Marquese Chriss has 17 points, hot-shooting Suns beat Hornets 120-103

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PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns were 20th in the NBA in field goal percentage, making 45 percent of their shots on the season.

On Thursday night, they got hot.

Marquese Chriss scored 17 points and the Suns shot a season-best 59.7 percent in a 120-103 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

Chriss made 6 of 9 shots and missed roughly a full quarter after straining a calf early in the first period.

T.J. Warren added 16 points and eight rebounds, and Alan Williams had 16 points and 12 rebounds, including a layup with 2:46 to play that made it 114-99.

The Suns held the Hornets to 12 points in the fourth quarter and got 53 points from their bench. Phoenix made 39 of 58 two-point shots (67 percent).

“Our second unit played phenomenal,” coach Earl Watson said.

“We’ve got to play consistent like that. Moving the ball, screening away,” Suns guard Eric Bledsoe said.

Leandro Barbosa also had 16 points, and Devin Booker had 15 points, nine assists and six rebounds. The Suns are 8-4 against Eastern Conference teams at home this season.

Kemba Walker led Charlotte with 26 points.

“We never got them under control. Penetration, transition, we let them play to their strengths,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.

The Suns lost their halftime lead briefly early in the third quarter, but went on an 11-0 run that featured Chriss’ corner 3 to take an 80-70 lead with 7:15 to play.

Phoenix led by as many as 12 points in the third, but the Hornets whittled the deficit to 87-85 on Walker’s 3-pointer at the 2:53 mark.

The Suns led 94-91 entering the fourth after Marvin Williams was fouled by Booker with 0.4 seconds left and made three free throws.

Warren scored 12 points in the third quarter.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s six steals were a career high for the Hornets forward.

The Suns trailed by as many as 10 points in the first quarter but cut the Hornets’ lead to four by the time it ended. Williams had 13 points in the quarter for Charlotte.

After being behind for much of the first half, Phoenix took a 52-50 lead with Barbosa’s short bank shot with 3:22 left in the second quarter. Barbosa scored 10 points in the quarter after not playing in the first.

Walker had 18 first-half points for the Hornets, who trailed 61-58 at halftime after Phoenix made 13 of 19 shots in the second quarter.

“We just play in spurts,” Walker said. “We’re not making those effort plays that need to be made out there, which is getting back in transition.”

TIP-INS

Hornets: It took 61 games, but the Hornets finally played the Suns this season and will host them later this month. “It’s extra film work, little bit extra preparation,” Clifford said. … C Miles Plumlee missed his sixth straight game with a right calf strain.

Suns: Radio broadcaster Al McCoy will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor during a halftime ceremony Friday night when the Suns host Oklahoma City. McCoy has called games for 44 seasons. … The Suns played at home for the first time since Feb. 15. The All-Star break and three road games filled the schedule since then.

KAMINSKY INJURED

Hornets center Frank Kaminsky took a blow to his upper left arm colliding with Alan Williams in the fourth quarter and was taken to the locker room. He did not return and finished with 16 points. No update was given on Kaminsky’s condition but he had a wrap over his left shoulder after the game.

TWO TAKEOFFS FOR `AIRPLANE MODE’

Derrick Jones Jr., the runner-up in the NBA dunk contest at All-Star Weekend, took flight early in the fourth quarter with a jam off an alley-oop pass from Tyler Ulis. A few minutes later, the pair connected again for another lob that Jones, nicknamed “Airplane Mode,” threw down with his left hand. It gave the Suns a 105-97 lead with 7:43 to play.

GAME CHANGER

Ulis had eight points and a career-high eight assists in 23 minutes, the rookie from Kentucky earning praise from his coach. “Tyler Ulis changed the game,” Watson said, noting his defensive pressure and hustle to tire out Charlotte’s guards.

 

Rockets easily overcome James Harden’s horrid shooting night, win Game 2 over Timberwolves

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James Harden shot 2-for-18 – the worst field-goal percentage (11%) on so many attempts in a playoff game in nearly a decade and the worst ever in a first-round game.

The Rockets still won by 20 because of their stout defense, a strong supporting star in Chris Paul and Harden’s foul-drawing ability.

Houston’s took a 2-0 series lead with a 102-82 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday. Game 3 will be Saturday in Minnesota, but the top-seeded Rockets have seized firm control.

Every No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seed to take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven first-round series have won it. There’s little reason to believe Houston will become the exception.

The Rockets are no longer as reliant on Harden, the likely MVP who seemed to wear down last postseason.

They buckled down defensively before letting up in a fourth quarter that was entirely garbage time. Houston forced more turnovers (16) than allowed assists (15) and contested shot after shot.

It’s becoming increasingly clear the Timberwolves have no quick solution to the Karl-Anthony Towns problem, and it’s not simply a matter of deciding to feed him more. Yes, he can get favorable post matchups against the Rockets’ switching scheme. But Minnesota lacks quality entry passers. The Timberwolves are also short on shooters and need him to spread the floor – even if that skill is less-helpful after a switch. Towns scored just five points in 24 minutes tonight.

His teammates were barely, if at all, better. The focus has turned to Towns, but this was a far-wider letdown.

On the other hand, Paul (27 points and eight assists) led Houston’s offense. Gerald Green (21 points and 12 rebounds) got hot. Even Harden (7-of-8 on free throws) chipped in thanks to his elite foul-drawing ability.

The Rockets aren’t always the most enjoyable team to watch, and that was the case tonight. Mostly, because they put this game out of reach long before it actually ended.

Donovan Mitchell outplays Thunder Big 3 in fourth, Jazz win to even series

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Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell had 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Oklahoma City’s big three — Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony — were 0-of-15 shooting in the fourth.

That, in a nutshell, is how the Jazz bounced back from a 19-0 Thunder run in the third quarter that had OKC in charge of the game. It’s how Utah got the win Game 2 win, 102-95, to even the series as it heads to Salt Lake City.

“There was a time out (after the OKC run) where there was a just a determination, and we felt like we would rely on our defense, and that’s what we did,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “Donovan, obviously, his aggressiveness on the offensive end fueled us there.”

It was what fueled them all night. In Game 2, the Jazz defense was more settled and like itself than the opener, and that forced more isolation ball out of Oklahoma City — they had eight assists and nine turnovers in the first half. The Thunder were still getting buckets because Playoff P and Westbrook are just great scorers, but it wasn’t nearly as efficient as it had been.

For the Thunder, it was often the Russell Westbrook show, and he was scoreless in the second quarter and had just a couple of free throws in the fourth.

All of that made this a game it felt like the Jazz needed to win — there are few chances to steal a game on the road against a good team, and this was one. The game was defensive and played in Utah’s style.

Which is why it was devastating when the Thunder had their 19-0 third quarter run, turning a deficit into a 10-point lead. In that stretch, the Jazz missed shots, took a few bad ones, and turned the ball over in that run. Mitchell even missed an uncontested dunk in there.

When Mitchell struggled, other guys stepped up.

Derrick Favors had a huge game for Utah, finishing with 20 points and 16 rebounds, eight of them offensive. He was particularly impressive in the first half, when Mitchell struggled (with George draped all over him). Utah had nine offensive rebounds in the first half, six of those by Favors. Utah’s dominance on the glass was big for them, Utah got a second chance on 37.5 percent of their missed shots in the first half, which is far too high a percentage. Steven Adams battling foul trouble had a lot to do with that.

“The biggest thing for us, Derrick Favors played his ass off,” Mitchell said after the game. “When we were missing shots he was getting rebounds, I think he had a double-double almost at the half [note: he had 10 points, 8 rebounds at the half]. Without Fav we wouldn’t even be at this point.”

The other key was Ricky Rubio. He was being more judicious about when to shoot and was looking to set up teammates. However, when left open and able to shoot in rhythm, Rubio was hitting, he was 5-of-8 from three on his way to 22 points and nine assists. Rubio struggled with his shot inside the arc (1-of-8) but he hit the big buckets and kept the floor spaced when asked. he had seven fourth-quarter points.

But the fourth belonged to Mitchell, who showed exactly what he meant to this team all season — they are not in the postseason without him. Mitchell finished with 28 points to lead the Jazz.

For the Thunder, the shots that fell in Game 1 did not in Game 2, much as it has been night to night for this team all season. George had 18 points on 21 shots, Anthony had 17 points on 18 shots, and Westbrook had 19 points on 19 shots. Combine that with Adams being in foul trouble most of the night and it was not the Thunder’s game.

Now the onus is on them to steal one in Utah, starting Friday night.

LeBron James starts hot, scores 46 in Cavaliers’ Game 2 win over Pacers

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LeBron James attempted no shots in the first 10 minutes of Game 1.

Less than half that long into Game 2, he scored all of the Cavaliers’ points as they built a 16-1 lead over the Pacers.

LeBron dominated early, and Cleveland held on for a 100-97 Game 2 win Wednesday. The first-round series is now tied 1-1 with Game 3 Friday in Indiana.

LeBron finished with 46 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals. It was his highest-scoring playoff game in his second Cavs tenure.

More than any point since he left Cleveland for the Heat, LeBron’s team is built for him to carry it singlehandedly. He was obviously always the leader and best player, but at times, he could let Dwyane Wade or Kyrie Irving cook. Now, LeBron has no teammates worth deferring to – only teammates who can flourish when LeBron positions them to succeed.

LeBron showed a willingness to accept that challenge tonight in a way he didn’t even in Game 1, when he had a triple-double. That bodes well for the Cavaliers as they undertake what they hope will be a long playoff run – and maybe even as they approach LeBron’s free agency.

But as well as LeBron played tonight, the Pacers battled back. Victor Oladipo missed a game-tying 3-pointer with 27 seconds left after Cleveland blew its coverage and left him open.

“We got lucky,” LeBron said. “We gave up a wide-open 3 to Oladipo, and he missed it. I’d rather be on time and on target than being lucky.”

Cleveland was also fortunate with Pacers coach Nate McMillan’s handling of Victor Oladipo’s early foul trouble.

McMillan sat Oladipo just more than a minute into the game. Oladipo picked up two quick fouls, but both were offensive – more fluky than indicative of a problem. During the regular season, Oladipo committed four fouls (necessary at that point to foul out tonight) every 58 minutes he played. Oladipo returned in the second quarter but got pulled again midway through the period with a third foul, a questionable call as Kevin Love jumped sideways into him on a shot. Oladipo committed three fouls (necessary at that point to foul out) every 44 minutes during the regular season.

Oladipo finished with three fouls. Indiana was +11 points in his 28 minutes and -14 points in the 20 minutes he sat.

That could bode well for the Pacers going forward. Many of the Cavs’ advantages tonight might not continue throughout the series. In particular, Kevin Love left the game late with a thumb injury.

But Cleveland’s biggest advantage remains: LeBron James. He showed tonight just how much that still matters.

Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, dies

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The Spurs may be in the playoffs, but all of that takes a backseat now for Gregg Popovich.

Spurs:

With deep regret the San Antonio Spurs announce that Erin Popovich, wife of Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich, passed away earlier today. Erin and Gregg were married for four decades and were blessed with two children and two grandchildren.

“We mourn the loss of Erin,” said Spurs General Manager RC Buford. “She was a strong, wonderful, kind, intelligent woman who provided love, support and humor to all of us.”

The organization asks media to respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

What devastating news. Hopefully, Popovich had time to make peace with this eventuality, but that doesn’t make it easy to handle.