Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Kobe pushes Lakers to .500

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while watching the wildest ending to a high school state championship game you will ever see…

Lakers 99, Hawks 98: It took a phenomenal performance down the stretch from Kobe Bryant, after the Lakers gave back all of a 16-point third quarter lead and found themselves trailing by one with 26 seconds remaining. But L.A. got this win thanks to Bryant, who drove and converted a tough lay-in over Josh Smith with nine seconds remaining that turned out to be the game-winner, getting the Lakers back to .500 for the first time since December.

This game featured wild swings by both teams, but neither held a lead of more than three points in the final period — one that featured six ties and 10 lead changes.

In the end, Bryant was the difference. He had an emphatic one-handed driving dunk over Josh Smith with just over two minutes left, and scored 11 points in the final period, including his team’s last six.

It isn’t great that the Lakers blew such a large lead at home, and needed heroics on the game’s penultimate possession to end up pulling this one out. It’s also not ideal that when the game got tight, L.A. went into isolation mode with Kobe for multiple possessions down the stretch. It worked on this night, however, and next up for the Lakers is a date with the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Tuesday.
—Brett Pollakoff

Heat 99, Knicks 93: The Knicks were getting some stops and knocking down threes in the first half (Jason Kidd, who had been a mess for a couple weeks, started out 4-of-4 from deep) and the Knicks led by as many as 16. But the Heat cranked up the defense, were the aggressors on offense and came back for the win. Our own Brett Pollakoff broke this game down.

Thunder 108 Clippers 104: Oklahoma City led pretty much from the start here and it looked for a long time like this would be a blowout win. But the Clippers made a spirited comeback, Serge Ibaka punched Blake Griffin in the… groin (and somehow didn’t get ejected) and the Thunder won behind some strong play from Russell Westbrook late. Brett broke this game down, also.

Pacers 97, Bulls 92: This win gives the Pacers the season series over the Bulls and a likely Central Division win. Add this with the loss by the Knicks and the Pacers are the current second seed in the East. David West was an anchor in this game, scoring 31 against the always-scrappy Bulls defense. West had 10 in the final quarter, which is when George Hill had 11 of his 21. Roy Hibbert had 18 points and 10 rebounds on the night and as he starts to find his groove again the Pacers, which makes them an even more dangerous playoff team.

One thing of note — for the second straight game coach Frank Vogel sat Danny Granger the entire second half. He played 8 minutes total. That concerns me.

Rockets 136, Mavericks 103: That ends a nine-game losing streak for the Rockets to the Mavs about as convincingly as you can. After a tight first half the Rockets opened the third quarter on a 15-0 run, went on to win the third 44-17 and that was all she wrote. Chandler Parsons had a career-high 32 points on an impressive 12-for-13 shooting. Jeremy Lin and James Harden each had 21, but Lin won the assists battle between the two nine to seven. Dallas had dropped four of five.

Spurs 114, Pistons 75: No Tony Parker but the Spurs ball movement was still crisp all night and that just overwhelmed the Pistons defense. The Spurs did it with incredible balance — Manu Ginobili led them with 17 points, and he scored them all in the first half. Tim Duncan and Danny Green each had 16 points for San Antonio. The Pistons have lost five of their last six.

Memphis 108, Magic 82: This was a rout from the first quarter, from when the Grizzlies went on an 18-6 run and never looked back. Memphis did it with balance, having six players scoring in double digits led by Tayshaun Prince’s 14. Marc Gasol was dishing as he finished with 12 points and 11 assists. As for the Magic, they haven’t held a team under 53 percent shooting in three games now.

Wizards 90, Sixers 87: How about that John Wall — he had six points in the final 1:37 of this game and that was enough to get the Wizards a win. Washington had led most of the second half until an 11-0 Sixers run gave them the lead, setting up Wall’s heroics. Down three late Wall hit a jumper, then on the next possession drew a foul and got to the line, hitting both. Washington was up one and Wall blocked an Evan Turner shot. Then on the next possession Wall iced it with a 20 footer. As everyone has said about Wall, if he gets a steady outside shot.

Kings 119, Bobcats 83: Wow, the Bobcats are bad. Yes, give the Kings some credit for exorcizing the demons of a 1-4 road trip thanks to John Salmons and his 22 points, plus Jason Thompson finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds. But mostly, the Bobcats are bad.

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

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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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

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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