Wizards focus on stopping Celtics’ 3-pointers in Game 2

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BOSTON (AP) — Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks stated the obvious at his team’s practice on Monday.

“Their 3-point shooting is a problem,” Brooks said of the Boston Celtics, who tied a franchise record with 19 treys in Sunday’s 123-111 victory over the Wizards in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.

Game 2 of the best-of-seven is at TD Garden Tuesday night.

Back on May 3, 2002, the Celtics made 19 3-pointers in a 120-87 rout of the Philadelphia 76ers that clinched a best-of-five playoff series. On Sunday, Boston was 19 of 39 on its 3-pointers, including 10 of 19 in the second half and 4 of 6 in the fourth quarter.

“We have to do a better job of knowing which ones of those guys are shooters and make them put the ball on the floor,” Wizards guard John Wall, who had 20 points and dished out 16 assists in the loss, told reporters at practice.

“We can live with contested twos, we can live with contested shots at the rim, but to make spot-up threes … that’s what this team does. We know they’re going to shoot a lot and they (hit) more than what they shot in the regular season.”

Added fellow guard Bradley Beal: “We gave up 19 threes, on the road. … It’s just a matter of us defending, man.”

The Celtics became the first team this playoff season and the eighth ever to hit at least 15 treys in back-to-back games — nothing unusual for a team that lives and dies with the 3-pointer. They went 16 of 39 in their elimination win at Chicago on Friday night.

Isaiah Thomas went 5 of 11 from 3-point range in a 33-point, nine assist effort in Game 1 — all coming after he arrived back in town in the wee hours of the Sunday morning after attending his sister’s funeral. It was his third 30-point game out of seven in this season’s playoffs.

Thomas lost a tooth thanks to an inadvertent elbow from Washington forward Otto Porter, picked it up and went on to lead his team to the important win. On Monday, he was at the dentist having work done as his team practiced.

“He’s finishing up the dental work that he’s had,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said after practice. “It’s pretty significant as you can imagine. So he’s still in a dentist’s chair and will hopefully be able to come over later in the afternoon, kind of go through what we did (at practice), and go from there. But he did not practice.”

On Sunday, Thomas said he was going for a steal when he took the elbow that knocked the tooth out.

“I’ve taken a thousand hits like that and my tooth never came out,” Thomas said. “I always said pain is temporary. We’ll worry about it when the time comes.”

While Stevens knows he will have Thomas for Game 2, Brooks still can’t be sure forward Markieff Morris, who sprained his left ankle coming down on Celtics center Al Horford‘s foot after Horford fouled him, will be available.

“I’m playing tomorrow. It’s final,” said Morris, who didn’t practice Monday, sitting on the bench getting treatments. He said Horford apologized, telling him “My fault” after Morris went down after playing just 8:09.

Brooks said he will not have backup center Ian Mahinmi (calf) back until at least Friday’s Game 3 and indicated fellow big man Jason Smith, who played only nine minutes in Game 1 and has also been dealing with a calf problem, would get more minutes in Game 2.

“We just gotta do a better job of making things difficult for these guys. They can make shots. They’ve got guys that can score the ball,” Wall said. “Al Horford had a heck of a game. He’s basically their point guard when we trapped Isaiah — he gave the ball to Al and he did a great job finding teammates, making plays down the stretch.

“Even when we made runs, those guys made a barrage of threes.”

Horford, who didn’t have a point or a rebound and handed out one assist in the first quarter, just missed a triple-double. He finished with 21 points, a playoff career-high 10 assists and nine rebounds in the victory.

“He’s one of the best all-around bigs in the game,” said Brooks. “Top two or three passing big (man) in the league … and he shoots threes.”

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.