Reggie Miller, NBA analysts blast Ben Simmons for quitting on Nets

Maybe Doc Rivers was right after all.

Ben Simmons is shrinking again under immense pressure and spotlight.

With the Brooklyn Nets facing elimination against the Boston Celtics on Monday night, Simmons suddenly woke up with back soreness Sunday morning after approximately 10 days of pain-free ramp up following recovery from a herniated disc, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The timing couldn’t come at the worst possible time as the Nets are one loss away from an embarrassing first-round sweep after being installed as the odds-on favorite before the season.

In the wake of the news, NBA legend turned TNT analyst Reggie Miller did not hold back and had a scathing remark about Simmons’ disposition.

Simmons hasn’t played since last year’s playoffs where he passed up a wide-open dunk in the crucial moments of the Philadelphia 76ers’ loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

It went downhill from there for Simmons.

And this latest development has only made it worse.

It was not only Miller who publicly voiced their displeasure about Simmons’ decision to sit out after raising hopes that he would play in Game 4. ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins and Stephen A. Smith and The Ringer’s Bill Simmons joined the conversation.

After the Nets lost the first two games on the road, Simmons ramped up his activity and talked to reporters about his planned return this season.

“It’s literally day-to-day,” Simmons told reporters on Friday. “So, I’ve had plenty of great days, which has been great for me in building up. So, we’re just trying to put those great days together and just keep building up to get back on the floor and play at that high level.”

Before Game 3, Nets coach Steve Nash said Simmons was fine and did not have any setback though he was non-committal on Simmons’ potential return in Game 4. He explained there are several factors

“I think it’s possible, but I’m not sure,” Nash told reporters. “It’s like I said before, it’s not a normal return to play, having been out for nine months and being injured as long as he has been at the back end of this — it’s been about two months now.”

It has been more than two months since the Nets acquired him as the centerpiece of the James Harden blockbuster trade.

“So it’s not just he got through three workouts. He’s ready to play, you know, there’s a lot of bigger picture and bigger context — how he’s feeling and how he would be to adapt to the environment. Now, it’s a little different than playing a game that is stashed away in the middle of the regular season. So, I think a few factors are at play here to evaluate when he’s ready to play,” Nash added.

When pressed if the result of Saturday’s game would determine Simmons’ status for Game 4, Nash skirted back to the main question.

“I think it’s really a matter of if Ben is ready to play whether it’s 3-0 or 2-1 or whatever the score in the series,” Nash said. “The bigger factor is, is he ready to play?”

Simmons answered with a resounding ‘No’ on Sunday.

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Knicks officially sign Ryan Arcidiacono but debut delayed by injury

After a few days’ delay, Ryan Arcidiacono officially became a member of the New York Knicks on Thursday.

But after signing a standard 10-day contract, the Knicks have listed the newly-acquired point guard in the official NBA injury report as out with sprained left ankle.

It is unclear if Arcidiacono sustained the injury at practice or before signing. New York coach Tom Thibodeau is expected to update the severity of Arcidiacono’s injury before Thursday’s game against the Boston Celtics.

Arcidiacono will receive $102,831 from the Knicks that would account against their salary cap. He temporarily fills the Knicks’ 15th roster spot.

Arcidiacono can sign another 10-day contract after his first one expires on January 16 before the Knicks have to decide on retaining him for the rest of the season or waiving him.

The former Villanova star earlier signed a 10-day hardship contract, but the NBA rescinded it after several Knicks players cleared the health and safety protocols earlier than expected.

Arcidiacono has built a reputation as a high-energy and smart backup point guard in the NBA. He is viewed as insurance after the Knicks lost Derrick Rose (ankle surgery) and Kemba Walker (knee soreness).

Rose won’t return until late February while Walker is day-to-day. Walker will miss his fourth straight game Thursday against his former team, Boston Celtics.

Arcidiacono spent training camp with the Celtics but got cut. He played for the Celtics’ G League affiliate, Maine, as a starter in six games. He averaged 12.7 points, 8.0 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.3 steals over 32.2 minutes.

Arcidiacono spent his first four seasons in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls. He averaged 4.8 points, 2.2 assists, and 2.0 rebounds in 17.6 minutes over 206 games, including 37 starts.

Arcidiacono played four seasons at Villanova, capping his stint with the Most Outstanding Player award in the Wildcats’ 2016 NCAA title run. He was also named First-Team All-Big East and Big East Co-Player of the Year as a junior in 2015. But despite his accolades, he went undrafted in the 2016 class headlined by Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram.

Meanwhile, Nerlens Noel remains questionable as he continues to ramp up his build-up for competition after spending more than 10 days in the health and safety protocols.

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3 keys for the Knicks to overcome middling Celtics team


The New York Knicks are coming off a dominant win over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday evening, thanks to the return of Julius Randle. However, they have back-to-back games against the Boston Celtics on Thursday and Saturday, presenting two formidable challenges against a sub .500 team that has the potential to blow up offensively at any time.

While the Celtics rank just 16th in points per game, they have two of the league’s most exciting scorers, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Both are capable of taking over a game at any point, so New York will have to find ways to stifle their contributions.

Three keys for the Knicks to beat a middling Celtics team:

1.) Limit Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum

Limiting Brown and Tatum is easier said than done, but as long as neither have 30+ point games, the Knicks can stay in the battle. Brown has been on fire his past five games, scoring a low of 24 and 50 against the Orlando Magic in overtime this past Sunday. Brown is connecting on 36.6% of his three-point attempts, averaging 24.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game on the season.

On the other hand, Tatum scored 25 points against Milwaukee on December 25 before missing several games due to Covid and returning against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, recording 19 points in the loss.

Tatum is shooting 32.5% from three-point range, picking up 8.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and logging 25.4 points per game. The pair of them are extremely dangerous on any given night, so the Knicks will need to pay extra special attention to hold them to a minimum, otherwise competing offensively will be a challenge. The Knicks only rank 27 points per game with 104.7, so they will need every bit of Julius Randle and the bench.

2.) Dominant rebounding from the Knicks

With Randle back in the lineup, the Knicks have their strong interior presence to help provide rebounding. Randle posted 16 rebounds against Indiana, all of them being defensive. The Knicks are the 15th ranked rebounding team with 45.2 per game but haven’t had center Nerlens Noel, for quite some time. Boston ranks 8th, averaging 46.

Boston exerts solid effort to follow up shots, ranking 6th in offensive rebounds, which is something that New York has lacked at times this season. With Randle and Mitchell Robinson in the lineup, they will need to be showcasing 100% effort to control the boards and give her team additional opportunities.

3.) Win the 3-PT battle

Boston isn’t an elite three-point shooting team, ranking 24th in the league at 33.3%. They rely heavily on their interior scores and mid-range opportunities, while the Knicks heave up deep shots no matter the percentage of times.

Tom Thibodeau’s group ranks 13th at 35.3%, attempting 37.1 per game compared to 36.3 from the Celtics.

In the win over Indiana, the Knicks shot just 21.4% from three-point range. They’re highly inconsistent in the category, but they are a difficult team to overcome when they are on. The Knicks can start off strong in the two-game series with a hot shooting performance, but New York has struggled to play at home at MSG, so they will have to overcome those jitters early on.

Sources: Knicks still plan to add Ryan Arcidiacono as depth piece

Ryan Arcidiacono, knicks

Ryan Arcidiacono will still become a Knick after all.

The New York Knicks will sign Arcidiacono to a standard 10-day contract on Thursday, sources told Empire Sports Media. The Knicks previously announced that they had signed the former Chicago Bulls’ guard to a 10-day contract via the hardship exemption rule. But the league voided the deal after several Knicks players cleared the health and safety protocols. It turned out the Knicks no longer have a COVID-19 replacement player allowance.

Beginning January 5, NBA teams with an open roster spot can sign a player to a standard 10-day contract. The Knicks recently waived Wayne Selden to absorb Denzel Valentine via trade and subsequently waived Valentine, opening up a roster spot.

Arcidiacono will serve as a depth piece in the Knicks point guard rotation after losing Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker to injuries.

Rose will not be back from an ankle surgery until late February, while Walker has yet to play since tweaking his knee during warmups in Oklahoma City last week. The good news is doctors did not find structural damage on Walker’s knee that required surgery.

“It came back positive — so just soreness,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said via Newsday. “He warmed up in OKC, tweaked something. He’s got some soreness, so we’ll let it clear up, and then we’ll go from there.”

There’s no timetable on Walker’s return, making the upcoming signing of Arcidiacono an insurance policy for the Knicks.

Arcidiacono’s new 10-day contract would count against the Knicks’ salary cap. The Knicks can sign Arcidiacono to a maximum of two 10-day contracts before deciding whether to retain or waive him.

Arcidiacono will make his season debut against the team that cut him in the training camp. The Knicks will have a home-and-away back-to-back schedule against the Boston Celtics on Thursday and Saturday.

After getting cut, Arcidiacono played with the Celtics G League affiliate, Maine, where he started in six games. He averaged impressive numbers — 12.7 points, 8.0 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.3 steals over 32.2 minutes of playing time.

Arcidiacono spent his first four seasons in the NBA with the Bulls averaging 4.8 points, 2.2 assists, and 2.0 rebounds in 17.6 minutes over 206 games, including 37 starts.

He played four seasons at Villanova, capping his stint with the Most Outstanding Player award in the Wildcats’ 2016 NCAA title run. He was also named First-Team All-Big East and Big East Co-Player of the Year as a junior in 2015. But despite his accolades, he went undrafted in the 2016 class headlined by Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. Valentine was the Bulls’ 14th overall pick.

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Kemba Walker fights for spot not only with Knicks but entire NBA

Kemba Walker poured out his pent-up energy and emotions on the TD Garden floor, his home for the last two years before a feel-good New York homecoming that has turned sour.

It took a COVID-19-gutted Knicks roster and a Derrick Rose ankle injury for Walker to get out of the doghouse. And he seized the moment like it was his last.

Walker had a season-high 29 points, but in the end, a sacrifice foul robbed him a ‘Cardiac Kemba’ moment.

Evan Fournier, Walker’s teammate from Celtics to Knicks, tweaked his ankle after pushing the Knicks within five, 109-104, with over two minutes left. Walker made a duty foul to stop the clock that allowed them to check in on Fournier. But to his surprise, it was his sixth foul, unceremoniously ending his electric return to the court after nine games at the end of the bench.

“I was told to foul,” Walker said via ESPN. “I’m not gonna lie: I didn’t know I had five. But I heard them on the sideline, they told me to foul. Very, very unfortunate situation, but that’s what I was told to do.”

It was an emotional return for Walker in Boston — after the Celtics unceremoniously shipped him last summer that signaled the start of Walker’s downtrodden year — and to the Knicks rotation — after eight straight CD-DNP (did not play due to coach’s decision).

The Celtics fans’ gave him an ovation during the pregame introduction but sarcastically waved him goodbye when he fouled out. That, in a nutshell, summed up Walker’s career in the last two years.

Walker had a great start with the Celtics, earning his fourth All-Star selection until knee injuries robbed him of his time and his athleticism on the court. The Knicks took a flier on him after agreeing to a contract buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Walker signed a two-year worth $17.9 million deal, trumpeted as a great value pickup for a Knicks front office looking to bolster their offense around first-time All-Star and All-NBA forward Julius Randle.

It looked like a fairy tale run as the Knicks raced to a 5-1 start. But it was short-lived. The Knicks went spiraling, and Walker became the scapegoat though advanced metrics and numbers supported it.

Tom Thibodeau, a defensive guru, opted for more size, elevating 6-6 Alec Burks for the 6-0 Walker. But the Knicks were 2-7 since Walker’s demotion, though some of those games were competitive, and the last four, they were shorthanded with the COVID-19 outbreak.

Six players are under health and safety protocols, including Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride, two defensive-minded rookies who impressed Thibodeau and pushed for their case to make the rotation.

Walker knows he’s only a placeholder despite his scintillating return to the court.

“I hate it,” Walker said of not playing in the last nine games. “I want to play. “It is what it is. Guys went down. I got to fill in. Do what I can until they get back.”

Without directly saying, Walker knows his future is somewhere else.

But history hasn’t been kind on injury-riddled, pint-sized guards as they age.

Another former Celtic point guard Isaiah Thomas is a cautionary tale. While Thomas has recently hooked up with the Los Angeles Lakers, the harsh reality is, teams around the league aren’t high on small guards who can be a liability on defense.

Four days since Walker became trade-eligible, there has been no traction on the trade market. That speaks volumes on how low Walker’s value has dropped around the league. Last summer, the Celtics attached a first-round draft pick to get rid of his max contract in exchange for Al Horford.

“It’s definitely been a rough couple years, to be honest,” Walker said via ESPN. “But, you know, when you get a chance to kind of slow down and think about things, myself, you know, I think it’s just some adversity. At some point in life, everyone goes through tough times.

“I’ve had a great career thus far, and a lot of things went my way. It’s a tough time right now, so it’s really about just showing my character, showing who I really am. I’m so mentally tough, I feel like I’m built for any situation, and I’m going to handle it the best I can. I’ve got a great support system, great family, great friends who help me stay humble and stay grounded, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do. Just try to be unbreakable and continue to put my work in and just stay ready for anything that comes my way.”

Walker showed he can still be explosive in spurts as he did in an electrifying third quarter. He led a Knicks 17-2 run to overhaul a 15-point halftime deficit.

“He played really well,” Thibodeau said of Walker. “Really well. That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s a pro, great character and played well.”

When his shots are falling, and he’s attacking the rim with reckless abandon (he had a season-high 8 of 10 free throws), Walker provides value exceeding his current contract. But there’s always a question mark about his health that drags his consistency to make an impact.

In his return, Walker finished with +5 plus-minus, meaning the Knicks outscored the Celtics by five for the entirety of his season-high 37 minutes on the floor. But in the fourth quarter, where the Celtics regained control, he was 0 for 3 from the field and a -7 in his final 10 minutes on the floor. His sacrifice foul robbed him to atone for that and make one more ‘Cardiac Kemba’ highlight.

But that’s who Walker is. He’s the ultimate pro, as Thibodeau and his Knicks teammates described him. Walker has always been about the team, not himself. But as his career is winding down with limited opportunities, it’s time for Walker to look out for himself.

The dogmatic Thibodeau turned diplomatic when asked if he would reconsider bringing Walker back into the regular rotation following the point guard’s inspiring performance in Boston.

“We’ll see, we’ll see like you gotta look everything in totality,” Thibodeau said.

For what’s it worth, this rare opportunity to get back on the floor, born out of dire circumstances, was Walker’s audition for the rest of the league.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New-look Knicks offense will be tested against Celtics’ switching defense

All eyes will be on Kemba Walker on Wednesday night as he makes his official New York Knicks debut against his old team Boston Celtics at 7:30 pm.

An expected raucous, sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd will be on hand to witness the opening of one of the most anticipated seasons in Knicks history coming off a playoff run.

Walker has a chip on his shoulder after the Celtics dealt him to the Oklahoma City Thunder with a future pick in the offseason before finding his way to New York via a contract buyout.

“Does it matter [that I’ll be facing the Celtics in my Knicks debut]? Of course. It’s my old team,” Walker said after Tuesday’s practice. “But I don’t go into any game thinking I want to lose. So, I definitely want to win. Does it make it that much better than it’s my old team? Yeah, no question.”

Walker, alongside another former Celtic Evan Fournier, will add another layer to the Knicks offense, which heavily relied on Julius Randle’s shot creation and playmaking in the past.

While Walker (39.3 FG%, 29.4 3P%) and Fournier (38.5% FG, 30 3P%) groped for form as they tried to fit in, the Knicks’ new-look offense looked good in the preseason. In their undefeated preseason run heading into Wednesday’s home opener, the Knicks landed second in offensive rating (113.4) buoyed by their spiked three-point shot volume.

Derrick Rose harped that they are targeting to jump from 30 per game (27th in the league last season) to 37-40 attempts. They were above their target with 41 attempts, sixth in the league during the preseason, and hit 38.4 percent of them, which landed in the top three.

New Celtics coach Ime Udoka has taken notice of the Knicks’ new-look offense. Walker’s mastery of the pick and roll and Fournier’s off-the-bounce game have made the Knicks more unpredictable on offense despite the newcomers’ shooting struggles.

“We’re really recognizing that in the preseason, they’re playing with tremendous pace,” Udoka said after Monday’s practice. “I think that’s a league-wide thing but the Knicks are really good up and down pushing with their guards, hunting threes in transition, playing fast, and looking to shoot the three a lot.”

The Knicks, who played with the slowest pace (96.32) last season, played faster in the preseason (102.50).

Whereas the Knicks have been picking up their new-look offense a lot quicker based on their 4-0 preseason result, the Celtics are adjusting to Udoka’s coaching a little bit slower as they went 2-2 in the preseason, splitting their games against Orlando, picking up a close win against Toronto and losing in double-digits to Miami.

Udoka, who previously worked for the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, and Brooklyn Nets as defensive coordinator, is switching up everything on defense. He wants the Celtics to prevent dribble penetration and minimize help defense by keeping the ball in front of the defense. It’s a significant change from Brad Steven’s drop coverage, where the defensive bigs were responsible for containing dribble penetration off screens while teammates recover their defensive position.

The Celtics’ switching defense will be a good test to the Knicks’ new-look offense, which now enjoys multiple shot creators off the dribble with the addition of Walker and Fournier to ease the burden on Randle.

On defense, the Knicks will focus on slowing down the Celtics’ two rising stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum is back at health after a bout with COVID-19 last season. Brown will be playing his first game back from health and safety protocols after experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms.

RJ Barrett, who is embracing the role of the Knicks’ designated wing stopper, will have his hands full against Tatum. But Thibodeau, a defensive genius, will not put the defensive pressure squarely on Barrett’s broad shoulders. His defense relies on the Knicks playing like a string.

“Defensively, they are who they are and they’re gonna play extremely aggressive and hard and deny elbow catches and be physical,” Udoka said. “So, that doesn’t change regardless of who their roster is but offensively, I noticed some different things like they’re playing with a faster pace and shooting more threes. And so we prepare for that.”

With Al Horford still out due to COVID-19, Thibodeau might give his small-ball lineup another run in select minutes to give the returning Mitchell Robinson some breather. The Randle-Obi Toppin frontcourt was a plus-14 against the Wizards that sparked their comeback. But there’s still the ever-reliable Taj Gibson who will likely be matched up against former Knick Enes Kanter in the second unit.

The Knicks bench, led by Derrick Rose, will be Thibodeau’s trump card in this match.

But when push comes to shove, a Cardiac Kemba moment in the Garden could be in the offing.

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Perfect Timing: Kemba Walker eager to repay hometown Knicks for believing in him

knicks, kemba walker

It may be two years late, but Kemba Walker is coming home to New York at a time when he needed someone to believe in him.

The four-time All-Star battled with a nagging arthritic left knee as he was reduced to 43 games and missed the final two games of the Boston Celtics’ playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. Soon after, he was dumped to the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder along with this year’s 16h pick for Al Horford.

The Thunder flipped the Celtics’ 16th pick into two future first-round picks and tried to squeeze more out of Walker. But GM Sam Presti found no takers for Walker’s remaining $72 million owed to him over the next two years. So there was no other recourse but to buy out Walker’s contract.

“I think everything is perfect. Perfect timing. I’m really motivated,” Walker said during his introductory press conference Tuesday at the Madison Square Garden. “I’m super excited that these guys just believed in me. That’s all I need. I needed somebody to believe in me. These guys do and I appreciate that.”

Walker said there was no other option than the Knicks once he cleared the waivers.

In 2019, Walker thought he would come home. But the Knicks, who were still in disarray at that time, was shunned by Kevin Durant, who opted to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. Without a marquee superstar to team up with at New York, Walker eventually went to the Celtics as Irving’s replacement via a sign-and-trade with the Charlotte Hornets.

”It was pretty close (signing with the Knicks). But it didn’t work out,” Walker said.

Two years later, the opportunity presented itself again to come home. And this time, he didn’t think twice.

“I was on vacation. I’m just waiting patiently. Just trusting my Lord and savior to get me where I need to be,” Walker said.

The 31-year old, four-time All-Star point guard agreed to sign an $18 million, two-year deal with the Knicks after giving up $20.5 million in the buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

For Walker, playing for the Knicks had always been a dream since the Bronx native rose to become one of New York’s finest point guards.

“This feeling has been like no other,” Walker said. “I’m randomly getting goosebumps. It’s an unbelievable feeling to be able to come home.”

It was an emotional homecoming for Walker, who starred in Rice High School and New York’s famous AAU club New York Gauchos, and played magical basketball at the Garden while leading UConn to the Big East title and later on the NCAA crown in 2011.

“It was crazy, man,” Walker said, reminiscing his “Cardiac Kemba” moment in 2011. “That was just a special, special run. It was just a really dope time for me because I never beat Pittsburgh in my career. That was the first time, playing in the Garden in front of my family and friends, one of the biggest moments in the Big East Tournament. Then I hit that shot, and there was an explosion in here.”

“I love playing in this arena. It’s different because I’m from here, and I’ve played here so many different times growing up, and it’s definitely going to be different now wearing a Knicks jersey. It’s going to be better, 10 times better.”

It also hits differently than in 2019 when he was entering the peak of his career. Now two years removed from an All-NBA Team honor, Walker is coming off his worst season in the last seven years as his arthritic left knee kept on bothering him despite getting a stem cell injection. So, he is also coming home with a chip on his shoulder. 

“It means everything,’’ Walker said. “It’s driving everything. Because I know what kind of player I am. I know what level I want to be at. That’s definitely an added motivation.’’

Walker still averaged 19.3 points and 4.9 assists even in a down year. Even the worst version of Walker is still an upgrade for the Knicks, who endured starting Elfrid Payton at point guard last season.

Walker is hopeful he could recapture his All-NBA form with the long rest and Knicks’ point guard depth that features him, Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley, and rookie Miles McBride.

“I feel great,’’ Walker said. “My knee feels great. Honestly, I haven’t been playing as much since the regular season. I feel really good. I haven’t had this much time off in a little while, in a few years, to be honest.”

“It feels good to have this rest and time to get my knee right. I intend to come in feeling super good and continue to feel super good.”

Walker said he’s been working hard to rehabilitate his left knee. His strengthening program consists of lifting in the gym a lot, getting his lower body stronger, and reaching a level where his knee could endure an entire season.

While the $18 million, two-year deal with the Knicks is viewed around the league as a low-risk, high reward move, there’s still fear that Walker’s homecoming might not end up in a storybook ending.

Walker said he doesn’t feel any pressure, aware of the Knicks’ fans reputation for being vocal when players fail to live up to expectations.

“I’m from here. We got the best fans in the world. I know what’s up. I’m not really worried about that. Because I know what I gonna bring. And I saw what those guys brought out last year — the intensity, the passion for the game. It’s gonna be fun.”

For the second time in his career, Walker felt that people are counting him out. When Charlotte gave up on him, that fueled him to his All-NBA season in his first year in Boston.

While he tried to hide his feelings towards the Celtics for letting him go, he’s channeling that as motivation to come back stronger.

“I definitely believed Boston believed in me. But they traded me. So, you know,” Walker said. “My guys, my home team Knicks, they believed in me and I’m here now so whatever happened in the past is irrelevant at this point.”

A motivated Walker is hard to count out, especially now that he’s returning to New York, where it all began.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks endgame woes continue in Boston

The magic of the New York Knicks‘ promising start to the season is beginning to fade.

The Knicks are on a free-fall after squandering another lead and coming up short once again at crunchtime.

Marcus Smart hit the dagger—a wide-open three—with 36.4 seconds left as the Celtics came from behind and extended the Knicks’ endgame woes, 101-99, on Wednesday night at the TD Garden in Boston.

It was the Knicks’ eighth loss in 10 games decided by three points or less this season. Five of their last seven losses came down to a single possession.

New York led by seven, 80-73, with under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. But the Celtics rallied behind Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum.

After Smart’s go-ahead three-pointer, Alec Burks missed a three on the other end and got his shot blocked in the final 10 seconds that sealed the Knicks’ fate.

Smart poured in 14 of his 17 points and issued three of his nine assists in the final quarter, while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum had seven points apiece.

Brown paced the Celtics with 32 points and 10 rebounds. Tatum added 27 and 10.

The Boston trio was too much for the Knicks, who have now lost five of their last six games to fall to eighth place in the East.

The Knicks drew a big game from RJ Barrett, who went a perfect six-for-six from beyond the arc to lead them with 29 points. But Julius Randle struggled again in the fourth despite a complete stats line of 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals, and one block.

After a scintillating third quarter where he exploded for 13 points and gave the Knicks a 73-70 lead, Randle disappeared in the final 12 minutes. Either his recent thigh injury is bothering him, or the big minutes are starting to wear him down. He remains defiant, saying he’s not bothered by anything every time the topic comes up.

But his recent struggles suggest otherwise as he came up with just two points in the fourth quarter on four shots.

Randle shot 9-for-23 overall. In four games this month, he’s just shooting 38.2 percent from the field and 30 from deep.

Rebounding also continued to be an issue for the Knicks as the Celtics crushed them, 53-39, and 16-5 on the offensive glass.

The tight game saw Boston scoring 20 second-chance points. It was the fourth time in the Knicks’ last five losses that they were beaten in the offensive rebounding.

“We felt one of the keys is rebounding. Obviously, that hurts us,” Tom Thibodeau offered his thoughts after another tough loss. “We had been a good rebounding team the whole year. We need to get back to it.”

It gets tougher for the Knicks to rebound from this tough stretch as the streaking Memphis Grizzlies, winners of their last four games, visit them in New York on Friday.

On the same night the Knicks lost to the Celtics, the Grizzlies wallopped the Atlanta Hawks, 131-113, with all their starters in double figures.

The Knicks’ starters all yielded negative net ratings in their loss in Boston.

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New Jersey native, NBA legend Tommy Heinsohn passes away at 86

Heinsohn was born in Jersey City and starred for Saint Michael’s School before building a legendary NBA career in Boston.

The Boston Celtics announced the passing of team legend Tommy Heinsohn earlier this week at the age of 86.

Heinsohn is best known for his role in the Celtics’ glory years, winning ten NBA championships as a player and a coach. He partook in nine seasons (1956-65) as a player on the team’s hallowed parquet floor, winning a title in all but one of those seasons. Upon the retirement of former teammate and player-coach Bill Russell in 1969, Heinsohn returned to Boston as the team’s head coach, winning two more titles. He is one of two NBA inductees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to be honored as both a player and coach, joining Lenny Wilkens.

Prior to his tours in Boston, Heinsohn, a native of Jersey City, was a star at St. Michael’s School in nearby Union City. He would earn 28 points a game, All-American honors, and scholarship offers from numerous prominent schools. The College of Holy Cross in Worcester, MA would foreshadow his New England basketball endeavors. Heinsohn would depart as the men’s program’s all-time leading scorer and helped the team to an NIT championship in 1954.

More recently, Heinsohn gained further fame as the television voice of the Celtics. Serving as an analyst, Heinsohn was routinely paired with play-by-play man Mike Gorman since 1981, the two forming one of the longest broadcasting tandems through several iterations of what is now NBC Sports Boston. Through this role, Heinsohn is the only person to serve in an official capacity with the Celtics for each of their NBA-record 17 championships. During broadcasts, Heinsohn was known for his unapologetic favoritism toward the Celtics and would routinely award “Tommy Points” to players giving extra effort.

Numerous tributes from the basketball world have emerged in Heinsohn’s honor since his passing.

“We were rookies together and friends for life,” Russell said in a tweet, including a photo of he and Heinsohn celebrating with then-Celtics head coach Red Auerbach. “In life there are a limited number of true friends, today I lost one. RIP Heiny.”

Active NBA free agent Isaiah Thomas, who most recently played for the Washington Wizards last season, recalled that Heinsohn would affectionately refer to him as “the little guy” and shared a post commemorating Heinsohn’s enthusiastic reaction to Thomas breaking 50 points in a December 2016 win over Miami. A frequent earner of Tommy Points, Thomas said that he “(w)ill miss his voice and everything he brought to the game especially Celtics basketball”.

Heinsohn is survived by two sons (Paul and David), and one daughter (Donna).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Quick like a Fox: Knicks’ prospect Kira Lewis stock on the rise in New York

New York Knicks

Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats tried to downplay his FaceTime call with the New York Knicks top brass and his speedy point guard Kira Lewis, Jr. last week. But there’s a link between him and the Knicks that’s too hard to ignore, making Lewis an intriguing possibility to land in New York on Nov. 18.

The Knicks, under Leon Rose, have been operating like a fraternity. The new regime is looking to score big by leveraging on relationships at its core. Tapping on Rose and his senior advisor William Wesley’s vast network, the moribund franchise has succeeded in luring great minds from inside and outside the league to come and help rehabilitate the Knicks.

It appears they’re operating the same way in their pre-Draft process.

In a draft that is so unpredictable, intel is king.

Without the NCAA March Madness and the benefit of a regular Draft Combine, those forged relationships and strong networks have come in handy for the Knicks.

The connections are coming from everywhere. It’s not just confined within the Creative Artists Agency where Rose was its former head of basketball or Kentucky, where John Calipari shares a strong bond with Wesley.

The ties that bind

The FaceTime call last week transported Oats back to his early days in his coaching career. 

When Oats got his first head coaching job at Romulus High School in Michigan in the early 2000s, he used to drive to Detroit and observed the Pistons’ practice. 

Around that time, the Knick’s current general manager Scott Perry was a Pistons’ team executive. At the same time, Williams was already a ‘players’ whisperer’ and was involved with The Family, an AAU basketball team based in Detroit supported by former Pistons’ guard Rip Hamilton. Wesley became a regular fixture at Pistons practices and games, especially when another close friend, Larry Brown, took the head coaching job in 2004 that resulted in one of the NBA’s unlikely championship runs.

“I’ve known those guys for a little bit,” Oats told Empire Sports Media during his zoom call press conference on Thursday. “They made a connection with Kira when they were interviewing him. They FacedTime me.”

“I coached Kira for a year. Kira is a great kid. They got great staff there in New York. [I have] No idea where’s that going, and I’m sure they are going around interviewing all kinds of people leading into the Draft. I don’t want people to take too much out of it. It’s just a common connection. I coached Kira, and I knew those guys during my time in Detroit.”

Oats tried his best to sell the FaceTime call short, saying it was merely a sort of introduction to make his point guard a little more comfortable during the meeting. But there’s a certain level of comfort and trust between Oats and the Knicks’ top brass that may pull Lewis to New York.

“They’re good guys, and I guess they just want Kira to feel a little bit more welcomed. We chopped it up and joked around a bit. We talked about Kira’s game for a minute then I got off. I know the Knicks are getting a lot of media attention there in New York, and they have a high draft pick,” Oats said. “They gotta make sure they get the right pick.”

Alabama’s sweet spot?

The Knicks are at an inflection point since Rose, a former player agent, took over from James Dolan’s right-hand man Steve Mills.

They are looking for a lead guard, and Oats’ connection with the past (Perry) and the new (Wesley) regime in New York could play a vital role in the franchise’s search.

“I think Scott Perry is going to be really good for them. Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) is going to get their defense squared up, and I think Kira’s defense got a lot better last year,” Oats said. “We talked about that.”

“I think he is a very talented kid. I think the way the NBA is played now — it’s so spread out and wide open — you can’t put your hands on guys defensively. With the speed and skill level Kira has, he can get in the paint whenever he wants and makes plays. He was great in our system. We played a lot like what the NBA is doing that is so wide open, and I think he’ll make a great NBA player.”

Lewis, a 6-foot-3 guard with a 6-foot-5 wingspan, has been a blur in the SEC ever since he stepped into Division I as the youngest player at 17 years old in the 2018-19 season. He skipped his senior year of high school and went straight to college.

“He’s really a smart kid. He was such a good student in high school that he only needs a couple of core classes to go and reclassify,” Alabama assistant coach Antoine Pettway told Empire Sports Media in a separate exclusive interview.

“So he had like either go up in high school and score 40 points a game or go to college. He always wanted to challenge himself and try to get to the next level.”

As the youngest freshman under former Alabama coach Avery Johnson, Lewis took over the starting role vacated by Collin Sexton, the eighth pick of the 2018 NBA Draft. The Knicks, barring any trade, are scheduled to select at the same spot where Sexton was picked by the Cleveland Cavaliers two years ago.

Will that eighth slot become Alabama’s sweet spot?

Leader by example

Pettway, who recruited Lewis to Alabama, observed that the 17-year old freshman was shy initially. But it didn’t take long before Lewis began to put his stamp on the team.

“Our team respects his work ethic, his talent. Coming in, he should have been a senior in high school and came in as a starting point guard on a pretty good team. It took him a little while before he warmed up to everyone, but I thought he made a lot of great strides his second year being more vocal, leading guys,” Pettway said.

As Lewis’ game expanded, so was his role in the team. He wasn’t only the Crimson Tide’s floor general. His leadership extended beyond the hardcourt.

“I always tell this story. He’s a guy that gets up at six in the morning and works out. And during the first couple of days, he hit it on his own. Then after a couple of weeks, he’s bringing the whole team with him; he’s already organizing. He’s the guy that leads by example. He’s very personable,” Pettway said.

Lewis comes from a small and simple family in Huntsville, Alabama. Their family owns a small barbershop. His basketball exploits are always a headliner in the barbershop talk. Recently, another member of the Lewis family has joined the conversation.

“His sister just got a degree from UAB (University of Alabama Birmingham). They’re really a tight-knit family. When you meet the rest of the family, you can see Kira has a really good upbringing,” Pettway said.

It wouldn’t be long before Lewis’ NBA exploits would soon dominate the barbershop talk when his name is one of the first to be called by league commissioner Adam Silver later this month.

“It will mean the world to them. His parents were there in every step of the way. His mom, Natasha, said she’s not going to cry when they put the hat on him, but I know a hundred percent it won’t be dry in that room when his name gets called,” Pettway said.

“It’s always good to see good things happen to good people. I’ve dealt with some good people from top to bottom and Kira is a product of that, you know Kira is a class A kid. As good as he is as a player, he’s even a better kid. And when you meet his mom and dad you’ll know why he’s a good kid.”

Love at burst sight

Pettway first scouted Lewis when he was a ninth-grader going up against Alabama’s older and better players. In a game that featured Lewis against Michigan State’s Joshua Langford, who was two years older, Pettway went to see what the hype was all about.

Pettway fell in love right away.

“He really held his own against Langford. He played really, really well. And you can just tell, his speed even at that age, oh man just the way he moves and gets into the lane and finish, how fast he was, you can really, really tell he’s going to be a good player. That’s my first time seeing him in person,” Pettway said. “He’s close to 15 (years old) at that time. I watched him that whole summer.”

Pettway recognizes a great point guard when he sees one.

Before becoming an assistant coach and the top recruiter in Alabama, he was the Crimson Tide star point guard during the school’s quarterfinal run in the 2004 NCAA tournament.

Pettway secured Lewis’ commitment after the latter’s stint in the 2018 Nike Skills Academy, an exclusive camp reserved for the top 25 high school players in the country.

Lewis didn’t disappoint because even when he was the youngest freshman, he played with so much poise. Pettway won’t forget the exact moment when he realized Lewis is special and has a shot at becoming their next NBA Lottery pick after Sexton.

The reckoning came in a tight game against the visiting Arizona Wildcats in December of 2018.

“It was a close game. We were up by two; Arizona just made a run,” Pettway recalled.

“He (Kira) drove hard right, and pulled back his dribble. He hit a big-time three-point shot with less than a minute to go to ice the game. That’s the first big shot he’s made here, and I looked at him, and I was like ‘yo, this kid is different!’”

Lewis didn’t look back since then.

He led Alabama in assists (2.9 apg), 20-point games (5), and minutes (31.6 mpg) and earned a spot in the All-SEC Freshman Team. The next summer, he suited up for the Team USA that won the gold medal at the 2019 FIBA Men’s Basketball U-19 World Cup.

Lewis was just getting started. He took off when Oats took over from Johnson.

Oats, the former Buffalo Bulls head coach, brought with him his coaching philosophy, which is based on “max effort, continuous growth, and selfless love.”

Lewis embraced Oats’ tenets, and he flourished in the new Crimson Tide’s up-tempo style.

Career game vs. The Ant

Lewis’ arrival to the national spotlight came at the expense of the potential No.1 pick Anthony Edwards.

He picked the right time to set a career record in scoring when he dropped 37 points against Edwards and Georgia in a 105-102 overtime victory. His arsenal was on full display. He completed his virtuoso performance with seven assists, five boards, two steals, and one block, which turned the heads of many NBA scouts.

Edwards had a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds), but he was limited to 5-of-17 shooting and 0-of-6 from beyond the arc.

Lewis is the engine that kept the Crimson Tide’s high-octane offense humming. He’s the Michael Schumacher of Oat’s Ferrari.

Lewis’s blinding speed has an impact on both ends of the floor. He was a blur on offense and a disruptor on defense.

His sophomore year saw him record eight 20-point games and three 30-point explosions, two double-doubles (point and assists) and could have been more if not for the Covid-19 shutdown.

Lewis finished his last season in Alabama as the Crimson Tide leader in scoring (18.5 ppg with 46/36/80 shooting splits), assists (5.2 apg), steals (1.8 spg), minutes (37.6 mpg), and field goals made (206) and attempted (449). As if that’s not enough, he also led the whole SEC in minutes while ranking third in assists and steals and fourth in scoring.

His game’s only knock is his high turnover rate (3.5) and his finishing at the rim. But the inefficiency could be attributed to his high usage rate and heavy minutes playing at an ultra-fast speed. There’s a belief that once he goes up in the NBA and the game begins to slow down for him, chances are he could become more efficient.

He has the potential to become an elite scorer with that kind of blinding speed in the era of pace and space in the NBA.

“The speed, from baseline to baseline, I think he’s the fastest guy in this Draft. I think his scoring ability, his decision making, just his reads coming out of the ball screen, his skill set, being able to pass or get into the lane are already a given, but what’s going to surprise a lot of teams is how well he shoots the ball,” Pettway said.

“If you see him work out and watched him closely, he can really, really shoot the ball, especially on catch and shoot situations, and with all the space that they have in the NBA, he’s going to be a blur. He constantly gets into the lane and looks for scoring opportunity. And another underrated part of his game is his ability to take floaters. He has a really, really nice touch on his floater.”

Per Synergy, Lewis scored 1 PPP on all jump shots (73rd percentile), 1.238 PPP when shooting off the catch (89th percentile), and 0.926 PPP on shots off the dribble (79th percentile) during his sophomore year in Alabama.

Even Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm, who has his own point guard Tyrese HaliburtonTyrese Haliburton in the draft, was impressed with Lewis.

“He’s pretty good, a phenomenal kid. He has really elite quickness that can get the ball from A to B. He can get to the free-throw line, and he can shoot it,” Prohm told Empire Sports Media.

Quick like a Fox

Lewis already knew what he could do. But he’s not resting on his laurels.

He’s smart enough to realize that speed alone doesn’t cut it to the next level. A strong game to match his blazing speed is what he would need. Described as a gym rat by his coaches, Lewis tripled his efforts in preparation for the NBA.

“He’s working out every single day. He’s eating right. He’s done a great improvement with his body in terms of getting strength. He’s constantly in the gym working out two to three times a day,” Pettway said. When he’s away from the gym, he’s watching a lot of films.

Lewis has put on 15 pounds to his once scrawny 165-lb frame.

Derek Murray, Babcock Hoops director of scouting, recently saw a vastly improved and stronger Lewis scouting trip in Miami.

“Right off the bat, Lewis showed off his dazzling speed. It didn’t matter if he was in an isolation or in the pick-and-roll; he was easily getting around his man for easy lay-ins. He always got downhill quickly, staying on par with his success at Alabama. One of the most noticeable things during the runs, however, was how Lewis absorbed contact in the lane,” Murray said.

With a stronger body, Lewis exudes more confidence on the court attacking the rim.

His burst of speed reminded Pettway of another speedy playmaker — former Kentucky Wildcat and current Sacramento Kings’ lead guard De’Aaron Fox.


“That kind of speed is hard to deal with,” Pettway said. “Based on their finishing, I think De’Aaron is really good at finishing while Kira is a guy who’s crafty who knows how to finish. De’Aaron is probably bigger, longer right now, but Kira shoots better at this stage.”

Fox shot 25 percent from deep as a one-and-done under John Calipari. In contrast, Lewis shot an average of 36 percent during his two-year stay in Alabama.

Fox eventually improved his outside shot in the NBA, becoming a 33-percent three-point shooter in three seasons with the Kings.

Lewis’ shooting mechanics are more precise that more than makes up for his lack of size.

Murray also saw his potential as a small-ball two-guard in the NBA.

“We also saw Kira play next to Terry Rozier and operate a fair amount off the ball, something that he did not do very often while at Alabama. It was interesting to see him without the ball in his hands as both a cutter and a floor spacer. His ability to shoot off movement may unlock a whole other level to his offensive ceiling due to his speed; a defender tasked with chasing him off screens for extended periods of time would be in for a miserable evening. While he’s not regarded as a combo guard or off-ball shooter right now, we got a glimpse into that becoming a possibility,” Murray said.

Ready for prime time

Pettway believes Lewis is the type of player who can immediately impact any NBA team, whether he’s starting or coming off the bench.

“I think with the spacing in the NBA, he’s going to have the opportunity and will be a problem every single night that he’s on the floor. I think he’s going to fit wherever the situation he goes. If there’s a veteran guard whom they want him to learn from in a couple of years, he could fit in, and if he’s thrown into a situation where he has to be the lead guard from day one, he’s really capable of doing it,” Pettway said.

“Super respectful kid. He’s a joy to coach. You can push him hard, and he won’t complain. He’s never disrespected us. He just goes about him being coached the right way and applies it. He’s a dream to coach.”

Lewis said he has talked to “just about everybody” in the NBA, which Oats also had done the same, adding that teams have been very inquisitive.

“He’s got zero red flags as a kid. He’s a great person off the floor. He works hard. He’s always at the gym. That’s the type of stuff they want to know. They can see how good he is on film. And they want to know what it’s like being him off the court. They give you some really detailed questionnaires, like interesting questions that I told one of those guys to send me those questionnaires for me to ask the recruits when we recruit kids to come here. It’s a lot of interesting questions,” Oats said. 

But as the NBA Draft approaches, the Alabama coach said he’s still getting a decent amount of calls. And based on those conversations, he already has a pulse where his point guard might fall.

“Lately, those teams who are a little bit interested are those teams from the middle to the end of the lottery to mid-first round. And everybody on that range has reached out doing their homework. And there are a few others who are maybe looking to make trades. The team with the No.1 pick has reached out to us. I don’t think he (Kira) is going No.1 in the draft. Who knows? But I think those teams that are doing homework with the possibility of maybe there are trades going to come up, have reached out,” Oats said.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have indicated that they are open to trading the No.1 pick. Either Lewis is a trade-down candidate, or he’s on their radar for their No.17 pick. But it’s unlikely that he’ll still be on the board when the Wolves get their second crack.

In this unpredictable draft, analysts’ projections of Lewis’ draft position have been varied.

Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report has him at No. 10 going to the Phoenix Suns. Both Kevin O’ Connor of The Ringer and Sam Vecennie of the Athletic peg him at No. 14 with the Boston Celtics while ESPN’s Jonathan Givony slots him at 20th pick with the Miami Heat. Babcock Hoops has him going to the Pistons at No. 7.

O’Connor noted that the Celtics are offering their three picks (14, 26, and 30) to move up in the Draft. It’s unclear if that’s enough to entice the teams in the upper echelon of the lottery. The Wolves and the Golden State Warriors are looking for an established player that fits their core’s timeline.

So far, Lewis has worked out with the Knicks, Orlando Magic (No.15), Pistons, and the Chicago Bulls (No. 4).

It’s going to be a shock if the Bulls pick him at No. 4. So he’s most likely on the Bulls’ radar as a trade-down candidate.

On the other hand, the Magic are intrigued in pairing Lewis with former top overall pick Markelle Fultz at their backcourt. But with Lewis’ stock rising after his impressive workouts, the Magic may need to trade up if they want the Alabama guard. Because the Kings, who are picking at No. 12, also have their eyes on him as Fox’s backup guard. It’s going to be wild to have both speedy playmakers in Sacramento’s backcourt.

The Suns are interested as well with their starting point guard Ricky Rubio entering his 30s.

Meanwhile, the Knicks and the Pistons are both in the hunt for a lead guard. And if the FaceTime call is any indication, you can tell Lewis’s stock is rising in New York.

Pettway loves the idea of Lewis going to the Knicks as a potential lead guard.

“I love it! They have some good pieces — Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. I think he will mesh with those guys. Kira is the kind of guy who comes along well with everybody. That speed that he has, he will fit anywhere, but I love it with the young core that Knicks have with just a few years in the league whom he can relate to; I love that fit,” Pettway said.

“I just think he’s going to make it work wherever he goes. Guys will like to play with him because he’s unselfish. He loves the game. He wants to succeed so badly. He’s so competitive and confident and he’s going to do whatever it takes and allows his team to win the game,” he added.

Thibodeau has never had a dynamic scoring point guard since he had a prime Derrick Rose in Chicago. None of the current Knicks’ point guards so far has panned out yet.

Lewis could provide that burst of speed and outside shooting that will put pressure on the defense.

Lewis is ready for prime time.

Oats can’t wait to see his point guard star in the Broadway if ever he lands on the lap of his old friends in New York.

“It will be interesting to see what happens. I’d love for him to go to New York. I think he would be great there. Shoot, I’d like to come to New York and watch a few games. So give me a good reason to go to New York and watch some games when our season’s over.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo