Baseline to Baseline recaps: Sixers get win despite Vince Carter heroics

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while watching a Christmas lights show timed out to “Gangnam Style”

Pacers 79, Lakers 77: Sometimes you watch a game and think neither team deserves to win it. That was this game. It was ugly. But despite 40 from Kobe Bryant it was a George Hill high-arcing layup that won Indy the game, and we broke it all down right here.

Sixers 100, Mavericks 98: This game was decided in the middle of the fourth quarter — it was 81-81 with 8:30 remaining when the Mavericks turned the ball over on six consecutive possessions and that led to a 12-0 Sixers run and a lead Philly would never relinquish.

It seemed over, Philly up seven inside two minutes to go when Vince Carter happened. First he drained a ridiculously deep three, about five feet behind the arc. After a defensive stop for Dallas, the next trip down Carter had a spinning driving layup. Suddenly the lead was just two with 17 seconds left. Jrue Holiday, who had 18 points and was good most of the night, had two possessions where he over-dribbled and got no good shot. He did it again and with time running out Dallas had one last shot to win. Dallas got the ball to Carter but Philly wisely doubled-teamed him, so he passed and with some nice ball movement the Mavs found O.J. Mayo in the lane and he was fouled

Mavs double Carter, two passes to cutting O.J. Mayo who was fouled on a bad reach by Holiday. Two free throws to tie it. Mayo missed first, intentionally missed second, Dallas rookie Jae Crowder actually got the rebound had a shot at a three to win but just missed.

Evan Turner had 22 points on 13 shots for Philly.

Rockets 117, Raptors 101: This game was not exactly a defensive struggle — the Rockets shot 53 percent overall and hit 13-of-26 threes. The Rockets put the nail in this at the start of the third quarter when James Harden hit two threes — he had 24 points and a career-best 12 assists. Toronto, who has struggled on defense all season, let the Rockets put of points at a 124.2 points per 100 possessions pace. The bright spots for Toronto were rookie Terrence Ross, who had his best game as a pro with 19 points, and Andrea Bargnani who had 21 points on 12 shots.

Suns 91, Cavaliers 78: It was the second night of a back-to-back and the fourth game in five nights for Cleveland and it showed — they hung tight until late in the third quarter when a 14-0 run turned a two point deficit into a comfortable win. The Suns pushed the pace and ran during hat stretch and Cleveland just could not keep up. Goran Dragic had 19 points, Michael Beasley added 15. If Cavs fans want a bright spot, Anderson Varejao totally outplayed Marcin Gortat

Timberwolves 97, Kings 89: The Timberwolves led this one from the second quarter on, but they never pulled away so it was interesting at the end. Kevin Love put up a line like we expect from him — 23 points, 24 rebounds — and that included a prayer that was answered in the final minute solidifying the Minnesota lead. Love needed to hit that shot because the Kings zone defense in the fourth quarter seemed to throw the Timberwolves off and make it a game. Nikola Pekovic added 16 for Minny. DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans each added 20 for the Kings. This snapped a five-game losing streak for Minnesota.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.