Three Stars of the Night: Harden’s Revenge Game

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On a night where trade talk dominated the news, James Harden served up a reminder that there’s an awful lot that must be considered when making a deal. Who knows how much it mattered to Oklahoma City at the time, but trading James Harden to a perennially competitive Western Conference foe badly in need of such a player doesn’t seem exactly ideal right about now, does it? Instead of having to deal with him only twice a year, the Thunder very realistically could have to deal with Harden in a playoff series — now and down the road.

This was a revenge game at its best for Harden, but who will join him in the Three Stars? Let’s get right to it.

Third Star: Nikola Pekovic – (27 points, 18 rebounds, 2 blocks)

If you skipped Timberwolves-Sixers on the ol’ league pass, I don’t blame you. This was an ugly game where both teams shot below 40 percent, but it had a redeeming factor, and his name was Nikola Pekovic. In his typical bullying manner, Pekovic regularly thrusted his left shoulder directly into his opponent’s chest, knocking them back to create the space to let up his little right handed flips and hooks. Pekovic is a big from another era — plodding and mean, substituting strength for stretch. He’s a rarity nowadays, but like the sixth Rocky movie taught me, there’s no substitute for raw power.

Second Star: Kyrie Irving (35 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists)

This was a hot streak you could feel. When Irving checked in at the seven minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Cavs were down two against the Hornets. That didn’t last long. Irving absolutely dominated right away, tallying 20 points in seven minutes of nearly flawless basketball. You hear the Chris Paul comparisons with Irving, and the trait they similar is pretty unique. With the game on the line and defenses focused against them, Paul and Irving both have the rare ability to get uncontested layups. Not contested, falling away, difficult pull-up jumpers — layups. Irving did that twice down the stretch with some sick ballhandling, but he also stepped in to draw a charge and nabbed an offensive rebound. You knew this already, but let’s put this exhibit in the “Kyrie Irving is a star” file immediately.

First Star: James Harden (46 points on 19 shots, 8 rebounds, 6 assists)

This was absurd. The Rockets were down 12 in the fourth quarter at one point, then three minutes later, they were tied. Harden’s career-high 46 points came in every imaginable way — from behind the arc (7-for-8), from the line (11-for-12), in the pick-and-roll, transition — pretty much everywhere. Lin and Harden combined for 75 points against Oklahoma City and played huge roles in the comeback, knocking down momentum shifting shots time and time again. You couldn’t ask for a better, more timely, more efficient performance than the one Harden put on tonight. This was his best yet.

Video Breakdown: Cavaliers elevator doors fake out vs. Warriors in Game 4

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The 2017 NBA Finals are over but we just can’t quite move on to the summer without mentioning this play from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Game 4 onslaught from 3-point range.

Yes, the Cavaliers hit a myriad of insane, falling over, lucky shots in their record-setting Game 4 win. But they also had a number of excellent plays drawn up by head coach Tyronn Lue, with one of them coming here in the first quarter.

The thing I love about this play the most is how it combines multiple actions to confuse one of the best defensive teams in the NBA in the Golden State Warriors. Cleveland mixed Floppy action with a sideline elevator doors play, getting both Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to overreact to Kyrie Irving.

Meanwhile, the real shooter ended up being one of the elevator doors screeners in Kevin Love.

Cleveland will need to regroup for next season if they hope to take on the Warriors yet again in the NBA finals in 2018. Meanwhile, check out this sweet video breakdown of a play that is straight out genius.

Watch Allen Iverson’s first bucket in Big3 League debut

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The Big3 League came to Brooklyn and put on a show (which you can see broadcast on FS 1 Monday night).

That includes coach Allen Iverson putting on a jersey and playing a little.

He got his first bucket taking a ball saved from going out of bounds, dribbling up to the elbow, and knocking it down. The crowd loved it. Iverson coached/played his team to victory thanks to Andre Owens putting up 20 points and 15 rebounds.

 

D’Angelo Russell makes first appearance at Barclays Center, gets booed

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Welcome to New York, D'Angelo Russell.

The Brooklyn Nets made a smart gamble before the draft and traded Brook Lopez (and his expiring contract) to the Lakers for the bloated contract of Timofey Mozgov and the promise of Russell. It’s a smart move to see if coach Kenny Atkinson can lift up the young point guard who shows promise but is inconsistent.

Nets fans don’t seem so thrilled. Russell showed up for the Big3 games at Barclays Center, and he did not feel the love, reports Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

These are New York fans, they would boo George Washington.

It’s simple for Russell, he just has to win them over. He gets a fresh start in Brooklyn and the baggage the Lakers saw him carrying is gone. It’s his chance to win a city over and be part of the future — but he will have to earn it.

Otherwise, it won’t be long or he will hear those boos again.

Spike Lee says not everyone at Nike thought Jordan should be face of company at first

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We have mythologized Michael Jordan into a man who could almost walk on water, and could certainly walk on air. He legitimately is the GOAT — or, at the very least, one of a handful of players ever worthy of being in that conversation — but the idea he is perfect is far from true.  (He was 6-7 in getting his team to the Finals, LeBron is 8-4, so LeBron lifted lesser teams farther, to use one devil’s advocate argument).

Not everyone always believed in Jordan, and that came out in a couple recent articles.

The Chicago Tribune ran a June 20, 1984, article about Jordan being drafted from their paper, where then GM Rod Thorn was not exactly selling Jordan as a franchise changing player.

“There just wasn’t a center available,” said Thorn. “What can you do?”

“He’s only 6-5,” said Thorn, who must use a different yardstick than Dean Smith, the Carolina coach. Down where the tobacco grows, Jordan has always been 6-6, not that one inch ever stopped Jordan from crashing the boards, hitting from the outside or playing substantially above sea level. By the time he gets to Chicago, or when negotiations for his wages get sticky, Jordan may be the size of a jockey. The Bulls aren’t even sure where to play Jordan. “Big guard, small forward,” said coach Kevin Loughery.

Jordan ended up being the perfect player at the perfect time — an all-time great who peaked just as the popularity of the game took off, and with a little help from Nike his image blew up.

Except, not everybody at Nike was down with Jordan being the face of the organization, Spike Lee told Sole Collector (remember Lee and his commercials helped blow up Jordan’s image).

“People don’t know about this, but the truth is a lot of people were speaking in Mr. Knight’s ear that it might not be too good for Nike to have Michael Jordan as the face of the company,” Lee revealed to Sole Collector. He added that there were worries that Jordan “might not appeal to white America, or the general market as a whole.”

Jordan, obviously, transcended the market and everything else.

But Jordan had his doubters and had his rough patches. He got his head handed to him year after year by the Bad Boy Pistons, who taught him how to win the hard way. He was thought of as the guy who couldn’t win the big one, who was too selfish a player to lead a team to a title.

In hindsight, it’s laughable. But that’s what you get when you try to define a person’s legacy before his career is over.