Baseline to Baseline recaps: Lakers, Celtics both lose; it’s not the ‘80s anymore

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Our nightly recap of the games from around the NBA. Or, what you missed while going out tonight because you have to deal with your family tomorrow…

Thunder 117, Clippers 111 (OT): Nobody stops Chris Paul, but the Thunder did a better job of slowing him down than anyone has this season and that’s how they got a quality win at home and our own D.J. Foster broke it down.

Kings 113, Lakers 98: What have we all been saying about the Lakers? Right, it’s all going to be about how they defend. When you have Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and eventually Steve Nash they are going to score points in bunches no matter what offense they run. But can they defend.

They didn’t against the Kings, especially in the fourth quarter — with the game on the line the Kings shot 63 percent. Marcus Thornton tore them up for a dozen points in the quarter (and 23 for the game). Dwight Howard looked tired and out of shape all night (he had four field goal attempts on the game) and when he isn’t sharp neither is the Lakers defense. Pau Gasol was 3-of-10. Also, the turnover issue was back with the Lakers having 20

The only Laker who looked good was Kobe — 38 points on 20 shots, again breaking down defenses with the pick-and-roll. But he has now played 79 minutes on the two nights of a back-to-back and that is too many for an older player with most of the season still ahead of him.

For the Kings, it’s fun when everything clicks. Tyreke Evans had 18, Isaiah Thomas was carving up the Lakers defense in the fourth, and Jason Thompson was in a groove late. That’s how you end a losing streak with authority.

Spurs 112, Celtics 100: If you want statistical evidence of how San Antonio simply was the superior team all night, try this one on for size — Boston had zero offensive rebounds. Not one. They are not a good offensive rebounding team, but blind luck and funky bounces should grant them one or two a game. Nope. Spurs controlled it and controlled everything it felt like — Boston would try to make a run, San Antonio would answer with a better one. We saw that in the fourth quarter — the Celtics got it within six, the Spurs hit another gear and cruised to a win. Tony Parker had 26 points on 17 shots, plus six assists and was the best player on the floor.

It was so much fun to see Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett battling and trading shots all fourth quarter long. I’d say it was a throwback but both are still fully capable of games like this now.

Mavericks 114, Knicks 111: It was “turn back the clock” night in Dallas — in the fourth quarter the Knicks were getting their points from Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler while Vince Carter gave the Mavs 14 in the fourth quarter alone. Dallas took charge of the game with a 20-8 run in the third quarter. But it wasn’t over — the Knicks hit a shot cut it to four, but then the next trip down J.R. Smith was looking to gamble and sagged off a hot Carter, who drained the corner three. Give credit to Shawn Marion, who did a good job on Carmelo Anthony all night.

Nuggets 101, Timberwolves 94: Kevin Love was back and Minnesota rode the emotion of that a 17-point lead during the first half. Love was his old self — he had 14 of Minnesota’s first 18 points on his way to 34 plus 14 rebounds. But the Nuggets came out a different team in the second half, went on a 14-2 run and cranked up the defense, holding Minnesota to 27.3 percent shooting for the second half (Minnesota scored just 36 in the second half). Meanwhile Denver had three guys score 11 points in the second half — Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari had 11 points in the second half (Gallinari led the Nuggets with 19).

Heat 113, Bucks 106 (OT): Milwaukee just one of those teams that seem to give Heat trouble. It didn’t look that way at first Wednesday — Milwaukee started 6-of-27 shooting, 1-of-9 from three and a 21-2 Heat run gave them an 18-point lead early in the second quarter. But when Larry Sanders got ejected the Bucks responded with a 13-0 run and we had a game from there on. Both teams had their chances at the end of the game and Monta Ellis may have saved the day with a quality block on Dwyane Wade at the buzzer. But a Ray Allen three, some LeBron James buckets (he finished with 28) and some Chris Bosh free throws had Miami pulling away in the overtime.

Cavaliers 92, Sixers 83: No Kyrie Irving but the Cavaliers were still pushing the pace and moving the ball well early. They got up 32-17 early. But a 16-1 run early in the second quarter changed all that and we had a ballgame. And it went like that all game — the Sixers would make a run and the Cavaliers would answer with one of their own. But Cleveland had the last 13-0 run late in the fourth that Philly could not respond to. Irving’s replacement Jeremy Pargo had 28 to lead all scorers. For a night Cleveland played like they didn’t miss him.

Pacers 115, Hornets 107 (OT): Indiana needed a win. Any win would do. So the fact it was an overtime win against an undermanned New Orleans team doesn’t matter. They got a win behind a triple double — 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocks — from Roy Hibbert and 33 points on 11 three pointers from Paul George. They will take it.

Hawks 101, Wizards 100 (OT): Good news for the Wizards — Nene returned to the court. He wasn’t fantastic (you don’t expect that the first time out) but he was back. This was pretty close the whole way, with big men leading the way for both sides — Josh Smith had 25 for Atlanta and Kevin Seraphin rose up with 21 for the Wizards. But late in the first overtime Devin Harris used himself as a screen to give Kyle Korver room to knock down the three that won it. Seraphin had a chance as time ran out but air balled a hook shot, Martell Webster made the smart play and tried to grab and put it in, but his basket was just a split second late.

Magic 90, Pistons 74: Detroit raced out to a 19-9 lead and it looked like a game. Then came the third quarter — Orlando opened the second half on a 21-0 run, the Pistons scored just 8 points in the third quarter. And that was your ballgame. Orlando had balanced scoring but Andrew Nicholson led the way with 15.

Bobcats 98, Raptors 97: The Charlotte Bobcats are 6-4. Damn. Charlotte did it with balance, having seven players in double figures, but it was Ramon Sessions with the shooter’s bounce game winner with :28 seconds left. It was maybe the best game Toronto has played in a while defensively, they had Kyle Lowry looking like his old self and Jonas Valanciunas was knocking down jumpers. But this was the Bobcats night.

Rockets 93, Bulls 89: The Bulls just don’t have the personnel to do what’s necessary most nights offensively to win games. This one against the Rockets was a prime example of that, as Chicago struggled to 40 percent shooting from the field, and a horrific 2-of-16 as a team from three-point distance.

Nate Robinson and Luol Deng led the Bulls with 21 and 19 points respectively, but combined to shoot a brutal 16-of-42 from the field to get there.

Meanwhile, James Harden was James Harden, pouring in an efficient 28 points on 14 shots. Houston also got solid games from Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons, but Jeremy Lin was ineffective, finishing with just four points and five turnovers on 2-of-9 shooting in 26 minutes. He was benched for the game’s final 3:21, when the Rockets were trailing by three at the time.

The Bulls used their trademark defense to force 23 turnovers, which kept things close. But ultimately their offense failed them, as the team went 4:31 without a point while Houston used a 10-0 run to turn a five-point deficit into a five-point lead to take it down the stretch.
—Brett Pollakoff

Suns 114, Blazers 87: The Suns made a change to their starting lineup for this one, after falling behind by double-digits in the first half of the majority of their games this season. Luis Scola and Jared Dudley headed to the bench, and Markieff Morris and Shannon Brown were inserted to provide some scoring and toughness from the opening tip.

While the lineup changes proved successful, it was the domination of Phoenix’s frontcourt players that was the difference. Marcin Gortat had 16 first-half points on the way to 22 for the game, Morris finished with 19, and Jermaine O’Neal’s corpse even did some damage with 17.

The Blazers, meanwhile, just don’t have the talent in their frontcourt rotation to be able to hang with a team with even decent options there. We’re talking Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland, and Victor Claver — none of whom could do much of anything offensively, while the Suns exploited the mismatch on the offensive end of the floor to their advantage to lead by 13 at the end of the first half.

The third quarter saw Phoenix quickly build the lead to 21 after a 10-2 run to start the period, and that was essentially that. Rookie Damian Lillard played fine offensively, but overall, Portland’s skill players looked completely disinterested and there wasn’t any help available from the bench. The result was the blowout we saw tonight.
—Brett Pollakoff

Warriors 102, Nets 93: Remember the guy who was pegged by NBA General Managers to be the breakout player of the year? Well, he hadn’t shot over 50 percent from the field in a single game this season, and there was even talk about sending him to the bench in the first month of the season. But tonight, finally (finally!) Klay Thompson showed up for the Warriors in the second half of a tightly contested ballgame and went nuclear. Thompson connected on 8-of-11 of his second half attempts to provide the extra scoring punch the Warriors needed to separate from the visiting Nets.
—D.J. Foster

Damian Lillard reportedly playing through separated ribs suffered in Game 2

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Midway through the third quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Golden State’s Kevon Looney both dove for a loose ball near midcourt. Looney got it, threw the ball ahead to Stephen Curry, and in the process rolled over Lillard.

Lillard suffered separated ribs on that play, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Here is the play.

Lillard has shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) since the injury, including 5-of-18 in the Trail Blazers’ Game 3 loss.

Lillard shot 7-of-19 (36.8 percent) before the injury — the Warriors trapping him and forcing the ball out of his hands has been an issue for Lillard in this series, long before his collision with Looney.

Lillard himself did not bring the injury up, it was leaked. When asked in his postgame press conference Saturday night, Lillard admitted to being tired but would not use it as an excuse.

“Everybody’s tired,” Lillard said. “It’s the third round of the playoffs after a long season. Our last series, I got a lot of attention. The team was giving me a lot of attention and same thing in this series. It takes a lot to deal with that and then go out and chase guys around on the defensive end.

“But everybody’s putting that effort out. I mean, I feel fine enough to go out there and play 40 minutes like I have been, but you know, it’s definitely tiring.”

And he’s playing through pain on top of it.

Portland is already down 0-3 in this series and faces a win-or-it’s-over Game 4 on Monday night at the Moda Center.

Game 3 Déjà vu: Warriors slow down Lillard, come from behind to win, take 3-0 series lead

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It was Déjà vu all over again for the Warriors and Trail Blazers. And it all started with Damian Lillard.

The Warriors didn’t re-invent the wheel in this playoff series, they just have aggressively executed the game plan that has troubled Portland in the playoffs for years:

Take the ball out of Damian Lillard’s hands, dare anyone else to beat you.

Oklahoma City and Denver could not do it, but Golden State has. Every chance the Warriors get they trap Lillard off the pick-and-roll, and even when they don’t do that the Warriors show the second defender early. Lillard has struggled with his shot against that, he was 5-of-18 shooting in Game 3, and in the series he is now 15-of-46 (32.6 percent).

What Lillard is doing right is making the smart pass to the big on the short roll at the free throw line, creating a 4-on-3 (or sometimes 3-on-2) for the Trail Blazers to attack, but they have not consistently taken advantage of that.

“I think what they want me to do is make the correct play, and for me, I try to do that for as long as possible,” Lillard said. “You know, as long as I can do it and we can stay in the game or have a lead like we have the last two games when I’m just making the right plays, and guys are doing what they’re supposed to do on the weak side.

“But I think in Golden State’s minds, they know at some point, if we’re going to beat them, I’m going to have to be rolling. They are just kind of banking on the fact that we’ll just live with what’s happening right now. Keep getting the ball out of his hands and you know, at some point, we’ll probably be able to take over the game.”

Golden State did take over the game, in part bucause they have a playmaker as good as Draymond Green.

Green is the master of the short roll, and on Saturday night he was doing that, plus driving end-to-end, owning the glass, and generally being the best player on the floor on his way to 20 points on 12 shots, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists.

“I don’t even know what to say about Draymond, he was like a wrecking ball out there,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said postgame. “He was just destroying every in his path. The pace he was generating was incredible and it seemed like he never got tired.”

Green was critical to another dominant Golden State third quarter that sparked a comeback from 18 down in the third to win 110-99.

Golden State now has a stranglehold on the series, up 3-0. Game 4 is in Portland on Monday night.

The Warriors are now 4-0 without Kevin Durant, still out with a strained calf (he’s not expected to return this series). Stephen Curry, who had 36 in this win, has scored at least 33 in each of those wins.

In the most important ways, Game 3 felt like a replay of Game 2, just in a different arena.

Feeding off that home crowd and energy, the Trail Blazers raced out to an early lead and were the better team through the first 24 minutes. Portland shot 11-of-22 outside the paint in the first half, compared to 9-of-27 for Golden State. Portland had a 125.7 offensive rating in the first half thanks to that shooting, plus grabbing the offensive rebound on 34.8 percent of their missed shots.

More than the offense, Portland played good half-court defense in the first half, taking the Warriors out of their rhythm. They trapped Curry and Thompson with size — Moe Harkless and Myers Leonard if possible — and the Warriors struggled to adapt

Leonard played the best basketball of his career in the first half, with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (he finished with 16 points) and making plays like this:

All that had the Trail Blazers up 13 at the half. It was impressive, then again they were up 15 at the half in Game 2. The Warriors were not fazed.

“It all started with our second half defense, we held them to 33 points,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “We had amazing contributions off the bench, every single guy came in and made an impact.”

That bench mattered. The Golden State starters and core lineups got back in the game, taking a small lead, but when Green and Curry rested to start the fourth, Portland left their starters in and were still -3 in those critical minutes.

Curry and Green came in rested, and the Warriors leaned on them heavily the rest of the way with the Curry/Green pick-and-roll — Portland has no answers for that.

The Warriors run also seemed to shake the Portland offense. The Trail Blazers shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) from three after the first quarter, and for the game the Blazers missed 13 free throws (they shot just 60.6 percent as a team from the stripe).

Portland was led by CJ McCollum, who had 23 points on 20 shots.

He’s going to have to do better, Lillard is going to have to do a lot better, and the Blazers are going to have to find something special in the third quarter Monday night, or they will be swept right out of the playoffs.

Blazers passing impressive as they push first-half lead to double digits (VIDEO)

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Back home, the Portland Trail Blazers looked far more comfortable.

Feeding off the energy of a loud crowd at the Moda Center, the Trail Blazers stretched out to a first-half lead thanks to a level of impressive ball movement and energy we have not seen from them all series. Check it out.

This may go down as the Myers Leonard game, he had 13 points in the first half.

Portland stretched their lead to as much as 18 and was up by 13 at the half. I wouldn’t call that comfortable because, well, Golden State, but it’s the best the Blazers have played all series.

Rockets will not bring defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik back next season

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Before the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 112.2 (points allowed per 100 possessions), 25th in the NBA.

After the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 105.3, second best in the NBA. In the playoffs, the Rockets had a 107.3 defensive rating despite six games against the Warriors.

There are multiple reasons for that change, but a key one: The Rockets backed up the Brinks truck and brought assistant coach and defensive specialist Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement to help fix the problems.

Bzdelik will not be back with the team next season, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Technically Bzdelik was fired, although that is not an accurate description of really what happened here. This was not because of poor job performance, it was a question of if he really wanted to be there, and the Rockets wanted someone all-in. Understandably. This is a Houston team still on the cusp of a title, just one that has run headlong into the Warriors dynasty in recent years. A dynasty that likely will look a lot different next year, opening the door in the West. The Rockets want to push through that door.

That said, replacing Bzdelik will not be easy.

It’s one of a number of challenging choices for the Rockets this summer.