Paul Pierce blocks Kyle Lowry’s shot at the buzzer, Nets hold on for Game 7 win over Raptors

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The Nets were firmly in control for most of the second half of Game 7 in Toronto, but it all began to come crashing down with less than a minute left.

A double-digit advantage was down to six, when Kevin Garnett committed a loose ball foul on a rebound with 56 seconds left that put Patrick Patterson on the line, with the chance to cut into the lead while no time elapsed.

He sank both free throws, and the lead was now four.

Garnett fouled Kyle Lowry on the Raptors’ next possession, once again a terrible decision in that situation, giving Toronto more free throws while the clock remained stopped.

Lowry hit both, and the lead was down to two.

Deron Williams was intentionally fouled on Brooklyn’s next chance, but he was able to hit just one of two free throws. Lowry drove and got a runner to bank home, and it was a one-point game with 16 seconds left.

After two free throws from Shaun Livingston, it was Terrence Ross getting to the rim for the quick two, a shot the Nets were happy to allow because seconds ticked off, and they still retained the lead. But Brooklyn failed to get the ball inbounds twice, first needing a timeout to avoid a five-second call, and then turning it over thanks to a bad pass from Livingston and an incredible defensive play from Ross.

With 6.2 seconds left, the Raptors were down one with possession, and had one final chance.

Lowry to the basket was an understandable call by Dwane Casey, but the Nets seemed to know it was coming. As multiple defenders swarmed, Lowry was still able to get through and get a shot up in the lane, but Paul Pierce was right there, and got the clean block with his left hand as time expired.

That’s how close this series was — it came down to the closing seconds of a seventh game in order to be decided. And if you look at all 11 of the games between these two teams over the course of the season, they couldn’t have possibly been more evenly matched.

Joe Johnson did the heavy lifting for the Nets offensively, scoring 11 straight for his team at one point in the fourth quarter, and finishing with 26 points. But he was even more important than that, because the attention he got from the Raptors defense in the first half with constant double teams allowed Brooklyn to swing the ball until it landed in the hands of someone who had a wide-open shot.

Marcus Thornton was the beneficiary of plenty of those possessions, knocking down four of his six looks from three-point distance while finishing with an important 17 points in just over 20 minutes off the bench.

On the Raptors’ side, they got an incredible performance from Amir Johnson, especially in the first quarter. He scored 12 of his 20 points in the first nine minutes on 6-of-7 shooting, to go along with four early rebounds. Foul trouble limited him the rest of the way, however, and he managed to play just 5:28 of the second half before picking up his sixth foul on a tough call he received for essentially falling on the leg of Joe Johnson.

Lowry finished with 28 points, seven rebounds and three assists, and carried his team at times on a day where DeMar DeRozan was just 5-of-12 from the field in over 45 minutes of action.

Simply put, it was an incredible finish to a highly competitive series.

The Nets will face the Heat in Miami on Tuesday to open the second round, while the Raptors have some tough decisions to make in retooling the roster for what hopefully will be a deeper playoff run next season.

Jaren Jackson Jr. out for at least two weeks for Grizzlies

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Gordon Hayward
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The Memphis Grizzlies announced that Jaren Jackson Jr. suffered a sprained left knee late during the second quarter of Friday’s game vs the Los Angeles Lakers:

Memphis says Jackson will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

In his second year, Jackson has been a big part of the Grizzlies surprising success. Memphis is currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a record of 28-28. Jackson has proven to be an ideal running mate for rookie point guard Ja Morant, as the Grizzlies have rebuilt quicker than anyone expected.

With Jackson out, Memphis will need to replace 16.9 points and 1.6 blocks per game. Jackson also regularly functions as the Grizzlies backup center, sliding over to play the pivot when starter Jonas Valanciunas is out.

With Jackson out for at least two weeks, and potentially longer, Memphis will lean on Kyle Anderson and rookie Brandon Clarke at the four. The trickle-down impact may be more minutes for backup center Gorgui Dieng, who was acquired at the trade deadline, up front behind Valanciunas. In addition, Josh Jackson, who spent the first few months of the season in the G-League, has had a bit of resurgence in recent weeks. With Anderson likely to play more at power forward, Jackson may see even more minutes on the wing.

Ben Simmons out at least through Monday

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Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons‘ troublesome back will keep him out at least through Monday reports NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters. Winters reports that Simmons went through testing upon the Sixers return to Philadelphia on Sunday and will have further testing done on Monday:

Simmons missed the first game back from the All-Star break on Thursday due to back soreness. He then exited Saturday night’s game at the Milwaukee Bucks after playing less than five minutes.

Simmons went to his second-straight All-Star game last week. He’s averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists and a league-leading 2.1 steals per game through 54 games this season.

An up-and-down season sees Philadelphia currently fifth in the Eastern Conference. The 76ers are an equal 1.5 games behind Miami for fourth and ahead of Indiana in sixth. The Sixers would love to climb to fourth for homecourt advantage in the postseason, as they’ve been dominant at home with a 26-2 record, while underwhelming on the road at just 9-20.

With Joel Embiid continuing to suffer from injuries, while also having his minutes managed, Philadelphia can’t afford to be without Simmons for long. The 76ers added depth on the wing at the trade deadline with Alec Bucks and Glenn Robinson III, but have little behind Simmons at point guard. Raul Neto started in Simmons’ place on Thursday, but did not play on Saturday until the game was well in-hand for Milwaukee.

Lance Stephenson hopes strong season in China springboards him back to NBA

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The Chinese Basketball Association season is up in the air because of the Coronavirus outbreak. The season is postponed and, while there is talk of restarting it on April 1, there are more questions than answers about that plan right now.

Lance Stephenson was in China playing for the Liaoning Flying Leopards and — as many American scorers can do against the soft defenses in the CBA — put up impressive numbers. Stephenson is hoping to use that as a springboard back to the NBA, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Will it work for Stephenson? Maybe. It only takes one GM looking for a little scoring punch down the stretch to buy-in.

However, GMs also know the numbers are inflated in China and it doesn’t translate to being able to do the same thing in the NBA. Jimmer Fredette is example 1A. Or, here are the top five scorers in the Chinese league so far this season:

1. Dominique Jones (Jilin Northeast Tigers) 37.8
2. Joe Young (Nanjing Monkey Kings) 35.9
3. Darius Adams (Qingdao Eagles) 34.9
4. Tyler Hansbrough (Sichuan Blue Whales) 32.3
5. Jonathan Gibson (Jiangsu Dragons) 31.2

All of those guys, and a lot more, would like to use China as a springboard back to the NBA. That, however, is proving to be a long leap.

Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen unapologetic about late-game timeouts in decided games

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Saturday night, Chicago was about to lose its eighth straight game, down 112-102 to Phoenix with 30.2 seconds remaining, when Bulls coach Jim Boylen called a timeout. Boylen extended a decided game, and the Bulls’ embarrassment at home, and it apparently did not sit well with Zach LaVine.

Why call the timeout? Here is what Boylen said postgame, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

“We were just trying to get a 3, execute an action we’ve been working on,” Boylen said. “I think their pressure on our inbounds hurt us all night. We had a hard time getting the ball into actions.”

Boylen sees a teaching moment. Whether the players are tuned into him and he can effectively teach anything at that point in the game is another question entirely, one Boylen does not care about. LaVine was asked about it postgame but just laughed it off as Boylen being Boylen, but noted that’s not a good time to make a point.

“That’s what he do, man,” LaVine said, laughing. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not the coach. He told me he likes working on things we do in practice and things like that. He’s the coach. He can call timeout if he wants to.

“I just wish we were in the game. We played a really good game throughout the game and then we lose control. It’s just frustrating. Obviously, you never know what can happen type thing. But you’re down by 10 with 30 seconds left, it’s tough to stay locked in at the end of that.”

This is far from the first time Boylen has called a late-game timeout in a decided game. Darnell Mayberry counted four times he has done it — in February.

This speaks to the tension within the Bulls organization, something that will make a rebuild even more challenging. Boylen has never been popular with the players — something that can be overcome to a degree if the team is winning, but the Bulls are 19-38 and have lost eight in a row. Evidence shows the players are not responding to the coach, but team president John Paxson LOVES Boylen’s old-school attitude and has his back.

Right now, any free agent of note is going to look at the team, its coach, and if they have good options, take a pass. The team needs to be built up internally, and it’s fair to question if the GarPax front office (which is far more Pax than Gar right now) and Boylen are up to that task. Especially if the players are tuning out the coach.