Grizzlies start hot, finish strong in another overtime, takes 3-2 series lead over Thunder

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Four straight overtime games.

For fans this Grizzlies/Thunders series has been a classic. For the coaches it has cost them sleep, stress and maybe a couple years off the end of their lives.

For the players… well, Memphis is good with it right now.

Memphis started hot opening the game on a 10-2 run, and with smart execution (they played faster, got into their offense earlier and kept making the extra pass) they led by 20. But nobody runs away with a game in this series — Oklahoma City responded with a 13-0 run of their own, they got points from Caron Butler as the much needed scoring option. This was a game again.

An overtime game. Again. But in overtime Mike Miller hit two threes and a missed Kevin Durant free throw — after Joey Crawford interrupted his rhythm — plus a Serge Ibaka tip in that was a fraction of a second too late gave Memphis a 100-99 win.

Memphis now leads 3-2 and is heading home with the chance to eliminate the Thunder on Thursday night.

If the Grizzlies play like they did early in this game offensively come Thursday they may well pull off the upset.

Memphis put up 30 points in the first quarter, shooting 60 percent, as they worked hard to get into their offense more quickly, which let them get deeper into their sets and that led to an extra pass and a good look. Also their bigs running the floor and beating their match down the court led to some easy buckets on rim runs. As they have done all series the Grizzlies had balanced scoring — the leading scorer for Memphis was Mike Miller with 21.

Meanwhile, early on the Thunder were just a lot of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook isolations. Those two combined for 55 points, but again the Thunder were a team looking for a third scorer. Down 18 there were a few boos from a frustrated crowd.

Enter Caron Butler in the third. He had 12 of his points in the second half and sparked a run an 27-6 OKC run to close out the third and start the fourth. The Thunder executed their offense better and, more importantly, just started hitting looks they had missed earlier. They also got help — Westbrook had 30 points, Durant 26 points (on 24 shots) but both Butler and Serge Ibaka had 15 and that was the extra scoring the Thunder offense needed.

Memphis started the fourth 0-of-7 shooting, opening the door for a Thunder squad growing confident and more aggressive with their defense. Then with a Durant three the Thunder took a one point lead with 6:30 left.

That’s when Memphis responded with 9-3 run of their own on 3-of-3 shooting. It’s been like that all series — one team makes a run, the other responds.

The Grizzlies thought thy would win this in regulation — up two with 28 seconds to go they just needed a foul or a shot — instead Westbrook striped Mike Conley out top and tied the game with a breakaway dunk with four seconds left.

Memphis had a last shot, but they made two passes (Conley to Gasol to Zach Randolph) and the shot didn’t get up in time. Memphis scored just 14 in the fourth quarter.

So it was overtime. Again.

In overtime the Thunder were down two with 27.5 seconds left and Memphis played good defense and forced a contested shot at the buzzer — but Tony Allen went over the back of Kevin Durant going for the rebound. Foul and two shots. Durant drains the first, one point game. As he goes to take the second referee Joey Crawford blows his whistle and sprints out to stop the shot, then went over to the scorers table to correct the number of team fouls on the scoreboard. Then Durant gets another chance to shoot, and with a blown rhythm misses.

However the Thunder defended well and down 1 with 2.6 seconds left OKC got one last chance — a Kevin Durant three missed but Ibaka was right there for the tip in and shot. Just after the buzzer sounded. The referees looked at the replay and made the right call, Ibaka did not get it off in time.

Memphis won. They can close out the series Thursday, but will probably need overtime to do it.

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.

Meek Mill gets out of jail, takes helicopter to 76ers-Heat, rings bell pregame

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Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid had been one of the most notable NBA players leading the charge for the #FreeMeekMill movement. The rapper Meek Mill, a Philadelphia native and Sixers fan, has been incarcerated for violating the terms of his probation multiple times.

At the heart of the movement to free Meek Mill is the idea of comparative justice, that he has been unfairly targeted because of his race as an absorber of punishment from the penal system despite it being a decade since he committed his crime. People from Embiid to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft have made their voices heard on the subject.

Today, Meek Mill was released from prison and was sent a special gift: the opportunity to fly via helicopter, provided by 76ers minority owner Michael Rubin, to Game 5 between the Sixers and Miami Heat.

When he arrived at the game, the rapper rung the ceremonial bell before tip-off.

Not a couple of hours fresh out of the joint.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.