Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Celtics 11-0 run closes out Pacers

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while wondering what live is like for a poor sultan….

Lakers 108, Hornets 102: The Lakers were down 25 in the third quarter, 18 entering the fourth. But then Kobe Bryant took over the offense and Dwight Howard the defense, the Hornets fell apart and a comeback that could be a defining moment in the Lakers season was on. Our own Darius Soriano broke it all down.

Celtics 83, Pacers 81: Boston is supposed to be old. They were on the second night of a back-to-back playing on the road. Yet they were the team that put together an 11-0 run to end the game, capped off by a Jeff Green layup when the Pacers defense broke down that gave the Celtics the win.

Of course, this was more than just one shot. The Celtics got 18 from Kevin Garnett, but mostly the Celtics are a team poised to take advantage of a Pacers defense designed to make you take midrange jumpers. The Celtics can kill you that way, they are the best midrange shooting team in the NBA. And finally, the Pacers offense can just go away. It did at the start of the fourth quarter when they gave up a 10-point lead. Then again at the end of the game, in the final 4:30, the Pacers were 0-7 with two turnovers. Those dry stretches kill the.

This game is a great example of how people view these teams heading into the playoffs. Boston doesn’t have the most talent but the guys they have make plays under pressure and execute with the game on the line, which makes them dangerous. The Pacers still played great defense for the game (they only gave up 83) but their offense can take a siesta and when that happens against good teams they lose.

Heat 97, Magic 96: Miami led this game by 20 points early in the third quarter then returned to a bad habit we haven’t seen a lot of during their streak — they coasted. Took their foot off the gas. And while the Magic are not a good team they play hard for Jacque Vaughn and they came back. Nikola Vucevic was key to this and he finished the game with 25 points and 21 boards. But he also fouled out and so there was no good rim protector on the court for the final play, a LeBron James drive to win it. LeBron finished with 26 points, Dwyane Wade 24.

Mavericks 112, Rockets 108: On Sunday, the Rockets embarrassed the Mavericks by 33 points. The box score from that game was taped to the white board in the Dallas locker room with “not tonight” written across it in red ink.

This game was close and down the stretch Dallas closed on a 10-4 run to get the win. Dallas got good play from its veterans, with Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion each pouring in 23. Marion was also the guy guarding James Harden much of the night and Harden went 5-of-17 from the field and airballed a late three. It just wasn’t going to be his night.

Cavaliers 104, Jazz 101: Those footsteps you hear Jazz fans are the Lakers 1.5 games back of you now. If you’re going to win this race with them down the stretch, this is the kind of game you need to win.

Utah led by 6 with 1:41 to go but Cleveland closed the game out on a 9-0 run. They did it behind Kyrie Irving, who had 11 of his 20 points on the night in the final five minutes of the game. He took over and the Jazz both don’t have a guard who can do that nor a perimeter defender who can slow a guy who starts to do that. Gordon Hayward had 25 for the Jazz as he continues to come into his own on the offensive end.

Spurs 101, Bulls 83: No Tony Parker no problem. Playing without their all-star point guard, the Spurs still found a way to hold off the Bulls after a fairly even 1st half by pulling away in the final 24 minutes.

Without Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili led the way for San Antonio. Duncan had another throwback game, doing most of his damage inside, scoring 18 points while grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots. Ginobili, operating with the ball in his hands a lot more, racked up 9 assists to go with 18 points of his own by hitting 3 of his 5 three point attempts and getting to rim well to score inside. Kawhi Leonard also took up a greater load on offense by scoring well as both a shot creator and in doing his normal work as an off-ball threat. Leonard’s 14 points came on an efficient 6-11 shooting and his work was a nice compliment to the heavy lifting of Duncan’s inside game and Ginobili’s creativity as primary ball handler.

The Bulls, meanwhile, were carried by Luol Deng (19 points, 7 rebounds) and some hot shooting from Marco Belinelli, who scored a game high 21 points on 8-16 shooting (including 3-6 from behind the arc). But, as has been the case all to often this season with Derrick Rose on the shelf, the Bulls simply couldn’t find enough ways to score points as the Spurs clamped down in the 2nd half by taking away their preferred actions and doing a better job of contesting shots.
—Darius Soriano

Clippers 117, Bucks 101: Jamal Crawford’s between-the-legs alley oop to Blake Griffin for the windmill dunk will steal the highlights, but Lob City can’t exist without the foundation that is Griffin’s work on the block. Against the best shotblocking team in the league, Griffin was smooth, under control, and threw together strings of moves that sent Milwaukee’s bigs flying out of the way. Griffin’s calm, collected effort led to his first triple-double since his rookie season, and he nearly had it in the third quarter. Griffin’s 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists carried the Clippers, but Matt Barnes also caught fire from deep (six 3-pointers) and Jamal Crawford (11-for-15) couldn’t miss. Milwaukee did their part to hang in for most of the game offensively, but the quality and quantity of open looks eventually tipped the scales heavily in the favor of the Clippers.
—D.J. Foster

Knicks 87, Pistons 77: The Knicks were sloppy early on in this one, with seven turnovers in the games first seven minutes. Their offense couldn’t find a flow with Carmelo Anthony out resting his sore knee. But once Mike Woodson decided to put Amare Stoudemire in and the game things got better for New York — Stoudemire had 22 points, Raymond Felton found his groove on the pick-and-roll when the Pistons started to play off him, and finished with 26. The Knicks went on a 16-0 run after the Pistons made a second-half push to take the lead, and that was it for Detroit. Brandon Knight had 17 to lead Detroit.

Hawks 107, Sixers 96: We have a “good” Jeff Teague sighting — he was aggressive all night and scored 27 points and added 11 assists in the Hawks win. Atlanta took control of this game midway through the first quarter and led the rest of the way. When the Sixers made a push in the third quarter the Hawks responded with a 15-1 run to remind everyone how this game would end. Al Horford and Anthony Tolliver each had 21 for the Hawks.

Grizzlies 91, Trail Blazers 85: This was the classic tale of two halves game.

In the first half, the Trailblazers jumped out an early lead through hot shooting from their perimeter players. Damian Lillard scored 14 of his 20 points in those first two quarters while Nicolas Batum was able to hit 4 of his 5 shots to score all 10 of his points over that stretch. With J.J. Hickson (12 points, 13 rebounds for the game) pitching in 8 points and 7 rebounds in the first half, the Blazers were well on their way to taking down the red hot Grizzlies, boasting a 12 point lead heading into the 2nd half.

But, after halftime, the Grizzlies showed why they’re on such a hot streak. In the final two periods, the Grizzlies outscored the Blazers by 18 points through ratcheted up defensive pressure and offensive balance. Portland only shot 28.2% from the field in the 2nd half as the Grizzlies swarmed shooters and made a consistent effort to protect the rim. LaMarcus Aldridge had a particularly rough night for the Blazers, connecting on only 2 of his 13 shots (though he did add 10 rebounds and 6 assists).

Offensively, the Grizzlies began to attack more through Mike Conley and Marc Gasol who both scored 13 of their 20 and 23 points respectively after halftime. Add in a good scoring punch from Jerryd Bayless off the bench (13 points) and the Grizzlies’ superior talent and depth were able to take control as the game went on.
—Darius Soriano

Warriors 87, Kings 83: The Warriors needed a win — they were falling in the standings and entering the “can the Lakers catch them?” conversation. But Sacramento always plays the Warriors tough and while this game wasn’t the high-scoring, overtime-filled matchup of games past it was close. It took David Lee (17 points, 10 rebounds) finding Klay Thompson alone in the corner for a three to seal the Warriors win. Thompson finished with a game-high 20. The Kings had a shot to tie it but Tyreke Evans couldn’t get a little runner to go over the long arms of Thompson and the Warriors are safe for a day.

Nets 99, Bobcats 78: The Nets owned the third quarter, outscoring the Bobcats 26-7 at one point in there, and pulled away for an easy win. The run was led by Joe Johnson, who had 10 in the quarter and 22 for the game. Charlotte’s offense never came out of the locker room for the second half as they shot 25 percent in the final two quarters. The Nets shot 56 percent in the second half and part of that was Deron Williams, who finished the game with 26. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with 17 led Charlotte.

Timberwolves 87, Wizard 82: When Ricky Rubio is feeling it there may not be a more fun player in the league to watch. Rubio had 15 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds leading a small lineup from the Timberwolves (Rubio, Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea together) to the win. This was close most of the way with neither team ever getting a double-digit lead, but it was a 13-5 push that gave Minnesota the lead it needed in the fourth. Washington had its chance, down one with 31 seconds to go and the ball in John Wall’s hands (he had 17). But Rubio got the steal off wall, pushed the ball ahead to Barea who hit the layup that ended up being the dagger.

Raptors 91, Suns: 71: This was a blowout from the middle of the second quarter on and it was sparked in part by the Raptors bench. Six Toronto players scored in double digits. As for the Suns night, they had 29 turnovers. That led to 39 Raptors points. That pretty much sums it all up.

Kevin Durant: Kyrie Irving-LeBron James situation ‘just a regular NBA problem’

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Kevin Durant knows something about star teammates not always getting along.

So, the Warriors forward is not freaking out about the disconnect between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James and Irving’s subsequent trade request.

Durant, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“It’s just a regular NBA problem, right? A lot of teams have gone through this before,” Durant told ESPN. “They’ll figure it out. That’s a great organization, a championship organization. They’ll figure it out.”

“It’s not the end of the world,” Durant said. “Both of those guys won a championship together. They love each other. If Kyrie wants to do something else, that’s on him. I’m sure whatever happens, it’ll work out for the best for both of them. But it’s just a normal NBA problem. It’s just two big stars that it’s happening to.”

Durant is definitely right in the larger sense. Teammates spat and requests trades more often than we realize. Remember, both Irving and the Cavaliers probably prefer this never became public.

But I’m not sure Cleveland will figure this out with the ease Durant suggests. David Griffin, who had proven so adept at putting out these fires, is gone. LeBron’s free agency looms. This could be extremely destructive to the Cavs.

The fact that this “regular NBA problem” became public only intensifies it – and raises it something greater.

Report: Heat signing Jordan Mickey

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Jordan Mickey – the No. 33 pick by the Celtics in 2015 – became the first second-round pick in memory to sign the year he was drafted and receive a higher initial salary than first-round picks.

He’s keeping the checks coming.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Mickey will be the Heat’s 16th player with a standard contract, though Matt Williams (unguaranteed) will likely be waived to meet the regular-season roster limit.

I’m not sure where Mickey fits on this team, which already has several bigs. Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk will likely play ahead of him. Miami also has A.J. Hammons (who might be just dead salary) and Udonis Haslem (who might provide nothing more than veteran leadership).

The Heat could just see Mickey as someone they can develop. At that point, how he fits into the current roster doesn’t really matter.

Mickey – 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan – is a mobile defender with nice timing for blocking shots inside. He even possesses a work-in-progress 3-pointer in his arsenal. There’s plenty for Miami to help mold.

Russell Westbrook wins union’s Players Voice MVP

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The players union released its long-anticipated long-overdue awards, and there are some doozies. First of all, I still can’t figure out what Chris Bosh – who was announced as the “host” of the Twitter-released awards – has to do with this. But let’s get to the actual winners.

Here are the major awards, with the traditional award/Players Voice equivalent:

No surprise Westbrook won both MVPs. He deserved them. Still, James Harden could’ve hoped for a split result like in 2015, when Stephen Curry won actual MVP and Harden won the players’ version.

There’s obviously slight differences in the other categories. I think Green had the best defensive season and deservedly won Defensive Player of the Year, but I also think Leonard is the NBA’s best defender and therefore deserved this honor. I would’ve picked Andre Iguodala for Best off the Bench (and Sixth Man of the Year, for what it’s worth), though that’s a minor quibble. But how on earth did Joel Embiid not win Best Rookie? He was the best rookie in years, let alone this season. I picked Brogdon for Rookie of the Year based on his overall contributions in far more playing time, but there should have been no question about the best rookie.

The union also released several awards without a corresponding NBA honor:

  • Comeback Player of the Year: Joel Embiid
  • Hardest to Guard: Russell Westbrook
  • Clutch Performer: Isaiah Thomas
  • Global Impact: LeBron James
  • Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team: LeBron James
  • Most Influential Veteran: Vince Carter
  • Best Dressed: Russell Westbrook
  • Best Social Media Follow: Joel Embiid
  • Coach You’d Most Like to Play For: Gregg Popovich
  • Best Home Court Advantage: Warriors

LeBron winning Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team has to be an implicit slap in the face to Kyrie Irving. I’m glad to see Thomas and Carter deservedly recognized.

Lastly, the union awarded a Teammate of the Year on each team:

Dirk Nowitzki won the NBA’s Teammate of the Year – which is voted on by current players after a panel of former players selects nominees – then didn’t even win for his own team here? That’s just weird.

76ers take 1 big step (and a couple smaller ones, too)

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Even the NBA’s worst team has only a 25% chance of getting the No. 1 pick in the lottery.

The 76ers made their own luck.

Philadelphia finished with the league’s fourth-worst record, fell to No. 5 in the lottery, swapped picks with the Kings to move up to No. 3 thanks to a two-year-old trade then traded up to No. 1 by enticing the Celtics with a future draft pick (another pick acquired in that heist of Sacramento, a Lakers pick or one of the 76ers’ own).

Whew, that’s some Process.

No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz is the latest prize in the 76ers’ reverse engineering of the NBA’s system, joining Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. That’s an exciting young core that might be ready to lift Philadelphia from years of tanking to playoff contention.

To that end, the 76ers signed J.J. Redick to a one-year, $23 million contract. The 33-year-old has already shown signs of decline, but he’s an upgrade over any shooting guard on the roster. If their other young players are ready to make the leap, the 76ers didn’t want to learn the hard way they were a starting shooting guard short of reaching the postseason. In securing an immediate boost, Philadelphia essentially paid extra for flexibility. Redick’s salary will almost certainly outpace his production, the 76ers ensured no lasting negative effects beyond this season.

The same logic could apply to Amir Johnson, who signed a one-year, $11 million contract. But Philadelphia’s frontcourt depth and the dreary market for bigs make that deal less defensible – especially if Johnson’s salary could have been reappropriated for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who surprisingly became an unrestricted free agent) or paying Robert Covington more up front (as opposed to in future seasons, when the savings might matter more) in a renegotiation-and-extension.

With about $15 million in cap space remaining, the 76ers will likely still renegotiate-and-extend Covington once they can in November. He fits well into a deep crop of solid assets beyond the big three: Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Jahlil Okafor, Justin Anderson, T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Furkan Korkmaz (the No. 26 pick last year who signed this year), all Philadelphia’s own future first-rounders plus one extra (from either the Kings or Lakers – or both, if if Philadelphia’s own pick is conveyed to Boston). The 76ers even added to the pool this summer with a couple draft-and-stash selections – No. 25 pick Anzejs Pasecniks and No. 36 pick Jonah Bolden (who I’m personally quite high on).

That grouping alone would be envy of many teams. And then there are still Embiid, Simmons and Fultz – the trio that will determine how quickly the brighter days ahead arrive in Philadelphia.

The 76ers’ revival is built on Embiid’s back – and feet and knees. He could be a generational player, but injuries have already cost him 215 games in three years and limited him to just 25 minutes per game in the 31 he has played.

Though it’s the one that looms far beyond, Embiid’s health isn’t the only potential pitfall this season. Rookie point guards – whether it be Fultz or Simmons – rarely lead good teams. It’s a position that typically requires fine-tuning.

Still, this is just the start in Philadelphia. Making the playoffs this season would be nice, but bigger goals down the road appear attainable either way.

The 76ers were in great shape entering the summer. They’re in even better shape now.

Offseason grade: B