All the need-to-know info from Thursday night’s slate.
Come Back, Kyrie
Marcus Smart started in place of Kyrie Irving, who sat out Boston’s 89-80 loss against the Sixers with a sore shoulder. (Irving is expected back for Sunday’s game against the Magic.)
Eighty marked the fewest points put up all season by Boston, which is now on a two-game losing streak at home for the first time this year. Jayson Tatum had no shortage of “he’s only 19!” plays, looking Irvingesque here—
—and later getting Justin Anderson shunned from the Sixers bench:
But Boston as a whole played an uncharacteristically sloppy game without Irving. In the first 18 minutes of play, the team had 14 turnovers, more than they ended with in 22 full games this season. (Boston finished with 19 total, but the game was a sharing-is-caring fest on both sides—Philly racked up 22 turnovers of its own.) The Celtics had zero trips to the line until 3:39 was left in the third, collectively shot 24.1 percent from the perimeter, and were outscored in the paint 46-28. (Which, against Joel Embiid, is a dismissable disparity.)
Speaking of the Process, Joel finished with game highs in points (26), rebounds (16), and assists (six), to which he added two blocks.
A 2018 NBA All-Star Starter, Indeed
[Rick James voice] IT’S A CELEBRATION!
On two occasions Thursday night, Joel Embiid unduly celebrated after his made shot. (Is that you, NFL?) At the end of the third, Embiid hit a midrange jumper and inadvertently hit Jaylen Brown, knocking him to the ground.
Embiid knocked Jaylen Brown to the ground while celebrating pic.twitter.com/ZhjRWx7kLf— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 19, 2018
He also pew-pew-pewed T.J. McConnell after sinking a shot.
Ball Movement Don’t Lie
One week after Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com reported that Cleveland players had “grumbled” about LeBron James slowing ball movement by hunting for assists, the Cavaliers took the ball around the world in 24 seconds:
Cleveland’s passing game started well against Orlando. Fifteen of its first 19 buckets were assisted, including this jewel from LeBron:
As The Ringer’s Danny Chau put it: “A no-look, wrap-around bounce, nutmeg whip pass. That’s a fucking Starbucks order.”
The Cavs ended with 19 assists in the first half. In the second, they had just three. Their quick start cooled in other areas, too: After going 6-for-10 from 3 in the first quarter, Cleveland went on to make just four of its next 24 deep attempts.
Orlando, expectedly, came back from its 23-point deficit. Isaiah Thomas drew a foul off the drive with 11 seconds left and made both free throws for the lead and end score, 104-103.
Don’t Break These Two Up, Trade Deadline
Elfrid Payton ↗️ Aaron Gordon— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) January 19, 2018
The Return of Rose
The former MVP played 13 minutes in his return to the court, finishing with nine points, three rebounds, an assist, and a block.
Beards Not Hot
Houston had no Gerald Green or Trevor Ariza in its Thursday night game against the Timberwolves after both were suspended for their Staples Center locker room escapade. But James Harden returned after a seven-game absence, which—sorry Gerald and Trev—is way, way more important.
Mike D’Antoni limited Harden to 26 minutes, during which he shot an ugly 3-for-15 from the field (and hit just one of his five 3-point shots). Harden had scored 10 points before sitting for good in the fourth quarter. His less-rusty backcourt counterparts had Harden covered: Chris Paul had 19 points and nine assists, and Eric Gordon made seven shots from the perimeter and scored 30 points. (The rest of the team had 10.)
Not in Nurkic’s House
Nurkić with the super staredown pic.twitter.com/i77PFRoLe8— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 19, 2018
The big man grabbed a season-high 17 boards in Portland’s 100-86 win, plus 19 points, two steals, and two blocks.
The Maturation of KAT
Crucifying Karl-Anthony Towns for his defense had almost grown into a pastime for Minnesota fans before the season. But since December of this season, KAT has made defense his, um, pet project, and Tom Thibodeau has seen major improvement from his center on timing, positioning, and caring in general. Here, against Chris Paul, shows how far he’s come:
Some say Karl-Anthony Towns forgot how to play defense pic.twitter.com/Fkh1ab4NGm— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) January 19, 2018
And facing Clint Capela, who finished 78 percent on nine shots for 20 points, shows how far he and the rest of Minnesota’s frontcourt defense still have to go:
KAT dipped away from the Clint Capela dunk pic.twitter.com/aYAOHNad5D— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) January 19, 2018
Towns had 22 points, 16 rebounds, five blocks, three assists, and two steals.