NBA Playoffs: Nelson carries Magic to 3-0 series lead

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The Charlotte Bobcats did everything right on Saturday afternoon. They frustrated Dwight Howard on both ends of the floor, baiting him into silly fouls and rendering him ineffective on the offensive end for most of the time he was in. They held the Magic to 9-30 shooting from beyond the arc. They turned defense into offense effectively and outscored the Magic 13-4 on the fast break. They even started attacking the paint in the half-court, and actually had a 38-28 advantage in points in the paint. 

So how did Charlotte fail to get their first win of the series? In the end, the game came down to Charlotte’s lack of offensive firepower and Orlando’s abundance of Jameer Nelson. As Vince Carter continued to struggle from the field and Dwight Howard was handcuffed by foul trouble all game, Nelson absolutely put the Magic on his back and got them a 3-0 series lead. Just how important was Nelson in game 3? Take a look at the numbers:
Jameer Nelson: 32 points, 12-21 shooting, 5-9 from 3, 3 assists, 4 steals, 0 turnovers
Rest of team:   58 points, 19-49 shooting, 4-21 from 3, 11 assists, 3 steals, 19 turnovers
Just to remind you, Orlando made it to the finals last year without this guy. Crazy. 
In the first quarter, the Bobcats finally started getting the ball to the basket against Howard in the half-court. 22 of the Bobcats’ 27 points in the first quarter came on free throws or shots in the paint. They moved the ball, they attacked of the dribble, they didn’t let Howard set up, they pushed off of turnovers, and they attacked the offensive glass. It was the type of first quarter the Bobcats had been looking for all series. 
While the Bobcats executed, Jameer Nelson became a house of fire. He scored 19 points in the quarter, and there was no way of stopping him. He drained threes. He went all the way to the basket when they closed him out. He’d pull up and drain a mid-range jumper if the defense did manage to react properly. He finished the quarter with a four-point play with a second left. It was a virtuoso performance. Thanks to Jameer’s start to the game, Orlando was able to survive a 12-point second quarter and go into halftime trailing by only four points. 
After a back-and-forth second half, the door was open for Charlotte when Howard, who’d been effective throughout the fourth quarter, fouled out with the Bobcats up one and three and a half minutes to play. The Bobcats didn’t have enough shooting to get over the hump, and Boris Diaw and Larry Hughes came up short on crucial three-point attempts. With the Bobcats down one and 31 seconds to go, Larry Hughes called timeout and set Stephen Jackson up with a three-point look. He missed it. After that, the Magic made enough free throws to hold on, and the Bobcats now find themselves in a 3-0 hole. 
Charlotte had four players score in double figures on Saturday. Two of those four players shot 33% from the field, Raymond Felton went 5-14, and only Larry Hughes scored 10 or more points while making over half his shots. When Larry Hughes is your most efficient offensive option in a critical playoff game, upgrades are necessary. Charlotte has shown that they can frustrate any team in the league and make any game competitive, especially when they’re at home. Now they just need to find some players that will allow them to put points on the board consistently. 

If you want to know what Nelson thought about his big day, here you go:

 

Report: Clippers’ management remains committed to re-signing Blake Griffin

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Maybe Friday night in Utah, maybe not for a few weeks, but the Clippers season is going to end before they reach the conference finals, and with Blake Griffin sidelined by injury. It’s an all-too-familiar scene. It will be six seasons of the Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin experience in Los Angeles, and they will not have gotten out of the second round (unless you think they can come back on the Jazz from down 3-2, then beat the Warriors).

That has come with a lot of talk about the Clippers breaking up the core. Jordan remains under contract, Paul would be too hard to replace, and that leads to a lot of speculation — inside and outside the league — that Griffin could be on the move this summer, when he becomes a free agent.

That’s not what the Clippers want, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video essay.

Management remains committed to signing him to a long-term deal this summer, league sources tell me.

Doc Rivers has said he wants to bring back this core. Multiple times. His argument is that this is a 50+ win team that is one of the better teams in the NBA, why would you take a big step back rather than look for the tweaks that get the team to a title?

Steve Ballmer has the checkbook deep enough to pay both Paul and Griffin max money (although keeping fellow free agent J.J. Redick as well would be difficult). The Clippers will have one of the highest payrolls in the NBA, and is this team worth that? Especially in a conference where the Mount Everest of Golden State is not going anywhere for a few years, not to mention the Spurs and Rockets will remain good, Utah is on the rise, and so are teams like the Wolves. The Clippers will be a good team that needs a lot of breaks to go their way to really contend — how much would Ballmer pay for that?

The Clippers need to do some soul searching this offseason.

Just don’t be shocked if the result of that is them running this team back again.

Playing through sore knee, Jimmy Butler says “I’m good,” will go in Game 6

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At this point in the season, everyone is banged up. It’s just a matter of degree.

But with Rajon Rondo listed as out for Game 6, the Bulls’ need a big game from Jimmy Butler if they are going to extend this series to a Game 7. And he is not near 100 percent.

In Game 4, Butler banged knees with a Celtic and it impacted him during Game 5, as Vincent Goodwill detailed at CSNChicago.com.

But he could only muster two shots and barely seemed to push off on his left foot—his lead foot, and it hampered what the Bulls could do late as he was their prime fourth-quarter performer.

He couldn’t even go straight up on a jumper over the diminutive Isaiah Thomas without pump-faking, throwing off his rhythm. He wouldn’t elaborate on the injury, although he said it happened during the second half of Game 4 on Sunday night when he collided with a Celtics player.

“I’m good. Everyone’s a little nicked up; I’ll be all right,” Butler said in the locker room.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune added this detail.

Boston has done a good job of limiting the number of times Isaiah Thomas is exposed on defense, having to cover Wade or Butler. Essentially, the Celtics switch in sort of a matchup zone to keep IT covering a shooter on the wing, even if his man goes up and sets the pick. Zone’s can be exposed (there’s a reason they’re more a change-of-pace rather than a basic set defense in the NBA), but it involves getting into the middle, getting into the paint. Which comes back to driving the ball and pushing off, things that Butler is struggling to do at his usual level.

There are a lot of other factors favoring Boston in Game 6, but if Chicago is going to force a Game 7 Sunday they need Butler to be an All-NBA level player.

Knicks’ Joakim Noah has expected shoulder surgery to repair rotator cuff

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NEW YORK (AP) — Knicks center Joakim Noah has had right shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff, a procedure that could sideline him until training camp.

The Knicks say Noah had the surgery Wednesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed by Dr. David Altchek.

The team didn’t give a timetable for Noah’s recovery, but coach Jeff Hornacek said late in the season that if Noah had the operation, the recovery time could be five months.

Noah had an injury-plagued season that ended early when he was suspended 20 games by the NBA for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. There are still 12 games remaining on the penalty that he will have to serve next season when healthy.

Noah had surgery on his other shoulder last season, limiting him to 29 games in his final season in Chicago before signing a four-year, $72 million deal with New York.

PBT Extra: Pacers offseason moves start with Paul George

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Larry Bird, when not delivering All-Star Game bids, should be spending his time lighting candles and praying in churches all over Indianapolis that Paul George makes an All-NBA team.

If PG13 makes the cut, Bird’s job this summer becomes more clear: Offer George the designated player max extension, get him to sign the deal, then get back to building a contender around him.

If George doesn’t make the cut, things get much tougher for Bird. I discuss all of it in this new PBT Extra.