Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Night of wild finishes all over NBA map

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while reading the oral history of Ace of Bass’ one hit….

Heat 98, Cavaliers 95: Crazy game. I mean certifiable, off its meds kind of game. Starting with a 40-minute delay at the start to fix a coolant leak in the scoreboard that was dripping fluid on the court. Then the Cavaliers were hot and went up 27 points. Then the Heat came back behind LeBron James’ triple double. Then… oh, just read our recap. Too much for this space. Just know Miami has 24 wins in a row now.

Grizzlies 90, Thunder 89 (OT): Marc Gasol became the hero when he tipped in Zach Randolph’s miss with 0.8 seconds left, but this game seemed set several times to have a different hero.

Kevin Durant scored 15 of his 32 points in the third quarter, making the game competitive after Oklahoma City fell behind by double digits. Kevin Martin made a 3-pointer with 1:25 left in regulation, snapping a 1-for-30 skid by Thunder 3-point shooters and giving Oklahoma City a game-best six-point lead. Jerryd Bayless scored seven points in the final 11 seconds of regulation, including the game-tying 3-pointer with 3.7 seconds left.

But in the end, Gasol fittingly closed a game in which both teams shot below 36 percent by handling a missed shot better than anyone else on the floor.
—Dan Feldman

Rockets 100, Jazz 97: This game was huge for the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture — the Rockets are now the seven seed and a full three games up on the nine seed Jazz (the Lakers split the difference, 1.5 back of the Rockets and 1.5 up on the Jazz). The Rockets didn’t secure a playoff spot with win, but it helps. A lot.

The Rockets were out to an early lead in this one, getting their buckets in transition and doing pretty much whatever they wanted. James Harden was getting to the free throw line all night — 17 of his 29 points came at the stripe. Jeremy Lin had 24 points on 13 shots. The Rockets were up as many as 26, and while the Jazz made it a little more interesting in the fourth quarter behind 14 points from Gordon Hayward (he finished with 27) the game never really felt in doubt.

Spurs 104, Warriors 93: Tim Duncan does not age. Well, that or he’s a Terminator. One or the other. He had 25 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks to be at the heart of the Spurs win. San Antonio took the lead with a 19-2 run in the second quarter (one sparked mostly by their bench) and held it the rest of the way. The Warriors made a fourth quarter comeback behind the efforts of Stephen Curry (24 points) and it was his free throws that cut it to a four point game with 3:30 left. But then the Spurs answered with a 12-3 run, with Duncan scoring 6 of the points and picking up an assist on a Manu Ginobili three.

With the win the Spurs are 2.5 games clear of Oklahoma City for best record in the West. With the loss Golden State, the six seed, is tied in the loss column with the seven seed Rockets.

Nets 113, Mavericks 96: When one team has two players who outperform everyone else on the other team by a wide margin, it’s pretty much a guarantee they’re going to win the game. And, in this contest, that was the case for Nets.

Deron Williams scored 31 points and handed out 6 assists in this one, absolutely torching his hometown Mavs in the process. Not to be outdone, however, Brook Lopez was even better that than, scoring 38 points while grabbing 11 rebounds in his demolition of the Mavericks’ frontline. Neither Net could be close to slowed down, much less stopped and it was on the backs of these two that the Nets were able to shoot 50.6% from the floor and get pretty much everything they wanted on offense all night.

And while the Mavericks did their best to keep up, they simply didn’t have enough. Dirk Nowitzki was hot all night, hitting 8 of his 10 shots to score 16 points. Chris Kaman also had a solid night offensively in scoring 14 points on 7-12 shooting. And while the Mavs were able to shoot 50% as a team, the difference was that they lacked the explosiveness that the Nets brought to this game and couldn’t overcome that with multiple complementary performances to Dirk and Kaman or by defending well enough where they wouldn’t need those bigger offensive nights.
—Darius Soriano

Knicks 106, Magic 94: It didn’t take long into Carmelo Anthony’s return for everyone to notice he was moving much better (after having his knee drained). Or for him to make a difference — Anthony had 7 first quarter points to help spark an early 19-4 run that gave the Knicks a lead they never relinquished. The Magic made some pushes and kept close at times (it was 51-46 Knicks at the half) but they could never close the gap all the way. J.R. Smith helped with that, scoring 22 points off the bench, and efficiently on just 16 shots.

Mike Woodson did not easy Anthony back into the game, he played nearly 33 minutes. But the Knicks needed him to hold off the feisty Magic.

Clippers 101, 76ers 72: Running, gunning Lob City was back in full force as the Clippers just controlled this game from the second quarter on and had no problems cruising to a win. It was tied after one quarter, but the Clippers opened the second quarter on an 11-1 run, and that was it. Chris Paul had 19 points, nine assists, six rebounds and five steals — and he sat most of the fourth quarter.

Hawks 98, Bucks 90: Atlanta won this game in the third quarter, when it held Milwaukee to 31.6 percent shooting and outscored them 29-16 behind 12 points in the quarter from Jeff Teague (who finished with 27 points and 11 assists). Al Horford had a big night of 26 points and 15 rebounds.

The Hawks remain the five seed in the East, two games back of the four-seed Nets (and home court in the first round) but also just one game up on six seed Chicago. The Bucks are the eight seed and while there is no chance of the 76ers catching them from behind they don’t look like they can catch seven seed Boston, either.

Hornets 87, Celtics 86: Anthony Davis may have only had 9 points and 8 rebounds, but his last second tip-in was the difference in this game, propelling the Hornets to the victory while leaving the Celtics struggling to figure out how it all went bad.

But, if the Celtics are looking for answers, they need only look at how much more physical the Hornets were than them in this game. The Hornets out-rebounded the Celtics 45-28, including an 11 to 4 edge on the offensive end. The Hornets also looked to attack the paint most of the night, taking over half of their shots in the restricted area and earning 26 foul shots in the process. Ryan Anderson was especially assertive in getting to the line, making 9 of his 11 attempts to help him score his team high 21 points. Eric Gordon (18 points) and Greivis Vasquez (13 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) were also very good in staying aggressive against a stingy Celtic defense.

On Boston’s side, it was Paul Pierce’s 28 points on only 9-17 shooting and Kevin Garnett’s 20 points on 9-16 shooting that kept them in the game while the rest of their team struggled to put together consistent offense. During a key stretch from late in the 3rd to the middle of the 4th quarter, the Celtics only scored 8 points which essentially allowed the Hornets to stay close enough to steal this game at the end.
—Darius Soriano

Wizards 88, Suns 79: John Wall (19 points and eight assists) bested Goran Dragic (18 points and 11 assists) in a matchup of good point guards on bad teams thanks to a little help from the Phoenix. The Wizards broke open a one-point game with a 15-0 second-quarter run, but the Suns’ shots during that run came from 17, 14, 26, 20, 17 and 23 feet — low-value distances.
Washington’s first win in Phoenix since 2006 gives the Wizards their fourth season sweep of a Western Conference team, adding to a hodge-podge group that already included the Nuggets, Hornets and Trail Blazers.
—Dan Feldman

Bobcats 107, Raptors 101: I watched maybe 10 minutes of this and it felt like two teams showing up to collect their paychecks as they play out the string. Not much else to report. Rudy Gay had 25 points and was in move with his jump shot. The Bobcats bench won the game, outscoring the Raptors bench 54-13.

Draymond Green is texting Joel Embiid advice during playoffs

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In Game 1 of their series, the Philadelphia 76ers — without Joel Embiid — blew the doors off the Miami Heat, winning by 27. It’s the kind of game that can lead a young team to overconfidence.

That’s when Draymond Green texted Joel Embiid some words of advice, reports Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“Draymond texted me after the first game when we blew Miami out,” Embiid recalled Monday. “He basically told me that it’s not going to be the same in Game 2. They came back and they won that game.”

Green was right, but it’s one of the harder things for young players to understand, how much the ground can shift game-to-game in the playoffs. For the first four games especially, matchups and strategies will change night-to-night, and around Game 5 that tends to settle down and become more about execution (and talent).

For the Sixers, everything in their series changed with the return of Joel Embiid. Unhappily wearing a mask, Embiid’s defensive presence in the paint slows the Heat attack and allows things like Philly’s Game 4 comeback win on the road. Now Embiid’s about to make his home playoff debut in Game 5 Tuesday night, with a chance to close out the series.

“The atmosphere was amazing, it was insane,” Embiid said of the home crowd in Games 1 and 2. “After going to Miami, I felt like nothing compared to it. … We’ve been almost perfect [at home] since the beginning of the year. It just shows you how much we need them. Especially myself, I play better in that type of environment. I need the fans to get into it and push me. That makes me elevate my game.”

Beyond the first round, in an East where the expected best teams — Toronto and Cleveland — have looked vulnerable, the door is open.

“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Embiid said. “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.