All the need-to-know info from Monday’s supersized MLK Day slate.
Chris Paul Returns, and So Does Bitterness
A sore left adductor kept Chris Paul from his first rematch with the Clippers this season. But this time, in his first game against his former team on his former home floor, CP3 received an ovation from the Staples Center crowd:
How lovely. I’m so glad that the rumored bad blood between Chris Paul and literally everyone else was not rea—
Chris Paul vs Blake Griffin can be a fun rivalry pic.twitter.com/J83vQ3EZZ0— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) January 16, 2018
Despite Paul’s blockbuster trade also being very personal for former Rockets Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell, a spicy exchange happening between Paul and Griffin amid the Clippers’ 113-102 victory was the most predictable of everything we are about to recap. (Other than Paul vs. a referee, which also happened.)
1. Blake Griffin vs. Eric Gordon’s head
Blake Griffin with the dodgeball spike on Eric Gordon pic.twitter.com/gXUD56ygSJ— gifdsports (@gifdsports) January 16, 2018
2. Blake Griffin vs. Mike D’Antoni (???)
Mike D'Antoni drops a "f*** you on Blake" pic.twitter.com/2QkM6fvGHm— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 16, 2018
D’Antoni said afterward that Griffin hit him before their back-and-forth.
3. Trevor Ariza vs. Austin Rivers in a suit
Austin Rivers bout that life talking trash to Trevor Ariza pic.twitter.com/s6o2dKtDWG— gifdsports (@gifdsports) January 16, 2018
Both Griffin and Ariza were ejected here.
4. Blake vs. vanity
Not sure if people stayed up for Rockets-Clippers, but Blake had an awesome game and also ripped his fake butt and then the butt dangled out his shorts and then he got ejected https://t.co/4fnipWyqPp— Pablo S. Torre (@PabloTorre) January 16, 2018
Ariza ripped Griffin’s tights, and Griffin’s compression pad fell out.
5. Jerry West vs. whatever Rocket was coming his way
Rockets and Clippers about to have an Anchorman brawl and The Logo Jerry West comes down to court to throw down. LEGEND. pic.twitter.com/Vf3eIdB0o4— Agent of NBA Chaos (@World_Wide_Wob) January 16, 2018
6. The Rockets locker room vs. the Clippers locker room
Houston Rockets’ players James Harden, Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green pushed into Clippers locker room post-game looking to confront Austin Rivers, league sources tell ESPN. Security escorted Rockets out before anything turned physical.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 16, 2018
Rockets players were clamoring for Blake Griffin too, league sources said. Chris Paul also entered with other Rockers players through a backstory that connects team dressing rooms. https://t.co/BRgyHe1WgL— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 16, 2018
(Woj meant to type backdoor, though there was indeed a backstory involved in this altercation.)
Per ESPN, Rockets big Clint Capela appears to have ended up serving as the decoy: When the four Houston players entered through the back, Capela “knocked on the front door of [the] Clippers entrance. Someone opened [the] door, saw him standing there—and shut it on him.”
Details are still pouring out, but here’s one thing we know for sure: Houston and L.A. play two more times: on February 28 in Los Angeles, and on March 15 in Houston.
A Tale of Two Finals Teams
Cleveland’s starting lineup began the night on better terms with the basket than it has of late. Eight of its first 10 shots were money. All starters were on the board in the first five minutes. (This is significant—the non-LeBroners have been shooting like the ball is made of melted butter during the team’s losing streak, which was at three games entering Monday.)
Nonetheless, the matchup ended in another Cavs loss, as it did the last time they played the Warriors, on Christmas. Both Steph Curry and Isaiah Thomas were injured for that outing; both led their backcourts this go-round. Curry was efficient, while Thomas shot 1-for-7 from deep.
LeBron, who finished with 32 points, had more help this time against the Warriors—Thomas added 19 and Kevin Love ended with 17—but there’s no keeping up with Draymond Green, who pumped out nine points, 12 boards, seven assists, and two blocks in 19 minutes in the second half, or Kevin Durant, who filed away 16 points in the third quarter.
After Monday’s 118-108 defeat, Cleveland is 2-8 since the last time the teams played. The Warriors are 10-2. Monday ended the former’s 13-game win streak at home; the win continued the latter’s 13-game win streak on the road. For teams seemingly predestined to arrive side-by-side in the Finals, Monday’s game felt like watching the Warriors fly by on the interstate while the Cavs were halfway down the off-ramp.
NBA Coaches Speak Out on MLK Day
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, plenty of coaches and players around the league were asked about the importance of commemorating the day, especially given the current political climate. A handful of them had powerful responses:
LeBron James: “The state of racism will never die, but what we cannot do is allow it to conquer us as people,” James told reporters at shootaround on Monday. “We can’t allow it to divide us. … The guy in control has given people and racism, and negative racism, an opportunity to be out and outspoken without fear. And that’s the fearful thing for us because it’s with you, and it’s around every day, but he’s allowed people to come out and just feel confident about doing negative things. … We can’t allow that to stop us from continuing to be together and preach the right word of livin’ and lovin’ and laughin’ and things of that nature. Because would we want to live anywhere else? I don’t think so. We love this place.”
Steve Kerr on the importance of MLK Day in the current climate: "He'd be less than inspired by our current leadership" pic.twitter.com/MBgfWx0qoh— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) January 15, 2018
Michael Malone on the significance of MLK day and honoring Dr. King’s legacy: “Especially in today’s current climate, it’s that much more important when you have a president making some of the comments he has made...” pic.twitter.com/gsc0QD0AOy— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) January 15, 2018
Popovich on playing on MLK Day: "If someone says that they're not a racist, you know that they are." pic.twitter.com/0s3uyW0Pzq— KL Chouinard (@KLChouinard) January 15, 2018
Stan Van Gundy:
On Sunday, commissioner Adam Silver was among a group that visited the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. There he said the NBA was “discouraged” but would not be “deterred” by President Donald Trump’s reported comments about immigrants from Africa and other parts of the world, the president saying they come from “shithole countries.” The incident drew an angry response from, among others, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who is from Nigeria.
Spoiler Alert: The Bulls May Be Better Than You Think
The Heat were attempting to extend their seven-game win streak and close the gap on the Cavs for third place in the East. But Chicago, the league’s new favorite spoiler, built a big lead in the third and held on for a 119-111 win Monday. Justin Holiday had 25 points, including seven 3s; Zach LaVine, playing in just his second game this season, had 18 points in 20 minutes; and rookie Lauri Markkanen finished with 17 points, six in the final 1:08 to close the game.
Beating playoff-bound (for now) teams is nothing new for Chicago, which has also beaten the Celtics, the Bucks (twice), and the Pistons in recent weeks. The rumor mill continues to whisper about Nikola Mirotic (who scored all 18 of his points on Monday in the fourth quarter) finding a new home before the trade deadline. But even without him, the Bulls may have quickly put together the sort of good, young core that would make missing out on a top pick in this year’s draft less of a big deal than it could be.
A Lonzo a Game Keeps the Loss Away
Los Angeles can’t win without Lonzo Ball. It sounds like a line fed to us from Lakers PR, but it’s also true: After losing 123-114 to Memphis, L.A. is 0-7 this season when Ball is out.
The rookie’s offense is frequently talked about, from the impressive stats (7.1 assists per game; the youngest player to ever record a triple-double) to the meh ones (30.3 percent from 3). But the Lakers miss him on the other end, where he has one of L.A.’s best defensive ratings and averages 1.5 steals (3.3 over the past three games) and 7.1 total rebounds, good for second on the team.
Memphis puts up the second-fewest points per game in the league; Monday’s finish marked the second-most points the franchise scored all season. By half, the Grizzlies had dropped 60—just 18 points less than they totaled against the Nuggets in their previous game.
This Is a JAM …
And This Is a Slow Jam:
My Giant, Starring T.J. and Embiid
The sight of Joel Embiid and T.J. McConnell, Sixers teammates separated by 10 inches in height, dominating a game was striking. It was a visual that Ratatouille would be proud of: Anyone can play basketball.
Ben Simmons was in foul trouble all day Monday against Toronto (and would end up being ejected, along with Kyle Lowry, with seconds left in the game). Dario Saric hit only one 3 (it was a big one in the fourth quarter), and J.J. Redick exited the game with a knee injury (which is being called a “leg contusion”). Even Trevor Booker fouled out after playing only 13 minutes. And so while Embiid shouldered the load, with 34 points in 35 minutes, McConnell was the heartbeat, with a career-high 18 points, eight assists, six rebounds, and three steals in a 117–111 win over the Raptors.
McConnell squeezed by defenders with a nimble grace, all while standing up to DeMar DeRozan on the other end with Embiidesque boldness.
TJ McConnell steps to DeMar DeRozan after an in game clash.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 15, 2018
Things are getting heated between the Sixers and the Raptors. pic.twitter.com/UWuMIwpT4I
“We got the big guy tonight,” Embiid said in the postgame interview, pointing at McConnell next to him. “He played really well.”
More of these two, please.
Nothing Like Facing Russell Westbrook to Re-Evaluate Everything
After losing 95-88 to the Thunder, Kings coach Dave Joerger said out with the old, in with the under-23:
Joerger confirms that the Kings are going young. 2-3 vets sitting from here on out. More on that coming momentarily.— James Ham (@James_HamNBCS) January 16, 2018
George Hill came off the bench Monday, and Vince Carter and Zach Randolph were not used at all. Fire up your trade machines!
A Moment of Silence for Everyone Affected by These Handles
OK, two moments.
Chris Paul puts the movesssss on Milos pic.twitter.com/XEwnxQfjDQ— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) January 16, 2018
Markelle Fultz Watch: This Is Fine
Asked Brett Brown about Markelle Fultz’s form, & finding it again pic.twitter.com/evPBEnaHN0— Jon Johnson (@jonjohnsonwip) January 15, 2018
Sixers coach Brett Brown spoke to reporters Monday about Fultz’s shot form and recovery from a shoulder issue, a saga that’s become as dark and mysterious as an Edgar Allan Poe story. If you’ve seen Fultz’s shooting motion, from the various pieces of practice footage that the Sixers are allowing reporters to capture, you can see that something isn’t quite right.
“I think what he needs to be is able to shoot a basketball,” Brown said on Sunday.
Twice Fultz has alluded on social media to having a “surprise” for Sixers fans, even though he hasn’t returned to the court since late October. Meanwhile, the team, and Brown especially, seems confounded by what has plagued the no. 1 overall pick.
A Literal Clap Back
Against the Knicks on Monday, D’Angelo Russell, who is still very much injured, finished with zero points, zero assists, zero rebounds, zero turnovers, zero steals, zero blocks, and one technical in zero minutes.
After sarcastically clapping at the official’s call—we think, at least; DLo could be showing support amid the larger NBA vs. referees blow-up—Russell was T’d up with 7:56 left in the third. It was pretty inconsequential for the Nets. Courtney Lee took the free shot, pushed New York’s lead to 66-55, and tied the Knicks record for consecutive free throws made (expect some flowers in the mail, D!), but Brooklyn closed the quarter down only two points.
D'Angelo Russell received a tech on the Nets bench after sarcastically clapping at a ref's call. pic.twitter.com/qndcslijjS— Jordan Heck (@JordanHeckFF) January 15, 2018
Throwback to 2007, when Tim Duncan got his second technical, thus automatic ejection, for LOLing at official Joey Crawford.
Lay-In So Smooth Utah’s Mascot Actually Makes Sense
Donovan Mitchell finished with a team-high 23 points in Utah’s 109-94 loss to Indiana. In other highly-exciting-guards-of-the-season news, Victor Oladipo led all scorers with 28.
Simmons and Lowry got into an argument in the waning seconds of Monday’s matchup. The two were ejected from the game, but kept talking as they headed to their respective locker rooms. Simmons even seemed to signal that they should continue the disagreement there:
Kyle Lowry and Ben Simmons appear to motion to each other to meet in hallway after double ejection pic.twitter.com/Ga7vi0zrkL— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 15, 2018
After the game, Simmons was asked about the incident with Lowry, a Philadelphia native.
Ben Simmons said he felt the Raptors were trying to test him: "I'm not going to take shit from anybody."— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) January 15, 2018
He later added, "It's been two Philly guys, so maybe it's a Philly thing."
After today’s game and this minor tussle, I’d like to request a playoff series between these two teams. Thank you.
Expect a Call From Nick Saban, Giannis
Add "long-snapping" to the long list of things Giannis is good at pic.twitter.com/HzHabn5adC— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 15, 2018
The Bucks beat the Wizards 104–95 on Monday behind the Greek Freak’s 27 points, 20 rebounds, six assists, and two blocks.
The Fresh Prince of New York
Frank Ntilikina isn’t flashy. He doesn’t have a polarizing shooting problem or garner excessive media attention. Ntilikina doesn’t inspire much conversation, especially compared to some of his fellow rookies, but maybe he should. On Monday, he had one of his most complete games yet, as the Knicks outlasted the Nets 119-104.
Frank "steph curry" Ntilikina pic.twitter.com/Uk5IbMGtSJ— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) January 15, 2018
Ntilikina, who came off the bench, finished as a plus-17 in starter’s minutes (29). He finished with 10 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, a steal, and two blocks. The 19-year-old doesn’t exactly lack confidence.
Take a look at your future, New York. It’s bright.
The Spurs Catch the L in ATL
On paper, Spurs-Hawks looked less like the matchup of the day and more like a matchup of the day. But it happened, and it provided a thrilling crunch time. Thirteen points were scored in the final 31 seconds, including these two big ones from Dennis Schröder:
In the end, the Hawks got a rare signature win over San Antonio on Monday, 102-99, and moved up to be tied with Orlando for the worst record in the NBA, at 12-31.