Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Celtics 11-0 run closes out Pacers

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while wondering what live is like for a poor sultan….

Lakers 108, Hornets 102: The Lakers were down 25 in the third quarter, 18 entering the fourth. But then Kobe Bryant took over the offense and Dwight Howard the defense, the Hornets fell apart and a comeback that could be a defining moment in the Lakers season was on. Our own Darius Soriano broke it all down.

Celtics 83, Pacers 81: Boston is supposed to be old. They were on the second night of a back-to-back playing on the road. Yet they were the team that put together an 11-0 run to end the game, capped off by a Jeff Green layup when the Pacers defense broke down that gave the Celtics the win.

Of course, this was more than just one shot. The Celtics got 18 from Kevin Garnett, but mostly the Celtics are a team poised to take advantage of a Pacers defense designed to make you take midrange jumpers. The Celtics can kill you that way, they are the best midrange shooting team in the NBA. And finally, the Pacers offense can just go away. It did at the start of the fourth quarter when they gave up a 10-point lead. Then again at the end of the game, in the final 4:30, the Pacers were 0-7 with two turnovers. Those dry stretches kill the.

This game is a great example of how people view these teams heading into the playoffs. Boston doesn’t have the most talent but the guys they have make plays under pressure and execute with the game on the line, which makes them dangerous. The Pacers still played great defense for the game (they only gave up 83) but their offense can take a siesta and when that happens against good teams they lose.

Heat 97, Magic 96: Miami led this game by 20 points early in the third quarter then returned to a bad habit we haven’t seen a lot of during their streak — they coasted. Took their foot off the gas. And while the Magic are not a good team they play hard for Jacque Vaughn and they came back. Nikola Vucevic was key to this and he finished the game with 25 points and 21 boards. But he also fouled out and so there was no good rim protector on the court for the final play, a LeBron James drive to win it. LeBron finished with 26 points, Dwyane Wade 24.

Mavericks 112, Rockets 108: On Sunday, the Rockets embarrassed the Mavericks by 33 points. The box score from that game was taped to the white board in the Dallas locker room with “not tonight” written across it in red ink.

This game was close and down the stretch Dallas closed on a 10-4 run to get the win. Dallas got good play from its veterans, with Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion each pouring in 23. Marion was also the guy guarding James Harden much of the night and Harden went 5-of-17 from the field and airballed a late three. It just wasn’t going to be his night.

Cavaliers 104, Jazz 101: Those footsteps you hear Jazz fans are the Lakers 1.5 games back of you now. If you’re going to win this race with them down the stretch, this is the kind of game you need to win.

Utah led by 6 with 1:41 to go but Cleveland closed the game out on a 9-0 run. They did it behind Kyrie Irving, who had 11 of his 20 points on the night in the final five minutes of the game. He took over and the Jazz both don’t have a guard who can do that nor a perimeter defender who can slow a guy who starts to do that. Gordon Hayward had 25 for the Jazz as he continues to come into his own on the offensive end.

Spurs 101, Bulls 83: No Tony Parker no problem. Playing without their all-star point guard, the Spurs still found a way to hold off the Bulls after a fairly even 1st half by pulling away in the final 24 minutes.

Without Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili led the way for San Antonio. Duncan had another throwback game, doing most of his damage inside, scoring 18 points while grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots. Ginobili, operating with the ball in his hands a lot more, racked up 9 assists to go with 18 points of his own by hitting 3 of his 5 three point attempts and getting to rim well to score inside. Kawhi Leonard also took up a greater load on offense by scoring well as both a shot creator and in doing his normal work as an off-ball threat. Leonard’s 14 points came on an efficient 6-11 shooting and his work was a nice compliment to the heavy lifting of Duncan’s inside game and Ginobili’s creativity as primary ball handler.

The Bulls, meanwhile, were carried by Luol Deng (19 points, 7 rebounds) and some hot shooting from Marco Belinelli, who scored a game high 21 points on 8-16 shooting (including 3-6 from behind the arc). But, as has been the case all to often this season with Derrick Rose on the shelf, the Bulls simply couldn’t find enough ways to score points as the Spurs clamped down in the 2nd half by taking away their preferred actions and doing a better job of contesting shots.
—Darius Soriano

Clippers 117, Bucks 101: Jamal Crawford’s between-the-legs alley oop to Blake Griffin for the windmill dunk will steal the highlights, but Lob City can’t exist without the foundation that is Griffin’s work on the block. Against the best shotblocking team in the league, Griffin was smooth, under control, and threw together strings of moves that sent Milwaukee’s bigs flying out of the way. Griffin’s calm, collected effort led to his first triple-double since his rookie season, and he nearly had it in the third quarter. Griffin’s 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists carried the Clippers, but Matt Barnes also caught fire from deep (six 3-pointers) and Jamal Crawford (11-for-15) couldn’t miss. Milwaukee did their part to hang in for most of the game offensively, but the quality and quantity of open looks eventually tipped the scales heavily in the favor of the Clippers.
—D.J. Foster

Knicks 87, Pistons 77: The Knicks were sloppy early on in this one, with seven turnovers in the games first seven minutes. Their offense couldn’t find a flow with Carmelo Anthony out resting his sore knee. But once Mike Woodson decided to put Amare Stoudemire in and the game things got better for New York — Stoudemire had 22 points, Raymond Felton found his groove on the pick-and-roll when the Pistons started to play off him, and finished with 26. The Knicks went on a 16-0 run after the Pistons made a second-half push to take the lead, and that was it for Detroit. Brandon Knight had 17 to lead Detroit.

Hawks 107, Sixers 96: We have a “good” Jeff Teague sighting — he was aggressive all night and scored 27 points and added 11 assists in the Hawks win. Atlanta took control of this game midway through the first quarter and led the rest of the way. When the Sixers made a push in the third quarter the Hawks responded with a 15-1 run to remind everyone how this game would end. Al Horford and Anthony Tolliver each had 21 for the Hawks.

Grizzlies 91, Trail Blazers 85: This was the classic tale of two halves game.

In the first half, the Trailblazers jumped out an early lead through hot shooting from their perimeter players. Damian Lillard scored 14 of his 20 points in those first two quarters while Nicolas Batum was able to hit 4 of his 5 shots to score all 10 of his points over that stretch. With J.J. Hickson (12 points, 13 rebounds for the game) pitching in 8 points and 7 rebounds in the first half, the Blazers were well on their way to taking down the red hot Grizzlies, boasting a 12 point lead heading into the 2nd half.

But, after halftime, the Grizzlies showed why they’re on such a hot streak. In the final two periods, the Grizzlies outscored the Blazers by 18 points through ratcheted up defensive pressure and offensive balance. Portland only shot 28.2% from the field in the 2nd half as the Grizzlies swarmed shooters and made a consistent effort to protect the rim. LaMarcus Aldridge had a particularly rough night for the Blazers, connecting on only 2 of his 13 shots (though he did add 10 rebounds and 6 assists).

Offensively, the Grizzlies began to attack more through Mike Conley and Marc Gasol who both scored 13 of their 20 and 23 points respectively after halftime. Add in a good scoring punch from Jerryd Bayless off the bench (13 points) and the Grizzlies’ superior talent and depth were able to take control as the game went on.
—Darius Soriano

Warriors 87, Kings 83: The Warriors needed a win — they were falling in the standings and entering the “can the Lakers catch them?” conversation. But Sacramento always plays the Warriors tough and while this game wasn’t the high-scoring, overtime-filled matchup of games past it was close. It took David Lee (17 points, 10 rebounds) finding Klay Thompson alone in the corner for a three to seal the Warriors win. Thompson finished with a game-high 20. The Kings had a shot to tie it but Tyreke Evans couldn’t get a little runner to go over the long arms of Thompson and the Warriors are safe for a day.

Nets 99, Bobcats 78: The Nets owned the third quarter, outscoring the Bobcats 26-7 at one point in there, and pulled away for an easy win. The run was led by Joe Johnson, who had 10 in the quarter and 22 for the game. Charlotte’s offense never came out of the locker room for the second half as they shot 25 percent in the final two quarters. The Nets shot 56 percent in the second half and part of that was Deron Williams, who finished the game with 26. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with 17 led Charlotte.

Timberwolves 87, Wizard 82: When Ricky Rubio is feeling it there may not be a more fun player in the league to watch. Rubio had 15 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds leading a small lineup from the Timberwolves (Rubio, Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea together) to the win. This was close most of the way with neither team ever getting a double-digit lead, but it was a 13-5 push that gave Minnesota the lead it needed in the fourth. Washington had its chance, down one with 31 seconds to go and the ball in John Wall’s hands (he had 17). But Rubio got the steal off wall, pushed the ball ahead to Barea who hit the layup that ended up being the dagger.

Raptors 91, Suns: 71: This was a blowout from the middle of the second quarter on and it was sparked in part by the Raptors bench. Six Toronto players scored in double digits. As for the Suns night, they had 29 turnovers. That led to 39 Raptors points. That pretty much sums it all up.

LeBron James, Doc Rivers, others around NBA react to, participate in protests

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The NBA family spoke out loudly and quickly in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer.

Protests have erupted nationwide following Floyd’s death, and the NBA family is commenting on — and in the case of some players, participating in — those protests. That includes the biggest name in the sport today, LeBron James.

Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey made a powerful statement recently, and on Sunday Doc Rivers released this statement through the Clippers.

A number of players have been involved in the protest, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie of the Timberwolves, who were with former NBA player Stephen Jackson — a childhood friend of Floyd’s — during a protest in Minnesota.

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to help lead a peaceful protest that started at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. He was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a brilliant op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times that talked about where the rage of the riots comes from in the black community.

“Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg of involvement of the NBA family, just like the protests are the tip of the iceberg of the frustration felt in black communities around the nation.

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.