NBA

Irving nails game-winner for the Nets, Joel Embiid leads race for scoring title

By Sports Desk December 16, 2022

Kyrie Irving's game-winner gave the Brooklyn Nets their fifth win in a row, and ninth from their past 10, after defeating the Toronto Raptors 119-116.

Irving was terrific on the offensive end, scoring a team-high 32 points on 13-of-22 shooting, with five assists and only one turnover. 

His big moment came after Scottie Barnes' two free throws tied the game at 116-116 with eight seconds to play, and after a smart foul from Fred VanVleet, the Nets had the ball out of bounds with just three seconds to find a shot.

But that would be all Irving would need, taking a few dribbles to his right before pulling it back for a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded.

Kevin Durant was at his efficient best, shooting 10-of-15 from the field for his 28 points, while Ben Simmons finished with 10 points, five rebounds and five assists.

It was the second consecutive strong outing from VanVleet in a loss, scoring 39 points on 14-of-24 shooting just two days after scoring 39 on 13-of-25 shooting against the Sacramento Kings.

The Nets began the season 1-5, but have recovered strongly to 18-12 and now occupy the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference through 30 games.

Embiid improves league-leading scoring average

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid scored a game-high 34 points in Friday's 118-106 win against the Golden State Warriors.

Embiid entered the game averaging 33.4 points per game – the best figure in the league – and improved it ever-so-slightly to 33.5 as he shot 11-of-23 from the field, adding 13 rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks.

He is narrowly ahead of Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic in second (33.0 points per game), with Embiid currently on track for the scoring title, and perhaps even league MVP, having finished runner-up in each of the past two seasons.

Edwards and the Timberwolves fight off SGA

The Minnesota Timberwolves had to deal with the third-leading scorer in the NBA, but got the job done thanks to a mature performance from franchise centerpiece Anthony Edwards.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, averaging 31.0 points per game, scored a game-high 35 on 11-of-23 shooting, with seven rebounds and five assists, but none of his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates scored more than 14 in the 112-110 loss.

For the Timberwolves, Edwards played a strong team game as he shot at least 50 per cent from the field (eight-of-16) and from three-point range (two-of-three) for his 19 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

He was supported in fine fashion by Naz Reid, who finished one point away from his career-high with 28, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals.

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    The San Antonio Spurs will be without Victor Wembanyama for their final game of the season on Sunday.

    San Antonio face the Detroit Pistons in their last fixture of the 2023-24 campaign.

    The Spurs have a 21-60 record on the season, and sit 14th in the Western Conference.

    Wembanyama has nevertheless enjoyed a fine rookie season in the NBA, having been selected as the No.1 overall pick in last year's Draft.

    The seven-foot-four French youngster will sit out against the Pistons due to an ankle injury, meaning he ends his rookie campaign with 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and an NBA-leading 3.6 blocks per game.

    Wembanyama has played 71 times for the Spurs, who he helped to overcome the Denver Nuggets on Friday, finishing with 34 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.

    After that game, the 20-year-old said: "As a growing team, a young team, it's big for us.

    "We're going to need these kind of wins in the future. We're going to need any win. But big-time wins against big teams, first seeds, we're going to need those in the future.

    "We've got the potential to be great. The fact that we have the chance to live this, with the fans, I can only hope it's as incredible as it can be."

    Wembanyama became the first rookie to accumulate 1,500 points, 250 assists and 250 blocks across the season, while he is only the fourth player in the history of the NBA to do so, after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.

  • Hart highlights Madison Square Garden factor as Knicks battle Bucks for second seed Hart highlights Madison Square Garden factor as Knicks battle Bucks for second seed

    The New York Knicks are under no illusions as to the importance of securing home-court advantage for the Eastern Conference playoffs, with Friday's win over the Brooklyn Nets keeping them in the hunt for the second seed.

    The Knicks drew level with the Milwaukee Bucks at 49-32 with their 111-107 win at Madison Square Garden, boosting their chances of playing at the iconic venue through the postseason.

    Jalen Brunson put up 30 points and added 11 assists as the Knicks made it four straight victories, with Josh Hart adding 16 and Mitchell Robinson tacking on 15.

    The result saw New York secure a top-four seed, with the Bucks' subsequent 125-107 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder keeping their chances of finishing second in the East alive.

    With the Bucks possessing the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Knicks must beat the Chicago Bulls in their season finale on Sunday and hope Milwaukee lose on the road against the Orlando Magic. If both teams lose, the Cleveland Cavaliers could yet usurp them.

    Asked about the importance of playing at home, Hart said: "I heard the lights are really bright at MSG during that time, so it's really big for us."

    Coach Tom Thibodeau, though, said the team cannot control anything other than their own results, saying: "We want to go through the finish line so that's the way we're looking at it. We want to improve and play our best."

    With Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined by a left calf injury and Damian Lillard missing out due to pain in his left adductor, the short-handed Bucks let the Knicks into the race with their loss at Paycom Center.

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 23 points and Chet Holmgren added 22 as the Thunder eased to victory, establishing a 17-point halftime lead which they never looked likely to surrender.

    Asked about Milwaukee's failure to wrap up second place, Bucks coach Doc Rivers said: "I don't have much of a reaction. We've got to run to the finish line.

    "The good news is, no matter what, we'll be at home for game one. That we do know."

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    It's in Oklahoma City's hands going into their season finale against the Dallas Mavericks, with Mark Daigneault's team edging the three-way tiebreaker.

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    "We just try to have a good day in the day that's in front of us, have a good possession in the possession that's in front of us, a good game in the game that's in front of us and just be very present in the process of improving and competing."

  • 'Every seed matters' for LeBron James as Lakers outlast Grizzlies 'Every seed matters' for LeBron James as Lakers outlast Grizzlies

    LeBron James said "every seed matters" for the Los Angeles Lakers after he combined with Anthony Davis to power them past the Memphis Grizzlies and go eighth in the Western Conference.

    The Lakers entered Friday's game – their penultimate outing of the regular season – on a two-game losing streak and jockeying for position with the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors. 

    However, James put up 37 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while Davis added 35 points as the injury-hit Grizzlies failed to hold on after going 118-117 up with one minute and six seconds left.

    James sank six points in the final minute to lift Los Angeles one game clear of Sacramento and Golden State, both of whom suffered defeats later on Friday.

    "Every game matters. Every seed matters. Wherever you fall, you can't play in the past," James said.

    "I can't say I would much rather be where we are today than be the number one seed. That would be a lie. Seeds matter, and wherever you fall, you take that challenge."

    The Lakers emerged from the Play-In Tournament to reach the Western Conference Finals last year before being dispatched by the eventual NBA champions, the Denver Nuggets.

    With coach Darvin Ham plotting a route through the postseason, he left James out on the court for 41 minutes on Friday, while Davis played 43 minutes on his return from a left eye injury which kept him out of Tuesday's loss to the Warriors. 

    Asked about the risks of keeping the duo out there, Ham said: "In the moment, you're not worried about that. You're worried about securing the victory you came to get. 

    "Everyone knows what time it is. It's that time of the year. Everyone knows what's at stake. 

    "Whatever we need, and however long we need to push guys, we've got to have it, and they understand that."

    Memphis are guaranteed to end a frustrating campaign 13th in the West, and Scotty Pippen Jr. said they were simply playing for future opportunities after scoring a career-high 28 points.

    "The emphasis going into the game was to play hard," Pippen said. "We knew they were playing for something, and they probably thought we were playing for nothing. 

    "But a lot of guys here are playing for opportunities. That's our motivation."

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