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Kyrie Irving, teammate of 12-year-veteran Al Horford: Celtics need 14- or 15-year veteran for leadership

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The Celtics just had a 1-4 road trip, the lone win coming in overtime against the lowly Suns. Most Boston players (except Marcus Morris and, lately, Kyrie Irving) look out of sorts offensively.

Irving, via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

Looking at this locker room, me being in my eighth year and being a ‘veteran’ as well as Al [Horford] and [Aron] Baynes. Right now I think it would be nice if we had someone that was a 15-year vet, a 14-year vet that could kind of help us race along the regular season and understand it’s a long marathon rather than just a full-on sprint, when you want to play, when you want to do what you want to do.

Al Horford is in his 12th season. His team, the Hawks then Celtics, have made the playoffs every season of his career.

I’m not sure Irving intended this as a slight of Horford. Irving certainly didn’t forget about Horford, whom Irving mentioned the sentence prior.

But I’d definitely understand if Horford felt slighted. He’s experienced enough to provide that veteran leadership. So is Irving for that matter.

Ultimately, these comments might prove benign, just more weird words from Irving. Still, they’re potentially significant enough to keep an eye on Boston’s leadership situation.

Watch Celtics’ Marcus Morris drain three to force overtime vs. Suns

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Marcus Morris used to play in Phoenix. In fact, before his new team, the Boston Celtics, took on the Suns Thursday Morris talked about how much he enjoyed living in the city and missed parts of it (the weather in February likely at the top of that list).

Morris was also a little bitter at the franchise for splitting up he and his brother Markieff Morris (after the pair had worked out a unique, below-market deal to stay together on the same team on Phoenix).

So when he drained a three that capped a 22-point comeback — 14 of those points in the final 3:45 — it had to feel good.

After the game, Suns coach Igor Kokoskov was understandably pissed. He said he told the Suns to foul on that final play, force the Celtics to shoot two free throws, and don’t let them get a three off. The Suns had a chance to foul when Morris first had the ball 35 feet out with his back to the basket. Then they had a chance when Morris first handed off to Kyrie Irving. And nothing. Then the Suns’ defenders all went to Irving, nobody rotated over to Morris at the arc, and… that’s how you blow a three-point lead in the final seconds.

Kyrie Irving took over in OT scoring the first six points and the Celtics got the win, 116-109. Kyrie Irving had 39.

And Kokoskov probably could use some ulcer medication.

Three Things to Know: Stephen Curry strains groin as injuries start to hit Warriors

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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) Stephen Curry leaves game with a groin strain, injuries mount as Bucks blowout Warriors. It’s the one thing most likely to derail the Warriors championship train: Injuries. And they are starting to hit the Warriors. Shaun Livingston remains out with a foot issue, and Andre Iguodala is limited by back and neck issues, for example.

Draymond Green was out Thursday night as the Milwaukee Bucks came to Oracle Arena and that mattered. On defense, they needed him to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo… as much as anyone is going to slow the Greek Freak right now. The Warriors couldn’t and Antetokounmpo dropped Green’s jaw like he was in a Tex Avery cartoon.

Antetokounmpo had 19 points, seven rebounds by the half and finished with 24 points on 16 shots, plus nine boards in a 23-point Bucks win, 134-111. The Warriors also missed Green on offense — he is by far the best screen setter on the Warriors and without him Stephen Curry and others couldn’t find the space they are used to against the length of the Bucks.

Then this happened.

Curry soon left the game with what is officially a strained left adductor, which is the groin muscle to the rest of us. Steve Kerr said there will be an MRI on Friday to figure out the severity. Groin strains (like hamstrings) can linger, and players can think they are healed when they are not, then re-injure them in the heat of competition. Which is to say, this early in the season the Warriors are going to be exceedingly cautious.

For the Bucks, this was a “take us seriously, we are contenders” game. Off to a 9-2 start this season they have the best net rating in the league — besting opponents by 12.9 points per 100 possessions, with the second-ranked offense and fourth-ranked defense in the league. They have the necessary superstar in the Greek Freak, and now quality talent around him — Eric Bledsoe was a problem for Stephen Curry all night, Kris Middleton is for real, their bigs Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova can space the floor, and the list goes on and on — to be a threat. Mike Budenholzer is using all that talent properly, with floor spacing on offense and a more conservative defense than Jason Kidd ran.

Bottom line, when you talk the best in the East, the Bucks need to be mentioned with Boston and Toronto.

Golden State is still the gold standard in the NBA, the team everyone needs to beat, and a November win does not vault the Bucks past them. The Warriors did not treat this like a playoff game, they did not adjust like they would (in the Finals). But the nagging injuries are catching up with the Warriors, and with Golden State focused on April and beyond — not November — expect them to be slow bringing guys back from injury, and to get other stars rest. The Warriors have been here before, they know how to handle this, but it will cost them some wins as they focus on the long term.

2) Boston comes from 22 down to beat the struggling Suns on the road. Every time I looked in on this game and saw the score with the Celtics down by 15 or 20, I kept saying “the run is going to come.” Except, it never really did, when Devin Booker hit a floater with 3:45 to play in the game the Suns were up 14 (94-80).

That’s when the run came. Which was capped off by former Sun Marcus Morris — the guy bitter at the franchise for splitting up he and his brother — draining a three to tie.

After the game, Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said he had instructed the Suns to foul on that final play and force the Celtics to shoot two free throws. They had a chance When Morris first had the ball 35 feet out with his back to the basket, they had a chance when he first handed off to Kyrie Irving, and the Suns didn’t follow their coach’s instruction. Then they left (and didn’t rotate over to) a shooter at the arc and… that’s how you blow a three-point lead in the final seconds.

Kyrie Irving took over in OT and the Celtics got the win, 116-109. Kyrie Irving had 39, Devin Booker 38. Just remember, this was the easy game on the Celtics’ road trip West.

3) Carmelo Anthony returned to Houston and… that looked familiar. And ugly. The Thunder were without Russell Westbrook. Houston had won three in a row, all on the road, they had James Harden and Chris Paul healthy and were starting to feel themselves…

And Thursday night was all Thunder. OKC’s defense was sharp, but mostly the Rockets were off — Paul and Harden combined to shoot 11-of-30. As a team, Houston shot just 37.8 percent from the floor. This continues a trend all season, the Rockets are just missing shots. Houston leads the league with 41.9 threes attempted per game, 47.5 percent of their total shots, but they are 25th in shooting percentage from deep at 32.7 percent.

Nobody in a Rockets’ uniform was colder Thursday than Carmelo Anthony, who returned to OKC and shot 1-of-11 — a sight familiar to Thunder fans.

All of this led to a Thunder win — their seventh in a row — behind a balanced attack led by Paul George with 19 points. The Rockets can chalk this one up to just an off shooting night… but there have been a lot of those in this 4-6 start.

NBA Power Rankings: Nuggets, Trail Blazers early season surprises in Top 5

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The Warriors being on top is not a surprise, but the Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Bucks all being in the top five? That is not what we expected coming in. The Cavaliers remain in dead last in these rankings, but the Suns are pushing hard for that spot.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (10-1, last week No 1). It is far, far too early to talk about the MVP race… but if one did, one would say Stephen Curry has been fastest out of the gate in that race. Curry, hunting his own shot like it’s 2015 again, has averaged 31.3 points per game while shooting 50.8% from three, with a PER of 30. He just changes the game when he’s on the court and it’s been a joy to watch this season. Fun showdown Thursday night against the red-hot Bucks.

Raptors small icon 2. Raptors (10-1, LW. 3). Kyle Lowry has found a comfort level as a playmaker in Nick Nurse’s system — he is averaging 11.5 assists a game and is assisting on 45.6 percent of his teammates buckets when he is on the floor this season, both career highs by a country mile. Lowry and teammates beat the Lakers and Jazz on the road, back-to-back, without Kawhi Leonard (foot injury, hopefully he and the team can stay on the same page about treatment). That speaks to the depth of this roster. Toronto is top six in both offense and defense.

Nuggets small icon 3. Nuggets (9-1, LW 4).. Jamal Murray dropping 48 on Boston was a statement — both for him and for the Nuggets, a one-loss team that has now beaten both the Warriors and the Celtics this season. Note to Kyrie Irving, if you want to stop Murray from going for 50 points with a meaningless shot at the end of the game, do something about the first 48. Interesting early tests coming up against the Bucks (Sunday) and a Rockets team finding itself again (Tuesday).

Blazers small icon 4. Trail Blazers (8-3, LW 5). While the Portland starting five — Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jake Layman, Jusuf Nurkic — is outscoring teams by 8.4 points per 100 possessions so far this season, it has been the team’s strong bench play led by Zach Collins and Evan Turner that has keyed the team’s fast start. When that bench struggles, as it did against the Lakers, the Blazers fall (also they just couldn’t buy a three against Los Angeles). McCollum dropped 40 on the Bucks and make a statement, now the Clippers and Celtics are up next.

Bucks small icon 5. Bucks (8-2, LW 2). The Celtics and their hot three-point shooting knocked the Bucks from the ranks of the unbeaten, but we’re more interested in seeing how Milwaukee fairs on a tough four-game West Coast swing that started with a loss in Portland Tuesday where they had no answer for McCollum. Next up are the Warriors. Also, we need to revisit the Greek-on-Greek crime of this Gianni Antetokounmpo’s dunk of the year entry over Kosta Kufos.

Pacers small icon 6. Pacers (7-4, LW 9). Just a friendly reminder that back in 2013 the Cavaliers picked Anthony Bennett No. 1 in the draft over Victor Oladipo (most teams did not have Bennett near that high). Ouch. The Pacers are now built around Oladipo, who has averaged 23 points and 7.2 rebounds a game this season, but maybe more importantly has been a force of nature in the clutch (8-of-11 shooting this season) and is doing things like this to the Celtics.

Spurs small icon 7. Spurs (6-3, LW 12). The offense, with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge knocking it down from the midrange, has always been fine, but the recent four-game winning streak was sparked more by a defense that has moved from last in the league to middle of the pack during those games. Well, the D was at least until it regressed at home against Orlando. Now things get tougher with 9-of-11 coming up on the road (and the first home game in that stretch is a Rockets team now finding itself).

Celtics small icon 8. Celtics (6-4, LW 6). The Celtics have played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far this season. Their offense has been improving, but it’s not yet intimidating — 27th in the NBA for the season but 15th over the last three games. Late in games, Brad Stevens has trusted Marcus Morris over Gordon Hayward, and that’s the right play because Hayward is still struggling to start the season (as we should expect, remember that a year ago his leg was literally shattered).

Clippers small icon 9. Clippers (6-4, LW 11). The Clippers are better than their record would indicate (and their record is better than many expected). This is a top 10 team in offense and defense, and they are outscoring teams by 6 points per 100 possessions (meaning they should be 7-3 at least). Tough next four: At the Blazers, then home to the Bucks, Warriors, and Spurs.

Thunder small icon 10. Thunder (5-4, LW 22).. Oklahoma City catches a break with Russell Westbrook’s sprained ankle not being as bad as it looked, so he will not miss much time. The Thunder, winners of five in a row, also catch a break this happened as they hit a soft spot in the schedule: Cleveland, Dallas, Phoenix twice, and Sacramento are six of next seven. The Thunder should keep on winning and making up for the slow start.

Hornets small icon 11. Hornets (6-5, LW 14). Charlotte has been the least lucky team in the NBA — they are one game over .500 but with a +8.9, that of an 8-3 team. This is not a new problem, last season the Hornets struggled to close out close games, too, and it was one reason they missed the playoffs. Interestingly, the Hornets are +15.2 per 100 when Tony Parker runs the point and Kemba Walker is at the two, that may be a way James Borego tries closing games.

Grizzlies small icon 12. Grizzlies (5-4, LW 13). The Grizzlies continue to defend well but their offense — especially with Kyle Anderson and Jaren Jackson Jr. in the starting lineup — is struggling mightily. Mike Conley has not found consistency with his jumper, and that is part of the offensive issues, too. Memphis needs to figure out how to get buckets quickly because they have lost two in a row and the next four games — Denver, Philadelphia, Utah, and Milwaukee — are against quality teams.

Kings small icon 13. Kings (6-4, LW 16). Why are the Kings playing so well? They found an identity in pace — last season the Kings averaged 95.6 possessions a game, dead last in the league, this season they are at 108.1. That’s 12.5 possessions a game faster, a ridiculous leap. Synergy has them getting 21.9 percent of their offense in transition and scoring 128 per 100 on those chances. The real test of their new identity comes this month with a brutal schedule.

Sixers small icon 14. 76ers (6-5, LW 15). With all the focus on how Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons can’t play together (to his credit, Brett Brown is playing them as a tandem less and less), it’s been overlooked by some that Joel Embiid has been an absolute beast carrying this team. He is averaging 28.4 points and 12.6 assists per game, and he even has time to build condos in Andre Drummond’s head. Right now, the Sixers go as Embiid goes, but that is not going to get them where they want this season.

Rockets small icon 15. Rockets (4-5, LW 23). Winners of three in a row, the last two of those with James Harden back from injury. The Rockets are looking much better. Carmelo Anthony’s offense is coming around as well, but it’s not making up for his defense — the Rockets are 10.3 points per 100 possessions worse defensively when he is on the court. Great news that Jeff Bzdelik is returning, a sign the Rockets are going to focus on defense again, but his switching style is still going to run into a personnel problem when Anthony is on the court.

Heat small icon 16. Heat (4-5, LW 17). Josh Richardson is the rare case of a player forced to take on more offensive responsibility — his usage rate has jumped from using 18.2 percent of the team’s possessions when he is on the court to 24.1 percent, however, his true shooting percentage also is up to 57.1 (from 55.1), his PER is up to 17.4, and he is now scoring 21.4 points per game (up from 12.9 last season). He dropped 31 on Miami, 32 on Atlanta, and 27 points on Detroit. However, he can’t get the team wins unless they clean up the defense, which has been bottom 10 the last five games, in a very un-Heat kind of way.

Jazz small icon 17. Jazz (4-6, LW 7). No team has had a harder time adjusting to the “freedom of movement” rules on defense than the Jazz. Utah is giving up 109.3 points per 100 possessions, 17th in the league this season and 6.4 per 100 worse than last season. The Jazz like to be physical on defense, slowing guys off picks with a bump and grab, but that draws a whistle this season, and the Utah defenders have not mastered getting their feet in the right place and making the play that way. They need to if this team is going to reach its goal of being home for the first round of the playoffs.

Pistons small icon 18. Pistons (4-5, 10). Detroit has played the fourth easiest schedule in the NBA so far, and as it has gotten tougher the team has dropped five in a row. The problem in the losing streak has been the offense, which is scoring less than a point per possession in those five games. Teams have started to adjust to Blake Griffin having the ball in his hands as a playmaker, and Detroit has yet to counter.

Lakers small icon 19. Lakers (4-6, LW 21). Magic gave Luke Walton a stern talking to about the offensive system and defense, but at the same time he should be taking a look in the mirror — what did he expect with this roster. When you add LeBron James, he is the system. Also, the pace the Lakers are playing at is a system. Los Angeles picked up Tyson Chandler to help on defense, but it’s fair to ask if he still has that in him at age 36. Either way, it’s a low-risk move for Los Angeles.

Pelicans small icon 20. Pelicans (4-6, LW 8). Won their first four, but then dropped their next six, all against quality teams in the West (and five of those losses are on the road). During the losing streak New Orleans has had a bottom-10 offense, but the real problem is on the defensive end where they surrendered 116.7 per 100. Games against the Bulls and Suns next give them a chance to right the ship.

Nets small icon 21. Nets (5-6, LW 24). The most up-and-down team in the NBA — they got blown out by the Knicks, but turn around and blow out the Sixers. That said, the inconsistency has still been good enough — if the playoffs started today the Nets would be the seven seed. Tuesday’s win in Phoenix is the start of 7-of-9 on the road, with some rough stops against the West at the start of the trip.

22. Timberwolves (4-7, LW 18). Jimmy Butler is missing time for “precautionary rest” and “general soreness” which everyone around the league sees as pressure to force a trade, no matter what Butler and the team try to sell. There are times it looks like the Timberwolves are close to figuring it out (Lakers) and other times they look close to imploding. At least Derrick Rose dropping 50 was a great distraction and one of the best stories of the season.

Magic small icon 23. Magic (4-6, LW 26). They have won two in a row and it’s not a coincidence it happened when Jonathan Isaac had to sit (ankle), so Aaron Gordon could move back to his more natural spot at the four and the offense could start to flow. Coach Steve Clifford may have to stick with this rotation for a while. Orlando has 6-of-8 coming up at home — if they are going to make a push up into the East playoff discussion, it has to start during this homestand.

Knicks small icon 24. Knicks (3-8, LW 23). There have been stretches this season where the Knicks have started to show some spark and have looked competent — and then they lose to the hapless Wizards, and then drop a punch-to-the-guy double OT game to the Bulls. It’s fun to watch Mitchell Robinson play, there are reasons to tune in some nights, but with 6-of-8 coming up on the road it feels like the losses could start piling up even faster.

Mavericks small icon 25. Mavericks (3-7, LW 20). Dallas has played the second easiest schedule in the NBA so far, so their slow start should be even more concerning. So is the fact there seems to be tension between Luka Doncic — who keeps putting up good numbers — and some of the veterans on the team. It’s not just DeAndre Jordan going over Doncic’s back to get a rebound, just watching their interaction gives one the sense some veterans aren’t sure Doncic has yet earned his status. On the bright side, Dirk Nowitzki should be back in about three weeks.

Hawks small icon 26. Hawks (3-7, LW 25). Atlanta has played the easiest schedule in the NBA to date, just to put the early record in perspective. That said there are things to like (besides the up-and-down play showing the potential of Trae Young), for one moving Omari Spellman into the starting lineup. That worked well against Miami. Also, Dewayne Dedmon is back and averaging 8.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks a night — he is going to generate trade interest from contenders as we get closer to the deadline.

Bulls small icon 27. Bulls (3-8, LW 27).. Zach LaVine continues to prove his doubters wrong, the latest example the 41 points — including the game-winning free throw — Monday against the Knicks. That was a deserved win for the Bulls, they had been competitive but lost three home games to good teams (Denver, Indiana, Houston), Monday the basketball gods smiled on them. There are winnable games coming up at home against Cleveland and Dallas.

Wizards small icon 28. Wizards (2-8, LW 28). Washington earned a win over the Knicks and if they are going to turn things around it is now — the Wizards enter a soft part of the schedule with five more games against teams below .500. Of course, they dropped one in Dallas on Tuesday in another game where there was just a lack of effort on defense. No team has worse body language around the league than the Wizards.

Suns small icon 29. Suns (2-8, LW 29). Devin Booker’s return almost makes this team watchable again, and he had 14 fourth-quarter points in a win over the Grizzlies. He also had 20 points against Brooklyn but needed 21 shots to get there. Let the Suns be a lesson: In today’s NBA you need a decent point guard to run the show. The Suns front office remains incredibly active trying to land a decent point guard, the problem is there are not many available right now, plus everyone around the league knows how desperate the Suns are for one, which leads to teams trying to fleece them in a trade.

Cavaliers small icon 30. Cavaliers (1-9, LW 30). Cleveland finally reached a deal to turn Larry Drew from “the voice” into an actual coach of the team. That’s great, he gets a team where Kevin Love is out with foot surgery for a couple of months, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver want to be traded, and the veterans don’t think Collin Sexton knows how to play the game. Congrats on that new gig, Drew. Have fun storming the castle!

Kyrie Irving throws ball deep into stands because Jamal Murray tried to score 50

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Jamal Murray scored 48 points on the Celtics last night.

He wanted 50.

The Nuggets guard shot twice in the final 20 seconds with Denver’s victory already secure, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Murray probably could have driven to the basket for an easy layup. By then, Boston let its guard down even more than it had earlier. The final 3 struck me as a self-imposed compromise to Murray.

But Kyrie Irving sure didn’t see it that way. He refused a handshake from Nuggets assistant Jordi Fernandez, who worked with Irving on the Cavaliers, then launched the ball into the stands:

That will probably get Irving fined. That it happened after the buzzer shouldn’t be an excuse. Kelly Oubre got fined for kicking a ball into the stands after a game last year.

Irving, via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

“I mean, what kind of competitor wouldn’t it bother?” Irving said after dressing quick following Boston’s loss. “I understand if we fouled him, going to the free-throw line. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. Obviously, I was pissed at the game, but it’s time to decompress and move on. Congratulations to him having 48 points. He did it in a great fashion against us. Our defense has to be better especially against a player like that in the pick-and-roll. He was the primary concern tonight and he made us pay in certain instances of making some tough shots and some tough layups.

“But the ball deserves to go in the crowd after a bulls—— move like that. So I threw it in the crowd.”

Marcus Morris, via Forsberg:

“I know him personally, so I’m not gonna sit up here and badger him. It was definitely unprofessional,” said Morris. “If I was out there, I probably would have did something. Definitely unprofessional. But he’s a young player, he’ll learn later down the road, I guess.”

The Celtics have a right to feel however they want. They can be sensitive, petulant and vindictive.

But it should make them look worse than Murray.

Murray tried to score during a basketball game. Was it attempting to run up the score? Yeah. Was that the primary purpose? No. He wanted to hit a statistical milestone. If the Celtics didn’t like it, they had a recourse available to them:

Play defense.