Baseline to Baseline recaps: Crazy endings all across the league

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while you were getting your last Whopper Jr. — and I mean last Whopper Jr….

Nuggets 102, Pacers 101: It was the last game of a six-game road trip for the Pacers against an up-tempo Nuggets squad, and Indy was down 13 in the fourth quarter. Most teams roll over at this point, start thinking about sleeping in their own beds and a nice home-cooked meal. But credit the Pacers with showing fight — they went on to a 13-0 run and made this a game at the end.

And it was the very end that was interesting. Tied 101-101 both teams made a defensive play to keep it that way — Paul George blocked a Danilo Gallinari fade away, then at the other end Andre Iguodala stripped Paul George of the ball in an isolation set — and the result was Denver had one last chance with 0.5 seconds left on the clock. We’ve seen it before, the attempt at a from out of bounds alley-oop lob to the rim.

Except Paul George got called for a foul trying to defend Iguodala on the play. There was contact — George clearly backs into an airborne Iguodala — but that foul is never called. Never. It was this time. The Pacers and coach Frank Vogel blew a gasket, but the call stood and Iguodala got two free throws. He hit the first, intentionally missed the second and that was the ballgame. It’s a loss that is going to stick with the Pacers for a while.

Grizzlies 103, 76ers 100: Memphis is a defensive team but they didn’t look like it for 45 minutes on Monday — but they were when it mattered. With three minutes left in the game it was 100-97 Sixers and they got there behind Evan Turner, who pretty much got any open look he wanted on his way to 27 points. Thaddeus Young added 23 points for the Sixers.

But the Sixers wouldn’t score again in the final three minutes. A Zach Randolph tip in made it a one point game, then Rudy Gay grabbed the offensive rebound off Jerryd Bayless miss, slid into the lane and hit a little five footer to give Memphis the lead. Then with the Sixers looking to tie, Marc Gasol — he of the 27 points on the night — blocked a Nick Young corner three attempt to secure the win.

Bulls 93, Bobcats 85: Charlotte made Chicago put in some work here. The Bobcats were down nine at the half but fought back to tie it at 55-55 with less than four minutes to go in the third. That’s when the Bulls went on a 13-0 run that extended into the start of the fourth quarter and that was your ballgame. The Bulls got Luol Deng back, the All-Star forward returning after missing five games with a hamstring, and he had a dozen points. Deng bumped Jimmy Butler out of the starting lineup and he responded with 19 points off the bench to lead all Bulls scorers. Joakim Noah had an awesome line for the Bulls: 13 points, 18 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 blocks.

Nets 97, Magic 77: Late in the first quarter Brooklyn started a 23-5 run that extended into the start of the second, and it took control of the game there and never looked back. They led by 26 and this was never in doubt. The Magic did get the lead down to seven at the end of the third quarter, then the Nets opened the fourth on a 9-0 run. Deron Williams had 20 points and 9 assists.

Rockets 125, Jazz 80: This is the worst home loss in Utah Jazz history. It was like the two teams were playing at different speeds, with the Rockets taking control in the second quarter with a 17-4 run — sparked by three three-pointers by Carlos Delfino — and pouring it on from there. On the night, the Rockets had 26 fast break points to the Jazz 2. James Harden had 25 to lead the Rockets, who got to rest their starters for the fourth and empty out the bench.

Warriors 114, Raptors 102: This was a fun game – up tempo, back and forth with plenty of lead changes, until the Warriors went on a 14-2 run in the fourth to take a comfortable lead. Toronto tried to claw back in late, but Klay Thompson had a steal from Jose Calderon and Harrison Barnes had a dunk that shut the door on any comeback. Warriors All-Star David Lee’s put up 21 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists. The shock of the night was Aaron Gray with 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Raptors, he was fantastic for a night.

This was Andrew Bogut’s first game back from off-season ankle surgery and he looked good — 12 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks in 25 minutes. The scary part for Warriors fans is Stephen Curry rolled his surgically-repaired right ankle in the third quarter and did not return. It was called a mild sprain but we will watch to see.

Kings 96, Wizards 94: This ended up being a very entertaining game, but with everything on the line Isaiah Thomas had 10 of his 22 in the fourth quarter, including a floater with one second left, to give the Kings a road win. If the Wizards want to express frustration for this one, don’t blame Garrett Temple for not keeping up with Thomas on the last play, blame the 20 turnovers (which the Kings converted to 23 points). That was the ballgame. Emeka Okafor had a big night with 23 points and 15 rebounds in the loss.

The time Shaq peed in Suns teammate Lou Amundson’s shoes – and worse!

Suns players Lou Amundson and Shaquille O'Neal (Shaq)
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
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Gilbert Arenas has earned a reputation as the NBA player who relieved himself in a teammate’s shoe (Wizards forward Andray Blatche’s).

But Arenas’ tactic wasn’t unique.

Shaquille O’Neal got into a prank war with Suns teammate Lou Amundson during the 2008-09 season. It got intense as Phoenix, coached by Alvin Gentry, reached the final game of its season.

ESPN’s Amin Elhassan on “The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz” local hour, hosted by Mike Ryan:

Shaq is the big prankster, the big joker. But if you do something against him, there’s no tit for tat. There’s tit for nuclear war.

He goes to Lou’s locker, grabs his sneakers, pees in them.

That’s the start, right? He then goes and let’s just say “messes with” some of Lou’s haircare devices, like his brush and his comb and stuff. Messes with them. Let me put it this way: Messes with them in a way that – I was comfortable telling you he peed in the shoes. I’m not comfortable telling you what he did to the hair stuff. And then this part, I will tell you: He tampers with Lou’s mouth guard.

He tampers with it.

He tampers with it.

Lou shows up at like 8 or whenever he usually shows up. And he’s skittish and nervous. And Suns.com is there like, “What do you think Shaq is going to do?” “I don’t know. I think he’s going to do something, though.”

So, I’ll never forget this. He’s sitting at the locker, and he opens – he starts to reach for the sneakers and then looks at them and says, “Nah, something doesn’t feel right.” Opens the door up, pulls out a fresh pair of sneakers for the last game of the year, right? Again, this is irregular behavior. Usually, you have a couple of sneakers. You break them in for the year, and you switch between two or three or three or four, whatever. So to break out a whole brand new pair … was weird.

Most of the time when you’re an NBA player, you don’t put on the mouth guard immediately. You have it in a case, and you give the case to the trainer. Then, you go out to the bench. Then, when you’re about to come into the game, that’s when you grab your mouthpiece.

There’s no funnier image than Alvin drawing up a play, kneeling down, coaches standing around him. Lou is sitting there, because now he’s in the game. The guys who are in the game are usually seated. Sitting there just staring at the clipboard, like, “OK, coach. I got you.” And everyone else is just staring at Lou. No one’s paying attention.

Puts the mouth guard in. One, two [sounds of disgust], takes the mouth guard out and flings it with tremendous accuracy at the bench. Everyone starts dying. I remember going back and watching the broadcast, “Oh, Suns bench seems to be getting a lot of fun.” They had no idea what’s happening.

What did Shaq do to Amundson’s mouth guard? My imagination is running WILD.

Elhassan also explains why Grant Hill took 25 shots – his most in four years – in that game. Hill needed to score 26 points to average 12 points per game for the season, which would trigger a large bonus in his shoe contract. Hill’s gunning got him 27 points.

It’s a good podcast with other fun anecdotes and worth a listen.

Magic: Mo Bamba out for playoffs, undergoing post-coronavirus evaluation

Magic center Mo Bamba
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
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Mo Bamba contracted coronavirus, fell out of shape, recovered, joined the Magic in the bubble then struggled to contribute on the court.

Now, he’s departing the bubble for good.

Magic:

The Magic are huge underdogs in their first-round series against the Bucks. This doesn’t really change the equation. Bamba had already fallen from the rotation, which is now comprised of Nikola Vucevic and Khem Birch at center.

But it raises thorny long-term questions.

Bamba was the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Though he has underwhelmed so far, the Magic were still hoping he’d grow into a quality NBA player. Bamba at least improved from his rookie season.

His progress has obviously been halted. For how long? Will he face lasting effects?

Everyone is trying to get to the bottom of these difficult questions.

Reported Bulls coaching candidates: Kenny Atkinson, Stephen Silas, Darvin Ham, more

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The Bulls fired Jim Boylen. 76ers assistant Ime Udoka was reportedly frontrunner for the job, but Chicago will conduct a full search.

Who else is in the mix?

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

The broad search is expected to include former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas, Bucks assistant Darvin Ham and 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, among others, sources said.

Atkinson is the only former head coach on that list. Like Tyronn Lue for win-now teams, Atkinson is the top available coach for rebuilding teams. (If fired by the 76ers, Brett Brown could supplant Atkinson.) Atkinson had a strong record of player development before Brooklyn shifted priorities.

The Bulls – with Zach LaVine, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and a high first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft – could use someone like him.

But Atkinson could have options, and Chicago might not be the most desirable opening.

Udoka, Silas, Ham and Unseld are all rising assistants who have earned head-coaching consideration. Interviews should help determine whether they’re ready for that step.

PBT NBA All-Bubble Awards

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard and Rockets star James Harden
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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The NBA will announce seeding-game awards tomorrow.

But the play-in is already set. Other playoff matchups are already set. The final seeding games today are just glorified scrimmages.

So, why wait to name the top performers in the bubble?

Here are our picks using the same format as the league – a Most Valuable Player, two five-player teams (no positions) and a coach:

Bubble MVP

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)

Kurt Helin: It isn’t simply that Damian Lillard led the bubble in scoring at 37.6 points per game. It wasn’t how he got those points, with ridiculously deep threes and driving layups. It was when he did it that makes him bubble MVP: When the Trail Blazers had a rough outing (as did Lillard) and looked like they might fade from postseason contention, he came back next game and dropped 61. Then 51 the game after that. Then 42 in the final bubble game with the playoffs on the line. Lillard was the ultimate leader and willed his team to the play-in series, and that’s what makes him MVP of the seeding games.
Dan Feldman: James Harden was more consistently good and even sometimes great. But nobody hit higher levels than Lillard, who stepped up in the biggest moments to lead Portland into the play-in with the eighth-place advantage. Lillard set an emotional tone for a team constantly vulnerable of falling from the playoff race, and he delivered on the court with brilliant offense. He wasn’t perfect, but he went to great lengths to ensure the Trail Blazers met their goal. That’s the bubble MVP.

All-Bubble teams

First team

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)
Devin Booker (Suns) James Harden (Rockets)
T.J. Warren (Pacers) Devin Booker (Suns)
Luka Doncic (Mavericks) T.J. Warren (Pacers)
James Harden (Rockets) Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

Second team

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Jayson Tatum (Celtics) Luka Doncic (Mavericks)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks) Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)
Kawhi Leonard (Clippers) Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
DeMar DeRozan (Spurs) Paul George (Clippers)
Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks) Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks)

Kurt Helin: It was difficult leaving Antetokounmpo off the first team, he played brilliantly but his team was in cruise control (plus he took himself out of the last game by headbutting Moe Wagner). A few players such as Fred VanVleet and Michael Porter Jr. also almost made the cut.

Dan Feldman: Lillard, Harden, Booker and Warren were first-team locks. Antetokounmpo was absolutely dominant when he wanted to be, which was limited with the Bucks locking up the No. 1 seed early. Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, Chris Paul, Gary Trent Jr. and Fred VanVleet were among the contenders for the final second-team spots.

Coach of the Bubble

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Monty William (Suns) Monty William (Suns)

Kurt Helin: Every young team talked about it heading into the restart (and developing teams not invited to the restart begged for the same opportunity): Using the bubble games as a chance for a young core to grow and take a step forward. Except teams like Sacramento and New Orleans didn’t do that. Phoenix, behind Monty Williams did — they became the story of the bubble at 8-0. Devin Booker exploded and got himself in MVP talk, Deandre Ayton played brilliantly, and the Suns came from six-games back of Memphis to almost make the playoffs. Williams set the Suns up to be a playoff team in the West next season.

Dan Feldman: Phoenix went 8-0! That alone is pretty darned impressive, and the context reflects even more favorably on Williams. The Suns entered the bubble with the lowest playoff odds among the continuing 22 teams. Needing to make up 2.5 games and – more significantly – jump four (!) teams, Phoenix could have easily arrived unmotivated and ripe for distraction. Instead, Williams had the Suns playing fearlessly, cohesively and joyously. Williams even leaned heavily on his young players rather than his veterans, taking excellent advantage of a player-development opportunity and positioning Phoenix to ascend next season.