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.

Cavaliers tie series with Pacers in Indiana, 2-2

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Sunday night’s game between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was raucous. Bankers Life Fieldhouse was rocking, and despite Indiana’s best effort to put back seemingly every offensive board it encountered, LeBron James‘ 32 points was just too much to overcome.

Facing the possibility of going down 3-1 in the first round, the Cavaliers pulled out the win, 104-100, and sent the series back to Ohio for Game 5.

The game came down to the final period following a surge by the Pacers to end the third quarter. The teams were tied several times midway through the fourth, but a tip shot by Thaddeus Young wth 6:13 left gave the Pacers the lead as fans in Indiana went wild.

Cleveland then came roaring back. At the three-minute mark, James drove to the basket and scored. Thirty seconds later, Kyle Korver hit a big-time 3-pointer to put the Cavaliers up by four points, a mark the Pacers couldn’t recover from.

LeBron scored again with 1:52 left, and despite some weird late-game antics — featuring none other than Lance Stephenson — the Cavaliers were able to remain resolute down the stretch.

James finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists. Kyle Korver added 18 points on 4-of-9 shooting from deep, and Kevin Love had five points with 11 boards.

Victor Oladipo struggled for Indiana, scoring 17 points but shooting just 25 percent from the floor. Seven Pacers finished in double-digits, with Young notching an impressive double-double of 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Game 5 will be played in Cleveland on Wednesday, April 25.

Wizards beat Raptors in Game 4, tie series at 2-2 heading to Toronto

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The Toronto Raptors were far and away the best team in the Eastern Conference this season. The Washington Wizards were … well, very Wizard-y.

So considering their regular seasons, the fact that Washington was able to tie the first round series between the two teams at 2 games apiece on Sunday is pretty astonishing.

Bradley Beal had 31 points and five rebounds for the Wizards while teammate John Wall added 27 points to go along with a whopping 14 assists. Washington shot an impressive 41 percent from 3-point range as four of five starters finished in double-digit scoring.

Despite Beal’s performance, it was Wall who saved the day for the Wizards. Beal was disqualified after fouling out with around five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Beal didn’t agree with the call, and could be seen throwing a towel near the Washington bench.

For his part, Wall either scored or assisted on 10 of the Wizards’ final 14 points of the game. That helped stave off the likes of DeMar DeRozan, who led all scorers with 35 points.

The series heads back to Toronto for Game 5, which will be played on Wednesday, April 25.

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.