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Three Things to Know: Boston’s defense is legit, just ask Golden State

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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 defense is legit, holds Warriors to 88 and gets Boston huge win. Golden State brought the best offense in the NBA into Boston, scoring more than 115 points per 100 possessions — or 120 per game, if you like your stats old-school — which would rank them with the best offenses of all time.

They scored just 88 points Thursday night, with a net rating of 89.5 points per 100. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot 5-of-20 from three, and Curry had a rough night all around (including a run of three fouls in three minutes in the third).

Credit the Celtics defense — they came into the game with the best defense in the NBA, but nobody expected this kind of performance against the Warriors. All season Boston has been fantastic contesting shots, taking away corner threes, and not letting teams get clean looks, and they did that so well against the Warriors you could see Golden State’s players thrown off their game and feeling uncomfortable. Golden State moved the ball and got good looks, but you tell they started to rush knowing the contest was coming — the Warriors shot 17-of-43, 39.5 percent, on uncontested shots in this game (according to NBA.com’s player tracking stats, which notoriously have issues but prove the point here). Boston’s defense does that to teams.

Boston then got just enough offense to win. Kyrie Irving struggled all night but made plays down the stretch to get buckets (and get to the line, where he put the Celtics ahead for good). An emotional Jaylen Brown, playing after the death of a friend, had a hustling and impressive 22 points to lead Boston.

This is more than just Boston’s 14th straight win (although it is that, too). This is validation — they belong at the adult table for Thanksgiving, the contender table. There’s a long season to go and the Celtics have to go through LeBron James to reach the Finals still, and in no way is a game before Thanksgiving proof of anything that could happen in June (both of these will be different teams in a lot of ways by then), but the Celtics are legitimately in the mix. This team can contend. They are not a year away and waiting for Gordon Hayward’s return, their time is now.

2) Rockets drop 90 on Suns in the first half, James Harden scores 48, Rockets cruise to win. What is there to say about this game? One of the best teams in the NBA beat up one of the worst, 142-116. The only real news was Chris Paul returned and had 11 points and 10 assists in 20 minutes — no need to send him down to the G-League for a rehab stint, just play the Suns.

Let’s make our point via videos. Here is the Rockets putting up 90 points in the first half.

And here is James Harden’s 48 points.

3) NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, players’ union executive director Michelle Roberts having serious conversations about changing one-and-done rule. Nobody likes the one-and-done rule — not NBA teams, not universities, not players — but it’s the compromise that we’ve had to live with for years.

Now, there finally seems to be some real momentum toward changing it. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and players’ union executive director Michelle Roberts met with the Commission on College Basketball — which was put in place in the wake of the recruiting/money scandal from the FBI investigation into the sport — and they discussed the one-and-done rule and what alternatives are out there, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

There is some momentum toward a change, and pushing things toward more of a baseball-style rule — players could make the leap from high school to the NBA, but if a player goes to college they must stay there at least two years (for baseball it is three). How NBA owners would react to this remains to be seen — they are not fans of scouting high school players and trying to project them to the NBA. Yes, there are guys we know worked out — LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and on down the line — but there were misses, too, and that’s what bothers owners and GMs. They don’t want to blow a high draft pick, and predicting what an 18-year-old will be like as a player and person in four or five years is very difficult.

The “baseball rule” has its flaws, but it’s better than one-and-done. The NBA needs to make the G-League a viable alternative to develop those high school players, or for players who aren’t NBA ready but don’t want to go to college. Also, what needs to come with it is a change from the NCAA that allows players who agree to go with an agent then don’t get drafted — ones who get bad advice from family and hangers-on — are allowed to still go to college and retain that eligibility. Give them a chance.

We’ll see what comes of this, but there seems to be some momentum slowly building for a change. It’s the NBA and the player’s union that would need to negotiate this.

Celtics earn validation, come from down 17 — twice — to beat Warriors

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Validation.

All things in the NBA this season are measured against the prohibitive favorite Golden State Warriors. There are great storylines — the rise of the Sixers, for example — but when it comes to what will happen next June, it’s all about Golden State.

Boston had won 13 games in a row, but still when Warriors came to town Thursday that was the measuring stick. It’s all about Golden State.

Validation. The Boston Celtics came from 17 points down — twice — to have Kyrie Irving make the key plays down the stretch and beat the Warriors 92-88. It was again Boston’s best in the NBA defense that kept them in it,  aided by the fact that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 5-of-20 from three (and they missed a lot of good looks), and then down the stretch Irving shook off the cold shooting he had all night and made plays.

It wasn’t a pretty game — both teams had a true shooting percentage under 49 percent — as befitting two of the top five defenses in the NBA. The Celtics may not want to bet Curry misses that many open threes in a game again, but he was off and having a rough night Thursday. The big difference in the score was Boston had 19 more free throw attempts, both because they were the more aggressive team attacking the rim most of the night, then in the final minutes, they got the 50/50 calls.

The best player on the court for Boston was second-year man Jaylen Brown, who finished the night with 22 points. Kyrie Irving had 16, but on 16 shots.

Kevin Durant led the Warriors with 24 points, while it was an off night from Stephen Curry — 9 points on 14 shots, and 2-of-9 from three — as well as Klay Thompson that did in the Warriors.

A Celtics win before Thanksgiving is meanless in trying to project out to a potential NBA Finals — both of these teams will evolve into something else by then. LeBron James will have his say on who is in the Finals, James Harden and Chris Paul would like to make a statement, too. We’re a long way from final answers.

Still, this Celtics’ win matters now. It’s validation for a team that now must be considered a contender for the East, and maybe the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

 

Kevin Durant says he intended to send tweets critical of Thunder from own account, not burner

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In September, Kevin Durant tweeted that he left the Thunder because he disliked the organization and playing for Billy Donovan and that Oklahoma City’s surrounding cast around him and Russell Westbrook was lacking.

Because Durant tweeted in the third person then quickly deleted the tweets, most assumed he intended to tweet from a burner account – a fake identity used to stick up for himself.

Zach Baron of GQ:

The Internet was alive with a gleeful debate about whether Durant had a second, secret Twitter account. That wasn’t the case, he told me. He did write the posts, but on his own account, he said. He described it as a dissociative episode: He woke up from a nap, and “it just felt like I was on the outside looking in at a conversation. I had to walk in and just be like, ‘Nah.’” Either way, he appeared thin-skinned and a bit disingenuous, inexplicably absorbed in criticism during the pinnacle of his professional life. Even worse was what he’d actually said in the posts: After a year of maintaining a scrupulous, respectful silence about his old coach and his old team, he’d finally let slip what seemed to be the truth about his feelings regarding the Oklahoma City **Thunder.

This re-opens big questions: Did Durant actually dislike Donovan and the organization? Why? What did he find lacking in a supporting cast that, at times, included James Harden and Serge Ibaka and could’ve included Victor Oladipo if Durant re-signed?

Durant has mostly taken the high road since leaving for the Warriors, and he clearly has a second Instagram account he has used to spar with critics. I’m not convinced he doesn’t also have a burner Twitter account that he intended to use on those infamous tweets.

But I’m also not sure why he’d deny it considering the questions it opens about whether he truly meant what he wrote.

Three Things to Know: It’s Joel Embiid’s world, Lonzo Ball has to live in it

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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) Battle of the young point guards turns into career night for Joel Embiid, who dominates. Don’t make Joel Embiid angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry… unless you’re a Sixers fan. Embiid had a Twitter beef with LaVar Ball, that (as has happened to him more than once) Lonzo Ball got sucked into but tried to avoid.

There were a lot of steps in the process, but it included Embiid getting a $10,000 fine for language from the league for saying “f*** LaVar Ball” on his Instagram account after LaVar was on a Philly radio station saying the crap he always said. Before the Sixers and Lakers met for the first time, Embiid said it was “all love” and just for fun.

Then he went out and destroyed the Lakers Wednesday night — 46 points on 14-of-20 shooting, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 blocks. The Lakers defended him (Andrew Bogut got a lot of extra run in that role), but he was 8-of-10 on contested looks. It was a historic stat line, and they weren’t empty calories — Philadelphia was +19 in Embiid’s 34 minutes and -13 when he was on the bench. Apparently, 69 percent of Embiid is this good.

WHAT A NIGHT !!!!! #TheProcess

A post shared by Joel "The Process" Embiid (@joelembiid) on

Ben Simmons dominated the point guard battle with 19 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. The Lakers matched their own star rookie on Simmons — Kyle Kuzma. Who did you think we were talking about? Kuzma had a career-best 24 points, and Brandon Ingram had 26. They kept the Lakers in it.

Lonzo Ball had 2 points on 1-of-9 shooting, with 2 assists and 5 rebounds. It’s been a rough week for the Ball family, on and off the court. Maybe that quiets LaVar for a while… Nah, that’s just the dream, it won’t happen.

This was a game won inside the arc as the teams combined to shoot 10-of-52 from three, and that included an uncharacteristic 0-of-8 from deep for J.J. Redick.

The Sixers looked like a playoff team and the kind of team on the rise the Lakers still aspire to be. Mostly though, consider this a reminder that Joel Embiid can be a dominant force, and it turns out he plays well angry and motivated.

2) Sixers also about to make Robert Covington quite wealthy. When the Philadelphia brass talks about their young core, they talk Simmons and Embiid and the injured No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, but they also always mention Robert Covington. When Sam Hinkie was just rotating cheap contract young players through the end of the bench (rather than putting a solid veteran or two on the roster), he was panning for gold. The Sixers found something in Covington as “3&D” specialist, who at age 26 is just entering his prime.

Now they are going to pay him a lot of gold. The Sixers and Covington are about to agree to a renegotiation and extension that will pay him about $62 million over this season and the next four. While the details are not yet known, the 76ers can bump his salary up to $16.7 million for this season (using existing cap space), then extend him off of that. Which sounds like the plan (if you want the salary details, our own Dan Feldman has them here).

Good for Covington, and smart of the Sixers to lock up another quality player, they still have cap space and flexibility going forward.

3) We spent much of Wednesday looking forward to Thursday in the NBA. Thursday night is going to be must-watch television for the NBA.

The first TNT game is the Golden State Warriors going into Boston for a showdown of the top teams in each conference right now. Call this a potential Finals preview if you want, although LeBron James will have his say about that. The Celtics have won 13 in a row and have the best defense in the NBA. The Warriors have won seven in a row, all by double-digits, and the best offense in the league, and have looked like their dominating selves again. Consider this a measuring stick game for the Celtics — we know what the Warriors are and what they will be come the playoffs, but the Celtics are still figuring that out about themselves. Boston as beaten Toronto and Milwaukee and San Antonio during its streak, but Golden State is something else entirely. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have looked great, but going against Kevin Durant and Draymond Green is a different level of challenge. The crowd in Boston will be pumped, but will one of the Warriors’ patented third quarter runs turn this game into another comfortable win for the champs?

The late TNT game doesn’t look like much, the Rockets should handle the Suns easily despite Devin Booker putting up good numbers, but it became far more interesting with the news Wednesday that Chris Paul will return to the Rockets lineup for the game. CP3 will start next to James Harden and play about 20 minutes, coming off resting a sore knee. We haven’t seen Paul since a rough opening night of the season when he didn’t look himself, now we can see where he stands and how he starts to mesh with Harden.

Chris Paul to return to Rockets, start on Thursday

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Chris Paul is back.

The All-Everything point guard played 33 minutes opening night for the Rockets then shut it down midway through the fourth due to an ailing knee, and he has been out ever since. Now Paul will be back on Thursday when the Rockets host the Suns. Both CP3 and Mike D’Antoni confirmed the rumors.

The Rockets have gone 11-4 to start the season, with James Harden back to his MVP level and leading what has been the second best offense in the NBA this season. Houston’s defense is 13th in the league, which is a marked improvement from previous seasons.

While Harden and CP3 looked good together in preseason, that matters about as much as how they looked at the Drew League over the summer. There are still real questions to answer about who initiates plays in crunch time, as well tempo (the Rockets have been playing slightly slower than last season, but Paul is even more deliberate than that).

Still, the Rockets added Paul to take their run at Golden State, and they need him on the court developing chemistry with his teammates. That starts up again on Thursday night.