Celtics beat LeBron James in Game 2 by allowing The King a triple-double

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After Game 1 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, the question was whether the team-first strategy of the Celtics could withstand the LeBron onslaught.

Now, we have our answer.

In Game 2 on Tuesday night, Boston showed they were the stronger team yet again by following a strict gameplan: switch on LeBron and do the best you can, then rotate out on Cleveland’s shooters to neutralize the rest of the Cavaliers roster. Brad Stevens even said as much during an interview during the broadcast, so it wasn’t a surprise when that appeared to be Boston’s approach.

It worked like a charm.

LeBron was magnificent in the first half, scoring 25 points and accounting for 15 shots compared to 18 for the rest of Cleveland’s starters. Although a knock to the face put him back in the locker room with a neck strain for a few moments, it was clear that James was on a warpath from the start. The only problem was that Boston wasn’t giving way, and the Cavaliers took just a 55-48 lead into the half.

And yet, it was the Celtics and their steady approach that turned the tide during the final two quarters.

Terry Rozier went off, Marcus Smart out-hustled everyone on the floor, and Marcus Morris came up big as Boston outscored Cleveland, 36-22, in the third quarter. That allowed for a swing not only on the scoreboard, but in momentum. LeBron, perhaps slowed by his neck getting dinged up or just from carrying the Cavaliers franchise for a decade, seemed off the rest of the game. His fadeaways clanged off the side of the iron, and his 3-point attempts started coming up short.

Things got a little heated late in the game as JR Smith underhandedly pushed Al Horford in the back while he was airborne, leading to a Flagrant 1 for Smith. Smart, who rushed to the aid of his teammate, earned a technical along with Smith for some pushing after the play.

Yet no amount of bad blood could spoil Boston’s gameplan, even with James posting another impressive stat line. The Celtics defense poured it on, clamping down even harder in the fourth quarter and allowing just 17 points.

James would finish the game with a triple-double of 42 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds. Kevin Love added 22 points and 15 rebounds, but only Kyle Korver scored in double figures for the Cavaliers.

For Boston it was another team effort, with Jaylen Brown leading the way with 23 points, seven rebounds, and three assists. Horford posted a double-double of 15 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. All five Celtics starters scored in double figures.

Game 3 is in Cleveland on Saturday. LeBron will have some time to think about what the Cavaliers can do to get back in this series. Theres not much else The King can enact himself. He needs a better tactical approach by Ty Lue and execution from his supporting cast.

Meanwhile, the Celtics let James go nuts and still won. Now, Boston has a 2-0 series lead heading back to Ohio.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert sets single-season record for most dunks at 270

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Mention Rudy Gobert and the first thing that comes to mind is his defense. The Jazz center is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and may well win the award again this season, Utah has a defensive net rating of just 92.2 when Gobert is on the court after the All-Star break, 14.5 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits.

However, Gobert can provide offense, too โ€” he rolls to the rim, has soft hands, and knows how to finish at the rim.

Meaning he dunks. A lot.

In the second quarter of Utah’s win against Phoenix on Monday, Gobert finished off an alley-oop from Donovan Mitchell and it was Gobert’s 270th dunk of the season, setting an NBA single-season record (Dwight Howard held the record t 269 from his 2007-08 season; this stat has only been tracked since the 1997-98 season). Gobert averaged 3.7 dunks per game, just finishing plays around the rim as defenses focus on Mitchell, Joe Ingles, or can’t anticipate the passing of Ricky Rubio.

Gobert finished with five more dunks in the game as the Jazz almost had their own private dunk contest against the Suns’ interior defense. Gobert finished with 27 points and got the Gatorade shower for it.

Gobert isn’t going to be the only person passing Howard’s old record this season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has 262 dunks on the season. The race for most dunks this season is not over.

We just know it’s going at a record pace.

NBA family sends its love for Jusuf Nurkic after ugly leg injury

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It’s the kind of injury that turns your stomach.

Portland’s center Jusuf Nurkic suffered a devastating leg injury during the second overtime of Portland’s eventual win over Brooklyn Monday night. A win that clinched a playoff spot for the Trail Blazers, yet their locker room was silent after the game because a guy who is at the heart of why they are headed to the postseason, a guy having a career year, has an injury that is threatening that career.

After it happened, the love poured out from other NBA players.

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic taken off court on stretcher after gruesome leg injury

Associated Press
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This looked bad. It was worse โ€” for Jusuf Nurkic, and the Portland Trail Blazers.

Midway through the second overtime against Brooklyn Monday night, Nurkic went down with what can only be described as a gruesome injury. The Trail Blazers later announced it was compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula, which will require surgery and not only end this season but also will bleed into next season as well (there is no timeline for something like this).

Nurkic had gone up for an offensive rebound and came down awkwardly, his leg bending in ways that no leg should bend. He laid on the floor in pain, was carted off in a stretcher โ€” with the crowd sending positive vibes โ€” and taken directly to the hospital.

Here is a video of the incident, but be warned this is brutal and may be a video you want to avoid if these kinds of injuries make you feel ill. Or, even if they don’t.

Around the league, sympathy poured out for Nurkic.

This is a Portland team also without C.J. McCollum, who has a left knee injury and is out officially for the upcoming four-game road trip and may miss the rest of the regular season.

Nurkic got paid last summer, a four-year, $48 million deal โ€” but unlike others who take their foot off the gas once they get their money, Nurkic came back better and more motivated. He has averaged a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting, his PER of 23.1 and other advanced stats are at career bests, and on the defensive end he moved better and was more of a presence. On offense, he sets the picks for Damian Lillard (second most used pick-and-roll tandem in the NBA) and when teams inevitably trap and blitz Lillard he has gotten the ball to the rolling Nurkic, whose skills as a passer and playmaker have grown tremendously in the last year. He has been Portland’s second best player for stretches of the season.

Portland had looked like a more dangerous playoff threat this season and Nurkic was a big reason for the Blazers’ optimism heading into the postseason. Now, that edge is gone.

Magic shut down 76ers in second half, win 119-98, stay close to playoff berth

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) โ€” A little desperation went a long way for the Orlando Magic.

The Magic shut down the Philadelphia 76ers in the second half of a 119-98 victory on Monday night that moved them within a half-game of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

“They were desperate. They played like it and we did not,” said 76ers coach Brett Brown, whose team was held without a field goal for a second-half stretch of nearly 12 minutes. “Nik Vucevic is a really difficult matchup and (Evan) Fournier really had a fantastic night. Their desperation was evident.”

Vucevic had 28 points and 11 rebounds, and Fournier scored 24 points for the Magic, who outscored the 76ers 30-5 while Philadelphia missed 15 straight shots.

“It’s impressive, especially when you look at all the firepower they have, even without Ben Simmons,” Vucevic said. “We needed this win with a tough road trip coming up, starting tomorrow night in Miami.”

The Magic completed their first 5-0 homestand in franchise history and moved a half-game behind Miami in chasing the final playoff spot in the East. They visit the Heat on Tuesday.

Joel Embiid led the 76ers with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Playing without point guard Simmons, the 76ers led 60-57 after shooting 61.5 percent in the first half. The second half was a different story.

“I thought we went away from what was working to get those field goals (in the first half),” said Tobias Harris, who had 12 of his 15 points in the first half. “But that game wasn’t won or lost on the offensive end for us. That game would have been won on the defensive end. We didn’t do a great job against them.”

Shake Milton‘s jump shot cut the Magic’s lead to 78-77 with 4:32 left in the third quarter, but Philadelphia did not score in the remainder of the period, falling behind by 14 points.

When Zhaire Smith hit a 3-pointer with 4:50 remaining in the game, it ended a stretch of 11 minutes, 42 seconds without a field goal for the 76ers, who then trailed 108-85.

“I think the urgency has not been with us,” Brown said. “It happens. As I candidly said, we’re trying to hold on to our third-place position, and land the plane and keep people healthy.”

J.J. Redick, who scored 79 points and made 18 of 29 3-pointers in the 76ers’ first three games against Orlando this season, made only 1 of 7 Monday night and finished with eight points.

“He’s not going to miss those very often, but we’ll take it,” said Magic coach Steve Clifford.