If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while trying to get that damn Narwhals song out of your head…
1) Kyrie Irving was in video game mode. Or he was Neo in the Matrix. Or whatever other internet exclamation of the superhuman you want to go with. Irving set a career high — and scored more than any player has in a game this season — when he dropped 57 on the Spurs. It’s hard to use words and stats to do him justice Thursday. For example, according to the NBA’s player tracking stats the Spurs contested 30 of Irving’s 32 shots, but he still hit 19 of them. He had 35 of his points in the second half, drained two threes (he was 7-of-7 from deep) with the game on the line, then scored 11 in OT to secure the Cavs 128-125 win. The Spurs were the better team on this night — they shared the ball, took advantage of mismatches, defended smartly — and in the end got another loss because Kyrie was not to be stopped.
2) Washington does not care how many Grizzlies were resting, they will take the win. In baseball, when a batter is in a slump, he’ll take any kind of hit to snap out of it — broken bat blooper that falls in, seeing eye grounder, whatever it takes to get on base. That’s where the Wizards have been, so the fact that Memphis was on a back-to-back and decided to rest Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph doesn’t change anything for the Wizards. Marcin Gortat feasted inside with them out scoring 22; John Wall scored 21, and the Wizards picked up the win. That’s three of four and two in a row for Wizards, who maybe are finding their footing again.
3) Utah is 9-2 since the All-Star break and has found an identity. The Rockets found out Thursday what more and more teams are discovering — the Jazz are starting to figure it out. And they have become a tough out. The Jazz are a defensive team: Since the All-Star break they are 9-2 allowing 90.6 points per 100 possessions, the best number in the NBA in that time (five of those 9 wins come against teams above .500). Rudy Gobert was doing his thing again Thursday — 22 rebounds, four blocks, altering many other shots — but what was different against the Rockets was the 19 points. He’s been an offensive liability, if that changes watch out. He only took 11 shots but played within himself — all his shots were at the rim. Just ask Terrence Jones.
Gordon Hayward was finding space to knock down three balls and get moving toward the rim, on his way to 29. Granted, Houston was on the second night of a brutal back-to-back (they lost to Portland Wednesday then had to fly overnight and play at altitude in Salt Lake the next day) but still, Utah is taking advantage of that now.
Kyrie Irving drops 57 on Spurs, including threes to force OT (VIDEO)
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.”