Warriors race out to huge early lead, close out 26-point win to sweep series with Jazz

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Time off is a serious motivational tool. It works at your office/school, and it worked for the Golden State Warriors Monday night.

Close out the Jazz in a sweep Monday and the Warriors could be off a week or more, depending on how long the Spurs and Rockets keep beating each other up.

Golden State came out firing — the threes were falling, the ball was moving, and they were aggressive on defense then turning missed shots and turnovers into transition buckets the other way. The result was a fast 20-point lead (33-13) and a 22 point Golden State lead after one.

Utah battled, they got 25 from Gordon Hayward who made some plays and tough shots, helping the Jazz get the lead down to single digits a couple of times (including 8 at the half), but they could never completely make up the gap. Golden State pulled away in the fourth quarter for the 121-95 win.

Golden State sweeps the series and will go home and await San Antonio or Houston. Eventually.

“It was important for us to close out this series, you never want to drag a series out and suddenly you get knick-knack injuries and all those things,” Draymond Green told NBA TV after the game. “Close it out, get that rest, and get ready for the next round.

Curry had 30 points on 15 shots, Klay Thompson added 21, and Green had a triple-double of 17 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds.

Jazz fans sent their stars off with a huge ovation as they were taken out — there were “Gor-Don Hay-Ward” chants after he was removed from the game and after the final buzzer, just to show how much they love him in Utah (consider it an attempted Celtics vaccine). Fans should shower the Jazz with love. Utah was a team battling injuries all season long — Utah’s preferred starters were together for just 13 games this season, and George Hill missed this one (his third straight game out this series) — to get 51 wins and advance to the second round of the playoffs. That is a huge step forward, maybe faster than even they expected.

“We had a really good year, and that’s a really good team,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “I couldn’t be more proud coaching this group.”

It’s the kind of season that will make it hard for Hayward to walk away as a free agent this summer. But that’s another discussion.

Monday night was not their night. And it was that way right from the start. Golden State had an offensive rating of 156 (points per 100 possessions) in the first quarter while the Jazz started the game 3-of-18 from the floor. The Warriors had more assists (9) in the first quarter than the Jazz had made baskets (6).

It was a 22-point game after one, but the Jazz cut that to eight by the half and five at one point in the third quarter. Shelvin Mack had a huge 11 point third quarter, and Hayward had a dozen in the quarter. Utah worked and made it a game.

“I wish we would have started the game better,” Snyder said. “But what happened happened. We got blitzed. It would have been easy for that game to run away early, for us to keep it, throughout the course of the game to keep with within striking distance, speaks to how they approached the whole year.”

Led by Curry and Green, in the fourth the Warriors did Warriors things and pulled away. They did what they had to do to get the rest they wanted.

Both the Warriors and the Cavaliers are now 8-0 through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the first time that teams in both conferences have swept through the first two rounds. Both are resting, and both seem on a collision course.

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.