NBA Playoffs: Nuggets continue to ignore defense, fall behind 3-1 to the Jazz

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The Nuggets have all the talent in the world, but they have seemed determined to squander it in their first-round series with the Jazz. First of all, they continued to let the Jazz score at will on Sunday. The Jazz scored 54 points in the paint, and added 30 points on free throws. That’s 84 points the Jazz were able to get without having to make a jump shot. The Nuggets were no slouches themselves, scoring 80 of their 106 points via points in the paint and free throws. But in the end, the Nuggets didn’t play enough defense to hold their early lead, and lacked the composure to get back in the game when they fell behind. 

The game started out just like the Nuggets wanted it to. They went to Carmelo early and often in low isolation. He answered the call by scoring in every way imaginable. He made hard drives to get himself to the line. He hit open jumpers. He posted up. He crashed the boards and got put-backs. He hit turnarounds in the lane. The Nuggets jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead, and looked like they might be able to execute and keep the Utah crowd out of the game. 
Then Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer let the Nuggets know they didn’t plan on letting the Nuggets tie the series. The two combined to score nine points in two minutes to get the Jazz back in the game. and got the Utah crowd right back into the game. By the 3:00 mark of the first quarter, Utah had taken the lead. They didn’t give it back for the rest of the game.
Utah was able to get to front of the rim all game long against Denver. Boozer got whatever he wanted en route to 31 points on 13-19 shooting. There were ugly baskets. There were drives to the rim from the free-throw line. There were post-ups. There were put-backs. Deron Williams was consistently able to feed Boozer and the rest of the Jazz with bullet passes that led to layups from the three-point arc. Everything worked, and for the second straight game an undersized power forward tore the Nuggets’ interior D apart. 
Denver never threatened the lead because they were never able to string together stops. On top of that, they weren’t getting good shots, and Carmelo was the only reliable offensive option — the Nuggets only managed 13 assists on 37 field goals. For a high-octane team like the Nuggets to succeed, they have to be comfortable playing from behind. When the Nuggets got behind in Salt Lake, they alternated between panic and dejection. Now they find themselves in a 3-1 hole. 
The Jazz were also get production out of their wing players, while the Nuggets struggled to get anyone not named Anthony going from the perimeter. C.J. Miles and Wes Matthews scored 39 points on 26 shots; meanwhile, Billups/Smith/Lawson combined to go 12-32 from the floor. Billups’ struggles were particularly damning, as he never got his shot going, took control of the offense, or did anything to slow the Jazz down on defense. 
Deron Williams had a (relatively) quiet 24 points and 13 assists, but there was no mistaking that the game belonged to him. He set up his teammates with great looks, and whenever the Jazz needed a basket Williams got it. He’s carried the Jazz all series, and he’s making a strong case for himself as one of the absolute best players in the league. Thanks to him, the Jazz are on the verge of knocking off a team considered the #2 team in the West for most of the year, and are looking like a threat to any team they face in the next two rounds. (If the Lakers make it through, do you think Derek Fisher is looking forward to guarding this guy? Russell Westbrook has been tough enough.) 
The Nuggets have a great chance to turn this into a series with a win in Denver, and have the talent to compete for a title. However, they’re going to have to buckle down on both ends of the floor if they want to make a serious title run anytime soon. 

Joel Embiid upgrades himself from 69% to 81%: ‘Shoutout to Jalen Rose’

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A story in three parts:

1. After posting 46-15-7-7 in a win over the Lakers, frequently injured 76ers center Joe Embiid declared himself to be 69%:

2. ESPN analyst Jalen Rose called that joke “unprofessional:”

3. Embiid upgraded his status to 81% with a “shoutout to Jalen Rose:”

In case you didn’t get the joke.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!