Nets force a Game 7 with blowout win over Raptors

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The fans in Brooklyn once again had a tough time being seated for a 7 p.m. tip-off before Game 6, a situation that is the polar opposite of the love the Raptors have received from an entire nation of fans embracing the team during its first postseason run in six years.

But none of that had any effect on the Nets’ ability to focus.

Down three games to two and facing elimination, Brooklyn’s veterans brought an intensity level and a will to win that a much younger Raptors squad was simply unable to match. The Nets led by as many as 16 points before the first period was finished, and the lead reached 26 before Brooklyn settled on a 97-83 final that forced a Game 7 in Toronto on Sunday.

The veterans are the strength of this Nets team, and two of them made a point to set the tone early. Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce each scored nine first quarter points on a combined 7-of-9 shooting, and Brooklyn as a team was red-hot in finishing the opening frame shooting better than 68 percent.

Deron Williams has been largely missing in this series in the eyes of Nets fans, but he came through in a big way when the team’s season was on the line. Not only did Williams finish with a team-high 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting to go along with five rebounds and four assists, but he hit plenty of big shots after being noticeably hobbled by an ankle injury he sustained in the third.

Jason Kidd gets some credit here too for tweaking things, starting Alan Anderson in place of Shaun Livingston, and playing Andray Blatche almost 21 minutes, while rookie Mason Plumlee was all but dropped from the rotation.

The Raptors put together a couple of big runs during the second half, which might give them something to build on as they head back to Toronto for the deciding game in the series. They cut it to 10 twice in the game’s final five minutes, but Brooklyn was able to stabilize each time, before Williams hit a dagger of a three with 1:13 remaining to seal the win for the Nets.

The home court advantage that mattered little to the Nets in Brooklyn may be of a much larger benefit to these young Raptors in Game 7. But a team full of veteran star players is extremely difficult to eliminate no matter the venue, and Toronto will have to mature extremely quickly in order to put the type of effort together it will take to knock off these Nets, and advance to the second round.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.