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NBA Saturday: Devin Booker Makes History

Devin Booker scored 70 points against the Boston Celtics and earned a rare place in NBA history.

Jesse Blancarte

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Devin Booker Scores 70 Points Against Boston Celtics

Jahlil Okafor, Mario Hezonja, Willie Cauley-Stein, Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson, Frank Kaminsky and Trey Lyles are just some of the players that were selected ahead of Devin Booker in the 2015 NBA Draft. Selected 13th overall by the Phoenix Suns, Booker quickly earned a reputation for being a gifted scorer at the NBA level and surely has many general managers second-guessing their decision to pass on him in the draft. However, it’s likely safe to say that even Booker’s biggest fans never imagined that he would ever be able to do what he did last night – dropping 70 points on the Boston Celtics.

Booker posted 70 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and shot 21-40 from the field, 4-11 from three-point range and 24-26 from the free throw line. He became just the sixth player in NBA history to score 70 points or more in a single game, joining Wilt Chamberlain, David Robinson, David Thompson, Elgin Baylor and Kobe Bryant.

“This doesn’t happen very often,” Booker after his historic performance. “Especially against a really good defensive team like the Boston Celtics. I knew I was going to have to come in, lock in mentally tonight — playing at Boston isn’t easy all the time. They made it tough for me in the first half, and I tried to get it going. I was ultra-aggressive, my teammates started finding me, they started setting really good screens for me and the rest is history.”

Booker broke several team and league records on his way to 70 points – many of them relating to the fact that Booker is still just 20 years old.

“It’s basketball,” Booker said. “I’m not coming to any arena just happy to be there, trying to be liked. I don’t care about being liked. I really don’t care, to be honest with you. We’re coming in here, we’re trying to build something with this young group. If people don’t like us, why we build it, so what? Do something about it. Simple as that.”

The Celtics ended up with the win, but were not amused by the fact that the Phoenix Suns were helping Booker chase stats, especially when the game was effectively over.

“It was weird what they were doing,” Thomas said. “I’ve never seen nothing like that, chasing those numbers. But it is what it is.

“I don’t think anybody’s ever seen that. To continue to call timeouts, continue to foul when we’re up 15. But it was obvious what they were trying to do. They were trying to get him the most points possible. And hats off to him, though. He played a hell of a game.”

Suns head coach Earl Watson didn’t seem to have any regrets in helping Booker reach this historic feat.

“It’s about letting our kids be great. You got a problem with that? Do something. Simple as that.”

In case you missed it, the NBA’s official twitter account provided a recap of Booker’s night, which you can watch here:

Los Angeles Lakers Unveil Statue of Shaquille O’Neal

On Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers unveiled a statue at Staple Center to honor the career of Hall-of-Fame center Shaquille O’Neal.

O’Neal played for the Lakers for eight seasons. He averaged 27 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.5 blocks per game while shooting 57.5 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from the free throw line. Along with Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and other key figures, O’Neal helped lead the Lakers to three consecutive championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002. O’Neal and Bryant arguably could have won several more championships together. However, internal conflicts with Bryant and others, O’Neal’s injuries and his public desire for another big payday led to him being traded to the Miami HEAT in 2004 in exchange for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a future first-round draft choice, which was eventually used on Jordan Farmar in the 2006 NBA Draft.

Despite the controversial exit from Los Angeles, time has healed many of these old wounds, as exhibited by the statue unveiling and the words spoken at the ceremony.

“Brother, thank you,” O’Neal said to Bryant during his speech. “We pushed each other. We had our battles. We had our times. We always had respect for each other, and we were able to win three championships. Definitely couldn’t have done it without you. I appreciate you very much.”

Joakim Noah To Be Suspended For 20 Games For Violating Anti-Drug Program

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, who first reported this story, the NBA is suspending New York Knicks center Joakim Noah 20 games for violating its anti-drug program.

Noah reportedly tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement that is prohibited under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. Noah will serve 10 games of the suspension to close out this season and will serve the other 10 games at the beginning of next season.

Noah signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the New York Knicks this season to become the team’s defensive anchor at center. Unfortunately, Noah only managed to play in 46 games this season while averaging five points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 0.8 blocks. Noah underwent knee surgery in February, which ended his season prematurely.

Noah was selected with the ninth pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. He is a two-time NBA All-Star (2013 and 2014), won Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 and was the emotional leader of the Chicago Bulls for many years under head coach Tom Thibodeau. Noah seems to have lost the athleticism and mobility that made him such an effective defensive player earlier in his career, which is going to be a major issue for the Knicks after they invested so much money into signing him. If Noah bounces back from his most recent surgery and is able to come even relatively close to the player he used to be with Chicago, he could become an asset for the Knicks. But considering his level of play over the last few seasons, the number of injuries he has suffered throughout the course of his career and how hard Thibodeau pushed him, it’s unfortunately hard to believe that he’ll be able to do so.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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