Baseline to Baseline recaps: Pacers, Bulls get together for shootout

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while building a nuclear fusion reactor in your garage like any normal teenager….

Pacers 111, Bulls 101: If you were expecting a defense struggle between two of the top three defenses in the Association… well, sorry. There wasn’t a lot of defense and fur the Bulls, if they are not defending they are going to struggle because they can’t score with teams. Not even the Pacers. With Joakim Noah out the Bulls had matchup problems and didn’t have the size to defend David West, who finished with 29. Paul George added 23 and hit the dagger for the Pacers while George Hill was hot to start (7-of-7) and had 22 on the night. Marco Belinelli led the Bulls with 24.

Thunder 112, Mavericks 91: This was an old-school beat down. After a tight first 9 minutes or so the Thunder went on a 7-0 run when their bench first entered the game and then it was on. In the second quarter the Thunder went on a 27-8 run right about when Russell Westbrook came back into the contest, he had 11 of his 24 in the second quarter. Eventually the Thunder led by as many as 33 in the second half and it was never close. Kevin Durant had 19 points and 10 rebounds. The only even remote bright spot for Dallas was the return of Dirk Nowitzki, but he shot just 3-of-11 on the night.

Knicks 99, Pistons 85: It turns out Kyle Singler and Rodney Stuckey cannot really guard Carmelo Anthony effectively. Who knew? ‘Melo had 27, the Knicks took charge with an 11-0 run midway through the first quarter and they never looked back as they cruised to their fifth straight win. Amar’e Stoudemire had 20 points and J.R. Smith added 16. Jose Calderon made his Pistons debut and had 15 points, but this wasn’t Detroit’s night.

Heat 99, Bobcats 94: It was LeBron James’ world, everyone else was just living in it — he had 31 points on 13-of-14 shooting and he took every single one of his shots in the paint. He simply bullied his way into the paint all night and Charlotte could not stop him. LeBron added 8 assists and 8 rebounds on a night where he played just about as well as a person could. Chris Bosh added 23.

Charlotte actually led this game by a point inside 8 minutes left, led by Ramon Sessions (18) and Ben Gordon (16) who had good games off the bench. But the Heat went on an 8-0 run to retake the lead for good. And on a night like this you knew LeBron was not going to let the Heat lose.

Wizards 98, Clippers 90: With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin out injured the Clippers lost again, — their seventh loss in nine games. The Clippers fall to 1-3 on their big road trip and are coming back to the pack in the West (where Memphis, Golden State and Denver are). We will see how the team responds to some adversity now.

Wizards got off to 19-6 lead to open the game and held that lead until the third quarter when the Clippers made a 17-2 run to retake the lead. That’s when Martell Webster made his presence felt, scoring 11 of his 21 points in the quarter as the Wizards retook the lead. The Wizards sealed the game with an 11-2 run in the fourth quarter fueled by Clippers turnovers. Nene and Garrett Temple added 15 points a piece. Jamal Crawford led the Clippers with 28.

Sixers 78, Magic 61: What did you expect? The Magic were without Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Arron Afflalo and of course Glen Davis. They probably asked Jacque Vaughn to suit up. The Sixers raced out to a 22-6 lead and while the game was ugly the rest of the way the Sixers never gave up the lead. Spencer Hawes had 21 points and 14 rebounds, while Nick Young added 15 points for Philly.

Trail Blazers 100, Timberwolves 98: If you watched most of this game you wouldn’t recognize the final score — it certainly wasn’t a pretty game but the Trail Blazers were in control of it. Minnesota scored just 38 first half points and was a total mess while LaMarcus Aldridge looked every bit the All-Star with 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

Then came the final minutes, when Minnesota went on a 14-2 run and almost stole the game. They got it down to one point but Aldridge hit a key bucket to make it three with 27 seconds left. Of course, Aldridge missed the free throws that would have iced the game with 6.7 seconds left, giving the Timberwolves one last shot at it. They went to Dante Cunningham, who had the hot hand with 23 points on the night, but he came up just short. And Portland escapes with the win.

Jazz 98, Kings 91 (OT): Apparently Utah wants to show it can host a Super Bowl t0o — they had some lighting issues at the start of the game. Once they got going it looked like Utah would pull away with this in the second quarter but Sacramento closed the first half with a 9-0 run and we had a game. In the overtime Randy Foye had 6 of his 20 points and Paul Millsap 4 of his 14 to secure the win. The Kings could really have used DeMarcus Cousins late in this one but he got ejected just before the half. The real key for Utah in this was the 41 points they got from the bench, led by Alec Burks with 14 and Derrick Favors with 13.

PBT Extra: Does Larry Bird stepping down change Paul George question in Indiana?

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When the Woj bomb dropped that Larry Bird was stepping down as president of the Indiana Pacers, two questions came to mind. First was, “Is he healthy?” Reportedly he is, this was not a healthy-related decision. Which is great news.

Second, what does that mean for Paul George?

Is Indiana more likely to trade him now? Less?

George speculation has ramped up around the league and — while no doubt new GM Kevin Pritchard will say he would love to keep PG13 when he speaks to the media — there is a sense Bird walking away could be a sign that the Pacers are moving into rebuilding mode. That said, Pritchard is known for driving a hard bargain, he’s not going DeMarcus Cousins trade here.

I talk about all of that and more in this latest PBT Extra.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert, back from injury, shutting down paint against Clippers

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz feared the worst when Rudy Gobert was carried off the court by teammates 17 seconds into the playoffs.

Two weeks later, the 7-foot-1 defensive player of the year candidate is a huge reason the Jazz have taken control of their first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Gobert has been a force in the middle for the Jazz all season and since the Frenchman’s return to the lineup, Utah has won the rebound battle against Los Angeles and outscored the Clippers in the paint.

“I’ve just tried to do the same things I’ve done to try to help the team,” Gobert said. “Do what I’ve been doing all year. At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. There’s a level of focus that’s a little bit higher in the playoffs, but it’s the same.”

The Clippers have scored 94.9 points per 100 possessions with Gobert on the floor and 112.4 with him off in this series. They’ve attempted 19% of their shots in the restricted area when he plays and 34% when he’s off.

Gobert has averaged 13 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in his two full playoff games.

“Rudy erases a lot of mistakes,” Jazz guard Rodney Hood said. “And he cleans up a lot of bad offensive possessions by rebounding the ball. It’s great just to have him back.

“He’s been making plays out of pick-and-roll, finding guys in the corner, finishing for himself or dunking and things like that. We’ve got to continue to find him because that’s a weapon for us.”

Gobert was diagnosed with and hyperextension and bone bruise in his left knee, but the MRI showed no structural damage and no danger of long-term repercussions. From that point on, Gobert knew he’d return.

The Jazz have won two in a row since he’s been back and Utah has outscored the Clippers in the paint in both games by a combined 92-64. The team that has scored the most points in the paint has won each game.

Utah also has won the rebounding battle in the two games since Gobert has returned by a combined 85-65 after the Clippers had an 80-60 advantage in the previous two games.

“His competitiveness and his presence on the defensive glass, as much as anything,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder about Gobert’s biggest impact. “He changes some things with his rim protection. But what he’s given us on the boards on both ends of the floor … he’s had a number of games this year where he’s had some big offensive rebounds late in the game. Can’t say enough about him on the glass.”

Clippers coach Doc Rivers has repeatedly said the presence of Gobert doesn’t impact his team’s offense. The absence of Blake Griffin, who’s out for the remainder of the postseason with a toe injury, has certainly made a difference in the Clippers’ offense. Combine that with Gobert’s return, and Los Angeles’ offensive production certainly has dropped.

The Clippers shot 52.4 percent and 54.7 percent in wins in Game 2 and 3. They shot 44.0 percent and 42.0 percent in losses in Game 3 and 4.

“Where Rudy really impacts the game is when we’re playing defense because of his ability to get behind a defense,” Rivers said. “So you have to be far more careful in your pick and roll coverage. What we do offensively, we’ve basically played the same way all year and we’re not going to change that for anyone.”

Gobert has downplayed the individual matchup between he and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, but Snyder called it one of the marquee matchups of the playoffs. The two have seen plenty of each other this season, starting with the 2016 Olympic Games when Gobert represented France and Jordon was on Team USA. Jordan earned his first All-Star nod this year, something Gobert certainly wanted.

Jordan averaged 17.5 points and 14 rebounds and was dunking at will in Games 2 and 3. He averaged 13 points and 11 rebounds in Games 4 and 5. Gobert being able to play Jordan 1 on 1 helps the entire defense since there’s no need to send extra bodies to defend or box out.

The Jazz are hoping for that kind of effort again on Friday.

 

Report: Cavaliers GM David Griffin ‘the top candidate’ in Magic’s front-office search

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
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A week ago, David Griffin was just someone the Magic were researching to run their front office.

It seems the Cavaliers general manager has since moved up in the search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

For now, Cleveland Cavaliers GM David Griffin remains the top candidate in the Magic’s search, but Orlando hasn’t yet asked for permission to speak with Griffin, largely because of the Cavaliers’ playoff status, sources said.

This could end a couple ways.

Here’s betting Griffin – who has LeBron James‘ endorsement – leverages the Orlando interest into a bigger offer from Cleveland. Griffin was just too integral to the Cavs’ first championship to discard him.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has shown much more willingness to spend than The Devos Family, which owns the Magic. If this is a bidding war, I’ll take Cleveland. If it isn’t a bidding war, the Cavs have a far more attractive roster than Orlando.

Thunder’s Andre Roberson entering free agency after impactful playoff series

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The Rockets were starting to pull away from the Thunder in Game 5 of their first-round series, and the Houston crowd was looking for a reason to erupt. The Rockets provided one by intentionally fouling Roberson despite holding Oklahoma City without a basket for the previous five minutes. The Thunder wing stepped to the line in the loudening arena and, of course, missed both free throws.

But Roberson didn’t go down quietly.

On the ensuing defensive possession, he picked up James Harden in the backcourt and hounded the Rockets star on the perimeter. Harden passed to Nene, and Roberson doubled the center in the post and stole the ball. Roberson passed to Russell Westbrook then laid out Patrick Beverley with an open-court screen, freeing Westbrook to score.

Of course, that wasn’t enough. Oklahoma City fell in five games, Westbrook’s supporting cast unable to keep up enough with its MVP candidate.

“That’ll definitely be one thing that haunt me, Roberson said of his free-throw shooting against Houston, “and something I’ll work on extremely hard this summer.”

Roberson’s postseason confirmed everything we thought we knew about him: He’s a defensive dynamo, and he can’t shoot.

But understanding Roberson’s skill set is only a small step in evaluating him. Teams are better than ever at exposing perimeter players who can’t shoot, and that makes Roberson’s price point difficult to read as he enters restricted free agency. The Thunder delayed the decision – extending Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo last year while allowing Roberson to complete his rookie-scale contract without an extension – but time is practically up.

For better or worse, it was all there in the playoffs.

Roberson made just 3-of-21 free throws (14%), the worst percentage by anyone with so many attempts in a postseason series (since 1964, as far as Basketball-Reference go back). Here are the worst free-throw percentages in a series since 1964 (minimum: 100 attempts):

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This was hardly out of the norm for Roberson, who made just 42% of his free throws during the regular season.

His postseason 3-point percentage (41%) was way better than his regular-season baseline (25%), but he attempted just 17 3-pointers in 185 playoff minutes. Not only is that a small sample, it speaks to another problem. The Rockets typically left him open, and he was reluctant to shoot. That allowed Houston to defend 5-on-4 elsewhere with only minimal repercussions. Despite playing more than 90% of his minutes with Westbrook, the Thunder still scored worse with Roberson on the court.

So why did Roberson receive such a prominent role in the series?

He’s a defensive stud. Roberson ranks fourth among players who regularly defend opposing guards in defensive real plus-minus:

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Roberson shadowed Harden for too much of the series to gauge on-off splits, but adding regular-season Thunder-Rockets games reveals a clearer (though still limited) picture:

James Harden Roberson on Roberson off
Minutes 320 16
Points per 36 minutes 25.3 51.8
Turnovers per 36 minutes 6.0 0.0
Free-throw attempts per 36 minutes 10.9 22.5
2-point percentage 50.5% 60.0%
3-point percentage 21.1% 60.0%
Effective field-goal percentage 41.9% 75.0%

Harden, arguably the NBA’s best offensive player, was held in relative check with Roberson on the floor. When Roberson sat, Harden went wild.

There has to be a place for a defender like Roberson in this league.

Is it in Oklahoma City?

Roberson was effective in last year’s playoffs as a small-ball big. He cut and crashed the offensive glass. That got harder with two of Adams, Taj Gibson and Enes Kanter occupying the paint. The Thunder maximizing Roberson’s production might mean losing a big man or two. Gibson will be a free agent and said he wants to return. Adams and Kanter are locked into lucrative long-term deals.

When it comes to Roberson, it’s always complicated.