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) Paul George hears boos, then drops 37 on Lakers fans to show them what they missed out on. When Paul George was forcing his way out of Indiana a couple of years ago, his people told any team that called “he’s going to be a Laker when he’s a free agent” in an effort to force him to get traded to his hometown. Except the Lakers took that as “why would we give up real assets for him — no Lonzo Ball, no Brandon Ingram — when we can just sign him in a year?” Oklahoma City ponied up with the best deal — the Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis deal worked out well for Indy — and PG 13 went to the Thunder. And turned out to love Oklahoma City. So he stayed. When free agency came up last July the Lakers didn’t even get a meeting, Paul George found a new home.
Lakers fans felt jilted — and they let George hear it with boos on Wednesday night.
Then Paul George came out and showed those Lakers fans what they missed out on — he scored 37 points, hit tough shots, played phenomenal defense and helped the Thunder dominate the fourth quarter in a 107-100 OKC win.
(For the record, if Lakers fans want to be pissed about not getting PG13, be pissed at Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka for not offering more in a trade with Indy. They let George get a feel for a new place and lost him then, George had the right to make any decision he wants.)
As much as George and his story make the best headline, this game was about the Thunder defense — it’s the best in the NBA and shut the Lakers down in the fourth. Without LeBron James (still sidelined with a groin injury) the Lakers struggled to create in the halfcourt, and in the fourth quarter shot just 28.6 percent. Steven Adams can be a force on the offensive glass that forces teams to account for him and slows a fast break attack, which the rest of the Thunder do a good job of getting back to slow. George is a disruptive on-ball defender. The Thunder locked the Lakers up when it mattered, and it’s that defense that makes the Thunder a real playoff threat (and could get them to the conference finals).
The takeaway for the Lakers? They’re 1-3 without LeBron. They miss him. This isn’t rocket science. Lonzo Ball can run the point guard spot well, Brandon Ingram’s passing is good (although he made faster decisions vs. Sacramento), but in the end this team needs LeBron, and there is no timetable yet for his return.
2) After a third straight loss, divisions in Grizzlies locker room turn physical with an altercation. After a fast start to the season, the Grizzlies have lost three in a row and 8-of-10. In that stretch, Memphis has had a bottom five offense in the league and the defense — which carried them early in the season — has been just average. The result is the team has slipped both out of the playoffs (now the 10 seed, 2.5 games out of the postseason) and below .500.
The ugly play in a loss at home to Detroit Wednesday led to a postgame team meeting — one that reportedly turned physical in a fight between starting guard Garrett Temple and reserve wing Omri Casspi. The issue reportedly was a complaint about the energy and enthusiasm of the bench. Whether those bench struggles are due to the roster makeup — this is not a deep Grizzlies team — or effort, there apparently is some built up resentment there.
Altercations like this are a sign of frustration, something the Grizzlies have plenty of with their recent run of play. Beyond that, be careful reading much into it. Very good teams — championship teams — have had guys fight in practice and get past it. Other times, it can fester as part of a larger problem. Right now the Grizzlies need to find a way to get back to scoring more effectively, regardless of who is on the court. Otherwise, that frustration is just going to grow as the losses keep piling up.
3) With Kyrie Irving out, Gordon Hayward has season best 35 and Celtics cruise to win over Timberwolves. We have a new “best game for Gordon Hayward” as a Celtic as he shot 14-of-18 off the bench on his way to 35 points. He was moving well and is clearly got confidence in his shot again.
The Celtics offense looked more egalitarian and guys stepped up with Irving out (an eye injury). Terry Rozier got off to a fast start with 11 first-quarter points (he finished with 16), and he is just clearly more comfortable as a starter. He even pulled off the Rondo-fake brilliantly.
Al Horford had one of his best games of the season, making smart passes and keeping the ball moving on offense, and in the first half defending Karl-Anthony Towns well. Marcus Smart is a better playmaker than people think and has eight assists. Jaylen Brown was making plays off the bench.
Boston played a strong team game.
The Celtics are not better without Kyrie Irving. They need him. He deservedly is the guy at the top of the offensive pecking order. But the Celtics need to find a way — they need Irving to buy in — and get more of the ball movement and system offense going when Irving is in the lineup. The Celtics we saw Wednesday looked more like last year’s playoff Celtics, like the kind of team that can do damage in this postseason if they keep playing this way.
As for a Minnesota takeaway… ugh.