Timberwolves snap Thunder’s 12-game winning streak

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The schedule-makers didn’t do the Thunder any favors on Thursday, and Oklahoma City may have known ahead of time that it was going to be in for a battle that was perhaps tougher than most expected, given the team’s record, along with that of a Timberwolves opponent that it was facing.

The Thunder came to Minnesota riding a 12-game winning streak, having won the night before in Atlanta before making the more than 1,100-mile journey to Minneapolis to play the very next night. It’s a strange enough back-to-back set, and the fact that the team decided to hold its scoring punch off the bench in Kevin Martin out with a bruised quad might have been a sign that the Thunder knew they were in for some trouble.

Whether it was an instinct the team had or not, the Timberwolves made sure to give the Thunder everything they had, and that was more than enough to snap OKC’s winning streak by a final of 99-93.

Minnesota came strong from the start, and led by as many as 14 points in the opening quarter, before finishing it leading by 12. Kevin Love made all four of his shots in the period, and had 11 points, four rebounds, and four assists in the game’s first 12 minutes.

Love finished with 28, 11, and seven, but he got plenty of help. Nikola Pekovic got loose inside for 24 points and 10 rebounds, as he was the consistent beneficiary of Minnesota’s ball movement and crisp passing time and time again.

The real hero for the Timberwolves, however, was J.J. Barea.

The small guard who is an uncontainable pest for his opponent when he has it going dominated the final period, and as the Thunder tried to close the gap and retake control of the game, he was simply unstoppable.

Barea had 14 fourth-quarter points, and scored 12 consecutive for his team during a crucial stretch that lasted close to five minutes. He was hitting from three-point distance and converting inside, and even drew a charge on Kevin Durant at one point which helped swing momentum in his team’s favor.

On the OKC side, Durant finished with 33 points on 21 shots, to go along with seven rebounds, six assists, and three steals. Russell Westbrook had a near triple-double line of 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, but he also turned the ball over eight times, and with his 9-of-28 shooting gave those who wish he’d defer to Durant a bit more offensively another game’s worth of ammunition. And with Martin sidelined due to injury, there was no legitimate scoring threat available from anywhere else.

Ricky Rubio continues to work his way back from injury, and didn’t score in his 18 minutes off the bench, while dishing out three assists. It’s going to be a process for him, and this was a game where he had virtually zero impact while working his way back into shape.

The Thunder aren’t going to lose sleep over this performance, with the team sitting at 21-5 on the season and having lost for just the first time since November 23. The schedule had more to do with this one than anything else, but in Minnesota, the Timberwolves will be more than happy with the end result.

PBT Podcast: Conference Finals now best of three; plus Metta World Peace

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Both NBA Conference Finals are tied 2-2 in both the East and West — and breaking that down is not even the best part of this podcast.

That’s because NBA champion Metta World Peace joins us to talk about his new book, “No Malice: My Life in Basketball or: How a Kid from Queensbridge Survived the Streets, the Brawls, and Himself to Become an NBA Champion.” World Peace discusses the time he cracked Michael Jordan’s ribs in a summer game, how he was nervous before Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2010, and how he was a pioneer in NBA players talking about mental health. (Metta’s portion of the podcast starts at 30:17, if you want to skip ahead).

Prior to that, Dan Feldman and Kurt Helin of NBC Sports dive into a discussion of the two conference finals series. LeBron James brought Cleveland back, but with the Celtics going home will the young players wearing green respond and change the momentum around again?

Do the Warriors have another gear and the ability to win another game on the road in Houston? How are both of those teams going to deal with fatigue from their tight rotations and intense games?

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Clippers extend contract of coach Doc Rivers

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While not many people were noticing, Doc Rivers did arguably his best coaching job since coming to Los Angeles this season. Chris Paul forced his way to Houston before the season, then during it Blake Griffin was shipped off to Detroit. Then there were the injuries to Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari, two players expected to be key contributors who played a combined 32 games. The offense too often felt like Lou Williams vs. The World, yet the Clippers finished above .500 (42-40) and pushed for a playoff spot until the final days of the regular season.

The Clippers noticed what a good job he did, and how well he handled things after losing his GM powers to Lawrence Frank. That’s why they have rewarded him with a contract extension (the details of which are not yet public).

“I am proud of the success we have had here over the last five seasons, but there is more work to be done,” said Rivers in a statement released by the team. “We are coming off a year where our team battled through many challenges and much adversity, proving deep talent and even greater potential. I am looking forward to getting back to work on the court to develop our players and compete with the NBA’s elite.”

“Doc is one of the top coaches in the NBA, coming off one of his finest seasons since joining the Clippers,” Clippers’ owner Steve Ballmer said in a statement. “We trust Doc to lead a competitive, tough, hard-working team while upholding a culture of accountability expected to resonate throughout the organization.”

Rivers was entering the final year of his contract, and neither side wanted him to be in a lame duck status.

For a Clippers franchise in transition, this is a stabilizing move. CP3 and Griffin are gone, DeAndre Jordan can be a free agent this summer, and Los Angeles has some big-picture questions about the direction to take the team it needs to answer. Unlike in Boston, Rivers is going to stick around for this restructuring.

Plus, this is good for Rivers, who makes no secret of the fact he likes living in Los Angeles. He has a comfort level with the city and the organization. Rivers likely took a healthy pay cut from the more than $10 million a year he was getting to be coach and GM, but it’s still good money and an organization he likes. So he is sticking around.

Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis headline NBA All-Defensive teams

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It can be one of the most challenging selections to make on the ballot — NBA All-Defensive Teams.

The reason is all the variables: What kind of system was the player in? What were they asked to do within that system? Were they asked to cover a lot for lesser defenders on the court with them?

The votes are in, and it is Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis at the top with the most points. Just as interestingly, six players made All-Defense for the first time.

Here is the voting breakdown. Voters had to choose one center, two forwards, and two guards for each team.

FIRST TEAM (player, team, total points, first team votes)

Rudy Gobert, Utah, 192 (94)
Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 163 (73)
Robert Covington, Philadelphia, 90 (27)
Victor Oladipo, Indiana, 136 (58)
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans, 105 (39)

SECOND TEAM (player, team, total points, first team votes)

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia, 90 (4)
Draymond Green, Golden State, 86 (26)
Al Horford, Boston, 85 (24)
Dejounte Murray, San Antonio, 80 (32)
Jimmy Butler, Minnesota, 79 (20)

Just missing the cut were:
Chris Paul, Houston, 74 (20); Paul George, Oklahoma City, 69 (22); Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee, 43 (15); Kevin Durant, Golden State, 31 (7); Klay Thompson, Golden State, 24 (8); Josh Richardson, Miami, 22 (3); Marcus Smart, Boston, 18 (5); Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City, 17 (3).

The six first-timers on the All-Defensive Teams are Covington, Oladipo, Holiday, Embiid, Murray, and Butler.

The fact that two Pelicans — Holiday and Davis — made All-Defense but the team was just average defensively speaks to what they were trying to cover up on that roster much of the season.

Forward was particularly deep and difficult to choose this season. On my final (official) ballot I had Antetokounmpo on the squad, but that meant leaving off Green (who is unquestionably an elite defender when he wants to be, but was up and down during the regular season with his focus on that end). The injuries to Andre Roberson and Kawhi Leonard took some of the pressure off at forward and let a deserving Horford in the club, but it was still a deep field.

Guard was a challenge as well, with CP3 being deserving (he was on my ballot) and Klay Thompson being the perennial “I wanted to put him on the team but…” guy.

Clint Capela with the Rockets had a fantastic defensive season, but with Gobert and Embiid filling the center spot that’s a tough field to crack.

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.”