Sunday night NBA grades: Kevin Love makes his All-Star statement against Griffin

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while reading about how Charles Dickens’ classic “Christmas Carroll” almost didn’t get published…

source:  Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves. Kevin Love is not going to own up to it, but this came off as a “are all of you really voting for Blake Griffin as an All-Star ahead of me?” game. Love was about 20,000 votes back of Griffin for the last starting spot in the West as of a week ago, with that motivate Love came out looking to dominate the power forward matchup Sunday — 45 points on 15-of-23 shooting, plus he pulled down 19 rebounds. (To be fair, Griffin had 32 points and 10 boards, not a bad night.) Love also fouled Griffin out, getting a charge call in OT. That Minnesota didn’t get Love the ball with the game on the line late in this game (Pekovic got the shots) is a crime.

source:  Los Angeles Clippers’ frontline defense. Love and Nikola Pekovic combined for 79 points on just 51 shots, plus pulled down 33 rebounds — that the Clippers won this game talks about getting some good play elsewhere and some luck (thank you Kevin Martin). The Clippers didn’t deserve this the way their front line defended but L.A. made fewer mistakes down the stretch.

source:  Kevin Martin, Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota just keeps losing close game after close game — and Martin was at the heart of this one. He had 16 points but he killed them with 6 turnovers. The big one was with 8 seconds to go in regulation and Minnesota up two — they wanted to get the ball in his hands because he is so good as a free throw shooter. Martin ran into the backcourt to recieve the pass, tried to dribble as the defense came to foul and slipped a little, when that happened he got picked clean by Chris Paul, who made a pass to Jamal Crawford for the game-tying dunk. It went to overtime and again the Timberwolves were up two with just more than three minutes left, Martin made a nice play to get an offensive rebound, then he tried a blind pass out top to get away from pressure and threw it away. Darren Collison picked it up, got the breakaway dunk and tied the game.

source:   Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers. How do you get a “B” grade when you have a triple-double? When you go hunting for it — he played a spectacular game for three quarters but missed six of his last seven shots and was making plays to go after it. The result was he needed 15 shots to get the 12 points to go with his 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Still, early in the game he was just destroying all things Boston, including Courtney Lee’s ankles.

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.

Kevin Durant on Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I would tell him to play for himself’

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Kevin Durant was once the big star in a little city. The former Oklahoma City Thunder star now plays for the Golden State Warriors, and has a championship ring to his name after making a switch in 2016.

So Durant has at least some experience similar to that of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is currently leading the charge for the Bucks against the Boston Celtics in the first round, and he’s seen as the future in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo signed a 4-year, $100 million contract in the summer of 2016, so presumably he’ll be in Wisconsin for some time.

Meanwhile, Durant had some advice for Antetokounmpo, should he ask for it. In a feature on ESPN, Durant was quoted as saying he felt Antetokounmpo should be sure to have fun, and to play for himself.

Via ESPN:

What I would say to him, I would tell him to play for himself,” Durant said. “Because he’s the one out there putting in the work, he’s the one out there getting up in the morning staying committed to the game. Obviously [the comments about staying put] sounds good to the fans in Milwaukee and to the ownership, because he cares so much about wanting to please them and play well for them, and I get it. But his career is about him; it’s about whatever he wants to do and however he feels is right for him. And what type of basketball does he want to play? He’s not going to stay in Milwaukee if he’s not having fun playing the game.

That’s some pretty good advice, although factors surrounding Antetokounmpo will likely weigh the same as they did on Durant in OKC. The Bucks presumably need a new coach once their season ends. They’re currently helmed by interim coach Joe Prunty, who took over when Jason Kidd was fired earlier this year.

The Bucks also need to fill out their roster and find a way to stay healthy. The Thunder famously had roster issues (read: the James Harden trade) and eventually the lack of playoff success drove Durant to switch teams.

Milwaukee doesn’t seem close to that kind of juncture, although eventually things will flip for the young Bucks and fans and management will expect some kind of production in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in; series tied 2-2

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.