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

Marreese Speights opts out of Clippers contract

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The Clippers are unraveling.

Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.

Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:

The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.

The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.

The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.

Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.

Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.

Warriors struggle to get Zaza Pachulia’s 2017 NBA Finals hat on his big head (video)

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Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.

But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.

Reporter asks Spanish-speaking Manu Ginobili whether he just announced retirement (video)

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Manu Ginobili received an emotional sendoff in the Spurs’ season-ending – and maybe Ginobili’s career-ending – loss to the Warriors last night.

The postgame press conference featured a lighthearted moment when, after the Argentinian guard answered a couple questions in Spanish, an American reporter – not wanting to miss big news – asked whether Ginobili had just announced his retirement.

No, Ginobili assured the reporter. He says he plans to take a few weeks to consider his options.

Warriors make most dominant playoff run ever to NBA Finals

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Moses Malone famously predicted the 76ers team would go “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” in the 1983 playoffs, sweeping all three rounds in four games. Philadelphia didn’t quite do it – sweeping the Knicks, beating the Bucks in five then sweeping the Lakers for the title.

Thirty-four years later, an NBA team went “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” for the first time.

Golden State swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in four-game series. But with an extra playoff round, the Warriors’ 12-0 run merely gets them to the Finals.

It’s the ninth undefeated run to the Finals, third since the league adopted four playoff rounds in 1984 and first since the first round became best-of-seven. The Lakers went 11-0 in the playoffs en route to the Finals in 2001 and 1989.

By winning an extra game and outscoring opponents by 16.3 points per game, Golden State now claims the most dominant postseason run to the NBA Finals ever.

Here are the top paths to the Finals, with Finals results, by playoff…

Record (point difference per game in parentheses):

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Point difference per game (record in parentheses):

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This doesn’t guarantee Golden State a championship. The Cavaliers (10-1, +11.9) are on track for an elite run to the Finals themselves, and they have LeBron James.

But the Warriors put ridiculous expectations on themselves by signing Kevin Durant to join a 73-win team featuring Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. I’m unsure a Golden State title this year will be properly appreciated, but so far, the Warriors are doing all they can to clear a bar set unreasonably high.