Three Stars of the Night: Curry, Smith make their All-Star cases

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It’s actually too late, the coaches have already voted and we will find out who the NBA All-Star Game reserves are Thursday evening. But two guys on the bubble made statements and showed why they should be in. Oh, and LeBron had a triple double.

Third Star: Stephen Curry (31 points, 7 assists)

The Warriors have now beaten the Clippers and the Thunder in one week — you have any other questions about if they are for real? Stephen Curry leads Golden State and it showed Wednesday night — yes, he put up numbers but this was a night where maybe the best three point shooter in the NBA was off his game (3-of-14 from beyond the arc) yet he still found ways to contribute. The best sign of that was how, after missing a late three that would have sealed the Warriors win, Curry’s help defense did seal the game — when two teammates doubled Kevin Durant Curry slid down, stole the pass intended for Kendrick Perkins and and that was it. Well, he was fouled and hit some free throws and that sealed it, but you get the point. Curry is doing it all. Just like an All-Star would.

Second Star: LeBron James (31 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists)

LeBron kind of summed up the Heat on this night — the numbers are impressive and he was key to the win, but it wasn’t as impressive as it sounds. As a team the Heat’s defense was sloppy. With LeBron there was a pass to nobody (save the guy in the first row) in the final minute of regulation that could have really hurt the Heat. He followed that up with a hero-ball missed jumper as time expired that was not him attacking or running a play but settling. Of course, there are only a couple players where we would nit-pick what someone did wrong on the night they had a triple-double, but such are the standards for LeBron James now.

First Star: Josh Smith (30 points, 13 rebounds 8 assists)

Al Horford was out and the Hawks needed a lift — and up stepped Josh Smith. He showed up ready to play and had 10 points in the first quarter to help spark the Hawks to a lead they would never surrender. This was a night where Smith was not settling for jumpers (only 10 of his 24 shots came from outside the paint) and when he is aggressive good things usually happen.

It may be too late for Smith’s All-Star hopes, but it’s not to late for games like this to boost his trade value. In the last year of his contract, entering his peak at age 27, capable of games like this one, Smith is going to draw trade interest. We’ll see what the Hawks do with that, but Smith can be a beast when he attacks. And he was attacking against the Bobcats.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.

Bulls Fred Hoiberg complains Isaiah Thomas gets away with palming. Thomas shrugs.

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The Boston Celtics have evened their series with Chicago Bulls, and more than that seem to have been able to take the Bulls best punch and now are responding.

At the heart of that is Boston All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who had 33 points on Sunday. He was attacking and getting into the heart of the Bulls defense all night, telling Michael Carter-Williams “you can’t guard me” so many times Thomas got a technical. Thing is, Thomas was right. No Bull has been able to guard Thomas the past two games.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said the reason for that is the officials let him get away with a palming the ball when dribbling. Via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com (video above).

“Let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor, a warrior, everything he’s going through right now. He had a hell of a game tonight,” Hoiberg said. “When you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he’s impossible to guard. Impossible to guard. When you’re able to put your hand underneath the ball, take two or three steps and put it back down. It’s impossible to guard him in those situations.”

I liked the follow-up comment from the reporter (not on the video), which was essentially “the league doesn’t call that on anyone, so that’s your complaint?” Thomas doesn’t get away with palming any more than any other ball handler in the league. If you want to define the rule by a 1950s standard then yes, he does carry, but so does pretty much every Bulls’ ball handler. So does 3/4 of the league by that measure.

Fortunately, Hoiberg never had to coach against Allen Iverson or he might have completely lost it watching him dribble.

This came off as a desperation ploy by Hoiberg. Or it was the worst attempt ever at a “take that for data” rant ever.

Thomas, for his part, basically shrugged when told about it.

When told about Hoiberg’s comments, Thomas said, “That’s not the reason. It is what it is. I guess (Hoiberg) is just going to continue to say it. I’ve been dribbling that way my whole life, I don’t know what to say to that.”

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.

Watch Paul George lose JR Smith, put Cavaliers guard on skates with crossover

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Game 4 between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was hotly-contested in the first half. The Cavaliers led, 58-52, after two quarters.

But one special play came when Indiana’s Paul George put JR Smith on his heels, with the Cavaliers guard reeling back some 10 feet after a pull-back crossover left George alone at the 3-point line.

Via Twitter:

You might say George pushed off with his left hand, but you could also point out that Smith then turned a flop-like head kick into an actual blown defensive assignment.

Cleveland completed the series sweep on Indiana with the win, 106-102.