Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love is fouled by Los Angeles Clippers forward Reggie Evans in Minneapolis

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Kevin Love outduels Blake Griffin

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What you missed while buying way more Girl Scout cookies than you really should…

Thunder 95, Mavericks 92: Oklahoma City scored the final eight points to win another close contest, which was our game of the night.

Timberwolves 95, Clippers 94: With all their mistakes late, I have no idea how the Timberwolves pulled this one out. There was Martell Webster with the terrible turnover late. Then there was maybe the ugliest end-of-game possession ever: what was essentially a J.J. Barea isolation that ended in a scoop shot. Minnesota was still up three, the Clippers had one possession left when Derrick Williams foolishly fouls Chris Paul on his three attempt to tie it.

But Chris Paul missed the final free throw, Rubio got the rebound, was fouled and that spelled the end. (Really like the way Rubio wisely missed the second free throw intentionally, because with 1.8 seconds left the Clippers had no timeouts and could not go length of court and score). Kevin Love finished with 39 on 25 shots and was a dominant force in this game.

Bulls 92, Pacers 72: Revenge is a dish best served… oh, it doesn’t matter how it is served, it usually tastes pretty good. The Pacers beat the Bulls a couple weeks ago at the United Center and Derrick Rose and others thought the Pacers celebrated too much on their floor. It showed in a third quarter where the Bulls blew this open (33-13 in that quarter). Yes, Derrick Rose had 11 of his 13 in that quarter but it was really about the Bulls defense holding the Pacers to 27 percent shooting in the period.

Nuggets 119, Kings 116 (OT): The most entertaining game of the night. In part because Arron Afflalo had a career night with 32 points and took over late, except when Ty Lawson (16 points) was doing it like he has for the last week. On the other side there was an aggressive Tyreke Evans getting 27.

Great ending to this one. The Kings were up three and Denver had one last shot, Afflalo got the ball and overdribbled trying to get the three for himself rather than pass to a couple open teammates. He took a bad shot but he got bailed out when Marcus Thornton fouled him. Afflalo hit all three free throws and this one was bound for overtime. In the OT Kenneth Faried had four of his 20 — you have to love his energy every night. Still it was 116-116 with 2.6 seconds to go when Lawson hits the three to seal the win. Thornton plays the goat for Sacramento, but he had 27 on the night and they would not have been there at the end without him.

Warriors 120, Wizards 100: Golden State had 41 in the first quarter and just ran away with this one from the start. Monta Ellis had 14 in the first quarter and finished with 25 getting to sit the fourth. Klay Thompson had 18 (11 in the garbage time fourth, but who cares) and six Warriors were in double digits. Stephen Curry was back and made some plays, including a breakaway steal then up-and-under on John Wall that was impressive. Wall finished with 20.

Jazz 109, Cavaliers 100: You can’t stop Gordon Hayward… well, the Cavs couldn’t on Monday anyway as he had 10 in the third and 22 overall. But the real issue was that the Cavs had no answer for Al Jefferson and his 25 inside — the Jazz controlled the pain outrebounding the Cavs by 16. Kyrie Irving had 22, as did Antawn Jamison.

Magic 92, Raptors 88: Credit Toronto for really fighting in this one (something they always seem to do against Orlando). The Raptors had no answer whatsoever for Dwight Howard (sorry Aaron Gray) who finished with 36 points, hitting 16 of 20 shots, plus had 13 rebounds. (Note to Orlando players: You need to feed Dwight like this every night.) The Raptors led at times in the third and kept it close behind 23 from DeMar DeRozan, but J.J. Redick hit the dagger three with 9.7 seconds left. We had a Jerryd Bayless sighting — he had 12 points in the fourth quarter for Toronto (15 in the game). There are moments you think he’ll be good, but then they pass.

Bucks 97, Sixers 93: Brandon Jennings was on fire early with 19 points (and 2 assists) in the first quarter to put the Bucks ahead, but the Sixers fought back and led most of the second and third quarters. The Bucks made their next run (a 15-0 run) from the end of the third into the fourth, sparked in part by Drew Gooden who was the best paint player in this game and finished with 25. In the fourth quarter, on the second night of a back-to-back, Philly relied on Lou Williams who had 16 in the fourth quarter. But with the game tied 93-93 Beno Udrih hit an open 12 footer then at the other end Williams missed the floated with 6.7 left and that was essentially the ballgame. Jennings finished with 33. Sixers have lost 8 of 10 now.

Trail Blazers 86, Hornets 74: The Hornets hung around in this one until a 15-0 run midway through the third blew it open and Portland led by as many as 26 before coasting in for the win (a late 9-0 New Orleans run made it seem closer than it was). Nicolas Batum led the way with 19. The Blazers needed this win.

 

Report: Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel’s contract up, no talks yet about extension

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 26:  Head Coach Frank Vogel of the Indiana Pacers shouts to an official in the first half of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Raptors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on April 26, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, 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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Frank Vogel is one of the 10 best coaches in the NBA. The Indiana Pacers are better with him in the big chair.

But is he going to be back next season?

Probably, only because it’s hard to imagine otherwise, but the door has been opened reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Are the Pacers’ serious? Team president Larry Bird wouldn’t answer the question, but neither did he throw water on the rumor to put the flames out.

Vogel wouldn’t need to worry about employment, he would instantly jump to near the top of every coaching search list out there (and the ones that will come up next year).

The question is, why would the Pacers do this? Can you pick apart is end-of-game management in Game 4, and question his rotations? Sure. Did he make a mistake with his timeout call late in Game 7? Probably. He’s not perfect.

However, this is a team whose second and third best players are Monta Ellis and George Hill, and they have a thin bench — Vogel did more with less he was given by Larry Bird than just about any coach could have. This team has limitations and he has done a fantastic job putting players in positions where they could succeed.

I imagine in a couple of weeks the Pacers will announce a new deal with Vogel. But the door is now open to change.

Raptors hang on through rough finish to beat Pacers 89-84, advance to second round

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To paraphrase the great Rasheed Wallace: “Both teams played hard. Not well, but both teams played hard.”

Game 7s can be filled with tight play and poor decisions, and the final few minutes of this Game 7 between the Raptors and Pacers certainly saw that. It saw the Raptors score just 11 fourth quarter points — and saw the referees swallow their whistles on a clear foul that would have given the Pacers a better chance at a win — but none of that matters to a Toronto fan base starved for a playoff series win.

They don’t care about style points, just give them the “W.” The Raptors and their fans can finally exhale.

Toronto had a 16-point lead, tried desperately to run out the clock in the final five minutes, and in doing so opened the door again for Indiana and made it tight at the end, but Toronto hung on for an 89-84 win.

Toronto wins the series and now advances on to the second round for the first time since the Vince Carter era. The Raptors will face the Heat starting this Tuesday at home in Toronto.

“I think everybody wrote the Raptors off and gave us up for dead,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said after the win. “But that locker room is full of fighters and scrappers and guys that are really getting into it now.”

Casey is wrong in the micro — I certainly don’t remember any “Toronto can’t win Game 7 at home” stories in the press — but right in the macro that his team carried a heavy “they can’t get out of the first round” burden all season, a reputation that almost was an anchor for them in the closing minutes of this game.

But they survived. And advanced.

Paul George was the best player on the floor and finished the game with 26 points, but it was the play he didn’t make (and the foul the Raptors got away with on that play) that will be the talk of Game 7.

Toronto had a small lead most of the game, but a couple of runs (one in the third quarter, another early in the fourth) had stretched it out to 16. Leading the way was DeMar DeRozan, who wasn’t efficient (10-of-32 shooting) but did put up 30 points and was attacking hard. The other key in this game for the Raptors was on the glass where they grabbed the offensive rebound on 35 percent of their missed shots, which led to 17 second-chance points on the night.

But everyone knew Toronto was not going to just be able to coast in for the win. It was going to be hard.

With five minutes left Toronto started to try to run out the clock — Shaquille O’Neal called it “prevent offense” — and the team wouldn’t even really start its attack until there were five seconds or so on the clock. The result was, predictably enough, difficult and contested shots. Meanwhile, the Pacers kept hitting shots and went on a 15-2 run, with Solomon Hill throwing down a huge dunk and Monta Ellis hitting a three that made it a three-point game with 2:36 left.

Then Kyle Lowry answered with a driving layup that had the Raptors up 87-82 with 2:10 left. That would be the last bucket of the game.

Indiana had its chances, but both Ellis and George had turnovers.

George had a chance with the team down 5 and :26 seconds left to go for a quick two and then play the foul game, but as he drove and got cut off he went up and rather than bank in a 10-footer he threw a lot to Ian Mahinmi — and DeRozan shoved Mahinmi while the big man was in the air, causing the pass to go sailing over Mahinmi’s head. It was a clear foul by DeRozan that was not called — and George should have just shot the ball there — but with that the Pacers chances few away as well.

It wasn’t pretty for the Raptors. They do not care. Their loyal and long-suffering fans were rewarded with a first round win, that monkey is off their backs.

But they are going to have to play a lot better and a lot looser against a veteran Miami team if the Raptors want to make the franchise’s first-ever conference finals.

 

 

Stephen Curry says “pretty good” chance he plays in Game 3 next Saturday

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, left, and head coach Steve Kerr react during the first half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, May 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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The Golden State Warriors were just fine without him Sunday in Game 1.

But no doubt the Warriors are a much more dangerous team with the past-and-future league MVP, so when will they get him back? Maybe by next weekend.

That would put him a couple of days inside the two weeks the team said he would be out, but it’s not unreasonable.

That said, players are the worst people to ask about their recovery timeline, they are always convinced they can be back more quickly than the team doctors say. Also, if the Warriors can win Game 2 Tuesday at home and be up 2-0 in the series, why rush Curry back? Make Portland win a game first.

That said, the Warriors would like to get Curry a little game run and his legs under him this series, because they are going to need him next series (against San Antonio or possibly Oklahoma City).

Warriors’ defense too good, Klay Thompson too hot for Blazers in easy Game 1 win

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Even without Stephen Curry — who thinks he can be back for Game 3 next Saturday — the Golden State Warriors execute like champions.

They have an elite defense. Just as Damian Lillard, who shot 3-of-17 and had 12 points through the first three quarters (he went 5-of-8 in the fourth and scored 18 points, but the game was over by then). Or ask C.J, McCollum, who shot 5-of-17 for 12 points on the night.

The Warriors have more than one elite shooter and playmaker. Klay Thompson had 37 points and was 7-of-14 from three. Draymond Green added a triple-double of 23 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists.

It all overwhelmed a Portland team that had played against the Clippers Friday night and still looked a little sluggish. The Warriors opened the game on an 18-4 run and led by 20 after 12 minutes, Thompson had 18 of his points in the first quarter, and by that point the Warriors put it in cruise control and were never seriously threatened on their way to a 118-106 win.

Golden State leads the series 1-0, with Game 2 at Oracle Arena Tuesday night.

Portland has a lot of work to do before then, starting with altering their defensive strategies — they need to have their bigs show out more and be physical when they can with Thompson. Oh, and put Maurice Harkless on Thompson, not McCollum. They need to take away Klay’s space, if Portland gives him the room to operate he had for three quarters Sunday again and he will beat them again.

Another part of the Warriors’ fast start was a clever move by Steve Kerr, asking center Andrew Bogut to guard wing Maurice Harkless. Portland’s game plan (almost every game) is to try and drag the opposing center into defending the pick-and-roll, but now Harkless had to be involved rather than Mason Plumlee. Harkless isn’t half the playmaker or threat in that role Plumlee is. It helped slow the Blazers pick-and-roll, and they went on to score just 17 first quarter points.

All game long the Warriors were able to attack the rim and Portland just does not have the paint protectors that will slow them down. Shaun Livingston had 12 for Golden State getting the start in Curry’s place and Golden State did a good job of posting up the smaller Trail Blazers guards. Portland got 15 each from Al-Farouq Aminu and Allen Crabbe (who had a good game), but Bogut was a force in the paint and his rim protection was an issue for the Blazers.

Portland also lost Gerald Henderson to an ejection, one that seemed like a quick trigger to me. Toward the end of the third quarter, Anderson Varejao fell and as he did kicked Henderson knocking the Blazer to the ground. Henderson thought it was intentional and got up and got in Varejao’s face. The referees looked at the tape and went with the double technical.  But neither man let the incident go and with 15 seconds left in the third Henderson was trash talking with Varejao, who at that point was on the Warriors’ bench. The referee hit him with a second technical.

But that’s the least of Portland’s problems right now.

They have not been a strong defensive team all season, however they need to be a better one by Tuesday. If the Blazers go down 0-2, and Curry is back for Game 3, Golden State could get even more time to rest before the next round because this series will not last long. Lillard and company need to bring it on Tuesday night.