Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Joe Johnson is the man

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while watching the residents of Harlem say the Harlem Shake meme has nothing to do with the Harlem Shake….

Nets 113, Bucks 111 (OT): Joe Johnson is clutch — so far this season he is 8-for-9 shooting with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation or overtime this season, according to NBA.com. Or, just ask the Bucks, who watched Johnson hit a three to send the game to overtime then hit a game winner at the buzzer in overtime to beat them.

Brandon Jennings was not clutch. He had a good game and put up a big line — 34 points on 13-of-26 shooting, 7 assists and 6 rebounds — and he had seven points in the fourth quarter. But he missed two shots in the final minutes plus had a turnover, which set up Johnson’s heroics.

There was a lot more to this game. The Bucks lack of depth hurt them as the Nets won the bench battle 44-15. Andre Blatche had 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting in the fourth quarter. But at the end of regulation Jennings missed the shots and Johnson hit his.

Spurs 108, Kings 102: The Spurs continued their Rodeo road trip in Sacramento and were able to win their 4th straight and 5th of 6th games to start their trip. This game really came down to the better team being able to build a big lead early and then, after dealing with their opponent making a run to come back, showing having enough of a talent gap to fend them off for the rest of the game.

San Antonio was led by Tony Parker who used his trademarked quickness and open court ability to get into the paint and create shots for himself and his teammates. Parker finished the game with 30 points and 11 assists and, in breaking down the Kings’ defense, was clearly the best player on the floor all night. San Antonio also got good contributions from Danny Green offensively (21 points) and Tim Duncan (14 rebounds, 4 blocks) defensively to help pull out the win.

On the Kings side, Isaiah (22 points, 4 assists) and Tyreke Evans (20 points) were solid offensively. Evans was especially important in helping the Kings stay close in the 2nd half by scoring 17 points in those 24 minutes. However, even though the Kings were good on offense, they simply couldn’t get enough stops over the course of the entire game to come up with the win.
—Darius Soriano

Nuggets 97, Celtics 90: The Nuggets pulled away at the end of this one and Boston helped out missing 6-of-7 shots to end the game, plus even Kevin Garnett was missing key free throws. On the other side you had Danilo Gallinari seeming to knock down shots whenever Denver needed on his way to 26 points. Ty Lawson had 26 as well and ran the show well for Denver all game, finishing with 6 assists and zero turnovers. The Celtics did get season highs out of Jeff Green (20) and Avery Bradley (17) but the rest of the Celtics looked a little old and tired.

Jazz 115, Warriors 101: The weekend off didn’t solve Golden State’s issues — they have now lost six straight. When I asked rookie Harrison Barnes what the problem was (while in Houston for All-Star festivities) he said it was intensity. They just needed it and focus, he said. The reality is the answer is defense — Utah shot 50 percent as a team and scored 120.4 points per 100 possessions. Golden State has given up 117 points a game in their losing streak.

Utah led wire to wire, and when Golden State made a third quarter push that tied it at 65-65 on a Stephen Curry three, the Jazz answered with a 15-4 run and never looked back. Al Jefferson showed what he can do to teams thinking about trading for him with 24 points. Paul Millsap had 14 points and 9 boards. Stephen Curry had 29.


Bulls 96, Hornets 87: Chicago visited New Orleans looking to avoid a 3 game losing streak and were able to do so with good nights from their two all-stars and the return of a much maligned guard.

Luol Deng had an efficient night shooting the ball, scoring 20 points on only 13 shots (including 2-5 from behind the arc) and doing a good job of mixing his jumper with scores at the rim. Meanwhile Joakim Noah was a strong presence inside, grabbing 17 rebounds (5 offensive) and also chipping in 15 points via his hustle and nose for the ball. The other key to this game was Kirk Hinrich, who returned from injury to start the game and show how valuable he could be to the Bulls on both sides of the ball. Hinrich didn’t shoot well (2-7 from the field) but did tally 10 assists while also playing some very good defense on Greivis Vasquez who could only muster 11 points on 5-16 shooting.<

When you combine Vasquez’s poor shooting night with Ryan Anderson’s 2-11 from the floor, the Hornets had little shot to win this game even though they did get solid performances from Anthony Davis (15 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals), Al-Farouq Aminu (10 points, 7 rebounds), and Eric Gordon (20 points). The Bulls’ defense — especially down the stretch — was just too much for the Hornets to handle in this one.
—Darius Soriano

Grizzlies 105, Pistons 91: The Pistons led by as many as 11 early, but the Grizzlies found their groove midway through the second quarter going on a 23-3 run and never looking back. Who do you thank for that run? Well Quincy Pondexter of course, he had 8 points in the stretch. Or, you could just thank the Pistons who went 1-of-9 shooting with 7 turnovers in the final 8 minutes of the first half. Mike Conley had 19 for the Grizzlies on just 11 shots, Ed Davis played well off the bench and in garbage time with 14 (10 in the fourth quarter with the game in hand). Jonas Jerebko and Brandon Knight each had 13 points for the Pistons.

Raptors 96, Wizards 88: It was ‘70s throwback night unintentionally in Washington as the scoreboard in the arena didn’t work, so officials put 24 second clocks on the floor at the baseline, plus they had to use an air horn to bring in the subs (and other horn functions).

Washington was not good all night, their offense looked confused and there was no spacing. John Wall was terrible all night — 1-of-12 shooting with 7 turnovers. Wall just has to develop a jump shot at some point because Toronto went under screens and packed the paint and he could do nothing about it. Bradley Beal could, he had 25, but it wasn’t enough. DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay each had 24 points, Kyle Lowry added 11 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists.

Bobcats 105, Magic 92: Charlotte won this game in the first half when they shot 59.1 percent and led by as many as 20. That’s too much for a team with Orlando’s talent level to make up most nights. They came close as the Bobcats helped out shooting 3-of-16 in the fourth but when the Magic got within four Kemba Walker had the steal and the layup to spark a little 11-2 run, and that was it. Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker each had 24 points for Charlotte, while Byron Mullens added 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Suns 102, Trail Blazers 98: The Suns opened the game on a 12-0 run and never trailed, although it got close late. Early on the Suns played good basketball — Goran Dragic had 10 assists in the first quarter and the Suns shot 60 percent for the first half. But the Blazers have had a lot of comebacks this season and came close here. Dragic finished with 16 points and hit his free throws late to seal the win. J.J. Hickson did his part to boost his trade value with 25 points and 16 rebounds for Portland.

Giannis Antetokounmpo walked out on his postgame press conference

Associated Press
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Giannis Antetokounmpo wants to win, wants to make the NBA Finals. Badly. As in he could walk if the Bucks don’t do that in the next couple of years.

Antetokounmpo already showed he was willing to walk — he did so right out of his postgame press conference Saturday night after the Bucks were eliminated from the playoffs by the Raptors.

Khris Middleton‘s “you just leaving me here” face is the best part of this video.

Chalk that up to frustration, on a couple of levels. The question is legitimate — how much this experience helps the Bucks grow and fuels their offseason will say a lot about where they are as a team in a year — but it’s also understandable that in the moment the Greek Freak doesn’t want to talk about it. Or, really, in that spot have the perspective to do the question justice. Middleton went on to say, “hopefully, we learn from this.”

The other part of this is that the reporter, Malika Andrews, wrote a story at ESPN about how Antetokounmpo making the Finals would play a big role in if he stays or not in Milwaukee past this contract. That is not the narrative Antetokounmpo wants out there about him, and sometimes this is how players deal with reporters who write things they don’t like.

Antetokounmpo is one of the league’s good guys, don’t expect this to become a trend.

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

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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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
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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 DeMar DeRozan 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 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 mixed things up and had Leonard as the primary defender on Giannis 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 when he needed to.

“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 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, and when he couldn’t get to the rim at will his lack of a jump shot he has confidence in showed. Those kinds of lessons come 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 — and 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 in a run that got to 26-3 for Toronto, 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

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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.