Baseline to Baseline recaps: Serge Ibaka is to be feared as Thunder beat Spurs

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while thinking “if you’re going to play Santa make sure you fit down the chimney”….

Rockets 109, Knicks 96: Jeremy Lin was back in New York and he doesn’t just play well at Madison Square Garden when Carmelo Anthony is out, he plays well against bad transition defense. He got all of that in an easy Rockets win we broke down here.

Thunder 107, Spurs 93: Serge Ibaka is a man to be feared.

Or at least he should be if you’re a Spur. Ibaka — he of the still developing game — had 25 points and 17 rebounds to led the Thunder. Ibaka started out hot, going 6-for-6 with 10 points with four boards and a blocked shot in the first quarter as he had a lot of success running the pick and roll with Kevin Durant (something the Spurs struggled to stop because Ibaka can both pop out for the midrange or roll hard to the hoop). This was a three-point game at the half but an 11-0 run sparked the Thunder to win the third quarter 29-16 and it was over before the final 12 minutes. Gregg Popovich didn’t even play his stars in the fourth quarter. Tony Parker had 14 points and seven assists. Russell Westbrook had 22.

Grizzlies 80, Bulls 71: You had to figure a showdown between the teams tied for the best defense in the NBA coming into the night (both allow 97 points per 100 possessions, via Hoopdata). You got just that — the winning team shot 37.5 percent. This wasn’t as much a case of terrible offense as it really was two lock-down defenses doing their thing.

Two key things separated the Grizzlies. One was the offensive glass — the Grizzlies grabbed 18 offensive boards, or to be more blunt they got a second chance on 38.7 percent of their missed shots. The other key was the Grizzlies bench, which outscored the Bulls bench 31-16. Wayne Ellington, Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter, Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur put together the second quarter Memphis run that gave them the lead for good in this one.

Clippers 88, Pistons 76: If the Clippers were going to go cold for a night shooting, against the Pistons was the place to do it and still get a win — their 10th in a row.

Los Angeles started out ice cold shooting 31.8 percent in the first quarter, and it felt like this might be the night the win streak ended. But the Clippers continued to defend well (Detroit shot just 40 percent), had a 12-2 third quarter run to take control, and got 15 points each from Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin. It wasn’t pretty for the Clippers but a win is a win. Or 10 of them.

Magic 102, Timberwolves 93: Ricky Rubio played for the Timberwolves Monday and will sit out Tuesday against Miami, part of the reasoning was to try and get the more likely win. The best laid plans of mice and men…

Minnesota led by 15 in the third quarter as they got 23 points and 15 rebounds from Kevin Love. But a 21-6 run started a dramatic comeback that included the Magic shooting 63 percent (12-for-19) in the fourth quarter. Glen Davis had 28 points, J.J. Redick had 18. Maybe the best way to look at it is Minnesota’s Love, Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic combined to shoot 17-for-29 in the first half but just 6-for-22 in the second half.

Suns 101, Kings 90: This battle of western conference bottom dwellers was a classic ‘tale of two halves’ game. Led by Jimmer Fredette’s 12 first half points (22 for the game), the Kings found themselves up 54-43. They were controlling the glass on both sides of the ball, benefitting from poor Suns’ shooting (37% in the half), and were well on their way to only their 2nd road win of the year.
In the 2nd half, however, the game turned around completely. Fueled by a dominant 3rd quarter that saw them hold the Kings to only 14 points (while scoring 31 themselves), the Suns grabbed the momentum. Shannon Brown scored 14 points in the period (on 6-7 shooting) while Luis Scola handed out 5 of his game high 10 assists (to go along with his 14 points). In the 4th quarter, the Kings made one last run but that was shut down by two Jared Dudley three pointers and a classic Scola scoop shot in the closing minutes that allowed the Suns to hold on.
—Darius Soriano

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors’

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With the Cavaliers up 3-1 on the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, most basketball observers are focused on Cavs-Warriors III in the NBA Finals.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue is more concerned with Boston, which scored surprisingly well in Games 3 and 4 after losing Isaiah Thomas to injury.

Lue, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“I don’t even think about them,” Lue said of the Warriors to a small group of traveling Cleveland beat writers following the Cavs’ Game 4 win on Tuesday. “We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me, as far as the actions and all the running around and all the guys who are making all the plays, so it’s a totally different thing.”

Wait, the Isaiah Thomas-less 53-win Celtics are harder to defend than the Kevin Durant-supercharged 67-win Warriors? Come again, Coach?

“Like, they hit the post, Golden State runs splits and all that stuff, but these guys are running all kinds of s—,” Lue said of Boston coach Brad Stevens’ schemes. “I’ll be like, ‘F—.’ They’re running all kinds of s—, man. And Brad’s got them moving and cutting and playing with pace, and everybody is a threat. It’s tough, you know, it’s tough.”

I think Lue means in a very specific way – getting his players into proper position. And in that regard he might be right.

I also think the Warriors will take this in the broadest, most offensive way possible. That’s just the nature of this rivalry.

Without Thomas, Stevens has been forced to diversify Boston’s offense. The Cavaliers, who prepared for a very different scheme, were caught off guard and are adjusting on the fly.

That’s a real challenge. But framing it as the central issue sells Golden State short.

Even if it’s harder for Lue to get his players into proper position against the Celtics, the Warriors’ surplus talent – including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – more than makes up for it. And it’s not as if Golden State runs a basic scheme.

So why did Lue say this?

He didn’t think the travelling Cleveland beat writers would publish his candid remarks? He didn’t convey his thoughts clearly? He naively didn’t consider how this would motivate the Warriors? All are plausible.

Another theory: Lue is trying to plant a seed that acting Golden State coach Mike Brown, whose known (fairly or not) for his simplistic offensive schemes, is holding back the Warriors. If Steve Kerr doesn’t return, resentment of Brown is one of the few things that could tear apart a dominant Golden State team.

Richard Jefferson: LeBron James was sick during Cavaliers-Celtics Game 3

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LeBron James was inexplicably bad in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics on Sunday.

Except maybe it was explicable.

Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, via Fox Sports Ohio

I know he won’t talk about it, so I’ll give my big guy a shout. Deron Williams missed shootaround this morning, because he had like a little bug, just really lethargic, had no energy. And I think that’s what Bron had. And sometimes these little bugs can go around.

When Deron didn’t show up to shootaround, it kind of started clicking in his head. Because for him it was more of like, “I don’t know why I was so lethargic, why I had no energy, I had nothing.” And so, these little things happen. There was no panic.

Look, he was lethargic. They hit a bunch of tough shots. If Marcus Smart doesn’t go 7-for-10 from 3, then we’re not even talking about it.

I don’t know whether LeBron was truly sick or Jefferson is just trying to help a teammate’s reputation. It can be both.

LeBron was better in Game 4, but not quite right.

If he’s dealing with a minor illness, that could clear up by Game 5 tomorrow. It should especially clear up by the Finals, which begin June 1. That’d be great news for the Cavs, who have no chance against the Warriors if LeBron isn’t at full strength.

The uncertainty of why LeBron hit a slump now of all times loomed over Cleveland’s playoff future. But Jefferson provided reason for the Cavaliers to breathe easy.

Michigan’s D.J. Wilson staying in NBA draft

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Michigan bigs D.J. Wilson and Moe Wagner declared for the NBA draft in similar situations – coming off breakout seasons, particularly excelling down the stretch, and sitting on the first-round bubble for the NBA draft. Neither hired an agent, leaving their options open.

But this is where their paths diverge.

Michigan releases:

University of Michigan junior forward D.J. Wilson announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will forgo his final two seasons of eligibility and submit the necessary paperwork to remain as an early entrant into the 2017 NBA Draft.

University of Michigan sophomore forward Moritz Wagner announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will return to the Wolverine basketball program after removing his name from consideration for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Wilson and Wagner both said they’d stay in the draft only if they’d be first-round picks. I wonder whether Wilson got a first-round promise or is just confident enough he’ll get picked there. The latter wouldn’t be a bad bet. Even if the 22-year-old Wilson slips into the second round, this might be the peak of his draft value.

At times, it’s easy to forget Wilson is a 6-foot-11 big man. He shoots 3-pointers, dribbles and moves like a wing. He also too often shies from contact, which particularly hurts his rebounding.

But he’s a big. Those perimeter skills wouldn’t shine quite as brightly if he were matched up with opposing wings. Wilson has a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and he also protect the rim. However, his shot-blocking relies on a bounciness that’s not as effective when pressed into more physical matchups. He needs some space to launch – but when he has it, it also pays off in quality finishing at the rim.

Wilson has the tools to be a good NBA power forward, but he’s still a work in progress. In other words, he still looks like a borderline first-round pick.

Tyronn Lue imitates LeBron James’ criticism of reporter (video)

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After the Cavaliers Game 3 loss to the Celtics, LeBron James accused reporter Kenny Roda of showing up/asking questions only when Cleveland loses.

Questioned by Roda after the Cavs’ Game 4 win, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue lightheartedly lobbed the same criticism at Roda.

Coaching LeBron can be tricky. Lue must both challenge the greatest player of his generation and handle LeBron’s passive-aggressiveness. Lue can neither let LeBron walk all over him nor bark orders at him.

In this case, it seems Lue is trying to diffuse LeBron’s pettiness before it turns into something bigger. Considering how silly LeBron’s initial comments were, I bet the star is on board.