The Extra Pass: Changes coming in threes; plus Sunday’s recaps

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If you’ve watched basketball this year and thought at some point, “Man, these teams sure are shooting a lot of threes”, you’re not alone. Firing up shots from behind the arc has become more of a standard practice for most NBA teams (except for good ol’ Memphis) and teams like the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers have taken it to the extreme and shocked the league early on.

Whether or not the success of the Suns and Blazers is sustainable remains to be seen, but their formula will be readily adapted. More and more, we’ll see teams crank up the volume on three-point attempts. Basketball has already changed quite a bit in that regard over the last few years, but we may be in store for even more coming soon:

D.J. Foster

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Warriors 108, Cavaliers 104 (OT): Cleveland scored 64 points by halftime, yet managed just 40 in the second half and overtime session combined. No one beyond Kyrie Irving was consistently effective, and his huge three-pointer that was heavily contested by Klay Thompson was the reason that the Cavs were able to force the extra session. David Lee managed just nine first half minutes (and zero points) due to picking up three early personal fouls, but he finished the game with 19 points before fouling out with 3:31 to play. Stephen Curry finished with 29 points and 11 assists in more than 48 minutes of action, and hit the key step-back long two with 13 seconds remaining to seal it.

Magic 109, Hawks 102: Orlando got this victory by shooting 55.4 percent from the field as a team, dominating in points in the paint by a margin of 20, and seeing seven of its players score in double figures. Arron Afflalo continued to put up All-Star numbers in finishing with a team-high 21 points on 10 shots in just over 42 minutes of action.

Thunder 117, Rockets 86: This was a schedule loss for Houston more than anything else, as the Rockets were playing their fourth game in five nights and were on the second game of a back-to-back set. Considering the previous three were all victories, including one on the road against the Spurs, the team likely won’t be too crushed by this singular result. Kevin Durant was unstoppable, and finished with 33 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in just over 38 minutes of action. Dwight Howard and James Harden each finished in single digits scoring and combined for 17 points — five less than the Thunder’s Jeremy Lamb managed in 26 minutes for the Thunder off the bench.

Spurs 112, Kings 104: San Antonio needed a 31-17 fourth quarter to pull this one out, and got it thanks to 10 points apiece from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in the final frame. The Spurs put together a 16-4 run over the game’s final 4:58 to seal it, negating strong performances from DeMarcus Cousins (29 points, 14 rebounds), Rudy Gay (24 poiints, nine rebounds) and Isaiah Thomas (27 points, nine assists) in the process.

76ers 111, Lakers 104: Here is the bottom line — the Sixers have a deeper pool of solid NBA talent to draw from than the Lakers right now. Without Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol or Steve Nash, and with Xavier Henry going out after a knee injury (MRI Monday), the fact is the Lakers just do not have the quality bodies to hang. Los Angeles shot 37 percent and had 22 turnovers on the night. Still, they took a lead in the fourth but a 10-2 Sixers run late sealed the win. Thaddeus Young had 25, Evan Turner 22 for the Sixers.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.