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Rockets’ defend well, end Spurs’ 7-game streak with 88-84 win

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HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets had their best defensive performance of the season in a victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

The key is keeping it up.

James Harden had 20 points and the Rockets slowed down the soaring Spurs with an 88-84 victory. The improved Houston defense held San Antonio to a season low in points and snapped the Spurs’ season-best seven-game winning streak.

This, Harden said, is how they should play defense all the time.

“We’re more than capable,” he said. “So we have to find ourselves. We’ve got to find that energy, that consistent defensive togetherness every single night.”

Houston used an 8-2 run to take a 78-71 lead with about 5 minutes left. Tim Duncan made a hook shot after that, but Harden hit a 3-pointer. A layup by Duncan came next before Harden brought the crowd to its feet with an off-balance 3-pointer from the corner that made it 84-75.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich thought those two 3-pointers were the key to the game.

“One of them we weren’t up the way we should have been on a switch and he got a free one,” Popovich said. “The next one, he was deep and (Duncan) was all over him and he made a great shot. Those two 3s really changed it.”

The Spurs resorted to the Hack-A-Howard tactic soon after that, intentionally fouling Dwight Howard on two straight possessions. He missed all four free throws, and a basket by LaMarcus Aldridge got the Spurs to 86-81.

Kawhi Leonard made a 3-pointer after two free throws by Houston to allow San Antonio to cut the lead to four, but he missed a shot a few seconds later and Houston held on for the victory.

Leonard had 20 points to lead San Antonio. The Spurs struggled on long-range shooting, making just 5 of 19 3-pointers.

It was the first time the Rockets have hosted a game on Christmas since they moved to Houston. The last time the franchise hosted a Christmas game was in 1967 when the team was in San Diego.

The Rockets led by one after three and scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter, powered by five points from Jason Terry, to make it 70-60 with about 10 minutes remaining.

San Antonio got its first points of the quarter soon after that on a 3-pointer by David West to start a 9-0 run that cut it to 70-69. Leonard highlighted that run with a running two-handed dunk.

A layup by Aldridge pushed San Antonio’s lead to seven points early in the third quarter before Houston used a 13-4 run to take a 51-49 lead with about seven minutes left in the quarter. Pat Beverley got that spurt going with a 3-pointer and Harden made the next six points in that span.

The Spurs had turnovers on four straight possessions near the end of Houston’s run.

A jump shot by Boris Diaw got San Antonio to 59-58 with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the quarter. After that both teams struggled to score and missed their next seven shots combined.

It was Diaw who finally ended the drought when he made a layup with less than a minute remaining. Ty Lawson made Houston’s first field goal in almost 4 minutes after that to leave the Rockets up 61-60 entering the fourth quarter.

San Antonio scored the last seven points of the second quarter to take a 43-38 lead at halftime.

TIP-INS

Spurs: Aldridge added 18 points and rebounds. … Duncan had 12 points and 11 rebounds. … Leonard made just 8 of 19 shots, and Aldridge was 9 of 17.

Rockets: Howard had 11 points and 12 rebounds for his third double-double in the past five games. … The Rockets have won 18 straight games when holding an opponent to less than 90 points. … Houston’s bench outscored San Antonio’s 41-26.

QUOTABLE

Duncan on San Antonio’s struggles: “There were just too many mistakes down the stretch. A little bit of a sloppy game, we couldn’t get our rhythm and credit them for that. Defensively they were solid.”

 

Tacko Fall reportedly earns two-way contract with Celtics

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Internet goobers can now rejoice, Tacko Fall will be joining Boston Celtics on a two-way contract this season.

The 7-foot-6 Fall, who played college ball at USF, has quickly become an internet darling based on his sheer size. His lanky frame and ability to shoot the 3-pointer hasn’t hurt Fall’s reputation as a fan favorite, either.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Fall will be signed to a two-way contract but is expected to spend most of his time in the NBA G-League.

Via Twitter:

Who knows if Fall will spend how much time with the Celtics this season. It’s not clear whether he’s actually ready for an NBA role just yet, particularly for a team in Boston that is looking to take over the Eastern Conference in the absence of Kawhi Leonard with the Toronto Raptors.

The Celtics are looking to make an NBA Finals run in 2020, and PFallaul will be an unlikely candidate to play a factor in that goal. Still, it’s a fun story and great to see a fan-favorite make it through and earn a contract.

Jayson Tatum doesn’t think Kobe Bryant taught him any bad habits

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There have been a lot of jokes about how Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum worked with Kobe Bryant two summers ago, and how that may have affected his performance in 2018-19. Tatum increased his shooting in segments between three and 16 feet by a combined 8% last season over his rookie year. Those midrange shots were largely attributed to Bryant’s influence by the social media sphere.

This regression went so far that Tim Bontemps recently wrote a story at ESPN about trying to de-Kobe-ify Tatum this year in Boston. But Tatum has heard those rumors, and he doesn’t believe that Bryant gave him any bad habits. To that end, Tatum said he’s still going to shoot the midrange jumper and he’s not putting Kobe at fault for his lack of progression last year.

Tatum’s comments were… well, just read them below.

Via MassLive:

“I’m still going to shoot the mid-range,” Tatum said after the Boston Celtics blowout of the Orlando Magic. “I seen all the people talking about the de-Kobe-ing. No, Kobe didn’t teach me anything bad. Everything we talked about and he showed me was great.”

“Last year, the jump that I didn’t make that everybody expected was not his fault,” Tatum said. “He’s one of the greatest ever. Everything he taught me was — I’m very grateful and it helped me. I gotta take responsibility for how I played last year and not being that big a jump that people thought. I’m still going to shoot mid-range.”

“I got better last year. Just not what people expected, not what I expected, and I take full responsibility,” Tatum said. “That’s why I’m excited for this year. But Kobe didn’t teach me any bad habits. I didn’t say that.”

Tatum’s problem wasn’t just his shot distribution, it was his shot selection. Not only did he shoot more buckets from three to 16 feet, but Tatum performed significantly worse from 16 feet out to the 3-point line, where he dipped by seven percentage points. He also saw a six percent drop in his 3-point shooting.

Combined with his shot distribution, Tatum’s percentages dropping in key areas made him a much less effective offensive player. Then again, if you watched any of the Celtics the last year — or paid attention to Boston pans online — you would know that they were fed up with some of the forced, Kobe-ish buckets Tatum would take at inopportune moments.

Even if Tatum ends up being a very good midrange shooter, that would cap his potential at DeMar DeRozan. That’s not what Danny Ainge and Boston are looking for, so perhaps someone can talk some sense into Tatum before it’s too late.

Leave it up to a former Laker to ruin the Celtics from within.

Spencer Dinwiddie announces date for investment in his contract

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Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie wanted to create a security out of his next NBA contract. The NBA said no. But then reports surfaced that Dinwiddie was going ahead with the plan anyway. Now it appears that Dinwiddie has made that public, and he is proceeding with his plan to create a digital token and give fans an opportunity to invest in his contract.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, Dinwiddie outlined that he would go ahead and use his next contract as planned. Specifically, folks will be able to invest in Dinwiddie’s guaranteed money, giving him cash up front in exchange for a return of their principal plus interest at a later date.

For his part, Dinwiddie said that the plan is legal and does not violate the CBA.

Via Twitter:

In his tweet thread, Dinwiddie also said that the transaction is between himself and fans, and that the NBA does not have any control over a third-party transaction in this fashion.

This could be a very interesting back-and-forth between the Brooklyn star and the league. If he’s ready to go ahead with his plan, it’ll force the NBA to respond.

Jaylen Brown finally hires agent to deal with Celtics extension negotiations

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We’ve been hearing for some time that the chances Jaylen Brown in the Boston Celtics reach an extension is “pretty slim” as we get closer to the regular season. Brown has been operating up until now without an agent, speaking with Celtics management directly.

But according to a new report from the Boston Globe, Brown has now hired an agent to handle the back-and-forth between him and the team. That’s probably a smart move, particularly as he has other things to focus on with the Celtics looking to take over the Eastern Conference.

Via Boston Globe:

Forward Jaylen Brown told the Globe Thursday that he has hired agent Jason Glushon to take the lead on contract-extension negotiations with the Celtics.

“It’s just what’s best for me,” Brown said. “I don’t really want to talk about it. I think [talking] is a distraction. But I made my decision and I move on.”

Glushon also represents former Celtics big man Al Horford, who agreed to a four-year, $109 million deal with the 76ers last summer.

The Celtics are an interesting team in that they don’t really offer the extensions to players coming off of their rookie scales. You would think that would change given a core that Danny Ainge has built in Boston, one that he should want to keep around. But Ainge can be a bit of a wildcard, and doesn’t feel the need to hold onto players unnecessarily if it’s not toward his ultimate goal.

It seems like nobody can agree on what Brown’s reasonable asking price is, but you know how these things play out — the player wants more, and the team wants to get him cheap. This season could be a big one for Brown, both as he proves his worth for extension and as he tries to solidify his place in Boston’s plans.