Memphis Grizzlies v Boston Celtics

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Where Boston got dominated along the front line

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What you missed while mourning Elizabeth Taylor…

Grizzlies 90, Celtics 87: This is why teams out west would like to avoid Memphis in the first round (even without Rudy Gay) — Memphis outscored Boston 52-26 in the paint. Memphis grabbed the offensive rebound on 25 percent of their missed shots. The vaunted Boston front line was out played. Certainly, Boston is without either of the O’Neals (both of whom should return in the next week) but don’t take anything away from Memphis, they played to their strengths and won. Plus, ex-Celtics Leon Powe (13 points) and Tony Allen (9) played key roles off the bench for the Griz.

Key playoff implications here. Memphis is now a full two games ahead of Houston for the 8 seed in the West, Boston has now fallen one game back of Chicago for best record in the East.

Sixers 105, Hawks 100: On the bright side, the Hawks played with more passion than they did 24 hours before when the Bulls whipped them. The Hawks put up 59 first half points to lead by 6. But on the second night of a back they looked tired come the fourth quarter and with that their defense got worse (the Sixers shot 53 percent for the quarter) and the Hawks settled for jump shots that were not falling (they shot 36 percent for the quarter).

The win seems to lock the Sixers more into the six seed, however, they are now 2.5 games back of the Hawks for the five seed with just a couple weeks left.

Pacers 111, Bobcats 88: This was a huge win for the Pacers as it gives them a full three game lead over Charlotte and Milwaukee for the eight seed in the East. Charlotte seemed to be in control for the first 16 minutes or so of this game, then it was all Pacers. Danny Granger had 33 points on 19 shots and was a +28. Stephen Jackson tried for Charlotte but his hamstring is just not healed and he is not right.

Nets 98, Cavaliers 94: One of the more meaningless games of the night standings wise, one with some less-than-stellar execution, but one of the more entertaining endings. Brook Lopez tipped in his own miss with :04 left to send the game to overtime. An overtime where scoring was rampant — 28 total points were scored in five minutes. Jordan Farmar scored five points in OT, all from the free throw line.

Heat 100, Pistons 94: Detroit was up 27-21 after one quarter shooting 60 percent while the Heat started 2-10 from outside the paint. Detroit held that lead until the start of the fourth quarter, when Miami went on a 15-0 run that changed the game. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and James Jones off the bench led that charge. Not going to read much into the Heat beating another below .500 team, but it still counts as a win.

Thunder 106, Jazz: 94: Kind of a veteran, professional win for the Thunder. They shot better (54.5 percent on the night) and their superior bench changed the game with a 15-6 run late in the third that helped the Thunder pull away.

Kings 97, Bucks 90: Marcus Thornton really likes having a green light again and put up 27 points. Beno Udrih added 25. Carlos Delfino was hot and dropped 30 for the Bucks, but it wasn’t enough. We’re sure a win over the Bucks really made the Kings fans forget all that relocation talk.

Magic 111, Knicks 99: After giving up 59 points in the first half (and being down 4 at the break) credit the Magic for falling back on their strengths in the second half. For one, they tightened their defense and held the Knicks to 31.8 percent shooting for the half. (Although the Knicks certainly helped out there — they seem to tighten up in the stretch.) Orlando also keep feeding Dwight Howard the ball because the Knicks have no answer for a big man like that, and Howard finished with 33. The Magic also grabbed the offensive rebound on one-third of their missed shots on the night, they owned the glass.

Rockets 131, Warriors 112: Chuck Hayes had a triple-double. No, I’m not making that up, check the box score for yourself. This is something you’ll tell the grandkids about.

Up tempo game with lots of good shooting, but the key was the Rockets were attacking and drawing fouls, too — Houston got to the line 35 times and had 27 points from there compared to just 18 chances and 11 points for the Warriors. Also, the Rockets hit 12-26 threes, including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc for Courtney Lee.

Suns 114, Raptors 106: Coming into the second game of a back-to-back where the Suns played to triple overtime the night before, Phoenix’s depth mattered here — they got 63 points from their bench in this win.

Nuggets 115, Spurs 112: Just how hot is Denver? Two of the better, more unselfish teams in the league were putting on a show (although Denver ran a lot of iso early for some reason). The Spurs led most of the way until an 11-0 run by Denver in the fourth gave them the lead for good. Al Harrington’s 9 points in the fourth quarter, all on threes, were key for Denver. That would be a bench player — Denver got 65 points off the bench from J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and Harrington (who had 25 of those).

Clippers 127, Warriors 119 (2OT): Blake Griffin had his first triple-double in this one, and we don’t care that it took him an extra 10 minutes of game time to do it. On the other side, fellow dunk contestant JaVale McGee had a good night with 22 points on 14 shots, 13 rebounds and a massive block on Blake Griffin. McGee also got faked into about the third row by Eric Gordon at the end of the first overtime, then Gordon drained the three that sent it to an extra frame.

LeBron James first player to reach six straight finals in 50 years

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It speaks to an incredible level of talent — talent that was honed in countless hours in the gym.

It speaks to an amazing durability.

It speaks to leadership.

LeBron James has a long resume of accomplishments — two titles, four MVPs, and he hasn’t missed an All-Star Game or an All-NBA team for a decade — but he reached one of his more impressive milestones in leading the Cavaliers past the Raptors to the NBA Finals on Friday night.

LeBron has reached six straight NBA Finals.

He’s the first player to do so in 50 years.

The last guys to do this were Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy and other members of the 1950s-60s Celtics dynasty. Nobody since has done it — not Magic, Bird, Jordan, Wilt or the rest.

Yes, it helps cement LeBron’s legacy as one of the all-time greats, but more than that it’s something we need to step back and appreciate. These were all LeBron-led teams — he has been the leader on and off the court, setting the tone. That requires incredible talent and skill on the court, plus knowing how to make those guys better not just drag them along on your coat tails. It also takes incredible physical durability. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

“There’s only one LeBron James,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after his team was eliminated by James and company. “He makes a difference on whatever team he plays on.”

I can feel the typing in the comment section already: “But he’s 2-4 in the Finals, Jordan was 6-0” or “But he’s done it in a weak East” or “He keeps just jumping teams to where he has the most help.” It’s all just sad. Because LeBron James is the first NBA superstar of the social media age he faces a volume of criticism that past stars did not. It’s not that LeBron hasn’t brought some criticism on himself, but there is a need to tear him down that the mythologized Jordan never dealt with. We savored Jordan at the time; LeBron has never gotten that. Jordan took 13 NBA teams to the playoffs, six made the Finals; LeBron has taken 11 and seven are in the Finals. The thing is, it’s difficult to compare across eras in the NBA:

All of this is not to say LeBron’s record is better than Jordan’s, you and your buddies can debate that while sitting on bar stools until last call, but LeBron has been on an epic run through the peak of his career the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. If you’re a fan of the game, you should appreciate that, not try to tear it down (as if Jordan’s legacy somehow needs protecting).

What LeBron has done is a stunning accomplishment. If you’re in the same sentence with the legendary Russell Celtics teams, you’re doing something right.

Warriors/Thunder Game 6: Four things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to close out series

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors react in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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For the Thunder, it is a chance for validation and an opportunity to get the ring Kevin Durant (and Russell Westbrook, and the rest of them) crave. For the Warriors, it is their biggest test of the last two seasons. Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City, here are four things to watch.

1) Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson need to play better for the Thunder. After a couple of series where Waiters suddenly has been reborn as a quality NBA player who is the third playmaker the Thunder need, and after Andre Roberson dropped a career playoff high of 17 points the game before, both were MIA in Game 5. Roberson was 2-of-5 shooting and had as many points as fouls (six). Waiters didn’t hit a shot all night. This was tied to the Thunder returning to the bad habits of too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking on the world and OKC not enough ball movement in the halfcourt. The Scott Brooks Thunder of the past few seasons showed up in Game 5, if the Thunder fall back to those bad habits again, they will lose again.

I expect the Thunder to treat this like their Game 7 and play much better. They will have a real sense of urgency; their defense will again be energized. The question becomes can the Warriors match it?

2) Can Andrew Bogut keep the Thunder from scoring in the paint?
In Game 5, the Thunder were 8-of-18 shooting in the restricted area, and 7-of-19 in the rest of the paint. That’s not going to get it done. A lot of that was the impact Bogut had in the paint — plus he got help, the Warriors switched pick-and-rolls more, they packed the paint more and took away driving lanes. It all worked, in part because Bogut and Draymond Green played with much better energy than in previous games. Steve Kerr said he didn’t play Bogut as many minutes in the first four games due to foul trouble, he has to trust the veteran to play through fouls in this game. The Warriors have simply been better with him on the court this series and they need close to 30 minutes from him this game.

Tied to Bogut’s play…

3) Golden State defense needs to show up on the road. As noted above, the Warriors went back to a more traditional defense in Game 5 — they started guarding Roberson (rather than having a big “guard” and ignore him to protect the paint), they switched, they stayed home in the paint, and they just trusted each other and played their system better. It was a marked improvement. However, they did it at home — now they need to do it on the road, where Green, in particular, has been more prone to mistakes and frustration.

One key here worth emphasizing is the Warriors got back to switching most pick-and-rolls — that’s what they did all season, that’s part of why the “death lineup” is so successful defensively, yet in this series they increasingly went away from it (in part because of how they guarded Roberson). Switching is part of who the Warriors are, and while it will create some mismatches teams don’t want to stray too far from their core identity.

4) Stephen Curry needs to be MVP level Curry. Draymond Green needs to be his All-NBA self.
I’m not saying the same thing about Durant and Westbrook because I have no doubt they will show up with urgency in their games Saturday night. However, Curry and Draymond have been shadows of themselves in the two previous games in Oklahoma City, and if that happens again only one team is flying back to the Bay Area postgame.

Curry finished his drives a little better in Game 5, and at moments he blew by bigs switched onto him off of picks, something we have seen far less of this series than during the season. Green played well defensively in Game 5, he hit the boards hard, but he made some head-scratching offensive decisions. If the Warriors are going to force a Game 7, those two guys have to be elite in this game. The Warriors best players must lead. It’s that simple.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.