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Rudy Gobert shoulders blame for costly defensive miscue as Utah Jazz drop back-to-back games to Minnesota Timberwolves



NBA Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Rudy Gobert blamed himself for the Utah Jazz‘s 105-104 loss at the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night, saying his botched execution that led to D’Angelo Russell‘s game-winning layup made him “feel dumb.”

“If I don’t f— up the last play defensively, we end up with a win,” Gobert said after the league-leading Jazz’s second loss to the 18-44 Timberwolves in three nights.

Utah (44-17), which had another poor shooting performance without injured All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, rallied from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to take the lead on a Mike Conley 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds remaining.

After a timeout, Gobert was defending Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns at the free throw line as the Timberwolves started their inbounds play. Towns screened for Anthony Edwards and, as Russell screened Gobert, popped out to the perimeter well above the 3-point arc.

Conley and Gobert initially switched, putting Conley and Towns and Gobert on Russell. However, after a moment, Gobert inexplicably left Russell alone at the free throw line, scampering out toward Towns. Ricky Rubio passed to Russell, who took one step before laying the ball in with no Utah defender near him.

“It’s totally on me,” Gobert said. “[Conley] was already out there. We switched, and I should have recognized that. He did what he was supposed to do, and I didn’t, so 200 percent on me. … Mike did exactly what he had to do, and I didn’t. It’s one of those plays, when you watch a replay, you just feel dumb. It’s one of those. It doesn’t happen a lot, but 100 percent on me, for sure.”

Russell, who finished with 27 points and 12 assists, made the layup with 4.2 seconds remaining.

The Jazz failed to get a shot up on their last possession, as Conley committed a turnover.

“Just a tough two plays down the stretch for us,” Conley said. “We’ve got to be better in that situation.”

Towns, who had 21 points and 11 assists, was gleeful he commanded so much attention that it created such an easy opportunity for Russell at a critical juncture.

“I can’t stress how good it felt,” Towns said. “All game, I had so much attention on me. They did a good job of doing their defensive game plan, but I told D-Lo, ‘How good does that feel? That you’re on a team with someone who draws as much attention as you, or even more, where the last play of the game can be a game-winning layup by yourself because both people went to me at half court.'”

The loss allowed the Phoenix Suns to close within one game of the Jazz for the league’s best record and the top seed in the Western Conference. Yet the Jazz shrugged off concern about their situation, emphasizing that their primary goals are to be healthy and playing well when the playoffs begin.

“We’re still very confident,” Conley said. “We’re learning, and they’re great lessons for us going into the playoffs. Hopefully, we’re getting them out now, before we get to the time that we’re playing better competition.”

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Chris Webber elected to Basketball Hall of Fame after 8 years, sources say



Former NBA star Chris Webber has finally been elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, several sources told ESPN’s The Undefeated.

Webber will be announced as a member of the Class of 2021 along with Ben Wallace and Paul Pierce on Sunday, sources said.

Webber, the 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year, made five All-Star teams and five All-NBA teams and averaged 20.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists during his 15 years in the league.

The best seasons of Webber’s career were spent with the Sacramento Kings, who made the playoffs in each of his six campaigns with the team, including a Western Conference finals appearance in 2002.

Webber also headlined the University of Michigan’s “Fab Five” men’s basketball team alongside Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. Webber led the group to the 1993 NCAA championship game.

Webber has been eligible for the Hall of Fame since 2013.

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Five-star guard Jaden Hardy, No. 2 prospect in ESPN 100, headed to G League



Jaden Hardy, the nation’s top uncommitted prospect, said Saturday he plans to play professionally with the G League Ignite team instead of heading to college in the fall.

Most schools had slowed their recruitment of Hardy in recent months after it became clear he was likely to go pro. Earlier in his recruitment, the likes of Kentucky, UCLA, Michigan, Oregon and Arizona had all been involved.

“I gave it a lot of thought,” Hardy told ESPN. “I always wanted to go to college, but I wanted to look at the G League. The more I could not make official visits or meet with coaches and players, it made my decision easier. I never got to interact with anyone on campuses or see things first-hand.”

Hardy is the third notable player in the 2021 class to sign with the G League Ignite team, following No. 7-ranked prospect Michael Foster and one-time Gonzaga commit Fanbo Zeng. The new pathway began last spring, when four five-star prospects opted to go that route: Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix.

“I always dreamed about playing in the NBA, and this will prepare me for it,” Hardy said. “Playing with and against pros and learning from pro coaches will be a great experience.”

A 6-foot-4 shooting guard who attended Coronado High School (Nevada), Hardy is ranked No. 2 in the ESPN 100 for the class of 2021 and projected as the No. 3 pick in ESPN’s latest 2022 mock draft. He’s considered the best scorer in high school basketball.

Hardy makes the game look easy on the offensive end of the floor. He scores equally well on or off the ball, and has developed the ability to navigate in ball screens as a legitimate scoring threat or a trusted facilitator. Over the past year, he has developed into a consistent shot-maker and added NBA range to his offensive arsenal, with a skill set that already included a highly productive midrange game and terrific finishing ability. He needs to improve on the defensive end, but his footwork, body control, balance and elevation to make tough shots is his separating quality offensively.

One popular comparison is Washington Wizards star guard Bradley Beal.

Hardy said he worked out during the pandemic with NBA players James Harden, LaMelo Ball and Trae Young.

“I am trying to get where they are,” he said. “I have a lot of work to do, but I held my own against them.”

With fellow five-star guard Nolan Hickman committing to Gonzaga earlier Saturday, there are now zero five-star prospects still available in 2021.

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‘He’s still winning:’ Kobe Bryant inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame with Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett



Vanessa Bryant, the wife of the late Kobe Bryant, accepted her husband’s admission into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Saturday night on his behalf, saying that he’s still winning even after he’s gone.

“I used to always avoid praising my husband in public because I felt like he got enough praise from his fans around the world and someone had to bring him back to reality,” Vanessa Bryant said at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Saturday night. “Right now, I’m sure he’s laughing in heaven because I’m about to praise him in public for his accomplishments on one of the most public stages. I can see him now, arms folded, with a huge grin saying ‘Isn’t this some s—?’

“He’s still winning.”

The 2020 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class is one of the most star-studded of all-time, led by Bryant and fellow NBA legends Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan — a trio that LeBron James said earlier Saturday is better than any in the history of the institution.

“There has not been a better Big 3 to go in at the same time,” James said.

Still, the focus of the night, and the weekend, was understandably on the man who wasn’t there, in the wake of the tragic helicopter crash that saw Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others pass away on January 26, 2020.

Vanessa Bryant’s speech, given with Bryant’s idol, Michael Jordan, standing next to her as his presenter into the Hall of Fame, focused on her relationship with her husband, as well as his with his children.

“I don’t have a speech prepared by my husband because he winged every single speech,” she said. “He was intelligent, eloquent and gifted at many things, including public speaking. However, I do know that he would thank everyone that helped him get here, including the people that doubted him and the people that worked against him and told him that he couldn’t attain his goals.

“He would thank all of them for motivating him to be here. After all, he proved you wrong.”

Vanessa Bryant also spoke about his legendary determination and will to play through injuries, including when he made two free throws and walked off the court under his own power after tearing his Achilles tendon.

She said that feeling came from getting a chance to watch Jordan growing up, and following his example of trying to always put on a show for the one person who might only get to see him play that night, in that game.

“People don’t know this, but one of the reasons my husband played through injuries and pain was because he said he remembered being a little kid, sitting in the nosebleeds with his dad to watch his favorite player play,” she said, sneaking a look at Jordan while the crowd laughed. “He could recall the car ride, the convos and the excitement of being lucky enough to have a seat in the arena. Kobe didn’t want to disappoint his fans, especially the ones in the 300 section that saved up to watch him play, the kids with the same excitement he once had.

“I remember asking him why he just couldn’t sit a game out because he was hurting. He said, ‘What about the fans who saved up to watch me play just once?’ He never forgot about his fans. If he could help it, he would play every minute of every game. He loved you all so much.”

Ultimately, though, she said his favorite fans were his daughters, whom he doted on constantly and did his best to attend every one of their events.

“Thank you for being the best husband and father you could possibly be. Thank you for growing and learning from your own mistakes,” Vanessa Bryant said. “Thank you for always trying to be better. Thank you for never giving up on us. Thank you for all of your hard work. Thank you for our family. Thank you for our daughters: Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri. Thank you for working so tirelessly to provide for us and for giving us the most amazing life together. Thank you for waking up at 4 a.m. to train, for making it home to kiss me good morning and for dropping our girls off at school only to go to practice, come home and pick up our girls from school whenever you could.

“Thank you for never missing a birthday, a dance recital, a school awards show, show-and-tell or any games our daughters played in if your schedule permitted. Thank you for putting your love for our family first. Thank you for bringing so much joy to our lives and joy to people around the world. Thank you for inspiring us to be better than we were the day before. Thank you for teaching me, and all of us, to put someone else’s joy before our own.

“Thank you for being so selfless and loving with a heart of gold. Thank you for never taking yourself too seriously. Thank you for your sense of humor. Thank you for your wit. Thank you for never telling me no and always letting me have my way, most of the time. Thank you for being patient and easygoing. Thank you for letting me burst your bubble every chance I got. Thank you for graciously taking all my harsh comebacks. Thank you for dishing them back.”

And she finished by telling Bryant that his bet on himself, as he’d once told her he’d always was the best one to make, had paid off.

“Congratulations, baby. All of your hard work and sacrifice has paid off,” she said. “You once told me, if you’re going to bet on someone, bet on yourself. I’m glad you bet on yourself, you overachiever. You did it. You’re in the Hall of Fame now. You’re a true champ.

“You’re not just an MVP. You’re an all-time great. I’m so proud of you. I love you forever and always, Kobe. Bean. Bryant.”

While Vanessa Bryant’s speech was a fitting conclusion to the star-studded event, it was far from the only notable moment from a night that took far longer to arrive than initially planned due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

It was Garnett who led off the festivities Saturday evening — an honor he said he requested.

“I told them I wanted to go first,” the 15-time All-Star, 12-time All-Defensive Team and nine-time All-NBA selection said with a smile, “because I know we’ve got the OGs in here. I know y’all have got a bedtime in a minute. I wanted Bill Russell to hear my speech before y’all fell asleep.”

He then went on to thank the four players who jumped from high school to the pros in the 1970s — 20 years before Garnett became the first to do it in decades in 1995, when Minnesota drafted him fifth overall.

“It’s a big deal for me to pay homage to the ones that came before me,” Garnett said.

He also thanked Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, as well as Isiah Thomas, whom Garnett selected as his presenter for Saturday’s ceremony. Garnett then went on to say that it was Thomas, a fellow Chicago high school product who was running the Toronto Raptors at the time, who Garnett said gave him advice that helped convince him to officially make the jump from preps to pros in 1995.

“I think today,” Garnett said with a smile, “they would call that tampering.”

After thanking his mother, Shirley — whom he said was the one to blame for the passion and intensity with which he played throughout his 21-year career — his daughters and those who helped raise him in South Carolina and Chicago, Garnett went through and listed off thank yous to many of those he crossed paths with during his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets.

Some of them, like former Celtics coach Doc Rivers, Celtics teammate Paul Pierce and Minnesota Timberwolves teammate Sam Cassell, were in attendance for Saturday night’s festivities.

And then there were the notable people Garnett did not mention: Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who he’s feuded with for years; Ray Allen, part of the Big Three with Boston that led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA title; and Deron Williams, whom he was traded to Brooklyn to play alongside in 2013.

“I played the game hard,” Garnett said, summing up his approach to the sport. “I played the game with a passion.”

He finished his speech by acknowledging Duncan, who he battled for the honor of being the best power forward in the sport for a decade, and Bryant.

“It was nothing but epic when we battled,” Garnett said to Duncan. “I look forward to all the battles. Seriously. And I thank you for taking me to another level, you and Rasheed [Wallace].”

Garnett was followed by longtime college coaches Barbara Stevens and Eddie Sutton, before WNBA legend Tamika Catchings took the stage.

Catchings has one of the best careers in women’s basketball history — 12 All-WNBA selections, five Defensive Player of the Year Awards, a WNBA MVP, a league champion and a four-time Olympic gold medalist — and did it while dealing with a hearing impairment.

“I am proof that [with] hard work, undying faith and a solid support system, dreams do come true,” Catchings said.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes a village to make dreams come true. To all of the people who have been part of my village, thank you. We all have dreams and goals and whether you’re young or old, born with a disability, or have been told of the things you can’t accomplish, tonight I share the same words that my parents shared with me: What’s a choice? If anyone can do it, you can. Shoot for the stars, work hard, and catch your dream.”

Catchings also has the distinction of having spent part of her childhood in Italy with Kobe Bryant, when their fathers — Harvey Catchings and Joe Bryant, former teammates with the Philadelphia 76ers, were playing for rival teams in Italy.

“To Kobe and the Bryants,” she said, “this truly has been a basketball storybook ending.”

Catchings was followed by the late Patrick Baumann, the longtime FIBA Secretary General before passing away from a heart attack in 2018, two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich, and longtime college coach Kim Mulkey before Duncan took the stage ahead of Bryant and Jordan.

Accompanied by fellow Spurs legend David Robinson, and with his only coach, Gregg Popovich, in the audience after skipping Saturday afternoon’s game against the Phoenix Suns to watch Duncan go into the Hall, Duncan — whose famously stoic demeanor followed him constantly throughout what was one of the greatest careers in NBA history — admitted he’d never been more nervous than when he was Saturday.

“I will try to get through this,” the 15-time All-Star, 15-time All-Defensive Team and 15-time All-NBA selection said with a smile. “This is the most nervous I have ever been in my life. I’ve been through Finals, through Game 7s, and this officially is the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve been pacing in my room all day, so let’s see what we get.”

He began by thanking Robinson, who he won two of his five championships alongside with the Spurs, for showing him how to be a pro. Like Garnett, he also thanked his fellow NBA inductees for making him better along the way.

“People always ask, ‘What did he tell you? What did he show you?'” Duncan said of Robinson, before adding with a laugh. “I don’t remember one thing we sat down and talked about specifically.

“But what he did was he was a consummate pro, he was an incredible father, he was an incredible person, and he showed me how to be a good teammate, a great person to the community, all those things. Not by sitting there and telling me how to do it, but by being that.”

Duncan also thanked his parents, William and Ione, whom he joked had a combined “zero basketball knowledge” between them.

“But they taught me about the game more than anyone else,” Duncan said. “You heard the mantra that my mom instilled in me — good, better, best, never let it rest until your good is better and your better is your best — they told me, and made me, have pride in everything I did.”

He then went through his remarkable journey from not even picking up a basketball until he was 14 years old to earning a scholarship to Wake Forest by playing a pickup game at a random court near the hotel where his coach there, Dave Odom, came to stay.

“I have no idea how I played, but I played well enough that he offered me a scholarship,” Duncan said. “He saw something in me, and he took a chance on this kid from the Islands. Thank you, Coach O, thank you for seeing something in me that I didn’t see at the time.”

Duncan then went through his career, highlighting many of his teammates, before eventually settling on the two fixtures of so much of his time in San Antonio, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — both of whom were in attendance Saturday.

“To look to your left and look to your right and have the same guys there year in and year out is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a blessing beyond what I can put into words. Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, I can’t wait to see you guys up here and for me to not be up here. It was an honor sharing the court with you guys. Thank you for your friendship, thank you for your brotherhood, thank you for all of the experiences that we shared on that court.”

Then, after getting choked up talking about his wife and children, Duncan turned his attention, finally, to his only coach in the NBA, Gregg Popovich, whom Duncan joked would be angry he talked about at all.

“I don’t want to talk about him. He’s going to get mad at me if I talk about him,” Duncan said.

“The standard you set … you showed up after I got drafted, you came to my island, you sat with my friends, my family, you talked with my dad. I thought that was normal. It’s not. You’re an exceptional person.

“Thank you for teaching me about basketball but, beyond that, teaching me that it’s not all about basketball. It’s about what’s going on in the world, your family … just, for everything. Thank you for being the amazing human being that you are.”

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.

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