Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Thunder look dominant, figuring things out

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed while raiding your kids Halloween candy bag (not that I would do that, no, never… just ignore that bag of Skittles).

1) Thunder starting to look elite, figure out their defense in win over Bucks. Nobody is going to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo, he’s going to get his. The Greek Freak did that on Halloween night with 28 points on 14 shots, although he was held in relative check by foul trouble that limited him to less than 28 minutes.

What the Thunder did with their aggressive, swarming defense on Tuesday was shut down the other Bucks — Milwaukee players who do not play for the Greek national team shot just 37.1 percent on the night. As a team the Bucks shot 9-of-30 from three. That’s not good enough against Oklahoma City — the Thunder starters put together a 16-0 run in the first and the team never looked back, cruising to a 110-91 win. Paul George had 20 points and Carmelo Anthony 17 in the win, and the big three combined for 49 points and 21 assists.

There were a lot of good signs for the Thunder out of this game. The first half they were flat-out dominant against a pretty good Bucks team, and during that time ball moved and it led to a lot of open looks (more midrange shots than some would like, but they were clean, open looks). Westbrook controlled the flow of the offense without just scoring a lot. Maybe the best sign, OKC owned the defensive glass, an area it has struggled this season up to now.

Going into the season, the questions about the Thunder were “how long will it take them to get it together?” and “is the bench good enough?” The jury is still out on the second question (although Jermi Grant had 17 in this one), however the answer to the first question might be around Halloween.

2) Just a reminder, Eric Bledsoe is still a member of the Phoenix Suns. Bledsoe doesn’t want to be. The Suns are trying to trade him, but they have not found a deal as the reported asking price is turning teams off. Suns GM Ryan McDonough tried to gain a little leverage on Tuesday saying there is no timetable for a trade, but the reality is with Bledsoe sitting at home his trade value is not going up. So we all wait.

The reality is this: The Suns are going to get hosed on this trade. Look at what better players went for in the past year — DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Jimmy Butler — and you see the market for Bledsoe is not going to be that strong. Most teams are not looking for a point guard. Those who are — Denver, maybe Milwaukee, a handful of others — are not going to offer genuine quality. Sorry, the Knicks are still not throwing in Frank Ntilikina. Eventually, McDonough and the Suns will settle on a deal where they get a prospect/pick but also take on a bad contract. It’s not going to be a good deal for them, but welcome to reality. The only question is when it goes down.

3) It was tricks, not treats, for Jahlil Okafor, Mario Hezonja, Kevin Looney, and Josh Huestis on Halloween — their teams did not pick up their fourth-year options. NBA teams pick up fourth-year options on rookie deals almost out of habit, even if they don’t think they want the young player long term, they hold on to him in hopes of a trade so they can get some value back for the pick in a trade.

However, with the deadline to pick up options on Halloween, two of the top five picks in the 2015 NBA Draft did not have their fourth years picked up, and they will be unrestricted free agents next summer. They could be on the market even sooner.

In Philadelphia, Okafor is the odd man out in the Sixers young and impressive frontcourt rotation, and after a year of trying to trade him and getting nothing of value they did not pick up his option. The Sixers are still looking for a trade, and he could push for a buyout.

In Orlando, Hezonja has shown flashes of his athleticism and potential — this season he’s knocking down 62 percent of this threes — but his development has stalled out, he has never stood out, and Frank Vogel and company just decided they would move on. He also could potentially still be traded, but Orland tried (talking a lot to Sacramento) and nothing came of it and likely will not now.

The Golden State Warriors did not pick up the option on Kevin Looney, but their reasoning was less about his play (which hasn’t been great) and more straight forward — it’s about saving luxury tax money. In Oklahoma City, in 2014 Huestis was the rare  “domestic draft and stash” — the Thunder drafted him with the understanding he would not sign his rookie deal and would play for a season in the D-League, then sign with the Thunder. He’s never developed into the player the Thunder made that bet on (although he has played in all seven games this season), and they have decided to move on.

Three Things to Know: The streaks continue, the Celtics keep winning, Clippers keep losing

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Celtics need overtime, Kyrie Irving to be dominant with 47 points, but win streak reaches 16. It was the team with the best record in the league against the team with the worst record — that meant Boston was either going to blow Dallas out, or Boston was going to look past Dallas and get itself in trouble. This game was the latter. For the third game in a row, Boston had to come from double-digits down to win and keep its streak alive — Brad Stevens called that “resilient” after the game. Either that or living very dangerously.

The Celtics raced out to a 15-point first quarter lead thanks to a hot start from Kyrie Irving, who had 25 points in the first half.

Then Boston took its foot off the gas. Harrison Barnes had 19 points over the second and third quarters, and Dallas chipped away at the lead, eventually retaking it. After a 10-2 run early in the fourth, Dallas led by 13.

The Celtics responded with a 22-9 run and eventually forced overtime. Marcus Smart was making defensive plays and some impressive passes, while Irving and Jayson Tatum (15 points on the night) were getting buckets. With the game close late, then into overtime, Irving took charge — he had 10 points in OT to get to 47 on the night. He has been clutch all season.

The Celtics win streak has been living on borrowed time in recent games (Barnes had a good look at an 18-foot fadeaway to win it in regulation for Dallas, but missed). Boston’s defense — which was fantastic down the stretch against Dallas after some sloppy stretches — and Irving have kept it afloat. But even when the streak — now the fourth longest in Celtics’ history — does end, it will be remembered as the time this Boston team stepped up as a contender. This team has announced its presence ready for the NBA’s biggest stages.

2) On the other side, Clippers losing streak reaches nine after 22-point loss to Knicks. First, let’s give the Knicks their due — this team is playing quality basketball. Better than I (and many) expected out of them season. Kristaps Porzingis has taken a step forward as the face of the franchise, doing whatever it takes to get them wins. Also Enes Kanter has given them buckets and boards they need, Jarrett Jack has been a steadying force at the point, and each night someone else steps up, such as Doug McDermott with 16 on Monday night.

However, beating the Clippers right now is no feat — Los Angeles has lost nine in a row and the wheels have come off.

The Clipper offense isn’t bad when the ball moves and players move off it, but they don’t do that consistently, falling back into habits of isolation and “you take a turn, then I take a turn” that they don’t have the talent to pull off. However, that’s not the real problem — their defense is a disaster. The effort is not there, and through the last nine games Los Angeles has the worst defense in the NBA, allowing 110 points per 100 possessions. Injuries play a part in this, no Danilo Gallinari or Milos Teodosic in this game forces Wesley Johnson and Austin Rivers into starting roles, and that thins the bench. But the best teams overcome injuries and still have effort and a system that works, the Clippers do not.

Doc Rivers’ seat has to be getting warm. How long he would be around after he was stripped of his GM powers over the summer was a fair question, but Rivers is making more than $10 million a year and his contract runs through the summer of 2019 — that’s a lot of money for even Steve Ballmer to eat. However, there will come a time he may be willing to do that, and if the Clippers keep playing like this the question is not “if” but “when.”

3) Boogie Cousins ejected. Russell Westbrook with triple-double. Pelicans still win. If I told you that first DeMarcus Cousins would get ejected for elbowing Russell Westbrook in the head (not the most flagrant 2 I’ve seen, but the league has cracked down on blows to the head).

Then I told you Westbrook stayed in the game and got a triple-double (22 points, 16 rebounds, 12 assists), you would think that the Thunder picked up a road win in New Orleans.

You’d be wrong. The late-game woes that have plagued the Thunder all season — an offense that becomes isolation heavy, and a defense that is 10.6 points per 100 possessions worse in the fourth quarter than the rest of the game — came back to bite them. Again. The Thunder raced out to a 25-6 lead but had given all that back by the middle of the second quarter. Then down the stretch, OKC again could not execute.

Meanwhile, Anthony Davis put up 36 points and 15 boards, 14 of his points came in the fourth as OKC had no answers for him, and without Cousins, Davis carried the Pelicans to the 114-107 win.

Irving’s 47 lead Celtics past Mavericks to maintain streak

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DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 on Monday night and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team’s first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters.

Irving and Barnes had chances in the final 30 seconds but both missed shots that would have given their teams the lead.

The Mavericks fell behind by as many as 15 points in the first half, outscoring the Celtics 55-35 over the second and third quarters.

Dallas took its biggest lead of the game when Yogi Ferrell fed a cutting Dwight Powell for a lay-up to make it 87-74 with 7:47 to play before the Celtics rallied.

Boston shot just 10-for-34 over the two middle quarters after building the early lead.

 

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

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DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

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The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.