Three things we learned on Tuesday: Kyle Korver, rest of Cavs reminded Jazz defense is good

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Here’s what you missed around the NBA while trying to figure out why Prince left behind $1 million in gold bars but not one raspberry beret….

1) Kyle Korver makes Cavaliers debut, but Gordon Hayward, Jazz defense steal spotlight. Here’s the big takeaway from Kyle Korver’s first game as a Cavalier — the Jazz are very good.

Korver will be good for the Cavaliers, too, but he hadn’t even practiced with the team so visions of a lights-out debut were always a fairy tale. He was 1-of-5 in 18 minutes in his debut, going 0-of-2 from three (and 0-of-3 on uncontested looks). He will find a rhythm, and he will sync up with the Cavaliers.

Expect Korver to look a lot better Wednesday night when he and the Cavaliers face the Portland defense — the Utah defense is the best in the NBA this season and the Cavaliers found out first hand. Cleveland had just 12 points in the second quarter and shot 36.5 percent as a team for the game, struggling to score inside and get easy buckets thanks to the defensive presence of Rudy Gobert. Check out the Cavaliers’ shot chart.

Cavaliers shotchart

Cleveland took a brief third quarter lead when LeBron James just took over the game (he finished with 29 points, although Joe Ingles did a surprisingly good job on him defensively for stretches) and the team went on a 17-0 run. But the Jazz responded with a 16-0 run of their own behind Gordon Hayward, who finished with 28. Utah is a sleepy good team, one of only three teams with a top 10 offense and defense (the Cavs are not one of them, their defense is 14th) and come the playoffs they are going to make some noise. Defense and ball movement will do that. Just ask the Cavaliers.

2) DeMar DeRozan, Raptors remind Celtics who is second best team in East (at least for now). The Eastern Conference has Cleveland alone on the top tier, and so long as LeBron is not in a full body cast they will be the team that comes out of the East to the Finals. For most of the last two seasons, the second tier in the East has belonged to the Toronto Raptors alone, but of late Boston has made a push to climb up to that level.

And for a while Tuesday night, it looked like they would climb right past the Raptors, taking a 16-point third quarter lead thanks to another strong night from Isaiah Thomas (he finished with 27) and Al Horford (14 points and nine rebounds), Then DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors happened. DeRozan was brilliant and had 19 points in the third quarter to spark the comeback, Jonas Valanciunas was big (literally) and finished with 18 points and 23 rebounds, and finally Kyle Lowry added nine of his 24 in the fourth and Toronto came back to secure a 114-106 win at home.

I can’t wait for the second-round playoff matchup between these teams — that is going to be fun.

3) James Harden drops 11th triple-double of season, second straight with 40 points, Rockets win ninth straight. Who is the MVP again? Midway through the season (an we’re almost there) you can finally have an MVP conversation with some depth to it, and the race comes down to this — Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Everyone else in the conversation — Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, etc. — are all a couple of steps back.

Harden has been on a roll of late — he led the Rockets to their ninth-straight win Tuesday night dropping a 40-15-10 line on good Charlotte defense. He is now just the fourth player in NBA history to have back-to-back triple-doubles with at least 40 points (Westbrook, Michael Jordan, and Pete Maravich are the others). Harden is in attack mode, he is seeing the floor, and his MVP case is that he has the numbers and the Rockets on pace to win more than 60 games. It’s a damn good case.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.