San Antonio Spurs v Houston Rockets

Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Heat continue streaking, Harden hits the game-winner to beat the Spurs

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while watching FGCU celebrate their trip to the Sweet 16 a thousand times.

Nets 102, Suns 100: The Nets were without Joe Johnson in this one, but early in the third quarter, when Brooklyn had increased its lead to 16 points, it seemed like it wouldn’t matter.

The Nets lost focus, however, and the Suns got high-energy performances from Goran Dragic, Wesley Johnson, and P.J. Tucker the entire second half, and were able to lead at the end of three and battle throughout the fourth to ensure the game came down to the final possession.

Wes Johnson had a 17-point third quarter that included hitting four straight from three-point distance, and Dragic finished a point shy of his career-high and just one rebound short of a triple-double, with 31 points, nine rebounds, and 12 assists. The Suns had more offensive rebounds in the game than they had on the defensive end (25 against 23), which was 10 more than the Nets hauled down from the offensive glass.

But the energy and hustle only went so far. C.J. Watson scored 12 big points off the bench for Brooklyn in the fourth quarter, and Kris Humphries had an interesting night that included three air balls and a missed dunk, yet his 17 points and eight rebounds overall were important contributions to the Nets’ sluggish victory.

Heat 109, Bobcats 77: Dwyane Wade sat this one out to rest a sore knee, but even then — and even when Charlotte raced out to a 19-8 lead — this game never felt in doubt. In part because these kind of comebacks are becoming the norm for Miami, in part because LeBron James was playing (32 points, 10 assists, 8 rebound). We broke this game down in more detail, if you like to read about routs. — Kurt Helin

Rockets 96, Spurs 95: Coming into this game Houston was 1-7 against the top four teams in the West and they wanted to prove they could play with the big boys. For their own psyche heading into the playoffs. Maybe they got that.

The Rockets were running, James Harden was gunning — he finished the game with 29 points on just 16 shots — and the Rockets were up double digits in the fourth quarter. Then Tony Parker happened. He went on a personal 10-0 run and scored 12 Spurs points in a row to lead them to a 93-89 lead with 1:45 remaining. The Spurs looked like they could put it away with a steal and Danny Green heading in for a layup, but Patrick Beverly blocked the shot, Harden got the ball in transition, found Chandler Parsons for a three and it was a new game. Parsons finished with 20.

Parker and Harden traded some free throws. When the Rockets needed a final shot you knew Harden was going to get the look first, and he was able to get to just above the free throw line, try to sell the foul call he wasn’t going to get, then hit the game winning jumper. Tim Duncan had a final chance for San Antonio but missed an elbow jumper.  It’s a good win for Houston, a team that is building confidence right now. — Kurt Helin

Mavericks 113, Jazz 108: Utah is a team that is supposed to be making a playoff push, but with this game they have lost four in a row and 9-of-11. They are now two games back of the Lakers in the loss column and they are toast without a winning streak.

This game was close until near the end of the third quarter, when the Mavericks went on a 20-2 run that spanned the quarters. It looked like Dallas would coast in but Utah made a desperation run late that got the lead all the way down to three. But that’s as close as it got. Mike James had 19 points and led seven Mavericks in double figures. — Kurt Helin

Sixers 117, Kings 103: The outcome was secondary to Kings fans — this was another “Here We Buy Night” where the fans filled the building to show they still support the team (just not so much the old owners). As part of that, they booed Spencer Hawes plenty (the Seattle native and former University of Washington player said he hoped the Kings were moved back to his home town).

The Sixers got some big nights — Jrue Holiday had 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists; Dorell Wright added 22 points; and Lavoy Allen had 20 off the bench. The Kings were much better when DeMarcus Cousins was on the floor, but he struggled with foul trouble and when he sat midway through the third quarter the Sixers pulled away and never looked back. — Kurt Helin

Thunder 103, Trail Blazers 83: Oklahoma City has won eight straight over teams that would miss the playoffs if the season ended today and lost three straight to would-be playoff teams. The Thunder won’t get a chance to prove themselves against the league’s best quite yet – they host Washington on Wednesday and play at Minnesota on Friday – but in the meantime, they’re finding ways to motivate themselves. They went on a 10-2 run after Scott Brooks’ third-quarter technical foul Sunday, and Serge Ibaka (zero points, one block and three fouls in the first half; 16 points, four blocks and zero fouls in the second half) apparently challenged himself to make his halves as polarizing as possible.

The Trail Blazers were plagued by the same issue that has done them in all season – their lack of a bench. The starters played too much (36 minutes per starter), and the reserves did too little (a combined 21 points and two rebounds among six players). — Dan Feldman

Hawks 104, Bucks 99: Milwaukee is now two games behind No. 7 seed Boston with 13 games left and running out of time to escape the No. 8 seed and a first-round matchup with the Heat. That’s because the Bucks allowed a game-ending 7-0 run by the Hawks, who are hanging onto the No. 5 seed.

Al Horford (24 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals) and Josh Smith (23 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks) scored crucial points during the deciding run, but Anthony Tolliver made a key contribution by offensively rebounding a teammate’s missed free throw – a play Tolliver called before it happened. — Dan Feldman

Bulls 104, Timberwolves 97: With Derrick Rose and now Joakim Noah out, Chicago showed off its long-possessed and under-appreciated supporting cast. Credit Tom Thibodeau for putting players like Nate Robinson (22 points and 10 assists), Jimmy Butler (20 points, nine assists and three steals) and Nazr Mohammed (10 rebounds in 22 minutes) in positions to succeed. And it wasn’t just Mohammed cleaning the glass. Chicago nearly had as many offensive rebounds (20) as the Timberwolves had defensive rebounds (26), and the Bulls smoked Minnesota on the other end, 32-6.

Derrick Williams (28 points) was a bright spot for the Timberwolves, looking less like the player who had a combined 24 points on 9-of-30 shooting in his last three games and more like the guy who averaged 19 points per game in his previous dozen. — Dan Feldman

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.