Baseline to Baseline recaps: It took three overtimes for Celtics to stop Nuggets streak

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed wondering again why you watch the Grammy’s every year…

Heat 107, Lakers 97: The Lakers are playing better, they are starting to figure things out. But that’s still a process. And when the Heat cranked it up in the fourth quarter they pulled away for the win. Brett Pollakoff broke it all down for us.

Clippers 102, Knicks 88: How much that crazy deep Clippers bench helps them in the playoffs, when rotations shorten, remains to be seen. But in the regular season it is an insane weapon — the Clips won the bench battle 48-15 and that was the key in this game. Even Carmelo Anthony’s 42 could not change that. We broke this game down in more detail.

Celtics 118, Nuggets 114 (3OT): For three quarters you thought the Celtics were going to have a pretty easy time ending the Nuggets nine-game winning streak — the Celtics opened the game on a 12-0 run. For much of the night Boston was out hustling a team whose game is based around energy.

But Denver does not go quietly and they pushed back with a late 7-0 run that forced overtime and the game went on to be a three overtime thriller. Paul Pierce had a monster line of 27 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists — plus the key three at the end of the second overtime to force a third. A shot he had to hit because Ty Lawson a clutch jumper moments before (he had 29 on the night).

In the third it was Kevin Garnett’s six points with Jason Terry’s five plus key defensive play that got the Celtics the kind of win that has to give them even more confidence. Rondo or not they will be a tough out in the playoffs. For the Nuggets, no shame in this loss.

Spurs 111, Nets 86: No Tim Duncan, no Manu Ginobili, but there was still Tony Parker and that is enough. He is having his best season in the NBA.

The Nets were actually in the lead most of the first half, by 10 at the end of the first quarter and six at the half. But Parker had 10 points in the third and sparked a 12-0 run where the Spurs took the lead early in the third quarter and never looked back. Parker had 29 points and 11 assists on the night.

Thunder 97, Suns 69: This was a thumping that really took shape midway through the second quarter when Oklahoma City went on a 16-2 run. From there is felt like Pickett’s charge. The Thunder were putting up points — Russell Westbrook had 24 points, Thabo Sefolosha 20, Kevin Durant 18 — meanwhile the Suns didn’t even cross the 50 point mark in their home court until midway through the fourth quarter. Phoenix had one player in double figures, Markieff Morris with 12 points.

Raptors 102, Hornets 89: Aside for a stretch at the start of the second quarter Toronto led most of the way in this game, but it took Rudy Gay scoring 8 of his 20 in the fourth quarter and John Lucas III adding 10 of his 19 in the final frame for the Raptors to pull away. The big news for Toronto was Jonas Valanciunas moving back into the starting lineup and providing 11 points, 10 rebounds. The Hornets got 19 points from Robin Lopez while Greivis Vasquez had 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists. What the Hornets did not get was good games from their young starts — Eric Gordon shot 2-of-7 and Anthony Davis had just 2 points.

Magic 110, Trail Blazers 104: The Magic snapped their 12-game losing streak and you can credit their offense or blame the Blazers defense for that (it’s a little of both). The Magic attacked off the dribble and got the ball inside and Portland’s defensive rotations were nonexistent it seemed. The result was 60 points in the paint for Portland plus they had 17 offensive rebounds — 34 percent of the time the Magic missed a shot they got a second chance. Orlando went on a 9-0 run right before the half to take control of the game and they never looked back. J.J. Redick had 22 points to lead Orlando, plus Nikola Vucevic added 17 points and 19 rebounds.

If Portland has dreams of catching Houston or Utah for that final playoff spot in the West, they can’t have games like this.

Grizzlies 105, Timberwolves 88: Memphis went on a 15-3 run to take control of the game late in the second quarter then went on to outscore Minnesota 58-41 in the second half to win going away. Memphis shot 64.7 percent in the third and by the time the quarter was over so was the game. The good news for Memphis is that Tayshaun Prince shot 8-for-8 from the floor and had 18 points to lead the team, while Austin Daye chipped in 16 — the two new Grizzlies may be finding their groove with this team. Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour each had 17 for Minnesota.

Kings 117, Rockets 111: Houston had a 10 point lead early in the fourth quarter but gave it all back and were undone by Sacramento’s three point shooting late as the Kings won for the home fans on “Here We Buy Night,” a fan effort to show how much support there is in the community for the team (there’s just not a lot of support for the current owners, the Maloof family). The key guy in the Sacramento comeback was Isaiah Thomas, who had 17 of his 23 in the quarter. John Salmons added 10 of his 23 in the fourth and hit a number of key free throws down the stretch. But the real key was Sacramento shooting 5-of-8 from three in the fourth quarter — if you hit threes and free throws late you will win a lot of games. James Harden had 30 for the Rockets.

Backed into must-win Game 4, here are three things Rockets must do to even series

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Three years ago, the Houston Rockets came back from 3-1 down in a playoff series to defeat a Los Angeles Clippers (and give that franchise a punch to the gut from which it has not recovered). It was one of the great Rockets’ moments of the last decade.

Houston is not going to be able to do that against these Golden State Warriors. Go down 3-1 after Game 4 Tuesday at Oracle and the series is all but over.

Which means after the Rockets’ blowout loss in Game 3 Sunday night, Houston finds itself in the same must-win spot it did after Game 1. And unlike Game 2, the Rockets will not get helped out by an arrogant Warriors team not playing at its peak — the Rockets are going to need a near perfect game to beat a full-force Warriors team on Tuesday.

Here are the three key areas the Rockets must improve to win Game 4:

1) Just shoot better — finish shots at the rim and hit some threes. It’s rather obvious and simplistic, but it’s the reality: Houston just has to shoot better in Game 4.

The Rockets took a full one-third of their shots at the rim in the restricted area in Game 3, but they struggled with those making just 13-of-27 (48.1 percent). The Rockets took 42 percent of their shot attempts from three but hit just 11-of-34, and they were 7-of-25 on above the break threes. That’s not good enough, the Rockets are going to need at least 15 made threes in a game to win.

“Those are double whammies,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said of the missed shots at the rim. “It’s like we missed layups first half especially and they go down and score. So in transition, you’ve got to keep them out of transition, you’ve got to make layups. We didn’t do that. When they did miss, we didn’t box out all the time, and then we turned it over 20 times. It’s a formula for losing, and for us to correct that, we can’t turn it over. Got to make layups for shots, and get back.”

To be fair, the Warriors contested shooters well all game, especially guys driving the basket, but still, the Rockets need to knock down more of their shots contested or not. It’s the most basic premise of basketball.

2) Houston has to play faster. D’Antoni said it above, the Rockets and their missed shots let the Warriors get out in transition and control the pace. It’s also a simple fact that the team that controls the pace — the team that gets transition opportunities and gets into its offense earlier in the shot clock — will win the games.

Golden State had 26 transition opportunities to 12 for the Rockets, according to the Synergy Sports stats breakdown.

Or, look at it this way (via Cleaning the Glass), in Game 3, Houston started just10.4 percent of their possessions in transition (and scored a dreadful 0.89 points per possession on those plays). For comparison, in their Game 2 win, the Rockets started 18.7 percent of their possessions in transition. On Sunday night in Game 3 Warriors started 19.8 percent of their plays in transition, nearly one in five trips down the court, and they scored 1.44 points per possession on those plays.

The Rockets need to make more shots and then, even when they miss, get back in transition and not let the Warriors get rolling early in the clock. Houston also needs to defend better and force more Warriors misses, which will allow them to run. It’s all tied together, the Warriors were making shots so the Rockets were taking the ball out of the basket and coming up against set defenses; the Rockets were missing shots that let the Warriors come up fast and forcing the Rockets to scramble on defense (Golden State tears apart teams in those situations). It’s a holistic thing, but the evidence it’s working is which team controls the pace, and the Rockets need to do that in Game 4.

3) Houston needs more out of Chris Paul. It’s easy to point to the Stephen Curry eruption in the third quarter as the time the Warriors ended the game, and there is truth to that. Golden State started the third on a 10-0 run (where Curry had five of those points) and the fire was lit, then Curry started hitting 30-foot threes and quickly the game was out of reach. Those Warriors runs are crushers.

However, to me the turning point in the game was when James Harden went to the bench for his usual rest with 2:46 left in the first quarter — the Warriors outscored the Rockets by nine before the quarter was up (part of an 11-0 run to end the quarter). By the time Harden returned with 9:16 left in the second quarter, the Rockets were down 10, a hole they never could get out of (they were down 11 at the half).

CP3 has to be better in that stretch. The Warriors threw bigger, switchable guards at him on defense — Shaun Livingston, Nick Young, and then Andre Iguodala — and Paul couldn’t get separation and make plays against them. Without Harden, the Rockets offense stalled out, and doing that led to the Warriors getting to push the pace and get their transition buckets. Paul looked slowed at points, reaching on defense and not as explosive as we’ve seen.

This isn’t the Utah Jazz. Harden was off in Game 5 against Utah, but Paul picked up the slack (his 41-point, 10 assist game) and Houston got the win. Against Golden State, both Paul and Harden must have good games for Houston to have a chance. The Warriors are too good, too deep, there is no margin for error anymore.

The Rockets have an elite game in them — we saw the blueprint of what they have to do in Game 2. Houston can do that again. The only question is can they do it in the face of Golden State’s pressure, because the sharks on the Warriors smell blood in the water and will be coming hard in Game 4.

Shaun Livingston crossed James Harden so hard it made Greg Anthony mispronounce “meme” (VIDEO)

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The Golden State Warriors embarrassed the Houston Rockets on Sunday night. Stephen Curry scored 35 points, didn’t miss a shot in the third quarter, and helped the Warriors win Game 3 and take a 2-1 series lead by a margin of 41 points.

Not too shabby.

But it wasn’t just Curry who turned the Rockets into shrinking violets. Shaun Livingston, who added 11 points off the bench while shooting 4-of-4, took his turn putting Houston to task.

During one play, Livingston crossed up James Harden on his way to a wide-open dunk. Livingston’s crafty dribble moves also shook commentator Greg Anthony’s brain up a little bit, so much so that Anthony forgot how to say the word “meme”.

Via Twitter:

Even during a 41-point decimation the NBA is still the funniest league on the planet.

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

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Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.

Larry Brown once told Trevor Ariza to never shoot

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Larry Brown is a legendary basketball coach, but he’s also been known to ascribe to a certain style. Brown’s regimen has sometimes rubbed players the wrong way, and likewise Brown has been overly attached to players which he likes.

For Houston Rockets wing Trevor Ariza, Brown’s staunch attitude almost ruined his career.

Ariza was a second-year player with the New York Knicks during the lone season Brown coached in the Big Apple in 2005-06. The UCLA product didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line in college or during his rookie season, so when Brown came to town he told Ariza to stop shooting from beyond the arc entirely.

Seriously.

Via Dan Woike and the LA Times:

More than a decade ago when Ariza was a second-year player, his coach with the New York Knicks, Hall of Famer Larry Brown, thought Ariza shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Like ever.

“He told me not to even look at the basket or shoot the ball,” said Ariza, 32. “I was definitely afraid to shoot. I just wouldn’t. I would not shoot.”

Woike’s story is pretty incredible, and goes on to detail how Ariza’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers reignited his career and his confidence to shoot the ball. That’s obviously crucial for the Houston Rockets who need Ariza docked in the corner as Chris Paul and James Harden run pick-and-rolls and isolate.

Stories like this always sound wild, if only because they’re contextually being compared to completely different eras. Ariza was drafted in 2004, and has seen three different eras of NBA basketball (Iverson era, point guard PNR era, 3-point era) pass by during his time.

Larry Brown’s in the Hall of Fame but he whiffed on this one.