Thursday night NBA grades: Joe Johnson apparently loves London

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while thinking Ronald McDonald may have an anger management issues (no, not that one)

source:  Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets. He remains one of the best (sometimes overlooked) shooters in the game. In the first half the Nets largely ran the offense through their “power forward” Paul Pierce and Johnson kept getting open for catch-and-shoot threes (he was 5-of-7 from beyond the arc in the first half) on his way to 26 points before the break. The Hawks adjusted to Johnson in the second half and doubled him, and Johnson made the right play being patient and getting the ball to the open man (Alan Anderson had 10 in the third largely thanks to those plays). By the fourth quarter Johnson was comfortably on the bench wondering if he had time to get to a fish and chip shop before the flight home. Brooklyn cruised to a win in London and Johnson was a key reason.

source:  Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers. He looked like an All-Star in this one (and he is on my ballot, too). Stephenson led the Pacers when they stopped settling for jumpers and attacked the rim starting in the second quarter, but he was also a playmaker setting up teammates. When the Knicks started to focus more on him is when Paul George was able to step up and get his 25. Stephenson had 28 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and spent time guarding Carmelo Anthony, too.

source:  Houston Rockets in first half. This team is unstoppable. This team looks like a contender. This team has a guy you have to respect in the paint and that opens up looks at the arc, and this team goes 12-of-20 from three. This team puts up 73 points in a half, plays with pace and confidence and is generally impressive.

source:   Houston Rockets in second half. This team can’t shoot from the outside and goes 0-of-9 from three. This team looks like one that when challenged doesn’t now how to adjust and get scoring if its threes aren’t falling. This team’s stars in James Harden and Dwight Howard didn’t step up with plays when their side was struggling. This team looks nothing like a future contender.

The question is which is the real Rockets team? Or is it the more likely answer of none-of-the-above, rather still a work in progress with a ways to go?

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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