State of the NBA Point Guard

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State of the NBA Point Guard

With everything thats transpired over the last 24 hours, Im having a hard time focusing on sports this morning. To be honest, theres just too much going on. The worlds spinning way too fast. In the aftermath of Obamas big win regardless of whom you voted for were all trapped in a glass case of emotion. (And if youre Mitt Romney, milk was definitely a bad choice.)

Ill tell you what, though: When Im eventually elected President (keep an eye out in 2042), my first act of duty will probably be to laugh at the word duty, but after that, I swear Im going to establish the Wednesday after Election Night as an official national holiday.

I really think we need it.

It will give the whole country a chance to catch its breath. It will give members of the winning party a chance to exhaust all their gloating and narrow their poop-eating grins down to a smirk. It will give the losers a chance to harness their anger, reconsider that move to Canada or North Korea and begin adjusting to life in an America that, at least for the moment, doesnt meet their standards or expectations. Then, on Thursday, well reconvene and resume business as usual, and hopefully do so with our feet firmly on the ground.

Or maybe not.

I dont know. Maybe it would make more sense for everyone to just move to Colorado and chill out for a while?

Either way, I really think this national holiday idea has some legs. But unfortunately, it will be at least 30 years before I can bring the dream to fruition. In the meantime, life goes on effective immediately. Sports go on, too. And unless I want to join the ranks of the unemployed, I better start writing. So here we go.

Ahem.

This past Monday night, I was randomly among the handful of fans in attendance at Staples Center to watch the Clippers and Cavaliers write the next chapter in their storied rivalry. And while thats definitely not the match-up I envisioned for my first live NBA action of the season, I really cant complain. After all, Clippers vs. Cavs equals Chris Paul vs. Kyrie Irving. The best point guard in the NBA going head-to-head with a kid whos destined to snatch that title at some point over the next five years. Thats a beautiful thing. Thats like watching Tom Brady face off with Andrew Luck (only if they were both forced to also play middle linebacker). Thats gold, Jerry. Gold!

And the fellas didnt disappoint.

Actually, by Pauls ridiculous standards, he wasnt entirely up to par. He never really found a rhythm, and the Clippers never got it going as evidence by their somewhat shocking 108-101 loss. But by normal standards, CP3 was still pretty damn good. He scored 17 points (on an efficient 6-10 from the field) to go along with nine assists, five rebounds and one dribble-drive that defied logic and explanation. Seriously, I wont even try. Just watch.

"Paging Mr. Anderson Varejao . . . Sir, we've located your groin. It's available for pick up at the Staples Center Lost & Found during normal business hours. 10 am-5 pm, Monday through Friday . . ."

Speaking of being at a loss for words, what can we possibly say about Kyrie Irving? Its scary, man. The kids still four months away from being able to legally order a drink, but hes already established himself as a bonafide star.

He has the quickness and handle to beat anyone off the dribble (Sidebar: I'd love to see him try to break down Avery Bradley. Although, I guess that would leave Rajon Rondo on Dion Waiters and that's a whole different can of worms. Anyway, where were we? Oh, right.) Irving can get to the rim at will, and once he gets there, he possesses the resilience and athleticism to either absorb contact or avoid it all together. No matter the choice, hes going to finish.

You want to foul him? Thats cool. Last year, Irving shot 87 percent from the free throw line. You want to step back and dare him to hit a jumper? No problem. As a rookie, Irving shot 40 percent from three. Sure, he might need to improve on the defensive end, but that will come with time, experience and packing a few extra pounds of muscle onto his 6-3 (6-3!) frame.

On top of having the pure talent to become one of the games best players and we're talking an annual MVP candidate here Irving also boasts that compulsive, almost insane drive, edge and swagger that typically elevates great players to a level of transcendence. Did you catch the video of him challenging Kobe Bryant at the Team USA workouts last summer? Considering the clip has nearly four million hits, the answer is probably yes. But if not, check it out. And keep in mind: Going after Kobe is nothing like taking on LeBron or Durant or anyone in the NBA (other than maybe Kevin Garnett). Messing with the Black Mamba takes balls the size of Shaquille ONeals fists. Not to mention, the fact that Kobe even entertained Irvings trash talk is indicative of how much respect he has for the young star.

A couple days after this video was taken, Irving broke his right hand in a Summer League game; an injury that occurred when an enraged Irving slapped a padded wall behind the basket after committing a careless turnover. On one hand (seriously, no pun intended), that's probably not something you want to see from your franchise player. On the other hand, that's DEFINITELY something you want to see from your franchise player. A guy who's so insanely competitive that he can muster up that kind of intensity and emotion in a meaningless Summer League game? That's amazing. It may have been a stupid decision, but it came from an important place. So with that being said, it should come as no surprise that Irving brought his "A" game on Monday night, in his first ever regular season duel against Chris Paul.

The total damage: 37 minutes, 24 points, 10 assists, 4-8 from long range, 4-5 from the foul line and one big, fat upset win.

As an unbiased spectator, it was honestly captivating to watch Paul and Irving go at it. As an NBA fan in general, there's really nothing quite like seeing two premiere point guards lead their teams into battle; watching them spend 40-some-odd minutes jostling for control, while simultaneously trying to dictate the tempo and straddle the line between getting theirs and keeping the other guys involved. And lucky for us, it's hard to remember a time when NBA point guard play was as across-the-board exciting and competitive as it is right now.

First off, any discussion of NBA floor generals should begin with a nod to the elders.

Jason Kidd turns 40 in March, which is wildly depressing for those of us who remember him running the break with a mouthful of braces, but hey, we all get older. These days, he's may not be much more than spot up shooter, but he still ranks second all-time in steals and assists damn you, Stockton and is third in three-pointers made (still one of the most bizarre developments in NBA history.) How great was Kidd in his prime? Take a closer look at the rest of the names on those Nets teams that he led to back-to-back Eastern Conference titles. My God.

Andre Miller turns 37 in March, has played for six different teams over 13 seasons and, in that time, has built an extremely steady and underrated resume. Last year was the first season in which Miller failed to average at least 10 points a game (he averaged 9.7), and only twice has he averaged fewer than six assists. The most ridiculous aspect of Millers career? In 13 seasons, hes missed a total of six games. SIX! That's respect! On the other hand, hes never made it past the first round of the playoffs. In fact, last season was the first time that an Andre Miller team won more than two games in a series. As a result, hes one of those guys who will ultimately fall through the cracks of NBA history, but in the meantime, Dre deserves some love.

Speaking of old men, it's probablydefinitely premature to list Steve Nash alongside Kidd and Miller, but at the same time, Nash turns 39 in February, he's already been hit with a significant early season injury, and plays for a coach who's not so interested in running an offense that suits his veteran point guard. Obviously, it's a long season. We'll see what happens. But either way, here's to one of only two point guards in NBA history to win multiple MVPs, and a guy who's 76 assists shy of becoming only the fifth player to register 10,000 in a career.

After the old guys, there's heavy helping of youngsters that are still on the way up, but already capable dominating in spurts and providing even the league's top tier of point guards with all that they can handle. Portland rookie Damian Lillard has exploded onto the scene with the poise and confidence of a seasoned veteran. Brandon Jennings is playing with an extension-less chip on his shoulder and has led the Bucks to a 2-0 start. Kyle Lowry's finally found a happy home in Toronto and (assuming his ankle's all right) will take things to another level. Ty Lawson's already there in Denver, Jrue Holiday's getting closer in Philly and if Steph Curry can just stay healthy, he's a nightly threat for Golden State. Tyreke Evans has all the tools (expect the one between his ears) in Sacramento and is always a risk to go off. Ditto for Jeff Teague in Atlanta and Mario Chalmers in Miami.

Who knows what to expect from Derrick Rose and Ricky Rubio this year, but once they're back, you'd be nuts to take them lightly especially Rose. John Wall still has a lot to prove in Washington, and will hopefully get a chance sometime later this month. But the talent is still there, and if that knee doesn't slow him down, I'm not sure what will. (OK, maybe his jump shot.)

And that brings us to the top of the heap. We've already discussed Paul and Irving (who might not be there yet, but it won't be long). Then there's Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook. Tony Parker's getting older, but he's still fast as hell and has maintained a firm grip on his elite status.

We spend a lot of time these days arguing over who really deserves the title of "NBA's Best Point Guard." It's impossible to broach the subject without things instantly getting heated. Like a debate over healthcare, abortion and everything else we've been screaming about in circles for the last few months.

When the question was posed to GMs in this year's NBA.com survey, the majority (69 percent) went with Paul. And really, at this point, it's hard to disagree. While we still haven't seen him lead a team to the Finals, never mind a championship, Paul enters this season with the most consistent and reliable track record. He's got the fewest holes in his game. He's still the standard by which all other point guards should be measured. But unlike the presidential election, the race for supremacy among NBA point guards is far from over. In fact, it's never ending. Over the course of this season, we'll be watching closely, waiting for the answers to an assortment of essential questions that can and will shape the course of the "Best Point Guard" argument:

Are we done worrying about Paul's knee? Can Rondo maintain his focus and dominance over the course of 82 games? How big of a fire might Brooklyn's revamped roster light under Deron Williams' ass? Will the absence of James Harden allow Russell Westbrook to flourish or leave him exposed? When, if ever, will Derrick Rose be Derrick Rose? And after watching him in person on Monday night, here's one question that I'll be following under a microscope (Note: I don't really have microscope):

How long until Kyrie Irving renders all these other questions irrelevant?

How long before he becomes the new standard?

Only time will tell. But for now, here's what we know for sure. In a league where the concept of "positions" grows exceedingly blurry with every game, the role of the point guard in today's NBA is as pure and defined as ever. And in so many ways, the future's never looked so bright.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.

C's edge out Sixers 107-106

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C's edge out Sixers 107-106

The Boston Celtics had another one of those nights when the defense took a lot longer to get on track than anyone with the Celtics could have felt comfortable about.

But they made just enough plays down the stretch to squeak out a 107-106 win.

Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 37 points to go with seven assists.

Philadelphia's Dario Saric, who finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, missed a 3-pointer that was defended tightly by Jonas Jerebko, that was rebounded by Marcus Smart.

With 8.6 seconds to play, Smart made both free throws to make it a two-possession game.

Philadelphia's Ersan Ilyasova hit a 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds to play, which led to Boston's Brad Stevens immediately calling a time-out.

Coming out of the time-out, Boston's Jae Crowder in-bounded the ball to Al Horford who was fouled with 1.7 seconds to play.

Horford made both free throws to seal the victory. With a four-point lead, Ilyasova hit yet another 3-pointer as the final horn expired.

Down the stretch, the Celtics were led by Thomas who scored 12 of their last 17 points.

After leading 90-88, Thomas scored eight straight to put Boston ahead 98-91.

But the Sixers were getting a career night from Saric whose scoop shot with 34.6 seconds to play tied the game at 100.

Following a Celtics time-out, Thomas continued his dominant fourth quarter with a blow by lay-up past Saric.

The Sixers, down 102-100, called a time-out with 30 seconds.

Philadelphia had three shots at the rim following the time-out, but the ball eventually wound up in the hands of Avery Bradley who was fouled with 16.3 seconds to play.

Bradley,who had 20 points and nine rebounds, made the second of the two free throws that put Boston ahead by three points.

After being tied at 74 through three quarters, the Celtics opened the fourth with an 8-2 run highlighted by an Al Horford 3-pointer that made it an 82-76 game.

The Sixers called a time-out with 10:22 to play, well aware that the game’s fleeting momentum was squarely in Boston’s favor.

Philadelphia didn’t fall too far behind, but the Celtics’ control of the game seemed to continue to grow.

Boston got back into the game with timely stops, big blocks (Jaylen Brown) and a bunch of multiple effort plays which collectively were in stark contrast to how things went in the first half.

Philadelphia has been among the worst teams in the NBA this season, and were playing without their best player Joel Embiid who does not play in the second night of back-to-back games (Philadelphia played Orlando on Friday night).

So without their best interior force offensively, the Sixers relied heavily on their 3-point shooting.

It was a good strategy that the Celtics had no answer for in the first half which was one in which Boston spent primarily playing catch-up.

The Sixers, who came into the game ranked ninth in the NBA in 3-point shooting (36.1 percent) and seventh in 3-pointers made (10.6), were a blistering 9-for-18 on 3s in the first half.

Meanwhile, Boston’s offense never seemed to get into any kind of flow or rhythm which was a key to the Celtics going into the half trailing 53-45 after having fallen behind by as many as 11 points.