Paul Pierce

Game of the night: Welcome back to big-time basketball, New York

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Paul Pierce was taking bows after a December regular-season game. Spike Lee was out on the court yelling at the referees and the Celtics. The biggest stars were spectacular on a court lit like a stage. There was an impressive game-winner and almost a stunner that topped it — the best ending to a game this season. There was Madison Square Garden as loud as anyone could remember.

All that is why it is good to have the New York Knicks back. And Wednesday night was their welcome back party. Even though it was a 118-116 loss.

As Pierce said in his postgame television interview, the Knicks have arrived. No, they are not elite, not contenders, but interesting and worth watching. And certainly not an easy out. Which is more than you could say about the Knicks for a very long time.

The NBA is better when its biggest franchises are good. Like Boston. Like the Lakers. And like the Knicks. Like the city where it plays, this Knicks team comes with an aggressive attitude and a little edge. These Knicks have swagger and you could see it in the way Amar’e Stoudemire and the rest of the team went hard to the rim (or drove and kicked out to shooters).

Root for them or against them. Having them back is just better.

And two good teams on a big stage leads to some special endings. The last couple minutes of this one was just basketball at its best — dramatic and filled with big plays.

The Knicks led most of the game, by as much as 12 points, but were up just four with two minutes left, and it was hard not to imagine how many times this Celtics team had been in this very spot over the last three years and found a way to win. Boston got a dunk then a couple of free throws on the next possession from Kevin Garnett and the game was tied. Then, with a minute to go, Ray Allen drained a go-ahead 3-pointer and it felt like a dagger.

But these Knicks have swagger. Danilo Gallinari reminded us all he is not just a spot-up shooter by putting the ball on the floor and driving, drawing the foul and hitting the 5-foot floater for the one-and-one. He hit the free throw and it was tied — and the Garden faithful were fit to be tied.

The Knicks’ second-to-last possession was their real chance. After a couple of pretty ugly high pick-and-rolls the Celtics defended well, Raymond Felton and Stoudemire tried one more time and went with something that had worked earlier in the game — Stoudemire slipped the screen, got open and got the ball back in the paint. Glen Davis had rotated over, but Stoudemire got a clean-look 5-footer that rimmed out. Boston got the rebound and its last chance.

With the game on the line, the Celtics went back to an old tried-and-true play for them — Pierce in isolation on the wing. It has had mixed results over the years, but they went to it again. After a pick that the Knicks switched through, Pierce had Stoudemire on him and he tried to drive right but Stoudemire got his body in there. Pierce used that, drove into his defender then did the quick stepback 14-footer. Nylon.

Pierce did a victory lap. Nate Robinson tried to jump on his back and slid right off — no Shrek and Donkey routine here — and you could tell this was no ordinary game for the Celtics. They celebrated like it was a playoff win.

But it wasn’t a win yet. The Knicks had four-tenths of a second left and no Derek Fisher on their roster. But oh, so close. Heartbreakingly so, like a Broadway tragedy. They ran a half-court inbound play where Gallinari peeled off a couple picks, but the Celtics were focused on him. Stoudemire popped straight out and was wide open and got the ball, then turned his body and shot from 25 feet. Nylon. The Knicks piled on each other and the noise almost knocked down the roof in the Garden (again).

But Stoudemire only had time for a catch-and-shoot. No turning his body, too. The shot clearly did not leave his hands in time. Boston won after a review and the correct call.

You had Pierce taking his bows to the crowd.

But it really should have been Stoudemire — 39 points, the ninth-straight game he has reached 30 or more — and his Knicks. They are his Knicks.

They earned it. They are back and putting on a great show on our nation’s biggest stage. And that is good for every true basketball fan. Because more nights like this are good for all of us.

Joakim Noah with as ugly a free throw as you’ll see. And he knows it. (VIDEO)

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Joakim Noah used to be a good free throw shooter, he’s hit 70 percent for his career. But he’s shooting just 42.9 percent this season.

And no miss was uglier than the one Monday night against the Pacers.

The best part of this airball was Noah’s reaction — he knew it was bad the second he let it go.

If you want to draw parallels with the Knicks’ season, go for it.

Stephen Curry finds Kevin Durant for tomahawks slam in transition (VIDEO)

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The Warriors in transition can be beautiful basketball.

And if you don’t stop the guy with the ball from getting a straight line to the hoop, there will be highlights. In the first half Monday night, the Heat did a good job making Stephen Curry give up the ball in transition (not letting him just pull up for a three), but he found Kevin Durant, who found a lane to the basket, and… highlight tomahawk dunk.

It was a two-point game at the half between the Heat and Warriors, after what was a second quarter both teams probably want to forget.

Warriors’ Steve Kerr calls some players’ All-Star votes a “mockery”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 21:  Steve Kerr the head coach of the Golden State Warriors watches the action during the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on November 21, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.    NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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MIAMI (AP) — Golden State coach Steve Kerr wishes players had taken their voting for the NBA All-Star Game more seriously, calling it a “mockery” after nearly 300 players in the league wound up on at least one ballot.

Players had a say in deciding starters for next month’s game in New Orleans, with their selections accounting for 25 percent of someone’s total score in the balloting. Fan and media votes were also part of the process of selecting starters, and NBA coaches vote this week for the reserves to be revealed on Thursday.

“I am very disappointed in the players,” Kerr said before the Warriors played the Miami Heat on Monday night. “They’ve asked for a vote and a lot of them just made a mockery of it. I don’t know what the point is.”

Nearly 100 players got only one vote from either themselves or an NBA peer in the All-Star balloting, including Mo Williams – who hasn’t played a single second this season. The NBA said a total of 324 players participated in the voting process.

Kerr was asked why he would use the word “mockery.”

“I saw the list,” Kerr said. “I saw all the guys who got votes. … There were 50 guys on there who had no business getting votes. Although a lot of people wrote in their buddies in the presidential vote as well. So maybe that’s just their own way of making a statement. I think if you’re going to give the players a vote, I think they should take it seriously.”

In past years, starters have been picked entirely by fan vote. This year, those whose All-Star hopes now hinge on the coaches’ vote include Dwyane Wade, Zaza Pachulia, Joel Embiid, two-time All-Star MVP Russell Westbrook and perennial All-Star pick Carmelo Anthony. Wade, Pachulia and Embiid would have started under the old formula.

Kerr said the change to the way starters are picked this year didn’t affect the way he made his votes for reserves. He sent his vote in Sunday.

“Didn’t alter anything,” Kerr said.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he called a staff meeting to get input on the ballot he’ll send to the league.

“How is Russell Westbrook not in the starting lineup?” Spoelstra asked. “I know how it’s important to players and especially guys that are giving their heart and soul and emotions into the game and should be rewarded for it. I do have to admit, in some years past, I would just give it to my assistants. Not anymore.”

Spoelstra said he told Heat center Hassan Whiteside, another All-Star reserve hopeful, that to be picked as an All-Star backup wouldn’t be a consolation prize but rather would be a sign of respect.

“Players, they’re not all voting. Fans, you have no idea where that’s coming from,” Spoelstra said. “But coaches … they’re paid to figure out who helps teams win and I think that’s the ultimate compliment if you get voted in by coaches. So I’m taking that responsibility a lot more seriously than I have in the past.”

Timberwolves purchase Iowa Energy D-League team

Fort Wayne Mad Ants v Santa Cruz Warriors - 2015 D-League Finals Game Two
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Timberwolves have purchased the Iowa Energy and will begin a direct affiliation with the NBA Development League team next season.

The Timberwolves announced the agreement on Monday. Owner Glen Taylor is purchasing the team, which previously had a hybrid partnership with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Wolves will become the 18th NBA team to have a direct affiliation with a D-League team.

It’s a growing trend across the league for franchises to use the minor league teams to help develop young players, coaches and executives and help players rehab injuries.

The Timberwolves were looking for a team close to the Twin Cities to allow for easy back-and-forth travel. Energy owner Jed Kaplan will remain with the team and partner with Taylor.