Memphis Grizzlies v Phoenix Suns

Goran Dragic’s last-second shot finishes the Grizzlies (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX — The Suns would have taken a win any way it might have come, after losing seven straight and being faced with the task of taking down a Grizzlies team that has gotten off to a strong start this season, and had just beaten this Phoenix team in Memphis a mere seven days ago.

But winning with defense, by holding the Grizzlies to a season-low 34 second-half points while shooting just 38.2 percent from the field, making only 5-of-22 from three-point distance, and still needing a virtual buzzer-beater to get the job done? No one could have predicted that.

That’s how it played out in Phoenix on Wednesday, with the Suns pulling out an 82-80 win over the Grizzlies to get back on the winning track for the first time in more than two weeks.

“We really needed that win, and it feels great,” Goran Dragic said afterward.

Things began in this one the same way they ended up for the Suns in Memphis. Zach Randolph dominated in the first quarter offensively, largely due to the defensive strategy employed by the Suns, which was to play him straight up and make him beat them as opposed to doubling and allowing wide open looks from beyond the three-point arc.

Randolph had 10 first-quarter points, but finished with just 18. Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said afterward that they changed the defensive strategy on him mid-game by using a zone defense, and that made all the difference.

“We played a zone some,” Gentry said. “But we just weren’t going to run around and spread our defense out to where they could start making three point shots. So if you go back [and look], they only took 10 of them. We were able to guard the three-point line.

“We tried to limit the three-point shooting by just playing Zach straight up. We did that tonight, but we tried to be a lot more active on him, trying not to let him catch the ball and trying to make him work to get the basketball, where he wasn’t just posting up.”

Stopping Randolph was key on a night where only three Memphis players finished in double figures, with Rudy Gay leading the team in shot attempts but connecting on just 7-of-17 from the field.

Still, the game came down to the last couple of possessions. And the Suns were able to finally get a bucket to fall with the game on the line, after suffering through so many failed attempts in similar situations in games past.

The game was tied at 80 with 7.7 seconds remaining, and the Suns had possession. Dragic had the ball at the top of the arc, and made his move almost immediately. After getting the switch that Phoenix wanted on the pick-and-roll, Dragic was able to maneuver around Marc Gasol and flip in the game-winning hook shot at the rim in the game’s final second.

“The play was zipper up for me, and then play pick and roll and take that last shot,” Dragic said. “I saw the open gap on the right side and tried to get past Gasol. He denied that, and I pump-faked him — I don’t know if he jumped, I didn’t see that — but then I just turned around to see that I had an open, easy layup hook, and I made it.”

Gentry admitted the play might not have been executed perfectly, but the one called was what he wanted all along — a high pick and roll, with plenty of options available for his point guard to choose from.

“We wanted to go a high screen-and-roll, we wanted to try to keep the floor open,” Gentry said. “We had a couple of plays that we initially called — we were going to run a play, but then it was going to be a shot right away, and we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to try to use as much of the clock as we possibly could. So we went high screen-and-roll, and Goran just made a great play.”

It was a big win for a Suns team that was desperate for it, but it certainly wasn’t a blueprint for success moving forward. There was a late scoring drought and more lineup fluctuation for a team that has already endured more than its fair share of that in the early part of the season.

But wins have been in short supply in Phoenix recently, so the Suns will take one any way it comes.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.