NBA Playoffs, Celtics Magic: Game 6 or bust for Boston

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Garnett_headdown.jpgGive credit to the Magic — a lot of teams would have just rolled over after losing three straight games and meekly surrendered their season. I’m looking at you, Atlanta. The Magic showed some fight, caught a couple breaks and won Game 4 in overtime.

Then they came out and threw a knockout punch. A haymaker. It connected right on Celtics jaw in Game 5. It seemed to give the Celtics a concussion, and I’m pretty sure Kendrick Perkins dropped an F-bomb when it landed and got ejected for it. For Celtics fans, that one hurt.

Except you can’t knock someone out with a second loss.

By rule, Boston lives to fight another day.

It is Game 6 or bust for Boston, it wants no part of a Game 7 back in Orlando. Friday night is the showdown.

Game 5 was just a perfect storm of things gone wrong for the Celtics. Orlando couldn’t seem to miss from three, hitting 52% of their shots, and Jameer Nelson was 4 of 5 from deep. JJ Redick stepped up to be everything Vince Carter is not. Celtics players kept getting in foul trouble. Dwight Howard played 40 minutes and collected just two personal fouls while being the most aggressive player on the floor. Ray Allen was cold (3-11). Jason Williams was breaking people’s ankles. Rashard Lewis looked healthy and was hitting shots against the Boston defense.

Game 6 will be different. The opponent’s rims always seem a little smaller in big games at the Garden. Ed Rush will not be one of the referees. Kendrick Perkins should be back (although predicting the whims of the league office is fraught with peril). Allen and Rajon Rondo will play better at home. Magic players may end up in some foul trouble.

But it comes down to defense. Always does with Boston.

Kevin Garnett must be inspiring and be everywhere, as he seemed to be at the start of this series. In the first three games the Celtics took away the Magic pick-and-roll and forced them to do other things, contested threes, and then turned defensive stops and turnovers into some easy buckets going the other way. Rondo was pushing the pace and probing the Magic. Wednesday night, it was Nelson doing that (and getting a couple easy buckets for the effort). In Game 6, Rondo has to stay in front of Nelson. He needs help on those picks, but he has got to recover and help defend the man who the whole Magic attack centers around. He needs to be back in transition. It is about the defense first.

Paul Pierce needs to step up, ditch the melodrama, and play like the 2008 Finals MVP. The Magic don’t have a good matchup to stop him. He had 18 points and got to the line 10 times in Game 5, but he needs to keep attacking plus shoot better than 3 of 8. He needs to be the unstoppable force. Finally, the Celtics bench needs to step up with better than the 5 for 14 shooting performance of Game 5 (once you take the hot but foul-prone Rasheed Wallace out of the equation). Tony Allen needs to hit shots. Sheed needs to keep hitting them, keep defending and stay out of foul trouble.

All of this can happen. The Celtics still lead this series, they still need just one win and they are heading home to a place that has been a fortress over the decades. Those banners hang up above because the Celtics win things like Game 6.

The Celtics are not in that much trouble. But they will be if they lose Friday night.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.