Wednesday's NBA: Grizzlies force Game 6; Jokic wins 2nd straight MVP
Memphis, Tenn. — The Memphis Grizzlies fought off elimination with the highest-scoring performance in their franchise’s postseason history.
And with All-Star guard Ja Morant cheering from the bench. Then Morant upped the ante by chanting “Grizz in seven!”
Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan State), Desmond Bane and Tyus Jones each scored 21 points and the Grizzlies routed the Golden State Warriors 134-95 on Wednesday night to force a sixth game in their Western Conference semifinal.
“We’ve exceeded expectations ever since I’ve been here,” Bane said. “It almost seems whenever someone thinks we can’t do something, we end up doing it. So I never want to put a limit on this team on what we can do because anything’s possible.”
Dillon Brooks added 12 points for Memphis. Ziaire Williams and Brandon Clarke had 11 apiece and De’Anthony Melton 10. Steven Adams had 13 rebounds, six offensive as Memphis outscored Golden State 24-5 on second-chance points.
The Grizzlies never trailed, turning in their best performance of this series to pull within 3-2 even with Morant out a second straight game because of a bone bruise in his right knee. They improved to 4-11 when facing elimination.
“We knew what was at stake,” Jackson said. “We didn’t change anything, though. We just calmed down, looked at the film, understand what we had to take away from the last game and just went out there and executed.”
Memphis scored 77 points in the first half, the most in franchise postseason history. The Grizzlies pushed their lead to 55 in the third quarter, threatening the three biggest postseason blowouts in NBA history. Their 52-point lead after three tied for the largest in a playoff game in the past 70 years.
“Obviously, this was a very impressive win for our group, great bounce-back for sure,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said.
Milwaukee 110, (at) Boston 107: Bobby Portis made a putback off Giannis Antetokounmpo's missed free throw with 15 seconds left, Jrue Holiday snuffed Marcus Smart on Boston's final two possessions and the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Celtics 110-107 on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 series lead.
Antetokounmpo had 40 points and 11 rebounds, Holiday finished with 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists and Portis added 14 points and 15 rebounds for the defending NBA champion Bucks.
Milwaukee has a chance to wrap up the Eastern Conference semifinal in Game 6 at home Friday night. The Celtics need a win to force a decisive seventh game back in Boston on Sunday.
The Celtics led by 14 in the fourth quarter before the Bucks closed the gap, tying it at 105 on Holiday's 3-pointer with 43 seconds left. Jayson Tatum, who scored 34 points in all, hit a pair of free throws to give Boston the lead.
Antetokounmpo went to the the line with a chance to tie it and made the first, then Portis grabbed the rebound of the second and put it in off the backboard to give Milwaukee its first lead since early in the second quarter.
Smart drove to the basket but Holiday blocked him and came away with the ball, throwing it off Smart while falling out of bounds. Pat Connaughton made a pair of free throws with six seconds left, then Holiday stole the ball from Smart on his desperation dash for a potential game-tying 3-pointer.
The have Bucks won two of the three games in Boston to swipe home-court advantage.
Antetokounmpo had his best shooting game of the series, going 16 for 27, but he also committed seven turnovers.
Jaylen Brown scored 26 points for Boston, 16 of them in the third — and 12 of those in the last four minutes of the quarter, when Boston turned a 71-68 edge into a 12-point lead.
The Bucks scored nine of the game’s first 11 points, but Boston closed the gap midway through the quarter. The Celtics ran off 11 straight points early in the second, capped by a Marcus Smart steal, tossed ahead to Brown for an alley-oop to Tatum that brought the crowd to its feet.
But the Bucks scored 17 of the next 24 points to make it 58-55 with nine minutes left in third.
Jokic wins 2nd straight NBA MVP title
Both places can once again make the same claim: For the second consecutive season, they’re home to the best player in the NBA.
The league announced Wednesday night that Nikola Jokic had captured back-to-back MVP awards. The Nuggets' big man is the second consecutive international player to win two in a row, after Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo — who hails from Greece — earned the title in 2019 and 2020.
This marks the first time international players have won the award in four consecutive seasons. Canada’s Steve Nash went back-to-back for Phoenix in 2005 and 2006, followed by Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki winning for Dallas in 2007.
International players finished 1-2-3 in this year’s MVP voting. Jokic got 65 first-place votes and 875 points from the panel of sportswriters and broadcasters that cover the league and decide on awards. Philadelphia's Joel Embiid was second with 26 first-place votes and 706 points; Antetokounmpo was third, with nine first-place votes and 595 points. Devin Booker of Phoenix wound up fourth.
“I don’t know what else you can say about Nikola at this point,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said in a statement. “He’s consistently improved his game, he’s consistently proven people wrong when they doubt him and he’s consistently the best player on the floor night in and night out."
The 27-year-old Jokic averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists on a team that was missing two max players in Jamal Murray (ACL) and Michael Porter Jr. (back). The do-it-all center nicknamed “Joker” created a new category, too, in becoming the first NBA player to eclipse 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a season.
He’s now a member of another rare club — the 13th player to win back-to-back NBA MVP awards. He joined the likes of Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, LeBron James (twice), Nash, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Moses Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (twice). Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell each won the award in three straight seasons.
Jokic was taken by the Nuggets with the 41st pick in the 2014 draft. His selection that day flashed across the bottom of the television screen during a Taco Bell commercial.
He’s come a long way. He’s eligible for a supermax extension that could guarantee him nearly $254 million over five seasons starting with 2023-24.
James extended his record, too — 19 years in the league, 19 years of getting at least one vote in the MVP balloting (a fifth-place vote). Nobody has gotten votes in more seasons, or obviously, in more consecutive seasons than James.
Despite their disastrous season — the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t even make the play-in tournament — James’ numbers remained among the league’s best. The 37-year-old averaged 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, moving past Karl Malone for No. 2 on the all-time scoring list and into position to pass Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s all-time leader late next season.
James has seen the game change during his 19 seasons. He was part of the last USA Basketball team that didn’t win Olympic gold — the squad that went to Athens in 2004 — and even was convinced then that the game was only getting stronger around the world.
Jokic is further proof of that happening.
He’s not demonstrating it by himself, either. Antetokounmpo and Embiid have more than done their part. Dallas' Luka Doncic (fifth in the MVP vote) is already a EuroLeague champion and certainly seems like he’ll win at least one NBA MVP award before he’s done.
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They are the new class of international greats, following in the footsteps of Nowitzki, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Pau and Marc Gasol, Yao Ming and others. The debate will rage about which international player — either now or all-time — is the best, but Antetokounmpo (two MVP’s and a championship) and now Jokic (two MVP’s after being a second-round pick) have surely entered the chat.
Canada got a championship in 2019 when the Toronto Raptors won the NBA title. That night, the Canadian flag was soaked in champagne, Pascal Siakam danced with the flag of Cameroon around his shoulders, team President Masai Ujiri did interviews with a Nigerian scarf around his neck, and they were only a few of the Raptors with deep international ties.
It’s not inconceivable that five international players could be lottery picks in next month’s draft. And there’s hardly anyone who doesn’t see France’s Victor Wembanyama — a 7-foot-2 player with guard skills — as the certain No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft right now.
Those newcomers will want to be like Jokic. They’ll want to be the MVP, and he’s just the latest name to show those kids from around the world that it’s possible.