Nuggets find their game, hold off the Warriors to take game 5

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The Nuggets finally looked like themselves this series, and not a moment too soon. By beating the Warriors 107-100, the Nuggets not only staved off elimination, but grabbed some momentum in the process.

Nearly every Nugget win this season saw the same trends develop and this game was no different. Denver scored 50 points in the paint, forced 17 Warrior turnovers (which they turned into 19 points), and worked the offensive glass to grab 15 offensive rebounds (which they turned into 20 points). When Denver can control these three aspects of the game, they become almost unbeatable as the Warriors found out.

The star of the game was Andre Iguodala who put up a LeBron type line, stuffing the stat sheet with a team high 25 points while grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing 7 assists. Iguodala was all over the floor, flashing his versatility by playing a lot of point forward and creating shots for himself and his teammates off the dribble. And when he wasn’t handling the ball, he was working masterfully off it, finding space in the post and punishing the smaller defenders Warriors’ coach Mark Jackson tried to hide on him all night.

Outside of Iguodala, it was a real team effort from Denver who got several strong contributions up and down their roster. Six players scored in double-digits, with Wilson Chandler’s 19 points via some very good outside shooting helping to create spacing for Ty Lawson (who also scored 19) to create off the dribble and attack the interior of the Warriors’ defense.

But while the Nuggets on the floor clearly picked up their respective games to pick up this win, a lot of credit has to go to head George Karl for pushing the right buttons and making some effective adjustments. Karl switched up his starting lineup, going to JaVale McGee at Center to play next to Kenneth Faried in the front court. McGee’s activity in defending the paint allowed the Denver’s wing defenders to pressure the ball and shoot the gap into passing lanes and create turnovers.

Karl also went away from the Lawson and Andre Miller backcourt — at least early in the game — playing Corey Brewer at shooting guard for extended minutes while also matching up Kosta Koufos against Carl Landry for the majority of his minutes. These shifts kept much more size on the floor and kept the Warriors flustered on offense as they always seemed to run into a bigger, longer defender than they have all series.

In contrast to Karl, Warriors’ head man Mark Jackson made some decisions that he’d likely take back if given another opportunity. For long stretches he tried to hide Curry defensively on Iguodala, but as mentioned that went poorly. He also closed the game with Draymond Green and Festus Ezili rather than playing Andrew Bogut and Carl Landry. Bogut’s absence was particularly glaring as the team missed his defensive presence and work on the glass.

Not to bury Jackson as he did ride out the stretch with the guys who were able to make a push and cut into the Nuggets’ lead to make it a game in the 4th quarter.

After starting so slowly due to some solid defense and some physical play, Curry scored 7 of his 15 points in the final period while also handing out 2 of his 8 assists. Along with Curry, Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson were key in pulling the Warriors back to within 5 points with only 4:15 left to play, hitting some big baskets while the Nuggets looked more than ready to give up the lead entirely.

But that was as close as the Warriors got. Down the stretch a big three by Chandler and a dunk by Iguodala off an airballed jumper ended up sealing Golden State’s fate.

With the series heading back to Oakland, it remains to be seen if Denver has actually figured things out to the point that they can still pull out the series. But, even if it was just for one night, the Nuggets finally resembled the team they were from the regular season; the team that was favored to win this series.

Report: Celtics reach out to former assistant Larranaga about joining Mazzulla’s staff

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The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for a veteran assistant to put on the bench next to 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the man thrust into the head coach’s chair for a title contender in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension.

Who better than a guy who spent nine years on the Celtics’ bench? Boston reached out to Jay Larranaga, currently on the Clippers bench, about returning to the East Coast, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Clippers had no turnover on Tyronn Lue’s staff heading into this season. Mazzulla has become a trusted member of the Clippers staff, working a lot with the big me on the roster. However, if the Celtics back up the Brink’s Truck, the Clippers will not stand in his way if he wants to leave. It’s a question of comfort level, lifestyle, and of course money for Larranaga.

The Celtics made Mazzulla their interim head coach after an investigation found a “volume of violations” of team policy by Udoka, who had an improper relationship with a team staff member. So far the Celtics and Udoka have been able to keep the details of what happened under wraps, but league sources described the situation to NBC Sports as “ugly” and “messy,” especially if/when those details do find their way to the public.

For Celtics players, just getting back on the court, practicing Tuesday and focusing on basketball — not the turmoil around the franchise — was a good thing.

“Once we got out on the court, it was just nice to get back out the court and review our defense and to talk about offense and doing what we do,” Al Horford told the Associated Press. “It’s a good thing to just play basketball. That’s what we’re here for. It’s important to just start this thing back up again.”

Getting another coach on the bench will be important for the Celtics as well.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.