Big wins for Celtics, Thunder, Lakers

Big wins for Celtics, Thunder, Lakers
April 2, 2012, 1:59 pm
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From Comcast SportsNet
BOSTON (AP) -- Rajon Rondo got his pregame orders from Doc Rivers. The Celtics coach wanted his point guard to concentrate on scoring. Rondo did that -- and so much more. He finished with 16 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds, and Boston handed Miami its biggest loss of the season, pulling away with a dominant third quarter for a 91-72 win over the Heat on Sunday. Rondo had eight assists in that period when the Celtics outscored the Heat 31-12, turning a 49-44 halftime lead into an 80-56 advantage. They stayed ahead by at least 19 the rest of the way for their fifth straight win. He also had 10 points in the first quarter. Not bad for a sometimes shaky shooter who hadn't scored more than seven points in any of his previous five games. "We told Rondo that we needed him to be a scorer. Not a playmaker, a scorer," Rivers said. "He set the tone at the beginning of the game by doing that and I thought that loosened it up for everybody." He reached the triple-double mark for the fifth time this season with 8 12 minutes to play. It was his 13th consecutive game with at least 10 assists and another outstanding performance in a marquee game on national television, a scenario in which he seems to thrive. "Four or five guys came up to me today and told me to be aggressive and show them what a great point guard (I am)," Rondo said. "So I just try to go out there and be great." The Heat were far from that, making just 34.8 percent of their shots. And LeBron James failed to get an assist for just the second time in his career. "We didn't make any shots," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "You don't get assists off of missed field goals." The loss continued a couple of disturbing trends for the Heat -- seven losses in their last 10 road games and three consecutive setbacks of at least 15 points. Their previous worst defeat of the season came just one week earlier, 103-87 at Oklahoma City, and their last loss of more than 19 points came on March 4, 2011 at San Antonio, 125-95. Miami has the fewest home losses in the league at 21-2 but is only 16-12 on the road. "It's definitely a string of issues on the road," James said. "We've got to be more mentally tough." The Heat, playing their third game in four days, were led by James with 23 points and Dwyane Wade with 15. Chris Bosh, the other member of Miami's "Big 3", scored the Heat's first four points but didn't score again. The Celtics, combining tenacious defense with outstanding play in transition, increased their Atlantic Division lead to one game over idle Philadelphia. Paul Pierce scored 23 points, and Brandon Bass added 16 points and 10 rebounds for Boston. "We know we can play with the best," Pierce said. "It feels great. The crowd is behind you. You're executing. You're not turning the ball over. You're rebounding. That's the type of game we have to play." Does such a dominant performance against one of the NBA's best teams boost the Celtics' confidence? "I don't know if it does anything for our confidence," Rivers said. "Our guys are a pretty confident group. They feel they can play with anyone." Miami scored two of the first three baskets of the third quarter, cutting the lead to 51-48. Then the Celtics outscored the Heat 29-8 the rest of the period, hitting 14 of 23 shots while Miami made only 5 of 19. "The lead went from five to almost like 20 in the snap of a finger," Wade said. "We got shots. We didn't put them in and they capitalized on it." It was 55-50 when Rondo's layup began a 17-2 run in which the Heat's only points were two free throws by Wade. James finally hit a field goal, making it 72-54, but the Celtics scored eight of the remaining 10 points in the quarter. And they kept up the defensive pressure in the fourth quarter. "The game is a game of runs," Rondo said, "and we know they're a big team that can make a lot of runs, make like a 14-0 run. So we want to continue to get stops defensively and push the ball offensively up the court." The Celtics led 29-19 after one, led by Rondo's 10 points, four rebounds and four assists. They stretched that to 34-23, then went cold offensively while the Heat scored the next 10 points, closing the gap to 34-33. Bass stopped the drought with a shot from the top of the key with 4:57 left in the first half, Boston's first points in 4:08. With the score tied at 40, the Celtics got the next five points on a jumper by Kevin Garnett and a three-point play from Pierce to take a five-point lead. Notes: Rondo's streak of double-figure-assists games is the NBA's longest since Steve Nash had 14 in March-April 2005. ... Miami's Udonis Haslem returned to the team after missing Friday night's 113-101 win in Toronto, remaining in Florida to attend to a personal matter. ... James scored in double figures for his 407th consecutive game. ... Boston's Ray Allen missed his sixth straight game with a sore right ankle. ... Avery Bradley made a highlight-reel block on Wade in the second quarter that sent the Miami guard sprawling to the floor. "I patted him on the butt and told him he looked like me on that play," Wade said.
Thunder 92, Bulls 78
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- In a little over a week, the Oklahoma City Thunder have broken out of a midseason slump and made their case to be best team in the NBA. Russell Westbrook scored 27 points, Kevin Durant added 26 points and 10 rebounds and the Thunder used an electrifying third quarter to beat Chicago 92-78 on Sunday and move within a game of the Bulls for the NBA's best record. One week earlier, the Thunder handed Miami its most lopsided defeat yet this season. Then they were even more dominating against the league-leading Bulls. "Their numbers say what they are. There's not much they don't have," Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They play hard, they play unselfishly, they play smart, they're tough. Their defense is excellent." The Thunder were scuffling in late March, having lost five out of 10 games while trying to put together a consistent stretch. In a pair of Sunday games on their home court, they've outclassed the two other teams in the thick of the race for the No. 1 overall seed in the NBA playoffs. "We just picked up the intensity, I think. Playing hard. I can't stop saying it," Durant said. "Every possession, we've just been trying to scramble as hard as we can on the defensive end and move the ball on the offensive end. We've got to keep it up." Oklahoma City beat the Heat 103-87 last Sunday. The Bulls, who had not lost by more than 17 this season, only avoided their biggest loss of the season because the Thunder pulled their starters in the fourth quarter and reserve John Lucas III hit two 3-pointers in the final minute. "It was disappointing, not that any game is more important than others. But obviously this was a game between the best team in the East and the best team in the West," Chicago center Joakim Noah said. Lucas had 19 points to lead the way for the Bulls (42-12), who played without All-Star point guard Derrick Rose for the 10th straight game. Chicago is now 14-6 this season without the reigning MVP and 7-3 during his current absence with a groin injury. Kyle Korver replaced a slumping Ronnie Brewer in the starting lineup and scored 14. "Derrick's a great player. Obviously, we prefer to have him," Thibodeau said. "But we have more than enough. I was more concerned tonight with the mental aspect. I thought we made a lot of mental mistakes." The Thunder (40-12) pulled away by outscoring Chicago 31-12 in the third quarter, allowing the Bulls to make only five of their 21 shots and forcing five turnovers. Oklahoma City clinched a playoff berth in the process, with the help of tiebreakers over the teams fighting for the Western Conference's final spot in the postseason. "We know it's going to be tough for those guys without Derrick but they've been playing very well without him, winning some big games," Durant said. "We couldn't take them lightly." Durant and Westbrook were a combined 21-for-34 from the field and Oklahoma City shot 49 percent while limiting the Bulls to 33 percent. Chicago came in with the NBA's best road record at 21-6 and on a seven-game road winning streak, two shy of the franchise record set during the 1995-96 season when the Bulls set an NBA record by going 72-10. The Bulls never led, falling behind by 10 in the first period and then letting Oklahoma City score the final six points of the first half to rebuild its lead to 49-39. "You can't do that on the road against a team like this," Thibodeau said. "That's all they need." It quickly got worse. Westbrook was at his best during a 13-0 run that put the Thunder firmly in control in the opening 5 minutes of the second half. He hit a jumper, a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer during the burst but his most dynamic play came when he zoomed in front of Luol Deng's crosscourt pass, snagged it and whipped it back inbounds to a teammate to get the crowd on its feet. Durant followed Noah's three-point play with a 3-pointer and a two-handed slam off of Westbrook's alley-oop from half court, and Oklahoma City kept pouring it on. Serge Ibaka had a right-handed dunk, Nick Collison had a two-handed slam while getting fouled and Westbrook threw down a right-handed jam over 7-footer Omer Asik, thumping his chest twice after he came down. Durant topped it off by hitting a 3-pointer to close the quarter and make it 80-51. The Bulls trailed by 30 for the first time this season in the fourth quarter, before Chicago's bench cut into the deficit against Oklahoma City's reserves. "We had a problem to start the game, a problem at the end of the first quarter, a problem at the end of the second quarter, problems to start the third quarter," Thibodeau said. "Against a quality team, you can't overcome that." Notes: Chicago's Richard Hamilton (right shoulder) was a game-time decision. He has missed 14 straight games and played in only 16 of Chicago's 54 games with a variety of injuries. "I've just got to be convinced. It's more me," Thibodeau said. "He thinks he's ready but I just want to make sure we're smart." ... The Bulls have not had consecutive losses in 86 games, the second-longest streak in NBA history behind Utah's 95-game run from November 1997 to March 1999. ... Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks had high praise for his coaching counterpart. Thibodeau was an assistant coach in Minnesota and New York when Brooks played for those teams. "The guy has no life," Brooks said after a series of compliments. "Even when he was young as an assistant, he never wanted to go out to dinner with me. He had things to do. He's boring." Thibodeau wouldn't argue but retorted it was "from coaching him."
Lakers 120, Warriors 112
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Kobe Bryant needed 11 seconds to make his first basket, then he hit his second and a few minutes later another. No way was the Los Angeles Lakers' superstar going to struggle for a second straight game. Bryant finished with 40 points -- his fifth such game this season -- one night after missing his first 15 shots in a win over New Orleans, and Pau Gasol added 26 as the Lakers rallied for the second consecutive game against one of the West's worst teams, coming away with a 120-112 win over Golden State on Sunday night. "It's always interesting to me to hear people talk after a game like that," Bryant said, referring to the critics who pounced on his offensive struggles Saturday. "The amount of idiots that live out here after 16 years baffle me. I guess people just get dumber over the years." Bryant scored 13 points in the opening quarter and 4 in the second when he sat for six minutes. "Once we started the game and he knocked down his first three or four shots, I knew it was going to be another aggressive night for him," Gasol said. Ramon Sessions added 23 points and nine assists in his best game since being traded to the Lakers two weeks ago. Gasol and reserve Troy Murphy had 11 rebounds each after All-Star center Andrew Bynum sprained his left ankle in the first quarter of the Lakers' eighth consecutive home win against the Warriors. "He was able to walk out fine," coach Mike Brown said about Bynum, who left before speaking with reporters. Bynum landed awkwardly going for a rebound and the team said he had a moderate sprain. He had no points and three rebounds when he left for good with 1:49 to play. The team said X-rays were negative and he would be re-evaluated on Monday. Bynum was coming off a productive month of March, when he averaged 22.2 points and 10.9 rebounds in 17 games. "He's gotten better," Bryant said. "You see him working on his footwork a lot, he has a lot of moves in his arsenal that he didn't have before. He's much more comfortable doing it and he's gained a great deal of confidence." If Bynum has to miss a few days, Bryant said the Lakers can adjust. "I don't think it's a championship formula, but we can for the time being," he said. "Sessions is one of those players who can carry a game offensively, he's a great scorer. And Pau can obviously do what he does." David Lee led six Warriors in double figures with 27 points. Klay Thompson added 18, Nate Robinson 17, and Richard Jefferson 16 for Golden State, which lost its fifth in a row and 10th in the last 12. "They had us on the ropes, but we battled back," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "We put ourselves in position to win the game. They made tough shots, especially Kobe. But that's why he's paid the big bucks." The Warriors were down 13 points to start the fourth quarter, but outscored the Lakers 19-8 to close within one with Bryant on the bench for part of the run. Jefferson, Robinson and Thompson all had 3-pointers in the spurt with 7 minutes to play. The Lakers gained some breathing room on a 12-3 run, as Sessions, Bryant and Gasol combined for all the scoring, capped by Bryant's 3 that made it 109-99. The Warriors weren't done yet. Robinson, who at 5-foot-9 was the shortest player in the game, hit his fifth 3-pointer to get the Warriors within five. Lee's three-point play cut the deficit to three points before Bryant hit a long 3 from in front of the Warriors' bench, making it 115-109 with 1:40 left. "You definitely know after the game he had yesterday, he was going to come out here, try to be very aggressive and make his first few shots," Dorell Wright said about Bryant. "Guys did a good job on him. He just made real tough shots." Jefferson answered with a 3 and Golden State was down three. Metta World Peace hit a 3 -- the 10th of the quarter between the teams -- on the Lakers' next possession for a 118-112 lead. After a timeout, Thompson missed a 3 with 1:03 to go, cooling off the long-range shootout. "I don't think the game was lost in the fourth quarter," Lee said. "The game was lost in the third quarter when they made a nice little run. By the time we fought back, we had to play perfect basketball. They made some tough shots down the stretch." The Lakers' biggest lead in the first half was nine points, with 12 lead changes and eight ties. NOTES: It was Bryant's 112th career game with at least 40 points. The Lakers improved to 77-35 in those games. ... The Warriors' next road win will equal their 10 victories away from home last season. ... They haven't beaten the Lakers at Staples Center since March 23, 2008. ... The Warriors signed C Mickell Gladness, playing on a 10-day contract, for the rest of the season. He was not with the team Sunday because of family matters, but is expected to rejoin the Warriors in a few days. Gladness has averaged 2.0 points and 1.3 rebounds in six games. "He's an athletic, big guy who can block shots and finish at the rim," Jackson said. ... The Lakers played the second of their first home back-to-back set of games since the lockout shortened 1998-99 season. ... Jackson turned 47 on Sunday and spent the day with his wife and four kids at their Los Angeles home before going to work.