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.”

James Harden on double-stepback uncalled travel: ‘What do you want me to say? Tell on myself?’ (video)

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James Harden is difficult enough to defend when officiated correctly.

When he can get away with this? There’s nearly no stopping him. That was a big uncalled travel in the Rockets’ win over the Jazz last night.

Harden, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“What do you want me to say? Tell on myself?” Harden said.

Fair.

Unlike that call.

Three Things to Know: Rockets beat Jazz behind Harden’s 47, has Houston turned it around?

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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) Rockets beat Jazz behind James Harden’s 47, is Houston turning it around? It was a “battle” of the two most disappointing teams in the Western Conference — just about every pundit (myself included) projected the Rockets and Jazz to finish second and third in the West in some order. They came into the night 10th and 13th in the West — both out of the playoffs if they started today.

And both needed a win — in the tight Western Conference any game between playoff contenders counts double (and there seems to be a game or three like this every night now).

Houston got the win, 102-97, because MVP James Harden showed up and took over: 47 points, six rebounds, five assists, and five steals.

That’s the second time in four days Harden has been in vintage form, he dropped 50 on the Lakers and frustrated them just days before. Harden is the master and showing the ball and drawing fouls, and he has the best step-back in the game — although this one was more than a gather and step. Harden got away with one.

The Rockets have now won four in a row, are over .500 at 15-14 for the first time since Nov. 23rd. They are just half a game back of the final playoff slot in the West.

Have the Rockets turned it around?

Depends on how you define “turned it around.”

The Rockets offense has been elite and their defense average — which is a big step up, they are still fifth worst in the league on the season — in these four games. Harden has taken over two of them. That recipe, if it continues, should get Houston into the playoffs in the West. In that sense, they have turned it around, they are performing at the level of a playoff team, which is a step up.

But just making the playoffs was never the goal in Houston — this was a team that was ahead of Golden State at halftime of games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals last season and within a step of reaching the Finals (and winning a ring). This season they wanted to take that next step.

The Rockets aren’t at that level yet, and this roster — as currently constructed — cannot get there. Houston was a top-10 defense last season and this roster has not shown it can get near, let alone sustain, that level. Houston’s defensive switching isn’t as smooth as a season ago, and teams are attacking it differently (not just trying to post up Harden or Chris Paul). Houston doesn’t have the personnel on this roster to adapt and thrive against the way the NBA is adjusting, they are thin at the wings, and come the playoffs they are farther away from Golden State, not closer.

Which is why everyone expected them to go harder for a Trevor Ariza trade, not only do they miss him the Rockets need wing help and he’s the best one available. They didn’t. And here we are:

Houston is playing a lot better, but not at the level they had hoped. If you want to call that turning it around, go ahead.

2) Milestones night in Bay Area: Stephen Curry reaches 15,000 points, Kevin Durant passes Larry Bird on the all-time scoring list. For Stephen Curry, it appropriately happened on a deep pull-up three — he passed the 15,000 point mark in his career.

Curry is the fifth Warrior to score 15K all in a Warriors’ uniform, and the other names are all legends and Hall of Famers: Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Paul Arizin and Chris Mullin. Chamberlain scored the most as a Warrior at 17,783, a number Curry likely passes next season.

With all the attention paid to Curry — still the golden child for Bay Area fans — nobody seemed to notice Kevin Durant passed Hall of Famer Larry Bird for 33rd on the all-time scoring list during the same game. (Durant is 38th if you count ABA scoring in the mix, just for the record.) KD is going to finish way up that list by the time his career ends.

By the way, the Warriors cruised past the Grizzlies 110-93 in the kind of easy win Golden State hasn’t seen enough of this season.

3) Taj Gibson doesn’t need two shoes to play good defense. Credit Tom Thibodeau for coming up with a new way to play defense.

Taj Gibson had the ball in his hands and had gone at the Kings’ Nemanja Bjelica in the post, eventually scoring but losing his shoe. Gibson picked up his shoe and ran back down the court with it in his hands, but Sacramento pushed the ball back up the floor and decided to have Bjelica attack the one shoe/one sock Gibson.

Gibson was up to the challenge and got a little help from Karl-Anthony Towns.

Pretty sure that’s coming up in a Kings’ film session.

Report: Suns to waive Austin Rivers, who becomes unrestricted free agent

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The Phoenix Suns need a ball handling guard to go next to Devin Booker, so when they picked up Austin Rivers as part of the Trevor Ariza trade with Washington it made some sense. Rivers is a below replacement level NBA player (who has been serviceable the past couple of seasons), but that’s an upgrade over what the Suns had.

Except Rivers didn’t want to be part of the rebuild in Phoenix. In an unusual and unexpected move, the Suns have agreed to waive him, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

It’s an odd move on a few levels. Why didn’t Rivers want to stay in a place the ball would be in his hands more, giving himself a chance to build up his value before free agency next summer? Why didn’t the Suns first try to shop him around and offer to take on another team’s bad/dead contract if they got a pick or other asset? (Rivers can’t be packaged with another player in a trade but he can be moved straight up.)

Finally, how much demand is there among good teams for Rivers, even on a minimum contract?

Rivers, the son of Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers, is in his seventh NBA season. Rivers is averaging 7.2 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting this season.

It’s an odd move. Without Rivers Suns will keep leaning on rookie De'Anthony Melton as a potential future backcourt mate with Booker and hope he develops into something.

Bulls’ Kris Dunn shoves Russell Westbrook, scuffle breaks out (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook has a way of getting under an opponent’s skin.

Monday night it was the Bulls’ Kris Dunn‘s turn.

While moving over in position on the strong side, Westbrook and Dunn made contact, and after the whistle blew for a foul (with the ball handler), Westbrook made a grand gesture of pushing Dunn off him. Dunn responded with an outsized shove. And then it was on.

There’s more stuff to break down here than the Zapruder film.

• Jeremi Grant of the Thunder came in and tried to go at Dunn a little, in front of Westbrook (protect the star).

Bobby Portis tried to slide Grant out of the way, but…

Robin Lopez came in and went at Grant getting in his face, so Grant basically throws Lopez into the first row.

• Which just made Lopez even madder, leading to a meme-worthy angry face.

• Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen gets Grant in a headlock and pulls him out of the situation.

Steven Adams calmly makes sure Portis is out of the picture, then walks back over to Lopez and then Adams and Lopez get separated.

• In the end, the officials handed out for technicals: Westbrook, Dunn, Grant, and Lopez.

A few minutes later, Lopez blocked a Grant shot, decided to taunt him, and that got Lopez a second technical and he was tossed (Lopez is a veteran, he has to know the officials are going to call everything tight at that point). Watch Adams pat Lopez on the back as the Bulls’ big man makes the walk to the locker room.