Baseline to Baseline recaps: For one night at least Celtics look fine post-Rondo

8 Comments

Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while thinking you may have finally found the perfect job

Suns 92, Lakers 86: Ouch. You can apply that one word sentence to Dwight Howard’s shoulder, he left the game midway through the fourth quarter and did not return, seeming to aggravate his torn labrum. Or, you can apply the first sentence to the Lakers fourth quarter. Either way it was Michael Beasley’s world and the Lakers just lived in it. Brett Pollakoff broke the game down for us.

Heat 105, Nets 95: Note to Reggie Evans — you may not want to insult LeBron James, you might make him angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. Evans did, saying the Heat’s lockout title didn’t count, and LeBron responded with 24 points and 9 rebounds in the Heat win. Miami owned the second half, and we broke all the details of the game down.

Celtics 99, Kings 81: If you want to ease into the rest of the season without your star point guard, the Kings are a good team to do it against. The Kings hung around for a quarter and a half in the Garden and then the Celtics bench started the onslaught with a 16-2 run — Boston scored 37 points in the second quarter and the rout was on. That second quarter was about as good as Boston can play and when they play like that they can threaten any team. It’s a blueprint for what they want to do the rest of the season.

Paul Pierce had 16 points to lead six Celtics in double figures. Tyreke Evans had 19 for the Kings. One thing of concern for the Celtics — Jared Sullinger left the game in the first half with back spasms not to return. He battled back issues in college. It’s just something to watch.

Bulls 104, Bucks 88: There are nights Nate Robinson can shoot you out of a game, and then there are the nights he can pretty much win you a game. Wednesday night was in the latter category for the Bulls — Robinson had 16 second quarter points, half of the 32 the Bulls put up in the period as they pulled away for a comfortable win. It wasn’t just Robinson off the bench, he had help from Jimmy Butler who has been playing well of late and had 18 in this one. Ersan Ilyasova led the Bucks with 18 points but needed 18 shots to do it.

Clippers 96, Timberwolves 90: Blake Griffin was dominating. He had 23 points and 12 rebounds through three quarters, and Minnesota looked hopeless to stop him.

But then the fourth quarter came and *woosh*, there Griffin went. Disappeared right out of thin air. In a close game down the stretch, he had no points and no shots attempts in the whole quarter. Just as it looked like Minnesota was about to steal a win despite their poor perimeter shooting, Griffin reappeared at just the right time with an impossibly tricky bank shot that served as the dagger.
—D.J. Foster

Pacers 98, Pistons 79: This was a shorthanded Pistons team with Tayshaun Prince — the last member of the 2004 championship team still on the roster — and Austin Daye out for this game and Jose Calderon not in yet. But this game really just followed the trends — the Pacers have now won 12 in a row at home while the Pistons are 5-17 on the road. Greg Monroe tried for Detroit (18 points) but the Pistons couldn’t handle the Pacers size — Roy Hibbert had 18 points and 11 rebounds, Tyler Hansbrough added 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Knicks 113, Magic 97: This was close in the first half because the Magic back court was hot — guards and 35 of Orlando’s 51 first half points. J.J. Redick started out 7-of-7, Jameer Nelson was 7-of-11 in the first half. It was still just a six-point Knicks lead after three quarters when the Knicks offense exploded for 34 points on 63 percent shooting in the fourth quarter. The onslaught wasn’t just one guy — 10 Knicks scored in the quarter, Steve Novak had the most points at 8. It was a team effort. For the game Tyson Chandler had 21 points (on 11 shots) and Carmelo Anthony had 20.

The big news for Orlando is that Glen Davis broke his foot and is most likely done for the season now.

Nuggets 118, Rockets 110: You knew this was going to be an up and down game and we weren’t disappointed (109 possessions, according to the NBA.com stats one of the fastest this season). It made the game entertaining. The Rockets averaged the fastest pace in the league so you thought they would be comfortable there and it showed — they never really pulled away but they led 85-77 with a minute left in the third quarter when the Nuggets went on a 24-3 run to take the lead and pull away for the win. That is five straight for Denver, which went 12-3 in January.

As you expect in these games there were some big offensive numbers: Danilo Gallinari scored 27 points (on 17 shots, plus he had 4 blocks), Kenneth Faried added 19, Ty Lawson 16, Andre Iguodala 15; for Houston Jeremy Lin had 22, James Harden and Chandler Parsons 21.

Spurs 102, Bobcats 78: Really, how did you think this game was going to end? The Spurs have won nine straight overall and 17 in a row at home. With the win, Gregg Popovich will coach the Western Conference All-Stars as the Spurs will have the best record in the West come the Sunday cut off. You can bet he’s thrilled, he’s much rather coach an exhibition game in Houston than be home sipping wine with friends and having three days off.

Sixers 92, Wizards 84: In the battle of Jrue Holiday vs. John Wall… nobody won, really. Holiday was better with 21 points but he needed 22 shots while Wall was 3-of-12 shooting. Holiday had six turnovers to Wall’s five.

Philadelphia took control of the game with a 13-3 run in the second quarter and when the Wizards made a run to make it close in the third the Sixers responded with a 17-5 run. Nick Young gunned his way to 18 for Philly. Emeka Okafor had another strong night for Washington with 15 points and 17 rebounds.

Hawks 93, Raptors 92: The Raptors were shorthanded — Jose Calderon and Ed Davis had been shipped out and Rudy Gay had yet to arrive, but they still put up a real fight. In fact, they should have had free throws to win.

Atlanta went ahead on a pretty play where Al Horford set a screen off the ball for Kyle Korver, Horford’s defender Aaron Gray tried to cut off a pass to Korver at the arc so Horford rolled and flashed to the paint, Josh Smith had the ball at the top of the arc and passed to Horford in the paint for a dunk. But Toronto had time for a final shot.

Kyle Lowry tried to drive the lane but Al Horford rejected it, but the Raptors recovered and Alan Anderson missed a jumper with 4.9 seconds left, but DeMar DeRozan got the offensive board. He went up and was fouled by Horford but there was no call. It is official a block, Horford gathered the ball and tossed it down the court, and that was the ballgame.

Jazz 104, Hornets 99: Ugly wins count the same as pretty ones. The Jazz will take this, it wasn’t a dominant performance against a team on the second night of a back-to-back and missing its best player (Eric Gordon was out resting his knee), but it’s a win nonetheless. The Jazz front line was strong — Paul Millsap had 25 points and Al Jefferson added 22.

The Jazz carried over some of their 45-point loss to the Rockets and were down early, but they bounced back with an 11-2 run in the second and eventually took a lead.

Report: Making 2020 NBA Finals could swing whether Giannis Antetokounmpo signs super-max extension with Bucks

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
2 Comments

The honeymoon between Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks is over.

Milwaukee’s superb season ended tonight with a Game 6 loss to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. Already, attention is turning to the 2020 offseason, when Antetokounmpo can sign a five-year super-max extension that projects to be worth $250 million. If he doesn’t, the pressure will turn way up as he approaches unrestricted free agency in 2021.

Antetokounmpo is already applying some.

Malika Andrews of ESPN:

a source close to Antetokounmpo said that getting to the NBA Finals is not just an ambition, it could tip the scales as he weighs his contractual future.

And if they can reach the NBA Finals next season, the Bucks can improve their chances of signing Antetokounmpo to the supermax in the summer of 2020.

Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon will be free agents this summer. It’s unclear how much luxury tax Milwaukee is willing to pay.

This leak could be Antetokounmpo trying to convince the Bucks to pay to keep this team intact.

Would he actually leave Milwaukee? At every turn, he has praised the city and organization. But the Bucks have also been on an upward trajectory for years. As they get closer to the top, it becomes more difficult to maintain that positive momentum. They’re now entering a crucial season with the clear goal of a conference title. That doesn’t leave much room for error.

The Lakers are rumored to be plotting to get Antetokounmpo. If there are signs he’ll actually become available, many other teams will line up just for a chance to sign him. Antetokounmpo is a special player, a superstar at age 24.

He also needed this loss. Having never advanced past the first round before this year, he didn’t fully grasp the high level of play and intensity this deep into playoffs. He hadn’t felt the heartache of coming so close and falling short, a highly effective motivator. Raptors like Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol had already faced these tests, and that had a lot to do with Toronto winning.

I have no doubt this experience will make Antetokounmpo even better.

Antetokounmpo wants to ensure the Bucks match his desire to win. If they do, he and Milwaukee will remain committed to each other. The honeymoon isn’t the end.

But this is when it gets real.

Raptors’ summer gamble pays off with trip to Finals after Game 6 win over Bucks

Associated Press
4 Comments

Toronto’s big gambles paid off.

Last summer, after five years of winning at least 48 games and looking impressive in the regular season only to stumble in the playoffs, Toronto’s team president Masai Ujiri went all in. He fired the NBA’s coach of the year in Dwane Casey to hire his assistant Nick Nurse, with the hope of installing a more creative offense.

Then they traded fan favorite and (at least to that point) the greatest Toronto Raptor in franchise history to get Kawhi Leonard, a guy coming off an injury that essentially sidelined him for a season. A guy who would be a free agent after one season. Leonard could bolt — like other stars had done north of the border — and leave the Raptors high and dry.

It was all a massive roll of the dice.

Toronto hit their number with that roll — the Raptors are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Toronto stormed from 15 points down in the third behind another monster game from Kawhi Leonard — 27 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists — and held on to win Game 6 in front of a raucous home crowd, 100-94.

Toronto will host Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.

The Raptors may not be familiar with that stage, but Leonard knows both the Finals stage and that opponent (recall that the last time he faced them Zaza Pachulia slid under his foot on a jumper, spraining Leonard’s ankle and ending San Antonio’s playoff hopes that season). Thoughts about July 1 are banished for now in Toronto, the party is on.

“It means a lot,” long-time Raptor Kyle Lowry said about making the Finals. “It’s taken a long time to get here in my career, 13 years, seven years here [in Toronto]….

“But I’m not satisfied.”

This series changed in Game 3 when Nurse changed things up and had Leonard as the primary defender on Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak still got his, but everything became harder, and as the Raptors slowed the pace their halfcourt defense locked in. On the offensive end, Leonard just made plays.

“He’s a great player, he made some very special plays, give him a ton of credit,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Leonard.

For the Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA this season and a likely MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, this was a learning experience about their shortcomings — both his and the Milwaukee roster. He had 21 points and 11 rebounds, but he was not able to dominate the game like Leonard did in crucial moments. That comes with being just 24 and making a deep playoff run.

“In our minds, we feel he’s going to get a lot better,” Budenholzer said of the Greek Freak. “At 24 some guys are… I don’t want to say they are who they are, but at 24 some of the great ones were the same at 30 and 32 and so forth. Giannis we feel has a lot of room to grow.”

So does the roster around the Greek Freak. Antetokounmpo sat just 7:28 in this game, and that proved to be too much — the Bucks were -9 in those minutes. They lost by six.

Eric Bledsoe struggled again, with 8 points on 9 shots. Khris Middleton — who is a free agent this summer — had 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

Still, this is a good team on a learning curve. One with some tough decisions ahead for the front office, but a team on the rise.

They showed that early.

Milwaukee came out playing with a sense of desperation – it showed in their energy and second efforts on defense — but they raced out to a 15-point lead early in the second quarter mostly because they just hit shots. In the first half the Bucks did not get the ball inside (only seven shots at the rim) but were 9-of-18 from three and hit 50 percent of their shots from the midrange. Antetokounmpo had 10 points and seven rebounds and Ersan Ilyasova surprised with nine points in the first 24.

That had the Bucks up 50-43 at the half, but it felt precarious. Then in the third, Milwaukee had an 8-0 run and the lead was pushed to 15 at one point. The Raptors were stumbling. Pascal Siakam hesitated on shots, not trusting himself. Danny Green trusted himself but couldn’t hit anything.

The tide turned thanks to Leonard. The Raptors finished third on 10-0 run — with Leonard scoring or assisting on every bucket — and the lead was down to 5 after three.

Early in the fourth was when Antetokounmpo sat again, and the Raptors went on a 7-2 run to tie the game at 78-78. That lead kept growing and then Leonard did this.

Milwaukee would not go away down the stretch, but Leonard kept making plays while Antetokounmpo and company got tight. Milwaukee could never get back in front.

For the Bucks, it’s a lesson.

For the Raptors, it’s the trip to the Finals they bet big on.

Watch Kawhi Leonard dunk all over Giannis Antetokounmpo, highlight of 26-3 Toronto run

Getty Images
5 Comments

For most of the first three quarters of Game 6, the Milwaukee Bucks were in control of the game and looked to be on the way to forcing a Game 7.

But Kawhi Leonard sparked a 10-0 run for Toronto to end the third, scoring eight and assisting on a Serge Ibaka bucket.

That run carried over into the fourth and became a 26-3 run that was highlighted by this insane dunk by Leonard over Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Insane.

I’d say that’s Leonard’s best shot as a Raptor if not for the series winner against Philadelphia.

The Bucks responded with a 7-0 run and this game is going to go down to the wire.

Bucks play with desperation, lead by as many as 15 in first half

Associated Press
1 Comment

If you think a 15-point lead is safe, go talk to a Portland Trail Blazers fan and get back to me.

The Bucks will still take it. Milwaukee has come out with a sense of desperation, but more importantly got to play with some pace and couldn’t miss early from three — they started 4-of-6 and were 7-of-13 from three as of this writing — and what we saw were play after play from the Bucks, the kinds of things we haven’t seen the last three games. They led by 13 after one, and the lead got as high as 15.

Can the Bucks sustain this, or will they cool down as the Raptors heat up? It’s going to be a wild rest of the game in Toronto.

The Raptors are up 3-2 in the series and playing for their first ever franchise trip to the Finals. The Bucks are playing to force a Game 7 Monday back in Milwaukee.