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Three Things to Know: Kyrie Irving would like to remind you he is clutch

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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) Kyrie Irving would like to remind you he is clutch. Kyrie Irving has hit big shots before — he’s hit bigger ones on much bigger stages than he did Wednesday. This was just a reminder that Irving has that thing all the great clutch players have: He’s got the same stroke with the same confidence, the same mentality, in the final minute of a close game he does in the second quarter of a blowout. Irving doesn’t flinch. Nothing gets bigger or smaller, he just makes his play.

Against the Wizards Wednesday Irving made his play in overtime, scoring a dozen points in the frame and draining two clutch threes to get Boston its seventh straight win, 130-125 over a pesky Wizards team.

There’s nothing John Wall could have done better on either of those (and Wall had his best night of the season with 34 points and 13 assists). On the first three he was right up on Irving, into his jersey and taking away space right at the arc, and it didn’t matter. Good offense beats good defense. On the second three, Irving has range but only Stephen Curry gets guarded that far from the hoop.

The final minute of overtime — with neither team calling time out — was rare and a thing of beauty.

It should be noted, Irving doesn’t get to play the hero without big nights from Marcus Morris (27 points, nine rebounds) and Marcus Smart (18 points, nine rebounds, some quality defense).

Boston has won seven in a row, and while they’ve done it against a softer section of the schedule: 1) you’ve got to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat; 2) it’s building confidence for when the schedule gets tougher again.

The Celtics look like a team that is back. It’s just a lot more crowded at the top of the East than we expected.

2) Anthony Davis makes his MVP case willing Pelicans to victory over Thunder. It’s not fair to say that Anthony Davis single-handedly beat the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night. Jrue Holiday did have 20 points and 10 assists — but he also had two crucial turnovers late that almost sank the Pelicans.

New Orleans is not deep, has holes in its roster, but when Anthony Davis plays like this — 44 points on 16-of-32 shooting,18 rebounds, and he got to the free throw line 11 times and hit every shot — they can hang with anyone. Because Davis is that good. He is in the early MVP conversation for a reason.

This was Davis’ second straight game of 40+, he did that to Boston a couple of nights earlier. He is just a joy to watch this season because he is playing at such a high level on both ends.

3) Toronto makes its case, sweeps season series by crushing Golden State at Oracle. Warriors fans went full on peak Shaq/Kobe spoiled Lakers fans Wednesday night — they just left the game early. Better to beat the traffic and go get some drinks/go home and go to bed rather than watch Toronto just pick apart the Warriors any longer.

And make no mistake, the Raptors picked apart the Warriors. Their game plan was well crafted, executed even better, and the Raptors defended beautifully all night.

Toronto came into Golden State in what was touted as a potential Finals preview, but right now only one of these teams is playing like a team hungry and building toward a championship. And it’s not the reigning champions. The Warriors had one of their disinterested nights, a game where they turned the ball over 17 times and shot 23.1 percent from 3-point range.

Do that against the Raptors right now and they will thrash you — which is exactly what happened. Even without Kawhi Leonard (out for a second straight game with a hip injury). The Raptors are defending and executing at a high level right now, so much so they are 7-1 without Leonard in the lineup. Serge Ibaka’s redemption tour continued with 20 points and 12 rebounds as he destroyed anyone the Warriors threw at him. Kyle Lowry had 23 and is all the way out of his slump (that showed against the Clippers the night before).

Danny Green may have been the most underrated pickup of the summer (coming from San Antonio in the Kawhi trade) and added 15.

But mostly, it was the Raptors defense, which held the Warriors to a 93 points per 100 possessions pace, that got them the win.

If these two teams meet in the Finals — and that is a real possibility, with Leonard this should be a different Toronto team in the postseason — the game will not look like this. It will be a fully engaged Golden State squad, one that can also roll out DeMarcus Cousins. But right now, the Raptors are building good habits and building confidence toward that moment.

The Warriors are just waiting to flip the switch.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Jeremy Lamb drained a game winner… that his teammates almost screw up with celebration. Usually we’d just be celebrating Jeremy Lamb’s game-winner — and marveling that someone other than Kemba Walker could hit a clutch shot for Charlotte.

But in this case, it’s the celebrations of Bismack Biyombo and Malik Monk — running out onto the court with 0.3 seconds left and getting a technical that put the result in doubt again — that became the story.

First, that’s an amazing shot by Lamb because he has to adjust, Walker’s pass is not on target.

But if you watch the video, you can see Biyombo almost out at midcourt to grab Lamb before the ball is inbounded. He was so far out on the court that the refs probably didn’t see him and called the technical on Monk. Michael Jordan was none too pleased.

But because the Pistons were out of time outs, the Hornets survive and get the win.

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA would’ve won FIBA World Cup if not for injuries

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Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament.

Why did the U.S. fare so poorly?

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had sharp words for the many stars who withdrew. But that’s not his only explanation.

Kyle Kuzma suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the roster. Jayson Tatum missed the final six games with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart was banged up and missed time throughout the event.

Colangelo, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

“I believe that if we didn’t have those injuries, we would have won,” said Colangelo. “The injuries were just too much to absorb.”

Maybe.

Those players – especially Tatum and Smart, who occupied a roster spots – would’ve helped. But even with those two, the Americans were vulnerable. Australia beat them in an exhibition, and Turkey nearly upset them in the first round. France and Serbia clearly outplayed them in the knockout phase. Team USA just lacked its usual talent.

Perhaps more top Americans will play in the 2020 Olympics. That will make the biggest difference.

If USA Basketball had attracted more stars for the World Cup, it likely could’ve withstood a few injuries. This roster allowed little margin for error.

Jarrett Culver enlivens Timberwolves’ otherwise-quiet offseason

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.

But Minnesota isn’t set.

Far from it.

Though Karl-Anthony Towns (23) is already a star and sometimes looks like a budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins (24) has stagnated on his max extension. Add expensive contracts for Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, and the Timberwolves have limited cap flexibility. With veterans too good to allow deep tanking, Minnesota also has limited means to upgrade through the draft.

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.

Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.

The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.

All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.

Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.

Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.

With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.

Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.

With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.

Offseason grade: B-

Report: Iman Shumpert rejects offer from Rockets, who’ll have several familiar names in minicamp

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Iman Shumpert is the best free agent available.

Why hasn’t he signed yet? Apparently because he spent the offseason negotiating with the Rockets, but those talks haven’t produced a deal.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic:

I wonder whether Houston tried to sign Shumpert to a contract similar to Nene’s, creating another trade chip. The Rockets are close to the luxury tax and probably wouldn’t guarantee Shumpert much. It doesn’t take months to negotiate a simple minimum contract.

Shumpert (29) is a credible wing in a league starving for them. He played well for the Kings last season before getting traded to Houston, where he struggled. Other teams should be interested.

The Rockets have just nine players with guaranteed salaries. There’s plenty of room for some of these past-their-prime veterans to make the regular-season roster. It might mostly depend on which of Terrence Jones (27), Nick Young (34), Luc Mbah a Moute (33), Corey Brewer (33), Raymond Felton (35) and Thabo Sefolosha (35) are in the best shape at this stage.

Knicks’ rookie R.J. Barrett wants to posterize Kristaps Porzingis

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Fairly early into the season, on Nov. 14, Kristaps Porzingis — the one time savior of the New York Knicks, at least in the eyes of fans — returns to Madison Square Garden wearing a Dallas Mavericks’ uniform.

He can expect to feel the, um, “love” of Knicks fans.

And Knicks rookie R.J. Barrett wants to add to that, as he said in a Bleacher Report live chat with fans.

I want to know: who does he really want to dunk on but will not say? Zion Williamson? Going back in history to Jordan?

Against Porzingis he will get his chance. That said, it’s not easy to get up and over the 7’3″ unicorn, but guys have done it. Right Dwight Howard?