Baseline-to-baseline recaps: Heat set franchise record for wins, Lakers remain in playoff position

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while waiting for Microsoft Office to come to your mobile devices

Lakers 113, Trail Blazers 106: Kobe Bryant scored 47 points to out-duel rookie Damian Lillard, who finished with 38. Bryant dragged his team to victory for the second straight night, and we broke it down in greater detail here.

Heat 103, Wizards 98: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh didn’t play, but Ray Allen stepped up by matching a season-high 23 points, which he last accomplished Nov. 3. Fellow-old-role-player Rashard Lewis also scored a season high, finishing with 17 points. Just in case the absence of three of the game’s top players wasn’t enough, Miami’s style shook up the game. The Heat attempted 41 3-pointers (17 makes) and turned the ball over 22 times. — Dan Feldman

Nuggets 96, Spurs 86: The first quarter of this game was just flat out ugly. Both teams made a few defensive plays, but mostly there were just a lot of missed shots — Denver hit 5-of-23 (21.7 percent) in the first, which had them 8 points back of San Antonio 19-11. Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler combined 4-13.

However, the Spurs never pulled away, in part because they started off shoting 0-7 from three. To be fair, San Antonio was without Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. Eventually the Nuggets got hot — Chandler shot 9-of-15 the rest of the way, Brewer 10-of-18 and they finished with 29 and 28 points respectively. The game remained tight until a 23-3 run at the end of the third into the start of the fourth and that was it — playing shorthanded against the deepest team in the league finally caught up to the Spurs and it was the Nuggets bench that led the run.

With the win, Denver moves a full game up on Memphis in the race for the three seed in the West. The loss sends the Spurs into a tie with Oklahoma City for the best record in the West (both are 57-21), but OKC has the tiebreak as they will finish with a better record in conference. — Kurt Helin

Hawks 124, 76ers 101: After losing three straight – including a loss to this same Philadelphia team – Atlanta got easy shots and made them. The Hawks, who shot 59 percent on 2-pointers and 94 percent on free throws, are now tied with the Bulls for the No. 5 seed in the East. The 76ers – who’ve lost their last three games by 19, 21 and now 23 – might be done competing for the season, if not for their next three games being against teams that are similarly ready for this season to end: Washington, Cleveland and Detroit. — Dan Feldman

Magic 113, Bucks 103: The youngsters – Nikola Vucevic (30 points, 20 rebounds, five assists), Tobias Harris (30 points, 19 rebounds, five assists) and John Henson (17 points, 25 rebounds, seven blocks) – had ridiculous all-around games. That’s fine and dandy for the Magic, who are looking for a few positives at the end of a rebuilding season. But the Bucks should be gearing up for a first-round matchup with the Heat, not just showcasing Henson or worrying about seller’s remorse with Harris. That might be difficult, though, considering Brandon Jennings and Larry Sanders left the game with injuries. — Dan Feldman

Pistons 111, Cavaliers 104: If you were to start a team with a player who won’t make the playoffs this season, whom would you take? Two contenders played in this game: Andre Drummond (career-high 29 points and 11 rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (27 points and nine assists). Cleveland intentionally fouled Drummond late, but he made 8-of-14 free throws during that time to help hold off the Cavaliers, who gained valuable lottery positioning with a loss to the team just ahead of them in the standings. — Dan Feldman

Nets 101, Celtics 93: Boston settled for the jump shot and it failed them — Jeff Green was 4-of-17 on the night, Jason Terry 1-7, and the Celtics didn’t get their first free throw until more than three minutes had gone by in the second half. The Boston offense struggles unless role players like Green light it up (he is the bellwether for their offense) and he was off.

Deron Williams was on — he had 29 points and 12 assists. D-Will picked up 10 of those points in the fourth quarter to help stave off some Celtics pushes. Joe Johnsn added 20, Brook Lopez 21 for the Nets. — Kurt Helin

Clippers 111, Timberwolves 95: This is what the Clippers do — they destroy the teams they should beat. Los Angeles also did what coaches love to see in that they closed out quarters well — they went on a 16-6 run to close out the second quarter and a 19-6 one to close out the third and blow the game wide open. The Clippers were balanced with six players in double figures scoring led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin with 19 points each. And of course, Griffin had a few monster dunks. — Kurt Helin

Kings 121, Hornets 110: There haven’t been a lot of laughers for the Kings this season, but they got one Wednesday night — Sacramento started to pull away with a 14-2 run midway through the first quarter and they led by as many as 30. John Salmons had 22 points, 12 of those in the third quarter to make sure the Kings kept their lead. Jason Thompson and Marcus Thornton each added 20. — Kurt Helin

Suns 102, Mavericks 91: Dallas essentially no-showed for this game, and allowed a Phoenix team that isn’t exactly known for its offense to put up 61 first half points on the Mavs’ home floor. As a result, Dallas was officially eliminated from the playoffs, and will miss the postseason for the fist time since 2000. Not that the hopes were all that high for Dallas entering this one; the team has known since losing to the Lakers in Los Angeles on April 2 that it would take a not-so-small miracle for the team to get in, considering the records of both Utah and L.A. who are firmly ahead of the Mavericks in the standings.

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Wave goodbye, Damian Lillard eliminates Thunder

Associated Press
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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Wave goodbye, Damian Lillard drops 50, game-winning three to eliminate Thunder. Paul George — the best perimeter defender in the NBA this past season, a guy who likely lands top three in Defensive Player of the Year voting — was on him. Didn’t matter. On a night when Oklahoma City was playing with a sense of desperation because their playoff lives were on the line, a night when George and Russell Westbrook combined for 65 points on 51 shots, plus 20 rebounds and 17 assists, it didn’t matter.

Because Lillard. Words do not do him or the moment justice. Just watch the game winner, which got him to 50 points on the night.

Lillard waved goodbye to the Thunder. That shot gave Portland the 4-1 series win.

It wasn’t one “bad” shot which did in the Thunder, it was OKC’s bad shooting.

The other hero of the night — and in this series — for Portland was big man Enes Kanter, who played through a separated shoulder Tuesday to have 13 points and 13 rebounds. More impressively, he played solid defense for much of the series (even if OKC didn’t drag him into enough pick-and-rolls).

Portland advances to the second round, where they will likely face…

2) The Denver Nuggets look like a team that has figured out Spurs, playoffs, take command for 3-2 series lead. Denver has won the last two games against San Antonio by a combined 42 points, and that makes it sound closer than it has actually felt.

Denver is the more talented team on paper in this series, but the question was would their lack of experience allow them to show it against a franchise that considers deep playoff runs part of its birthright. It took a few games for the Nuggets to get the confidence they needed that they could win this series, but now that they have it — now that they have figured this series out — Denver has taken command.

Tuesday was a 109-90 rout of the Spurs that has the Nuggets up 3-2 in the series. San Antonio is going home to try to force a Game 7, but they are going to have to dramatically step up their level of play.

Two things have helped Denver separate from San Antonio.

One is Nikola Jokic, who is impacting every aspect of this game and had 16 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists as the fulcrum of the Nuggets offense.

“There’s really nothing he can’t do — other than jump,” Jamal Murray joked after the game.

The other difference was the coaching move of this series (maybe of the playoffs thus far): Mike Malone moved Torrey Craig into the starting lineup and moving Will Barton to the bench. It changed the Denver defense: Craig is doing a solid job on DeMar DeRozan, it shifted Gary Harris onto the young Derrick White and Craig has won that battle, while Murray can now hide on Bryn Forbes. Craig has not been a drag on the Denver offense as predicted, Barton was not happy about the move to the sixth man but has played well and handled it like a pro, and Denver has overwhelmed San Antonio for two straight games.

Gregg Popovich will have adjustments, but what he and the Spurs need more to force a Game 7 is a role player to break out and change the momentum of this series.

3) Toronto, Philadelphia both advance to face off next round after blowout Game 5 wins. The Eastern Conference playoffs were always really going to start in the second round, with a rock/paper/scissors battle of four teams — Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston — all of whom can make a claim they can come out of the conference.

Tuesday night Toronto and Philadelphia closed out their series with easy wins to set up a second-round showdown between the teams.

Toronto dropped Game 1 of this series then took command the rest of the way, winning 115-96 on Tuesday in a game that was never close.

Kawhi Leonard had 27 to lead the way.

Sixers fans enjoyed letting Jared Dudley have it.

Philly got up 21 in the first quarter and cruised to a 122-100 victory. The Sixers got pushed some by the Nets, which is a good thing because Toronto is going to push a lot harder.

NBA players, fans react to Damian Lillard’s series-ending shot

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Damian Lillard is the best Portland Trail Blazers player of all time. We’ve established that, it’s time to move on.

Lillard hit yet another game-winning, series-ending shot in the playoffs on Tuesday night as the Blazers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 at Moda Center, 118-115.

Lillard hit a step-back 37-foot 3-point shot over Paul George to win the series at the buzzer. It was reminiscent of the shot Lillard hit in 2014 over Chandler Parsons to beat the Houston Rockets and send Portland to the second round.

Of course the league was watching as the game went down this track too late into the night on the West coast, and early in the morning on the East.

After Lillard hit the shot, NBA Twitter left into action. NBA players who were awake reacted as well, including Parsons, who was cavalier about the whole thing.

What an incredible night in the NBA.

Damian Lillard did it again

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Damian Lillard did it again.

On Tuesday night when the Portland Trail Blazers needed him most, Lillard came through. Things were tight between Portland the Oklahoma City Thunder late in Game 5 at Moda Center. Both Russell Westbrook and Paul George played with five fouls in the fourth quarter, and after an explosive first half where Lillard scored 34 points, things had slowed for Portland.

In the second half, Westbrook played the part of the bully against CJ McCollum, and George was fantastic, eventually scoring 36 points with nine rebounds and three assists.

But things seemed to turn around when Jusuf Nurkic, out with a broken leg, returned to the Blazers bench with three-and-a-half minutes left and Portland down by eight. Nurkic said he left his house with a few minutes to go in the third quarter, anticipating his team could use his good spirits. Indeed, Nurkic’s presence seemed to fuel Portland. When Nurkic showed up, the home team immediately went on an 8-0 run.

Then, Lillard did what he does best.

After hitting the two-for-one shot with 32 seconds left, Lillard found himself with the ball, the game tied, and the shot clock off. As time ticked down and with the game on the line, Lillard hit the biggest shot of the night, right as time expired.

It was the shot that won the series.

You wouldn’t be mistaken if you equated Tuesday night’s big shot to the one Lillard hit in 2013 to beat the Houston Rockets and send Portland into the second round of the playoffs. In fact, I was at that game and I can tell you it was a defining moment for the franchise over the past half-decade.

But this was so much more.

Lillard’s shot to beat the Thunder solidified several things, both about the team and about the star guard himself. The Blazers have been a squad that have relied on its bench and supporting cast all season long, even more so with Nurkic out with a broken leg. But when the Thunder played perhaps one of their best games of the postseason, it was Lillard’s 50-point performance that moved them forward.

Portland is a team’s team, but in the end, it was their star that they needed.

There’s no doubt that Portland and Lillard have had it their fair share of doubters over the past several years. The idea that they could — or should — have a team built on the backs of Lillard and McCollum has raised the eyebrows of many, including myself. But externally, and particularly after their playoff sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans last season, it appeared most were ready to write off this team altogether.

But this playoff series, and this team, is different. They’ve been different all season long, right down to the rotations and flexibility that head coach Terry Stotts has enabled this season. Stotts has gone deeper into his bench, and altered his Flow offense in a way that is helped Portland stay fresh after years of running the same old song and dance.

Guys like Jake Layman, Seth Curry, Zach Collins, and Enes Kanter have all stepped up over the course of the season to be able to contribute to a squad that is needed more than just Lillard and McCollum.

To that end, Portland rose again and again to the challenge. Despite some of their losses, the Thunder gave numerous gut punches to the Blazers that would have seen previous iterations of this team fold. But Portland has been stronger, both as a unit and as Lillard has solidified himself as a more complete two-way player.

The idea that Lillard came back stronger and as more of a leader, ready for adversity, is not a supposition. At this point, it’s fact. You can see how the rest of the team has banded behind him in support of his path forward. Hell, Kanter told reporters after the game on Tuesday that he separated his shoulder and had to have an injection at halftime. That’s how bad these Blazers wanted to win, and how much they wanted to push not just for themselves, but for Lillard.

Thanks to Lillard’s shot (and McCollum’s jumpers, and Maurice Harkless’ free throws) Portland beat the Thunder, 118-115. They advance to the second round, and Rip City will be buzzing all week long. They deserve it, and they’ll be real contenders to challenge for a Western Conference Finals berth.

But where does that leave us when we think about Lillard, and these Blazers? If his famous “0.9” shot from 2014 was the thing that put him on the map, Tuesday’s 37-foot step-back jumper over George was the thing that made Lillard a legend.

The impossibility of that jumper — and the sheer gal to take it — is what makes Damian Lillard who he is.

The greatest Blazer of all-time.

Nuggets have figured out Spurs, how to win, dominate Game 5 to take 3-2 lead

Associated Press
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The coach who made the adjustment that changed the series is not the Olympic team coach, not the “why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame already guy. Instead, it’s Michael Malone. He has been the Bobby Fischer.

Malone’s adjustment: Starting Torrey Craig. Exactly the move everyone expected before the series.

Defensively, Craig has used his length to slow DeMar DeRozan (as much as anyone is going to), while Gary Harris could focus on the young Derrick White and Jamal Murray could hide on Bryn Forbes.

Craig was supposed to drag down the Nuggets offense too much to play him, but he was 5-of-7 from three in Game 4, and in Game 5 it didn’t matter because the San Antonio had no answer for the Jamal Murray/Nikola Jokic pick-and-roll.

The result was a 108-90 Denver thumping of the Spurs, giving them a 3-2 series lead. Closing out the Spurs in San Antonio will be a tall order, but a Denver team that came into the series needing to learn how to win at playoff basketball looks like a team that has figured it out.

“They just outplayed us in every facet of the game,” Gregg Popovich said succinctly.

Murray had 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, plus dished out seven assists and was +33 on the night.

Murry and Jokic have developed a tremendous pick-and-roll chemistry that leads to easy buckets off cuts, rolls, or open threes. Jokic is going to be good — 16 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists — but when Murray is hitting shots too the duo is nearly impossible to stop.

More important than the offense has been how Denver has started to defend the Spurs well — something Craig helped bring to the table. The Nuggets were stepping in and blowing up pick-and-rolls, forcing the Spurs into dry stretches of offense that allowed Denver to pull away.

The Spurs at home cannot be written off, but their role players need to make more plays — LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan each had 17 points, but the rest of the Spurs shot 38.7 percent on the night. Against this Denver offense, that’s not going to be good enough. Denver has figured out what it needs to do to win, the ball is in the Spurs court to adapt. And just make shots.