Suns come back from 26 points down to beat Cavaliers

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PHOENIX — It was a brutal start for the Suns on Friday, against a young and aggressive Cavaliers team that was ready to take it to them from the moment the ball was tipped. But that just made the finish that much sweeter.

Phoenix trailed by as many as 26 points in the first half, only to make it all the way back to a thrilling 107-105 victory, one that was the largest comeback win at home in franchise history.

“I don’t know if we just thought they were going to stop playing or what, but they just kept playing hard,” Cavs head coach Byron Scott said afterward.  “We just never reacted after the first quarter to them trying to get back into the game and being a little bit more aggressive and more physical.”

The Suns opened the game by giving up 10 straight points, then found themselves down 18-2, then trailed by 21 points at the end of the first quarter. Cleveland seemed to be unstoppable early, getting 37 points in that opening period on better than 63 percent shooting. Most of the points seemed to come on slashing drives to the basket, with the speedy backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters carving up the Suns defense.

“It’s hard, those guys are really talented and Irving’s one of the best point guards in the league,” Goran Dragic said afterward. “It’s tough when you’re getting screened two or three times in one possession and you try to fight over the screens, but you get tired. At the same time, they’re really fast so if you’re not cautious they’re going to penetrate and kill you. Our plan on those guys was to blitz them on pick and rolls and then force them to try to make plays.”

Phoenix chipped away at the deficit to get it to a more reasonable 13-point margin by halftime, and then came out with a different mindset in the second half. Michael Beasley struggled through a rough 4-of-14 shooting night, but opened the third period with a couple of nice assits and got loose for a breakaway dunk which cut the lead to single digits.

Shannon Brown was big off the bench for the second straight game, scoring 22 points in 26 minutes. He and Dragic were the ones doing the damage offensively, while Marcin Gortat continued his stellar early-season rim protection with five blocked shots, to add to the seven he had the previous game. Just don’t ask him to explain the reason for his success.

“I don’t know, I’m just blocking,” Gortat said. “I guess I’m invisible and they don’t respect me, so I’m going to disrespect them then.”

Two of those blocks were game-savers, coming with under a minute to play.

Phoenix took its first lead of the game at 87-85, before Waiters went off for 10 consecutive Cavaliers points to keep his team in it while Irving got some much-needed rest. The point guard appeared gassed in the third quarter, but Scott was forced to bring him back earlier than he wanted due to the Suns beginning to take control.

Even after the comeback, however, Phoenix found itself down seven again with just over four minutes left. Considering the effort they had to expend to come back, that might have been it. But they wanted this one, and fought to take it.

The Cavs had a final chance, trailing by two with the ball with 2.9 seconds remaining. Irving got off a contested three-pointer from the top of the arc, but with Dragic closely defending, it rimmed off as time expired.

This was beyond a huge win for Phoenix; despite the early gigantic deficit, the final result got the team back to .500, and perhaps made up for the opportunity that was lost in Orlando earlier this week when the Suns were on the wrong end of the home team’s comeback effort.

Shannon Brown said that the team was told at halftime to keep believing and keep fighting, and clearly, the message was carried to the court.

“We didn’t want to lose, we knew our mistakes we were making, and we just had to correct them,” he said. “Good thing we had enough energy to withstand a couple of runs in that whole second half, fighting our way back.”

Marcus Smart shoves down Joel Embiid from behind, gets ejected (video)

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Marcus Smart recently bemoaned the lack of physicality in the NBA.

After Joel Embiid dropped his shoulder into him on a screen, Smart brought some to tonight’s Celtics-76ers game.

Smart shoved Embiid in the back, sending the center to the floor. A cheap shot? Yes. Embiid wasn’t looking. But Smart would surely argue Embiid started it. I also doubt Smart intended to push Embiid from behind. Smart just wanted to get at Embiid as quickly as possible, and Embiid happened to be facing the other way when Smart arrived.

Smart got a flagrant 2 and the accompanying ejection. Embiid received a technical foul.

Before James Harden, how many players scored 30 points against every other team in a season?

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James Harden became the first player in NBA history to score 30 points against all 29 opponents in a season.

But the NBA has had 30 teams for just 15 of its 73 seasons.

Obviously, the larger league makes Harden’s feat more impressive. He had to score 30 against more teams. The Rockets also play most opponents, those in the Eastern Conference, only twice. In previous eras, players had more cracks at scoring 30 against fewer teams.

Still, anyone to score 30 points against every opponent has a certain immunity to bad matchups. It’s special.

How many players have done it?

We must start with Wilt Chamberlain, who scored 30 points against all nine teams in the 1964-65 NBA. He began the season with the San Francisco Warriors and, with them, scored 30 against the 76ers. Then, he got traded to Philadelphia and scored 30 on the Warriors. He also dropped 30 on every other team.

Including that season, there have been 85 times a player scored 30 points in a game against every opponent in a season.

Only Harden, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird have done it since the NBA-ABA merger. Jordan (1986-87) and Bird (1984-85) did it against 22 teams.

Everyone else did it against 17 or fewer teams.

Here’s everyone to score 30 in a game against every opponent in a season with the player’s highest-scoring game against each team listed, starting with Chamberlain doing it against every team then following in chronological order:

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Bucks avoid luxury-tax exposure as Pelicans reportedly claim Christian Wood off waivers

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The Bucks’ mission: Win enough to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo long-term.

This summer will present an inflection point. Three Milwaukee starters – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon – will be free agents, and the luxury tax looms. (The Bucks recently signed Eric Bledsoe to an extension, providing some cost-certainty.)

Will Milwaukee pay the luxury tax to keep this team intact? If so, how much tax and for how long? It’s a long way off, but the Bucks ought to start considering the possibility of the repeater tax down the road.

That’s why it was so risky for Milwaukee to waive Christian Wood and sign Tim Frazier. That put the Bucks in jeopardy of paying the luxury tax this season if they won the championship (triggering bonuses in Tony Snell‘s contract) and Wood went unclaimed. Obviously, Milwaukee would probably gladly pay the tax, miss out on payments to non-tax teams and start the repeater clock to win a title this year. But it’s still better to win without those downsides.

Thankfully for the Bucks, they’re off the hook.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

https://twitter.com/ShamsCharania/status/1108474930688155650

This is a nice pickup by the Pelicans. The 23-year-old Wood has looked good in limited NBA minutes and in the NBA’s minor league. His 2019-20 minimum salary is unguaranteed until that regular season begins. So, this is a low-risk addition with solid upside.

Maybe Milwaukee could use Wood in the frontcourt right now. Nikola Mirotic just suffered an injury that will sideline him a few weeks, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is out for tonight’s game against the Cavaliers with an ankle injury.

It’s unclear how quickly Wood will report to New Orleans, but he could step into the lineup if Anthony Davis misses more time.

No timetable for CJ McCollum to return from unusual knee injury

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Nobody really knows what to expect.

Including the guy whose knee has become the focus of attention in Portland.

It looked like it could be much worse when it happened Saturday in San Antonio. CJ McCollum drove the lane, there was some contact with Jakob Poeltl but nothing that drew a foul, yet when McCollum landed he went to the ground, instantly grabbed his knee and just laid there, curled up behind the baseline.

McCollum “just” suffered a strained popliteus, the muscle in the back of his left knee. “Just” as in there were no torn ligaments, but that’s a muscle McCollum said he needed to research when he got the news.

“I think it’s definitely a different type of injury because I’ve never really seen it before, besides Kevin Garnett years ago…” McCollum said. “I had to do some research on it.”

What that research showed is back in 2009 Kevin Garnett missed 13 games and basically the playoffs because of this injury. That same timeline would have McCollum back right around the start of the playoffs.

But there is no timeline for McCollum. Mostly because nobody knows exactly what to expect.

“I feel alright…” McCollum told NBC Sports. “The timeline now is just to continue to evaluate after a week, to take it a week at a time, a day at a time and see where I’m at.

“I think because there’s not a lot of information and research on it, this is just kind of a case-by-case basis based on the player, on where he is in his career, and how fast they can recover and heal. That’s how we’re approaching it, just doing what the trainers tell me to do, adding some different nutrients, different things in the weight room, just trying to speed the healing process.”

McCollum admitted it was nerve-racking when the injury happened and he had to wait a day for the diagnosis.

“Any time you have an injury around the knee, those types of areas, you have concern, you don’t know for sure what it is, you need an MRI to tell you what is happening, what’s going on in the knee,” McCollum said. “It was definitely a scary time, just because there is so much uncertainty. Essentially another day where you don’t really know what’s going on, then you have to sit with the MRI for an hour and basically wait to tell them your fate.”

While recovering, McCollum is busy promoting his new partnership with Old Spice. Particularly, he likes the Fresher Collection, which uses natural ingredients in a body wash, shampoo, deodorant, and more to help guys smell better.

“They’ve released their Fresher Collection with real ingredients that are a real benefit, like moisturizing with Shea butter and relaxing with lavender,” McCollum said. “Might as well be fresh when I’m not able to play.”

Make no mistake, McCollum wants to play.

The hope (and maybe expectation) is he will be ready for the playoffs, starting in the middle of April. McCollum said he believes this Portland roster is poised to make some postseason noise.

“We need to execute, we need to execute down the stretch,” McCollum said. “In the playoffs, it becomes a half court game. You’ve got to be able to get stops, you’ve got to be able to score in a slower paced game, and I think we’re built for that.

McCollum pointed to players such as the improved Jusuf Nurkic, plus Enes Kanter, Seth Curry, and Jake Layman as versatile players who can help them win in the postseason. McCollum said this roster is better poised for the playoffs.

“We have some depth, we have some key guys at certain positions who can help us compete against a lot of different teams that play different ways,” McCollum said.

But to do that, Portland needs McCollum back. He averaged 21.3 points per game this season, but what he brings in terms of shooting and ability to drive opens up much more for all his teammates. McCollum is part of the backcourt, along with Damian Lillard, that fuels everything Portland does.

Which means he needs to get his knee healthy. However long it takes.