Associated Press

Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Kyrie Irving, Brandon Jennings look like old selves

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If you were watching Kansas beat Oklahoma in triple-overtime, we forgive you. It certainly was dramatic. But here’s what you missed around the Association Monday night.

1) Kyrie Irving looks like dominant self again, drops 25 on Toronto. At the end of the third quarter, LeBron James took control of the game, scoring nine points in a little over three minutes to put Cleveland up by double digits. It’s what he does.

Then Irving blew the game wide open. With LeBron on the bench during part of the fourth, Irving scored nine straight points. This was not the somewhat tentative, getting used to his trusting his knee again Kyrie Irving, but the full speed ahead, wicked handles, can make plays wherever he wants Kyrie Irving. He was stroking threes with confidence; he was blowing past his defender and getting into the lane at will then finishing over bigs. It was fun to watch. Kyrie Irving is back, and that should worry the rest of the NBA.

2) Brandon Jennings has turned Detroit’s bench around. The Pistons have developed a fairly predictable game plan: Have the starters build a lead and hope the reserves don’t blow it.

Brandon Jennings turned it on its head in Detroit’s 115-89 win over the Magic last night.

Recently returned from a torn Achilles, Jennings scored 17 points and dished six assists while the Pistons outscored Orlando by 25 points in his 18 minutes.

Detroit also outscored the Magic by five points with Reggie Jackson on the floor, the first time both Jackson and his primary backup (whether it was Jennings, Steve Blake or Spencer Dinwiddie) were each +5 or better in the same game. In fact, it’s just the fifth time all season both Jackson and his backup had positive plus-minuses at all in the same game.

Jennings breathed life into a listless reserve unit even beyond his scoring. His six assists created four 3-pointers, a dunk and a layup. Jennings drew so much attention, three of his four misses were offensively rebounded.

“When you’re out there with me, just run,” Jennings said. “I’m going to get it to you.”
Nobody — not even Jennings — reasonably expected him to look this good this soon. Four games into his return from such a serious injury, there will still be ups and downs.
But if this is a sign of the peaks to come, the Pistons should be dangerous in the Sub-Cavaliers portion of the Eastern Conference.
—Dan Feldman

3) Draymond Green records third straight triple-double in Warriors win. Draymond Green will be an All-Star this season, the coaches will vote him in as a reserve. Right now, every team is looking for their Draymond Green. The versatile big man is at the heart of Golden State’s success, and the triple-doubles are a reminder why — he can put up points, set up teammates, and he just outworks everyone. Against Charlotte Monday Green had 13 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists, helping lead Golden State to a 111-101 victory. That’s 32-2, for those of you keeping track of such things.

4) Dwyane Wade‘s driving layup forced overtime, where Heat eventually gets the win. Miami had been down 18 points in the third quarter to Indiana, but Wade’s 13 points in the third quarter started to turn things around. It can be frustrating at the end of games when Miami devolves into running Wade hero-ball sets rather than plays, because when they run ones like the inbounds that allows Miami to tie the game, it’s pretty. With just 2.7 seconds left Paul George wanted to be aggressive and deny Wade the ball, but he fell behind and was trailing Wade coming off a Chris Bosh screen and when Wade turned toward the rim nobody between him and the rim. Straight line drive, and the defensive rotation couldn’t stop him. The Heat went on to win 103-100.

5) DeMarcus Cousins scores 33, grabs 19 boards, Kings win first game in Oklahoma City. The Sacramento Kings were 0-14 in Oklahoma City going into Monday night. It helped that OKC was without Kevin Durant, but it helped more that DeMarcus Cousins was in beast mode. Remember Cousins was getting ejected and not playing great ball last week, but he brought it Monday. The points were nice, but the Thunder are one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA and Cousins owned the glass. Steven Adams couldn’t slow Cousins without fouling him, and no other OKC big could even do that much. It was an impressive night for Cousins.

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.