Sasha Vujacic

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Tom Thibodeau is good but still learning

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What you missed while listening to Josh Groban sing the tweets of Kanye West

The Celtics and Spurs were our Game of the Night.

Nets 96, Bulls 94: Tom Thibodeau has turned the Chicago Bulls into one of the best defensive teams in the league. He has them winning despite injuries to key players. He has proved he is more than ready to be an NBA coach.

But he is still doing some things that leave you scratching your head — like benching Carlos Boozer the entire fourth quarter of a close game. Does that seem wise? Sure, Boozer had a bad night defensively. Yes, the Bulls made a run from down 13 to get back in it with Boozer on the bench. But when you need a late basket he has to be on the court, not Kurt Thomas coming in with :49 seconds left, the team down two. You can be sure the benching of Boozer is not a dead issue.

The other thing Thibodeau cannot do is make Kyle Korver a defender — the Nets went right at him on a late 8-0 run that stemmed the Bulls fourth quarter momentum. Whoever Korver was guarding would come out and set the high pick for Devin Harris, then Harris would go right at Korver. Thibodeau had to take Korver off the floor and play Ronnie Brewer.

With the game on the line it was a driving layup by Sasha Vujacic on a broken play that won it for the Nets. Vujacic was always better when he got more minutes — he needs to get in a rhythm with the game — and he is doing that in New Jersey.

One other note: This was Derrick Favors first NBA start, but he got into early foul trouble and played just nine minutes.

Sixers 109, Wizards 97: This game featured a quick, smart, awesome young point guard who lit up the arena — Jrue Holiday. Why, who did you think I was talking about? Holiday knocked down 10-of-14 shots for 26 points, plus had nine assists. And the Wizards still don’t have a road win.

Raptors 120, Cavaliers 105: How hard is Byron Scott searching for anything that works? He started recently signed Alonzo Gee. Toronto came into this game the worst three-point shooting team in the league (31.9 percent) yet they were 9 of 18 Wednesday. Welcome to the Cavs defense.

Sign of the times: As happens when you lose eight in a row, the fans were booing the Cavaliers all night. Well, until they scored 100 points and that meant a free chalupa for everyone in attendance, then the arena erupted.

Magic 97, Bucks 87: Dwight Howard dominated the play inside with 28 points and 13 rebounds. The Bucks need Andrew Bogut to win the battle inside for the team to be competitive, but that is a tall order (literally) against Howard.

Warriors 110, Hornets 103: Chris Paul was brilliant — 24 points, 13 assists and just two turnovers — but as a whole the Hornets turned the ball over 18 times. That proved to just be too many empty possessions against the hot-shooting Warriors.

Bobcats 108, Timberwolves 105 (OT): Charlotte picks up a win on a night Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson sit out. Charlotte played well when the game was close late, then Tyrus Thomas had five points and D.J. Augustin had four in the overtime.

Blazers 103, Rockets 100: Portland just has Houston’s number lately. LaMarcus Aldridge’s 10 fourth quarter points sparked a rally from 13 down to get Portland the win. Kevin Martin dropped 45 and was just ridiculous.

Hawks 110, Jazz 87: Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford were able to get the shots they wanted with little resistance, which is why Johnson had 28, Crawford 26 and hey were a combined 9 of 14 from three. The Jazz have been a pretty average defensive team this season, and there are nights that really comes back to bite them.

Lakers 99, Suns 95: The Lakers are now 5-1 on the second night of back-to-backs this season. The Suns acquired Marcin Gortat to join with Robin Lopez and protect the rim on defense, but they really don’t know what to do with two big men on offense. The bigs set picks for Nash then serve no real purpose. Not a pretty win for the Lakers but a win.

Clippers 106, Nuggets 93: Neither bench did much, this was about the Clipper starters out playing he Nugget starters. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin form a crazy athletic front line and they combined for 36 points, 38 rebounds and seven blocked shots (Jordan had six of those). Denver is such a different, inconsistent team on the road (they are 15-3 at home but on the road you get good games and ugly ones). That’s not the Carmelo Anthony saga, they just don’t play like a unit some nights.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.

James scores 33, Cavaliers reach second straight NBA Finals

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TORONTO — LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It’s the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it’s his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

“I had to bring my game,” he said. “I had to be in attack mode from the beginning.”

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith had 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday’s Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered “Let’s go, Raptors! Let’s go, Raptors!” throughout most of the final three minutes.

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland’s nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

TIP INS

Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. … Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

Reports: P.J. Carlesimo to join Sixers staff as Brett Brown’s lead assistant

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last season, when new president Jerry Colangelo started shaking things up in Philadelphia, he brought in Mike D’Antoni to be a lead assistant next to Brett Brown. This led to all kinds of speculation around the league that the Colangelos were trying to bring back the old Suns brain trust (especially when Jerry hired his son Bryan to be GM).

However, D’Antoni jumped ship to be the head coach of the Houston Rockets.

Enter, P.J. Carlesimo.

Carlesimo is a good fit, but that’s not going to quell the rumors that the Colangelos are not comfortable with Brown (despite giving him a contract extension). The Sixers need to give Brown a legitimate shot — he’s been like a contestant on Chopped the past few seasons, given a ridiculous basket of ingredients and told to turn Mango, octopus and graham crackers into a four-star meal. He’s gotten them to play defense (at times) and started to build a culture. He has earned the chance to show what he can do with a better lineup.

Which is what the Sixers will have next season.

Nuggets’ Jusuf Nurkic likes idea of two-bigs lineup with Nikola Jokic

DENVER, CO - APRIL 5:  Jusuf Nurkic #23 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on April 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Thunder defeated the Nuggets 124-102. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Late last season, Nuggets coach Mike Malone tried something out of the box the way the NBA is trending — playing two young bigs together. Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, the latter of whom finished in third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Small ball may be in vogue, but going big has worked pretty well these playoffs for Oklahoma City with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (and Serge Ibaka).

It didn’t work all that well for Denver — in just 92 minutes together the Nuggets were outscored by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because the offense was terrible.

But Nurkic wants to try it again next season, he told the Nuggets’ official Web site.

“I’m happy about the big lineup [with Nikola]. “Basketball has kind of changed. The NBA has gone smaller because of [the] Golden State [Warriors]. In the [Western Conference] semi-finals, look at [Oklahoma City’s Steven] Adams, [Enes] Kanter, and [Serge] Ibaka. They played all those guys and they see the difference. Me and Nikola have great communication because we played in the same league, we played against each other.”

He’s referring to their time in the Serbian league where the two played before going to the NBA.

While it could only be used situationally, expect Malone to experiment with this lineup more. There are some serious defensive questions (neither is exactly fleet of foot), and there could be spacing issues. But if the league moves one way, the smart teams and coaches think about counters.