Baseline to Baseline recaps: Dallas makes the Clippers work for it

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the games yesterday in NBA action. Or, what you missed while listening to an ice record

Spurs 108, Lakers 105: The Lakers went on a 13-2 run in the fourth quarter to make this game interesting down the stretch, but in the end the result was the fifth straight Los Angeles loss. Darius Soriano broke that one down for us.

Clippers 99, Mavericks 93: The Clippers had to work for this one, coming from behind in the fourth quarter at home to a Dallas team showing some fight. Good Darren Collison showed up for Dallas and that was key — 22 points on 15 shots, plus six assists. Toss in 21 Clippers turnovers and you have yourself a real chance for the Mavericks. But when they needed him in the fourth Chris Paul was making plays — steals, layups and he had 16 assists on the night. Dallas would have beaten most teams with that effort, but they struggled with the Clippers pressure defense when it mattered.

Grizzlies 94, Warriors 87: Generally if your team shoots 2-of-17 from three you don’t win. But Memphis doesn’t win with threes, they win with defense and points in the paint (a battle they won 60-34) and that was enough. Rudy Gay looked like the kind of player you’d want to trade for with 18 points and six assists. Zach Randolph looked like the best player on the floor with 19 points and 12 assists. Stephen Curry had 24.

Thunder 106, Timberwolves 84: No Kevin Love for Minny but this was close for a half, mostly because of a painfully ugly first quarter that ended 16-16. But Oklahoma City opened the third quarter on a 17-6 run and that pretty much was the ballgame. Kevin Durant had 26 points, Russell Westbrook had 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Nice, professional win for the Thunder.

Bucks 104, Bulls 96: Jim Boylan is 2-0 as a head coach. The Bulls owned the first half, going on a 22-7 run in the first quarter to lead by as many as 15. Then Brandon Jennings started draining threes and the Bucks went on a 22-7 run at the start of the third and took the lead. Jennings had four threes and 20 points in the third (35 for the game), coincidentally after Nate Robinson got into him a little bit with some trash talk before the start of the second half. Well done Nate.

One thing to watch, Monta Ellis rolled his ankle near the end of the game. Not sure how severe it is but watch out, especially if he is on your fantasy team.

Raptors 90, 76ers 72: Don’t look now but the Raptors have won 8 out of 10 and are back to playing some defense — they held the Sixers to 39.2 percent shooting. Philly is trending the other way, having now lost five in a row. As has it been during the slide, a bad third quarter (giving up 29 points on 63 percent shooting) had a lot to do with it. Amir Johnson had 19 points and 12 boards to lead the Raptors, Jose Calderon dished out 11 assists.

Celtics 87, Suns 79: The Boston bench has not been as great as hoped this season, but it’s better than the Suns’ version. The Celtics won the second quarter by 13 behind Jared Sullinger (8 points in the quarter, 12 points and 16 rebounds for the game) and Jeff Green (14 points). Then the Suns went on an early third quarter 17-0 run and took the lead back and we had a game again. It took a 13-2 run when Kevin Garnett was the only starter on the floor at the start of the fourth to seal the win.

Boston continues to show they have found their defensive footing, holding the Suns to 39 percent shooting for the game and 16.7 percent in the fourth quarter.

Jazz 112, Bobcats 102: Utah never trailed in this game. Why? Because Charlotte’s defense is awful. Well, they did keep it close for 18 minutes and they forced Utah to take jumpshots. Problem is starting midway through the second quarter the Jazz hit their jumpers — a Gordon Hayward three, a Paul Millsap a jumper and more. It was a 20-4 run and it was over then. Al Jefferson had 26 points and Millsap added 19. Nice night for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting.

Hornets 88, Rockets 79: Second night of a back-to-back for Houston who got the win against the Lakers then acted tired late — Houston led by 10 in the third quarter but New Orleans opened the quarter on a 22-2 run and ran away for the win. Roger Mason Jr. sparked that fourth quarter with 15 points in the fourth plus he guarded James Harden and held the beard to three points in the fourth. Best player recently you’re not watching is Greivis Vasquez who had 17 points and 11 assists.

Cavaliers 99, Hawks 83: Atlanta can get in the bad habit of settling for jump shots. How do you know when they are doing that? When they have just five free throws in an entire game. On the other side Kyrie Irving was attacking — 18 points in the third quarter when the Cavaliers started to pull away and he finished with 33 on the night. Also, good to see Shaun Livingston have a nice game off the bench (eight points, five assists). For those keeping score in Atlanta, that is four straight losses for the Hawks.

Nuggets 108, Magic 105: Kenneth Faried is a pure beast — 19 points and 19 rebounds on the night. Just wanted to get that in up front. As for the game, the Magic have to be kicking themselves because they led by seven late in the fourth quarter then Denver went on a 15-5 run and grabbed the win. Ty Lawson had 19 including the three to put Denver up late. Jameer Nelson had 20 but it wasn’t enough, this is 10 straight losses for the Magic.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.