Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Bobcats, Sessions end Celtics winning streak

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while looking at some really uncomfortable Valentines Day photos….

Bobcats 94, Celtics 91: A Celtics team on the second night of a back-to-back where the first game went three overtimes ran into a Bobcats that doesn’t have a lot going for it but does have young legs. And at the end of the game the fresh legs of the Bobcats went on a 7-0 run and got a game-winning jumper from the not quite so young Ramon Sessions.

For much of the night the Celtics couldn’t slow Bobcats big may Byron Mullens, who had 25 points and 18 rebounds. But with the game on the line late and the Celtics missing shots it was a Gerald Henderson three that got the Bobcats within one (he finished with 16). Then on the key play Sessions got a clean look at the 16 footer to win it when Avery Bradley seemed to take a misstep (tweaking something) which gave him space, and Sessions is too much of a pro to miss that shot.

Jeff Green had 18 points while Kevin Garnett added 16 points and 13 rebounds. The bigger news for Boston is Leandro Barbosa went down with what looked a whole lot like a season ending knee injury. We’ll know more Tuesday.

Spurs 103, Bulls 91: No Tim Duncan, no Manu Ginobili, no Tony Parker, no home court advantage — no problem. San Antonio’s winning machine just kept on rolling without their stars, as Kawhi Leonard dropped 26 points on Chicago’s vaunted wing defenders to lead the Spurs to a 103-89 victory.

Outside of Leonard being a little more aggressive in looking for his own shot, the Spurs didn’t do a heck of a whole lot differently than what they’d normally do with their stars. They ran shooters off screens in crisp well executed sets, rarely leaving themselves in a position where they had to attack Chicago’s defense directly off the dribble. The game really had a college basketball type feel to it, but the Spurs were sharper with their stuff. Chicago turned the ball over 19 times, and the Spurs ran away with the game with 29 points off turnovers.
—D.J. Foster

Nets 89, Pacers 84 (OT): This was a game played on Indiana’s floor at Indiana paces — it was an ugly, grinding, defensive game. And yet the Nets came away with the win even without Deron Williams (sitting out with ankle issues).

The Pacers could have had this one, they were up four (76-72) with just more than 1:30 left in the game, but they missed their final four shots. Then Joe Johnson forced OT with a little 13 footer. Once in overtime rookie Tyshawn Taylor knocked down a couple difficult shots to give the Nets the lead for good. The Pacers best players just could not knock down a shot — George Hill, Paul George and Roy Hibbert combined to shoot 8-of-39 on the night. Basically 20 percent. You don’t win a lot of games that way. Brook Lopez led the Nets with 25 wins.

Clippers 107, Sixers 90: Nick Young of the Sixers said it best, “It was like they practiced on us.” The Clippers came out with intense defensive pressure, got five steals in the first quarter and that got them out and running. And when they run the highlight reel dunks follow. Los Angeles attacked the rim with a vengeance all night. Chris Paul had 21 points and 11 assists, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford each added 20 points to the cause. Young did have 29 for the Sixers.

With this win, the Clippers finish their Grammy road trip 4-4.

Hawks 105, Mavericks 101: Josh Smith had 20 of his 26 points in the second half (plus he had 13 rebounds) and looked like the kind of guy you want to trade for in leading the Hawks to a come-from-behind win over the Mavericks. Here is how you know it was Smith’s night — he hit 4-of-5 from three-point range.

Dallas had their chance at the end. Down 99-98 with 30 seconds left Elton Brand made a nice defensive play and stripped Smith of the ball, and the Mavericks were off in transition. O.J. Mayo had the ball and seemed to be looking for his shot when a hustling Devin Harris stripped him from behind. At the other end, Smith was fouled and knocked down a couple free throws, so it was 101-98 Hawks but the Mavs weren’t dead yet. Well until Mayo turned the ball over again — he made a terrible pass to Vince Carter that was picked off by Jeff Teague. That was your ballgame. The bright spot for Dallas in this is Dirk Nowitizki started to look like his old self with 24 points.

Timberwolves 100, Cavaliers 92: You can’t leave Luke Ridnour open. I’m not joking, he’s a solid veteran NBA player and you can’t just leave him open because he’ll knock down shots. But the Cavaliers gave him good looks late and he scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Timberwolves to a win. The Timberwolves backcourt was key, they combined for 50 points on 21-for-36 shooting (58.3 percent). Minnesota got 16 points and 10 boards out of Nicola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio continues to look better and better with 13 points, 10 assists and 5 steals in this one. All-Star Kyrie Irving had 20 points and 7 assists.

Wizards 102, Bucks 90: Don’t sleep on the Wizards, this is four straight win. Washington took control of this game with a 22-7 second quarter run led largely by their bench and while they never pulled away they did lead the rest of the way to pick up the win. Bradley Beal was on fire with 28 but the real key for Washington was the play of center Nene, who had 21 points and 13 rebounds. John Wall was dishing with 10 assists to go with his 14 points. The Wizards are playing well.

Monta Ellis put up a good line for the Bucks — 24 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds and 7 steals. Meanwhile Mr. “I want a max contract” Brandon Jennings shot 3-of-17 from the floor.

Hornets 105, Pistons 86: Wearing their Mardi Gras uniforms it was the Hornets big men who were key — Ryan Anderson came off the bench and scored 31, Robin Lopez had 23 points and 10 rebounds, and that keyed the New Orleans win. The Hornets as a team also blocked 10 shots on the night, they were active defensively. The Hornets went on a 14-5 run at the end of the first half to really take control and the Pistons never got within a dozen in the second half. For the Pistons Rodney Stuckey had 19 point and Greg Monroe had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Anthony Davis has had a couple flat games in a row now.

Close-knit Pacers’ bond gets tested with season on the line

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indiana Pacers have been winning together, losing together and fighting together all season.

Now they need to demonstrate their resilience once more as they try to save their season by rebounding from an emotional loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Nobody thought we’d be in this situation,” Victor Oladipo said, referring to the playoffs. “It’s important for us to stick together now because we’ve seen where it can go, where it can take us and it’s great.”

The immediate problem is recent history doesn’t bode well for the underdog Pacers, who trail 3-2 with Game 5 set for Friday in Indianapolis.

Cleveland swept Indiana in the first round last year, winning four games by a record low 16 total points. James has won 10 straight close-out games and has never lost a first-round series. Indiana, meanwhile, is trying to reach the conference semifinals for the first time since 2014.

But the Pacers don’t care about stats, projections or conventional wisdom – as they’ve proven repeatedly this season.

Following last summer’s Paul George trade, Indiana seemed bound for the draft lottery. Instead, general manager Kevin Pritchard cobbled together a rare combination of proven, often overlooked veterans, emerging stars, good shooters and willing defenders.

It turned out to be a perfect fit.

Indiana won 48 games, six more than it did with George last season, and is a win away from forcing the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs into a decisive seventh game.

Cleveland has learned one lesson the hard way: The fifth-seeded Pacers won’t go away. They won 12 times after facing double-digit deficits and eight times after trailing by 15 or more during the regular season.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise Indiana has erased double-digit deficits in four straight game and wound up taking the lead or having a chance to win late in all four in this series.

“That team does not quit,” James said, moments after his buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave Cleveland a 98-95 win to salvage a win Wednesday after Pacers wiped out a 12-point second half to deficit to tie the score in the final minute.

Playing hard until the final buzzer has become the norm for these Pacers.

And they’re savoring every precious second, too.

Nate McMillan recently called this one of the most enjoyable seasons he’s had as a head coach because he knows what he’ll get every day – energy from Oladipo and Lance Stephenson, steadiness from Darren Collison and Corey Joseph, leadership from Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic and an eagerness to develop from Myles Turner and other young players.

With each player embracing their role, the Pacers have formed a cohesive bond.

Six players actually approached Pritchard before the trade deadline and pleaded with the GM not to make any moves because they wanted to close out this season together. Pritchard said it a first for him, and kept the team intact.

“It kind of is like a college team bond,” said Young, one of the six players who approached Pritchard. “Typically you have a lot of NBA teams that don’t bond as well as you do in college when you’re living with each other and you’re around each other all the time. You know in the NBA, you spend time with your family, things like that.

“This team we all hang out together, we go to dinner together on the road. We do everything together.”

The difference has shown.

After enduring an early and sometimes uneven learning curve early this season, the Pacers finally got in sync in early January and played better than anyone, perhaps even McMillan or Pritchard could have anticipated.

From Jan. 6 through the end of the regular season, they went 29-15 and allowed 101.3 points per game and didn’t lose more than two in a row.

They moved up three spots in the Eastern Conference postseason pecking order and headed into their latest round against James having won three of the four regular-season matchups. The Pacers even routed the Cavs on their home court in Game 1.

Since then, though, the series has been all-out slugfest and James has gotten the knockout blow in three times.

Now, with their season on the line, the Pacers need to provide a unified front one more time Friday night just to keep this season alive.

They’re ready.

“Sure, we’ve still got something to prove. No one believes we can beat Cleveland,” Bogdanovic said. “It’s about trust in what we’ve got in each other.”

More AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: J.B. Bickerstaff agrees to three-year deal to coach Memphis Grizzlies

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We heard rumblings that the Memphis Grizzlies were looking to remove the interim distinction from J.B. Bickerstaff’s title and make him acting head coach. Now, the team has made their move.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Memphis agreed to a three-year deal with Bickerstaff on Thursday, making him the new head coach of the team.

Bickerstaff, 39, was previously the associate head coach of the Grizzlies under David Fizdale. Fizdale was fired in November, and Bickerstaff took over as interim head coach.

This has been a long time coming for Bickerstaff, who was a longtime assistant coach in Charlotte, Minnesota, and Houston. Bickerstaff took over the Rockets job in 2015 when the team fired head coach Kevin McHale.

The task ahead of Bickerstaff will not be easy. Next season he will get Mike Conley back from injury, but the roster is still in the process of being rebuilt and Marc Gasol, 33, seems like constant trade bait. The Western Conference is tough, but finally Bickerstaff gets his shot at the big job on a permanent basis.

Enes Kanter helps pardon Thunder fans who left playoff game early (VIDEO)

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Enes Kanter may be leaning toward opting in to his $18 million player option with the New York Knicks this summer (I would) but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have love for fans in Oklahoma City.

In a video posted to social media on Thursday, Oklahoma City mayor David Holt and Kanter appeared together to give pardons to the Thunder fans who left early during the team’s Game 5 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony staved off elimination with their win against Utah, giving the Jazz a 3-2 series lead as they head back to Salt Lake City on Friday night.

Kanter, who played for the Thunder from 2015-2017, says he is still friendly with many of the players on the Oklahoma City roster. Kanter also played for the Jazz for the first three-and-a-half years of his career.

Via Twitter:

I personally don’t understand leaving a game early. Your car is trapped underground or is parked six miles away on some back alley, you’re not leaving any game quickly. The train is going to be jam packed and will sit at the stadium station for like 28 more minutes after you board, no matter when you board.

Don’t leave games early, folks. Try to haggle with the people working the concession stands to give you another soft pretzel for free. Get your money’s worth.

Giannis Antetokounmpo slashes Celtics, forces Game 7 in Boston

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The Milwaukee Bucks needed a big game from Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. Boy, did they get it.

After a disappointing in Game 5 in Boston, Antetokounmpo was fearsome in his return to the Bradley Center for Game 6. The Bucks were able to keep their defensive intensity up, and we got the game most of us expected from Antetokounmpo in a return to his home court: complete domination on the biggest stage.

The game started out much the way we’ve seen in this series — sort of kooky. It was another low-scoring affair as the first half closed with Milwaukee leading, 49-38. The Celtics couldn’t get things rolling offensively, and were saved by baskets in the paint in the first quarter. Boston scored just 15 points in the second period, saving themselves with makes from beyond the 3-point line.

The real story of the game came in the second half. Antetokounmpo would not let up from the gas, scoring both as the Bucks center and on the break. Milwaukee’s franchise player matched up against Al Horford all night long, and the battle between the two was intense. Both seemed to want to muscle each other, and for different stretches they both got the better of each other.

Boston battled back, eventually tying the game at 61-61 with 4:21 to go in the third. The Celtics’ charge was led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Horford, all three of whom allowed Boston to make up a 14-point deficit. Boston played carefully, allowing their young wings to do the work. Despite not having a fastbreak point until late in the third, they also didn’t have their first turnover of the second half until there was little more than three minutes to go in the same quarter. Antetokounmpo, who couldn’t let Boston’s run continue after the tie, turned on the jets to close the quarter and Milwaukee entered the fourth period with a 9-point lead they would never cede.

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with the matchup between Antetokounmpo, Horford, and Horford’s backup in Aron Baynes. Several times, Antetokounmpo ran full speed after starting with the ball on the opposite free-throw line, going right at either Horford or Baynes. But the Bucks star wasn’t completely selfish. He managed to stave off tunnel vision, at times finding teammates on his spins to the bucket.

A lot of talk was made about Antetokounmpo’s poor performance in Game 5, a career playoff-low of 16 points on just 10 field goal attempts. The Greek Freak made sure that didn’t happen again, finishing the game with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton were amped up as well. Both finished with 16 points, and as a team the Bucks scored 25 points on the break, with 50 points coming from the painted area, topping Boston in both regards.

For the Celtics, Tatum led the way with 22 points on six-of-14 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. Terry Rozier continued his playoff emergence, scoring 18 points while nabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists. Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Game 7 now heads back to Massachusetts, where we will see if Antetokounmpo can keep his foot to the floor and drive the Bucks past the second-seeded Celtics on Saturday.