Sunday, June 16, 2024

Jalen Brunson, Nikola Jokic power Knicks, Nuggets; Caitlin Clark struggles in WNBA debut

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🏀 Good morning to everyone, but especially to …


The Knicks were supposed to be too exhausted, supposed to be too injured, supposed to be … whatever.

Trouble is, Jalen Brunson, Isaiah Hartenstein and the rest of the orange and blue crew didn’t get that memo, apparently. New York responded from a Game 4 blowout loss with a romp of their own in Game 5, thumping the Pacers121-91, to take a 3-2 series lead.

  • After two mediocre games in Indiana, Brunson was magnificent with 44 points. It was his fifth 40-point game this postseason, the most in a single playoffs since LeBron James had eight in 2018.
  • Hartenstein tied a Knicks playoff record with 12 offensive rebounds. Overall, the Knicks had 20 offensive rebounds, which they turned in 27 second-chance points. New York had 101 shot attempts; Indiana had 72.
  • New York is the first team in the league to lose a playoff game by at least 30 points and then respond with a victory by at least 30 points since the 2016 NBA Finals, when the James-led Cavaliers did it.

I love Brunson’s game. He’s far from the biggest, strongest or quickest. But he constantly beats bigger (Aaron Nesmith), stronger (Andrew Nembhard) and quicker (T.J. McConnell) defenders. He plays at his own pace, spinning and contorting and faking and creating. He didn’t win MVP, but he deserves every “MVP” chant that echos inside Madison Square Garden.

The Pacers have no excuses.

  • Tyrese Haliburton scored a paltry 13 points and attempted only nine shots.
  • Their 17 turnovers were a combination of miscommunications, miscues and lack of focus.
  • Indiana showed an inability/unwillingness to box out, often making no effort as Knicks parachuted in unimpeded.
  • The bench, which was supposed to provide a clear advantage, was clearly atrocious. Indiana was outscored by 25 in 21 Obi Toppin minutes and by 19 in 19 McConnell minutes.
  • Postgame, Donte DiVincenzo said the Pacers aren’t tough. Guess what? He’s right.

In the nightcap, Nikola Jokic received his third MVP trophy … and then showed why he’s not only the MVP, but one of the game’s great offensive forces of all-time. Jokic scored 40 points (on 15-for-22 shooting) and racked up 13 assists and seven rebounds — all while committing zero turnovers — in the Nuggets112-97 win over the Timberwolves. Denver has won three straight to completely flip this series and move to a win away from going to back-to-back conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

  • Jokic joins Chris Paul as the only players with 40+ points, 10+ assists and no turnovers in a playoff game.
  • It’s “only” Jokic’s fifth career 40-point playoff game, but it’s his ninth career playoff game with 30+ points, 10+ assists and 7+ rebounds. Only James has more.
  • He’s doing it against the league’s best defense and often against the Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert. But no, this doesn’t invalidate Gobert’s award, Brad Botkin writes. We’re simply watching a legend.

Credit Denver’s defense, too. Anthony Edwards and Jamal Murray got into things after Game 4, and Edwards responded with just 18 points on 5-for-15 shooting.

Teams that win Game 5 in a best-of-seven series that’s tied 2-2 go on to advance 82% of the time. New York and Denver are in the driver’s seat.

😁 Honorable mentions

😩 And not such a good morning for …


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Caitlin Clark rewrote the college record books. One game into her WNBA career, she made the wrong history: Clark had 10 turnovers — the most ever in a WNBA debut and just the 13th double-digit turnover game in league history — as the Fever got blown out by the Sun92-71.

A veteran Connecticut squad was well-prepared for Clark’s tendencies, using length and physicality to make Clark uncomfortable all night. Clark eventually finished with 20 points but shot just 5 for 15.

The passes that were open at Iowa — the throw-aheads, the lobs over the top, the pick-and-roll pocket passes — were often disrupted. When Clark turned the corner in college, she often got easy layups. Tuesday, she ran into help defenders forcing awkward shot attempts or wayward passes.

Listen, Clark will be just fine. The previous “record” holder for turnovers in a debut was Cynthia Cooper with eight. And she went on to win the first four WNBA championships, a bunch of MVP Awards and become a Hall of Famer. But it’s clear Clark will face big adjustments — perhaps bigger than we expected given her historic college career. Erica Ayala has more on Clark’s “Welcome to the W” moment.

As for Connecticut, Alyssa Thomas (13 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists) registered her ninth career triple-double, extending her WNBA record, and DeWanna Bonner scored 20 to move into fifth on the league’s all-time leaderboard. DiJonai Carrington led the defensive effort against Clark.

Here’s more:

😓 Not so honorable mentions

🏌 PGA Championship picks, ranking the field, sleepers, more


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By the time you read tomorrow’s newsletter, the PGA Championship will be underway. So here’s how to watch, and here are the tee times, highlighted by …

  • 7:53 a.m. — Ludvig Åberg, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas
  • 8:04 a.m. — Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley
  • 8:15 a.m. — Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose
  • 8:26 a.m. — Cameron Smith, Hideki Matsuyama, Viktor Hovland
  • 8:37 a.m. — Brooks Koepka, Max Homa, Jordan Spieth
  • 1:51 p.m. — Collin Morikawa, Phil Mickelson, Matthew Fitzpatrick
  • 2:02 p.m. — Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm, Cameron Young
  • 2:13 p.m. — Wyndham Clark, Brian Harman, Scottie Scheffler

But who’s raising the Wanamaker Trophy come Sunday? Here are our expert picks. Kyle Porter likes …

  • Porter: Winner: Scottie Scheffler (4-1): I’m just going to keep picking Scottie until he loses, which he hasn’t done much over the last few months. Since March 1, Scheffler has lost to one golfer: Stephan Jaegar at the Houston Open. That’s it. It probably hurts him a little bit that this is less of a strategy golf course and more of an execution golf course, but he’s been firing on all cylinders in both of those areas for a long time now.”

Kyle and Patrick McDonald also picked stars who won’t win, Scottie vs. Rory vs. Brooks, Tiger vs. Phil and much more.

Patrick also has five sleepers who could surprise. I love this pick:

  • McDonald: “Sahith Theegala: There’s a case to be made that Theegala is playing like a top-10 golfer in the world, but the price does not reflect that. The Californian has yet to contend in a major, but Theegala has yet to enter one with the form he currently possesses. Theegala ranks sixth in total strokes gained, 20th in driving distance and 12th in strokes gained putting over the last three months. … Odds: 75-1″

⚾ MLB first-quarter grades: 10 ‘A’s, seven ‘F’s


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The MLB season is chugging along, and R.J. Anderson has first-quarter grades for all 30 teams. Fair warning: He did not hold back, good or bad. Nine teams landed an “A,” and a whopping seven got an “F.”

For all the concerns entering the season, the Yankees are rolling to an “A” start.

  • Anderson: “The Yankees have to be pleased that they’re right in the mix of the American League East despite not yet receiving a start from Gerrit ColeJuan Soto has been as brilliant as desired, and closer Clay Holmes has begun his walk year with 17 consecutive scoreless innings. The Yankees still have some areas of concern to address — it would be nice if Gleyber Torres remembered he was a free agent this winter, too — but overall it’s hard to nitpick given the circumstances.”

Soto, coincidentally, made some history last night.

Here are all of the grades.

📺 What we’re watching Wednesday

🏀 Game 5: Cavaliers at Celtics, 7 p.m. on TNT
🏈 NFL Schedule Release, 8 p.m. on ESPN2 and NFL Network
🏒 Game 5: Avalanche at Stars, 8 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Game 5: Mavericks at Thunder, 9:30 p.m. on TNT

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