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Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart wins NBA Defensive Player of the Year award for first time

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been named NBA Defensive Player of the Year, the league announced Monday.

It’s the first DPOY award for Smart, who is the first guard to take home the honor since Gary Payton in the 1995-96 season. Payton was on hand at the Celtics practice facility Monday to give Smart the award.

In a social media post later Monday, Smart stated he was “blown away” by the honor.

Smart received 257 points (37 first-place votes) to finish first in voting. Forward Mikal Bridges of the Phoenix Suns (202 points, 22 first-place votes) and center Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz (136 points, 12 first-place votes) ended up second and third, respectively, in voting from a panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters.

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Smart concluded the season ranked seventh in the NBA in steals per game (1.68) for a Celtics team that led the league in defensive rating (106.2) and points allowed per game (104.5). He also was ranked fifth among all NBA guards with a defensive rating of 105.2, and was first in the league with 1.1 loose balls recovered per game.

Smart, who started each of the 71 regular-season games he played, also finished tied for 10th in deflections (106) and charges drawn (16) and had a career-high 3.2 defensive rebounds per game.

The eighth-year player is the second Celtic ever to win DPOY, joining Kevin Garnett (2007-08).

Big men have dominated the award since its inception in 1982. Smart and Payton are only the two point guards to have won it. Shooting guards have won it another five times, but none since Michael Jordan in 1988. And centers and forwards have won all the rest, including Gobert in 2018, 2019 and 2021.

Speaking last month, Smart said guards deserve more respect in the voting. “I’m not taking anything from the bigs,” he told ESPN.

“A vital part of the game is protecting the paint. But, as guards, we do a lot more before [our man] gets to the paint. … Contesting the 3, contesting pull-ups, making sure he doesn’t get to his spots.”

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Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry has sprained left foot, expected to return by playoffs

Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry is expected to return for the beginning of the Western Conference playoffs with a left foot sprain, but will undergo further evaluation with specialists, sources told ESPN.

Curry and the Warriors are conferring with Dr. Richard Ferkel, a renowned foot specialist, on the injury, sources said.

Curry suffered the injury in a collision with Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart on Wednesday night, and an MRI overnight revealed the foot sprain. There’s no structural damage and Curry is considered to have avoided serious injury, sources said.

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The play occurred in the second quarter when Curry and Smart dove for a loose ball and Smart rolled on top of Curry’s leg.

Curry initially tried to walk off the pain but left the game after being checked out on the bench. After halftime, he was ruled out for the rest of the night.

Neither Warriors coach Steve Kerr or forward Draymond Green called the play on which Curry was injured dirty but deemed it “dangerous” and “unnecessary.”

“I saw the ball, I dove for the ball, trying to make a play,” Smart stated after the game. “Unfortunately, that occurred.”

Curry’s injury comes just two games after Green returned from a back injury that held him out two-and-a-half months. Curry, Green and Klay Thompson, who returned from two-and-a-half-month hiatus in January, have played just 11 minutes together this campaign.

“It seems like every time we get someone back, someone else goes down,” Green said. “So, it’s definitely a worry.”

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Ball’s triple-double carries Hornets past Celtics, 111-102

LaMelo Ball had a triple-double with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Charlotte Hornets to a 111-102 triumph over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night.

Terry Rozier led Charlotte with 28 points against his former team. Miles Bridges scored 22 and Kelly Oubre Jr. added 18 for the Hornets, who won for the ninth time in 12 matches.

“To come in here and get a win — we want to make a statement,” Rozier said. “We want to get to where they’re at as an organization.”

Dennis Schröder paced Boston with 24 points. Jaylen Brown scored 21 and Al Horford had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

“I thought we had a lot of good looks and we moved the ball really well,” Brown said. “They made a lot of tough baskets. They came and outplayed us.”

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Boston star Jayson Tatum was hampered by foul trouble and concluded with just 12 points on 5-of-19 shooting in 35 minutes. The Celtics had won five of six.

“I thought part of the foul trouble affected him overall as well as some other guys,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “That was my message to the team: Impact the game when the shot’s not falling.”

The Celtics were just 14 of 46 on 3-point attempts.

Boston sliced a 12-point deficit to 88-84 early in the final quarter but Charlotte scored 10 of the next 14 points, pulling ahead 98-88 on Oubre’s 3-pointer from the left wing with 4:55 to play. Ball had nailed a 3 from the left corner two minutes earlier.

“The competitiveness and resiliency was there in the fourth quarter,” Hornets coach James Borrego said.

The Celtics cut it to 102-96 on Horford’s 3 with 2:48 left, but Ball nailed a 3 from in front of Boston’s bench and Rozier followed with one on the Hornets’ next possession.

Boston trimmed the margin to six one more time, but Rozier nailed another 3 to seal it in the final minute.

Ball grabbed a rebound with 0.2 seconds left to complete his triple-double. He said Bridges reminded him how close he was.

“He was like: ‘Box out and you’ll get that last rebound,’” Ball said, pointing to Bridges sitting next to him at the postgame news conference. ”I said, ‘Oh, you’re right!”

Rozier hit three from beyond the arc in a 62-second span of the third quarter, pushing the Hornets’ lead to 75-61. They were up 86-74 entering the fourth.

“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Rozier said. “We just want to keep going. We’re not satisfied. We’ve got to stay humble and keep on having fun and playing out there. That’s the main thing.”

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Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo in protocols, ruled out for Wednesday, but Khris Middleton (knee) questionable

The Milwaukee Bucks listed Giannis Antetokounmpo as out for Wednesday’s game versus the Indiana Pacers after he was placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols Tuesday night.

Antetokounmpo went into the protocols a day after scoring 20 points in 34 minutes in a 117-103 loss to the Celtics in Boston. Bucks guard Wesley Matthews has also been in the protocols the past two matches.

Later Tuesday, the Bucks added guard Donte DiVincenzo to the protocols list, giving Milwaukee six players out of play for Wednesday’s game: Antetokounmpo, DiVincenzo, Matthews, DeMarcus Cousins (personal reasons), Brook Lopez (back surgery) and Semi Ojeleye (calf strain).

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To clear the protocols, a player must either be out for a minimum of 10 days or return two negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart.

Tuesday’s news now leaves Antetokounmpo’s status for Milwaukee’s rematch with Boston on Christmas Day in doubt.

In one positive piece of news for the Bucks, All-Star Khris Middleton was only listed as questionable for Wednesday’s match after positive results from imaging done on his hyperextended left knee suffered during Monday’s loss.

The injury occurred when Middleton collided with teammate Rodney Hood as they went after a defensive rebound late in the third quarter, and his leg buckled awkwardly. After he winced and stayed on the ground for a moment, Middleton got up and limped to the other end of the court for Milwaukee’s ensuing offensive possession.

As soon as it was over, however, the Bucks committed a foul, and Middleton walked straight off the court and into the locker room.

It turned out, however, that Milwaukee’s positive thoughts after the game about Middleton’s status — including comments from coach Mike Budenholzer, Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday, as well as Middleton being seen leaving the locker room under his own power — proved true, and he should miss little time, if any.

Milwaukee has six games over an 11-day span starting Wednesday, followed by a road game in New Orleans, home games versus Cleveland and Houston, a road game in Dallas and then the Christmas Day showdown with Boston at home.

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Boston Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez (sprained left ankle) included on AL Division Series roster

Slugger J.D. Martinez is on the Boston Red Sox roster but didn’t play during a 5-0 loss in Game 1 of the American League Division Series versus the Tampa Bay Rays.

Manager Alex Cora said after Thursday’s loss that there’s “a strong possibility” Martinez will be in the starting lineup for Friday’s Game 2, but he made no guarantees.

Martinez also missed Tuesday night’s victory over the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game because of a sprained left ankle.

Martinez stumbled over second base while heading to the outfield in Sunday’s regular-season finale at Washington.

Because the National League does not use a DH in games played in its stadiums, Martinez was playing right field versus the Nationals. He stepped on the bag and twisted the ankle heading out to play defense in the fifth inning.

It was only the seventh game in 2021 that Martinez started in right field. He was in the starting lineup as a DH for 113 games and as the left fielder for 28.

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Martinez hit .286 with an AL-leading 42 doubles and 28 homers and 99 RBIs during the regular season.

Tampa Bay has 13 pitchers on its roster that does not include speedy outfielder Brett Phillips. Lefty Ryan Yarbrough, who went 9-7 with a 5.11 ERA in 30 games, including 21 starts, was also left off.

Rays manager Kevin Cash stated he planned to be aggressive in using his bullpen during the series. He said right-hander Drew Rasmussen will start Game 3 or 4, with the other contest being a bullpen day.

Boston also added Game 2 starter Chris Sale, left-hander Martin Perez and infielder Danny Santana to the ALDS roster.

Sale made nine starts this year after having Tommy John surgery on March 30, 2020.

“It’s been two years trying to get to this point,” Cora said. “All the hard work, all the tears and sweat throughout the process. So we have to take care of him, but it was his turn and we feel comfortable with him.”

Sale said he would be available to work as a reliever later in the series as well.

“There’s no reason to save an arm to go sit on the couch, you know what I mean?” Sale said. “This is all the baseball we have left, and we’re going to get certain points in these series where tomorrow might not come. So if that’s the case and it’s what’s called upon, you know, it’s my job.”

With Boston having several left-handed starting pitchers on its roster, Tampa Bay added right-handed-hitting outfielder Jordan Luplow. The AL East champion Rays lost the World Series in six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2020.

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Gardner’s 2-run single in 9th lifts Yankees over Orioles 4-3

Brett Gardner blooped a two-run single in the ninth inning that was set up by a double steal, and the New York Yankees defeated the Baltimore Orioles 4-3 Wednesday night for their third consecutive win.

The Yankees kept pace with Toronto and Boston atop the AL wild-card standings as all three teams won.Austin Hays homered twice for the Orioles, including a two-out, two-run drive in the eighth off Chad Green for a 3-2 lead.

The homer came soon after second baseman Gleyber Torres knocked down a hard liner and instead of throwing to second to get the lead runner, tossed to first to put out Cedric Mullins.

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Orioles reliever Tyler Wells (2-3) walked Luke Voit to start the ninth and Torres followed with a single. Pinch-runner Tyler Wade and Torres pulled off a double steal with one out as it began to rain.

Gardner followed with a single to center that scored both runs, much to the delight of their fans that flocked to Camden Yards.

Wandy Peralta (5-3) earned the win and Aroldis Chapman got his 27th save.

Gio Urshela launched a two-run homrer into the left-center bleachers in the third. Urshela took over as the full-time shortstop this week for the error-prone Torres and had a diving catch off a hard liner by Austin Wynns for the final out in the fifth.

Mullins took a two-run homer away from Gary Sanchez in the second with a leaping grab over the center-field fence. Orioles starter John Means pointed to Mullins in celebration and Sanchez walked back to the dugout in disbelief.

Means had another effective outing and permitted two runs and four hits with four strikeouts and two walks in 5 2/3 innings.

It was the fifth time this season the Orioles failed to score a run when Means was on the mound. Hays homered in the sixth and added his 20th of the season in the eighth.

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Boston Celtics, Dennis Schroder agree on 1-year, $5.9 million deal

Free-agent point guard Dennis Schroder is headed to the Boston Celtics, he announced Tuesday on his Instagram account.

The deal is for one year and will be for the $5.9 million taxpayer midlevel exception, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Schroder, who turns 28 in September, was the last remaining significant unrestricted free agent on the market. He turned down a lucrative extension offer from the Los Angeles Lakers during the regular season, worth north of $80 million, to pursue a bigger contract this summer.

In Boston, Schroder joins a Celtics team with a hole at point guard in the wake of Kemba Walker being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, giving him an opportunity to boost his value when he will hit the market again as a free agent next summer.

“I’m proud to announce that for the 2021-22 season I’ll be playing for the Boston Celtics!” Schroder wrote on Instagram. “This is one of the best franchises in NBA history and it will be a honour to put on the green and white and do what I love! I’m going out there every night and leaving it all on the floor for the city!! Who’s ready?”

The Lakers had acquired Schroder in a trade with the Thunder at last year’s NBA draft in exchange for Danny Green and last year’s first-round pick.

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Schroder averaged 15.4 points and 5.8 assists in 61 games — all starts — for the Lakers, but he was mired in controversy after he missed 11 days late in the regular season after entering the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

He told a German publication that he and LeBron James were the only Lakers players to not get vaccinated, before then telling local reporters upon his return that, “I’m the only guy that didn’t get vaccinated. I’ll just leave it at that.”

He then averaged 14.3 points but shot just 40% from the field and 30.3% from the 3-point line in the Lakers’ loss to the Phoenix Suns in six matches in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

“You got to go through the bulls— to get to the good s—,” Schroder told reporters in his end-of-season news conference after the Suns series.

By signing Schroder for the taxpayer midlevel exception, along with signing center Enes Kanter for a one-year minimum deal, Boston now is sitting a little over $4 million over the luxury tax line with 15 guaranteed contracts on its roster.

The Celtics are coming off a disappointing season that saw them conclude seventh in the East and lose in five games to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

After the season ended, longtime president of basketball operations Danny Ainge stepped aside, longtime coach Brad Stevens took his place and the Celtics hired Nets assistant Ime Udoka to replace him.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, is facing a massive payroll and luxury tax bill of close to $200 million even without Schroder, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, after trading for Russell Westbrook, signing Kendrick Nunn to a two-year deal worth $10 million, re-signing Talen Horton-Tucker to a three-year, $32 million deal and filling out the rest of the roster with one-year minimum deals, including contracts for future Hall of Famers Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard.

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Nets head to second round, beat Celtics 123-109 in Game 5

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden had just eight matches together in the regular season, few enough to wonder how good they could really be.

Five games versus Boston provided some answers — and a chance to keep making up for all their lost time.

“We just don’t want to take any of this time for granted,” Irving said. “This doesn’t happen too often kind of in our culture, in our history, where three of the best scorers to ever play the game are on one team.”

Harden had 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his first postseason triple-double with Brooklyn, leading the Nets into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 123-109 triumph over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night in Game 5.

Irving scored 25 points and Durant had 24 for the Nets, who will face the Milwaukee Bucks in their first appearance in the second round since 2014. The No. 2-seeded Nets will host Game 1 versus Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks on Saturday.

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“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Durant said. “I mean, he’s a two-time MVP, Defensive Player of the Year for a reason, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Despite their limited time together during the regular season, the Nets’ three superstars showed how potent they can be in this series, particularly when they combined for 104 points in Game 4.

“We weren’t even worried about the playoff run yet, we were just happy to be on the court together,” Harden said. “So it’s great to get one series out of the way and like I said, we’ll take tomorrow off and we’ll recoup and get ready for a tough Milwaukee team.”

Brooklyn was nowhere near as potent as Game 4, when it rang up 141 points. But a little explosive stretch here and there was good enough to wrap it up.

The finishing one came with the Celtics trailing by just eight with under eight minutes to play.

Durant then made a 3-pointer, Jayson Tatum turned it over and Irving nailed another 3 on the break, pushing it to 103-89 with 7:19 to play.

Evan Fournier scored but Harden answered with another 3 and Bruce Brown scored inside, an 11-2 burst in less than 90 seconds that broke it open at 108-91 midway through the fourth.

Tatum had 32 points and nine rebounds for the Celtics, who made the Eastern Conference finals last year but went quickly with Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker unavailable.

“Jayson continued to make plays. We didn’t do enough as a team. But he showed a lot of mettle this year,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens stated.

Fournier added 18 points and Romeo Langford had 17 starting in place of Walker, who missed his second consecutive game with a knee injury.

“It’s been a lot. Injuries on top of injuries. Guys not being able to play together. A lot of personal stuff. It’s life, things more important than basketball, but you’ve got to be professional,” guard Marcus Smart said.

The Nets were eager to avoid a return to Boston after a fan threw a water bottle at Irving after Game 4, but the clincher didn’t come easily.

The Celtics hung in the game, not letting the Nets build a double-digit lead until a 7-0 burst early in the second half made it 66-54. Boston recovered and trailed just 86-79 after Tatum made a jumper at the buzzer to end the third.

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Irving scores 40, Nets beat Celtics 121-109

Kyrie Irving scored 40 points to lead the Brooklyn Nets to a 121-109 triumph over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.

James Harden had 22 points and 10 rebounds for Brooklyn, which improved to 25-13 with its 12th win in 13 matches. Landry Shamet added 18 points and fellow reserve Jeff Green concluded with 11. Joe Harris added 12 as the Nets won without Kevin Durant and newcomer Blake Griffin.

Jayson Tatum scored 31 points but Boston had its four-game winning streak snapped. Marcus Smart added 19 in his return from injury, Daniel Theis had 17 and Jaylen Brown chipped in with 13.

The first meeting between the Atlantic Division rivals since Christmas emphasized the gulf between the teams. Specifically, Brooklyn’s quick strike offense.

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The Nets started the fourth with an 88-86 lead, but it took just more than 3 minutes to extend the advantage to 100-90 even as Irving sat on the bench.

After Boston cut the lead to five following Tatum’s jumper, Irving and Joe Harris checked back into the game and the Nets promptly outscored Boston 21-14 for the remainder of the game. In that 7:34 stretch, Irving made two 3s and two free throws versus his former team, and when Green slammed a two-handed dunk with 43 seconds left, the outcome was basically decided.

Smart had missed 19 games dating back to Jan. 30 with a strained left calf. He played 21 minutes after Boston coach Brad Stevens said before the game that the guard would be limited to 20-22.

How did the Celtics settle upon that time frame? “What I do is I get told and I follow instructions,” Stevens deadpanned. “It’s a lot like being married, right? My wife tells me what to do and I do what she says. That’s pretty much how this all works with the minute restrictions.”

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Boston Celtics’ Kemba Walker out until January after stem cell injection in knee

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge stated Tuesday that the upcoming NBA season will indicate how much of a long-term problem Kemba Walker’s left knee will be moving forward.

“I think this year will tell us a lot more,” Ainge said Tuesday morning of Walker, who the team informed will be out until at least January after he was given a stem cell injection and put on a 12-week strengthening program after last season ended.

“He saw some specialists over the last six or eight weeks, and they all came to the same conclusion, and I think that gave Kemba a great peace of mind as he went to different, really good doctors in our country and got the same opinions. He’s on a program, and he seems to be in a very good, happy spot.”

Ainge said the anticipation from those meetings was that surgery would not be necessary.

After the Celtics signed Walker as a free agent to a four-year max contract in the summer of 2019 to replace Kyrie Irving, he spent the latter portions of the regular season dealing with ongoing soreness in his left knee — particularly after the All-Star break — before the season was suspended March 11.

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Then, once teams resumed on-court work in late June ahead of the NBA restarting its season in late July, Walker had another setback with his knee, and was put on a minutes restriction both during the weeks leading up to the restart and throughout the seeding games inside the league’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

Walker looked very good versus the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs, but he struggled as the Celtics progressed throughout the postseason — particularly after taking a hard fall during the second round versus the Toronto Raptors when he appeared to tweak the knee.

Ainge stated it was possible Boston rushed Walker back too quickly for the bubble — a touchy subject in Boston, given the history surrounding Isaiah Thomas after his hip issues following Boston’s run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2017 — before almost immediately walking back his own statement.

But just when Walker’s season will start — and when he will be a full participant for the Celtics — remains very much up in the air. The Celtics said in their statement that Walker’s game-availability status will be updated in the first week of January, which is roughly when his 12-week strengthening program should end.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Walker is going to start playing 30-plus minutes a game. Instead, the expectation is that Walker will slowly be ramped up over time, in a similar fashion to the restart in Orlando.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Walker’s return was affected in part by the fact that the NBA season is getting started sooner than everyone had anticipated.

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