Three Things to Know: There is nothing like a comeback at Madison Square Garden

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks
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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 going that make the NBA great.

1) There is nothing like a comeback at Madison Square Garden

How do you want to view this? Is it a promising sign for a Knicks team struggling to find its identity and get its stars to step up this season? Or is it the 4,367th sign that something is wrong in Boston?

That capped off a wild comeback at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks had trailed by 25 in the first half and 20 in the third quarter, but they crawled back into this one largely thanks to Mr. “do not Google his last name” Evan Fournier. He has not lived up to his offseason contract or expectations this season, but he did on Thursday with 41 points, including knocking down 10 threes.

In his couple of games since coming back, Julius Randle has averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds on 50% shooting. It’s just a couple of games, and the three-ball isn’t falling, but it’s a promising sign. If Fournier and Randle can get going, if the Knicks can get just a few more stops, maybe this ship can turn around.

Some Knicks fans booed the team early in this game, and Julius Randle gave them a thumbs down. When asked about it after the game, Randle said he was telling the crowd to “shut the f*** up.” Meaning he was acting like a true New Yorker.

From Boston’s perspective, Jayson Tatum was brilliant — 36 points, 6-of-11 from 3, scoring 11 of the team’s final 13 points including the jumper that tied it before Barrett got his chance — but little else worked. There is nothing consistent about this team and its effort, and after the game a frustrated Ime Udoka vented.

“I think it’s a lack of mental toughness to fight through those adverse times. To your point, it’s across the board. It’s a turnover here, a bad shot here, a missed defensive assignment here, and several missed rebounds tonight. So, it’s a lot of different things.”

Udoka then lamented that the Celtics don’t have the leader, the veteran on this team that takes charge when things aren’t right, calms the team down and points them in the right direction. So it spirals. Like it did in MSG.

Everyone in Boston is looking for the answer, but it may be up to Brad Stevens to find one.

2) Suns handle shorthanded Clippers, but LA gets a ray of hope

The TNT nightcap game went exactly as we all expected it would: The Suns are very good, the Clippers are feisty but very shorthanded, and Phoenix got a comfortable 106-89 win. Chris Paul had a triple-double and it was a nice night for Cameron Johnson, who scored 24 and hit 4-of-7 from 3.

The loss dropped the Clippers below .500, but a report from Chris Haynes was a ray of hope for Los Angeles — Kawhi Leonard is on pace to return this season.

Leonard partially tore his ACL last playoffs and had surgery on in it in July, his return this season was up in the air. However, if he is back and Paul George gets healthy, suddenly the Clippers are a threat. Or, at the least, a very tough out.

The Clippers are struggling to keep their head above water without either Leonard or George, who is out until the end of the month and maybe longer with an elbow injury.

The Clippers are built around a pair of elite two-way wings that are a difficult matchup, and they are surrounded by a solid and versatile group of role players that give coach Tyronn Lue options. If that team makes the playoffs, nobody will want to face them.

3) Stephen Curry, LeBron James lead early fan All-Star voting

The NBA released the results from the first round of fan voting for the 2022 All-Star Game in Cleveland.

I’m not a fan of the “are the fans wrong” debate and takes because THE FANS ARE NEVER WRONG. It’s an exhibition game and pure entertainment, so give the people what they want.

My picks would be slightly different, as I wrote earlier in the week. I’d have the same frontcourt as the fans in the East — Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid — and I also had DeMar DeRozan as one of the starting backcourt players. (Yes, that is with the understanding that he plays small forward for the Bulls, not a backcourt spot, but again this is an exhibition let’s get the best players on the court.) I would have Trae Young over James Harden at the other backcourt spot, but either way works.

In the West, I agree that Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and Nikola Jokic are locks. I would put Donovan Mitchell at the other guard spot, but the West is deep with solid guards, so going with Luka Doncic (as the fans did) or Chris Paul would work. For the final frontcourt spot, I would go with Draymond Green. The fans went with Paul George, which is very fair based on his play, but will he be healthy for the game? Andrew Wiggins being fourth in fan voting for the West frontcourt was the biggest surprise on the board.

Highlight of the night: Ibaka shuts down Cam Johnson dunk

There were not many Clippers highlights from this one, but here is a reminder that Serge Ibaka is still not to be messed with around the rim. Just ask Cam Johnson.

Last night’s scores:

New York 108, Boston 105
Memphis 118, Detroit 88
New Orleans 101, Golden State 96
Phoenix 106, Clippers 89

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”