Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Martin Luther King Day games

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What you missed while listening to the “I have a Dream” speech…

The Lakers defeating the Thunder in a contest that looked a lot like last-year’s playoffs was our game of the night.

Celtics 109, Magic 106: Kevin Garnett is back. Is he ever.

It was a full slate of 13 NBA games Monday and this was the best one. It felt like the playoffs. The Magic and Celtics stood toe-to-toe, trading Jameer Nelson penetrations for Ray Allen jumpers. It was chippy. The crowd was roaring. Damn, it was just fun. There were a lot of keys — like the aforementioned Allen, who seems to get ignored by the defense at key moments as if he were Jeff Teague. Everyone talks about not letting Allen get open late, but he always does.

The real difference was Kevin Garnett, and not just the dramatic game-sealing steal. The Celtics just play with a different, more intense energy when he suits up. He’s back and the Celtics get the win. Not a coincidence.

Suns 129, Knicks 121: Amar’e Stoudemire again reminded Phoenix fans what got away, putting up 41 and looking all the world like an MVP candidate. But this was won at the point guard — Steve Nash played a controlled game (15 points, 11 assists) while Raymond Felton was 3 of 13 shooting (but with 13 assists). Nash gave his team what they needed. Really impressive all-around game from Vince Carter — hitting the outside shot, driving, tipping in rebounds. Carter also passed the 20,000-point level for his career.

Wizards 108, Jazz 101: There are games where Andray Blatche comes to play and when it happens the Wizards are a much more dangerous team. This was one of those games. Blatche had 21, JaVale McGee had 11 rebounds and we could swear we saw him pass the ball, and John Wall looked as good as he has this season with 19 points (7-of-12 shooting) and 15 assists.

Bulls 96, Grizzlies 84: Memphis shot terribly against that tough Bulls defense, hitting 37.7 percent overall and 1-of-7 from three. The Bulls did a great job of jumping on the Grizzlies early, Derrick Rose had his first-ever triple-double (22 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds), Luol Deng dropped 28 on 11-of-17 shooting and Kyle Korver was raining threes.

Pistons 103, Mavericks 89: In his second game back, Dirk Nowitzki really looked like he had his legs back with 32 points on 10-of-17 shooting. The problem with Dallas remains on defense — the Pistons shot 57.5 percent (60.3 eFG%, once you count in the made threes). Once they start defending again the Mavs will break out of this slump. For the Pistons, Greg Monroe continues to grow and look like a guy starting to figure it out.

Sixers 96, Bobcats 92 (OT): This one went to overtime because the Sixers got some big shots out of Lou Williams and some smart play from Andre Iguodala down the stretch. They won it in overtime because the Sixers just executed better.

Down two with less than 20 seconds remaining in overtime, the Bobcats ran a pick-and-roll, and just as you would expect in a late game situation the Sixers switched. That left Jrue Holiday on Boris Diaw, who already had a triple double (25 points, 11 boards and 11 assists). D.J. Augustin got Diaw the ball, he backed Holiday down, made a move into the middle then seemed surprised when the help came — so he dumped it to Kwame Brown. That means the Bobcats need Kwame to make a quick, smart decision. You can see the problem there. He throws it away and from there it’s all Sixers and free throws. Which the Sixers executed.

Rockets 93, Bucks 84: The Bucks were, for a change, the better shooting team in this one — 44 percent to 36.8 percent. But the Rockets did everything else needed to win — they got to the free throw line more, got more offensive rebounds and just generally out worked the Bucks.

Hornets 85, Raptors 81: Chris Paul had six points on eight shots. He had 11 assists but he did not look right. Emeka Okafor had 12 offensive rebounds,  setting the Hornets’ franchise record for offensive rebounds in a game, and finished with 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

Clippers 114, Pacers 107: Damn the Clippers and their 1-13 start to the season. I want to see this team in the playoffs, but they dug such a deep hole in a still pretty deep West that it’s going to be hard to climb out of it (they are six games out of the eight seed with four teams ahead of them). Blake Griffin is a stud.

Warriors 109, Nets 100: We have a David Lee sighting, 24 points and 10 boards. The Nets, they really could have used someone like Carmelo Anthony in this game.

Hawks 100, Kings 98: The Kings almost got a quality win, they led from the opening tip all the way until midway through the fourth quarter. With the game tied 98-98 and time running out the Hawks went to their standard end-of-game Joe Johnson isolation play (which isn’t bad when he is hot, and he had 36 in this one). With Tyreke Evans on him Johnson drove right got to a spot, pulled up and Evans caught him on the arm with the foul. Two free throws with 0.6 left and that was he ballgame.

Blazers 113, Timberwolves 102: Minnesota had Michael Beasley back from a sprained ankle, and he had 12 on 4-of-8 shooting. Portland pulled away from Minnesota in the second half because nobody on the Wolves could stop LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 37 points and 12 boards.

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Wave goodbye, Damian Lillard eliminates Thunder

Associated Press
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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Wave goodbye, Damian Lillard drops 50, game-winning three to eliminate Thunder. Paul George — the best perimeter defender in the NBA this past season, a guy who likely lands top three in Defensive Player of the Year voting — was on him. Didn’t matter. On a night when Oklahoma City was playing with a sense of desperation because their playoff lives were on the line, a night when George and Russell Westbrook combined for 65 points on 51 shots, plus 20 rebounds and 17 assists, it didn’t matter.

Because Lillard. Words do not do him or the moment justice. Just watch the game winner, which got him to 50 points on the night.

Lillard waved goodbye to the Thunder. That shot gave Portland the 4-1 series win.

It wasn’t one “bad” shot which did in the Thunder, it was OKC’s bad shooting.

The other hero of the night — and in this series — for Portland was big man Enes Kanter, who played through a separated shoulder Tuesday to have 13 points and 13 rebounds. More impressively, he played solid defense for much of the series (even if OKC didn’t drag him into enough pick-and-rolls).

Portland advances to the second round, where they will likely face…

2) The Denver Nuggets look like a team that has figured out Spurs, playoffs, take command for 3-2 series lead. Denver has won the last two games against San Antonio by a combined 42 points, and that makes it sound closer than it has actually felt.

Denver is the more talented team on paper in this series, but the question was would their lack of experience allow them to show it against a franchise that considers deep playoff runs part of its birthright. It took a few games for the Nuggets to get the confidence they needed that they could win this series, but now that they have it — now that they have figured this series out — Denver has taken command.

Tuesday was a 109-90 rout of the Spurs that has the Nuggets up 3-2 in the series. San Antonio is going home to try to force a Game 7, but they are going to have to dramatically step up their level of play.

Two things have helped Denver separate from San Antonio.

One is Nikola Jokic, who is impacting every aspect of this game and had 16 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists as the fulcrum of the Nuggets offense.

“There’s really nothing he can’t do — other than jump,” Jamal Murray joked after the game.

The other difference was the coaching move of this series (maybe of the playoffs thus far): Mike Malone moved Torrey Craig into the starting lineup and moving Will Barton to the bench. It changed the Denver defense: Craig is doing a solid job on DeMar DeRozan, it shifted Gary Harris onto the young Derrick White and Craig has won that battle, while Murray can now hide on Bryn Forbes. Craig has not been a drag on the Denver offense as predicted, Barton was not happy about the move to the sixth man but has played well and handled it like a pro, and Denver has overwhelmed San Antonio for two straight games.

Gregg Popovich will have adjustments, but what he and the Spurs need more to force a Game 7 is a role player to break out and change the momentum of this series.

3) Toronto, Philadelphia both advance to face off next round after blowout Game 5 wins. The Eastern Conference playoffs were always really going to start in the second round, with a rock/paper/scissors battle of four teams — Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston — all of whom can make a claim they can come out of the conference.

Tuesday night Toronto and Philadelphia closed out their series with easy wins to set up a second-round showdown between the teams.

Toronto dropped Game 1 of this series then took command the rest of the way, winning 115-96 on Tuesday in a game that was never close.

Kawhi Leonard had 27 to lead the way.

Sixers fans enjoyed letting Jared Dudley have it.

Philly got up 21 in the first quarter and cruised to a 122-100 victory. The Sixers got pushed some by the Nets, which is a good thing because Toronto is going to push a lot harder.

NBA players, fans react to Damian Lillard’s series-ending shot

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Damian Lillard is the best Portland Trail Blazers player of all time. We’ve established that, it’s time to move on.

Lillard hit yet another game-winning, series-ending shot in the playoffs on Tuesday night as the Blazers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 at Moda Center, 118-115.

Lillard hit a step-back 37-foot 3-point shot over Paul George to win the series at the buzzer. It was reminiscent of the shot Lillard hit in 2014 over Chandler Parsons to beat the Houston Rockets and send Portland to the second round.

Of course the league was watching as the game went down this track too late into the night on the West coast, and early in the morning on the East.

After Lillard hit the shot, NBA Twitter left into action. NBA players who were awake reacted as well, including Parsons, who was cavalier about the whole thing.

What an incredible night in the NBA.

Damian Lillard did it again

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Damian Lillard did it again.

On Tuesday night when the Portland Trail Blazers needed him most, Lillard came through. Things were tight between Portland the Oklahoma City Thunder late in Game 5 at Moda Center. Both Russell Westbrook and Paul George played with five fouls in the fourth quarter, and after an explosive first half where Lillard scored 34 points, things had slowed for Portland.

In the second half, Westbrook played the part of the bully against CJ McCollum, and George was fantastic, eventually scoring 36 points with nine rebounds and three assists.

But things seemed to turn around when Jusuf Nurkic, out with a broken leg, returned to the Blazers bench with three-and-a-half minutes left and Portland down by eight. Nurkic said he left his house with a few minutes to go in the third quarter, anticipating his team could use his good spirits. Indeed, Nurkic’s presence seemed to fuel Portland. When Nurkic showed up, the home team immediately went on an 8-0 run.

Then, Lillard did what he does best.

After hitting the two-for-one shot with 32 seconds left, Lillard found himself with the ball, the game tied, and the shot clock off. As time ticked down and with the game on the line, Lillard hit the biggest shot of the night, right as time expired.

It was the shot that won the series.

You wouldn’t be mistaken if you equated Tuesday night’s big shot to the one Lillard hit in 2013 to beat the Houston Rockets and send Portland into the second round of the playoffs. In fact, I was at that game and I can tell you it was a defining moment for the franchise over the past half-decade.

But this was so much more.

Lillard’s shot to beat the Thunder solidified several things, both about the team and about the star guard himself. The Blazers have been a squad that have relied on its bench and supporting cast all season long, even more so with Nurkic out with a broken leg. But when the Thunder played perhaps one of their best games of the postseason, it was Lillard’s 50-point performance that moved them forward.

Portland is a team’s team, but in the end, it was their star that they needed.

There’s no doubt that Portland and Lillard have had it their fair share of doubters over the past several years. The idea that they could — or should — have a team built on the backs of Lillard and McCollum has raised the eyebrows of many, including myself. But externally, and particularly after their playoff sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans last season, it appeared most were ready to write off this team altogether.

But this playoff series, and this team, is different. They’ve been different all season long, right down to the rotations and flexibility that head coach Terry Stotts has enabled this season. Stotts has gone deeper into his bench, and altered his Flow offense in a way that is helped Portland stay fresh after years of running the same old song and dance.

Guys like Jake Layman, Seth Curry, Zach Collins, and Enes Kanter have all stepped up over the course of the season to be able to contribute to a squad that is needed more than just Lillard and McCollum.

To that end, Portland rose again and again to the challenge. Despite some of their losses, the Thunder gave numerous gut punches to the Blazers that would have seen previous iterations of this team fold. But Portland has been stronger, both as a unit and as Lillard has solidified himself as a more complete two-way player.

The idea that Lillard came back stronger and as more of a leader, ready for adversity, is not a supposition. At this point, it’s fact. You can see how the rest of the team has banded behind him in support of his path forward. Hell, Kanter told reporters after the game on Tuesday that he separated his shoulder and had to have an injection at halftime. That’s how bad these Blazers wanted to win, and how much they wanted to push not just for themselves, but for Lillard.

Thanks to Lillard’s shot (and McCollum’s jumpers, and Maurice Harkless’ free throws) Portland beat the Thunder, 118-115. They advance to the second round, and Rip City will be buzzing all week long. They deserve it, and they’ll be real contenders to challenge for a Western Conference Finals berth.

But where does that leave us when we think about Lillard, and these Blazers? If his famous “0.9” shot from 2014 was the thing that put him on the map, Tuesday’s 37-foot step-back jumper over George was the thing that made Lillard a legend.

The impossibility of that jumper — and the sheer gal to take it — is what makes Damian Lillard who he is.

The greatest Blazer of all-time.

Nuggets have figured out Spurs, how to win, dominate Game 5 to take 3-2 lead

Associated Press
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The coach who made the adjustment that changed the series is not the Olympic team coach, not the “why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame already guy. Instead, it’s Michael Malone. He has been the Bobby Fischer.

Malone’s adjustment: Starting Torrey Craig. Exactly the move everyone expected before the series.

Defensively, Craig has used his length to slow DeMar DeRozan (as much as anyone is going to), while Gary Harris could focus on the young Derrick White and Jamal Murray could hide on Bryn Forbes.

Craig was supposed to drag down the Nuggets offense too much to play him, but he was 5-of-7 from three in Game 4, and in Game 5 it didn’t matter because the San Antonio had no answer for the Jamal Murray/Nikola Jokic pick-and-roll.

The result was a 108-90 Denver thumping of the Spurs, giving them a 3-2 series lead. Closing out the Spurs in San Antonio will be a tall order, but a Denver team that came into the series needing to learn how to win at playoff basketball looks like a team that has figured it out.

“They just outplayed us in every facet of the game,” Gregg Popovich said succinctly.

Murray had 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, plus dished out seven assists and was +33 on the night.

Murry and Jokic have developed a tremendous pick-and-roll chemistry that leads to easy buckets off cuts, rolls, or open threes. Jokic is going to be good — 16 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists — but when Murray is hitting shots too the duo is nearly impossible to stop.

More important than the offense has been how Denver has started to defend the Spurs well — something Craig helped bring to the table. The Nuggets were stepping in and blowing up pick-and-rolls, forcing the Spurs into dry stretches of offense that allowed Denver to pull away.

The Spurs at home cannot be written off, but their role players need to make more plays — LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan each had 17 points, but the rest of the Spurs shot 38.7 percent on the night. Against this Denver offense, that’s not going to be good enough. Denver has figured out what it needs to do to win, the ball is in the Spurs court to adapt. And just make shots.