Al Jefferson, Ricky Rubio, Greg Stiemsma

Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Jazz win keeps playoff dream alive

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while watching the news out of Boston with horror and yet were reminded of the heroism of both first responders and everyday Americans who did what they could to help….

Jazz 96, Timberwolves 80: Utah needed to win to keep its playoffs hopes alive, so it played with a level of energy (particularly defensively) the Timberwolves ultimately could not match.

This was a game where the Jazz would pull ahead then Minnesota would make a push to close the gap. It happened in the first half, but Utah stretched the lead up to nine at halftime. Then Minnesota started the second half shooting 1-of-10 and the Minny lead got up to 14. Again, the Timberwolves closed the gap, down tow 3 at 61-58. But then center Greg Stiemsma picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench, meaning the smaller and not as good defensively Dante Cunnungham and he could not contain Al Jefferson — Utah’s bug man had 22 on the night and led the charge as the Jazz pulled away.

Utah needs to beat Memphis Wednesday and hope the Rockets beat the Lakers that night for Utah to slip into the eight seed.

Nuggets 112, Bucks 111: Denver pulled out a victory that kept them in control of their own destiny in terms of securing the three seed for the playoffs, which would be monumental for the team with the best home record in the league in any first round matchup.

Ty Lawson hit the game-winner with 9.3 seconds remaining, a pull-up jumper in the lane that was an exceptionally wide open look given the circumstances.

The Bucks put up a fight, however, and Monta Ellis did all he could personally to try to get his team this win. Ellis finished with 38 points, and scored 19 of those in the fourth, including a four-point play on the possession before Lawson’s game-winner briefly gave his team the one-point lead.

Milwaukee is on a huge slide heading into the postseason, having won just three of its last 15 games, while currently riding a nine-game road losing streak.
—Brett Pollakoff

Suns 119, Rockets 112: The Rockets allowed the Suns to score season highs in the first quarter (39) and the first half (67), and also let P.J. Tucker score a career high 21 points in dropping this one in Phoenix, which also likely dropped Houston’s position in the playoff picture.

A loss to the Lakers on Wednesday would give the Rockets the eight seed in the West, based on L.A. owning the tie-breaker should the teams finish with identical records.

Houston would be the seven seed if they beat the Lakers and the Warriors win as expected in Portland, and could still get to sixth with a win and a Warriors loss.

James Harden finished with 16 points on 5-18 shooting, but had only four after his 12-point first quarter. Harden had a collision with Luis Scola that appeared to affect his right knee, which may have been the reason for the decline in production. Kevin McHale said afterward that Harden told him he was fine (which is why he played 34 minutes). Harden left without speaking to reporters.
—Brett Pollakoff

Bulls 102, Magic 84: Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson returned from injury, and though they played just 35 combined minutes, their presence could be very important against the Wizards on Wednesday. Chicago is just a half game back from the No. 5 seed behind the Hawks, who finish the season hosting the Raptors and playing at the Knicks. Carlos Boozer (22 points) and Luol Deng (18 points and eight assists) kept the Bulls within striking distance, but their defensive bigs might need to do a little more in the finale.
— Dan Feldman

Grizzlies 103, Mavericks 97: It was a tale of two halves for Memphis. In the first half they put up only 38 points, in the second half it was 65 and the Grizzlies came back to win (keeping alive their hopes of home court advantage in the first round.

Memphis wins with defense and that’s what they did in the second half — they forced 11 Dallas turnovers and used the easy points in transition to fuel their run. Jerryd Bayless led the way on that charge with 19 for the Grizzlies. It was a great win.

After the game, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was clearly frustrated with another bad O.J. Mayo performance (1-of-6 shooting, with 4 turnovers) and said to Jeff Caplan of NBA.com about Mayp;s inco, “The good news is there’s only an opportunity for one more.”
—Bret Pollakoff

Thunder 104, Kings 95: While every other team seemed to Oklahoma City wasn’t resting its two big stars — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played. Well, Westbrook played until he got ejected in the second half, but he played.

Durant was his usual self — he scored 29 points on 10-for-16 shooting. Westbrook added 21 and the Thunder pulled away in the second quarter and got the lead as large as 24 before the end of the Kings’ bench outplayed the end of the Thunder bench to get the score down to something respectable when the final gun sounded.

The scary part for the Kings was Tyreke Evans having to leave the game after a fall in the first quarter. He did not return and the team described his injury as a strained quad muscle.

With the win Oklahoma City got its 60th win of the season and secured the No. 1 seed in the West. The Thunder have home court advantage up to the finals.

Warrriors 116, Spurs 106: San Antonio rested all its big names (Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw) and yet their reserves hung around with Golden State. San Antonio got 18 first-half points from Gary Neal, another 10 from Patty Mills, and they just hung around. That was, until the fourth quarter when Stephen Curry started doing Stephen Curry-like things — he scored 11 in the quarter and sparked a 19-0 Warriors run that gave them a comfortable winning margin. Curry finished with 35 points on the night.

Heat 96, Cavaliers 95: Everyone makes a big deal whenever LeBron James returns to Ohio, even when he’s sitting out, as he did last night. But what about Norris Cole, who’s from Dayton and attended Cleveland State? In his return to Cleveland, Cole nearly broke LeBron’s run of five straight Heat triple-doubles. Cole finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, but he compensated for the missing assist with a game-clinching block of Kyrie Irving on the game’s final possession.
— Dan Feldman

Bobcats 106, Knicks 95: Chris Copeland (47 minutes), James White (43 minutes), Pablo Prigioni (42 minutes) and Steve Novak (41 minutes) each received career-high playing time. Even Rasheed Wallace came back to play four minutes. The Bobcats didn’t take the game as a joke, and Gerald Henderson (27 points on 16 shots) and Kemba Walker (23 points, 13 assists and one turnover) have Charlotte one game from avoiding the league’s worst record.
— Dan Feldman

Nets 106, Wizards 101: With nothing to play for in terms of playoff seeding, Brooklyn sat four of its five starters and gave Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Reggie Evans, and Keith Bogans all the night off.

The Nets found a way to win anyway, thanks to 20 points apiece from Kris Humphries and Andray Blatche, and seeing seven players in total score in double figures.

Brooklyn trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half, and had to rally from an eight-point deficit with just under 10 minutes to play to get the win, behind 11 fourth quarter points from Tyshawn Taylor and eight in the final period from Mirza Teletovic — both of whom would be household names if they got meaningful minutes against this dreadful Wizards team on a regular basis.
—Brett Pollakoff

Pistons 109, 76ers 101: Doug Collins reportedly told the 76ers he’s on his way out. Lawrence Frank might be gone, too. In a game with so much pending upheaval, once constant remained: Greg Monroe (27 points, 16 rebounds and four assists) owning Philadelphia this season.
— Dan Feldman

Draymond Green: ‘I’m never going to be careful’

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second quarter in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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Draymond Green answered the first three questions he faced today – each about not being suspended for kicking Steven Adams in the groin – with: “That is a great question,” “That is a great question” and “That is a great statement.”

Then, he got a little more revealing.

Green, via Tim Kawakami of Talking Points:

I’m never going to be careful; I’m just going to be me and the game will play out the way it will play out.

Green should be more careful.

1. He’s reached the playoff limit of flagrant-foul points without being suspended. Another flagrant 1 would cost him a game and a flagrant 2 would cost him two games. Even if he didn’t intentionally kick Adams in the groin, doing the exact same thing would draw another flagrant 2. Losing Green for two games would devastate the Warriors.

2. He frequently kicks out his legs on drives. It might be more remarkable he didn’t hurt anyone before this. if you take Green at his word – and I do on this – he doesn’t want to see anyone injured. He can do his part to decrease the odds of someone getting hurt.

There’s a way for Green to play with passion/swagger/emotion/tenacity while being careful, at least careful enough to avoid being reckless. He needs to find the line.

Report: James Borrego gets second interview with Rockets, including owner Leslie Alexander

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 09: Interim head coach James Borrego of the Orlando Magic looks on during a first half timeout against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on February 9, 2015 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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The Rockets were reportedly considering Mike D’Antoni or Stephen Silas (with Lionel Hollins as lead assistant) to be their head coach.

Then, they interviewed James Borrego and Adrian Griffin.

Apparently, those late interviews carried weight.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Leslie Alexander is getting involved in this process, apparently kiboshing Jeff Van Gundy. If Borrego is meeting with Alexander, that means something.

Borrego failed to impress during his interim stint with the Magic, but that might mean nothing more than that. Running a team from the start is different than taking over midseason.

The Rockets will surely ask about his experience in Orlando, and he’s getting a couple chances to explain it – and why his experience with the Spurs prepared him for this opportunity.

Warriors/Thunder Game 4 preview: Which small ball lineup wins?

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors shoots against Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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I wouldn’t say this is a must-win game for either team, but it’s standing next to must win with its arm around it. The Warriors don’t want to be down 3-1, it’s hard to picture them winning three straight in this series. The Thunder don’t want to have a 2-2 series with two games left at Oracle, where it will be difficult to win again. Here are four questions where the answer will help determine the outcome of this game, and maybe the series.

1) Which small ball lineup wins? Going into the series, I thought the Thunder would stay with bigger lineups because they didn’t want to go small and try to out Warrior the Warriors. Except that’s exactly what they did in Game 3 and they won definitively. Lineups with Kevin Durant at the four (with Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, and Serge Ibaka all getting time at center) where quicker, allowed for more switching, and it allowed the Thunder to get out and run more — and run it right down the throat of the Warriors small ball lineup. Golden State’s “death lineup” was -22, and Steve Kerr was right in saying that lineup (and the starters in general) tried to isolate against defensive mismatches rather than keeping the ball moving, they settled for quick shots, and the Warriors offense stagnated.

The key to the small ball lineup for the Thunder is the same that has driven the success of the Warriors’ small ball for the past two seasons — they still played great defense. The Thunder are long and athletic on the perimeter, but the combination of Durant and Adams or Ibaka still did a fantastic job of protecting the rim. Those stops turned into transition buckets the other way — Russell Westbrook and the Thunder players attacked the rim, and the Warriors played some of the worst transition defense we have seen from them. It may well come down to this again in Game 4: Which team’s small unit does a better job defensively, then can convert those stops into buckets at the other end.

2) Can Andre Roberson and Dion Waiters have another big game for Oklahoma City? The Warriors’ defensive strategy this series has been to ignore Roberson, put a rim-protecting big on him (Andrew Bogut or Draymond Green) and let them patrol the paint, daring Roberson to shoot and beat them. In Game 3, he was 3-of-5 from three, and while those came as part of the Thunder Can’t Miss run, if he is hitting and scoring it is a problem for Golden State. Dion Waiters used to be the guy to leave alone on this roster, but he has blossomed under Billy Donovan — he was 6-of-8 in the first three quarters of Game 3 and in these playoffs has played the best ball of his career. You know that Westbrook and Durant are going to score (and they scored very efficiently in Game 3), but if the Thunder are getting that kind of quality play from their role players they become almost impossible to stop.

One other thing to watch: When Stephen Curry picked up an early foul, the Warriors tried to protect him by putting him on Roberson, but that meant a big man had to guard an offensive threat that took them away from the basket. Suddenly the Thunder were in a layup line at the rim. Don’t expect that adjustment again — and if Steve Kerr is rolling out a lot of minutes for Anderson Varejao and Ian Clark again, it’s a bad sign.

3) Can Draymond Green take control in the paint? Forget the kick to Steven Adams’ groin… well, Thunder fans aren’t going to forget, they are going to boo Green mercilessly. But that’s not the point, that play and the punishment (a fine and a flagrant two but no suspension) are in the past. What matters for the Warriors is Green was awful in Game 3 — 1-of-9 shooting with four turnovers on offense, and his rotations and rim protection were a slow on defense. When you talk about what was wrong with the Warriors trainsition defense, it starts with Green — he looked stuck in mud all game. That can’t happen again if the Warriors want to win. They need All-Star, Top 10 player, world-class pest Green in Game 4. He is crucial to what they do. If he loses his poise (as he did in Game 3) or just has an off night, the Warriors are in trouble.

4) Is this the game where the Warriors figure out the Thunder?
Or, can they figure out the Thunder? Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game that they were not worried, his team had been in this position before — down 2-1 to Memphis last playoffs, and down 2-1 in the Finals to Cleveland. In each case they made an adjustment — ignoring Tony Allen against the Grizzlies, going small against the Cavaliers — and from there took over the series to sweep it out. They believe they can do it again, and it’s hard to bet against them because they have done it, they have shown versatility, and another gear not team seems to be able to match. But this series feels different — they already ignored Roberson and tried to play small and they are down 2-1. Is there a magic adjustment out there, or is it simply a matter of them executing what they like to do better against the most athletic defense they have faced in a playoff series? Just figuring out the Thunder is not that simple.

Less than a magical adjustment, the Warriors need to knock down shots. Not the rushed shots when they lost their poise during the Thunder’s second and third quarter run, but before that — the Warriors moved the ball and got good looks early, they just didn’t hit them. That can’t happen for them to win — this isn’t Portland anymore, the margin for error is too small.

Finally, and this is just obvious: Stephen Curry needs to be MVP Stephen Curry. The Thunder can throw athletic defenders at him, their bigs can challenge him a little, but the Warriors need him to be transcendent. Because Westbrook and Durant will be.

Kevin Durant: ‘They’re not going to suspend Draymond Green. He’s one of the premier players in the league’

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first quater in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
J Pat Carter/Getty Images
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Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations, insisted his decision to give Draymond Green a flagrant 2 rather than suspending him had nothing to do with Green’s star status or the Warriors’ place in league history.

But Kevin Durant doesn’t believe that.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Durant:

They’re not going to suspend Draymond Green. He’s one of the premier players in the league on arguably one of the best teams in the history of the game. They’re not going to suspend him. I didn’t even really think about it. I knew the league was going to let him play or fine him or upgrade him to a flagrant 2. We all knew that was going to happen. The league is about business.

Durant will probably get fined for this. Team employees questioning the league’s integrity is at the heart of why the NBA fines people. The league is trying to protect its image, and Durant completely blew that up.

I have no idea whether Durant is right. I can read VanDeWeghe’s mind as much as I can Green’s while he’s extending his foot toward Steven Adams‘ groin. I.e., I can’t. There’s definitely financial interest in extending the Western Conference finals (which the Thunder lead 2-1) keeping the best players on the floor and having bigger markets advance deeper into the playoffs. But there’s also financial interest in people believing the NBA is fair. It’s not always clear how the league balances those sometimes-competing forces.

Here’s what I know: This is getting fun. It was fun when Russell Westbrook was involved in the Green controversy. It’s even better with Durant looping himself in.