Timberwolves snap Blazers’ 6-game streak, 110-109

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) —  As Karl-Anthony Towns powered through Portland’s smaller frontcourt, the Trail Blazers found out just how much they’re going to miss big man Jusuf Nurkic down the stretch.

Towns had 34 points and 12 rebounds and the Minnesota Timberwolves snapped Portland’s six-game winning streak with a 110-109 victory over the Trail Blazers on Monday night.

It was the second game for Portland without Nurkic, who galvanized the team after coming over in a trade from Denver at the deadline.

He will miss at least the rest of the regular season with a fractured right leg, leaving the Blazers to battle big frontcourts in San Antonio, Utah and one more time against Minnesota without him and just a 1 1/2-game cushion on Denver for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

“There’s a lot of good bigs out there, and we’re thin right now. We’ve got Meyers (Leonard) and (Al-Farouq Aminu), who’s not really a five,” C.J. McCollum said. “So we’re in a tough position, but it’s not an excuse. We’ve got to go out there and play and make the best of it.”

Damian Lillard scored 25 points but made just 7 of 21 shots, including 3 of 11 3-pointers. His potential game-winning pull-up jumper at the buzzer glanced off the rim.

Andrew Wiggins scored 29 points and Ricky Rubio had 11 points, 16 assists and seven rebounds for the Timberwolves, who bounced back from an ugly home loss to Sacramento that eliminated them from postseason contention on Saturday.

“They’re playing small, we have a big who can guard smalls and play like a big at the other end,” Rubio said of Towns. “That’s big for us.”

Aminu scored 20 points and Maurice Harkless had 17 points, eight rebounds and a big block of a Rubio drive that gave the Blazers the ball back with 4.9 seconds to play.

Lillard got a clean look, but couldn’t knock it down and Portland missed a golden chance to pad its lead on Denver in a tense race.

The Blazers beat lowly Phoenix in their first game without Nurkic and went super-small on Monday against the Wolves with Aminu and Harkless seeing some time at center.

The sleek lineup put the Blazers in control with a 34-point second quarter, but the 7-foot Towns had his way in the fourth. He scored 14 points in the period, including a big dunk for a 110-106 lead with 35 seconds to go.

“We just had a hard time,” Lillard said. “Guys competed hard on him. We made it as hard as we could on him, but he’s very good and he’s going to score points. That’s what happened.”

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Terry Stotts was the Western Conference coach of the month and Lillard was the conference’s player of the month as Portland finished March at 13-3. … Lillard’s first 3 of the game in the third quarter gave him 200 for the season, the third time he’s done that in his career. Wes Matthews is the only other Blazers player to do it even one time.

Timberwolves: Brandon Rush scored 12 points, giving him back-to-back double-digit efforts for the first time since Jan. 11-13. … Rubio hit a technical free throw in the third quarter after the Blazers were whistled for defensive 3 seconds. It was his 49th straight technical free throw made, the longest active streak in the league.

MCCOLLUM STRUGGLES

McCollum struggled as well, scoring 17 points on 5-for-14 shooting and 0 for 3 on 3s. He scored 43 and 32 points in his first two games against the Wolves.

“I think I’ve got to be more aggressive at certain times,” he said.

MAKEUP GAME

Both teams are set up for difficult back-to-backs because this game had to be shoe-horned into the schedule. It was originally scheduled to be played on March 6, but an ice sheet that was placed under the court so Target Center could host a college hockey tournament started to melt due to unseasonably warm weather. That caused condensation on the court that could not be corrected, so the league postponed the game.

 

Avery Bradley scores 23, Celtics eliminate Bulls 105-83

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CHICAGO (AP) — Avery Bradley scored 23 points, and the hot-shooting Boston Celtics pounded the Chicago Bulls 105-83 to win their first-round series 4-2 on Friday night.

The top-seeded Celtics simply torched Chicago to finish off a tougher-than-anticipated series and advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Boston regrouped after dropping the first two games at home and will meet Washington in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Game 1 is Sunday.

Bradley finished one point shy of a playoff career high he set in Game 5. He nailed three 3-pointers and the Celtics hit 16 of 39 from long range.

Gerald Green scored 16 and Isaiah Thomas had 12 before heading home to Washington state for his sister Chyna’s funeral on Saturday. Her death in a car accident the day before the playoff opener dealt a blow to the Celtics. But Boston rallied around its star player and regrouped when it looked like the series might slip from reach.

Jimmy Butler led Chicago with 23 points. But the Bulls never really found their rhythm over the final four games with point guard Rajon Rondo sidelined by a broken right thumb.

Dwyane Wade shot just 1 of 10 in a two-point effort that could be his final appearance for the Bulls. He has a $23.8 million option on the two-year deal he signed last summer to leave Miami and come home to Chicago.

The Celtics led by 13 at the half and outscored the Bulls 34-18 in the third quarter to put this one away. Things got so bad that loud boos started ringing through the United Center.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Bradley said he was planning to attend Chyna Thomas’ funeral. That hinged on the flight options and whether the Celtics were playing on Sunday. “If I’m not able to be there I’m going to make sure I’m supporting him however I can to let him know I’m here for him during this time,” Bradley said.

Bulls: Hoiberg said there is no structural damage in Butler’s right knee. He also had this response when asked what soreness means: “Uh, that it hurts.” … New Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 2 pick in the draft, got a rude welcome from the Chicago crowd. He was booed when he was shown on the videoboard in the third quarter.

“Fire Hoiberg” chants break out as Bulls eliminated from playoffs

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The problems with the Chicago Bulls — the ones that led to a mediocre season and a first-round exit from the playoffs after being up 2-0 on the Celtics — are certainly not all coach Fred Hoiberg’s fault. Blame starts with the roster that GarPax put together.

However, Hoiberg didn’t have the respect of his stars, his rotation management was bizarre at points, and there just seemed to be no consistent structure. What kind of team where the Bulls trying to be? What was Hoiberg doing to get them there?

As the Bulls were being eliminated by the Celtics Friday night, “Fire Hoiberg” chants broke out at the United Center.

Bulls fans are understandably frustrated, but they are not going to get this wish. Not this summer.

Hoiberg was the handpicked replacement for Tom Thibodeau, the guy Gar Forman and John Paxson — the Bulls front office brain trust — had their eye on and plucked out of the college coaching ranks. They bet big on him, and to admit that was a mistake after two years could endanger their jobs. So Hoiberg will stay.

What the Bulls roster will look like next season is another, more vexing question. Will Dwyane Wade be back? Jimmy Butler? With the seeming lack of a plan by GarPax, it’s all just speculation where they might go.

Whatever happens, Hoiberg will be coaching Chicago next season. Sorry Bulls fans.

John Wall takes over late, clinches Wizards 115-99 win over Hawks, Washington advances

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Closing teams out is hard.

Already up 3-2, Washington on the road was in complete control against Atlanta, up 22 in the third quarter, seeming destined to cruise to a win and a meeting with the Boston Celtics in the next round. Then it started to come apart. The Hawks moved the ball and made some shots, while the Wizards got tight. The lead shrunk down to three at 93-90 Washington, and Atlanta had all the momentum.

Then John Wall happened.

First, he made this play.

That changed the momentum as the Wizards closed the game on a 22-9 run where Wall scored the final 13 points on his way to 42 for the night on 25 shots. The result was a 115-99 Wizards win to close the Hawks out 4-2.

Washington starts the second round Sunday against Boston.

“I was just trying to close the game out, man,” Wall said of his block on Dennis Schroder and his run at the end of the game. “We had a big lead, but we knew those guys was not going to stop fighting. We had a couple careless turnovers, I had, but we just kept fighting and we came back and got this win.”

Heck, Wall was even taunting Julio Jones sitting courtside as he rattled off those late-game points.

Bradley Beal had 31 points in this one as well. Washington had 26 fourth quarter points, Wall and Beal combined for 24 of them. The Hawks went small in the end, benching Dwight Howard in the fourth again, and that was just fine with the Wizards, who have better athletes when small.

Wall and Beal learned over the course of this series to read and adjust to what Atlanta was doing. The Hawks chased and trailed over the top of picks all night, with their bigs staying back trying to protect the rim, and Wall and Beal both just took the shots given them and knocked them down. More than just those two, the packing of the paint by the Hawks in Game 6 allowed Bojan Bogdanovic, Otto Porter and others to step into clean midrange shots they missed earlier in the series. Washington made Atlanta pay for the Hawks’ defensive gameplan.

The feistiness of this game bubbled over in the second quarter when Bradley Beal had a breakaway layup and Kent Bazemore pushed him a little in the air. Beal got up and went right to Bazemore angry.

The referees reviewed that play and Beal and Bazemore got technical fouls with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jason Smith also getting them for jumping into the fray late.

For Atlanta, an interesting offseason begins where they will try to retain Paul Millsap, an unrestricted free agent, and if they can’t a rebuilding will start in earnest.

For the Wizards, it is on to Boston.

Bradley Beal, Kent Bazemore get technicals for scuffle in Hawks, Wizards

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It’s been a chippy kind of playoff series — one where Paul Millsap gets called a crybaby — and with the Hawks on the brink of elimination emotions were especially high on Friday night.

Kent Bazemore had been frustrated with a couple of calls (and no calls) and he took that out on the play above — he got picked by Kelly Oubre, who threw the ball ahead to Bradley Beal for a layup, and Bazemore gave him a little push in the air. It wasn’t much, but when a guy is airborne and defenseless that touch throwing off balance can lead to serious injury.

Beal bounced up and got in Bazemore’s face. Then an NBA version of a scuffle started.

The referees reviewed it and Beal and Bazemore got technical fouls with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jason Smith also getting them for their role later in the “festivities.”

The league should come in with a fine for Bazemore on this — you cannot let guys push other guys who are airborne, even slightly. That was a dangerous play, and I’m surprised the officials did not call a technical.