Toronto Raptors' Johnson and Gay defend New York Knicks' Stoudemire during their NBA basketball game in New York

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.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.

James scores 33, Cavaliers reach second straight NBA Finals

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TORONTO — LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It’s the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it’s his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

“I had to bring my game,” he said. “I had to be in attack mode from the beginning.”

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith had 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday’s Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered “Let’s go, Raptors! Let’s go, Raptors!” throughout most of the final three minutes.

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland’s nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

TIP INS

Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. … Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

Reports: P.J. Carlesimo to join Sixers staff as Brett Brown’s lead assistant

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last season, when new president Jerry Colangelo started shaking things up in Philadelphia, he brought in Mike D’Antoni to be a lead assistant next to Brett Brown. This led to all kinds of speculation around the league that the Colangelos were trying to bring back the old Suns brain trust (especially when Jerry hired his son Bryan to be GM).

However, D’Antoni jumped ship to be the head coach of the Houston Rockets.

Enter, P.J. Carlesimo.

Carlesimo is a good fit, but that’s not going to quell the rumors that the Colangelos are not comfortable with Brown (despite giving him a contract extension). The Sixers need to give Brown a legitimate shot — he’s been like a contestant on Chopped the past few seasons, given a ridiculous basket of ingredients and told to turn Mango, octopus and graham crackers into a four-star meal. He’s gotten them to play defense (at times) and started to build a culture. He has earned the chance to show what he can do with a better lineup.

Which is what the Sixers will have next season.

Nuggets’ Jusuf Nurkic likes idea of two-bigs lineup with Nikola Jokic

DENVER, CO - APRIL 5:  Jusuf Nurkic #23 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on April 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Thunder defeated the Nuggets 124-102. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Late last season, Nuggets coach Mike Malone tried something out of the box the way the NBA is trending — playing two young bigs together. Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, the latter of whom finished in third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Small ball may be in vogue, but going big has worked pretty well these playoffs for Oklahoma City with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (and Serge Ibaka).

It didn’t work all that well for Denver — in just 92 minutes together the Nuggets were outscored by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because the offense was terrible.

But Nurkic wants to try it again next season, he told the Nuggets’ official Web site.

“I’m happy about the big lineup [with Nikola]. “Basketball has kind of changed. The NBA has gone smaller because of [the] Golden State [Warriors]. In the [Western Conference] semi-finals, look at [Oklahoma City’s Steven] Adams, [Enes] Kanter, and [Serge] Ibaka. They played all those guys and they see the difference. Me and Nikola have great communication because we played in the same league, we played against each other.”

He’s referring to their time in the Serbian league where the two played before going to the NBA.

While it could only be used situationally, expect Malone to experiment with this lineup more. There are some serious defensive questions (neither is exactly fleet of foot), and there could be spacing issues. But if the league moves one way, the smart teams and coaches think about counters.