Three Stars of the Night: All guard edition

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Sunday’s slate of games was fairly uninspiring, with no marquee matchups to speak of; even the two games that went into overtime and double overtime ended up being won by the team that was expected to do so.

But the players that shined the brightest might say otherwise, and the ones we’ve chosen as our Three Stars of the Night all happen to be guards who carried their respective teams to victory.

Third Star: Rajon Rondo — 15 points, 16 assists, 9 rebounds, 37th straight game with 10+ assists

As usual, Rondo did it all for the Celtics.

This one was especially important, not only because Boston held off a scrappy Orlando team in overtime for the victory, but because this was Rondo’s 37th consecutive game with 10 or more assists, which tied John Stockton for second most all-time. Next up is Magic Johnson and the record, which stands at 46 and which Rondo will undoubtedly surpass — one way or another.

Second Star: Tony Parker — 32 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists in double-OT win over the Raptors

The Spurs shouldn’t need double overtime to dispose of the Toronto Raptors. San Antonio — even without Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson who are out due to injury — is far better from an execution standpoint, and the Raptors have had a series of heartbreaking losses this season because of their simple inability to do exactly what the Spurs do best.

Despite the extra sessions required, Parker made sure the result was the one we all predicted. 11 of his 32 points came in the two overtime sessions, and his ability to get into the paint to get some easy looks when everything for Toronto offensively seemed to be a struggle helped make the difference.

First Star: Jrue Holiday — Career-high 33 points, 13 assists

This is the type of game the Sixers needed to win — at home, against a team where the matchup was fairly even.

Holiday made sure Philadelphia got that W, playing big all night long, but especially down the stretch of a close game. This one was a low-turnover contest with both teams shooting a relatively high percentage, and all that was needed to come out with the win was for someone on either team to step up with a superstar performance.

That was Holiday in this one, and we’ll let his shot chart tell the rest of the story.

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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!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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