Nothing like a return to Madison Square Garden

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Three Things is NBC’s five-day-a-week roundup of the day before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every morning of the week to catch up on what you missed the night before, plus the rumors, dramas, and dunks that make the NBA great.

1) Nothing like a comeback at Madison Square Garden

How do you want to see this? Is this a promising sign for a Knicks team struggling to find their identity and raise their stars this season? Or is it the 4,367th sign that something is wrong in Boston?

It capped off a wild comeback at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks were led by 25 in the first half and 20 in the third quarter, but they regained that one in large part thanks to Mr. “don’t google his last name” Evan Fournier. He hasn’t lived up to his offseason contract or his expectations this season, but he did so on Thursday with 41 points, including 10 to three.

In his few games since his return, Julius Randle has averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds on 50% shots. It’s only a few games and the three-way ball isn’t falling, but that’s a promising sign. If Fournier and Randle can get going, if the Knicks can make a few more stops, maybe this ship can turn around.

Some Knicks fans booed the team early in this game, and Julius Randle gave them a boost. Asked about it after the game, Randle said he told the crowd to “shut their mouths”. It meant he was acting like a real New Yorker.

From Boston’s perspective, Jayson Tatum has been brilliant – 36 points, 6 of 11 of 3, scoring 11 of the team’s last 13 points, including the jumper who tied before Barrett had a chance – but few others have worked. There is nothing coherent about this team and their efforts, and after the game frustrated Ime Udoka escaped.

“I think it’s a lack of mental strength to struggle through these difficult times. For your point, it’s at all levels. It’s a turnover here, a bad shot here, a missed defensive mission here and several missed rebounds tonight. So, it’s a lot of different things.

Udoka went on to lament that the Celtics don’t have the leader, the veteran of this team who takes matters into their own hands when things aren’t going well, calms the team down and points them in the right direction. So it turns in a spiral. As in MSG.

Everyone in Boston is looking for the answer, but it might be Brad Stevens’ job to find one.

2) Suns handle shorthanded Clippers, but LA has a silver lining

TNT’s last drink game went exactly as we all expected: the Suns are very good, the Clippers are fiery but severely shorthanded, and Phoenix had a comfortable 106-89 victory. Chris Paul had a triple-double and it was a great night for Cameron Johnson, who scored 24 and hit 4 of 7 on 3.

The loss dropped the Clippers below 0.500, but a report from Chris Haynes was a silver lining for Los Angeles – Kawhi Leonard is set to return this season.

Leonard partially tore up his last ACL playoffs and underwent surgery in July, his comeback this season was on hold. However, if he’s back and Paul George regains his health, the Clippers are suddenly a threat. Or, at least, a very tough outing.

The Clippers are struggling to keep their heads above water without Leonard or George, who is out until the end of the month and possibly longer with an elbow injury.

The Clippers are built around an elite pair of two-way wings that are a tough game, and they’re surrounded by a strong and versatile group of role players who offer options to coach Tyronn Lue. If this team reaches the playoffs, no one will want to face them.

3) Stephen Curry and LeBron James lead the first fan star vote

The NBA has released the results of the first round of fan voting for the 2022 All-Star Game in Cleveland.

I’m not a fan of the ‘are the fans wrong’ debate and I take it because FANS NEVER FOUND. It’s exhibition game and pure entertainment, so give people what they want.

My choices would be slightly different, as I wrote earlier in the week. I would have the same front zone as the fans in the East – Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid – and I also had DeMar DeRozan as one of the backcourt long distance players. (Yes, it’s with the understanding that he’s playing a small forward for the Bulls, not a backcourt spot, but again, that’s an exposure, let’s get the best players out there.) I would have. Trae Young against James Harden in the other backcourt up, but either way works.

In the West, I agree that Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Nikola Jokic are locks. I would put Donovan Mitchell on the other guard point, but the West is deep with strong guards, so going with Luka Doncic (like the fans did) or Chris Paul would work. For the last place in the front row, I would go with Draymond Green. The fans went with Paul George which is very fair from his game, but will he be healthy for the game? Andrew Wiggins, fourth in fan votes for the West Frontcourt, was the board’s biggest surprise.

Highlight of the evening: Ibaka stops Cam Johnson’s dunk

There haven’t been many Clippers highlights from this one, but here’s a reminder that Serge Ibaka is still not messing around. Just ask Cam Johnson.

Last night’s scores:

New York 108, Boston 105
Memphis 118, Detroit 88
New Orleans 101, Golden State 96
Phoenix 106, lawn mowers 89

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