Baseline to Baseline recaps: It took three overtimes for Celtics to stop Nuggets streak

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed wondering again why you watch the Grammy’s every year…

Heat 107, Lakers 97: The Lakers are playing better, they are starting to figure things out. But that’s still a process. And when the Heat cranked it up in the fourth quarter they pulled away for the win. Brett Pollakoff broke it all down for us.

Clippers 102, Knicks 88: How much that crazy deep Clippers bench helps them in the playoffs, when rotations shorten, remains to be seen. But in the regular season it is an insane weapon — the Clips won the bench battle 48-15 and that was the key in this game. Even Carmelo Anthony’s 42 could not change that. We broke this game down in more detail.

Celtics 118, Nuggets 114 (3OT): For three quarters you thought the Celtics were going to have a pretty easy time ending the Nuggets nine-game winning streak — the Celtics opened the game on a 12-0 run. For much of the night Boston was out hustling a team whose game is based around energy.

But Denver does not go quietly and they pushed back with a late 7-0 run that forced overtime and the game went on to be a three overtime thriller. Paul Pierce had a monster line of 27 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists — plus the key three at the end of the second overtime to force a third. A shot he had to hit because Ty Lawson a clutch jumper moments before (he had 29 on the night).

In the third it was Kevin Garnett’s six points with Jason Terry’s five plus key defensive play that got the Celtics the kind of win that has to give them even more confidence. Rondo or not they will be a tough out in the playoffs. For the Nuggets, no shame in this loss.

Spurs 111, Nets 86: No Tim Duncan, no Manu Ginobili, but there was still Tony Parker and that is enough. He is having his best season in the NBA.

The Nets were actually in the lead most of the first half, by 10 at the end of the first quarter and six at the half. But Parker had 10 points in the third and sparked a 12-0 run where the Spurs took the lead early in the third quarter and never looked back. Parker had 29 points and 11 assists on the night.

Thunder 97, Suns 69: This was a thumping that really took shape midway through the second quarter when Oklahoma City went on a 16-2 run. From there is felt like Pickett’s charge. The Thunder were putting up points — Russell Westbrook had 24 points, Thabo Sefolosha 20, Kevin Durant 18 — meanwhile the Suns didn’t even cross the 50 point mark in their home court until midway through the fourth quarter. Phoenix had one player in double figures, Markieff Morris with 12 points.

Raptors 102, Hornets 89: Aside for a stretch at the start of the second quarter Toronto led most of the way in this game, but it took Rudy Gay scoring 8 of his 20 in the fourth quarter and John Lucas III adding 10 of his 19 in the final frame for the Raptors to pull away. The big news for Toronto was Jonas Valanciunas moving back into the starting lineup and providing 11 points, 10 rebounds. The Hornets got 19 points from Robin Lopez while Greivis Vasquez had 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists. What the Hornets did not get was good games from their young starts — Eric Gordon shot 2-of-7 and Anthony Davis had just 2 points.

Magic 110, Trail Blazers 104: The Magic snapped their 12-game losing streak and you can credit their offense or blame the Blazers defense for that (it’s a little of both). The Magic attacked off the dribble and got the ball inside and Portland’s defensive rotations were nonexistent it seemed. The result was 60 points in the paint for Portland plus they had 17 offensive rebounds — 34 percent of the time the Magic missed a shot they got a second chance. Orlando went on a 9-0 run right before the half to take control of the game and they never looked back. J.J. Redick had 22 points to lead Orlando, plus Nikola Vucevic added 17 points and 19 rebounds.

If Portland has dreams of catching Houston or Utah for that final playoff spot in the West, they can’t have games like this.

Grizzlies 105, Timberwolves 88: Memphis went on a 15-3 run to take control of the game late in the second quarter then went on to outscore Minnesota 58-41 in the second half to win going away. Memphis shot 64.7 percent in the third and by the time the quarter was over so was the game. The good news for Memphis is that Tayshaun Prince shot 8-for-8 from the floor and had 18 points to lead the team, while Austin Daye chipped in 16 — the two new Grizzlies may be finding their groove with this team. Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour each had 17 for Minnesota.

Kings 117, Rockets 111: Houston had a 10 point lead early in the fourth quarter but gave it all back and were undone by Sacramento’s three point shooting late as the Kings won for the home fans on “Here We Buy Night,” a fan effort to show how much support there is in the community for the team (there’s just not a lot of support for the current owners, the Maloof family). The key guy in the Sacramento comeback was Isaiah Thomas, who had 17 of his 23 in the quarter. John Salmons added 10 of his 23 in the fourth and hit a number of key free throws down the stretch. But the real key was Sacramento shooting 5-of-8 from three in the fourth quarter — if you hit threes and free throws late you will win a lot of games. James Harden had 30 for the Rockets.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.

Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia cleared to play in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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These playoffs, the Golden State Warriors have been 15.4 points per 100 possessions better when Zaza Pachulia is on the court as opposed to on the bench. That’s a bit misleading, the reason for the gaudy number is he rounds out the dominant starting lineup, which has outscored teams by 32.6 points per 100 this postseason (that is actually better than the legendary “death lineup” in these playoffs). Pachulia is just the first big in the rotation with four All-Star, powerhouse players, but he fills his role well.

Pachulia was slowed by a sore right heel against the Spurs but is 100 percent and ready to go for the Finals when they tip-off Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Here are the details via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Zaza Pachulia, the only injured Warrior rotation player late in the Spurs series, has participated in all parts of all three practices, without restriction on that sore right heel. He is on track to start Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday.

“We’ve done running, had scrimmages and he’s done everything,” Mike Brown said.

He will have a crucial role on the glass against the Cavaliers. Cleveland brings two dominant rebounders to the party with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love (plus that LeBron James guy can get some boards), the Warriors will use Pachulia to counter. Before you roll your eyes, he had 13 boards in the second meeting of these teams in the regular season, a blowout Golden State win.

He’s the first big in a rotation of them the Warriors will throw at Cleveland — JaVale McGee may get a little time, but expect a lot of small-ball lineups from the Warriors. If Pachulia can give Golden State a solid 18 minutes a night where he is strong on the glass and helps protect the rim, it will be huge for them.

Pachulia is going to get his shot, he’ll be healthy and ready to go.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge: “Who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team?”

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Isaiah Thomas is the best and most popular Celtics player, leading his team to the No. 1 seed in the East and the Eastern Conference Finals — both significant steps forward for an up-and-coming team.

Yet, from the moment the Warriors landed the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the talk about Thomas has been about his future with the Celtics: If/when they draft Markelle Fultz, will the Celtics want to pay Thomas max or near max money next summer? Do they want to be locked into four or five years with an undersized guard who will start that contract at age 29? Do they extend him this summer at a likely better price? Trade him?

Celtics GM Danny Ainge doesn’t understand all the talk. He certainly didn’t sound like someone looking to trade Thomas this summer speaking to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

“All I’m saying is those are things I have to worry about that even I don’t like to think about. And I know that those are going to be difficult decisions at some point. But we want to keep Isaiah.

“All I know is that he’s had an amazing year, and who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team? Like, you’ve got to be kidding me…

“Why do the fans need to worry about how much money he makes?” he said. “I can understand if Isaiah and his wife and his agent are worried about that, but I don’t understand why that’s a conversation that needs to be had in the media.”

Two things I want to unpack from all that. First, that’s a “get off my lawn” take from Ainge that completely misses the mark with where sports fandom online has shifted. It’s not that he’s wrong at the core of his argument — we all should appreciate the season Thomas just had, Celtics’ fans in particular. Thomas is a joy to watch play and one of the good guys in the league on top of it. Name anyone in the NBA who has gotten more out of his natural abilities than Thomas — the man has put in the work to rise way past expectations. He needs to be appreciated and lauded for that.

But here’s the thing: Fans more than ever like to play GM, and they now have the tools to understand the tough financial decisions that fall on Ainge and others in his shoes. Let me explain it this way: The NBA Finals start June 1, but as a website, the NBC NBA page will draw way more traffic around the NBA Draft at the end of the month, then free agency in July will blow that away. Always does. Player movement — including both rumors of trades and talk of free agents and moves teams should make — is a much bigger draw than the games themselves. That’s not just the NBA, it’s true of the NFL and MLB and NHL and the Barclays’ English Premiere League and on down the line.

Second, Ainge may not like the speculation, but the questions are valid — he and the Celtics have some hard decisions coming up. At the core of them is the question of patience: Push their assets into the middle of the table now, get a couple of players ready to win next season, and make a run at LeBron James and the Cavaliers, or be patient and build to be better than Cleveland in three years (then sustain that for five or more years beyond that)? Ainge has been on the patient side of that equation from the start, and likely will be again — don’t expect him to trade that No. 1 pick or do anything but bring Thomas back. He can be a decision for the summer of 2018.

Then again, he has shopped Thomas before. Ainge is as good or better than any GM in the league of keeping his cards close to his vest, he’s impossible to read.

That said, the smart money is on him being patient. There’s no need to trade Thomas now, that’s the kind of rash overreaction that got the Knicks where they are over the last decade plus. Ainge can wait things out.

 

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

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The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.