Boston Celtics v Charlotte Bobcats

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.

Karl-Anthony Towns beats out Isaiah Thomas to take Skills Challenge title

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 09:  Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves reacts after hitting a basket against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 9, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — In a new twist to the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the NBA made the decision this year to add big men to a competition that has traditionally focused on point guards. The new wrinkle created new layers of intrigue, an unusual amount of controversy and, ultimately, a new champion: Timberwolves rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns.

C.J. McCollum beat out Jordan Clarkson in the first round, and Isaiah Thomas took care of Emmanuel Mudiay. In something of an upset, Towns handled Draymond Green, who is the NBA’s leader in triple-doubles.

The other matchup in the first round came with some controversy: DeMarcus Cousins missed all three attempts at the chest pass into the ring but moved on in the obstacle course and ultimately defeated Anthony Davis. This led to widespread criticism on social media for Cousins being allowed to advance without completing all the drills.

But Towns beat out Cousins in the semifinals, thereby preventing a nightmare scenario where a winner might have to have an asterisk next to his title.

Thomas beat McCollum in the guards’ semifinals. McCollum lost his dribble early on in the round and never really recovered.

The final round between Towns and Thomas went down to the wire, but Towns’ three-pointer went down first, giving him the title.

 

Russell Westbrook on Lakers speculation: “Nah, I like where I am now”

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 08:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Thunder defeated the Suns 122-106.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — No matter what Russell Westbrook does, he cannot escape the rumors that have followed him for years. He grew up in Los Angeles and played college basketball at UCLA—so, it’s only logical that when he hits free agency in the summer of 2017, he’ll look to sign with the Lakers, right?

Westbrook did his best to shut that down on Saturday after practice with the Western Conference All-Stars.

“Nah,” Westbrook said. “I like where I am now. Oklahoma City is a great place for me.”

Westbrook admitted that he grew up a Lakers fan, but said he never thought of playing there as a kid.

“I never thought I’d play in the NBA,” he said. “I was just watching them.”

Westbrook has another full season to go before his contract with the Thunder is up, so it’s going to be a while before there’s any resolution here. A lot, of course, will depend on what Kevin Durant does this summer.

If Durant sticks around and the Thunder make another deep playoff run next season, it becomes more likely that Westbrook will stay. But if Durant goes somewhere else, there’s a good chance Westbrook follows suit. For now, all they can do is deflect the speculation that will be there no matter what they say.

Gregg Popovich says he thinks more about Warriors than any team he ever faced

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Gregg Popovich and his Spurs have gone up against some powerhouse teams in the past 17 years. There were the Shaq/Kobe Bryant Lakers, Steve Nash and the seven-seconds-or-less Suns, The Kobe/Pau Gasol Lakers, LeBron James‘ Miami Heat teams, and the list goes on.

But nobody has given him more to think about than Stephen Curry and the Warriors.

That’s what he said on ESPN Radio Friday, as reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.

“I’ve spent more time thinking about Golden State than I have any other team I’ve ever thought about in my whole career,” Popovich told ESPN Radio on Friday. “Because they are really fun. I’d go buy a ticket and go watch them play. And when I see them move the ball, I get very envious. When I see them shoot uncontested shots more than anybody else in the league, it’s inspiring. It’s just great basketball.

“So I’m actually enjoying them very much. You try to solve them, but they’re in a sense unsolvable because it’s a particular mix of talent that they have. It’s not just that Steph [Curry] can make shots or that Klay can make shots or that Draymond Green is versatile. Everybody on the court can pass, catch and shoot. And they all get it.”

When you think about those legendary teams Popovich faced, they may have been a little less mentally taxing to gameplan for. The Shaq/Kobe Lakers ran the triangle (an offense Popovich was familiar with), but most of what made them great was exceptional talent — two future Hall of Famers at their peaks. The Spurs tried to bully the Suns, and then they developed a motion offense that eventually shredded the Heat.

The Warriors are different, and Popovich gets to a fundamental problem in defeating them:

“They’re talented. But they’re also very, very smart.”

That’s what’s hard to plan for — smart players and smart teams adjust, and the Warriors by design loaded their roster with high IQ guys. If you adjust, they counter. And for the last season-and-a-half, that has worked brilliantly.

LeBron James on Kevin Love trade rumors: “They’re false”

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TORONTO — The rumors were out there: the Boston Celtics were interested in Kevin Love and were talking trade with Cleveland.

LeBron James would have none of that.

“It’s false,” LeBron said of the rumors when speaking to the media after the Eastern Conference’s All-Star Game practice Saturday. “It’s the only thing I can look at it and say it’s false. That’s the last thing guys are worried about right now are trade talks from our team.”

That echoed what Carmelo Anthony said. The buzz around Toronto (where the NBA has gathered for All-Star Weekend) that there wasn’t a lot of to the talks and if there was any momentum has stalled out.

Still, there will be talks, and there will be plenty of Cavaliers trade rumors in the run-up to the Feb. 18 trade deadline. Cleveland could use some shooting from the wing and quality depth to provide versatility going up against Golden State or San Antonio in the Finals.

LeBron just wants to make sure the talks don’t impact the locker room.

“One thing about this business is you can only control what you can control. Things that you can’t control, you can’t let it bother you, and I’ve learned that over the years,” LeBron said. “There is so much that goes on in professional sports that if you just focus on what you can control, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Love rumors likely will continue to flare up this week, but they are not going to move him unless another team makes a Godfather offer.

The Cavaliers have been 10.1 points per 100 possessions better this season when Love is on the court compared to off it (and their defense does get marginally better when he plays). When Love, LeBron, and Kyrie Irving are on the court together the Cavaliers outscore opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions. Those are massive numbers.

The Cavaliers are a win-now team, if you’re going to break up part of that trio it has to be for something that makes the team demonstrably better. And that kind of superstar trade is rare at the February deadline anymore.