NBA Playoffs, Celtics Magic Game 6: Celtics defend their way to Finals, West had better beware

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Pierce_celebrates.jpgJameer Nelson came off the picks like he had done for the last two games, attacked into the paint like he had done for two games, tried to shoot like he had for two games.

And there were long arms in the way. Not fouling, but altering shots. His kick-out passes led to contested Magic threes that were missed. The Celtics seemed to be everywhere, contesting everything. It looked like the first three games. It looked like 2008. They held the potent Magic offense to 43 percent shooting, more importantly just 6 of 22 from three.

The defense got the Celtics the win. The defense got them past Cleveland then Orlando in the East. It put them in the NBA Finals for the 21st time. It should strike fear in whomever comes out of the West.

The Celtics brought much better defensive energy tonight, plus they got back to what their game plan had been all series — go ahead and let Dwight Howard get his, don’t let the three point shooters get going.

Howard had 28 points on 11 of 17 shooting. With the Celtics fans letting him have it — he has become public enemy number one after the hard fouls in Game 5 — Howard did his part. But the rest of the Magic did not. They are an inside out team that shot just 27.3 percent from three.

It was not all great defense. The Magic had their chances — they got some open looks. But when things went bad, the Magic went away from what they do.

“I think early in the game we got outstanding shots, and they didn’t go down…” said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy in his post game press conference, televised on NBA TV. “Then we started forcing our offense, instead of trying to get the same shots we had. Then we had some defensive lapses, we didn’t get back on defense. They had 16 first half points.”

Then at the start of the third, two key Ray Allen three solidified the Celtics lead at 19. After that the Magic pressed, they gambled, and none of it worked. For the most part the Celtics stayed disciplined. The Celtics seemed to have defensive lapses in the second half, but the Magic could do nothing about it.

Next Thursday either the Lakers or Suns will meet the Celtics defense. Two very different, very difficult teams to stop. But after what the Celtics have done the last two rounds, it is those teams out West that should fear the Celtics defense (the Lakers have it seared into their minds what it can do). If Boston keeps playing like they have, knocking off the teams with the two best records in the NBA, there may be no offense that can keep them from having to find room for another banner.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.