New York Knicks v Boston Celtics

‘Melo vs. Garnett sideshow is dull, Knicks’ hard-fought win is not

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Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett played nice. In fact, in the third quarter Garnett went to the floor trying to complete an alley-oop and it was Anthony who was there to lend a hand and help him back up. There were no fireworks, no ejections, nothing. They may not be going out for a beer together afterwards, but the sideshow turned out to be nothing special.

But the game itself was special. Or at least a lot of fun.

If Rasheed Wallace were there with New York, he would have said “both teams played hard.” There was nearly the passion of a playoff game from both teams.

The Knicks just played a little less sloppy and hit their shots down the stretch, so they came away with an 89-86 win.

That would be five straight losses for the Celtics, who drop two games below .500 but remain the eighth seed in the East. The second seed Knicks improved to 26-14 on the season.

Anthony got his points but the improved Celtics defense made it rough on him — ‘Melo had 28 points but was just 11-of-28 shooting on the night. Without Raymond Felton (still out with a broken finger) the Knicks end up resorting to a lot more ‘Melo isolation late in the clock and that is just never efficient. Wasn’t in Denver, wasn’t last season, isn’t now. The Celtics defense as a whole looked active and energetic, holding New York to 38.6 percent shooting.

Their offense just couldn’t do anything about it.

Rajon Rondo is trying to get the offense moving, and he had 23 points (on 19 shots), 11 assists and 10 rebounds — his fourth triple-double of the season. But take him out of the equation and the rest of the Celtics shot 36.8 percent. Rondo is the straw that stirs the Celtics drink, but there is only so much he can do to bring everyone along.

Look at their possessions in the final four minutes and you see how it is all Rondo: Rondo hits an elbow pull up jumper; Rondo drove and drew a foul from Amare Stoudemire; Paul Pierce passes up good look 18 footer to tie it instead passing to Avery Bradley for a corner three he missed; Garnett misses a contested midrange jumper; J.R. Smith reaches in and tips the ball on a handoff to Rondo and it goes out of bounds off Boston; Rondo nails a step-back 17 footer; Pierce boots the ball out of bounds as he is hounded by Smith.

Smith also had a key three late. It was a true gunner’s shot — he was 2-of-15 on the night when he caught the ball but he let it go without hesitation or memory of the past misses and he drained it.

This was the kind of ugly, defensive-minded game the Celtics won in recent years. Their defense would carry them through their offensive lulls. This year it’s just not working, the offensive lulls are too long, the defense isn’t consistent enough.

The Knicks, they are winning ugly. And in a game that felt like the playoffs they will take it.

James Harden presents fan with game ball on her 100th birthday (video)

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden took some time out after the Houston Rockets’ win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks to give a fan a present on a her 100th birthday.

Video shows Harden signing a ball for the woman and spending a few moments sitting next to her in her courtside seat and posing for pictures Wednesday night.

Harden told ESPN’s Doris Burke in an interview that he told the woman how “blessed” he was to be able to have a chance to meet her.

The Houston guard also put on a good show for the fan during the game, scoring 38 points in a 111-92 victory over the Bucks.

Paul George dunks on DeMarcus Cousins while getting whacked in the face (video)

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Kings center DeMarcus Couins appears set to become the first player to sign as a veteran designated player. The Pacers hope Paul George will follow.

But in the Pacers’ win over the Kings yesterday, George beat Cousins.

Not even Cousins thwacking George in the face could stop this dunk.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.

Isaiah Thomas nutmegs Knicks center Marshall Plumlee (video)

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Isaiah Thomas usually saves his best play for the fourth quarter, but the Celtics guard showed out early with this pass between Marshall Plumlee‘s legs to get Kelly Olynyk a layup.

Thomas uncharacteristically just didn’t have enough late. Though he scored 39 points, he shot just 2-for-9 in the final period, as the Knicks pulled away for a 117-106 win.