Baseline to Baseline, where we had ourselves a heck of a night

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What happened Wednesday while you were challenging Akinator

Cavs 101 Bucks 98: The Bucks are terrible at drawing fouls, fifth worst in the league, actually. Cleveland’s very good. So while the Bucks can probably rightfully complain about a 45-9 free throw advantage, they can’t complain too much. This team looked like they were willing to invest in the game, but not enough to force the issue against a great Cleveland defense. Lot of jump shots, lot of settling, not a lot of drive and finish.

And still, the Bucks were right there. You know what the difference was? Scott Skiles’ love of Luke Ridnour has helped him out all season, and Ridnour’s been terrific most nights. Tonight was not such a night. Not only was he the glaring shooting problem on the field, but he capped off the night by telegraphing and then missing on the pass for the game winning attempt, watching as LeBron snuck it out of the air. Even an average night from Ridnour and the Bucks walk away with this one. I don’t know if that’s better or worse.

Hawks 109 Lakers 92: The Lakers wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. The Hawks? They looked pretty comfy. One step faster to the bucket, to the offensive rebound, to the defensive position. Lot of jog and watch by the Lakers. Pau Gasol. Wow. I don’t know how a guy finishes with 16 and 11 and looks worse.

Early in the third, Ron Artest clubbed Mo Evans with an elbow. Evans shoved him, picking up a tech, and then Artest decided to get up in his face as the teams came together. Zaza Pachulia parted the seas and walked Artest off. Pachulia isn’t a great talent, and he’s no All-Star. But if you want to go to battle? Pachulia will have your back.

Bobcats 103 Sixers 84: The Bobcats may be teh best team in the league at gamble-and-recover. They push to the perimeter edges, to the catch point so often,  you’d think they would have a much worse defense. But instead, they push to those edges, sending the offense reeling just to settle itself, and use that time to reset the defense and get position. They know where their teammates are and they race to help each other.

The Sixers are simply incomplete. And with this much money in them, they’re going to need a complete overhaul.

Suns 116 Nets 105: Steve Nash is still in that category of “guys who if you do not have a specific plan for will absolutely destroy you.”

Guess what happened?

Brook Lopez is still incredible, and consistent. There’s no fluctuation in his performance from play to play. Same effort, same ability, same focus.

Thunder 109 Celtics 104: Terrific game. The Celtics are all flustered because of the number of fouls called. Interesting development there. Usually a foul differential exists because one team was more aggressive than the other. Either that, or it’s 2002. But it wasn’t that the Thunder were more aggressive, it’s that that the Celtics were too aggressive.

The C’s depend on bullying you as part of their plan. They rely on getting away with a lot of extra contact, a lot of sneaky plays, a lot of bruising. If you call those fouls and don’t set that tone as your baseline, the game stays out of trouble and the Celtics are limited.

Russell Westbrook and Rondo didn’t know what else to do with each other outside of going to the rim a lot. And it worked.

Jeff Green nailed two threes down the stretch that were perfectly executed. Both times he peeled off KG with a back-cut screen to a perimeter curl. The Celtics didn’t know what to do with it. And it was pretty much the ballgame.

Wolves 108 Kings 99: Some young teams can keep it going to the end. but you need a lot to go your way, and you need to have the carrot of wins and a playoff series to keep them interested. The Kings have neither. And so, the things that have made them shakey all year have made them pretty bad late.

The Wolves won! 16 game losing streak snapped! This is kind of what has been built there. A terrible team that can occasionally beat other terrible teams when things go their way. The bright spot for them is Corey Brewer, who has become a serious playmaker. Hopefully he’ll end up somewhere that teaches him the things he needs to be a complete player.

Jazz 128 Warriors 104: The Jazz scored 76 points in the first half. 76.

There is no piece of analysis I can give you that will explain how one team can score 76 points in 24 minutes while the other scores 49, other than, “The losing team is not very well coached defensively.”

The Jazz mean business. Top to bottom, they’re focused, confident, and mad as hell.

Trail Blazers 118, Knicks 90: This was as bad as the Knicks have played all season. Which is saying something, this team lost to the Nets twice. New York’s defense was just a frightful mess, their rebounding nonexistent. They let a Portland team — granted, one playing well right now — put up 60 first half points on their way to a 131 points per 100 possessions pace. Which is insanely good.

Portland, that’s 12 out of the last 14, congrats. But don’t read much into beating this team on this night.

Wizards 96, Hornets, 91: The Wizards 16-game losing streak ended because Shaun Livingston outplayed Chris Paul. No, I mean it. Totally one sided. Livingston is bigger and longer and they were not afraid to post him up on CP3, usually with good result. Livingston finished with 18 points and 8 assists, Paul with 8 points and 9 assists. Credit Quinton Ross, who also saw come time on Chris Paul and defended him well.

Still, David West got a good look at a three in the final 10 seconds to tie the game — Andray Blatche played some pretty lazy defense on that one despite the game being on the line — but West missed it. Just that kind of night for the Hornets.

Heat 98, Pistons 81: Jermaine O’Neal was out and meant there was room inside and Michael Beasley stepped up, getting into the paint and scoring 28. You know, the kind of thing the Heat expect him to do nightly but actually see so rarely. Don’t bet on a repeat performance. But it got them a win Wednesday.

Raptors 114, Clippers 92: I haven’t watched a game with this little defense since Paul Westhead left the college coaching ranks. It actually offended me as a basketball fan. Drew Gooden could not begin to contain Chris Bosh down low, he got no help, so Bosh had 33. But it was all the Raptors scoring at will. The Cl
ippers tried everything, eve
n some zone, but it didn’t work.

Still Los Angeles led at the half 53-48 because they dominated the glass — in the first half they grabbed the offensive board on 40 percent of their missed shots. Then the Clippers bailed out the horrid Toronto defense in the third by settling for jumpers. Long jumpers. When they started to miss, Toronto pulled away.

Spurs 119, Rockets 102: Remember when the Rockets were a really good defensive team…

The Spurs had their way on offense, and not really simply because Manu was back (although that helped and he sas. They shot 56.8 percent as a team, led by George Hill going 11 of 15 for a career high 30. The Spurs played like a team with a purpose, like a playoff team. They were the only ones.

Here are LeBron’s best shots from his seven 40-point playoff games (VIDEO)

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LeBron James has had an incredible playoff run. He has nearly single-handedly kept the Cleveland Cavaliers alive in the postseason against the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Boston Celtics.

James has largely been dominant, scoring 40 points or more in seven playoff games just this postseason alone. That is more than many NBA legends had in their entire playing career. According to Basketball Reference, LeBron’s seven games of 40 points or more is a higher mark than than Charles Barkley, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Karl Malone, or Magic Johnson had during their entire careers.

LeBron and the Cavaliers are set to take on the Celtics for Sunday’s Game 7 matchup, and it’s possible we see yet another 40+ point performance from The King.

Meanwhile, the NBA has put together a highlight video to show some of the best plays from LeBron’s 40+ point games this season.

Watch the full video above. Game 7 is at 5:30 PM PST.

Both conference finals reach Game 7 for first time in 39 years

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Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team had just defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana State team to win the NCAA Tournament. “Apocalypse Now” and “Alien” had just been released into the theaters. Van Halen II had just hit your local record store, in both vinyl and cassette tape form. “Three’s Company” was the hottest show on television and “The Dukes of Hazzard” had just made its debut.

It was May 1979, and that was the last time that both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals went to a Game 7.

Until this year, that is. Sunday night LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will head to Boston for a Game 7 to try and return to the NBA Finals (it would be LeBron’s eighth straight trip to the Finals). Monday night, Houston will try to hold on at home in a Game 7 without Chris Paul and advance past the offensive onslaught of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors.

In 1979, it was a very different NBA — there was no three-point line (that started next season, and even then few players took the shot, it was not something they grew up practicing). The shorts were a lot shorter. The Jazz were in New Orleans, the Kings in Kansas City, the Clippers in San Diego, and there was a Seattle SuperSonics team.

A very good Seattle team — they beat the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals. The Sonics were led by the backcourt of Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson, with Jack Sikma as the big man inside providing balance. Seattle won the first two games of the series at home, then the Suns — led by Paul Westphal and Walter Davis — tied the series holding home court in games three and four. Phoenix stole Game 5 in Seattle, but the Sonics returned the favor with a dramatic 106-105 Game 6 win in Phoenix. Game 7 went to Seattle 114-110.

In the Eastern Conference, it was the Washington Bullets and the San Antonio Spurs (yes, the Spurs used to be in the East). Those Spurs, led by George “Ice Man” Gervin (who averaged 31 points a game in the WCF), went into Washington and stole Game 1. After the Spurs held home court in Games 3 and 4, they had a commanding 3-1 series lead. That’s when Washington — led by Bob Dandridge and Elvin Hayes — got on a roll and won the final three games, and it was Dandridge who hit the game-winner with eight seconds left to seal Game 7.

The Finals didn’t live up to quite the same hype, with the Sonics downing the Bullets in five games. It was the Sonics’ lone NBA title.

Three things to watch in Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers Game 7

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One game. Winner moves on to the NBA Finals, loser can book early tee times starting Monday.

It’s a dramatic Game 7 between Boston and Cleveland for the Eastern Conference crown. In a series that has swung wildly in favor of whoever was the home team that night, the season comes down to one game for these two team. At this point, there are no more real adjustments — both teams, both coaches know what to expect from the other side. It’s about poise. It’s about keeping your head. It’s about what role player will step up big (as one always seems to do in quirky Game 7s).

Here are three things to keep an eye on in this game.

1) LeBron James. He’s the best player on the court, the best of his generation, and with the Cavs it all starts with him — he can’t be just merely good for the Cavaliers to win, he has to be superhuman. Which is what we’ve come to expect — he had 46 points in 46 minutes of play in Game 6 and that’s going to be needed again.

It’s worth watching early on to see if the tweak to his knee suffered in Game 6 has any impact — he scored 12 points after it in that game, but it’s possible it tightened up after his body cooled down. Does LeBron have the same lift and explosiveness? Either way, he’s going to make plays. From the Celtics’ perspective, they just need to make him work hard for them.

There are a lot of players who get tight and shrink from Game 7s. Not LeBron — for his career he has averaged 34.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists in Game 7s. The last five times he’s been in a Game 7, LeBron’s teams have won (his last Game 7 loss was to the Celtics in 2008). Bottom line, if there’s one thing we know will happen in this game, it’s LeBron will be great. That, alone, is not enough to get the Cavaliers a win, which leads us too….

2) With Kevin Love out, will any other role players step up for the Cavaliers? Love has been the second best offensive player for the Cavaliers in the postseason, but they can survive his loss — this is a better defensive team without him (3.1 points per 100 possessions better when he is off the court in this series) and the offense often sees better ball movement and flow.

Cleveland’s veterans need to step up in this pressure situation, and that starts with George Hill — he is the bellwether for this team, the second ball handler and shot creator they need. When he plays well, when he is playing downhill and attacking off picks as he did in Game 6, they win. Hill was aggressive, got into the paint, and from there is both a scorer and a distributor in the last game in Cleveland. He has not been the same guy on the road, what does he have to do to be that guy again?

“I have to focus and try to do the same things that I prepared today to take into Sunday,” Hill said after Game 6. “It sounds funny, but I had to go find my Chipotle barbacoa. That’s my pregame meal, so I’m up two games — well, the three games here, that’s what I ate before the game. I’m for sure going to find a Chipotle in Boston, I’ll tell you that.”

Beyond Hill and his barbacoa, Jeff Green is getting the start with Hill out — he is a streaky player, but the good Green would go a long way to helping the Cavs in this one. Kyle Korver needs to find space and knock down threes, the good J.R. Smith needs to show up (that version of him missed a lot of time this series, he’s been dreadful for several games), and Tristan Thompson needs to get some offensive rebounds. LeBron is going to do his thing, but the man can only do so much, he needs help.

3) Are the Celtics’ young stars ready for this pressure and this moment? Boston is at home, where they are a different team and an undefeated 10-0 this season. Boston is also the younger team that bounces back faster, something that matters because this is the third game in five days for these teams (great scheduling, NBA… ugh). The Celtics deserve to be the favorite, but the question that has hung over them all playoffs still looms for this game:

Is Boston ready for this stage and this level of pressure?

“I’ve tried my best all year to try and not talk about their age,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after Game 6. “It’s not about that. They’re really good basketball players. They’re really committed to each other. We all have a job to do and that’s go out and try to play the best we can. That’s regardless, Game 7, Game 1, a game in November, whatever the case may be… We need to be ready to play. We will be ready to play.”

The Celtics have already played a Game 7 in this postseason, handily beating Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. That, however, is a much smaller stage. They need to do Sunday what they did in that first Game 7 — the win starts on the defensive end, making LeBron work for his buckets and not letting the supporting cast get rolling. Then, with the stops and turnovers, use those young legs to get out in transition and get a few easy buckets, force cross-matches and take advantage.

Boston gets their points by committee, they get the ball to the open man and he has to knock the shot down, whether it’s Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown or Terry Rozier or Al Horford or anyone else. In Game 6, they were not hitting those shots, and defensively they let Hill and other supporting Cavaliers get rolling. That has to change in Game 7 — make LeBron work for his buckets and don’t let the role players get hot.

Boston needs another aggressive first quarter from Brown (he’s done that most of the series). They need to force switches and run sets that get Horford space from Thompson. The Celtics need to defend, then run — they need to force the pace and try to wear down the older Cavaliers.

All season, all playoffs, despite being down men, the Celtics have just found a way to win. They need to do that one more time to reach the Finals.

Will Chris Paul play in Game 7?

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The way Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were shooting it probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome of Game 6, but the Houston Rockets missed Chris Paul. They missed his steadying influence on offense, and maybe more importantly they missed his defense — Curry was directing the offense, creating space with his handles then finding people cutting off the ball and draining threes. Paul may have been able to help keep Curry in relative check.

Which all leads to this big question: Will Paul suit up and play in Game 7?

Doesn’t sound like it.

I would describe the mood of sources I spoke to on this issues as pessimistic on CP3’s chances of play.

If Paul can at all go, he will. Three years ago Paul played through a hamstring injury to lead the Clippers past the Spurs, he’ll want to do it again.

This is different. For one thing, Paul is older now, his body will not bounce back the same way. Also, there are risks in playing him — if he is at all limited with his movement the Warriors will target him with Curry and Klay Thompson, try to get CP3 moving laterally and exploiting him. If he’s not right, Mike D’Antoni needs to have him on a short leash.

But if he can go, D’Antoni will let him try.