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

Leave a comment

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.

Pacers head to Cleveland looking to put pressure back on Cavaliers

Getty Images
Leave a comment

CLEVELAND, Ohio (AP) — The Indiana Pacers are in no better position to pull off a historic upset in this first-round playoff series with the Cleveland Cavaliers than when they awoke Sunday morning.

The Pacers had a chance to put the Cavs, at the time reeling with playoff inexperience and the crushing weight of expectations with LeBron James, squarely behind the eight ball in this series by winning Game 4.

But Indiana fell behind by a huge deficit in the first half for the second consecutive game, erased it in the third and early fourth quarters again, but couldn’t sustain the momentum. Kyle Korver and James made enough plays down the stretch for the Cavs to win, 104-100, tying this series at 2-2 with Game 5 on Wednesday in Cleveland.

James has never lost a first-round series in 12 previous playoffs. Now, he has two of the next three games at home to try and keep his streak alive.

“I think just tying the series up and coming back home is something we feel good about,” said Kevin Love, who like every other Cav not named James has mostly struggled in this series. “We feel like it’s a best-of-three type series and at the end of the day, if it comes to it, we have two games at home. We like our advantage and we’re going to use that to our advantage (Wednesday) night.”

The Pacers trailed by 17 at halftime of Game 3 but steamrolled the Cavs in the second half and pulled out a 92-90 win behind 30 points from Bojan Bogdanovic, a playoff career high. They were down 10 through two quarters in Game 4 but fought back and were ahead 93-91 with 3:49 remaining before Korver connected on two deep 3s.

Indiana won Game 1 behind a playoff career-high 32 points from Victor Oladipo, who has struggled since (19-of-53 shooting in the last three games). Domantas Sabonis played a big role in the Pacers’ comeback Sunday, scoring a playoff career-best 19 off the bench.

The Pacers are getting the best night of someone’s playoff career almost each game of this series, and it’s been good enough for two wins. Then again, the Cavs’ two wins were by a combined seven points, and outside of James (32.5 ppg this series) almost no one is scoring.

Love is the next closest at 12.0 points in this series and JR Smith is third with 10.0 points.

“We’re not losing confidence,” point guard Darren Collison said, according to the Indianapolis Star. “This team is the defending Eastern Conference champions. Whatever you want to say about them, this is a very good team. They’ve been through a lot over the last few years. We’re fine. There’s no need to overreact or panic. We’re going to go into their building and we’re going to give the same effort.”

The Cavaliers say point guard George Hill (back spasms) is questionable to play in Game 5. He missed Game 4 with the same injury — four injections before the game were not enough to ease the pain to the point where he could play.

Jose Calderon started for Hill on Sunday and scored five points in 19 minutes. The Cavs are 24-9 this year (regular season and playoffs) when Calderon starts.

Hill is the only player on either team listed on the injury report. But Love suffered an injury to his left thumb in Game 1 and it’s affected him. He’s shooting 17-of-47 in the series with 11 turnovers. Catching and gripping the ball have been obvious problems.

“I’ve been able to get up a lot of shots,” Love said. “I think initially it was painful and in the few days that followed, but now it’s kind of subsided and I’m just getting my feel back in my left thumb.”

Report: Kawhi Leonard to return to San Antonio around exit interviews. Then…

Associated Press
6 Comments

Nobody is sure how the Kawhi Leonard situation is going to play out with the Spurs. As is the nature of the NBA, the GMs of other teams are starting to circle the Spurs like vultures, on the chance that this time Gregg Popovich cannot smooth out the relationship with his star player and needs to trade him. Leonard spent the playoffs away from the team, working out and talking to doctors in New York while “his group” shielded him from attempts from San Antonio to reach out.

Now has come the time for the sides to talk, and that will happen soon reports Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News.

What happens during and after that meeting is anyone’s guess.

The Spurs will only move Leonard as a last resort, and they have two things on their side. First, Gregg Popovich, who has maintained a healthy relationship with his star pupil through all of this. LaMarcus Aldridge told Popovich he wanted to be traded last summer, and over the course of some dinner meetings and self-reflection, Popovich was able to both keep Aldridge in the fold and put him in positions to be an All-NBA level player this season. The key is that both sides were willing to talk with an open mind, are Leonard and his advisors open to that?

Second, the Spurs have the ultimate hammer — the $219 million designated veteran extension (the contract James Harden and Russell Westbrook signed this year). Put that on the table and Leonard will sign it. The question is will the Spurs put it out there? Probably not if Leonard makes it clear he doesn’t want to be in San Antonio any longer. That’s when the trade talks start to gain traction.

But we’re not there yet. Not even close. Let the meetings play out first.

Back home, Thunder try to avoid elimination against Jazz

Getty Images
4 Comments

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma City was built this offseason around three All-Stars with the hopes of contending for the Western Conference crown.

The Utah Jazz started the year 18-26 without center Rudy Gobert. However, Gobert returned and the Jazz rolled off 11 straight wins into Valentine’s Day with the help of a surprise rookie of the year contender.

One more win and the Jazz will reach the second round for the second straight year. They’ll send the Thunder home with a second straight first-round exit — despite Oklahoma City’s overhauled, star-studded roster.

After losing the first game on the road, Utah won decisively in each of the past three games, including a 17-point victory in Game 4 — a game the Thunder called a must-win in Salt Lake City.

“It’s the playoffs, it’s gonna be war,” Utah point guard Ricky Rubio, who had a triple-double in Game 3, told the Salt Lake Tribune after Utah’s 113-96 victory in Game 4. “We know that it’s gonna be another war next game. We just have to be tough but at the same time, mentally ready for that.”

Game 5 is set for 9:30 p.m. EST Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell, who averaged 20 points per game during the regular season, has averaged 27.6 points during the past three games — taking his play to another level to lead a balanced Jazz attack that has five players averaging in double figures. Mitchell, who was the 13th overall pick in last year’s draft, has scored 110 points through the first four games, the most by a rookie in his first four games since Michael Jordan’s 117 in 1985, according to nba.com.

“To be honest, a lot of this is surreal. I’m just taking it game-by-game and not really getting caught up in the big picture,” Mitchell told the Salt Lake City Tribune. “Just focusing on game-by-game. My teammates have helped me out a lot as far as that goes. But we’re playing together.”

Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook picked up four fouls before halftime in Game 4 and was fined $10,000 for an altercation with Gobert late in the game. Luckily for the Thunder, he was not suspended following his altercation with the Utah center.

Westbrook’s foul trouble has hardly been the Thunder’s biggest issue.

Oklahoma City was inconsistent much of the year, but it has had to contend with shooting woes from offseason acquisition Carmelo Anthony, who has hit just 25 percent of his 3-pointers in the first four games of the playoffs.

“We gotta win, nothing to it,” Anthony said after the Game 4 loss. “We’ve just gotta win. We can sit here and say what we gotta do, or what we didn’t do or what we did do, but it comes down to having the will to win that game Wednesday and forcing a Game 6 back in Utah.”

Winning in Utah won’t to be easy, where the Jazz have won six straight. Oklahoma City has to get back to Salt Lake City first and stave off elimination. But Utah hasn’t lost three straight games since Gobert’s return to the lineup in mid-January.

“Every game’s been physical,” Gobert said to reporters. “We just got to watch the tape, see how much better we can get and get ready to play basketball.”

Any end to one-and-done rule remains a couple of years away

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Condoleezza Rice and the Commission on College Basketball released their much-anticipated report and…

Yawn.

We’ll see how much the NCAA wishes to police itself and ban coaches caught cheating from the sport, or to do anything that would stem the flow of money from shoe companies and boosters into college hoops. Will the NCAA make an organizational shift to focus less on enforcement and more on involvement with players before they get to college?

One thing the report wants is an end to the one-and-done rule with the NBA, and it issues some veiled threats about getting back together and coming up with new recommendations if the NBA and its players’ union does not act within a year. Yawn. The NBA will continue to work toward this at its own pace, as Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN notes.

Allowing guys to go back to college if not drafted — even if they had an agent — is a good step.

The NBA will move at its own pace with reforms to its draft rules, and we are still years away from that (if the owners can be herded into a consensus in the first place). This commission’s report changes none of that, and without the NBA and players’ union’s cooperation the commission can’t accomplish some of its goals anyway.

The NBA is moving toward ending one-and-done, NBA commissioner Adam Silver had said they were waiting on this report to take the next steps down that road. With the assistance of the NCAA, the league could move to something more akin to the baseball model (players can be drafted out of high school to the NBA, but if they go to college they have to stay two or three seasons). However, this remains years away. For now, players such as Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III will continue to be one-and-dones. Nobody likes it, but it is the rule for now.