The Spurs played the better game, the smarter game, Thursday night. They are starting to look like the Spurs again.
But nobody was going to stop Kyrie Irving. Nobody. And some nights that’s enough to get you a W.
Irving had 57 points — both a career high and the most any player has scored this season — on 20-of-32 shooting, including going 7-of-7 from three. The Spurs defended him well, they contested 30 of his 32 shots (per NBA.com player tracking stats), but it didn’t matter, he still hit 19 of them.
That included a couple threes to send the game to overtime. The first was just a brilliant leaning, fading three from the corner to get the game within three. Then, after Kawhi Leonard missed two free throws that could have iced the game, Irving did what you see above.
He wasn’t done. Irving then went out and scored 11 in the OT to get the Cavaliers an impressive 128-125 win on the road.
That was as great a game as any player has had this season (Klay Thompson is the other guy in that discussion). He is the reason the Cavs picked up another W.
Only four guys have had two 55+ point games in a season in the last 25 years. Irving now joins Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Tom Chambers. (Yes, Tom Chambers, the guy could shoot the rock.)
Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: Chris Paul is still point god, outduels Westbrook
1) Chris Paul is the point god, outduels Russell Westbrook. There is a reason that when you ask scouts and front office types about the best point guard in the league they mention Chris Paul. He can do it all — he can score if needed, he can set up teammates, he defends well, and there is no smarter floor general in the game. All of that was on display Wednesday. Russell Westbrook has been on a Jordanesque tear of late and Wednesday night Paul owned him. CP3 controlled the show. Paul ended up with 33 points on 11-of-19 shooting, nine assists, four rebounds, and a couple steals. More impressive was the other end where Paul played fantastic defense on Westbrook, cutting off his driving lanes and pushing him to help, forcing 10 turnovers, and contesting seemingly every shot. It was a masterful performance, one worthy of the point god.
2) Portland picked up the kind of win that made you forget about Wesley Matthews for a night. OnWednesday Wesley Matthews had surgery to reattach hisAchilles tendon. That night the Blazers looked like a team that wasn’t going to miss a step without him. Arron Afflalo started and was impressive containing James Harden (18 points on 19 shots). Afflalo was so good on defense we’ll forgive his poor shot selection and rough offensive night. The Blazers got their offense from the usual suspects (LaMarcus Aldridge had 26, Damian Lillard 14) but this was the night guys like Nicolas Batum (18 points) and Meyers Leonard (8 points in 9 minutes) stepped up as well. The Blazers played like a team that could come out of the West with a couple breaks.
3) Is Melvin Hunt the coach the Denver Nuggets need? Denver just outworked and completely outplayed the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday. The Nuggets won 115-102, but that doesn’t do justice to a game they led by 34 at one point and were in complete control of all night. The Nuggets were prepared for the Hawks actions and cut them off out on the perimeter all game. The Nuggets are 4-2 under Hunt and are playing with a renewed energy. Hunt is a highly-respected long-time assistant around the league and looks ready for the big chair. Will Nuggets management give it to him?
4) Fortunately for the Grizzlies, Mike Conley is just fine. Still Boston rose up and smacked them. It may have been a loss but for Memphis, just getting out of this game with a healthy Conley is what matters. They aren’t going anywhere without him. Conley had to be carried off the court after this.
Conley returned to the game, bu he could not stop the Celtics, who looked like a team that has found its identity and stride under Brad Stevens. (He should be on some Coach of the Year ballots, you get to name three.) Boston looked like a playoff team. They did it without Isaiah Thomas, instead getting Avery Bradley back and he had 17 buckets including some key jumpers late. The Celtics are 1.5 out of the final playoff spot right now, but games like this make you think they can make it. And have some success long-term pieces to build on.
5) If you’re lucky enough to be in one of the front rows at a game, watch the game. Or instant Karma is going to get you.
Another Bull out: Joakim Noah to miss Wednesday with sore knee
If you’re going to miss a game, the Sixers might be a good one, a game the Bulls can still win.
Noah’s injury will lead to another round of “Tom Thibodeau runs his players into the ground comments. Butler told PBT recently that line of reasoning doesn’t fly in the Chicago locker room.
“Thibs doesn’t have anything to do with it,” Butler said. “I think injuries, they just happen. I wasn’t overtired when I ran into the screen; it’s just basketball. It really does happen. It has nothing to do with Thibs. Thibs is good at what he does and he’s always putting us in a great position to win games, so kudos to him. He’s a great coach.”
Why Players’ union rejected salary cap smoothing, what that means for 2016
The tidal wave of cash from the new $24 billion television deal is going to wash over the NBA in the summer of 2016, and the salary cap is going to jump from $63 million this season to about $90 million in a couple.
The NBA wanted to smooth that out, to raise the cap more gradually over a few years. The league thought the players’ union would go for this because players in multiple free agent classes would benefit from the cap going up. Plus the money short of the players’ 51 percent of league revenue would still have been split up among all the players, so they still receive the extra cash.
Why? Sean Deveney of the Sporting News asked a union source for their thinking.
But, a source with knowledge of the thinking of players association chief Michele Roberts said, “The union should not have to police how much the owners spend. That’s not the job of the union. All of the caps that are on salaries now, the max deals and the shorter lengths and all of that, it’s all stuff that has been done to protect owners from themselves. Michele has been pretty strong on saying, hey, it’s not the job of the players to protect owners from other owners. Why should that fall on the players?”
The union felt smoothing would help depress players salaries from rising as fast as they should or could under a more open system. This line of thinking ties back to the players’ belief that they sacrificed (read: lost big) in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, when the players share of league revenue fell from 57 percent to close to half. They are not going to be cooperative now, and they expect to get concessions in the next CBA talks in 2017.
But this dramatically changes the 2016 summer landscape — everyone is going to have money to spend. As in at least 23 teams will have $40 million or more to blow. Teams like the Lakers and Knicks will have even more space and be able to take on multiple max salaries if they desire. It’s going to be a chaotic spending spree unlike the league has ever seen. Kevin Durant and LeBron James will be among the free agents. From ESPN’s Brian Windhorst here is a description of the impending chaos.
• There may be some free agents this summer who only accept one-year contracts so they can retest the market in 2016, when it will be awash with available cash.
• The likelihood of a lockout in 2017 when both sides can opt out of the current CBA just increased significantly, if not unexpectedly.
If nothing else you should take that last line away from all this — 2017 is shaping up to be a nasty lockout and CBA battle.
Rumor: Delonte West could try to make comeback through D-League
When last we heard from Delonte West he had signed to play for Yao Ming’s team in China, the country where a number of aging stars have gone to get another payday.
Now he may be on his way back to the D-League.
That’s one step from the NBA, where he hasn’t played since 2012. But it’s a big step, one that would be difficult for West to make. But it appears he’s going to get a chance to showcase what he can do, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.
West used to have skills on the court — his last season in Dallas he averaged 9.6 points and 3.2 assists per game, shot 35.5 percent from three and played solid defense. He’s the kind of role player a number of teams could use. In theory. However, now he’s age 32 (when guard’s skills often start to fade). More importantly, for teams the disruptions off the court are not worth what he brings. Remember, Mark Cuban and his player-friendly Mavericks cut West loose because of the distractions.
In the 2012-13 season, West played eight games for Texas in the D-League, scoring 10.3 points a game but shooting just 35.1 percent from the floor and 20 percent from three.
I’d be very surprised if he got back to the NBA. But he’s going to get a look.