Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Joe Johnson is the man

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while watching the residents of Harlem say the Harlem Shake meme has nothing to do with the Harlem Shake….

Nets 113, Bucks 111 (OT): Joe Johnson is clutch — so far this season he is 8-for-9 shooting with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation or overtime this season, according to NBA.com. Or, just ask the Bucks, who watched Johnson hit a three to send the game to overtime then hit a game winner at the buzzer in overtime to beat them.

Brandon Jennings was not clutch. He had a good game and put up a big line — 34 points on 13-of-26 shooting, 7 assists and 6 rebounds — and he had seven points in the fourth quarter. But he missed two shots in the final minutes plus had a turnover, which set up Johnson’s heroics.

There was a lot more to this game. The Bucks lack of depth hurt them as the Nets won the bench battle 44-15. Andre Blatche had 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting in the fourth quarter. But at the end of regulation Jennings missed the shots and Johnson hit his.

Spurs 108, Kings 102: The Spurs continued their Rodeo road trip in Sacramento and were able to win their 4th straight and 5th of 6th games to start their trip. This game really came down to the better team being able to build a big lead early and then, after dealing with their opponent making a run to come back, showing having enough of a talent gap to fend them off for the rest of the game.

San Antonio was led by Tony Parker who used his trademarked quickness and open court ability to get into the paint and create shots for himself and his teammates. Parker finished the game with 30 points and 11 assists and, in breaking down the Kings’ defense, was clearly the best player on the floor all night. San Antonio also got good contributions from Danny Green offensively (21 points) and Tim Duncan (14 rebounds, 4 blocks) defensively to help pull out the win.

On the Kings side, Isaiah (22 points, 4 assists) and Tyreke Evans (20 points) were solid offensively. Evans was especially important in helping the Kings stay close in the 2nd half by scoring 17 points in those 24 minutes. However, even though the Kings were good on offense, they simply couldn’t get enough stops over the course of the entire game to come up with the win.
—Darius Soriano

Nuggets 97, Celtics 90: The Nuggets pulled away at the end of this one and Boston helped out missing 6-of-7 shots to end the game, plus even Kevin Garnett was missing key free throws. On the other side you had Danilo Gallinari seeming to knock down shots whenever Denver needed on his way to 26 points. Ty Lawson had 26 as well and ran the show well for Denver all game, finishing with 6 assists and zero turnovers. The Celtics did get season highs out of Jeff Green (20) and Avery Bradley (17) but the rest of the Celtics looked a little old and tired.

Jazz 115, Warriors 101: The weekend off didn’t solve Golden State’s issues — they have now lost six straight. When I asked rookie Harrison Barnes what the problem was (while in Houston for All-Star festivities) he said it was intensity. They just needed it and focus, he said. The reality is the answer is defense — Utah shot 50 percent as a team and scored 120.4 points per 100 possessions. Golden State has given up 117 points a game in their losing streak.

Utah led wire to wire, and when Golden State made a third quarter push that tied it at 65-65 on a Stephen Curry three, the Jazz answered with a 15-4 run and never looked back. Al Jefferson showed what he can do to teams thinking about trading for him with 24 points. Paul Millsap had 14 points and 9 boards. Stephen Curry had 29.


Bulls 96, Hornets 87: Chicago visited New Orleans looking to avoid a 3 game losing streak and were able to do so with good nights from their two all-stars and the return of a much maligned guard.

Luol Deng had an efficient night shooting the ball, scoring 20 points on only 13 shots (including 2-5 from behind the arc) and doing a good job of mixing his jumper with scores at the rim. Meanwhile Joakim Noah was a strong presence inside, grabbing 17 rebounds (5 offensive) and also chipping in 15 points via his hustle and nose for the ball. The other key to this game was Kirk Hinrich, who returned from injury to start the game and show how valuable he could be to the Bulls on both sides of the ball. Hinrich didn’t shoot well (2-7 from the field) but did tally 10 assists while also playing some very good defense on Greivis Vasquez who could only muster 11 points on 5-16 shooting.<

When you combine Vasquez’s poor shooting night with Ryan Anderson’s 2-11 from the floor, the Hornets had little shot to win this game even though they did get solid performances from Anthony Davis (15 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals), Al-Farouq Aminu (10 points, 7 rebounds), and Eric Gordon (20 points). The Bulls’ defense — especially down the stretch — was just too much for the Hornets to handle in this one.
—Darius Soriano

Grizzlies 105, Pistons 91: The Pistons led by as many as 11 early, but the Grizzlies found their groove midway through the second quarter going on a 23-3 run and never looking back. Who do you thank for that run? Well Quincy Pondexter of course, he had 8 points in the stretch. Or, you could just thank the Pistons who went 1-of-9 shooting with 7 turnovers in the final 8 minutes of the first half. Mike Conley had 19 for the Grizzlies on just 11 shots, Ed Davis played well off the bench and in garbage time with 14 (10 in the fourth quarter with the game in hand). Jonas Jerebko and Brandon Knight each had 13 points for the Pistons.

Raptors 96, Wizards 88: It was ‘70s throwback night unintentionally in Washington as the scoreboard in the arena didn’t work, so officials put 24 second clocks on the floor at the baseline, plus they had to use an air horn to bring in the subs (and other horn functions).

Washington was not good all night, their offense looked confused and there was no spacing. John Wall was terrible all night — 1-of-12 shooting with 7 turnovers. Wall just has to develop a jump shot at some point because Toronto went under screens and packed the paint and he could do nothing about it. Bradley Beal could, he had 25, but it wasn’t enough. DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay each had 24 points, Kyle Lowry added 11 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists.

Bobcats 105, Magic 92: Charlotte won this game in the first half when they shot 59.1 percent and led by as many as 20. That’s too much for a team with Orlando’s talent level to make up most nights. They came close as the Bobcats helped out shooting 3-of-16 in the fourth but when the Magic got within four Kemba Walker had the steal and the layup to spark a little 11-2 run, and that was it. Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker each had 24 points for Charlotte, while Byron Mullens added 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Suns 102, Trail Blazers 98: The Suns opened the game on a 12-0 run and never trailed, although it got close late. Early on the Suns played good basketball — Goran Dragic had 10 assists in the first quarter and the Suns shot 60 percent for the first half. But the Blazers have had a lot of comebacks this season and came close here. Dragic finished with 16 points and hit his free throws late to seal the win. J.J. Hickson did his part to boost his trade value with 25 points and 16 rebounds for Portland.

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.

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.

Kevin Love on Cavaliers: “I don’t feel like we’re underdogs”

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Kevin Love and Las Vegas bookmakers do not see things the same way.

In Vegas, the Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the title — bet $100 on them to win and you get back $41.7 (or less). Cleveland is a heavy underdog.

Love sees a confident team that is the defending NBA champions, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love said Saturday after the Cavs’ first practice in preparation for the Warriors since clinching a spot in the Finals. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”

What else was he going to say?

More than any other team in the league, the Cavaliers are built to give Golden State trouble. The Cavaliers can exploit mismatches, be physical on defense, and they have LeBron James, Love and Kyrie Irving. Three NBA stars.

Is that enough against four NBA stars is the question.