Suns’ Williams on Paul: ‘He’s putting guys in position to score the ball, but again, he’s done that his whole career’

The Phoenix Suns are one win away from getting to the Western Conference Finals after defeating the Denver Nuggets 116-102 at Ball Arena on Friday night.

Phoenix has a commanding 3-0 series lead with an opportunity to sweep this second-round best-of-seven-series in Game 4 in Denver on Sunday night. 

The Suns have not been to the conference finals since 2010.

All five Suns’ starters scored in double figures, led by Devin Booker’s 28 points, six rebounds, and four assists, Chris Paul’s 27 points, eight assists, and six rebounds, and Deandre Ayton had 10 points and 15 rebounds.

Nikola Jokic, who received his MVP trophy on Friday night, had a triple-double and led the Nuggets with 32 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists—joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only two others players in NBA history to have a 30/20/10 game in the playoffs.

The Suns had another big third quarter in Game 3 and outscored the Nuggets 31-21 on Friday night. In total, Phoenix has outscored Denver by 29 points in the third quarter this series.

The moment Paul got right from the shoulder injury was the moment Phoenix started to take off in these playoffs. The Suns have won six straight in the playoffs by an average of 17 points per game. Paul has 34 assists and three turnovers in this series against the Nuggets. Also, Paul has been magical in the fourth quarter in this series against Denver; Paul has scored 30 points, including eight points on Friday night, on 12-13 from the field, with eight assists and zero turnovers. 

“He an unbelievable basketball player, but he has an unbelievable mind and will to play the game,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said about Paul. “So, I’m not even sure he even thinks about the turnovers. I think he’s just trying to make the right plays. He’s putting guys in position to score the ball, but again, he’s done that his whole career.

Despite being down 3-0, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone, whose team came back from 3-1 twice in the playoffs last season, hopes his team can be the first to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs in NBA history.

“As far as the 3-0 deficit, yes, history is not on our side,” Malone said. “But you know what? We have rewritten history the last couple of years. When we were down 3-1 twice last year, it was never about trying to win three more games. It was about winning the next game, winning the first quarter, winning the second quarter, and that’s got to be our mindset.”

Denver appears to be a team that has run out of gas. They are without their second-best player in point guard Jamal Murray, which puts more pressure on Jokic, who can’t do any more than what he did on Friday night. 

This series probably over. No one has come back from 3-0 in NBA history, and barring a miracle, it probably does not happen in this series.

Clippers’ Ibaka out for postseason after back surgery

LA Clippers center Serge Ibaka underwent back surgery in Los Angeles on Thursday, the team announced on Friday.

According to the team, Ibaka will miss the remainder of the NBA postseason and is expected to make a full recovery. The 31-year-old Ibaka missed 30 games with a back injury. Ibaka played the final two games of the regular season and the first two games of the playoffs but has not played since that time.

The 11-year veteran signed with the Clippers as a free agent in the offseason after spending four seasons in Toronto. Ibaka averaged 11.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per contest in 41 regular-season games with the Clippers this season.

Suns’ Williams on Paul: ‘He manages games better than anybody I’ve ever been around’

When Chris Paul is right, the Phoenix Suns are right, and that has been the case in the first two games of their second-round matchup against the Denver Nuggets, including Wednesday night’s 123-98 victory over Denver at Phoenix Suns Arena.

In 30 minutes of action, Paul had 17 points, 15 assists, five rebounds, and maybe the best number of all, zero turnovers. The Suns had six players in double figures, led by Devin Booker’s 18 points and 10 rebounds and Deandre Ayton’s 15 points and 10 rebounds.

According to StatMuse, Paul is the first player with 15 points, 15 assists, and zero turnovers in a playoff game since he did it in 2008 and 2014.

Phoenix holds a 2-0 series lead as the scene shifts to Denver for Games 3 and 4, starting on Friday night.

Phoenix led by 10 at halftime and took complete control in the third quarter. The Suns went on a 13-4 run to start the quarter and led by as many as 22 points in the third. Phoenix pushed their lead to as much as 31 points in the fourth quarter.

According to Suns head coach Monty Williams, Paul, who had 21 points and 11 assists in Game 1 of this series, is the best game manager he’s been around.

“He manages games better than anybody I’ve ever been around,” Williams said. “It’s not something I take for granted; it’s not something our team takes for granted.”

Paul, who passed Jerry West to move into 14th on the playoffs All-Time Assist leaderboard, added: “Just reading the game, man. Just finding open guys, picking my spots. We’ve got an unbelievable team in the way that we’ve got shooters.”

The 36-year-old Paul is the perfect point guard. He does everything right on the floor and makes sure everybody is in the right spots. The key for Paul is health, which has derailed his championship hopes in the past with the Clippers and Rockets. Clearly, if he stays healthy, Phoenix has a chance to make it to the NBA Finals and possibly win a title.

Hawks’ Hunter to miss rest of postseason with torn meniscus

Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter will miss the rest of the postseason due to a small tear of the lateral meniscus, the team announced on Wednesday. 

According to the team, Hunter, who missed the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Philadelphia, began experiencing some mild swelling in his right knee, and an MRI revealed the injury. The 23-year-old Hunter is scheduled to travel to Los Angeles this weekend and undergo surgery on Tuesday.

The second-year forward missed 49 regular-season games due to a knee injury.

In 23 regular-season games, the former fourth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft averaged 15.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest.

In the playoffs, Hunter averaged 10.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. 

Rivers on Milton: ‘He gave us a huge lift’

The Philadelphia 76ers got another big performance from Joel Embiid on Wednesday night. After scoring a then playoff career-high 39 points in Game 1, Embiid came back and set a new playoff career-high with 40 points and 13 rebounds in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference second-round matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. 

However, the 76ers needed an unlikely hero to defeat Atlanta on Wednesday night.

With Philadelphia trailing 80-79 late in the third quarter, 76ers head coach Doc Rivers inserted Shake Milton, who has struggled during the playoffs. Milton proceeded to score six points in the third, including a 35-foot buzzer-beater to end the quarter, and scored eight more points in the fourth to finish with 14 points as the 76ers defeated Atlanta 118-102 at Wells Fargo Center to even the series at 1.

In 15 minutes of action, Milton was 5/8 from the field, including four threes.

Milton appeared to be out of the rotation, and before his explosion on Wednesday night, the third-year guard averaged 2.8 points per game while shooting 21% from the field in the playoffs. Despite his struggles, Rivers was impressed by Milton’s preparation. 

“He prepared himself, and he believed that he would get another shot, and he got it,” Rivers said about Milton. “He gave us a huge lift. Very happy for him, personally.”

Tobias Harris, who scored 22 points in Game 2, was also happy for Milton.

“I’m extremely happy for him,” he said. “Happy and proud at the same time… For him, he’s been in and out of the rotation a bit in the playoffs, struggling a bit at times. But, he’s steadily in the gym, waiting for that moment, that opportunity. Here it came, and he took advantage of it”

In the first half, the Hawks’ bench outscored Philly’s bench 32-0, but the second half was a much different story for the 76ers, who had 26 bench points in the second half, which was a big reason Philadelphia was able to push the lead to as many as 21 points in the fourth.

Game 3 is Friday night in Atlanta.

In Game 1, Trae Young, guarded mainly by Danny Green, was tough to stop for Philadelphia as he scored 35 points and dished out 10 assists. However, in Game 2, the 76ers used the 6-11, Ben Simmons, to guard the 6-1 Young, and it worked. Young was just 6/16 from the field with 21 points and 11 assists. 

As they enter Game 3, it should be interesting to see what the Hawks will do to get Young going. It also should be interesting to see how both teams will respond as the scene shifts to State Farm Arena for Games 3 and 4.

Notes:

-Kevin Huerter and Danilo Gallinari gave the Hawks a big boost in the first half on Wednesday night. Both Gallinari and Huerter scored 15 points apiece in the first half. Gallinari finished the game with 21 points, and Huerter added 20.

-Seth Curry scored 21 points for the 76ers in Game 2, including 5/8 from three-point range. 

Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic wins NBA MVP

Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic had a remarkable season, and that special was rewarded after he was named the NBA’s MVP on Tuesday.

Jokic, who won the award for the first time in his career, is the lowest-drafted player(41st overall selection in 2014) to be named league MVP 

The 26-year-old center becomes the first player to earn the honor as a member of the Nuggets. He is also the first player from Serbia to be selected as the NBA MVP and joins Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) as MVP winners from Europe.

In his sixth NBA season, Jokic played all 72 games and averaged a career-high 26.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, a career-high 8.4 assists, and 1.32 steals in 34.8 minutes. With his season averages, Jokic ranked 12th in the NBA in points, ninth in rebounds, sixth in assists, and 22nd in steals. He is the third player in NBA history to average at least 26.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 8.0 assists in a season, joining Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook.

This season, he broke the franchise records for career double-doubles and triple-doubles. He also became the first Nuggets player to start an NBA All-Star Game since 2011.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (586 points) finished in second place in the MVP voting, followed by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (453 points) in third place, Milwaukee Bucks forward Antetokounmpo (348 points) in fourth place, and Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (139 points) in fifth place. 

If Embiid could have found a way to stay healthy, he probably wins the award, especially when considering that the 76ers had the best record in the Eastern Conference. However, give credit to Jokic; he did it all for the Nuggets and is well-deserving of league MVP.

The Nuggets play Game 2 of their second-round playoff matchup against the Suns on Thursday night. Phoenix leads the series 1-0.

Suns’ Paul on Game 1: ‘It was fun to get out there and be involved’

In Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns, the game changed in the third quarter.

Denver led 70-60 with just over eight minutes left in the quarter. From there, the Suns outscored the Nuggets 28-9 in the third quarter and would win Game 1 122-105 at Phoenix Suns Arena on Monday night.

We may have finally seen a healthy Chris Paul. In the fourth quarter, Paul, who had been battling a shoulder injury, scored 10 straight points. Paul(6-6 fg) had 14 of his 21 points in the quarter. He also added 11 assists.

Phoenix’s five starters all scored in double figures, led by Mikal Bridges’ 23 points. 

“The only way you get a chance to see how it is is during the game,” Paul said about his shoulder. “It was good. It was fun to get out there and be involved. That last series was, that was tough. I’m glad to be back helping the team.”

Devin Booker, who scored 21 points on Monday night, added this on Paul: “He just made plays… Not only scoring ability but getting everybody else involved. That’s been the story of the season for us.”

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Phoenix.

A big matchup in this series is the center battle between MVP Nikola Jokic and Deandre Ayton. Jokic(23) outscored Ayton(20), but Jokic had more field goal attempts(23) than Ayton(13), and Ayton(10) had more rebounds than Jokic(9).

Before the game, Jokic said Ayton gives him trouble. After the Suns’ win, Ayton talked Jokic.

“I love playing against Jokic, man,” Ayton said. “That’s the MVP of our league. He has so much; he has a lot to cover. Dude can do anything. That’s just the modern center there… We just have to keep competing and stay locked in.”

Phoenix is at its best when Paul is healthy, which we saw in Game 1. The Suns not only have an excellent team, but they have a great home crowd who was into the game from start to finish

The Nuggets will make adjustments, and we’ll see how much that will help in Game 2.

Watch as Paul, Ayton, Booker, and Bridges react to team’s win Game 1 win over Denver:

Knicks’ Thibodeau named NBA Coach of the Year

The New York Knicks made a tremendous turnaround this season, and because of that, their head coach Tom Thibodeau received the Red Auerbach Trophy as the 2020-21 NBA Coach of the Year, the NBA announced on Monday.

This is the second NBA Coach of the Year Award for Thibodeau, who earned the honor in the 2010-11 season with the Chicago Bulls in his first season as an NBA head coach.  Now honored in his first season as the Knicks’ head coach, Thibodeau has become the first person to be named NBA Coach of the Year in his first season as head coach with two different franchises.

With Thibodeau as head coach, New York finished tied for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference (41-31) and made the NBA Playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season.  The Knicks won 16 of their final 20 games to complete a turnaround from last season’s overall record of 21-45.

Thibodeau received 43 first-place votes and earned 351 total points to edge Phoenix head coach Monty Williams, who finished in second place with 340 points (45 first-place votes).  The 11-point difference between the first- and second-place finishers marks the smallest margin since the current NBA Coach of the Year voting format was introduced in the 2002-03 season.

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder finished in third place with 161 points (10 first-place votes).  Coaches were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote from a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters.

Thibodeau is the 10th head coach to win the NBA Coach of the Year Award more than once and the eighth to do it with multiple franchises.

New York hired Thibodeau as its head coach on July 30, 2020.  Before joining the Knicks, he served as head coach of the Bulls for five seasons (2010-15) and the Minnesota Timberwolves over three seasons (2016-19).

Mavs’ Carlisle on Doncic: ‘I think he’s proven he’s a top-5 player in the world’

The Dallas Mavericks season ended against the Los Angeles Clippers for the second straight year in the first round of the playoffs. This time, the Mavericks fell to the Clippers in 7 as they lost 126-111 at Staples Center on Sunday.

Despite the loss, the Mavericks did make improvements. Last season, they were the seventh seed in the Western Conference. However, this season, they were the fifth seed in the West. Last season, they lost to the Clippers in the first round in six. This season, they lost to Clippers in seven.

Also, Luka Doncic, who had 46 points, 14 assists, and seven rebounds on Sunday, is becoming one best players in basketball. In the regular season, Doncic, 22, averaged 27.7 points, 8.6 assists, and 8.0 rebounds per game.

However, as the great ones do, they up their game in the playoffs. Doncic averaged 35.7 points, 10.2 assists, and 7.9 rebounds per game in this series against the Clippers. Also, according to mavstats, Doncic accounted for 33.7% of Dallas’ points in the series, the highest percentage in any series in Mavs history (previous record: Dirk’s 32.2% vs. DEN in 2009 West Semifinals).

According to his head coach Rick Carlisle, Doncic’s performance in this series solidifies him as a top-five player in the NBA.

“Even before this series started, I think he’s proven he’s a top-5 player in the world,” Carlise said after the game. “This series certainly validates that. And we’ve just got to keep building the team around him…Luka is an amazing player. I don’t think there’s anybody that would dispute that.”

Kawhi Leonard added on Doncic: “Oh, man, you know, he did everything. I don’t know how many 40-point games he had; I believe three, three, or four. You know, shooting it very efficiently from three for sure off the dribble shots. You know, just doing it all for his team. You know he’s a great player, and you’ll see him for many years to come. He plays at his own pace, and he makes it look easy out there.”

Doncic was the best player in this series, and If he continues at this pace, he could very well be the best in the NBA.

Hawks ride Young, three-point shooting to grab Game 1 in Philly

The Atlanta Hawks got off to a great start on Sunday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers. Atlanta shot 72 percent from the field in the first quarter, including 6/12 from three-point range, and would lead 42-27 after one quarter and led 74-54 at halftime.

The Hawks would withstand a furious Philly rally in the fourth quarter to win 128-124 at Wells Fargo Center.

Game 2 is Tuesday night in Philadelphia.

The 76ers had a hard time slowing down Trae Young. The All-Star point guard hurt the 76ers with his shot and passing ability. Young scored 25 of his 35 points in the first half and had 10 assists. According to StatMuse, Young became the first Hawks player with 35 points and 10 assists in game since 1965.

Philadelphia had no answers for Young and his teammates. Atlanta averages 12 three-pointers made per game. But the Hawks made a franchise-record 20 three-pointers on Sunday and had Philly scrambling throughout the game. Bogdan Bogdanovic had 21 points, including five threes, Young had four threes, and John Collins also added 21 points and made three threes

Danny Green mostly guarded Young in the first half and could not contain him. The 76ers went with Ben Simmons on Young in the second half, but he picked up two quick fouls, and ultimately he was moved off of Young. However, in Game 2, Simmons wants to guard Young.

“I mean, I want to,” Simmons said about guarding Young. “If the refs aren’t going to call so many fouls and I can be physical and be 6-10, then I’ll be 6-10. But we’ll see.”

Philadelphia did get MVP finalist Joel Embiid back in this game after coming back from a torn meniscus, and he played very well. Embiid scored 39 points and grabbed nine rebounds,  and as he goes forward, Embiid hopes to be able to manage the injury.

“All I have to do is keep managing it, do my best, try to get as much treatment as I can,” Embiid said. “Try to manage it to make sure it doesn’t swell up too much.”

If the Hawks shoot as they did in Game 1, they could sweep the first two games in Philly but expect a better defensive effort out of the 76ers, who has the second-rated defense in basketball. 

The Hawks got what they wanted at this point, which is split, but now they have to get greedy and try to capture Game 2.