LOS ANGELES — 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) Celtics easily handle Cavaliers at home… just don’t read too much into it. A team can have an impressive win in early January. Certainly a confidence-boosting one.
However, there are no statement games in early January. Certainly not against a team stacked with guys who have rings and have been to multiple Finals, who know the roller coaster of the NBA season. In the same way that Cleveland’s opening night win against Boston was no statement, neither was Boston’s easy handling of the Cavaliers on Wednesday night, 102-88.
Give Boston credit — they made plays. Terry Rozier had 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting off the bench, and Marcus Smart was draining threes on his way to 15 points. Jayson Tatum added 15. Boston’s defense did well to hold the Cavaliers to less than a point per possession in the game, although that was aided by some poor shooting from the Cavs (8-of-32 from three, due to tired legs on the second night of a back-to-back).
The best part of this game was Celtics fans giving Isaiah Thomas a standing ovation upon his return (he did not play as the Cavaliers try to ease him back into the rotation).
This was a game where Cleveland felt vulnerable. Again. The Cavs looked formidable (and played good defense) when they won 18-of-19 at one point, but outside that stretch they have been 7-12 and played poor defense. It’s why teams — not just Boston, but also Toronto, Washington, Milwaukee — think these Cavaliers could be beaten. The warning is that Cleveland has had these mid-season slumps every year, and has gone on to win the East every year since LeBron returned. Still, the Cavaliers don’t have that same sense of inevitability, of invincibility, that they’ve had in seasons past.
That’s what will make the trade deadline interesting — will Washington or Milwaukee make a big play to get better and put themselves in the conversation? Will Toronto? Or, will Cleveland do something to solidify their spot at the top of the East and give them a better shot against Golden State (or whoever comes out of the West)? The next month or so until the NBA trade deadline is going to have a lot of twists and turns.
2) Steph gonna Steph: Curry drains game-winner. In his first game back from missing time with a sprained ankle, Stephen Curry dropped 10 threes (and 38 points). In his second game back from that sprained ankle, he had 32 points and did this:
Curry was playing at the level of garnering end-of-the-ballot MVP votes before his injury, and he has come back without missing a beat. Golden State was 27th in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage in the 11 games Curry was out, not having him there messed with the team’s spacing and style, but with him back the Warriors look like themselves again.
Dallas had won four in a row before this loss and has played fantastically of late… but I still have to ask: Why was Dirk Nowitzki so far back on Curry’s game-winning pick-and-roll? This play was not some never-before-seen bit of wizardry, the Warriors run picks 35 feet from the basket all the time because Curry is such a shooting threat, but once Curry came off the Draymond Green screen Nowitzki was back near the top of the key and Curry got a perfectly clean look moving toward the basket.
Curry’s brilliance overshadowed a game-winner from Spencer Dinwiddie to lift the Nets past the Timberwolves.
3) Wednesday will be known as the Terrance Ferguson game. “It looked like an ocean. Like throwing a pebble in the ocean.”
That’s how rookie Terrance Ferguson — who five days before was down in the G-League so he could get a little run, then got the start Wednesday with Andre Roberson out — described his second half against the Lakers where he had 24 points. Ferguson was 2-of-16 from three all season entering this game, then was 6-of-8 from three in the second half Wednesday. He shot 9-of-11 overall in the half.
Oh, and he had these dunks.
“You’re in Staples Center, world-famous place. You’ve gotta do something amazing,” Ferguson said.
If you don’t remember Ferguson from college coming into the NBA, that’s because despite offers from Kansas, North Carolina, and Arizona (among others), he decided to get paid to play overseas in Australia. That’s not for everyone, but it worked for Ferguson — he played for a year against men, learned how to be a professional, and while he probably slid down the draft board because of it (the Thunder got him at No. 21) it helped prepare him for life in the NBA.
“There’s nothing like that,” Anthony said. “There’s no better feeling than that. Knowing how much hard work those guys put in, knowing how hard it is to get minutes in this league.”
George said he and Anthony may have been more excited than Ferguson at the end of the game. It was PG13 who paid the rookie the best compliment of the night.
“The kid is really good, and he reminds me of myself a lot early on in the league, just a sponge trying to take everything in,” George said. “He’s special. He’s a special weapon and a special talent.”