Three Stars of the Night: When Duty Calls

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Points are put on a pedestal in the NBA, so what happens when a team loses its big scorer to injury or simply doesn’t have one on the roster? Other guys step up. We tend to forget, but just about every NBA player (earmuffs, Reggie Evans) can score when given enough chances. It might not always going to be pretty, or efficient, but most of these guys have scored 30 points a game on some level. For tonight’s Three Stars, we showcase three guys who answered the scoring bell and led their teams to victory.

Third Star: Andrei Kirilenko (18 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks)

Continually underrated, Kirilenko has been putting up stat lines like this for ages to little fanfare outside of the fantasy basketball crowd. Even when he was tearing it up overseas as a number one option, the NBA crowd still remained skeptical. With Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio out, the Wolves have started the season scoring by committee, but tonight it was AK47 who took over the game in the second half and put the Wolves on his wings to overcome a 15-point deficit at the break.

Second Star: O.J. Mayo (32 points on 12-for-18 shooting)

Make that back-to-back games with over 30 points for Mayo, who has taken the Mavericks’ primary scorer role and ran with it early in the season. Mayo has looked like a perfect match next to point guard Darren Collison, a burner who flies up the court and looks for kickout opportunities to spot up shooters. Fortunately for Mayo, he’s the only one young enough and athletic enough to keep up with Collison, so the ball just keeps finding his way. Let’s see a bigger sample size before we announce that Mayo has finally reached his potential, but it’s a good start nonetheless.

First Star: Marc Gasol (22 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 blocks)

It’s stunning how good Gasol is when he’s aggressive and Memphis makes it a priority to run the offense through him. Because the Grizzlies offense has about the same spacing as five guys in an elevator would, Gasol often finds himself away from the basket to at least try and allow some driving lanes. Gasol lived a little closer to the basket tonight, and really just overwhelmed Al Jefferson and company with his size. Gasol, an incredibly underrated defender, also took care of Jefferson on the other end, staying on his feet and refusing to fall in the web of pump fakes Jefferson typically spins. And how about those 8 assists? Is there a better passing big man than Marc Gasol? Maybe his brother Pau, but that’s about it.

PBT Extra: Disciplined Celtics highlight bad habits of Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit the top five NBA player in the postseason — 32.5 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting, plus with 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Yet the Bucks are down 0-2 to Boston.

The Celtics have had a strong series from Al Horford and Terry Rozier, but the real difference is in the discipline this team has shown all season — Boston knows who it is. Clearly, Milwaukee does not. They turn the ball over too much and make too many mistakes.

I get into all of that in this PBT Extra, and I wonder if that’s something the Bucks can really turn around mid-playoffs.

Ettore Messina to coach Spurs in Game 3 following death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, died yesterday.

That sad news was felt throughout the NBA, and it obviously affects San Antonio most closely. That includes for tonight’s Game 3 against the Warriors.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Ettore Messina was a longtime head coach in Europe. The Spurs lead assistant also took over for a few regular-season games Popovich missed. So, making – rather than advising – coaching decisions won’t be a brand new challenge to Messina.

But down 2-0 to defending-champion Golden State is a tough place to make an NBA playoff debut.

On the bright side, there will be no pressure. Not only has San Antonio been outclassed the first two games of the series, focus is rightly on the Popovich family. A win would be a pleasant surprise and help Messina – who’s up for the Hornets job – in his pursuit of a head-coaching position. A loss would be quickly forgotten with more important matters at hand.

To that end, hopefully the time away allows Popovich the space he needs to grieve. That matters far more than a basketball game.

Report: Knicks to interview Kenny Smith for head-coaching job

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The Knicks are casting a wide net in their coaching search.

It’ll apparently include a familiar, though surprising, name.

ESPN:

TNT analyst Kenny Smith will interview for the New York Knicks’ head-coaching job on Friday, a source told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.

A quality organization, the Rockets, interviewed Smith (in 2016, before hiring Mike D’Antoni). So, this isn’t proof of the Knicks’ oddball thinking. (There are plenty of better examples, if you wish).

Steve Kerr opened the door for former players to go straight from TV to being an NBA head coach without having any coaching experience. He’s been a smash hit with the Warriors.

But Kerr was also the Suns’ general manager before Golden State hired him. Smith has no front-office experience.

So, it’s tough to judge Smith, whose role on television is more to entertain than inform (though he does both). He’ll have to really wow in his interview to get the job.

But at least he has that opportunity.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan slips and falls while arguing call (video)

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Nate McMillan slipped up in his handling of Victor Oladipo‘s early fouls during the Pacers’ Game 2 loss to the Cavaliers last night.

Then, the Indiana coach literally slipped while arguing that LeBron James should have been called for offensively fouling Lance Stephenson.