Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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What happened Wednesday night, while you were saving up for your jetpack

Bobcats102 Sixers 87: Some defenses execute well at a systemic level. Others, at an individual level. But the best defenses operate at both. And that takes talent and effort in symphony. The Bobcats have got the horns and woodwinds in perfect harmony, so to speak.

With the Bobcats up 17, with less than two minutes to go in the game, Gerald Wallace was still sprinting sideline to sideline to recover defensively. This against one of the worst teams in the league. You have to be a great offensive team to create opportunities against the Bobcats, and the Sixers are not. Their leading scorer? Rodney Carney with 14 points.

Gerald Wallace is a robot ninja.

Memphis 111 Celtics 91:
The scoreboard doesn’t even begin to describe how lopsided this was. The Celtics scored 12 points in the 1st quarter. A dozen. This against one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Ye Gods.

The Grizzlies created high percentage open transition buckets, almost without dribbling. They just sped the ball with quick, precise passes. When that wasn’t happening, they were launching unguarded threes from the perimeter and raining.

There was no effort from the C’s, no ability from the C’s, no legs, no spirit, no soul. They might as well have been ghosts. The Celtics were the past, fading into sepia, and the Grizzlies were youth, looking like Pleasantville.

Thunder 98 Hornets 83: This was a tense, up and down, competitive romp for about 12 minutes. Then the Thunder did their thing.

One of the staples of a young team is an indecisiveness. You learn to know what you’re doing through repetition, rote and unfettered, and that takes time. But Russell Westbrook? He just gets it. He pushes the ball into the halfcourt, makes the decision, and then executes.Nine assists for the Thunder maestro tonight, and with Darren Collison having an off night, that was pretty much the shebang.

David West’s mid-range game is devastating, but in all honesty, the rest of this team is revealing itself as the season goes on, and that reveal is to something not good.

Nuggets 110, Wolves 102:
Am I the only one that laughs a little bit when David Kahn’s team gets thoroughly kept at arm’s length primarily by point guard play? Chauncey Billups had 25 points and needed just three assists.

Corey Brewer will not win most improved, but he needs to get a second look by the voters. That Florida crew, man. What talent in that class.

Ricky Rubio did not play.

Mavs 96 Nets 92: Caron Butler was the difference. No joke. He, specifically, was the difference between the end of the Mavs streak and the Nets’ bajillionth loss this year. Butler got a huge putback down the stretch, then nailed a step-back jumper from the wing after creating space with a veteran shoulder shrug. The Nets competed, as they still do, and that needs to be pointed out.

Paid professionals or not, the Nets have every reason to bail on the season, not try, not work, and slough through it. But they’re working. They don’t know how to execute. It’s not that they can’t, they just haven’t learned how yet. Terrence Williams showed flashes (18 points, 13 rebounds), including a nifty behind-the-back dribble and finish late.

Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.  Man. Even with this team’s not good, it’s still pretty good. They’re the pizza of the NBA.

Spurs 97 Knicks 87: Greg Popovich could beat Mike D’Antoni (who is a great coach) with a can of sardines and a box of twinkies. The Knicks gave up looks downlow.

The Spurs obliged them. And the Spurs’ defense was there tonight. You know, the one that’s been missing so much. Running off threes, pre-empting posts. Dogging, dogging, dogging. Double, rotate, rotate.

Manu Ginobili is doin’ work right now.

Kings 113 Raps 90: Tyreke Evans is 20 years old.

Tyreke Evans had 19 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds.

Tyreke Evans is incredible.

The Raptors don’t play defense.

That’s my story.

Heat 107, Clippers 98: Fact of NBA life #27: The aggressor gets the calls. People complain that the refs give superstars like Dwyane Wade the calls, but they attack (and, frankly, get fouled a lot).

Miami as a team — with Wade leading the way — attacked the rim hard in this one, particularly off the high pick-and-roll They were rewarded for that by the refs with 35 free throws (making 29). The Clippers, on the second night of a back-to-back, settled for jumpers. The result was just 13 free throw attempts. Wade had 17 by himself. And while the Clippers had a pretty good offensive night, the aggressors had the better one and get the win.

Jazz 115, Pistons 104: The Jazz are capable of stretches of beautiful basketball, with crisp player movement and making the extra pass leading to layups and open looks. The game as god and Naismith intended. Utah had one of those during the second quarter Wednesday. Detroit is neither capable of stopping it nor hanging close to that. They didn’t, it was a 35-14 second quarter for the Jazz. And that was your ballgame. But you knew it was coming — that’s 10 in a row for the Jazz over the Pistons.

Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis headline NBA All-Defensive teams

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It can be one of the most challenging selections to make on the ballot — NBA All-Defensive Teams.

The reason is all the variables: What kind of system was the player in? What were they asked to do within that system? Were they asked to cover a lot for lesser defenders on the court with them?

The votes are in, and it is Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis at the top with the most points. Just as interestingly, six players made All-Defense for the first time.

Here is the voting breakdown. Voters had to choose one center, two forwards, and two guards for each team.

FIRST TEAM (player, team, total points, first team votes)

Rudy Gobert, Utah, 192 (94)
Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 163 (73)
Robert Covington, Philadelphia, 90 (27)
Victor Oladipo, Indiana, 136 (58)
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans, 105 (39)

SECOND TEAM (player, team, total points, first team votes)

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia, 90 (4)
Draymond Green, Golden State, 86 (26)
Al Horford, Boston, 85 (24)
Dejounte Murray, San Antonio, 80 (32)
Jimmy Butler, Minnesota, 79 (20)

Just missing the cut were:
Chris Paul, Houston, 74 (20); Paul George, Oklahoma City, 69 (22); Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee, 43 (15); Kevin Durant, Golden State, 31 (7); Klay Thompson, Golden State, 24 (8); Josh Richardson, Miami, 22 (3); Marcus Smart, Boston, 18 (5); Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City, 17 (3).

The six first-timers on the All-Defensive Teams are Covington, Oladipo, Holiday, Embiid, Murray, and Butler.

The fact that two Pelicans — Holiday and Davis — made All-Defense but the team was just average defensively speaks to what they were trying to cover up on that roster much of the season.

Forward was particularly deep and difficult to choose this season. On my final (official) ballot I had Antetokounmpo on the squad, but that meant leaving off Green (who is unquestionably an elite defender when he wants to be, but was up and down during the regular season with his focus on that end). The injuries to Andre Roberson and Kawhi Leonard took some of the pressure off at forward and let a deserving Horford in the club, but it was still a deep field.

Guard was a challenge as well, with CP3 being deserving (he was on my ballot) and Klay Thompson being the perennial “I wanted to put him on the team but…” guy.

Clint Capela with the Rockets had a fantastic defensive season, but with Gobert and Embiid filling the center spot that’s a tough field to crack.

Celtics hope return home can slow LeBron, Cavs in Game 5

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BOSTON (AP) — The Celtics expected to see a different LeBron James in Cleveland after the Cavaliers fell into a 2-0 hole to open the Eastern Conference finals

Two games and back-to-back wins later, James has reminded everyone exactly why he’s been to seven straight NBA finals.

Boston will be back in the embrace of its raucous fans at TD Garden for Game 5 on Wednesday. But a team that has thrived on youth this postseason suddenly looks disoriented without a go-to player and opposite a more veteran squad that has found a new attitude thanks to the fuel being provided by its biggest star.

“My teammates are putting me in position and wanting me to be in attack mode and trusting me to put our guys in position to be successful,” James said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the collective group, and I’m one of the byproducts of that.”

While the Cavs are certainly feeling rejuvenated, coach Tyronn Lue said it hasn’t changed their sense of urgency.

“We still gotta play,” Lue said. “We have veteran guys who have been there and know what it takes, but this is a young team, a good team that’s playing at home so experience is not going to be a factor. We have to come in there and have the same mentality that we had in Game 3 and 4.”

Two games ago, the numbers seemed all on the Celtics’ side.

They had moved to 9-0 at home during these playoffs and taken 2-0 series lead, which has been a magic number for a franchise yet to surrender such an advantage during its storied history (37-0). Over the last 96 minutes, Boston has been outscored by 39 points, has dropped to 1-6 on the road and is suddenly facing a must-win game to maintain home-court advantage.

Coach Brad Stevens said at the start of the playoffs that he believed there was value in the greenness of a young group that had several players getting their first taste of postseason basketball. He was proven right with Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum all thriving as first-time postseason starters.

Their success had the cumulative effect of masking the absences of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Now, the lack of an alpha like Irving capable of creating his own shot is sticking out with every 40-point game James produces.

Al Horford, Boston’s only healthy All-Star, was never a dominant scorer, but more of a facilitator who worked well in a finely tuned system.

Horford started off the series strong but his scoring and assist numbers have declined over the last two games.

Lue’s move to reinsert Tristan Thompson back into the starting lineup in Game 2 is a huge reason.

Thompson has not only helped things move better on the offensive end for Cleveland, he’s combined with Larry Nance to make things difficult on Horford. Horford had just four shots and seven points in 30 minutes in Game 3. He scored 15 points in Game 4 but was just 5-of-13 from the field with one assist.

If the Celtics are going to get back to the by-committee style that got them here, it must begin with his leadership. To that end, Horford said they’ll focus on correcting their issues, but also won’t dwell on them.

“As a group, we’re excited to be back, going back home,” he said. “Obviously we understand the challenge of it. We can’t think about the past. We just have to worry about this opportunity. We have a Game 5 at home, and we have to make the most of it.”

Cleveland is hoping James’ once quiet supporting cast continues its surge in Boston.

Kevin Love just missed his third straight double-double in Game 4 and sharpshooters JR Smith and Kyle Korver were 12 of 19 from the 3-point line in Games 3 and 4.

Korver’s efforts have stood out.

At 37 years old he was all over the court scoring in Game 4, diving for loose balls and collecting three blocks. While he anticipated being sore from all the activity, Korver said playing “fun basketball” is still propelling a guy looking for his first ring after appearing in 124 playoff games for five different teams during his 15-year career.

“There’s not many of us `03 class guys still around,” James said of Korver. “I feel like we’re just cut from a different cloth because we’ve been around for so long. We have this work ethic and you see him every day putting in the work, putting his mind, his body into it. It’s not about his age.”

 

Report: Timberwolves would dump Thibodeau before trading Karl-Anthony Towns

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In the NBA, when it comes down to a struggle between an elite player and the coach/GM, who wins? The player. A top 10 NBA player is much harder to get than a coach. If you don’t believe it’s the player go ask David Fizdale or Kevin McHale or Paul Westhead or.. I could fill up the entire NBC server with instances, you get the point.

As the tension between Karl-Anthony Towns and coach/GM Tom Thibodeau has bubbled to the surface in Minnesota, some teams have called up Thibodeau and the Timberwolves to check on KAT’s availability in a trade.

But would the Timberwolves really trade Towns? If one side is going to lose this battle, it’s Thibodeau, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on The Russillo Show (hat tip Uproxx).

“I think their owner would trade management/the coach before he would trade Karl-Anthony Towns. I don’t think they would allow that. I just don’t believe they’d allow that kind of decision. And I don’t know that they’d want to trade him… he’s Karl-Anthony Towns, they’re not moving him, Towns is eligible for his extension this summer. You know Jimmy Butler… it’s more of a question of Andrew Wiggins. That to me would be, if someone was going to get moved — and I’m not saying anyone’s going to get moved — I think Andrew Wiggins is the one you’re going to look at first. Because you don’t have to make a decision on Towns and Jimmy Butler and one of those guys having to take less on an extension, because you can’t have three [max] guys.”

To be clear, Thibodeau isn’t going anywhere this summer (unless he makes some kind of a power play move, like trying to trade Towns). The Timberwolves improved by 16 games last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 — that was a step forward. Maybe not as big of one as some wanted/expected, but it wasn’t the kind of season that gets a coach/GM fired.

There’s also an odd dynamic in this with Jimmy Butler — he is Thibodeau’s guy. Butler has his back, and he can be a free agent in a couple of years, so if Minnesota wants to keep him then keeping the coach matters.

As for trading Wiggins, that is something to keep an eye on. Even if it’s not likely. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, there has been buzz around the league about the Timberwolves testing the market for Wiggins. The problem is Wiggins’ five-year, $148 million fully guaranteed contract kicks in next season — few teams want to take that on. To move Wiggins, Minnesota will have to take back bad contracts and/or send out sweeteners with him. Demand will not be high, despite Wiggins’ potential.

As Wojnarowski noted, both Butler and Towns have new contract coming up in the next couple of seasons, and both are clear max players. It puts Minnesota in a tight spot with the cap. They will be looking for some relief.

Just remember, if it comes down to Thibodeau or Towns, the player always wins. Especially a young, on-the-rise player.

Boston vs. Houston Finals? In 2-2 series, team with home court wins 80% of time

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Game 1 of the NBA Finals will see the Boston Celtics at the Houston Rockets starting May 31.

Or, at least that’s what the historic odds favor.

Most fans (and media/analysts) expect the Finals will still be Cleveland vs. Golden State, those are the two proven teams. However, as our own Dan Feldman noted, historically in a 2-2 series the team with two home games wins four out of five times.

Tuesday night, Houston looked every bit the kind of team that can stand up to the defending champion Warriors. Down 10 entering the fourth quarter, Houston’s improved ball-pressure defense wore down a Golden State team and took Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson (and in the fourth Stephen Curry) out of their rhythm. The Warriors couldn’t get the shots they wanted, didn’t get to the rim, went 0-of-6 from three and 3-of-18 overall in the fourth quarter. They looked like they were replaying the final games of the 2016 NBA Finals again (just with Durant). Meanwhile, Chris Paul was efficient and James Harden made plays that got Houston the comeback win. It was the kind of victory that can define a championship run.

Still, they need two more wins against a Warriors team that is loaded with All-Stars and has been to three straight Finals for a reason. Golden State believes it has another gear, now it needs to find it.

Out East, Boston heads home for Wednesday night’s game — the Celtics are 9-0 in the postseason and 22.4 points per 100 possessions better than on the road. Boston’s young role players have just been vastly superior on the parquet on both ends of the court. Plus, while the Cavaliers won Game 4, the Celtics won the last three quarters and seemed to find some defensive setups and plays that work for them.

Cleveland, however, has LeBron James.

Finally, we’ve got the kind of playoff drama we have wanted out of these conference finals.