Baseline to Baseline recaps: It’s Bizzaro World night in NBA

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What you missed while watching the Australian Open and thinking “I need to go to vacation there”….

Wizards 105, Thunder 102: Yes, you are reading that right. The worst team in the NBA (1-12 entering the game) just beat a title contender (12-2 before this started). It gets weirder — Oklahoma City shot 48.1 percent to Washington’s 38.4 percent. And the Thunder led the majority of the second half and midway through the fourth seemed in complete control as Russell Westbrook was on his way to 36 points and Kevin Durant 33.

What happened? To start with, 21 Thunder turnovers, seven by Kevin Durant. That will always get you in trouble. So will giving up the offensive rebound on 33.9 percent of your opponents missed shot (19 offensive boards) — that is a lot of extra chances for Washington to score. Finally, Washington got to the free throw line 43 times (they attacked for a night). But mostly it was Nick Young (10 fourth quarter points) and John Wall (nine in the final quarter) who just refused to let the Thunder take the game back like everyone expected.

Even Wizards fans expected their team to fold and find a way to lose. They did not. That alone is a sign of growth.

Clippers 91, Mavericks 89: The most dramatic game of the night, on a night filled with dramatic games. This was close the entire fourth quarter but felt like a game the Clippers would win, mostly thanks to Mo Williams hot hand (he finished with 26 points). Then it wasn’t. Then suddenly it was again.

First came Jason Terry’s three to put the Mavericks ahead one with 5.2 seconds left. There are two Mavs players you want to cut off on a last second shot, Terry and Dirk Nowitzki. D’Andre Jordan showed out on Terry off a pick only to slide back over to Ian Mahinmi near the arc. Boom goes the dynamite. Looks like a Mavs win by one.

But the Clippers have 4.8 seconds left, and Chauncey Billups inbounds the ball to Blake Griffin out by the arc. There is at this point one Clipper that should be feared — Billups. Mr. Big Shot. But Jason Kidd retreats toward the hoops and off Billups, who runs behind Griffin and uses him as a screen. Game. Set. Match.

Spurs 85, Magic 83 (OT): The Spurs have their first road win of the season, but only because a J.J. Redick game-winning three left his hands just a fraction of a second too late. Well, he’s not the only reason. Tim Duncan had a good game and finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Tony Parker carried the Spurs in the fourth quarter with 14 points — they needed it because late in games is when this team really misses Manu Ginobili’s creativeness. Also, the Spurs held the Magic to 33 percent shooting on the night — take out Dwight Howard (24 points on 9-of-15) and Orlando shot 27.8 percent. And they were 4-21 from three (19.1 percent for a team shooting 41.1 percent coming in).

Nets 107, Warriors 100: The Nets are the last NBA team to pick up a home win — celebrate New Jersey, you guys have a winner. Well, until they leave next season. The Nets took charge of this game on an 18-4 run in the fourth quarter, sparked by Deron Williams (24 points on the night) and Anthony Morrow. MarShon Brooks finished with 22 and Kris Humphries had 18 points and 15 boards. Monta Ellis had 30, but they miss Stephen Curry.

Nuggets 108, Sixers 104 (OT): The Sixers get their first home loss of the season, in large part due to a former Sixer. Andre Miller was clearly motivated and finished with 28 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds. Both teams went small for long stretches and this led to an up-tempo game (103 possessions). Denver’s small lineup did a good job defensively, they switched every screen, and that took away a lot of good looks the Sixers got early and helped key the Denver win.

Celtics 96, Raptors 83: This was an unconventional Celtics win. Rajon Rondo had 21 points and 2 assists. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were a combined 5-for-17 shooting. So how did Boston win this after five straight losses? They were playing the Raptors.

Timberwolves 93, Pistons 85: The Pistons seemed in control of this one in the second quarter and early part of the third, then they decided to see if they could still do that turning the ball over a lot. Turns out they couldn’t. For the Wolves, rookie Nikola Pekovic started the third quarter over Darko Milicic, and that trend may continue for a while.

Suns 91, Knicks 88: Man, the Knicks need someone like Steve Nash to organize their offense. Next season they may have him. In the mean time they have Carmelo Anthony going 5-for-22 and Amare Stoudemire going 7-for-22. The Knicks shot 37.3 percent but still were in this late after an Iman Shumpert three. The difference was the Suns point guard was in classic form — and at 37 did not look the least like he was on a back-to-back. Nash had 26 points and 11 assists. Also, he is the perfect guy to exploit all the switching the Knicks do on defense, which creates some ugly mismatches.

Hawks 92, Trail Blazers 89: Credit goes to Josh Smith for playing good defense on LaMarcus Aldridge all night. The Hawks were just the more efficient shooting team all night long, particularly in the fourth quarter when former Hawk Jamal Crawford took over shooting everything for Portland and going 4-of-10, while the Hawks spread the ball around more and got the win.

Grizzlies 93, Hornets 87: Marc Gasol had 22 points on 14 shots. When the Grizzlies work the offense inside-out, they are hard to beat. Memphis was just a little bit better at everything than the Hornets in this one.

Kings 92, Pacers 88: The Pacers were up 16 late in the third and in control of this one, then the Kings went zone and Indiana fell apart — 8 fourth quarter points on 19 percent shooting with 9 turnovers. Francisco Garcia had 10 in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t so much the Kings were good as the Pacers were just terrible for 12 minutes.

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.