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?
RJ Barrett hit the game winner pic.twitter.com/5jcQP6lIhz
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) January 7, 2022
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.
Sources: My @NBAonTNT report on Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard now ahead of schedule in rehab from a torn ACL with a strong possibility of a return this season. pic.twitter.com/geyUX5Rgkv
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) January 7, 2022
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.
The first WEST returns for #NBAAllStar 2022!
Do you agree??
Vote today for #NBAAllStar Voting presented by @TISSOT on the NBA App, https://t.co/nXTUUCAgzN or on Twitter using #FirstNameLastName and #NBAAllStar.https://t.co/5gEHCtSONf pic.twitter.com/l2cyd4ov4y
— NBA (@NBA) January 6, 2022
The first EAST returns for #NBAAllStar 2022!
Do you agree??
Vote today for #NBAAllStar Voting presented by @TISSOT on the NBA App, https://t.co/nXTUUCAgzN or on Twitter using #FirstNameLastName and #NBAAllStar.https://t.co/5gEHCtSONf pic.twitter.com/O4qmWGAYyy
— NBA (@NBA) January 6, 2022
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