Manu Ginobili, Ty Lawson

Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Nuggets are all back and healthy, but the Spurs won anyway

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What you missed while reading how The Onion broke down the year in basketball

Spurs 109, Nuggets 103: The band is back together in Denver, everyone was back from injury (well, everyone except Carmelo Anthony who is dealing with a death in the family). The Nuggets had Chauncey Billups back running the show at the point. They had Kenyon Martin crashing the boards.

It’s still not enough because the Spurs are deep — Gary Neal had 22 and Tiago Splitter had 12 on 6 of 7 shooting off the bench. The Spurs just keep on winning.

Bulls 87, Wizards 80: “Here, you take it.” “No, it’s yours, I insist.” “No, I really insist, you must take this.” “I’m sorry I just can’t, it’s yours.”

That’s pretty much the fourth quarter dialogue between these teams as neither squad took charge of a game that was there for the taking. Washington shot 27 percent in the fourth and had 10 points, the Bulls shot 35 percent and had 14 in the fourth. But the Bulls also have Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, who combined for 55 points and won the game.

Pistons 115, Raptors 93: Rip Hamilton can still ball. There were questions about him quitting on the team recently and to answer that he came out and showed he can still knock down shots and make the key plays to spark a win.

Hawks 98, Cavalier 84: Atlanta is the better team. Cleveland has nobody who can shoot like Joe Johnson (23 points) or score inside like Al Horford (18 points). This game basically just went to form.

Celtics 84, Sixers 80: Credit the Sixers — the night after a horrific performance against the Bulls they came out against a superior opponent and made a game of it. Credit the Sixers defense or blame the Celtics offense, whatever you want, but Boston did not shoot well, didn’t get to the line as much as Philly and it was the 12 offensive rebounds (to the Sixers six) that was the difference. Well, that and a great block by Kevin Garnett on Andre Iguodala going for the tie late. Elton Brand with 16 points and 12 boards deserves a mention.

Knicks 112, Thunder 98: The Knicks dominated this one from the start and got a quality win. If you’re the Thunder you can call this a “schedule maker’s loss” — fourth game in five nights, second night of a back-to-back on the road and you have to run with he Knicks? There were 97 possessions in this one (right at the Knicks season average but faster than the Thunder prefer). OKC has the players to run when their fresh but they did not look fresh Wednesday. New York was getting into the paint and the threes were not contested (10-21 shooting from deep for the Knicks).

Jazz 112, Timberwolves 107: Oh, Minnesota, you find new and painful ways to lose and torture your fans. After getting crushed by the Clippers on the road — a game where afterwards every player in the locker room talked about the need for the team to grow up — and they had a 15-point lead late in the third against the Jazz. They were up 7 with three minutes to go. But Utah made a steady climb back the entire fourth.

Minnesota has itself to blame for the final three minutes. There was Martel Webster fouling Paul Millsap after he grabbed a defensive rebound, stopping the clock and sending him to the line. There was Luke Ridnour launching a three with 10 seconds left on the shot clock. There was not making the quick foul when down one with just a few seconds left, instead letting the Jazz make a couple quick passes to Gordon Haywood, who was streaking in for the dunk and got a clinching and one.

When it mattered, Utah new how to execute, Minnesota did not. That simple.

Hornets 105, Nets 91: New Orleans was just getting the shots they wanted and knocking down everything — they shot 53.9 percent, or a blistering 59.2 percent eFG% which accounts for the extra points from hot three point shooting. I thought Brook Lopez looked good in this one, but it was too little.

Rockets 97, Clippers 92: This was probably the most entertaining game of the night. Blake Griffin did his Griffin thing — he almost hit his face on the rim on one dunk — but the Rockets got the fast pace they wanted (98 possessions) and they are just better in transition. The pattern of this game was for the Rockets to jump out to a big lead — they were up 27-11 early — then for the Clippers to battle back and get close, only to have the Rockets spread the lead way out again. The Clippers kept making runs but never got over the hump.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.