Associated Press

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double helps Bucks turn away Nets 129-115

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo got turned away early but made the clutch plays late.

One of the NBA’s most dynamic dunkers shook off a rare rejection and helped the Milwaukee Bucks turn away Brooklyn’s attempt to rally from a 23-point deficit in a 129-115 win over the undermanned Nets on Saturday.

Antetokounmpo had his third triple-double of the season with 31 points , 10 rebounds and 10 assists, while Khris Middleton scored 29 points, despite a quad injury. The Bucks, who have won three straight and seven of eight, extended their NBA-best record to 25-10.

They nearly squandered their big lead after the Nets went on a 14-0 run in the fourth, and Shabazz Napier‘s 7-footer with 4:51 left trimmed the deficit to seven.

“I think there was a pretty major lapse, the start of the fourth quarter,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Middleton and Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ two best players, reasserted control.

After a bucket by Middleton, Antetokounmpo scored six straight and also drew a charge on former teammate Jared Dudley in a 57-second span of the fourth that ended with the Bucks rebuilding a 15-point lead with 3:10 left. The Bucks were back on their way to their third straight win and seventh in eight games.

“He was phenomenal in the last five minutes,” Budenholzer said.

But a 6-foot-11 forward known for making highlight reels drew social media buzz after a dunk attempt in the first quarter was blocked by Nets center Jarrett Allen.

Leave it to Antetokounmpo to finish strong.

“That’s what a superstar does. When it’s crunch time, when it’s time to close a game out – he did it,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said.

Napier tied his career high with 32 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field and 10 of 12 from the foul line. Kenneth Faried had 21 points and 10 rebounds.

Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez added 24 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the 3-point arc. Lopez provided balance from the perimeter, especially after hitting 5 of 9 from the arc in the first half to help open up a 19-point halftime lead.

The 7-foot center has become quite a long-range threat since he started shooting 3s with more frequency while with the Nets two seasons ago under Atkinson’s tutelage.

Atkinson was forced to come up with a plan on Saturday to slow down the league’s highest-scoring team despite missing six players going into the contest because of injuries or rest. Brooklyn then lost forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with a right groin injury in the first quarter.

 

Ahead on Nets fastbreak, Rodions Kurucs whips pass… farther ahead

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With D'Angelo Russell to his left, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to his right, Joe Harris trailing and only Hawks in front of him, Nets rookie Rodions Kurucs passed ahead. Confidently. That was a bullet.

But to nobody – except maybe the referee. It looked high for the ref, though maybe an NBA player would have snagged the throw.

At Brooklyn still beat Atlanta, 144-127.

Three Things to Know: Russell Westbrook makes history, Paul George has 47 in comeback win

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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) Russell Westbrook makes history, Paul George scores 47 in Thunder’s dramatic comeback win. There was a point, right when Oklahoma City’s Terrance Ferguson missed a three with 7:16 left in the game keeping Brooklyn ahead by 16, that the Thunder’s win probability was down to 1.4 percent — there was a 98.6 percent chance the Nets would pull the upset.

But this was to be OKC’s big night.

It was that night because Russell Westbrook would finish with 21 points, 15 rebounds, and 17 assists — his 108th career triple-double, moving him past Jason Kidd into third on the all-time list.

It was OKC’s night because Paul George — having arguably the best season of his career so far — dropped 47 points, including hitting the game winner. (As a side note: How do both Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson go with Westbrook and nobody slides over with George when George slips the pick> He was wide open because of it.)

The Thunder are one of the NBA’s hottest teams, having won four in a row and 9-of-11, with the NBA’s best defense as the cornerstone of what they do. Built on that defensive foundation, and between their two superstars, the Thunder find a way to get enough offense to rack up the victories. This was the Thunder team management there pictured a season ago, and this year they still get Andre Roberson back at some point.

The Thunder are one of the best teams in the West and look to be a threat next April and May when the playoffs roll around.

2) Toronto’s win shows they are the current class of the East, while Philadelphia has work to do. In the latest PBT Podcast we did a deep dive on the Sixers with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters — the team’s sideline reporter if you are watching on League Pass — and I asked her if the Sixers believed that they were right there with the East’s best. She said the team felt like right now it was half a step behind the elite, but that they could get there before the season ended.

Wednesday night that played out.

Toronto was clearly the better team in a 113-102 victory. It was a lot of things adding up.

• Philadelphia turned the ball over 21 times — 20.4 percent of their possessions or one in five trips down the court — as Toronto’s length and athleticism on defense threw the Sixers off their game.

Kawhi Leonard had his best game as a Raptor, looking like an MVP-level player again, scoring 36 points on 24 shots, hitting 5-of-6 from three, and on the other end disrupting Ben Simmons on offense and making five steals. Leonard was the best player on the floor.

• The Raptors have three big men they can throw at Joel Embiid, giving the Sixers cornerstone both different looks and keeping a fresh body on him at all times, plus really make Embiid work on both ends of the court. Embiid finished the night with 10 points on 5-of-17 shooting. In contrast, Jonas Valanciunas had 26 points in 17 minutes of play.

• The Toronto guards — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, and in spots Fred VanVleet — also did a great job of digging down and helping on Embiid in the post and still getting back out to challenge J.J. Redick and other Sixers shooters.

• Toronto’s bench was back to its dominant ways for a night, outscoring the Philadelphia bench 41-18, led by OG Anunoby, Delon Wright and VanVleet.

There were bright spots for the Sixers — Jimmy Butler had 38 points and impressed.

As Winters’ said, the Sixers can get to the level of the elite by the end of the season, maybe with more time for their core to gel, maybe with some trade/waiver wire pickups just to bolster the depth. Philadelphia is good and they are close.

But right now, Toronto is the class of the East.

3) LeBron James takes over the fourth quarter for Lakers, but is that part of the problem in L.A.? Magic Johnson may want a more egalitarian offense for the Lakers, with multiple playmakers and scorers, but that ignores one fact:

Nobody takes over a game like LeBron James.

LeBron had 20 points in a dominant fourth quarter, leading the Lakers past the struggling Spurs 121-113. The Lakers have won four in a row and are 15-9 now on the season because LeBron is playing at a level that puts him in the MVP conversation.

The question Thursday became: If LeBron is that dominant, does it make it harder for the Lakers to attract a second superstar?

Kevin Durant said yes it can, for some players. It wasn’t a dig at LeBron, it was an honest statement — not every superstar in the NBA is at a place in their careers where teaming up with LeBron in Los Angeles is what’s best for them. It wasn’t for Paul George, who last summer decided he wanted to stay in Oklahoma City, when one summer before his people were saying he was destined to be a Laker.

More importantly, the Lakers may not be a fit for free agents coming up this summer. Look at Durant, for example. He struggled to find a balance of alpha status in OKC with Westbrook, in Golden State he may well be their best player (he has been in the last two NBA Finals) but that is Stephen Curry‘s culture and team. If KD wants to carve out his own legacy now is playing next to LeBron how to best do that? Durant notes playing with the greatness of LeBron forces even elite players (Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love, Chris Bosh, etc.) to change their games to fit around him. Plus, the combination of LeBron in the celebrity culture of Los Angeles creates an off-court environment that is not for everyone (Durant called it “toxic”).

The Lakers will get their next superstar to pair with LeBron. Maybe next summer, maybe in 19 months, but it will happen. Just don’t assume that every superstar wants to rush to play with LeBron on the Lakers — it’s just not a fit for everyone.

No matter how amazing it is to watch LeBron take over games in the fourth quarter.

Watch Jimmy Butler hit another game-winning three to beat Nets (VIDEO)

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Jimmy Butler did it again for the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.

As time wound down during a high-scoring game against the Brooklyn Nets, Butler again took over in the fourth quarter and used his nerves of steel to hit the shot of the game.

With the 76ers down by one point and just 10 seconds left on the clock, Butler did what he does best from the same spot on the floor where he beat the Charlotte Hornets on Nov. 17.

In a simple 1-4 flat set, Butler isolated for the win with a step back 3-pointer over Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Here’s how the play looked on the floor.

Via Twitter:

That’s clutch.

Philadelphia is now 5-2 since trading for Butler.

Watch Caris LeVert’s game-winning layup lifting Nets over Knicks 107-105

Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) —  Caris LeVert‘s driving layup with a second left gave him a career-high 28 points and the Brooklyn Nets their first victory of the season, 107-105 over the New York Knicks on Friday night.

LeVert surpassed the 27 points he scored Wednesday night in Detroit, when the Nets fell just short. He made sure they pulled this one out, driving right into the lane and putting up the tiebreaking shot over Tim Hardaway Jr.

D'Angelo Russell and Jarrett Allen each added 15 points for the Nets. They improved to 6-1 in home openers since moving to Brooklyn in 2012.

Hardaway and Enes Kanter each scored 29 points for the Knicks, who were trying for just their third 2-0 start in 20 years. Kanter tied it on a three-point play with 15.9 seconds remaining but all they could manage for a final shot after LeVert’s basket was a long 3-pointer by Hardaway that wasn’t close.

The Nets were still without starting forwards Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who just became a father, and DeMarre Carroll, who had right ankle surgery. But they did get back Allen Crabbe, their normal starting guard who came off the bench after missing the opener while recovering sprained left ankle.

They started fast, shooting 70 percent in the first quarter, and were in control until early in the second half. Then, Kanter and Frank Ntilikina had a couple of baskets apiece in an 11-0 run that wiped out a 10-point deficit and gave the Knicks a 66-65 lead on Hardaway’s 3-pointer.

New York was ahead 76-74 after three quarters and neither team led by more than six in a back-and-forth final 12 minutes.