NBA Playoffs Cavs Celtics Game 1: Elbow this

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Thumbnail image for Williams_Pierce.jpgEverything was going so well for Boston. Shaq missing chippies. Rajon Rondo dominating. Kendrick Perkins protecting inside. Kevin Garnett playing as well as he has this season. A lead, in Cleveland, and just a quarter and a half to close. Plus, LeBron’s elbow was making him timid.

Elbow this.

(Click here to see PBT’s first half analysis.)

Following  a Mo Williams posterization of Paul Pierce in the third quarter, the Celtics were never the same. The Cavs went on to outscore 58-39 in the second half and win Game 1 in Cleveland 101-93 to take a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And with the game hanging in the balance, LeBron James did what makes him LeBron James, and the MVP. Whether you believe he was injured or not, and some people in Boston do not think so, James’ performance down the stretch was sublime.

James drove inside past multiple defenders, forced the issue, and when the call didn’t come, collected his own offensive rebound and scored the putback. James followed it up with a dagger pull-up three that ended any doubt of the outcome. James didn’t settle for a pull-up crossover mid-range jumper when he needed to drive, and with the surge of momentum, he buried the Celtics in a game they are going to wonder how they managed to drop it. This after a first half in which he took only two jump shots and seemed considerably intimidated by the bruised and strained elbow he’s currently dealing with, and which he had wrapped in a more heavily padded sleeve tonight.

The Celtics played superbly for two and a half quarters, and then following the Mo Williams dunk, everything changed. Williams went nova, nailing threes and jumpers and leaners, playing from mid-range how Rondo had played previously. Rondo, saddled with four fouls, was sent to the bench, and the ensuing lack of focus from the C’s allowed the run to get the Celtics back in the driver’s seat.

Going forward, there are tons of questions on both sides. The Cavs can’t expect to win this series if Rajon Rondo is going to carve them up like he did for most of the game. Rondo was able to get to the basket whenever he wanted, and often he simply drew the defense in and made smart pass after smart pass. 27 points, 12 assists, and 6 rebounds for Rondo, in a loss? That’s crushing. But it also means that the Cavs are going to have to do some serious work on how they’re going to contain him, because winning with Rondo doing that is unlikely again.

They’re also going to have to look at how to better defend Kevin Garnett. Garnett’s 9-20 line could very easily have been 11-20 or better, and he was able to move around Anderson Varejao and over Antawn Jamison. They’ll need to consider a double in certain situations and when it’s an acceptable risk (read: when Ray Allen is not in the game).

For the Celtics? Where to begin?

James… what are you going to do? If he just dropped 35, 7, 7, 3, and 2 with an injured elbow, it may take an act of God to stop him, and at this point, we’re not sure that’ll do the trick. But they can’t allow Mo Williams to take over a game like that. Tony Allen needs more time if Rondo is in foul trouble, but really, Rondo can’t get in foul trouble. The Celtics had this game and they let it get out of hand. They simply ran out of the extra effort down the stretch. For two and a half quarters, they looked like all that old talk was silly. At the end, they looked more like a Weezer than the dudes that sing “Island in the Sun” (hey-hey).

Additionally, Shaquille O’Neal’s putback down low late in the game showed that by resting O’Neal, they were able to wear out the C’s to a point where Shaq’s size made an impact. The Celtics are going to need more from Shelden Williams and Rasheed Wallace to prevent that from happening. And don’t even get us started on Paul Pierce’s defense down the stretch, which allowed the James three among other plays.

So now both teams will make adjustments, James’ elbow will heal a bit more, and the Celtics will try to move on from a huge opportunity that got away.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.