The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.
1) Three takeaways from Nets win over Clippers: Brooklyn’s defense is bad but may be good enough
It’s dangerous to read too much into one January game, even if it’s a well-played contest that could be a Finals preview. Still, Brooklyn’s 124-120 win against the Clippers — behind 39 points from Kyrie Irving and a big night from the Nets’ big three — provided some insight into those teams.
Here are my three big takeaways from Tuesday night’s game:
• Brooklyn’s defense is terrible but it may be just good enough. Using the eye test, Brooklyn’s defense looked better tonight — there was genuine effort on that end from the Nets. Maybe most encouraging was Kevin Durant wanting the assignment and defending Kawhi Leonard as well as could be hoped down the stretch. Irving and James Harden were willing and active defenders. That’s all you can ask.
Brooklyn’s defense also still was terrible — the Nets had a rating of 120 for the game. That would be worse than Brooklyn’s defense over the past eight games and would be the worst in the league for the season. The Clippers got to their spots, scored, and put up plenty of points.
Both realities can be true: Brooklyn’s defense is terrible but it may be just good enough.
Brooklyn may need only a few stops at key moments to get wins because their offense is so overwhelmingly good. Los Angeles is a solid defensive team (middle of the pack in the NBA this season) with flashes of being very impressive because they have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (and they could have used Patrick Beverley in this loss, he remains out with a sore right knee). It didn’t matter. Irving dropped 39 on them, and the big three combined for 90 points.
The Nets will make some roster tweaks the rest of the way to get more defense, but they may not need that much.
• Brooklyn should play more small ball. DeAndre Jordan is on this team as a center, but the Nets look better and much more fluid when he sits and they play small (as much as a lineup with Kevin Durant is really small). There has been a lot of trade buzz around the league about Brooklyn looking to go after a center — Joel Embiid and the Sixers still loom as a potential playoff opponent — but against the Clippers, the Nets needed more wing/perimeter defense. Frankly, the Nets should go after bigs and wings, but as a matter of priority wings may ultimately matter more.
• The Clippers still need a point guard. It was an issue against Denver in the bubble playoffs: Late in games, the Clippers became a team that stood around and watched Kawhi Leonard or Paul George go isolation and did not get into running their sets, in part because they don’t have a traditional point guard. That exact same thing played out Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
Los Angeles is active on the trade market looking at point guards — Lonzo Ball, for example — and they need to find one. This team has Patrick Beverley when he’s healthy, but he brings defense and energy more than being a floor general. Reggie Jackson is getting a lot of run, but he creates for himself and does not always make the wisest decisions.
Los Angeles needs a more traditional, pass-first point guard who can get them into sets and have them run some offense late in games, not just stand around and admire how good Leonard is at getting to his spots on the floor (and he is amazing at that). It bit them in the bubble, and as a reminder of the work to do it bit them on Tuesday in Brooklyn.
2) Fred VanVleet was unstoppable, dropped 54 on Orlando
Now that is a performance for the record books.
Toronto’s VanVleet set a franchise record Tuesday for points scored in a game with 54, passing DeMar DeRozan’s old record.
Congrats to my brotha Freddy V! Kyle old ass couldn’t do it. Glad you did champ! Been telling you!
— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) February 3, 2021
That 54 — while shooting 11-of-14 from three — is also the most points ever scored in an NBA game by an undrafted player. My favorite part of all of this was the reaction of VanVleet’s teammates.
Toronto also got the win, 123-108, an important one in a game between two teams off to slower-than-expected starts trying to claw their way back into the East playoff race.
3) Stephen Curry put on a show with 38 points but Celtics team too much in win
This is the one-sentence answer on Stephen Curry as an MVP candidate: He’s putting up numbers, but the Warriors are hanging around .500 and looking more like a play-in team, which is not going to get it done.
All of that bore out on Tuesday night. Curry was impressive as always with 38 points — hitting 7-of-15 from three — and became only the second Warriors’ player in history to score 17,000 points. Steve Kerr called him the greatest Warrior ever, and that’s not even up for debate anymore.
And it still wasn’t enough. Jayson Tatum scored 27 points and had nine boards, Kemba Walker had 19 points, Jaylen Brown 18, and Grant Williams came off the bench with a critical 15. All that was too much, and Boston got the 111-107 win.
This was the first game of a five-game road swing out West for the Celtics, with some tough tests against the Clippers and Jazz ahead.