Watch James Harden, Rockets drop 90 on Suns — in first half

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This game had all the drama of The Last Airbender. Which is to say none. It was essentially over when the Rockets went on a 21-6 first-quarter run — unlike Boston in the earlier Thursday game, Phoenix isn’t built to come back against elite teams.

When the 15-1 Rockets run came at the end of the first quarter, it was clear Houston could do what it wanted on offense, and by half the Rockets put up 90 points. The Rockets were putting on a show (and eventually won 142-116).

James Harden had 33 points on 12 shots in the first half (he finished with 48 points for the night). Ryan Anderson hit four threes on his way to 18 before the break. Eric Gordon had 10. As a team, Houston shot 62.2 percent, and 60 percent from three in the first half. They got to the line 25 times. I could go on, but you get the picture.

If you want more highlights, here is Harden’s 48 for the night. Enjoy.

 

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.

 

Rockets GM Daryl Morey: Clint Capela ‘couldn’t price himself out’ of Houston

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Clint Capela is a Most Improved Player candidate.

The Rockets center has advanced his defensive awareness, and he’s crashing the glass harder and showing more touch inside. Importantly, he has also improved his conditioning so he can handle more playing time.

He’s in line to get paid in restricted free agency next summer after Houston didn’t sign him to a rookie-scale contract extension.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We’ll have him here as long as he’ll have us,” Morey said. “He couldn’t price himself out.”

“The only way [to overcome the Warriors] is to develop near-elite two-way players,” Morey said. “I think Clint has that potential. He’s on the way. He took a big step forward last year. It’s a lot to put on one guy, but we need one more step, at least.”

Did Morey run that by Tilman Fertitta? The new Rockets owner has said he’ll pay the luxury tax only to reach the Finals, and that’s a high bar to clear with Golden State around.

Houston already has nearly $76 million in 2018-19 and more than $85 million in 2019-20 committed to just five players (James Harden, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Nene). Three starters – Capela, Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza – will be free agents next summer.

Maybe Morey is just trying to scare off other Capela suitors. It’ll already be a tight market, and centers have been especially squeezed. It might not take much to convince other teams to look elsewhere, allowing Houston to re-sign Capela at a discount.

Paul is probably the priority. If Houston is as invested in Capela as Morey indicates, that could leave Ariza as the odd man out.

Or the Rockets could make the Finals or at least convince Fertitta it’s likely next season, and he could greenlight enough spending to keep this core together.

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.