Baseline to Baseline: 'Manu Ginobili wins at life' edition

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Duncan_Defense.jpgWhat happened while you were putting a snake in your mouth

Spurs 94 Celtics 73: Such a good game at the half. Such a demolish in the second half. Yikesabees.

You may remember these Celtics from such hits as “Christmas Through Two Weeks Ago” and “That Time The Nets Beat Them.” The Celtics had 30 points in the second half. 30 points in 24 minutes. To put that in perspective, the Tennessee Volunteers scored 28 in the second half of a good game in a loss to Michigan State.

It was a bloodbath, and Manu Ginobili played Bill the Butcher. Ginobili was everywhere, leading the defense, slicing through the Celtics’ man-help (which was unbearably slow), and doing this thing that is hard to even describe (admission, I run that site so obviously I can describe it, but you can skip my blabbing and head straight for the video).

The Celtics were not there. I mean, they were there. They weren’t absent like Kevin Garnett was in the playoffs last year. They were physically in the game. But their souls and intentions were somewhere far away. Perhaps watching Mad Men, or having tea with the queen. Where they weren’t was in TD Northbank in the second half.

Tim Duncan had two blocks in the first five minutes, and Richard Jefferson had a good game. Richard. Jefferson. Ye Gods.

Bucks 108 Grizzlies 103: There were a lot of makeup calls in this game, down the stretch.

I say that not to excuse the Grizzlies, the NBA team I so often yell in support of, but to just state a fact. The refs overlooked an Ersan Ilyasova over-the-back on Marc Gasol because apparently they had been watching college ball too much. Then they made up for it with an easy breezy tag-it foul on Brandon Jennings, based solely on the fact that the rookie made the poor decision to bite on a pump fake, even if he didn’t make contact.

Then, as if they felt bad for the make up call they made for missing another one, they no-called an obvious one on Luke Ridnour when O.J. Mayo gave him the “Paul Pierce Special” (jab-step, pumpfake, bring the arm and ball up through the defender, an easy call).

Which is too bad, because otherwise it was a fantastic game. The Grizzlies are a tough offense to stop, and while the Bucks couldn’t neutralize them, they did make them sputter at times. The Grizzlies’ bench was outscored 33-6, and you just can’t have to rely on your starters that much, every game.

It’s frustrating that the Grizzlies don’t lean on Marc Gasol for offense more. He’s a tremendous facilitator and his defense is superb (5 blocks), but he’s so efficient from the floor, you almost want to see him try and take over more. He could have done more to counter Bogut.

Hawks 94 Pacers 84: This wasn’t the perfect Hawks game. Joe Johnson was off (5-13), Josh Smith had zero blocks, and Mo Evans was very, very bad.

But it was close. That defense that had been relenting lately found itself, and Josh Smith honestly could have done anything he wanted in the post. There wasn’t a single matchup the Pacers could counter with, and the Hawks exploited it.

Al Horford somehow plays better as the season goes along, and it’s getting bizarre.

Cavs 97 Kings 90: The Kings were not about to let Z’s big return be a laugher. Big ups, Sactown. You’ve got fighters.

Tyreke Evans? Out. Brockman? Out. Spencer Hawes? Out. Dominic McGuire? Out.

And still. To the very last man, a brawl.

Beno Udrih had 18 points and 15 assists. If you have good point guard play, it freaks out the Cavs. They’re just not prepared for it, provided you can defend at the other end. They’re fine with it as long as you want to play up and down. But slow it down at either end, and you’ve got a serious chink in the armor.

But a win’s a win. And Antawn Jamison had 26 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and only 1 turnover in 41 minutes. Ruh-roh. The big acquisition found himself.

4 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks. Welcome home, Zydrunas. We missed you.

Heat 97 Raps 94: I flipped it off in the third quarter. The Raps were rolling, as they can do. Hitting everything. Running, running, running. So having to rewatch this bad boy was irritating. Probably not irritating like it was for Raptors fans.

Look, I’m not big on cliches about defense, and I tend to think that defense may win championships, but if you can’t put the ball in the hole you’re just as screwed. But if you ask me how these Raps are going to do in the playoffs, I have to point wildly at this game. Gesticulate, actually.

They can’t get stops. Not when they need to. Not when it’s crucial. Not when they’ve put themselves in a position to win. They can’t communicate, can’t execute, can’t deliver. The Heat really aren’t the better overall team. I believe that, based on the talent involved. But they can do business when it matters.

Bulls 110 Pistons 103: The Bulls announcers couldn’t believe how bad Ben Gordon was. It was like when your boy scout son comes home from college with a nosering, a dragon tattoo, listening to death metal and talking about becoming a poet.

Sad, really.

The Bulls? They’ve got some life in them. They’ve got a few coals left in the fire. Not much, and a playoff caliber defense will likely extinguish them like a trashcan fire. But there’s some talent, a lot of effort, and some weird combinations of ability. I’ll likely change my mind in two days when they get blown out again.

Magic 103 Nuggets 97: Great game. Can we just vote these two into a second round series? It’s a brutal matchup for both sides. Jameer Nelson had serious problems with Billups, who is built to beat him. And when Vince Carter went down, the door blew open to let the Nuggets take control.

But it was a Duke day.

J.J. Redick, who if you’ve been paying attention, has turned into a really pretty good NBA player, was huge. 23 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists for the former Blue Devil. And that doesn’t fully capture his work on defense.

But you know who really impressed? Ryan Anderson. 20 points in 19 minutes, with 5 boards. And most of his work was on Birdman. Anderson’s a lot like Anderson, really, except able to shoot, and a smarter defender.

The Nuggets don’t work hard enough at getting Nene involved in the offense.

Blazes 92 Thunder 87: What a weird one.

The Thunder aren’t your typical y
oung team. They’re not particularly fast, they don’t score a ton of points, and they can play defense. They’re willing to get dirty. But, if you hit that next level, you know, that playoff level? They still reel a bit when you’re trading haymakers.

And the Blazers? They’re so used to pain and suffering. Life is pain, so they’re willing to keep swinging all day.

This was as much a death knell for Thabo Sefolosha’s razor-thin defensive player of the year hopes as you’ll find. Andre Miller abused him, and when he wasn’t, Brandon Roy was. Russell Westbrook is a very good defender if you don’t know what you’re doing. These two know what they’re doing.

Suns 111, Timberwolves 105: No Robin Lopez — meaning no inside game whatsoever for the Suns — made this one interesting. Minny owned the paint. Kevin Love had 23 points and 22 rebounds, Al Jefferson had 19 points and 16 rebounds. The entire Suns team had just three more rebounds than Love and Jefferson combined.

For any other team, that would be enough. Not the Timberwolves, though, they find new and impressive ways to lose (you have to if you are going to drop 15 straight like this). Tonight they fall back on the old reliable “bad shooting night” and shoot under 40 percent, and just 25 percent from three. The Suns get the win, but nobody is going to be happy to have to watch the tape on this one later

Warriors 121, Clippers 103: In a game between two teams heading to the lottery, is the winner really the loser? Is not the goal better lottery position?

The Clippers followed the “beat the Warriors” book of slow it down and pound it inside for 10 minutes, and were up double digits in the first quarter. Then they got bored doing the right thing, brought in the subs, got a little smaller, and just start turning the ball over. Turnovers are the Warriors fuel. Golden State starts running, getting easy buckets and transition threes, and before you knew it the Warriors were up 19. Clippers made a couple mini-runs, but by then the Warriors were feeling it. And the D-Leaguers were having too much fun to lose..

NBA playoffs mired in worst pre-Finals competitive-game drought ever

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Exciting games. Clutch plays. Close finishes.

Remember those?

The NBA playoffs have hit a lull. It has been 11 days since the last game decided by fewer than 10 points.

Longer competitive-game droughts have occurred – though not many, and never before the NBA Finals. The most common route for going so long without a competitive game is decisive victories to end the conference finals, a lengthy break before the Finals then decisive victories to start the Finals.

But we’re not to the Finals yet.

In this case, every second-round series ended in five or fewer games – culminating with the Celtics’ 114-112 win over the 76ers on May 9, the last single-digit game. Three league-wide off days followed. The Celtics routed the Cavaliers twice in Boston, and the Warriors and Rockets traded lopsided wins in Houston. Two more league-wide off days, Cleveland winning by 30 Saturday, Golden State winning by 41 last night, and we’re at 11 straight days without a competitive game.

Here are the longest-ever streaks of days between single-digit playoff games before the conference finals ended:

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Both conference finals are as close as possible, 2-1 (favoring the Warriors and Celtics). But the individual games just haven’t matched the tightness.

Why is this happening?

The peculiar overlapping three off days for each conference finals certainly factored.

Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers – who’ve met in the last three NBA Finals – are that much better than the rest of their conferences when locked in. Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers know that, leaving them prone to bad losses the teams know they can rally from. Maybe the Celtics are just that good at home and that bad on the road. Maybe it’s just a random occurrence.

No matter the reason, the result is certain: We’ve gone a long time without seeing a competitive game.

Hopefully, Cleveland and Boston change that tonight.

Andre Iguodala doubtful for Warriors-Rockets Game 4

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Andre Iguodala hurt his knee during the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ win over the Rockets last night. Golden State coach Steve Kerr brushed off concern about the injury and praised his starting small forward in these Western Conference finals.

“When we’re right, when we’re playing how we are supposed to play, Andre’s right in the middle of it,” Kerr said. “His defense and being smart, making good decisions. Andre is one of the guys who seems to set the tone for that for us.”

The Warriors might have to set that tone without Iguodala in Game 4 Tuesday.

Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

Replacing Iguodala in the lineup won’t be easy. He boosts the Warriors offensively and defensively, and they’re short on wings.

Will Golden State just spread Iguodala’s minutes between Nick Young, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson? Durant and Thompson already play so much. Young is a defensive liability.

Will the Warriors go big more often with Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and/or David West – shifting Draymond Green from center to power forward and Durant from power forward to small forward? Looney already has a relatively large role in this series, and it’s imperative he plays with full effort whenever on the court. More minutes could harm him. Kerr doesn’t appear to trust Bell, and West might be too slow to keep up with the Rockets.

There’s no good answer here, just different cracks Houston can exploit if Iguodala is out or even just slowed tomorrow.

New Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer: ‘I think I’m in the best place in the league’

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Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will almost certainly finish fourth in Most Valuable Player voting this year, his age-23 season.

The last coach to take over a team with a player who already accomplished so much at such a young age – Del Harris (a familiar name in Milwaukee), who inherited reigning MVP Moses Malone with the Rockets in 1979. It’s just so rare for jobs coaching such a promising player top come open.

“I think I’m in the best place in the league,” new Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said at his introductory press conference today.

Budenholzer had his pick of Milwaukee and Toronto, another highly successful team, especially for one seeking a new coach. But the Bucks offer Antetokounmpo and more modest expectations.

Milwaukee hasn’t won a playoff series in 17 years. Budenholzer was asked today as much about delivering a division title as an NBA title.

Topping the Cavaliers, Pacers, Pistons and Bulls sounds much easier than surpassing the Warriors, Rockets, Celtics and 76ers in coming years.

Not that Budenholzer, who reached the conference finals with the Hawks, is completely ducking big talk.

“We’re lucky to have a Giannis, who will do anything to win, and a Khris Middleton that will do anything to win,” Budenholzer said. “When you have your best players that are true competitors and that are truly unselfish and care more about the team than they do themselves, those are a couple of big, foundational blocks to winning championships and doing things that are special.”

The Bucks held the press conference at their still-under-construction new arena, the media wearing hard hats and orange vests:

But this isn’t a complete rebuild for Budenholzer.

Milwaukee has made the playoffs the last two seasons, including winning 44 games this year. Antetokounmpo is a superstar. Middleton is a borderline All-Star. Eric Bledsoe is a solid starter. Restricted free agent-to-be Jabari Parker is talented. The rotation is somewhat deep.

The Bucks just underachieved under former coach Jason Kidd (and never capitalized before him for more than a decade for other reasons).

Citing the potential of current players, Budenholzer said Milwaukee could become “elite” defensively. The Bucks are full of long and athletic players, and Budenholzer coached sound defenses in Atlanta. There’s only one reason to doubt him: Milwaukee finished just 17th in points allowed per possession this season.

But that’s a feature of this job, not a bug. The Bucks aren’t stuck with an inevitably bad defenders. They just underperformed. Budenholzer can nudge them ahead – and is positioned to receive outsized credit if he does.

“Working with the entire with the entire roster, with the front office, with ownership,” Budenholzer said, “I can’t wait to take us to the next level in Milwaukee.”

That next level isn’t that high, which is why Budenholzer is right.

Milwaukee is a great place for a coach to be.

Mike D’Antoni: Rockets ‘played soft’

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The Warriors beat the Rockets by 41 last night to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni:

We didn’t switch up into people, we didn’t box off. It’s just one thing led to another. Played soft, actually.

His stars agreed.

James Harden:

He’s right. We weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be. We started off the game pretty solid, and then we let them gain some confidence to end the first quarter. You know, but just defensively they didn’t feel us and it showed tonight.

Chis Paul:

Coach is right. We’ve got to be better. I think, you know, we’ve got to come out more aggressive. We were letting them hit first, you know what I mean? They were running their screens and all that stuff like that. I mean, we know that we’re at our best when we’re in transition and not taking the ball out the net. And tonight we were taking the ball out the net. We had 19 turnovers. That’s uncharacteristic of us. We knew we were going to get a great game from them being back here at home, but we’ve got to be better Game 4.

That’s a harsh assessment – but at least somewhat warranted. The Rockets applied far too little defensive pressure, and they missed shots inside and committed turnovers as if they were rattled.

I don’t think the Rockets are soft. But they looked soft in the face of Golden State’s elite ability.

The Warriors pressure teams into mistakes and then exploit many of them. Play that doesn’t look soft against other opponents suddenly does against Golden State.

Houston can toughen up before Game 4 Tuesday. Acclimating to the Warriors’ high level of play, especially at home, could help. The Rockets are good enough to hang at this level.

But it certainly won’t be easy.