Baseline to Baseline recaps: Another day, another Lakers loss

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while working on your eyelid weightlifting….

Grizzlies 106, Lakers 93: The Lakers added injury to insult when Dwight Howard re-aggravated his shoulder problem in the first half, and the Grizzlies took full advantage by recording 16 offensive rebounds and 60 points in the paint en route to a blowout victory. While the Lakers struggled to address any of their issues, the Grizzlies bench responded well in their first action after the trade, as Darrell Arthur led the way with 20 points. With Mike Conley predictably burning up the Lakers’ pick-and-roll defense, Steve Nash was nothing more than a liability defensively and an afterthought offensively. We knew the Lakers were a mess, but giving up 100 points to the Grizzlies has been a feat allowed by only the worst defenses lately.
—D.J. Foster

Warriors 104, Thunder 99: Stephen Curry played like an All-Star and that was the key here. He had 31 points, but on an off shooting night (3-of-14 from three) he adjusted and went 8-of-12 inside the arc and made the biggest play of the game on defense. It was 101-99 Warriors with 30 seconds left and Golden State wisely doubled Kevin Durant to take the ball out of his hands. Kendrick Perkins made a smart play and was rolling all by himself down the lane, Durant saw him, and Curry quickly left his man and slid down with the help, stole the pass and that was the ballgame. Well, he was fouled and hit some free throws, but the defensive play was key. Kevin Durant had 33 points and 9 assists but added 6 turnovers. David Lee had 22 points and 12 boards for Golden State.

The Warriors have now beaten the Clippers and Thunder in the last week. They are the NBA’s surprise team this season.

 Heat 123, Raptors 116 (OT): You kept waiting for the Heat to make a run that never came. The Raptors led 28-22 after first quarter and 57-53 at the half — and it would have been a lot worse if the Heat hadn’t closed the half on an 11-3 run. The Heat defense was back to lazy mode and the Raptors, playing better in recent weeks, have the weapons to make you pay if you get sloppy. Toronto shot 58 percent in the first half, committed just two turnovers and got 22 points off their bench.

Jose Calderon knocked down consecutive threes inside the final two minutes to put Toronto up 108-105 and you thought they had a chance, then LeBron answered with a three of his own from the top of the key and it was tied 108-108. Then LeBron didn’t close it out — he made a terrible pass (unless he was aiming for the guy in the first row) then on the game’s final play… actually it was no play it was LeBron and isolation hero ball and he hit the back rim on contested 21 footer. We were headed to overtime, where the Heat went on a 13-2 quick run and that was the ballgame.

Bulls 85, Pistons 82: No Luol Deng (and at of course no Derrick Rose, not yet) but Bulls defense did its job and the Bulls beat the Pistons for the 17th straight time. Barely.

The end of this game was tight, back and forth after a Jason Maxiell rainbow jumper, a Tayshaun Prince contested three, then a Rodney Stuckey 10-foot pull up capped 7-0 run for Pistons to give them a one point lead. Chicago took the lead back when Nate Robinson drove, kicked it out to open Butler for a corner three. Then Maxiell tied it when Taj Gibson just left him on defense and Maxiell cut to the basket, got the pass, then had a wide-open layup

It was tied 82-82 with 29.4 seconds left when Joakim Noah made the play of the game — Marco Belinelli misses contested long two, Noah saves it going out of bounds right to cutting Belinelli for layup. As Stacy King says, “I like my meatballs spicy!”

Spurs 106, Hornets 102: No Tim Duncan (sore knee), no, Kawhi Leonard (bruised knee) and no Gregg Popovich (sick) helped make this one close — 83-83 midway in fourth. Then San Antonio cranked up their defensive pressure and that led to an 18-6 run. And that was it, although a late 8-0 Hornets run made the final score close.

Really the Spurs got back to playing defense at halftime after giving up 64 points and allowing New Orleans to shoot 63.2 percent in the first 24 minutes. In the second half the Hornets shot just 32.6 percent. Tiago Splitter led the Spurs with 25 points on 10-of-11 shooting.

Trail Blazers 100, Pacers 80: The Trail Blazers picked apart the best defense in the NBA, LaMarcus Aldridge had 27 points, Damian Lillard had 20 and eight assists and the Blazers cruised. It was actually tied 24-24 early in the second quarter when Aldridge helped spark a 20-4 run and that was pretty much it. Paul George had 22, David West 21 for the Pacers.

Nuggets 105, Rockets 95: Houston wants to get out and run, but when you turn the ball over on 22 percent of your possessions — better than one in every five trips down the court — that fast pace becomes easy buckets at the other end. Which is what the Nuggets got in their win. James Harden kind of summed up the Rockets night — he had 23 points and seven assists, but also committed seven turnovers (Andre Iguodala was on him much of the night and did a good defensive job). Ty Lawson had 21 points and 7 assists to lead the Nuggets.

Hawks 104, Bobcats 92: Josh Smith had a quick 10 points and the Hawks led early in this one, but they didn’t really pull away until a 10-0 run in the third when the led by as many as 17. Smith had a monster night — 30 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. That is two straight wins for the struggling Hawks, something they haven’t done all month.

Nets 91, Timberwolves 83: Brooklyn is 10-1 in January, the best record in the league for the month, and they cruised wire-to-wire here. Brook Lopez had 10 of his 22 points in the first six minutes of the game, feasting on the lack of physicality with Nikola Pekovic out of the lineup, and Lopez finished with 22. Minnesota made a run and got within two in the fourth quarter, but C.J. Watson made nine straight points for the Nets to stretch the lead back out and that was the ballgame.

Jazz 92, Wizards 88: Utah was in control of this game until late in the third quarter when Washington went on a 20-2 run that carried over into the fourth and made this a game. John Wall, Jordan Crawford and the Wizards bench made the run so coach Randy Wittman stayed with them most of the fourth quarter. But the Jazz tightened up their defense late — the Wizards had only two baskets in the final four minutes — and that was key. Utah were helped out when Paul Millsap stole the ball from Nene, got the ball ahead to Gordon Hayward and Trevor Ariza committed the clear-path foul (two free throws and the ball out of bounds to the Jazz. Millsap had 16 points and 15 rebounds on the night.

Suns 106, Kings 96: Lindsey Hunter is 1-0 as an NBA coach. The reason was good Michael Beasley showed up for a quarter — the hot and cold gunner had 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, when the Suns came from behind to win. You never know when good Beasley will make an appearance. You can always count on Luis Sclola, who had 9 of his 21 for the game in the fourth quarter. DeMarcus Cousins had 15 points and 15 boards to lead the Kings.

Cavaliers were clutch all season, then again in it’s biggest moment

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The Cleveland Cavaliers had the point differential of a 43-39 team this season, just a couple of games above .500. Yet they finished the season 50-32, seven games better than their differential suggested — the highest variance in the NBA.

Why? Because LeBron James and the Cavaliers were clutch. In games that were within five points in the final five minutes this season, Cleveland was 30-15 with a +18.2 points per 100 net rating (second best in the NBA, behind Houston).

That has carried over to the playoffs, where the Cavaliers came into Game 7 Sunday night 6-1 in clutch games with an insane +36.2 per 100.

Game 7 was another clutch one — it was 76-72 Cleveland with five minutes to go — and once again the Cavaliers won, advancing to the NBA Finals. This is the fourth straight year for this team, and the eighth year in a row for LeBron to make it to the NBA’s biggest stage.

In the final five minutes of Game 7, LeBron had six points, while the Boston Celtics team had 7. When we say the Cavaliers are clutch, it all starts with LeBron (as do all things Cavaliers at this point).

“He craves those moments. He loves those moments,” Kyle Korver said after LeBron was clutch in the Cavaliers’ Game 6 win that set up Sunday’s showdown, but what he said applies now, too. “When the game’s on the line, when the season’s on the line, he’s been rising up. That’s what the great players do.”

LeBron accepts that challenge, and through the postseason he has had an impressive 58 true shooting percentage, with a ridiculous 44.3 percent usage rate. Bottom line, he has had to carry the Cavaliers in the clutch, and he has done so efficiently.

“I’m the leader of this team, and I’m going to give what I’ve got,” LeBron said. “My teammates, they respect that.”

It’s going to take more than clutch LeBron and friends to win in the Finals — both of the teams in the West are much tougher than anything the Cavaliers have seen so far. However, we know that LeBron is going to give everything he has left.

And if the game is close late, don’t bet against the Cavaliers.

 

 

 

Jayson Tatum throws down epic dunk on LeBron James (VIDEO)

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The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers held a barnburner of a Game 7 on Sunday, with Boston’s Jayson Tatum going head-to-head with LeBron James.

For his part, LeBron was everything we expected in a Game 7. The King played spectacularly, willing his Cavaliers squad to yet another NBA Finals appearance as Cleveland edged Boston.

But before things were sealed, and the game decided, Tatum got off a raucous dunk right in James’ eye that made many wonder if the torch was on the cusp of being passed.

The play came with 6:45 left in the fourth quarter with Tatum driving down the lane and LeBron moving over to help recover on defense. It would have been easy to anticipate another big LeBron playoff block, but Tatum continued his surprising season by dunking all over The King.

Via Twitter:

Cleveland won the game, 87-79, but Tatum’s dunk on the big stage is just one of many reasons why the Celtics are going to be a complete hassle next year when they’re back to being fully healthy.

LeBron James is the greatest player of all-time

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He’s done it again. LeBron James, the King in the East, played 48 minutes en route to his eighth straight NBA Finals appearance after beating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 at TD Garden on Sunday, 87-79.

Bow down to the greatest player of all-time.

Much has been made of LeBron’s place in history as his legacy has began to galvanize toward the end of his career. The conversation has raged on about LeBron vs. Michael Jordan, or Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Preference varies greatly between fans, while some still pick the centrist route and say there’s no simple way to compare across eras. There’s been mathematical attempts to rank the two, and even MJ’s old teammates have said LeBron is a more complete player.

On Sunday, James bounced yet another Eastern Conference Finals opponent, carrying his teammates on his shoulders and playing without All-Star Kevin Love. There was never a doubt for many watching Sunday’s matchup in Massachusetts. Before the final buzzer, LeBron had won 23 straight Eastern Conference playoff series. His determination was absolute, and the cards were always stacked against Boston even given their postseason record at home.

You could sort of just see it coming.

James was the motivating force in the first half for Cleveland, scoring 17 points while no other teammates tallied in double digits. The Cavaliers shot an abysmal 12 percent from beyond the arc, and the Celtics looked like they would be able to control the rest of the game as the crowd at home motivated them forward.

But Cleveland came roaring back in the second half, continuing to put on a defensive show, the kind we would not have expected of them during the regular season. Without Love, the Cavs had to make do with Jeff Green, who turned in a surprising performance. Green scored 19 points, shot 50 percent from the field, and grabbed eight rebounds.

In the face of a strengthening Cavaliers attack, the Celtics seems to retreat. Boston’s final offensive possessions in the fourth quarter were hectic, slow, and unsuccessful. While the Cavaliers tried their hardest during the final eight minutes to get Al Horford switched on to LeBron in isolation sets, the Celtics surprisingly mirrored the same offensive tactics. Instead of playing their regular offense, or running plays to get shooters free, or trying to attack the paint against James (who was in foul trouble) Boston resorted to trying to exploit any mismatches found through Cleveland’s switches.

The result was four field goals inside the 3-point line for LeBron in the fourth quarter, as much as the entire Celtics roster combined.

The play of the game came with 1:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cavaliers leading by nine. LeBron was out on the break, with Marcus Morris trailing behind him. Morris went to foul LeBron, making no obvious attempts on the ball as he grabbed onto the Cavaliers star’s shoulders. Even with all of his might, Morris couldn’t stop James from scoring while drawing the foul. It was indicative of the entire fourth quarter for the Celtics, who scraped, clutched and grabbed as much as they could but did not have an answer for LeBron.

So here we are, with LeBron having won another Game 7 out in the Eastern Conference as he heads to another Finals. He probably won’t match Jordan’s championship mark. But Jordan didn’t match Russell’s. Or Horry’s. Or Havlichek’s, either.

Instead, we have to rely on what we see in front of our eyes combined with their dominance, weighted for context. Sunday night’s performance should help push LeBron over Jordan, if he wasn’t there already. James is a more complete player, which has always been apparent, and now he’s survived every challenge that’s been thrown at him. Declaring James the best player of all-time did not come because of Sunday’s game. It’s been years in the making, throughout the entirety of his 15-year career. The win over Boston was just an indication of his place in history.

LeBron has gone nuclear with 40+ point performances. He was part of the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history against the Golden State Warriors. He beat the Indiana Pacers all by himself, in the playoffs, just this very season. James has had a career season at age 33, playing 48 minutes in the 100th game of the 2017-18 season. LeBron has willed his way to yet another NBA Finals, with perhaps his worst team since the 2006-07 squad that was swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the season’s final series. To add to the accomplishment, LeBron pushed this Cavaliers squad past a stunningly good team in the Celtics, on the road, and without Love.

James is the greatest American sports story of our generation, and he’s the best player the NBA has ever seen. If you disagree, that’s OK. But after Sunday night, you’d be hard pressed to convince me otherwise.

Watch Victor Oladipo drive the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 (VIDEO)

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Victor Oladipo is Indiana’s favorite son after the Indiana Pacers guard blasted through the competition during the 2017-18 NBA season.

Oladipo averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and led the league with 2.4 steals per game. Oladipo’s 3-point shooting improved year-over-year, and his VORP skyrocketed in his new leadership role. Many feel the Pacers won the Paul George trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder thanks to Oladipo.

Thanks in part to his stellar play, Oladipo was invited to drive the pace car at the start of the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Turns out he was pretty good at it.

Via Twitter:

Oladipo is apparently going to be honored with the steering wheel from the pace car he drove. No doubt taking part in a classic local sporting event like the Indy 500 will help ingrain Oladipo into the sports fabric in Indianapolis even further.