Kurt Helin

Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Cleveland has work to do before June


Monday night saw one of the games that NBA fans had circled on their calendar as must see — Golden State returning to the champagne-soaked locker room in Cleveland. But that ended up being about the least interesting or entertaining game of the day. Here’s what you need to know from a Martin Luther King Jr. Monday around the NBA.

1) Golden State thrashed Cleveland, shows Cavaliers where the bar is set. The Cavs have work to do.
Games in January do not tell us who would win a seven-game series between those two teams in June. Games in the middle of the season are simply benchmarks. Tests if you will. They show a team where they stand, what needs to be worked on for the next six months to be ready for the games that matter.

The Cavaliers have a lot of work to do. Beating up on the East does not have them ready for the true contenders out of the West.

Last week, Cleveland played the San Antonio Spurs close, but down the stretch of that game the Cavaliers struggled with their execution while the Spurs did what they always do. Monday night, the Golden State Warriors returned to Quicken Loans Arena and gave the Cavaliers a beat down. A spanking. A thrashing. Golden State took Cleveland to the woodshed. I could go on, but the point has been made. Golden State started the game on a 12-2 run, led by 30 in the second quarter, 40 in the third, and coasted to a 132-98 statement win. Stephen Curry led the way with 35 points. Cleveland sees where the bar is set, and they have to get a lot better to clear it. LeBron’s goal is to bring a title to Northeast Ohio and right now there is no evidence to support the idea that his team could beat the Spurs or especially the Warriors in a seven-game series.

Here are three quick takeaways from the game of the night.

• Cleveland’s defense, particularly it’s pick-and-roll defense, needs to get a lot better. No doubt the Warriors were hitting their shots on Monday evening — they shot 51.8 percent on contested shots as a team, Curry was 6-of-9 on contested looks, according to NBA.com — but they were getting the shots they wanted. Cleveland couldn’t slow the pick-and-roll at all — they even blitzed it with three guys at one point. Whatever big man from Cleveland was pulled into the pick-and-roll, they got abused — Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson, and especially Kevin Love. This sequence may best sum up just how Love’s defensive night went.


Love only got five shots in the game as well. If these teams meet in the Finals again, it’s fair to wonder how many minutes David Blatt can afford to play Love a night.

• The Cavaliers need a lot more out of Kyrie Irving.
Hopefully, this game ends the “if Irving and Love had been healthy it would have been a different Finals” discussion. That talk was always moot anyway. Irving was 3-of-11 overall on the night and 0-of-3 in the paint — he wasn’t breaking down the Warriors defense, and when he got in the lane he didn’t finish. I’m not sure that the Cavaliers can count on more out of Love come the NBA Finals (he will get exposed on defense by whichever team comes out of the West), but they have to get more out of Irving to compete with the elite.

• Stephen Curry sure looked like the best player in the world.
Curry isn’t as good a defender as LeBron James, he can’t do everything LeBron can do on the court, and no doubt LeBron is more gifted. But for my money, the question is simply “Who impacts the game the most?” Right now, that’s Curry.

The Cavaliers need to find someone to slow Curry or, at least, make him work for his points, and that man is not Matthew Dellavedova. Cleveland had no answer for Draymond Green, either. If the Cavs don’t tighten up their defense and find answers for Green and Curry, the 2016 Finals may not last six games.

2) The Knicks need ‘Melo three, double overtime to beat Sixers in a game that was more entertaining than it should have been. For a while it looked like New York would be coasting to another win, up 18 in the third. But you can say this about the Sixers: However flawed, they play hard. The Knicks, on the other hand, with their comfortable lead reverted to the sloppy, lazy version of themselves that gets in trouble. The result was the Sixers stormed back, and New York needed a Carmelo three just to get to overtime.

It looked like the Knicks would win with just five extra minutes of work, but Robert Covington had other ideas, called bank on a three (not really) and forced a second OT. With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined with a sore foot (suffered in the fourth quarter, but not serious), the Knicks battled, got some strong play from Langston Galloway and Arron Afflalo when they needed it, and got the win. Barely. It was dramatic and entertaining, if not a game where the tape should be sent to the Hall of Fame. For the Knicks, it’s a win they need if they still harbor playoff dreams.

3) Kemba Walker goes off for 52 in Hornets’ double overtime win. It’s dangerous to attack the rim against Utah when Rudy Gobert is patrolling the paint, and that’s why only eight of Kemba Walker’s 34 shots came within eight feet of the rim Monday (and he only hit three of those). But his jumper was falling, and that is how he scored 52 and led the Hornets to a double-overtime win at home against Utah.

4) Even the Simpsons got in a dig at the Sixers this week. Sunday night in a new Simpsons episode from season 2,496 (or whatever they are up to), the Harvard-trained Simpsons writers got a dig at the struggles of the Philadelphia 76ers. Well played… except for the fact the Sixers have been better of late. They are 4-8 since bringing Ish Smith in to give them a respectable point guard, and Monday they even pushed the Knicks to double overtime before falling. Still, this is pretty funny.

5) J.J. Redick scores 40, drains nine threes to lead Clippers past Houston in overtime. The Clippers were up 15 with a little more than four minutes to go in this one, but the Rockets stormed back to force an extra five minutes of basketball. That was just more time for Redick to show off. The hot shooting guard had a career-high 40 points and hit nine threes on the night, including a couple in overtime that the Clippers needed to seal the win. As a team, the Clippers drained 22 threes, a team record and just one off the NBA record.

J.J. Redick’s career-high 40 help Clippers beat Rockets in OT

Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) reacts after making a 3-point shot during the overtime period of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. The Clippers won 140-132 in overtime. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — J.J. Redick was getting tired of the Los Angeles Clippers losing to the Houston Rockets, so he finally took matters into his own sharp-shooting hands – with plenty of help from Chris Paul, of course.

Redick scored a career-high 40 points and the Clippers made a franchise-record 22 3-pointers in a 140-132 overtime win against the Houston Rockets on Monday night.

The Rockets eliminated the Clippers from the playoffs last year, winning in seven games after trailing three games to one in the second round. They also won the first two meetings this season.

“I think I take most losses personally, not just to the Rockets,” Redick said. “But going back to last year, we had lost five in a row. C.P. and I talked earlier today just about how frustrating it’s been. They’re a team that thinks they’re better than us, and rightfully so given the results over the past season and a half. So it was important tonight for us to hit them first and be more aggressive from the start.”

Redick connected on his first five attempts behind the arc and finished 9 for 12 on 3-pointers, tying Caron Butler‘s club record for 3s and coming within three makes of the NBA single-game record shared by Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall.

“It was one of those games where neither team could get a stop, and there were several players that were the beneficiary of that – myself included,” Redick said.

Redick set a franchise single-season record for 3-pointers in 2014-15 with 200. He has 103 at the midway point of this season.

Paul had 28 points and 12 assists for the Clippers, whose season-best 10-game winning streak ended Saturday night with a 110-103 home loss to Sacramento. Paul, Redick and Jamal Crawford each made 3-pointers while the Clippers opened overtime on a 9-2 run.

Dwight Howard had 36 points and tied a career high with 26 rebounds en route to his 10th straight double-double, the league’s longest active streak, and his longest since a 14-game run three seasons ago. He secured it before halftime with 13 points and 15 boards.

Houston native DeAndre Jordan was back in the lineup for Los Angeles and had 16 points and 15 rebounds in 41 minutes for his ninth straight double-double. He missed two games with pneumonia that ended his consecutive game streak at 360.

Howard, a career 57.1 percent free-throw shooter coming in, delighted the sellout crowd by throwing up an air ball from the line in the second quarter, but he finished an uncharacteristic 14 for 18. James Harden, the league’s No. 2 scorer, had 20 points and Marcus Thornton had 23 points and five 3-pointers.

After Redick converted two free throws with 16.4 seconds left in regulation for a 118-114 lead, Marcus Thornton made a 3-pointer at the other end with 14.4 seconds remaining to make it a one-point game.

Redick made two more free throws, but Thornton came back with a 3-pointer with 7.4 seconds left to tie it. Paul missed a 3 at the buzzer.

“We knew we were going to find our rhythm. It was just about making it happen,” Harden said. “I think if we would have found it a little bit earlier, we would have been in a better situation. I’m just proud of our guys and the way they fought back. Marcus made some big shots.”

Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers sat all of his starters at the beginning of the fourth quarter with a 94-80 lead, and the Rockets sliced the margin to 102-96 with 7:13 to play. Thornton capped the rally with a 3-pointer, forcing Redick and Jordan to join Paul back on the floor.

“Our execution on the last couple of plays that let them have 3s was poor,” Rivers said. “But what I liked was that everyone was furious going into overtime. We got our composure back and played well.”


Rockets: Houston led the league in 3-point defense last year at 32.2 percent and was limiting opponents to 34.9 percent this season. The Clippers were 15 of 60 from behind the arc in two previous meetings with the Rockets this season. … The Rockets had won their previous 11 overtime games since losing at Golden State on Feb. 20, 2014. … Point guard Patrick Beverley was back in the starting lineup for Houston and played 16 scoreless minutes after missing a 112-95 victory Sunday night over the Lakers because of a sprained left ankle.

Clippers: Paul got a technical foul with 3:10 left in the second quarter after he was called for an offensive foul while attempting a 3-pointer that missed. The Clippers lead the league with 24 technicals, not counting defensive 3-second violations. … Jordan and Howard are among three players in NBA history to lead the league in rebounding average and field goal percentage in the same season. The other is Wilt Chamberlain.


Nowitzki, Williams lead Mavericks past Celtics 118-113 in OT

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DALLAS (AP) —  Dirk Nowitzki scored 31 points, Deron Williams had 10 of his 20 points in overtime and the Dallas Mavericks beat the Boston Celtics 118-113 on Monday night.

Dallas hit its first four 3-pointers to open overtime. The Mavericks rallied from a six-point fourth-quarter deficit after leading by 17 in the first half, and Nowitzki scored 14 points in the fourth and seven in overtime.

Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart led Boston with 20 points each and Avery Bradley added 19.

Jae Crowder, traded from Dallas to Boston last season, sent the game to overtime by hitting three free throws with 6.7 seconds left after being fouled by Raymond Felton.

The Mavericks have beaten the Celtics seven straight times, 11 of 12 and six straight at American Airlines Center.

The Celtics had a three-game winning streak snapped.

The Mavericks led 17-2 after 8 minutes, during which time the Celtics hit only 1 of 15 shots. Boston then sank 12 of 15 field goal attempts to pull within 40-31 with 7:16 to play in the half. The Mavericks’ 8-0 run put them ahead 52-39 at halftime.

The Mavericks led by 16 early in the third quarter only to have the Celtics outshoot them 55 percent to 29 percent during the period and take a 72-70 lead going into the final quarter.

Boston led 86-80 with 5:48 remaining before Dallas went on a 10-1 run to move ahead 90-87 with 2:47 left.


Celtics: They recalled forward Jordan Mickey from Maine of the Development League. Mickey will join the team for a home game Friday night against Chicago.

Mavericks: Nowitzki entered averaging 25.9 points in 32 previous games against Boston, his highest average against any NBA opponent.


Pistons lose cool, Bulls take advantage in 111-101 win

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Pau Gasol had 31 points and 12 rebounds, and the Chicago Bulls won again without Joakim Noah, 111-101 over the Detroit Pistons on Monday.

Noah dislocated his left shoulder Friday and likely will miss the rest of the season, but the Bulls have had success without him. They improved to 9-2 in 2015-16 when he doesn’t play.

Ersan Ilyasova had 19 points and 11 rebounds for Detroit, which was outplayed after taking a 13-point lead in the first quarter. The Pistons also lost their cool, getting called for three technical fouls in the third. Detroit guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope received two of them and was ejected.

Derrick Rose had 20 points and Jimmy Butler added 16 for Chicago.

The Pistons had plenty to feel good about coming into the game. They beat defending champion Golden State by 18 on Saturday night, and they had won their first two matchups this season with Chicago, including a four-overtime affair in December.

Detroit shot 68 percent in the first quarter Monday and led 32-26, but the Bulls rallied and led 56-53 at halftime.

Chicago scored the first six points of the third, and although the Pistons erased that deficit later in the period, they showed constant frustration with the officials. Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond received technicals, and then Caldwell-Pope got another in the final seconds of the quarter and was ejected.

Gasol put the Bulls up by 10 in the fourth with a 3-pointer as the shot clock ran down. Later, with the score 98-91, Gasol appeared trapped beyond the arc with the shot clock running out, but he was fouled by Drummond while attempting a desperation shot, and the Chicago center made all three free throws.

Drummond had 13 points and 16 rebounds for the Pistons.


Bulls: Chicago was outrebounded for the first time in 12 games, losing the battle of the boards 50-38.

Pistons: After that promising start, Detroit finished the game at only 44 percent from the field.


Paul George on playing in 2016 Olympics: “I’ll just listen to my body after this year”

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Paul George is one of the 30 players to make the list of finalists for the USA Basketball roster this summer for the 2016 Rio Olympics (right here on NBC).

In fact, he appears to have a real chance to make the roster. He was on the roster for the last World Championships — before his horrific injury in Las Vegas — and he’s back to playing at that level. He and Kawhi Leonard could both be key cogs on the wing as defensive stoppers who can also hit threes and get some buckets in transition (or in the post, depending on the matchup).

Does George want to go to Rio? Yes.

Will he? That’s another question, one he can’t answer until the season is over. Here is how he explained it Monday, via Candace Buckner of the Indy Star.

This is entirely reasonable, and it’s not out of line with what LeBron James and others have said. There is a desire to represent their country — not to mention push their brand out and pimp their shoes on a massive stage — but it means less rest for bodies that already go through a marathon each season. George is just this season getting back and adapting to playing a full season again; it’s the smart move to listen to his body when the Pacers are eliminated and then make his call.

That said, I expect he will choose a couple of weeks in Rio.