Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Bobcats and Knicks have the same record

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What you missed while watching West Virginia score more first half points than 15 the NBA teams playing last night (seriously)….

Bobcats 118, Knicks 110: Boris Diaw outplayed Amare Stoudemire. Gerald Henderson took it to Landry Fields at every turn. The Charlotte Bobcats outworked a Knicks team that has a lot of talent but looks rudderless on offense and still doesn’t play much defense (Charlotte shot 55 percent as a team and basically did whatever it wanted on offense).

Frankly I mocked the Baron Davis signing — and I’m still not president of his fan club  — but the Knicks need him. New York needs a point guard in the worst way. Iman Shumpert returned from injury with 18 points, but he is not the answer right now. Despite the chants of MSG faithful.

Diaw had 27 points on 15 shots and Henderson had 24 on 13 shots. When the Knicks tried to make a charge in the fourth — behind Carmelo Anthony’s 20 fourth-quarter points — it was Henderson who knocked down the key threes to keep the game out of reach for NYC. The Knicks closeouts on jump shooters are lazy and it killed them in this game. Their lack of defense in general killed them.

Just for the record, both Charlotte and New York are now 2-4.

Nuggets 110, Kings 83: No Nene and it didn’t matter for Denver as they hit 60.5 percent of their shots and had a balanced attack (Al Harrington’s 15 points led the Nuggets). Looking for a bright spot, Kings fans? That would be DeMarcus Cousins with a game-high 26 for Sacramento.

This game gave us the play of the night.

Bulls 99, Pistons, 83: Richard Hamilton was back in the lineup, back in Detroit, and he ended up being key to this game. Not really the 14 points he had (which were nice) but how he set up the offense early. The Pistons know Rip and they were not going to let him catch-and-shoot coming off picks, they overplayed him. So he had four early assists hitting the open man inside. From there, the Bulls offense flowed. Carlos Boozer led the way with 19.

Raptors 92, Cavaliers 77: Andrea Bargnani had one of those mirage games where he looks like the kind of guy you could build a franchise around, as he knocked down everything on his way to 31 points. It won’t last, we all know it, but on these nights he looks special. Also out of the ordinary, DeMar DeRozan with five threes. Cleveland was on the second game of a back-to-back and they just looked tired, shooting 29.6 percent for the game. Kyrie Irving got smacked around by the reality of the NBA — it’s hard to do this every night.

Magic 103, Wizards 85: Orlando raced out to a 12-0 lead in this one and, well, what else do you really need to know? Dwight Howard had 28 points, 20 rebounds, Ryan Anderson had 23 points and 15 rebounds. The Wizards are bad.

Celtics 89, Nets 70: Boston has an amazing ability to play down to the level of its opponents. New Jersey led at the half 35-34 in a game they were playing without Deron Williams, Kris Humphries or Brook Lopez. Paul Pierce had 11 points in the third quarter (24 for the game) and the Celtics pulled away in the final 24. Brandon Bass had 15 points, 13 rebounds.

Heat 118, Pacers 83: The 4-1 Pacers get their first test against an elite team and… ugh. Miami was up 62-39 at the half, and LeBron James already had 14 of the 33 he would get before he rolled his ankle. This was the Cleveland-era LeBron that did it all and carried his team. Chris Bosh finished the game with 22. Indiana shot just 34.8 percent for the night, and we’ll find in the coming days if that is the pattern against the elite teams or if this was just an off night.

76ers 101, Hornets 93: This game was close through three quarters, then it became the Jrue Holiday show. He had 14 in the fourth quarter to help the Sixers finish the five-game road trip they had to open the season at 3-2. Not bad, not bad at all. Evan Turner had 21 and may be finding his groove. New Orleans has got to find a way to close out games, they just seem to fold late.

Grizzlies 90, Timberwolves 86: Memphis is now 2-0 without Zach Randolph, and that is huge for a team trying to trying to stay in position to make the playoffs. They can thank Tony Allen, who had 20 points on perfect 8-of-8 shooting (including four threes) to spark the offense. Kevin Love had 27 and 14, because that is what he does. Ricky Rubio also did his thing.

Spurs 101, Warriors 95: This is the kind of game the Spurs need to win with Manu Ginobili out if they intend to make the playoffs. Golden State had the lead in the fourth until a 15-2 run sparked by Tim Duncan and the bench play of T.J. Ford and Danny Green. Oh, and Monta Ellis who had 38. The Warriors had their chances, but Kwame Brown missed four late free throws.

Mavericks 98, Suns 89: Phoenix focused their defense to take the ball out of Dirk Nowitzki’s hands — he had 20 points anyway — but it was his early passing to set up teammates when the double came that was key. The Mavericks ball movement was fantastic. So was their rebounding — 18 offensive rebound was key here. Lamar Odom had his first good game as a Maverick with 15 points. Marcin Gortat had 22 for the Suns.

Clippers 117, Rockets 89: The Clippers caught the Rockets on the second game of a back-to-back, got Chauncey Billups back and all of it together was too much for Houston. The Clippers pulled away early and never looked back. Blake Griffin had 22, Chris Paul 20 and most of the fourth quarter was garbage time.

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

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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.

A bunch of players got ejected at the end of Sixers-Nets (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on to the second round. They beat the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday, 122-100. They will meet in the Toronto Raptors in the next series after Kawhi Leonard & Co. took care of the Orlando Magic earlier in the evening.

Brooklyn was a spunky team, and they gave the Sixers some headaches. They also exposed some of Philadelphia’s more obvious flaws, which we will no doubt see Toronto try to exploit moving forward.

The Nets are a prideful team, and they weren’t too pleased about getting bumped out of the playoffs by Philadelphia. At the end of the game, a scuffle between Jonah Bolden and Rodions Kurucs resulted in the ejections of several players.

Via Twitter:

Greg Monroe and Dzanan Musa were also ejected.

It’s a bummer of a way to end the year for Brooklyn, but they should hold their heads high given they gave a championship-hopeful team in the Sixers a scare and cast some serious self-doubt in their hearts.