rebounds and four assists. Greg Monroe and Shane Larkin helped a ton off the bench, scoring twenty-three points between them both, Monroe putting in four-rebounds, two assists and two steals.

LaMarcus Aldridge Yawns His Way Back To An All-NBA Team

Quick question: name the second and third best players on the San Antonio Spurs. No. Don’t say, “Kawhi Leonard” because he’s only been available for nine games this season. And it doesn’t look like he’s coming back anytime soon. Is it Patty Mills? A decent point guard, averaging below 10 points a game this season? Or how about Tony Parker, currently averaging his lowest assists per game in his seventeen-year career. From top to bottom the Spurs roster is made out of… ok NBA players, largely ineffectual and wouldn’t move the needle for most franchises. After striking out in last summer, signing extension contracts to both aging big men Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, many were perplexed as to why the Spurs tied themselves to this current core who clearly maxed out their potential the year prior.

It felt as if the sun set on the Spurs Empire. Twenty-years of excellence wasn’t enough to woo Chris Paul into coming. Aldridge made his displeasures towards the organization known, asking to be traded. Humbled by this, Popovich did what most coaches would never even consider: he apologized to Aldridge, taking full responsibility for his down-year in 2016-17, where Aldridge fell from a 3rd Team All-NBA player, to looking like a complete has-been. Yet, it hasn’t been fun to watch as the Spurs have been even more uninteresting then they’ve been stereotyped to be in the past. An unfamiliarity with the players on the court, the ability of Popovich to get just enough out of these no-names to squeak by is nothing short of magnificent.

Instead of going in the tank (like I advocated, earlier in the season) they stayed the course and are 43-31. Aldridge carries a team of net zeroes, he’s fifth in two-point field goals made (588), 12th in points per game (23.2), 18th in usage% (29.2), 7th in win shares (9.8) and a 6.2 net rating. Enjoying a career-high in effective field-goal percentage (51.9), offensive rating (117), P.E.R (24.8), this is Aldridge most productive season as the vocal point of the entire offense since his last season in Portland. The year he made All-NBA Second Team. The moment Aldridge got on my radar was the dynamic performance against Utah – the best defensive in the NBA. Raining mid-range jumpers over Rudy Gobert without any regard for him as a human being. Twenty-eight of his forty-five points coming at Gobert’s expense. Playing mostly an old school style, using his elbows to back down his defender, letting loose a beautiful tear drop finger roll, or a mean step back.

Since the All-Star break, Aldridge’s been cranking out 26 points, off of 53.3% shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and an ORtg Of 122 in thirteen-games.

Yet, the Spurs are still not remotely interesting. This season is very reminiscent of the 2006 Patriots, when the best days of the initial run of dominance is coming to a close and a revamping of the roster should be imminent. Just like Brady, Aldridge is given nothing to work with, the infrastructure of Popovich leading to many victories that shouldn’t be. Outside of San Antonio, this season won’t be fondly remembered. The drama off the court surrounding Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs team doctors garners the most attention of the media, me, and fans.

David Thompson: The Forgotten Superstar

By: Vinny @sailboatstudios

When a writer struggles to find a topic to discuss, he (me) delves into the fictional, comforting arms of alternate history. Where I (you) don’t have to take anything (or anyone) serious. Just like in real-life. But what always bugs me is the lack of imaginations on some what-if scenarios, there’s a crazy gear missing for us lowly internet bloggers. I feel we try to stay within the bounds of reality somewhat, rather than go full “Alien Space Bats.” The countless what-ifs in the NBA are relatively bland. Mostly bogged down in “What-if The Blazers Took KD”, “What-if Player X Played for Team Y”, usually the writer says something along the lines of “well, then team Y wins X championships!” and that’s it. One of the most boring takes I read is “What-if The Celtics selected Kobe Bryant”, as if his five-championships were destined to happen it was just a matter of where. In the summer of ‘96 GM Jerry West did untold of gymnastics to get around the salary cap to sign Shaquille O’Neal and snag Kobe. You think Celtics GM Chris Wallace had the same intelligence? Probably not. Chances are Rick Pitino trades Bryant for one of his former players from Kentucky.

One draft pick going differently doesn’t just alter that lone scenario, it can radically change the thinking of another team. It probably leads to a worser record for Boston in 1997-98 if Pitino gave Kobe enough burn and maybe they’re bad enough to draft Dirk Nowitzki… Kobe and Dirk on the same team? Yup, all plausible, nobody touches this. Most likely because the Celtics have had their fair share of obnoxious success six out of the last seven decades how much can you really add to the mystic of the franchise. If you can’t polish a turd of a franchise into the class of its league then it isn’t an interesting what-if.

Same rules apply to the Los Angeles Lakers. What’s the most intriguing what-if in the history of the franchise? “What-if they drafted Dominque Wilkins in ‘82 over James Worthy?” Meh. So ‘Nique is the third-best player on a couple championship teams while Worthy becomes poor man’s Alex English in Atlanta.

People forget how close the Lakers came to drafting the man Michael Jordan revered, guard David Thompson from North Carolina State. Watching the old grainy footage from the 1970’s, Thompson’s leaping ability reminded me to a younger Blake Griffin before several knee surgeries ruined him. But Thompson didn’t stand at an impressive height, standing at a listed 6’3 1/2, had to have been smaller than 6’2. Watching the “Skywalker” documentary the guests they bring on say the phrase “he played above the rim” six-thousand times. But it was true. Second only to Julius Erving David was the ABA’s main superstar in its twilight years and also gave the Nuggets a sense of legitimacy. Coming in second to Dr. J in a watershed dunk contest, converting the famed “double pump” dunk before Aaron Gordon and Blake Griffin gave us endless clips of them doing it. It’s amazing a dunk contest fielding three of the most electrifying athletes in the ABA did not utilize instant replay.

Sporting a 44-vertical inch leap Thompson earned the moniker “Skywalker” before the movie Star Wars was but a twinkle in George Lucas’ eye. Thompson battled George Gervin and the all mighty Dr. J in the last season of the ABA, joining a star-studded Denver Nuggets roster with Ralph Simpson, Pre-76ers’ Bobby Jones and Dan Issel pushing the franchise into the NBA over the Kentucky Colonels. Rookie David Thompson left his mark on the NBA landscape forever. The man we hardly mention is the main reason there is a Denver Nuggets franchise.

The ABA/NBA from 1975 to 1978 was pretty competitive until cocaine nearly sunk the entire league before two guys with nouns for names saved it. But the middle-seventies don’t get a lot of credit for being deep in the talent pool. David Thompson made two All-NBA First Teams beating out George “Iceman” Gervin and Pete “Pistol” Maravich. In 1976 and ‘77 “Skywalker” bumped off Pete, George, Doc and Walter Davis, and in 1978 nearly lead the Nuggets to the NBA Finals in an MVP caliber season. All of this before he turned twenty-four.

1977-78 was Thompson at his zenith. Battling Iceman for the scoring title, climaxing in an astounding final night of the season – also John Havlicek’s last game – Thompson scored 53 in one half of play, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s record for most points in a quarter (32) and held it for a mere five hours until Gervin broke it (33) – the record now is held by Klay Thompson (37). David finished with 73 and Gervin with 63.

You’d think the James Harden and Russell Westbrook’s of their days would’ve been frontrunners for the MVP, but both fell to Bill Walton… the best center for a two-year period, but played only 58 games.

Here’s a stat-by-stat comparison of Thompson and Gervin…

* I am using Bill Simmons’ infamous “Stocks” statistic, combining steals and blocks.*

Thompson: 51.2 FG%, 8.4 FTA, 27.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2.4 stocks, 23.2 PER, 12.7 WS

Gervin: 53.6 FG%, 7.6 FTA, 27.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.7 APG, 3 stocks, 24.7 PER, 12 WS

Neck-and-neck, amirite? Both of their rebounding and assists numbers are great for a shooting-guard. Thompson excelled in getting the free throw line frequently. Thompson was only twenty-three at this time; Gervin was longer in the tooth… an old, useless twenty-five-year old man.

Anyways, here’s Kevin Durant’s statistics from his age twenty-three season from 2012:

KD: 53.5 FG%, 7.6 FTA, 28 PPG, 8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.5 Stocks, 26.2 PER, 12.2 WS – also runner-up in a contested MVP race. 

And just an added bonus here’s Blake Griffin’s age 23 season: 53.8 FG%, 5.3 FTA, 18 ppg, 8.3 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.8 Stocks, 22.4 PER, 10.6 WS

So in 1978 we had two shooting-guard versions of Kevin Durant in a time when the league undervalued guards that weren’t named “Cousy”, “Oscar” or “Jerry.”

Before Magic Johnson the NBA had Thompson, Walton and Gervin to hang their hats on for the future of the league. Like all things though, it all got complicated real fast. Injuries took Bill Walton’s career; white powder and expectations cratered Thompson, sending the NBA into a tailspin. Dominated by questions like “is the NBA too black?” we couldn’t even begin to comprehend the backwardness of the time. Conservative white fans lusted for a white face to relate to after Bill Walton’s career hit the gutter. There’s a bunch of other stuff that went into the NBA’s decline outside of just race and drug issues; the finals were aired on tape delay until the mid-80s, it came off as if the league was indifferent towards growing the game.

David Thompson was a mere twenty-four-years old when he signed his name on to the piece of paper that made him the richest professional basketball player. 5-years, $800,000 per, amounting to a whopping $4,000,000 – a lot of money back then. It’s the classic case of too much too soon. The story of David Thompson ran similarly to Michael Jordan, except where M.J’s dad had roots in baseball, Thompson’s burned his son’s dreams by telling him to go to NC State because the school offered the family god knows how much money (allegedly). The school gets caught red-handed and is ineligible for the tournament in the season they go undefeated. The next year Thompson (with Tom Burleson and good friend Monte Towe) NC State dethroned John Wooden’s UCLA en route to an NCAA title.

Again… the sky was the limit for Thompson. Selected by the Atlanta Hawks in 1975, he decided to go to the ABA in part because the Nuggets would sign Monte Towe to a 2-year contract. Every year expectations were escalated and Thompson up until his big payday exceeded them.

Alas… it wasn’t meant to be. Thompson’s career ended falling down the stairs inside Studio 54 when the establishment was past its due date.

So what if another organization snagged Thompson? Atlanta… eh, kinda pointless. The team was dead after they traded “Pistol” Pete for a jar of used dental floss. Milwaukee? How would’ve that been possible? Well, L.A flipped the second pick in the ‘75 Draft for Kareem – along with Brian Winters. Say if the Lakers won the lottery and did the Kareem trade only with David Thompson involved. The late-70s Milwaukee teams set the stage for the decade of silver medal finishes in the 1980s (this sounds like sarcasm, but it isn’t)… Don Nelson took over in 1978, the Bucks won 44-games that season with Brian Winters, Marquess Johnson and Alex English coming off the bench. I’ll be favorable to Milwaukee and give them the third pick in the ‘77 Draft (Johnson) and say they retain English in free agency. And believe Milwaukee is such a wasteland, not even a MVP runner-up exciting as Thompson gets any attention.

1979-80 Milwaukee Bucks starters are…

Quinn Buckner
David Thompson
Alex English
Marquess Johnson
Bob Lanier
Woof… prime Thompson, English, and old but still useful Bob Lanier is that good enough to beat the Los Angeles Lakers helmed by the greatest center and point guard in NBA history? Well… no. Thompson’s window for title contention closes around the moment Kareem is paired with Magic. The western conference those days played little defense, the only hope you had in defeating those “Showtime” era teams were to stifle their fast paced offense. Maybe if Milwaukee remained in the West they’d eventually develop the defensive personal to do just that. But Thompson wouldn’t remain productive after injuries and addiction undid him. There’s always a roof for these sorts of scenarios.
But say if the Lakers won that lottery and took and didn’t trade Thompson – either because they simply failed or didn’t want to. It isn’t inconceivable to believe a top flight prospect like Thompson could consider a small-market like Milwaukee beneath him. L.A was going to sign Kareem come hell or high water. It was just a matter of when, not if. Being set to become a free agent in 1976, the Lakers could’ve just taken their chances on signing the big man then rather than trade for him. Back then teams didn’t value draft picks… they were just traceable assets of little value to a team wanting to contend for a championship quickly.
After one season where Thompson wins Rookie of the Year over Phoenix Suns center Alvin Adams, the Lakers fail to contend for the postseason just like in OTL with Kareem, only winning less than 42. The Lakers fully move on from the Jerry West/Wilt Chamberlin era by signing Kareem in free agency; pundits tag the duo of Thompson & Kareem to lead the Lake Show back to prominence. Entering 1976-77, the Lakers have Lucius Allen, David Thompson, Cazzie Russell, Kermit “I Am Neither a Muppet or Political” Washington and Kareem Abdul Jabaar. Coached by Jerry West by the way, the greatest shooting guard arguably up until Kobe Bryant (gimme West over Kobe).
The real Lakers snuck into the West-Finals over  the Golden State Warriors in the second round, before falling to the eventual champion Blazers. People forget how great that team was outside of Bill Walton… Maurice Lucas averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds, might’ve been the second best center at the time but injuries ruined him. Lionel Hollins running the point was alright and Jack Ramsey was more than just a guy who lucked out coaching Bill Walton’s lone healthy season. The Nuggets in OTL were better than the Lakers, featuring Dan Issle, younger Bobby Jones and Paul Silas. For the Lakers Cazzie was a serviceable starter, but past his prime in the early-70s when on the Knicks; Kermit was tragically a bust; and Walton was Kareem’s equal before 1978.
In ten games against Kareem, Walton averaged 18.1 points, 15.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.7 blocks, came in second to Kareem in MVP voting in the ‘77 season, the next year he beat not just him, but also Gervin and Thompson in a season where Walton played only fifty-eight games(!). While I wouldn’t have bestowed the honor on to Walton that year, I have to give credit where credit is due, Walton was awesome and it’s a damn shame what happened to him.
No changes in the 1976-‘77 season Portland still stands atop of the world.
1977-‘78 and 1978-‘79 seasons are where we get the idea the NBA was at a nadir. With the subsequent fall of the Trail Blazers the Warriors, and Philadelphia too dysfunctional to return to the finals with their current core, the East became open to teams we wouldn’t consider led by the kind of superstar we’re used to. The Seattle SuperSonics were led by point guard Gus Williams, Marvin Webster and sixth Man Dennis Johnson; the Spurs soldiered on (in the East) with George Gervin, Larry Kenon and James Silas; Denver in OTL with David Thompsonshould’ve made it to the finals but fell to Seattle in six-games.
The Lakers were an Erving Johnson away from being serious contenders. Kareem was still an MVP caliber player no doubt, playing alongside Jamaal Wilkes, Adrian “asshole” Dantley, And Norm Nixon. 1978, 1979 are the two-years the Lakers could’ve absolutely won… even though I’m sure they’d trade Dantley midway thru ‘79 like OTL for coked out Spencer Haywood because he was that big of an asshole. Throw in David and it’s basically the greatest team of the that decade, right?
I don’t know what playing alongside Kareem does for Thompson’s career, or if the influences in L.A would prevent or accelerate his fall from grace. The Great Western Forum doubled as a nightclub in those days and god knows the debauchery that went on inside. We probably remember him more than we do now. Los Angeles still drafts Magic easing the pain of losing Thompson… if there was time to reflect on such a thing.
He probably hangs around well into the early phases of the “Showtime” era, maybe even until 1984 when James Worthy is selected as his replacement in 1982. 1983 was the last gasp Thompson’s career, an All-Star for the SuperSonics OTL. Can you imagine a 1983-‘84 Lakers squad with Magic, Worthy, Wilkes, McAdoo, Thompson (I’m butterflying the events of Studio 54 in ‘84), Kareem… is that enough to get by the Celtics? Who inbounds the pass Henderson stole in Game 2 when the Celtics were on the verge of going to L.A down 2-0? Anybody but Worthy equals a successful inbounds. Do the Lakers still win with an aging Kareem in ‘85, ‘87 and ‘88 or does Magic coast afterwards and squander his potential without the needed kick in the pants? Does what happened to Magic after losing the close series happen to Bird instead?
Despite the turbulent career Thompson managed two appearances on All-NBA First teams, one second team and managed an election to the Hall of Fame in 1996.
I don’t know if you change one thing in David’s life does it butterfly almost everything from OTL… I do know he was a great player and has been unjustly forgotten.
For Thompson his story does have a happy ending. He found Jesus. Fixed his relationship with his wife and kids. A silver lining considering those who experienced the same issues had darker endings.