Montrezl Harrell

PBT mid-season awards: Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and more

Leave a comment

The 2019-20 NBA season reached its midpoint by games played last night. So, we’re naming winners for mid-season awards. Yesterday, we picked Most Valuable Player and All-NBA. Now, we’re onto the other major honors.

Defensive Player of the Year

Kurt Helin: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

This is the hardest award for me to pick mid-season, but the Jazz put more on the plate of Gobert this season and he has responded amazingly (even if the Jazz’s defense is a little off from its usual highs this season). A lot of other players still in the mix here for me including Joel Embiid (if he plays enough games), Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, and Marcus Smart.

Dan Feldman: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

Even as reigning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year, Gobert doesn’t have the final award sewn up. Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Kawhi Leonard are in the mix. But in a tight race, Gobert gets the benefit of the doubt. Utah’s strong defense is built entirely around Gobert’s rim protection.

Rookie of the Year

Kurt Helin: Ja Morant (Grizzlies)

This is a runaway award, but not for the guy we expected to run away with it. Zion Williamson makes his debut next week and maybe he could climb to third in this race, but he’s not winning the award. Morant and his fluid athleticism have turned Grizzlies into must-watch television, and he looks every bit the franchise player. Kendrick Nunn is a clear second in this race.

Dan Feldman: Ja Morant (Grizzlies)

Some rookie point guards put up big numbers. Some rookie point guards produce electric highlights. Some rookie point guards show promising flashes of winning basketball. Few rookie point guards are actually good. Morant is actually good. His athleticism, shooting and overall offensive control form an incredible package for his age. Sure, Morant is sometimes too reckless. He doesn’t completely break the mold of a young point guard. But Memphis has a gem.

Most Improved Player

Kurt Helin: Devonte' Graham (Hornets)

Last season, Graham was an end-of-the-bench guy in Charlotte. This season, he’s averaging 18.7 points a game, hitting 38.7 percent from three and is the team’s best player. Nobody saw that coming and it’s a radical improvement. Also in the mix for this award are Bam Adebayo and Luka Doncic — yes, the MVP candidate, he as made a massive leap this season.

Dan Feldman: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

It’s a two-man race between Doncic and Devonte’ Graham. As the reigning Rookie of the Year, Doncic will get overlooked. He’s a second-year player. He was supposed to be this good. BS. The leap into superstardom is generally more difficult than the climb from non-rotation player to good starter, which Graham made. For Doncic to get this good this quickly is unprecedented.

Sixth Man of the Year

Kurt Helin: Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)

Harrell was in the mix for this award last season and came back this season as a better defender and more efficient on offense. He’s a critical element for a contending Clippers team, and closes games for them at the five. However, this is not a decided race by any means, both Derrick Rose and George Hill deserve serious consideration. Also, Spencer Dinwiddie in Brooklyn could be in the mix, but likely starts too many games to qualify.

Dan Feldman: Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)

I nearly chose Harrell for this award last season. Since, he has improved his offensive skill and defensive effectiveness. His big role in L.A. gives Harrell the edge over another highly productive reserve, the Bucks’ George Hill. Derrick Rose and Harrell’s teammate, Lou Williams, also warrant consideration.

Coach of the Year

Kurt Helin: Erik Spoelstra (Heat)

This is a wide-open race and my spreadsheet goes eight deep with worthy candidates: Nick Nurse has done an impressive job in Toronto, same with Brad Stevens in Boston and Frank Vogel with the Lakers, and the list goes on. Spoelstra, however, leads for me because of a combination of player development — Kendrick Nunn, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, etc. — and smart utilization of the players’ he has. Plus, Spoelstra is getting it all to mesh around Jimmy Butler.

Dan Feldman: Nick Nurse (Raptors)

Nurse kept Toronto humming when Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left. Nurse kept Toronto humming when key players, including breakout star Pascal Siakam, got hurt. Nurse kept Toronto humming when unproven young players had to join the rotation. Nurse’s defenses are particularly exemplary – both his creativity and ability to get everyone up to speed. The Heat’s Erik Spoelstra and the Pacers’ Nate McMillan aren’t far behind.

Nikola Jokic scores 20 points, grabs 15 rebund to spark Nuggets win vs. Clippers

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Leave a comment

DENVER — The Denver Nuggets put an ugly loss behind them with a statement win over a top-tier team.

Nikola Jokic had 20 points and 15 rebounds, and the Nuggets withstood a big rally to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 114-104 on Sunday night.

This bounce-back performance was just what they needed to soothe their psyche after a clunker the night before against a struggling Cleveland squad.

“We looked like a totally different team less than 24 hours later,” guard Monte Morris said.

The moral was easy to decipher: “We have to come to play against teams we’re supposed to beat,” Morris said. “Because we always show up against teams we know that can beat us.”

Trailing by as many 20 points in the second half, Los Angeles had pulled within six with 1:11 remaining when Patrick Beverley was called for a foul on Jokic. After the Nuggets big man made a pair of free throws, Clippers coach Doc Rivers argued with official Nick Buchert. He was given two technical fouls and tossed from the game. Jamal Murray hit both free throws to restore some much-needed breathing room.

“Listen, coaches can lose their composure, so can officials,” Rivers explained. “There’s no way I should have been thrown out of the game.”

Rivers had simply reached his boiling point. He was still seething from a crucial call earlier in the quarter when Montrezl Harrell got whistled for an offensive charge when he stepped in front of Jerami Grant as Grant guarded Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers were in the midst of a 10-0 run at the time.

“The pick was solid,” Rivers said. “The bottom line is I shouldn’t get a tech. That’s No. 1. That’s on me.”

Murray finished with 19 points and reserve Michael Porter Jr. provided a spark by scoring 13 for the Nuggets, who made their last field goal with 6:12 remaining. They went 9 of 10 on free throws from there.

The defensive standout of the game was Grant, who had two big blocks on Leonard.

“A couple of great blocks at the rim you don’t see very often against Kawhi,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

Leonard finished with 30 points, while Lou Williams had 26 and Harrell added 25.

The Clippers played without star forward Paul George, who missed a second straight game with a strained left hamstring. Los Angeles dropped to 8-6 this season when George doesn’t play.

This contest marked the first of three between two of the upper echelon teams in the Western Conference.

Gary Harris showed signs of breaking out of a shooting slump by scoring 15 points but didn’t play late. He’s been diligently working on his jumper after shooting 25.6% over his last four games. He was 5 of 9 against the Clippers.

“When he makes shots, the guys need to chase him and it’s a little different story,” said Jokic, whose team led by as many as 20 points in the second half.

Denver had quite a sequence midway through the fourth when Will Barton blocked a shot and Jokic grabbed the rebound. He quickly threw it ahead to Barton, who then dished it off to Morris for a 3-pointer. Denver was up 18 and seemingly cruising along before the Clippers made things interesting down the stretch.

“The focus was there. The energy was there,” Jokic said. “It was a big victory for us.”

Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams each score 30+ off bench, Clippers beat Knicks

Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES — A day after a 26-point loss to Memphis in another matinee, the Clippers had a least three players score at least 30 points for the first time in franchise history.

Montrezl Harrell scored 34 points off the bench, reserve Lou Williams scored 32 to match starter Paul George, and Los Angeles beat the New York Knicks 135-132 on Sunday.

It was the first time in the Clippers’ history that three players scored at least 30 points. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time two players have scored 30 points off the bench in a regulation NBA game since the 1970-71 season.

“Montrezl and Lou were fantastic. History is good. Someone has to make it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.

Harrell didn’t say much after tying a career high and producing the seventh 30-point game of his four-year career. One day after saying the Clippers were “not a great team” following the embarrassment by Memphis, Harrell walked past reporters with a smile on his face and said, “You all have a good Sunday.”

George, who missed Saturday’s game with left hamstring tightness, said it was important to not come out flat two afternoons in a row.

“We saw Lou and Montrezl lead the way. Watching that from the bench, it got us motivated. We knew the job we had to do,” said George, who posted his seventh 30-point game this season. He was 9 of 14 from the field, including 5 of 6 on 3-pointers, in 32 minutes.

Both teams shot 54% or more from the floor in a game that will not go down as a defensive masterpiece.

Los Angeles was up by 15 late in the third quarter and 121-110 with 7:06 remaining in the game when George fouled out. New York scored eight straight points to draw within three and was still within one possession in the final minute when Williams drove the lane and hit a floating jumper with 18.5 seconds left to make it 133-128.

Marcus Morris — who led New York with a career-high 38 points — hit a jumper with 10.4 seconds left to get the Knicks back within three, but Williams put it out of reach after a timeout with a pair of free throws.

“You can win games with bad offense and good defense,” Rivers said. “Tonight people can say either the offense was phenomenal or both teams struggled defensively. The players will say one thing but the coaches will say the other.”

Rivers might be surprised that George agreed with him.

“We still allowed too many points and have to get better,” George said. “It’s an area we have to improve, but our offense got us over the hump today.”

RJ Barrett added 24 points for New York and Julius Randle had 16 points and eight rebounds.

“At end of the day, we wanted to win but took a positive step in our competition level,” Morris said. “For us to be in the game against one of the top teams in the league and have a big lead says a lot.”

Los Angeles trailed by 16 at the end of the first quarter but put up a 47-point second quarter to lead 76-69 at halftime. That was the most points scored in the second period of an NBA game this season and tied for the fourth most in any quarter.

Williams led the way with 18 points in the period, including three straight 3-pointers that tied it at 51 with 7:16 remaining. Harrell had 14 points in the quarter, including 10 of the Clippers’ first 13 points during the run.

The Knicks went on a 24-8 run in the first quarter to lead 33-19. New York, which came in making 10.7 3-pointers per game, made four during its spurt while Randle scored seven points.

The Knicks extended their lead to 45-29 at the end of the quarter as they went 19 of 29 from the field. The output was tied for the third-most points scored in the first 12 minutes of an NBA game this season and marked the first time the Knicks have scored at least 44 points and shot over 70% from the field in the first in nearly 11 years. The last time it happened was also against the Clippers, on March 25, 2009.

“It was one of the wilder games that I have been a part of,” Knicks coach Mike Miller said. “We put together a big first quarter and then it flipped. But we showed grit to stay in the game and put ourselves in position at the end.”

Montrezl Harrell frustrated after Clippers loss: ‘We’re not a great team’

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES — “They hate them.”

That was Clippers coach Doc Rivers 90 minutes before tip-off Saturday of a 12:30 p.m. game, foreshadowing his team’s performance against Memphis.

When the ball did go up, the sleepy Clippers got their doors blown off. At home. Memphis put up 40 points in the first quarter, led by as many as 18 early, and cruised to a 140-114 win in Staples Center where they were clearly the better team all afternoon.

Postgame, the Clippers had a lot more energy than they showed on the court — and they were their own harshest critics.

“We’re not a great team. We’re not a great team…” Clippers’ center Montrezl Harrell said. “I think that’s what we need to realize and wake up. We’re a team that still has to figure out things to win night in and night-out.”

“No defense, no communication, no energy…” is how Kawhi Leonard described the Clippers’ effort, noting this is not the first time Los Angeles has been flat like this. “We’ve had a lot of wake up calls. I feel like it’s the middle of the season and some of the mistakes that we’re making, we shouldn’t be making at this time.”

Things got so bad that in the fourth quarter that the 25-12 Clippers heard boos from the home fans.

“Us as a team that should wake you up,” Harrell said of the boos. “Losing by 20-plus points on your home floor, getting embarrassed, and booed by your home fans, that should wake anybody up.”

Does Doc Rivers know what his team’s identity is?

“No. And that’s a concern,” Rivers said postgame.

Part of that is injuries, the Clippers have had their full starting lineup and rotation for one game this season. On Saturday, both Patrick Beverley (wrist) and Paul George (tight hamstring) were out. Both could go Sunday against the Knicks.

That opened up room for Memphis rookie Ja Morant to operate, and he put on a show scoring 22 points. That included dropping Jerome Robinson (with a little shove), staring him down, and draining the three.

“We knew it was an early game, I’ve been part of a few, and the team that wants to play usually wins,” the Grizzlies Jae Crowder said. “We was preaching that in [the locker room], we wanted to throw the first punch and that’s what happened.”

Crowder wanted to play — he scored 27 and hit 6-of-11 from three. It’s the perfect game to showcase yourself for a trade to a contender… if you wanted that kind of thing.

Rivers is not freaking out over this one loss, particularly because this is a franchise that publicly and privately has said they are focused on being right for the playoffs, not a Saturday game in January. This is the ultimate big-picture team.

Rivers added he knows his team is not where it needs to be.

“I’m not alarmed because our record’s terrific,” Rivers said. “I just don’t think right now we’re ready yet, and I see that, but I’m not alarmed by it.

“I just don’t want us to think we’re good enough yet… because we’re not… We’re just not playing well.”

Paul George’s return to Oklahoma City spoiled by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s 32 points

Leave a comment

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Paul George’s return to Oklahoma City was spoiled by a player the Thunder got back when they traded him.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander matched his career high with 32 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 118-112 on Sunday night.

George, who finished third in the MVP voting last season, was sent to the Clippers for Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari in a deal that began the restructuring of the Thunder roster. George was cheered when he was introduced during the starting lineups.

“It was great,” he said. “It made me feel appreciated, just being here. I enjoyed my time here.”

George scored 18 points, but he made just 6 of 17 shots and had five turnovers. Gilgeous-Alexander made 12 of 25 field goals.

Oklahoma City trailed by 18 points in the second quarter, making it the third time in seven days the Thunder overcame a deficit that big to win. This time, the victory came against the No. 2 team in the Western Conference standings.

“That’s a really good team over there,” Thunder guard Chris Paul said. “Obviously, they’ve been in all type of different situations. It’s good. It’s really good, especially they way we were down in the first half.”

Los Angeles scoring leader Kawhi Leonard sat out because of left knee soreness.

Dennis Schroder scored 16 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and Steven Adams added 20 points and 17 rebounds to help the Thunder win their fourth straight. Oklahoma City has won nine of 12 to move above .500 for the first time this season.

“You just go on chemistry, being more comfortable with the offense, defense, you could do all that sort of stuff,” Adams said. “Figuring out playing habits — you could go on, mate.”

Lou Williams scored 22 points for Los Angeles, and Montrezl Harrell had 18.

The Clippers led 63-57 at the half, with Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 19 points for the Thunder.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s layup tied it at 66 in the third quarter. After the Clippers seemed to regain control, the Thunder remained competitive. Paul’s 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer cut it to 89-86.

With 5:35 to play, Harrell appeared to score and draw a foul from Nerlens Noel. The basket would have given the Clippers a 100-94 lead with a free throw coming. The Thunder challenged the call and it was changed to a charge on Harrell.

The Clippers weren’t sure if the challenge worked as it was supposed to. Some time passed as Harrell waited to shoot the free throw.

“I just thought the delay was strange,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We kept asking, ‘What was the delay for? What was the delay for?’ The ref kept holding the ball.”

The Thunder took advantage. Schroder’s 3-pointer put the Thunder ahead, then Adams had a steal and a layup to make it 110-106 with 1:19 to play. After the Thunder got a stop, Schroder’s layup put the Thunder up by six.

“I think as mad as we are that we’re letting games get away early, we’re starting to figure out how to win them now,” Paul said. “We’ve got to keep it going. Even if we’re not making shots, knowing we can get stops. Really good teams in this league — that’s when they buckle down — the fourth quarter.”