The Extra Pass: Vince Carter had a front row seat for the “Miracle on Hudson” plane crash

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LOS ANGELES — “They have to be shooting a movie or something.”

That was Vince Carter’s first thought.

Five years ago yesterday, the morning of Jan. 15, 2009, Carter woke up in the bedroom of his home in Edgewater New Jersey, and was lazily sitting on his bed just looking out the window of his home with a view of the Hudson River, when into his peripheral vision he sees a plane flying entirely too low and looking like it was going down.

That turned out to be US Airways Flight 1549 out of LaGuardia Airport — the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane. It had taken off like thousands of other flights out of that airport when a couple geese flew in front of the plane, got sucked into the engines and sent the plane down. Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III became a national hero that day for safely landing the plane on the water in a way that all of the 155 passengers and crew survived.

Carter had no idea what he was witnessing at first.

“I was sitting in my bedroom looking out the window, and all of a sudden, like not a minute later a freakin’ plane lands in the Hudson,” Carter said before his current team the Mavericks took on the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night.

“I was sitting in my bed and it was literally right outside my window,” Carter said. “So when the plane lands, I see the current turning the plane, I see the door open and the first two people jump out, and it was cold that day, and they start swimming, swimming, then they turn around because it’s a little too cold and the next thing you know everybody is on the wing.”

Within a couple minutes Carter was outside talking to his neighbors, they heard the sirens of the first responders racing to the scene, and they saw the rescue efforts first hand as ferries started to swing by and pick up the stranded passengers.

You can put Carter in the Sullenberger fan club, one a lot of people were in after that day.

“When it hit the water it was a smooth landing, like he was landing on a runway…” Carter said while using his hands to show how it came in relatively parallel to the Hudson, like a seaplane landing. “He put it right down, smooth. I mean of course that big ol’ plane hitting the water was loud, there was a ‘boom’ but the plane was intact. It was amazing.”

Carter called the Nets’ trainer and said he was going to be a little late to shootaround that day, and this was a pretty good excuse. Carter said he tried to offer tickets to Sullenberger for the game that night, but as you might imagine by that point the pilot had a few other things going on.

“I was in awe that it happened and I got to witness it.”

So how did that impact a guy whose job has him flying around 100 times a year?

“You’re a little leery of course when you get on planes,” he said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘he’s not flying? I’m nervous.’ It was just amazing, he saved a lot of lives.”

—Kurt Helin

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Wizards 114, Heat 97: Maybe it was the trade, maybe it was the distraction of Greg Oden being activated for the first time this season. But whatever it was, Miami was nowhere near ready to compete when the ball was tipped in Washington on Wednesday. The Wizards scored 43 points in the first quarter, and led by as many as 34 points before the end of the first half. The only thing relevant in this one was Oden, who dunked almost immediately after entering the game, and finished with six points and two rebounds in just over eight minutes of action. — Brett Pollakoff

Bulls 128, Magic 125 (3OT): Triple-overtime games can make for some gaudy stat lines, and this one was no different. Magic rookie Victor Oladipo scored a career-high 35 points, to go along with eight assists in 57 minutes of action. Jimmy Butler played over 60 minutes for the Bulls, the most anyone’s played since Jalen Rose played 61 for the Pacers back in 2001. — BP

Sixers 95, Bobcats 92: Thaddeus Young hit a three-pointer with a few seconds remaining that allowed the Sixers to snap a four-game losing streak. Spencer Hawes finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists in 38 minutes, and Michael Carter-Williams added 20, eight, and seven to the winning cause. — BP

Celtics 88, Raptors 83: Go ahead, try to predict this league. The Raptors had recently emerged as the third best team in the East, and had been playing much better as of late, while the Celtics came into this one riding a nine-game losing streak. So naturally, Boston came away with the victory. Toronto shot just 38.5 percent from the field and got crushed on the boards, thanks largely to the work of Jared Sullinger who finished with 25 points and 20 rebounds. — BP

Grizzlies 82, Bucks 77: Milwaukee has the worst record in the league, and managed just 10 points in the first quarter and 17 in the fourth, yet the Grizzlies will take the win nonetheless, as it gets them back to .500 on the season. Marc Gasol went scoreless with five rebounds in under 15 minutes in just his second game back from injury, and Mike Conley was the only Memphis starter to finish in double figures scoring. Brandon Knight continued his stellar play for the Bucks, and led all scorers in this one with 27 points. — BP

Kings 111, Timberwolves 108: The narrative surrounding Rudy Gay throughout his career just hasn’t held true during the short amount of time he’s played for the Sacramento Kings. Instead of a high-volume chucker, Gay has been the model of efficiency since being traded from the Raptors, and his performance against the Timberwolves was yet another example of his transformation. Gay finished with a game-high 33 points on 12-of-19 shooting, to go along with five rebounds and six assists. — BP

Rockets 103, Pelicans 100: James Harden hit a jumper with 28 seconds remaining that ultimately gave the Rockets the victory, but he may have pushed off on Austin Rivers to create the space to shoot it, so purists may not have been thrilled with the game’s ultimate result. Harden is talented, but he’s also skilled in using the rules of the game to his advantage; often times, the way the game is officiated will determine whether or not Harden has a strong showing. He finished with 26 points and seven assists in this one, and negated a strong performance from Eric Gordon, who finished with 35 points on just 17 shots, to go along with six assists. — BP

Spurs 109, Jazz 105: San Antonio was in control of this game from when they went on a 20-5 run in the third quarter, and in typical Spurs fashion you expected them to coast in for the victory. But just like when the Spurs blew a big lead to the Grizzlies last week, Utah came back from 10 down inside the last two minutes thanks to 11 fourth-quarter points from Trey Burke and 14 in the final frame from Enes Kanter. Utah’s size made you realize how much San Antonio misses Tiago Splitter. Tony Parker had 25 points and 9 assists for the Spurs. — Kurt Helin

Suns 121, Lakers 114: The Lakers made a push after Nick Young got ejected in the second quarter and pushed their lead up to 13. However, the Suns closed the first half on an 11-2 run and for much of the second half it was close. Channing Frye had 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and the Suns held on for he win. Gerald Green led the way for the Suns with 28 points, Markief Morris added 24. The Lakers got 18 from Chris Kaman. — KH

Trail Blazers 108, Cavaliers 96: The score deceives that this game was close for 45 minutes, but in the final 2:31 Portland went on a 12-0 run to make it look like they were in more control than they were. LaMarcus Aldridge scored nine straight points in that window and he finished with 32 points. Damian Lillard chipped in 28. Portland is now a ridiculous 29-9 on the season. Luol Deng had 25 points to lead the Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving had 21 points but needed 20 shots to get there. — KH

Nuggets 123, Warriors 116: Rule number one in basketball is the team that shoots better wins — Denver shot 54.2 percent Wednesday night, Golden State 43.3 percent. That’s your ball game. The Nuggets went on a 13-4 run to take the lead at the end of the first quarter then answered every Warriors’ run the rest of the way. Ty Lawson continued his run of strong play finishing with 22 points (his ability to finish through contact is amazing) and 11 assists. Good Nate Robinson showed up and had 24 off the bench. Mostly, Denver is good when Randy Foye is good and he was this night with 21. David Lee had 28 points and 13 rebounds, Stephen Curry added 24 for Golden State. — KH

Clippers 129, Mavericks 124: This felt like a mid-80s Denver Nuggets game — fast paced, lots of threes, not a lot of defense but a whole lot of entertainment. Doug Moe would have loved it. The Clippers got the win and we broke the game down in more detail here. — KH

Close-knit Pacers’ bond gets tested with season on the line

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indiana Pacers have been winning together, losing together and fighting together all season.

Now they need to demonstrate their resilience once more as they try to save their season by rebounding from an emotional loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Nobody thought we’d be in this situation,” Victor Oladipo said, referring to the playoffs. “It’s important for us to stick together now because we’ve seen where it can go, where it can take us and it’s great.”

The immediate problem is recent history doesn’t bode well for the underdog Pacers, who trail 3-2 with Game 5 set for Friday in Indianapolis.

Cleveland swept Indiana in the first round last year, winning four games by a record low 16 total points. James has won 10 straight close-out games and has never lost a first-round series. Indiana, meanwhile, is trying to reach the conference semifinals for the first time since 2014.

But the Pacers don’t care about stats, projections or conventional wisdom – as they’ve proven repeatedly this season.

Following last summer’s Paul George trade, Indiana seemed bound for the draft lottery. Instead, general manager Kevin Pritchard cobbled together a rare combination of proven, often overlooked veterans, emerging stars, good shooters and willing defenders.

It turned out to be a perfect fit.

Indiana won 48 games, six more than it did with George last season, and is a win away from forcing the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs into a decisive seventh game.

Cleveland has learned one lesson the hard way: The fifth-seeded Pacers won’t go away. They won 12 times after facing double-digit deficits and eight times after trailing by 15 or more during the regular season.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise Indiana has erased double-digit deficits in four straight game and wound up taking the lead or having a chance to win late in all four in this series.

“That team does not quit,” James said, moments after his buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave Cleveland a 98-95 win to salvage a win Wednesday after Pacers wiped out a 12-point second half to deficit to tie the score in the final minute.

Playing hard until the final buzzer has become the norm for these Pacers.

And they’re savoring every precious second, too.

Nate McMillan recently called this one of the most enjoyable seasons he’s had as a head coach because he knows what he’ll get every day – energy from Oladipo and Lance Stephenson, steadiness from Darren Collison and Corey Joseph, leadership from Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic and an eagerness to develop from Myles Turner and other young players.

With each player embracing their role, the Pacers have formed a cohesive bond.

Six players actually approached Pritchard before the trade deadline and pleaded with the GM not to make any moves because they wanted to close out this season together. Pritchard said it a first for him, and kept the team intact.

“It kind of is like a college team bond,” said Young, one of the six players who approached Pritchard. “Typically you have a lot of NBA teams that don’t bond as well as you do in college when you’re living with each other and you’re around each other all the time. You know in the NBA, you spend time with your family, things like that.

“This team we all hang out together, we go to dinner together on the road. We do everything together.”

The difference has shown.

After enduring an early and sometimes uneven learning curve early this season, the Pacers finally got in sync in early January and played better than anyone, perhaps even McMillan or Pritchard could have anticipated.

From Jan. 6 through the end of the regular season, they went 29-15 and allowed 101.3 points per game and didn’t lose more than two in a row.

They moved up three spots in the Eastern Conference postseason pecking order and headed into their latest round against James having won three of the four regular-season matchups. The Pacers even routed the Cavs on their home court in Game 1.

Since then, though, the series has been all-out slugfest and James has gotten the knockout blow in three times.

Now, with their season on the line, the Pacers need to provide a unified front one more time Friday night just to keep this season alive.

They’re ready.

“Sure, we’ve still got something to prove. No one believes we can beat Cleveland,” Bogdanovic said. “It’s about trust in what we’ve got in each other.”

More AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: J.B. Bickerstaff agrees to three-year deal to coach Memphis Grizzlies

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We heard rumblings that the Memphis Grizzlies were looking to remove the interim distinction from J.B. Bickerstaff’s title and make him acting head coach. Now, the team has made their move.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Memphis agreed to a three-year deal with Bickerstaff on Thursday, making him the new head coach of the team.

Bickerstaff, 39, was previously the associate head coach of the Grizzlies under David Fizdale. Fizdale was fired in November, and Bickerstaff took over as interim head coach.

This has been a long time coming for Bickerstaff, who was a longtime assistant coach in Charlotte, Minnesota, and Houston. Bickerstaff took over the Rockets job in 2015 when the team fired head coach Kevin McHale.

The task ahead of Bickerstaff will not be easy. Next season he will get Mike Conley back from injury, but the roster is still in the process of being rebuilt and Marc Gasol, 33, seems like constant trade bait. The Western Conference is tough, but finally Bickerstaff gets his shot at the big job on a permanent basis.

Enes Kanter helps pardon Thunder fans who left playoff game early (VIDEO)

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Enes Kanter may be leaning toward opting in to his $18 million player option with the New York Knicks this summer (I would) but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have love for fans in Oklahoma City.

In a video posted to social media on Thursday, Oklahoma City mayor David Holt and Kanter appeared together to give pardons to the Thunder fans who left early during the team’s Game 5 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony staved off elimination with their win against Utah, giving the Jazz a 3-2 series lead as they head back to Salt Lake City on Friday night.

Kanter, who played for the Thunder from 2015-2017, says he is still friendly with many of the players on the Oklahoma City roster. Kanter also played for the Jazz for the first three-and-a-half years of his career.

Via Twitter:

I personally don’t understand leaving a game early. Your car is trapped underground or is parked six miles away on some back alley, you’re not leaving any game quickly. The train is going to be jam packed and will sit at the stadium station for like 28 more minutes after you board, no matter when you board.

Don’t leave games early, folks. Try to haggle with the people working the concession stands to give you another soft pretzel for free. Get your money’s worth.

Giannis Antetokounmpo slashes Celtics, forces Game 7 in Boston

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The Milwaukee Bucks needed a big game from Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. Boy, did they get it.

After a disappointing in Game 5 in Boston, Antetokounmpo was fearsome in his return to the Bradley Center for Game 6. The Bucks were able to keep their defensive intensity up, and we got the game most of us expected from Antetokounmpo in a return to his home court: complete domination on the biggest stage.

The game started out much the way we’ve seen in this series — sort of kooky. It was another low-scoring affair as the first half closed with Milwaukee leading, 49-38. The Celtics couldn’t get things rolling offensively, and were saved by baskets in the paint in the first quarter. Boston scored just 15 points in the second period, saving themselves with makes from beyond the 3-point line.

The real story of the game came in the second half. Antetokounmpo would not let up from the gas, scoring both as the Bucks center and on the break. Milwaukee’s franchise player matched up against Al Horford all night long, and the battle between the two was intense. Both seemed to want to muscle each other, and for different stretches they both got the better of each other.

Boston battled back, eventually tying the game at 61-61 with 4:21 to go in the third. The Celtics’ charge was led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Horford, all three of whom allowed Boston to make up a 14-point deficit. Boston played carefully, allowing their young wings to do the work. Despite not having a fastbreak point until late in the third, they also didn’t have their first turnover of the second half until there was little more than three minutes to go in the same quarter. Antetokounmpo, who couldn’t let Boston’s run continue after the tie, turned on the jets to close the quarter and Milwaukee entered the fourth period with a 9-point lead they would never cede.

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with the matchup between Antetokounmpo, Horford, and Horford’s backup in Aron Baynes. Several times, Antetokounmpo ran full speed after starting with the ball on the opposite free-throw line, going right at either Horford or Baynes. But the Bucks star wasn’t completely selfish. He managed to stave off tunnel vision, at times finding teammates on his spins to the bucket.

A lot of talk was made about Antetokounmpo’s poor performance in Game 5, a career playoff-low of 16 points on just 10 field goal attempts. The Greek Freak made sure that didn’t happen again, finishing the game with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton were amped up as well. Both finished with 16 points, and as a team the Bucks scored 25 points on the break, with 50 points coming from the painted area, topping Boston in both regards.

For the Celtics, Tatum led the way with 22 points on six-of-14 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. Terry Rozier continued his playoff emergence, scoring 18 points while nabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists. Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Game 7 now heads back to Massachusetts, where we will see if Antetokounmpo can keep his foot to the floor and drive the Bucks past the second-seeded Celtics on Saturday.