Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Denver fans savor blowout of Knicks

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while you were watching the papal seagull…..

Heat 98, 76ers 94: There was a time this season when the Heat were coasting and this was the kind of game where they just didn’t bring any heart. But now they have something to play for with the win streak, which reached 20 games with this victory. But the Heat had to earn this one as the Sixers would not just roll over. We went into more detail on the Heat pulling this one out.

Nuggets 117, Knicks 94: This was pretty much exactly what Nuggets fans ordered up. It started with a 21-9 Nuggets run in the first quarter, then they had a bunch of other runs over the course of the game as he Nuggets just ran away and hid. Carmelo Antony was a non-factor (9 points on 3-of-12 shooting, and you can throw in three turnovers) and after the game said he was going back to New York to get his knee drained — but not until the crowd booed him then chanted “Where Is ‘Melo?” after he left the court.

The Nuggets are for real — they play good defense and use that to fuel their offense. Top to bottom the Nuggets are committed to running, to their aggressive style, and there is no reason they can’t to it effectively in the playoffs (there is no rule saying you must player slower and more cautiously, though that tends to happen). With this roster Denver is young but can’t keep selling “we’re young, give us time.” They need some postseason wins, they need to get to the second round. And that’s certainly possible.

Hawks 96, Lakers 92: If you were looking for a well played basketball game, you were out of luck if you watched this game. While the Hawks were a bit better than the Lakers in terms of shot making, both teams struggled to find their groove from anywhere outside the paint. The Lakers only made 36 of their 92 shots with that mark greatly influenced by their 8 for 27 from behind the arc. Meanwhile the Hawks made 37 of their 79 shots, but only hit 18 of 48 shots from outside the paint (though they did hit a respectable 8 of their 22 three point attempts).

Where the Hawks won this game was on the strength of their ability to get to and score in the paint while limiting the Lakers’ ability to do the same. With a balanced attack that featured 6 players in double figures, the Hawks took advantage their match up advantages and some lax Laker defense to get timely baskets. Devin Harris led the team in scoring with 17 points while chipping in 7 assists, but it was the dirty work done by Al Horford that was difference. Horford scored 14 points on 7-12 shooting and helped control the glass by grabbing 14 big rebounds.

On the Lakers side, Kobe Bryant led them with 31 points but needed 33 shots to reach that tally before severely spraining his left ankle. The only prolonged stretch where Kobe looked even remotely in rhythm was the 3rd quarter where he scored 20 points on 8-16 shooting, but that was an outlier for him in this game. As for the other Lakers, Dwight Howard was impressive with 16 rebounds but was limited to only 10 points on 9 shots as the Hawks clogged the lane and made the Lakers shooters make shots to beat them. Those shooters failed, however, and with them missing, the Hawks got a much needed win while shorthanded.
—Darius Soriano

Grizzlies 96, Clippers 85: Another game where you are left wondering if the Clippers just can’t beat the top teams in the West in a seven game series. The reason is defense — the Grizzlies shot 54.4 percent on the night. Marc Gasol had 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting as he once again just had his way with DeAndre Jordan. Defense and Jordan have always been the key to any Clippers playoff run and both were exposed in this game Tayshaun Prince added 18, but the Grizzlies got other contributions. When Chauncey Billups got hot and closed the gap to three in the fourth quarter the Grizzlies got a three from Quincy Pondexter and a tip in from Tony Allen and soon squashed the comeback. It was like that all night, the Grizzlies were just better and the questions about the Clippers remain.

With the win, Memphis moves into the No. 3 seed slot in the West, the Clippers slip to 4.

Thunder 110, Jazz 87: The Thunder are hot and playing like a contender. The Jazz are falling apart and playing like a team that doesn’t deserve to make the playoffs. Combine that and you get a blowout. The Thunder took control of the game in the first quarter and shot 53.6 percent on the night. Kevin Durant had 23 points and Russell Westbrook 19, and both could have had monster nights if they weren’t rested down the stretch because the game got out of hand.

Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 20 points off the bench but for long stretches he was covered by Derek Fisher and the Jazz didn’t get him the ball and let him attack. Utah made a lot of similarly odd choices in the game.

Wizards 106, Bucks 93: The Wizards showed some fight to hang on and get this win. Washington led by 20 points early in the third quarter, mostly behind the play of John Wall, who was attacking and finished with 23 points and 10 assists. But the Bucks came back with a 32-9 run that gave them a lead and the playoff-bound team seemed to have all the momentum. Until Wall and Trevor Booker (nine points in the fourth) stemmed the tide.

The Bucks got 26 points from Monta Ellis, 17 from Larry Sanders and 16 from J.J. Redick. But take those three out of the equation and the rest of the Bucks shot 33.3 percent on the night. It wasn’t enough.

Celtics 112, Raptors 88: This game was fairly close for the first half and even the start of the third quarter, but a 21-6 run late in the third quarter put everything out of reach. That run came because the Celtics were attacking the rim and drawing fouls — there were 19 Boston free throws in the third quarter and 35 for the game.

It was a milestone game in Boston where Kevin Garnett moved past Jerry West for 15th on the All-Time scoring list and Paul Pierce moved past Charles Barkley for 20th.

Pacers 107, Timberwolves 91: Indiana raced out to a 10-0 lead and they were hot in the first quarter, but they never pulled away by much more than that. In fact Minnesota fought back to tie the game, but Indiana closed the first half on an 8-0 run and pulled away in the third quarter for the win. The really good news out of all this for Indiana was a big showing from Roy Hibbert — 27 points on 10-for-15 shooting, plus 12 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. If Indiana is going to make any kind of playoff run they are going to need these kind of nights from Hibbert and he seems to be finding his stride again.

Rockets 111, Suns 81: After about 18 minutes of coasting through the game the Rockets got serious about defense, went on a 20-2 run and pulled away from the Suns for an easy win. Donatas Motiejunas scored 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting to lead Houston, James Harden added 18 points, while Jeremy Lin had 13 points and 6 assists.

The Rockets have won seven of their last eight at home — and now have eight of their next nine in Houston. Keep winning near that pace and they will solidify their playoff standing.

Kings 121, Bulls 79: The Bulls were just a mess from the opening tip. Sacramento won the first quarter 34-20 on 65 percent shooting — the vaunted Bulls defense took another night off. So did the offense, which shot 35 percent in the first quarter and 38.6 percent for the game. It was 65-36 Kings at the half. Tyreke Evans had 26 points on 13 shots to lead the Kings.

Warriors 105, Pistons 97: When Stephen Curry and David Lee are both on, Golden State can outscore a lot of teams. That’s what happened here, Curry had 31 points and was raining threes again, Lee had 20 points and 15 boards. The Warriors shot 56.9 percent from the field and only missed one shot in the game’s final seven minutes. Rodney Stuckey had 22 points, but Greg Monroe shot just 4-of-16 on the night.

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.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

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Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: II did a s–t job defensively against LeBron’

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.