Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Break up the Raptors, that’s four straight wins

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while looking at toys you can buy that would traumatize your child….

Celtics 71, Bulls 69: Man this game was ugly. You knew it was going to be low scoring — two defensive minded teams both missing the point guard that stirs their offense — but this was worse than expected. Jason Terry was the hero with a couple late threes and a blocked shot to win it. We broke it down in ugly detail.

Raptors 92, Knicks 88: Break up the Raptors! After knocking off New York Wednesday Toronto has won four in a row and is 5-2 since trading for Rudy Gay. Not that Gay had anything to do with this win — he was 4-for-21 on the night for 11 points (he did have some important free throws late).

You could say the referees cost the Knicks this game — it was 55-55 when they ejected Kyle Lowry and John Lucas III came in for Toronto. The sub continued his hot play of late, knocking down a quick three. Soon the Raptors were up by nine and the Knicks could never close the gap. Although the bigger issue for the Knicks was Carmelo Anthony’s “dead arm” — he took a DeMar DeRozan elbow to the bicep early in the game, battled numbness throughout and shot just 5-of-24 on the night.

Remember when the Knicks started the season 10-0 at home? They are 9-7 since and go into the All-Star break needing to find some answers — and find their defense again — if they are going to be a real threat come the playoffs.

Clippers 106, Rockets 96: The Clippers recorded their highest scoring quarter in any game since 1986, dropping a whopping 46 points on 17-for-22 shooting while nailing 6-for-8 from behind the arc in the first quarter. At one point in the quarter, the Clippers were on pace for 222 points per 100 possessions, and by the quarter’s end, Caron Butler was on pace for 58 points. Neither of those things happened (obviously) as the game slowed down and things started getting sloppy, but the hot first quarter pretty much put a Rockets team without James Harden out of the game.
—D.J. Foster

Pacers 101, Bobcats 77: The Bobcats hung in there until the middle of the third, when the Pacers went on an 18-4 run and that was it. The Bobcats just were not going to be able to generate enough offense against this Pacers defense. Paul George capped off his All-Star first half of the season with his first triple-double ever — 23 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists.

Danny Granger’s knee was ready to go for the first time this season, but he came down with the flu so the rest of him wasn’t. He’ll make his debut after the All-Star break. David West also was out for Indiana with a scratched eye suffered against the Nets earlier in the week.

Nets 119, Nuggets 108: How bad was Denver’s defense without Andre Iguodala? How about allowing 119 points to a Brooklyn Nets team without Deron Williams type bad? The 119 points scored by Brooklyn was a season-high, and they got there with 3-point shooting. The Nets went 16-for-27 from behind the arc, getting big nights from C.J. Watson (25) and Joe Johnson (26). The Nuggets surprisingly shot it pretty well too, as Ty Lawson had a perfect 5-for-5 night as Denver shot 12-for-17 from behind the arc. Even with Denver’s unexpected perimeter performance (they’re 27th in 3-point shooting this season), the Nets weathered the late run and held on for the win.

The lack of defense on the road is sort of a disturbing trend for Denver, as they give up 3.7 more points per game on the road than they do at home. Not coincidentally, the Nuggets are now 11-18 in those games.
—D.J. Foster

Hawks 108, Magic 76: If these really are the last days of Josh Smith playing alongside Al Horford, let’s remember tonight as the shining example of how capable they were as a duo. Smith and Horford combined for 56 points and 22 rebounds in the 32 point drubbing of the Orlando Magic, but those big numbers were only overshadowed by the selflessness and beautiful ball movement the two big men displayed all night.

Smith and Horford both recorded 5 assists by regularly playing off one another with great high-low basketball. The Hawks as a team recorded 32 assists on 41 field goals with just 9 turnovers. Decision making doesn’t get much better than that.
—D.J. Foster

Spurs 96, Cavaliers 95: Oh, Dion Waiters. In the NBA when you learn lessons you learn them in a very public and embarrassing way. It was the Cavaliers rookie that in the game’s final minutes sagged into the lane and off Kawhi Leonard — a 48.8 percent shooter on corner threes this season — and of course Tony Parker found Leonard for the game-winning shot. Watch the video below, watch Waiters.

The Cavaliers had a three point lead with 1:38 left, but this is what the Spurs do, they execute late. The Spurs had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili together for the first time in a month and they combined for 42 points, 13 rebounds and 16 assists. Waiters had 20 to lead the Cavs.

Pistons 96, Wizards 85: It was a pair of 11-0 runs in the fourth quarter by Detroit — the second of those coming with the score tied and 5 minutes left — that gave them this win. And both of those were sparked by Will Bynum, who came off the bench to score 12 in the final frame and 20 for the game. Bynum and newly acquired Jose Calderon worked well together, with Calderon knocking down a key three during the decisive run (he had 24 on the night). Calderon has changed one key thing here — the Bucks had no fourth quarter comebacks before the trade, they’ve had two in the last five days now. Emeka Okafor led Washington with 20 points, while John Wall had 16 points and nine assists.

Bucks 94, 76ers 92: The Bucks went into this game with a three-game lead over Philly for the eighth seed in the East. Now they go into the All-Star Game with a four-game lead plus they own the tie-breaker, so it’s really a five-game lead. This was a huge win for the Bucks.

And it came down to a wild sequence at the end, with Milwaukee up two (by the score you see above). Holiday missed a contested, 14-foot, game-tying jumper and in the scramble for the rebound and loose ball Holiday and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute ended up tied up on the floor. Jump ball, five seconds left and at the Sixers end. Holiday surprisingly wins the jump ball to Royal Ivey, who controlled it and then turned to mass across the top of the arc to Holiday — but Mbah a Moute read the pass and deflected it into the back court. Then he chased down his own deflection headed out of bounds and saved it, which took enough time to end the game. So, just your every day game-saving deflection.

And for the Bucks, maybe playoff clinching deflection. Even if the Sixers get Andrew Bynum back (and that’s a mighty big if) making up five games at this point is highly unlikely.

Mavericks 123, Kings 100: How did you think this was going to end? This win makes it 18 straight home wins for Dallas over Sacramento, dating back to 2003. Vince Carter led the way with 26 points off the bench — enough to move him past Larry Bird on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. You read that right, Vince Carter now has more points than Larry Bird. You might want to start hoarding some canned goods in the basement, just in case this is the end of the world.

This was an old-school “Vinsanity” night. Dallas had been in control of the game since the second quarter but the Kings made a third quarter push to get the lead as low as seven. So Vince Carter knocked down two threes just after the five minute mark of the quarter to stretch the lead back out. Then he knocked down three more triples in the final minutes for good measure.

Hornets 99, Trail Blazers 63: Wow, Portland was bad. Sure, nice win for the Hornets and all, nice to see the slumping Anthony Davis score 21 and grab 11 boards. But the story of this game was that the Trail Blazers players were already mentally on vacation in Hawaii (or wherever) when this game tipped off and they never came back. The Blazers shot 32.4 percent on the night. The Hornets had 26 more points in the paint. But the bottom line is that New Orleans cared and Portland just did not.

Jazz 97, Timberwolves 93: Utah’s front line of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap really works when it clicks. And it did against the Timberwolves — Jefferson had 20 points, Millsap had 21 and Utah picks up another win. Late in the third quarter and into the fourth the Jazz went on a 23-7 run that gave them some separation the Timberwolves could not close and that was the game.

Minnesota had a couple strong performances from young players. Derrick Williams had 24 points and a career-best 16 rebounds. Ricky Rubio nearly had a triple double with 18 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

Report: Grizzlies moving toward keeping J.B. Bickerstaff as coach

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From the moment Robert Pera opted to retain control of the Grizzlies and end a prolonged ownership saga, it seemed interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff would remain Memphis’ coach.

Lo and behold…

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Bickerstaff did a decent job before the Grizzlies started tanking. But that was a small a sample, and his prior work as Rockets interim coach was uninspiring.

To be fair to Bickerstaff, those were both difficult situations. He’s an experienced assistant who might be ready for this challenge.

To be less fair to Bickerstaff, this looks like Memphis taking the cheap route. The Grizzlies didn’t appear to conduct much of a coaching search, if any. Nor has Bickerstaff been mentioned with other openings. It probably won’t cost as much to hire him as it would a more-established option.

Memphis seems to be operating under the belief that a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will right the ship next season. And they might. But given the age and injury history of those two, I wouldn’t assume they stay healthy and productive all season. Even if they do, they’d have to carry an underwhelming supporting cast – with limited room for upgrade this summer – in a deep Western Conference.

The Grizzlies want Bickerstaff, who’d be a first-time non-interim head coach, leading that team trying to win now? That doesn’t seem like the right risk-reward balance – at least until considering his salary, and even then.

Rumor: 76ers increasingly confident about signing LeBron James

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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LeBron James-76ers rumors have been mainstream for the better part of the year.

And they’re not going anywhere.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

I now fully understand why whispers about the Philadelphia 76ers and their growing behind-the-scenes confidence that they can woo LeBron to Philly this summer are getting louder.

Why shouldn’t they be increasingly confident? Led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers have already won a playoff series. The Cavaliers are mired in a tight first-round series with the Pacers, and LeBron’s supporting cast has mostly stunk.

This has the makings of LeBron’s previous free agencies – when he left barren Cleveland for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat in 2010, when he left aging Miami for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with the Cavaliers in 2014. Whatever motivations and narratives attached to LeBron’s decisions, he has left sinking teams for better-positioned ones.

The 76ers are good enough to fit that. They also have the cap flexibility to acquire him without sacrificing roster strength.

That LeBron has positioned himself as a mentor to Simmons – who shares an agent, Rich Paul, with LeBron – would only make signing with Philadelphia easier. LeBron could sell the narrative of teaching and grooming Simmons. LeBron, who cares about his legacy, must explain why he’s again leaving his hometown team in a way that won’t alienate everyone – not easy considering his homecoming message upon his return. Working first-hand with his protégé would look understandable, maybe even commendable.

All that said, growing confidence could be going from a 1% chance to a 10% chance. That’d be a 10-fold increase while leaving Philadelphia a big underdog.

LeBron’s free agency is still a huge unknown – including, at least in part, to LeBron himself. But I believe he has already started to consider options, even if he hasn’t made up his mind. And when that happens, signs could emerge behind the scenes. Perhaps, the 76ers have a read on those.

Or maybe they’re seeing what we’re all seeing: The 76ers are rising while the Cavs are just trying to keep their heads above water. Which situation would LeBron choose?

Victor Oladipo on his final shot: “It was a goaltend”

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Ultimately, the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report will back up Victor Oladipo — it was a goaltend.

With the score tied 95-95 and just six seconds left in the game Wednesday night, Oladipo attacked LeBron James in isolation, and like so many before him thought he was past LeBron only to have a chase down block from behind end his bid — except video replays shows Oladipo laid the ball off the backboard a fraction of a second before LeBron blocked it. That makes it a goaltend, a defender cannot block a shot that has already touched the backboard. Check out the slow-mo video.

The officials didn’t call it that way on the court, and the play is only eligible for video review if a goaltend is called (to be fair to the officials, that was an incredibly close play that is very difficult to call in real time). From there, LeBron went on to hit the dramatic game-winning three that gave Cleveland the win and a 3-2 series lead.

After the game, Oladipo and his teammates were pissed about the no-call.

“I got a step on him,” Oladipo said via the Associated Press. “I felt like I even got grabbed on the way to the rim, tried to shoot a layup, it hit the backboard, then he blocked it. It was a goaltend. It’s hard to even speak on it. It just sucks, honestly. It really sucks. Even though we fought our way back, we tied the game up, that layup was huge.

“Give him credit where credit is due. The three was big-time. Definitely huge. But who’s to say they even run that play? We don’t know what happens. It’s unfortunate. It really sucks that they missed that.”

LeBron didn’t see it that way.

“Of course I didn’t think it was a goaltend. I try to make plays like that all the time and I mean he made a heck of a move, got me leaning right and he went left and I just tried to use my recovery speed and get back up there and make a play on the ball. And I was able to make a play.”

We’ll see what the Last Two Minute Report says, but to my eyes that was a goaltend, it clearly comes off the backboard.

That call is also not why Indiana lost. If Pacers’ fans want to place blame, Oladipo going 2-of-15 on the night was a bigger issue. Or Darren Collison having an off night and going 1-of-5 from the floor. Or maybe it’s just the fact that LeBron James is the best player in the game and can drop 44 on the Pacers — including the three that may well have made the goaltend moot anyway — and Indiana can’t stop it. One call late does not by itself decide a 48-minute game.

But it was a goaltend.

Giannis Antetokounmpo puts it on himself to be more aggressive in Bucks-Celtics Game 6

AP Photo/Morry Gash
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Giannis Antetokounmpo was criticized after Game 5 of Milwaukee’s Eastern Conference series against Boston for not doing more, particularly on the offensive end.

The harshest critic: Antetokounmpo, himself.

He took only 10 field-goal attempts, his third-lowest total of the entire season. Antetokounmpo still had a brilliant stat line, finishing only one assist shy of a triple-double, but the Bucks lost 92-87 and now go back to Milwaukee trailing the first-round matchup 3-2.

Game 6 of the Celtics-Bucks series is the lone matchup on the Thursday night NBA schedule.

“Game 6, I’ve got to come out and be more aggressive,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s on me. I had open shots, but they weren’t my shots so I didn’t feel comfortable taking them. … I’ve got to be more aggressive, make more plays because definitely, my teammates need me.”

It’s not like he was choosing to not be involved.

The Celtics got Marcus Smart back for Game 5, and Boston is much better defensively when he’s on the floor. Open looks seem to happen far more infrequently when Smart is out there, and the Bucks must solve that riddle or else their season is about to end.

Smart wasn’t the only defensive hero for Boston in Game 5. The Celtics put Semi Ojeleye on Antetokounmpko, and it worked as well as Boston could have hoped.

“Giannis is a heck of a player,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “You’re not going to be perfect against him. You’re not going to hold him down by any means. He makes plays for other people, he’s very unselfish … but we just felt like we needed a little bit more ball pressure overall, and so that was the decision to go smaller.”

If Antetokounmpko doesn’t come up bigger Thursday, it’ll be Boston going to the second round.

Here’s some of what to know going into Game 6:

CELTICS AT BUCKS

Boston leads 3-2. Game 6, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT

NEED TO KNOW: Since 2002, there have been 29 NBA teams with at least one postseason series win to their credit. The lone exception: The Bucks. It’s been 17 years since the Bucks advanced to the second round, and the Celtics are on the cusp of adding another year to Milwaukee’s wait. So far in the series, Milwaukee has outscored Boston 520-519 – which would indicate that it’s been a super-close matchup. That’s not the reality. There have been wild ebbs and flows, with one team leading by 16 points at some point in each of the last four games.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Free throws. Boston is 99 for 130 in the series from the line, while Milwaukee is 68 for 100. The Bucks have been called for 30 more fouls in the series, 124-94 – which works out to six more per game.

PRESSURE IS ON: Clearly, the Bucks. They’re facing elimination, of course, so there’s the pressure. Antetokounmpko was on the Milwaukee team that won two elimination games against Chicago in 2015 (before the Bucks eventually lost that series in six games). And he also remembers the sting of last season, when the Bucks went home for Game 6 trailing Toronto 3-2 and wound up letting a pair of late leads slip in what became a season-ending loss.

INJURY UPDATE: Getting Smart back was a rare bit of good news for Boston in this injury-marred season, one where the Celtics have been without Gordon Hayward since opening night and ultimately lost Kyrie Irving for the playoffs. Smart hadn’t played in about six weeks after tearing a ligament in his right thumb, but was a clear difference-maker for the Celtics in Game 5.

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball