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Celtics’ Kyrie Irving says he’ll rest before playoffs: ‘Makes no sense’ to emphasize regular-season games

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Remember when Kyrie Irving asked whether a November 2014 Cavaliers-Bulls game felt like a playoff game?

He has come a long way since.

Before LeBron James returned to Cleveland, Irving hadn’t made the playoffs. Three NBA Finals and a trade to the Celtics later, Irving is focused on the postseason.

Irving, via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

“I’m definitely taking some games off before the playoffs,” Irving said at Boston’s morning shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday. “Makes no sense, the emphasis on these regular games, when you’re gearing up for some battles coming in the playoffs.”

Irving will probably be more effective in the playoffs with additional rest.

But will the Celtics be more effective in the playoffs if Irving rests now?

Boston is fifth in the East. If that holds, that’d mean not having home-court advantage in any Eastern Conference playoff series and likely facing the Bucks – who’ve been the NBA’s best team throughout the regular season – in the second round.

That might not daunt Irving. After all, when asked why he’s so confident about the Celtics’ postseason chances, he said, “Because I’m here.”*
*That sounded a lot like LeBron.

But his teammates might benefit significantly from a better seed. Without Irving, Boston went 10-1 at home 1-7 on the road in last year’s playoffs – a historic split.

Catching the 76ers for the No. 3 seed is probably farfetched. But the Celtics are only a half game behind the Pacers for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round.

Boston’s closing schedule is easier than Indiana’s. The teams even face each other twice. So, there’s an opportunity for the Celtics to clinch the No. 4 seed and rest Irving.

But little has gone to plan this season in Boston. If the Celtics’ seed is still up for grabs late in the regular season, will they rest Irving or keep pushing for a better record?

Chris Bosh says Heat ‘big three’ sparked Kevin Durant’s move to Warriors

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Chris Bosh could have continued what he was doing, being the face of the Toronto Raptors. He had made the All-Star team five years in a row, was the focal point of the Toronto offense on the court and the team’s marketing off it, and he was getting his touches, averaging 24 points a game his last season north of the border.

Yet he chose to leave, to head all the way down to Miami to team up with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

It’s a “big three” that changed the game. On the court somewhat, they won two titles and went to four straight Finals. However, Bosh told our own NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh that the bigger impact was off the court, where other players — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and most recently Anthony Davis — have started to take charge of their own careers and destiny.

“It’s huge,” Bosh says of the trio’s pioneering role. “A lot of people don’t like it, that’s the funniest part.”

Don’t like what?

“An athlete with brains.”

Bosh said the Heat’s big three specifically helped lead to one of the most controversial moves in the NBA in recent years — Durant to the Warriors.

I ask him, does Durant leave OKC if Bosh and the Big Three don’t choose to team up in 2010?

“No,” Bosh says now. “That put pressure on him.”

LeBron gets most of the credit for players taking a more aggressive role in charting their own course and not just going where the tide takes them with their career. Deservedly so, he was the best player in the game when he went to Miami and changed the game.

But Bosh did his part, too.

Next Tuesday in Miami Bosh will get a little recognition when his jersey is retired. As it should be. Those banners aren’t hanging in Miami if Bosh didn’t only come to the team but willingly sacrificed and changed his game to fit around what LeBron and the team needed. He was a No. 1 option who completely changed how he played to win.

That’s a lesson more players could use to pick up on.

Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid in middle of everything leading Sixers past Celtics

Associated Press
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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) Joel Embiid in middle of everything leading Sixers past Celtics. Bench play? Philadelphia don’t need no stinkin’ bench play.

When GM Elton Brand made the mid-season trades to bring in Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, he sacrificed depth to create the best starting five in the East: Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Butler, Harris, and Joel Embiid. For one night at least, it worked the way Brand envisioned it — the Sixers starters scored 110 of the teams’ 118 points, were +11 on the night, and propelled the Philadelphia to a confidence-boosting win over Boston, 118-115.

Joel Embiid was the instigator in the middle of it all. Before and after the game.

It’s not just the 37 points and 22 rebounds, although the Sixers don’t win without that performance. Embiid also was the guy who elbowed Marcus Smart on a screen — then Smart lost his cool, wildly overreacted in shoving Embiid to the floor, which earned Smart an ejection (and a fine in the next 48 hours).

Boston was never the same after that.

Embiid scored the next eight points after the ejection, and the fired-up big man was a force the rest of the way. Embiid bullied his way inside — determined to show he can score on Al Horford — and in doing so led an attacking style that got Philly to the free throw line 46 times in the game. Also late in the game, Boston ran plays to get Kyrie Irving switched onto Embiid and both times Embiid got the stop, including one impressive recovery and block.

Then in the final minutes, the Sixers turned the keys over the Jimmy Butler — he had two critical threes, then a dagger jumper along the baseline followed by a meme-worthy celebration.

After the game, Embiid stayed the center of attention with this interview where he said he was the most unstoppable player in the NBA (somewhere James Harden’s eyebrows raised).

If you’re a Sixers fan, there were certainly things to like out of this win, particularly down the stretch. They now have a matchup that works against Boston — they went right at Kyrie Irving’s defense and bullied him inside, then shot over him. Having Smart on the court would help Boston, but it doesn’t completely solve that problem. With this Sixers starting five, there is no place to hide Irving.

(Not that a meeting of these teams in the playoffs is any kind of lock, the Sixers are looking like the three seed, Boston will be four or five, meaning if they meet it will be the Eastern Conference Finals. And if that happens both teams will have evolved since this game.)

That said, there are Sixers questions still, specifically can they lean on the starters like this in the playoffs (Simmons played 42 minutes, Embiid 41)? There are no back-to-backs and more rest is built in, but it’s still asking a lot and at points Philly is going to need something from its bench. With staggered minutes for the starters the weaknesses can be hidden better in the postseason, but the bench still needs to step up. It’s a puzzle for Brett Brown to put together.

What we know now is this: These starters make the 76ers a threat and can take them a long way in the playoffs.

2) James Harden drops 57, Rockets still lose in overtime to the Grizzlies. Interesting stat of the night: James Harden has seven 50+ point games this season, but the Rockets are 4-3 in those games.

The one-man Harden show was back and it carried the Rockets again — he scored 28 of his 57 points on the night in the fourth quarter and overtime, and had 15 during a 17-2 Rockets late run. That included three free throws to tie the game and force OT after a ridiculously bad foul by Justin Holiday. The kind of foul that will give J.B. Bickerstaff an ulcer.

However, the Grizzlies are scrappy, and as an organization they are trying to win — they have to give a pick to Boston one of the next three years, they would rather do it this season. The pick is top 8 protected this draft, and currently Memphis has the seventh worst record in the league. If the standings do not change Memphis has a 14.2 percent chance of giving up the pick, but make up the 1.5 games it is behind Washington and that jumps to nearly 40 percent. Memphis wants to win games.

Jonas Valanciunas got the memo and helped them do that. He grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled with 0.1 left in overtime, sinking the game-winning free throw (he finished with a career-high 33 points).

Houston remains the three seed, but they are just half-a-game up on four seed Portland. Houston needs some more wins to make sure they don’t slide down the standings (and into the Warriors side of the bracket).

3) Toronto beats slumping Oklahoma City in overtime. It was the night Oklahoma City celebrated Nick Collison, retiring the jersey the ultimate glue guy who put the franchise first.

The Thunder could use a guy like that right now.

Since the All-Star break, the Thunder are now 5-10 with the worst offense in the NBA over that stretch (104.6 offensive net rating). That was on display Wednesday in a loss to Toronto, where the Thunder had a 100.9 offensive rating.

Toronto led most of the way and was in control, complete with Kawhi Leonard seeming annoyed by Paul George‘s defense.

At home in OKC you knew it was coming — Thunder made a run and ultimately tied the game with 4.8 seconds to go on a driving Russell Westbrook layup.

It forced overtime, but there Paul George fouled out, the Raptors scored nine in a row, and that was the ballgame.

With the loss, the Thunder fell into a three-way tie with the Spurs and Clippers for the 6/7/8 seeds in the West, with OKC technically being the eight seed based on tiebreakers. That would mean Golden State in the first round, the worst possible outcome for Oklahoma City. There are 10 games left in the Thunder season and they need to find wins fast or it could be a quick postseason for a team that just a couple of months ago was talked about as potentially the second best team out West.

Three Things to Know: Nuggets tie Warriors for top seed in West after win

Associated Press
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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) Denver wins, Warriors lose, Nuggets tie Warriors for the top seed in West after win. We know the Warriors are bored with the regular season, but will the potential of losing the top spot in the West spark something in them?

Denver isn’t bored and has things to celebrate — for the first time in five years, the Nuggets are headed to the playoffs. This was a team that has been good for a couple of years — they won 46 games last season, one game short of the dance — but made a leap this season, mostly through continuity. Coach Mike Malone had the right attitude, “I told the guys after: ‘We should feel good about this. Life is about celebrating moments.’” (Via Mike Singer of the Denver Post.)

But this win was more than just a ticket to the dance — at 47-22, the Nuggets are now tied with the Golden State Warriors for the top seed in the West.

Denver did its part going into Boston and getting the win. The early part of this game was telling: Kyrie Irving tried to take over but started 1-of-5 shooting, while the Nuggets moved the ball, shared the load and raced out to a 13-4 lead. Irving would get hot in the second half and finished with 30 points (on 10-of-23 shooting), but Denver had seven players in double figures, led by another night from Nikola Jokic, who had 21 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists. More than just the numbers, he impacts every aspect of the game when on the court. He just seemed to make the right decisions all night.

The Warriors fell back to the Nuggets, although this Golden State loss was understandable — on the road against a red-hot San Antonio team that has won nine straight, and the Warriors were without DeMarcus Cousins (although Andrew Bogut had his moments in his debut). The Splash Brothers had more of a perfect Greg Louganis Olympics dive on the night — no splash at all. Klay Thompson shot 5-of-18, while Stephen Curry had 25 points but needed 25 shots to get there, although Curry did hit this.

The Nuggets have a much tougher schedule the rest of the way, which is why fivethirtyeight.com predicts they will finish second in the conference, three games back of the Warriors (the teams play again April 2). But if the Warriors continue to be bored and the Nuggets keep going into places like Boston and getting wins, anything can happen.

2) Isaiah Thomas feels the love in return to Boston. This was the real highlight out of the Celtics-Nuggets game.

Celtics fans never got to give Isaiah Thomas the send-off tribute he deserved. They did on Monday when he returned as a member of the Nuggets.

Thomas was undersized, relatable hero who played like an MVP, led the Celtics to the playoffs, all while playing through hip pain and the death of his sister. He loved the city and was active in the community. He embodied what Celtics fans want to see in their stars.

It was good to see him get that emotional moment.

Thomas was scoreless in seven minutes on the court. Hopefully, he can come back next season fully healthy in a situation where he can showcase his talents.

3) Dirk Nowitzki passes Wilt Chamberlain for sixth on NBA all-time scoring list. Nowitzki — the greatest shooting big man the NBA has ever seen and its best-ever European player — can now add another accolade to his long list of them.

With 8:33 left in the first quarter, Nowitzki took a handoff from Luka Doncic‘s handoff, backed down New Orleans’ Kenrich Williams to get to his spot, then drained a turnaround from the midrange. It was a signature move that gave Nowitzki 31,420 points in his career, one more than the legendary Wilt Chamberlain.

Nowitzki is now sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list (behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan).

By the way, the Pelicans won the game in overtime behind the fifth straight triple-double from Elfrid Payton, who had 19 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. Doncic had a triple-double of his own on the night with 30 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Giannis Antetokounmpo becomes record 11th player with 50-point game this season

AP Photo/Aaron Gash
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During the entire 2012-13 season, three players scored 50 points in a game.

By the end of last October, four players – Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Derrick Rose – already had 50-point games this season.

James Harden has since scored 50 six times. Kemba Walker, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard also dropped 50 in a game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s 52-pointer yesterday made him the 11th different player to score 50 points in a game this season – a record. Ten players scored 50 in a game each of the last two seasons.

This is definitely a record geared toward modern times. Scoring is up. There have never been more games (30 teams playing 82-game schedules). Those conditions give individuals a chance to shine.

And so many of them have taken advantage with a big scoring night, at least once.

Harden is the only player with multiple 50-point games this season, so this year won’t come close to the record for total 50 point games. The 16 this season are fourth-most all-time – behind 1961-62 (57), 1962-63 (34) and 2006-07 (18). Wilt Chamberlain alone had 45 in 1961-62 and 30 in 1962-63. Kobe Bryant had 10 in 2006-07.

But in terms of variety of 50-point games, this season is unmatched.

Here are how many different players had a 50-point game each season, followed by a list of them all:image

2018-19: 11

James Harden (HOU), 6

LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS), 1

Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL), 1

Damian Lillard (POR), 1

Derrick Rose (MIN), 1

Klay Thompson (GSW), 1

Stephen Curry (GSW), 1

Blake Griffin (DET), 1

Kevin Durant (GSW), 1

LeBron James (LAL), 1

Kemba Walker (CHA), 1

2017-18: 10

James Harden (HOU), 4

C.J. McCollum (POR), 1

Lou Williams (LAC), 1

DeMar DeRozan (TOR), 1

Anthony Davis (NOP), 1

Kevin Durant (GSW), 1

Damian Lillard (POR), 1

Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN), 1

LeBron James (CLE), 1

Bradley Beal (WAS), 1

2016-17: 10

Russell Westbrook (OKC), 4

James Harden (HOU), 2

Jimmy Butler (CHI), 1

Devin Booker (PHO), 1

Damian Lillard (POR), 1

Anthony Davis (NOP), 1

Isaiah Thomas (BOS), 1

DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), 1

John Wall (WAS), 1

Klay Thompson (GSW), 1

2015-16: 8

Stephen Curry (GSW), 3

Damian Lillard (POR), 2

DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), 1

Kemba Walker (CHA), 1

Jimmy Butler (CHI), 1

Anthony Davis (NOP), 1

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 1

James Harden (HOU), 1

2014-15: 6

Kyrie Irving (CLE), 2

James Harden (HOU), 2

Klay Thompson (GSW), 1

Mo Williams (MIN), 1

Stephen Curry (GSW), 1

Russell Westbrook (OKC), 1

2013-14: 5

Kevin Durant (OKC), 2

Terrence Ross (TOR), 1

Carmelo Anthony (NYK), 1

LeBron James (MIA), 1

Corey Brewer (MIN), 1

2012-13: 3

Kevin Durant (OKC), 1

Stephen Curry (GSW), 1

Carmelo Anthony (NYK), 1

2011-12: 3

Kevin Durant (OKC), 1

Kevin Love (MIN), 1

Deron Williams (NJN), 1

2010-11: 2

Carmelo Anthony (DEN), 1

LeBron James (MIA), 1

2009-10: 3

Andre Miller (POR), 1

Carmelo Anthony (DEN), 1

Brandon Jennings (MIL), 1

2008-09: 7

Dwyane Wade (MIA), 3

LeBron James (CLE), 3

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 1

Kevin Martin (SAC), 1

Tony Parker (SAS), 1

Jamal Crawford (GSW), 1

Brandon Roy (POR), 1

2007-08: 3

LeBron James (CLE), 2

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 2

Allen Iverson (DEN), 1

2006-07: 6

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 10

Gilbert Arenas (WAS), 3

Michael Redd (MIL), 2

Jamal Crawford (NYK), 1

Ray Allen (SEA), 1

Richard Hamilton (DET), 1

2005-06: 6

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 6

LeBron James (CLE), 2

Paul Pierce (BOS), 1

Dirk Nowitzki (DAL), 1

Vince Carter (NJN), 1

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

2004-05: 6

Allen Iverson (PHI), 3

Damon Stoudamire (POR), 1

Jermaine O’Neal (IND), 1

Amar’e Stoudemire (PHO), 1

LeBron James (CLE), 1

Dirk Nowitzki (DAL), 1

2003-04: 4

Tracy McGrady (ORL), 2

Jamal Crawford (CHI), 1

Rashard Lewis (SEA), 1

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

2002-03: 4

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 3

Allan Houston (NYK), 2

Jamal Mashburn (NOH), 1

Tracy McGrady (ORL), 1

2001-02: 6

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 1

Tracy McGrady (ORL), 1

Shareef Abdur-Rahim (ATL), 1

Michael Jordan (WAS), 1

Tim Duncan (SAS), 1

2000-01: 7

Allen Iverson (PHI), 2

Antawn Jamison (GSW), 2

Chris Webber (SAC), 1

Tony Delk (PHO), 1

Stephon Marbury (NJN), 1

Jerry Stackhouse (DET), 1

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 1

1999-00: 4

Clifford Robinson (PHO), 1

Vince Carter (TOR), 1

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

Shaquille O’Neal (LAL), 1

1997-98: 3

Tracy Murray (WAS), 1

Karl Malone (UTA), 1

Shaquille O’Neal (LAL), 1

1996-97: 2

Michael Jordan (CHI), 2

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

1995-96: 5

Hakeem Olajuwon (HOU), 1

Alonzo Mourning (MIA), 1

Michael Jordan (CHI), 1

Karl Malone (UTA), 1

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (DEN), 1

1994-95: 7

Michael Jordan (CHI), 1

Dana Barros (PHI), 1

Glen Rice (MIA), 1

Jim Jackson (DAL), 1

Jamal Mashburn (DAL), 1

Cedric Ceballos (LAL), 1

Willie Burton (PHI), 1

1993-94: 2

David Robinson (SAS), 2

Shaquille O’Neal (ORL), 1

1992-93: 4

Michael Jordan (CHI), 4

David Robinson (SAS), 1

Nick Anderson (ORL), 1

Reggie Miller (IND), 1

1991-92: 2

Michael Jordan (CHI), 2

Dominique Wilkins (ATL), 1

1990-91: 5

Bernard King (WSB), 2

Vernon Maxwell (HOU), 1

Michael Adams (DEN), 1

Patrick Ewing (NYK), 1

Charles Smith (LAC), 1

1989-90: 8

Michael Jordan (CHI), 3

Karl Malone (UTA), 2

Tom Chambers (PHO), 2

Terry Cummings (SAS), 1

Patrick Ewing (NYK), 1

Hakeem Olajuwon (HOU), 1

Larry Bird (BOS), 1

Dale Ellis (SEA), 1

1988-89: 3

Michael Jordan (CHI), 5

Clyde Drexler (POR), 1

Alex English (DEN), 1

1987-88: 2

Michael Jordan (CHI), 4

Dominique Wilkins (ATL), 2

1986-87: 3

Michael Jordan (CHI), 8

Dominique Wilkins (ATL), 3

Moses Malone (WSB), 1

1985-86: 3

Larry Bird (BOS), 1

Dominique Wilkins (ATL), 1

Alex English (DEN), 1

1984-85: 5

Bernard King (NYK), 3

Larry Bird (BOS), 1

Kevin McHale (BOS), 1

Purvis Short (GSW), 1

Moses Malone (PHI), 1

1983-84: 3

Bernard King (NYK), 2

Kiki Vandeweghe (DEN), 2

Purvis Short (GSW), 1

1982-83: 4

Kelly Tripucka (DET), 1

Larry Bird (BOS), 1

Joe Barry Carroll (GSW), 1

Adrian Dantley (UTA), 1

1981-82: 4

Moses Malone (HOU), 1

George Gervin (SAS), 1

Ray Williams (NJN), 1

Adrian Dantley (UTA), 1

1980-81: 4

Adrian Dantley (UTA), 3

Bernard King (GSW), 1

Moses Malone (HOU), 1

Billy Knight (IND), 1

1979-80: 5

George Gervin (SAS), 2

Freeman Williams (SDC), 1

Larry Kenon (SAS), 1

Adrian Dantley (UTA), 1

Mike Newlin (NJN), 1

1978-79: 3

George Gervin (SAS), 1

Truck Robinson (NOJ), 1

John Drew (ATL), 1

1977-78: 5

Rick Barry (GSW), 2

Calvin Murphy (HOU), 1

George Gervin (SAS), 1

David Thompson (DEN), 1

John Williamson (NJN), 1

1976-77: 2

Pete Maravich (NOJ), 4

Phil Smith (GSW), 1

1975-76: 2

Bob McAdoo (BUF), 2

Phil Smith (GSW), 1

1974-75: 4

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MIL), 2

Rick Barry (GSW), 1

Gail Goodrich (LAL), 1

Bob McAdoo (BUF), 1

1973-74: 3

Rick Barry (GSW), 3

Bob McAdoo (BUF), 1

Fred Brown (SEA), 1

1972-73: 5

Tiny Archibald (KCO), 3

Geoff Petrie (POR), 2

Rick Barry (GSW), 1

Spencer Haywood (SEA), 1

Phil Chenier (BAL), 1

1971-72: 4

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MIL), 5

Pete Maravich (ATL), 2

Tiny Archibald (CIN), 1

Chet Walker (CHI), 1

1970-71: 4

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MIL), 2

Dave Bing (DET), 1

Walt Wesley (CLE), 1

Elvin Hayes (SDR), 1

1969-70: 2

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MIL), 1

Lou Hudson (ATL), 1

1968-69: 2

Wilt Chamberlain (LAL), 2

Elvin Hayes (SDR), 1

1967-68: 3

Wilt Chamberlain (PHI), 4

Earl Monroe (BAL), 1

Willis Reed (NYK), 1

1966-67: 2

Rick Barry (SFW), 6

Wilt Chamberlain (PHI), 1

1965-66: 4

Wilt Chamberlain (PHI), 5

Jerry West (LAL), 2

Sam Jones (BOS), 1

Rick Barry (SFW), 1

1964-65: 3

Wilt Chamberlain (SFW/PHI), 9

Oscar Robertson (CIN), 2

Jerry West (LAL), 1

1963-64: 3

Wilt Chamberlain (SFW), 9

Hal Greer (PHI), 1

Bob Pettit (STL), 1

1962-63: 2

Wilt Chamberlain (SFW), 30

Elgin Baylor (LAL), 4

1961-62: 7

Wilt Chamberlain (PHW), 45

Elgin Baylor (LAL), 5

Jerry West (LAL), 2

Richie Guerin (NYK), 2

Cliff Hagan (STL), 1

Rudy LaRusso (LAL), 1

Bob Pettit (STL), 1

1960-61: 3

Wilt Chamberlain (PHW), 8

Elgin Baylor (LAL), 5

Bob Pettit (STL), 1

1959-60: 4

Wilt Chamberlain (PHW), 5

Elgin Baylor (MNL), 2

Jack Twyman (CIN), 1

Richie Guerin (NYK), 1

1958-59: 4

Bob Pettit (STL), 2

Jack Twyman (CIN), 1

Elgin Baylor (MNL), 1

Dolph Schayes (SYR), 1

1957-58: 2

George Yardley (DET), 2

Bob Pettit (STL), 1

1953-54: 1

Neil Johnston (PHW), 1

1951-52: 1

George Mikan (MNL), 1

1949-50: 1

George Mikan (MNL), 1

1948-49: 2

George Mikan (MNL), 2

Joe Fulks (PHW), 1