Baseline to Baseline recaps: Boston, Lakers send some messages

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What you missed while watching the Hangover 2 trailer….

Celtics 107, Spurs 97: The Celtics ultimately will go as Rajon Rondo goes. He’s been injured and slumping. He’s back, and if he is the Celtics are back with him.

You know the Celtics are going to defend well (they still need a stabilizing presence in the paint, but that’s an issue for another day and a couple rounds in to the playoffs). The question is the offense, and the offense runs through Rondo.

The Spurs defended by the book — lay off Rondo and make him beat you with a jumper. Except early in the first quarter Rondo hit two 16-foot jumpers. He shot the ball confidently all night and by the end Rondo was 6-of-9 on jump shots, which that opened up driving lanes. He took over in the third quarter during a 17-3 run that put Boston up for the rest of the night.

There are still questions about the paint. Boston got Jermaine O’Neal back but lost Nenad Krstic to injury. Maybe for a long time. Shaq is going to be back someday. But the Celtics reminded everybody that whatever happens with their big men they are capable of beating anybody.

Then there’s the slumping Spurs. San Antonio got all its big stars back — Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan all played — and they still lost lost. The Spurs defense was spotty (at best, the Celtics shot 54.8 percent and if they could have knocked down their threes this might have been a blowout).

The Spurs fell in love with the three, trying to shoot over the top of the Celtics defense, but they were just 8-of-29 from beyond the arc. Ginobili was back but looked like maybe he should have sat out another game, finishing with just nine points on 4-of-13 shooting (1-of-6 from deep).

You expect the Spurs to snap out of it, but the five straight losses are creating problems. According to ESPN, the last time the Spurs lost 5 in a row Duncan was still at Wake Forest (1996-97 season). The Lakers are now just 2.5 games back. Gregg Popovich might like to rest his stars headed into the playoffs, but now he’s going to have to use them more to hold on to that top seed. And to make sure they get their rhythm back.

Lakers 110, Mavericks 82: One game between these two veteran teams does not send a message. But combine this with a game back on March 12 when the Lakers went into Dallas and beat the Mavericks, where Los Angeles was in control of from the second quarter on, and you start to get one. You don’t want to read too much into regular season games, but a pattern has emerged.

These two teams will likely meet in the second round of the NBA playoffs and the Lakers have sent the message that the series may not last long. And this was about sending a message — Pau Gasol was in during the fourth quarter with the Lakers up more than 20. The Lakers held Dallas to 36.1 percent shooting, and Dirk Nowitzki with 27 points was the only Dallas starter in double figures.

Dallas, blown out of the game, tried to send a message by getting physical with fouls late — Jason Terry pushing Steve Blake to the ground (the Lakers Matt Barnes jumped in to defend his teammate and will get a suspension for his actions), some kind-hard fouls from Dirk Nowitzki, a play where Pau Gasol ends up sprawled on the floor. Seven technical were handed out. (And a partially-nude woman who rushed the Mavs bench was thrown out, just to make it all a little more surreal.)It’s a message sort of like a hockey team that sends a goon out to start a fight in the third period down four goals — we can’t beat you but we’ve still got fight.

Maybe so. But the second round playoff series between these two doesn’t look like much of a fight right now. Dallas just cannot match up with the Lakers front line, or Kobe.

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.