Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.
1) It’s Killian Hayes, not Doncic, who comes up with big shots in OT
The Detroit Pistons had a two-part plan down the stretch and in overtime against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.
First, aggressively trap Doncic out high on every pick-and-roll, make him give up the ball and dare any other Maverick to beat you.
Second, put the ball in Killian Hayes’ hands and turn him loose.
The result was Hayes hitting two clutch 3-pointers in the final 1:15 of overtime to lift the Pistons to a big 131-125 win at home over the Mavericks.
“They were switching me into a one-on-one matchup, so I knew I could get a shot off,” Hayes said via the Associated Press. “The first one felt good and the second one felt even better.”
Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 to lead Detroit.
A frustrated Jason Kidd after the game rightfully questioned his team’s defense — Detroit, without Cade Cunningham, put up a 126 offensive rating for the night.
However, this loss speaks to the larger issue with the Mavericks.
Luka Doncic finished the night with 35 points on 50% shooting with 10 assists, but he had just seven points and two assists in the fourth quarter and overtime as the Pistons focused on getting the ball out of his hands (Doncic had the same number of points in the fourth and OT as the Pistons’ Marvin Bailey III). Nobody else on the Mavs consistently made the Pistons pay. The lack of secondary shot creation is a real issue, and while it’s nice to see Kemba Walker back in the league it’s a big ask for him to change that dynamic. The Mavericks beat the Warriors the other night, but it took a 41-point triple-double from Doncic, and that’s what it will take a lot of nights.
Doncic is playing at an MVP level this season, and against Detroit he consistently made the right basketball play in the face of double teams. But the load the Mavericks are asking of him is going to wear Doncic down over the course of the season, and it will cost the team games. The man needs some help (and it may not come until next season).
2) Bucks Khris Middleton expected to make return Friday night vs. Lakers
The Milwaukee Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season, compiling a 15-5 record with the best defense in the league behind an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
And now they are about to get a lot better.
Khris Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers. He has missed training camp and the start of the season following wrist surgery.
Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly, he is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense, the guy with the ball in his hands to create for others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Milwaukee’s halfcourt offense has struggled without him, they are ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession in the halfcourt (via Cleaning the Glass). It has held the Bucks’ overall offense back this season.
While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, just having Middleton back makes the Bucks that much better. Which is bad news for the rest of the league.
3) Celtics extend Al Horford for two seasons beyond this one
Al Horford, age 36, is going to stick around in the NBA for a couple more seasons.
Horford and the Celtics reached a deal on a two-year, $20 million extension (which kicks in next season).
This is a pay cut for Horford — who will make $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia — but it’s a fair deal for both sides. This puts Horford closer to league-average money, which lines up with his value on the court at this point. Horford gets a couple more guaranteed years in the league, Boston gets a quality rotation player locked up, but at a low enough figure that if Father Time starts to win the race they will be okay.
Horford has had to play a more prominent role to start the season in Boston with Robert Williams still out following knee surgery. He is averaging 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Eventually, Joe Mazzulla needs to get the old man a little rest, but until the Celtics starting center returns he has little choice but to lean into Horford.