Three Things We Learned Tuesday: Draymond Green’s defense saves Warriors from loss to Sixers

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Just so it’s out there for the record, my Final Four picks are Villanova, Louisville, West Virginia and North Carolina, with the Tar Heels winning it all. Also, know that I suck at picking the NCAA Tournament, so you have the same picks you may want to rethink them. Now, on to the NBA news of the night.

1) Draymond Green’s Defensive Player of the Year mixtape game gets Warriors two-point win over Sixers. The Golden State Warriors are still not right. They were down 12 points to the Philadelphia 76ers entering the fourth quarter Tuesday night and needed 12 points in the final frame and some stellar defense from Draymond Green to pull out the win.

Actually, it’s far more simple than that: Stephen Curry is still not right. With Kevin Durant out the Warriors need the old MVP-level Curry to lead them, yet in his last seven games, he has hit 23-of-78 from three, which is 29.5 percent. Overall he is shooting 40.8 percent. He’s averaged six assists but four turnovers in those games. For three quarters on Tuesday night he was missing open jumpers and simply was not effective as the guy running the offense. He was much better in the fourth (3-of-5 from three), but after this sustained run of struggles, it will take more than one quarter to say he has turned the corner.

Draymond Green saved the Warriors. Green has been vocal about his desire to win the DPOY, and this game is the tape he wants voters to watch. More than stats, his defense turned this game around. That said, he had stats: six blocks and four steals. His pick-and-roll defense was superb, and he was making heads-up plays all night. The final play was a perfect example: The Warriors were up three and the Sixers were inbounding the ball, but Matt Barnes stole it and had a breakaway to seal the game — and missed the dunk. The Sixers raced downcourt to tie the game with a three, but Green wisely fouled Dario Saric before he could shoot, sending him to the line for two free throws, and that saved the day. Green also had 20 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists on the night.

The Warriors get the also struggling Orlando Magic on Thursday — the schedule is doing them favors. But the Warriors need the old Curry back if they are going to hold off San Antonio for the top seed in the West.

2) Russell Westbrook gets triple-double number 33, Nets fans cheer him like the game was in OKC. Two minutes into the game in Brooklyn Tuesday night, Nets fans were raining down MVP chants on Westbrook.

Nets fans are starved for good basketball, and Westbrook is the best show in the league right now. He didn’t disappoint, Westbrook had 25 points, 19 assists, and 12 rebounds — he’s had far more gaudy stat lines recently, but he was the best player on the floor by a healthy margin and his dominance controlled the game. The Thunder got a comfortable 122-104 win on the road.



3) LeBron James would like to remind you he is also very good at this basketball thing, gets his own triple-double.

LeBron James remains the best basketball player walking the face of the earth. There is a what is essentially a four-person race for MVP this season: Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron. Somehow, LeBron will likely finish fourth (if Durant had not gotten injured, it might well have been fifth). We have come to take LeBron’s greatness for granted.

Of late the Cavaliers have gone as LeBron has gone, and Tuesday night he had 16 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds in leading the Cavs to a comfortable 128-96 thrashing of the Pistons.

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.