Baseline to Baseline (your game recaps): Where the Celtics tried to give one away, but couldn’t

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What you missed while figuring out where to buy the Wii Michael Jackson game

Denver giving the improved Dallas defense their first real test was the Game of the Night.

Celtics 105, Bucks 102 (OT): Boston got lucky. They were up 6 with 1:22 to play. Boston closes that out. Ray Allen doesn’t miss free throws in the clutch. But tonight they did. And Boston escaped with a win.

One play of note: The Celtics key defensive stop with 30 seconds to go in overtime was vintage Boston. It’s how they’ve won for years. Ray Allen didn’t pressure Carlos Delfino getting the ball on the wing and coming a little late gladly gave up the baseline, guided him that way. Because Kevin Garnett is already there in help position — Boston brings the help earl and pushes you to it. Allen and Garnett took away the pass back to Bogut (Garnett’s man) and left Delfino with few options. He still choose poorly, leaping under the basket and then throwing a pass Paul Pierce easily intercepted.

Delfino made more bad choices, throwing a pass that was picked for the final play of the game, but he did drain a key three.

The Bucks are 1-4, they are really struggling on offense. Didn’t expect that.

Hawks 94, Pistons 85: There are serious problems in Detroit. And not in the “they were 10-21 on shots at the rim and if you can’t finish 50 percent of your shots at the rim you will lose” kind of way. Although that was true Wednesday. But more in the Rodney Stuckey and coach John Kuester had something going on and Stuckey played just 2:56 the second half kind of way. The day after Tayshaun Prince fired back at the coach. Serious problems.

By the way, Atlanta won because it shot better, got to the line more, was more aggressive and just plain better.

Sixers 101, Pacers 75: The Pacers were just off. One of those nights. Danny Granger started out the game 1-8 with all of his shots 13 feet or farther out, on the night only two of his 14 shots came inside of 10 feet. Which was part of the problem — not getting to the rim. Winless Philadelphia played with a sense of desperation.

Magic 128, Timberwolves 86: Minnesota made one bucket in the final six minutes of the first quarter as Orlando went on a 33-8 run and were up 19 after one. Then it got uglier and uglier.

Hornets 107, Rockets 99: New Orleans shot 42 free throws, Houston 14. That speaks to being aggressive, that speaks to getting the ball inside and working inside out, that speaks to playing smart defense and not fouling. Chris Paul took this over in the fourth, scoring 14. Also, Emeka Okafor is playing really good defense, I thought you should know.

Jazz 125, Raptors 108: The Jazz won this one by getting points inside, in the paint, and knowing the Raptors couldn’t stop them. Al Jefferson had 27, Paul Milsap 21 and combined they shot 61 percent. The Raptors can be a good confidence boost for teams that way.

Spurs 112, Suns 110: Richard Jefferson has developed a corner three. You need to fear that rest of the league. Jefferson put up 18 in the fourth to power the Spurs win.

Lakers 112, Kings 100: The Lakers defense has not been that great this season. It wasn’t very good against the Kings. But LA cruises to another win because of their offense. Kobe leads the way with a triple double.

The Kings made a little late push when the Lakers stopped running the triangle offense and went with the Orlando offense for some reason — throw it into the post and wait for the kick out, and don’t move. Whatever you do. Then when the game gets really tight. , Fisher nailed a corner three, got a steal and a three-point play. Because that is what he does.

Warriors 115, Grizzlies 109: My god, Monta Ellis can just flat out score the ball. He had 39 including all the key late baskets. Then there was the dagger — David Lee was open in the paint, got the feed and went Kwane Brown just fumbling it. Monta Ellis beat everyone there, put on a spin move then shot an 18-foot contested fade away. Nylon.

Clippers 107, Thunder 92: Eric Gordon and Eric Bledsoe are the future of the backcourt for the Clippers, who look so much quicker with Baron Davis out. The Clippers found the holes in the Thunder defense — there are a lot of them right now — and went at them. For the Thunder, well, mama said there’d be days like this. Just not their night.

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.

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.