Sunday night NBA grades: Kevin Love makes his All-Star statement against Griffin

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while reading about how Charles Dickens’ classic “Christmas Carroll” almost didn’t get published…

source:  Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves. Kevin Love is not going to own up to it, but this came off as a “are all of you really voting for Blake Griffin as an All-Star ahead of me?” game. Love was about 20,000 votes back of Griffin for the last starting spot in the West as of a week ago, with that motivate Love came out looking to dominate the power forward matchup Sunday — 45 points on 15-of-23 shooting, plus he pulled down 19 rebounds. (To be fair, Griffin had 32 points and 10 boards, not a bad night.) Love also fouled Griffin out, getting a charge call in OT. That Minnesota didn’t get Love the ball with the game on the line late in this game (Pekovic got the shots) is a crime.

source:  Los Angeles Clippers’ frontline defense. Love and Nikola Pekovic combined for 79 points on just 51 shots, plus pulled down 33 rebounds — that the Clippers won this game talks about getting some good play elsewhere and some luck (thank you Kevin Martin). The Clippers didn’t deserve this the way their front line defended but L.A. made fewer mistakes down the stretch.

source:  Kevin Martin, Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota just keeps losing close game after close game — and Martin was at the heart of this one. He had 16 points but he killed them with 6 turnovers. The big one was with 8 seconds to go in regulation and Minnesota up two — they wanted to get the ball in his hands because he is so good as a free throw shooter. Martin ran into the backcourt to recieve the pass, tried to dribble as the defense came to foul and slipped a little, when that happened he got picked clean by Chris Paul, who made a pass to Jamal Crawford for the game-tying dunk. It went to overtime and again the Timberwolves were up two with just more than three minutes left, Martin made a nice play to get an offensive rebound, then he tried a blind pass out top to get away from pressure and threw it away. Darren Collison picked it up, got the breakaway dunk and tied the game.

source:   Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers. How do you get a “B” grade when you have a triple-double? When you go hunting for it — he played a spectacular game for three quarters but missed six of his last seven shots and was making plays to go after it. The result was he needed 15 shots to get the 12 points to go with his 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Still, early in the game he was just destroying all things Boston, including Courtney Lee’s ankles.

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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