Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Hornets - Game Four

NBA Playoffs: Chris Paul is beating the Lakers

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Bask in the glory that is Chris Paul.

We as basketball fans need to step back and revel in great games and great players, and Chris Paul is one and did that. He was dominant Sunday night, he was the reason the Hornets won 93-88 to even the series.

He put up 23 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds — in the second half. For the game it was 27 points 15 assists and 13 rebounds. He was draining corner threes, driving the lane and when the defense collapsed was willing to pass to Jarrett Jack — who didn’t have a bucket on the night before that — to hit the dagger with 9 seconds left. Paul was brilliant late in the game in a “how high can he go on the all time point guard list?” kind of way. Paul was embarrassing Derek Fisher with steals and slashing to the rim as well as anyone in the league.

It’s not going to matter, the Hornets are likely going to still lose this series. Seriously. Maybe in six games. That doesn’t take away from what Chris Paul did.

If you’re questioning the Lakers chances, remember that you were questioning them a year ago, too, when a young Oklahoma City team tied them at 2-2 in the first round. We remember how that ended.

These Lakers still have the ultimate advantage — they have size and skill up front. It’s just that Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom combined to shoot 10-of-26 on the night and missed key shots and chances down the stretch. The Lakers have an advantage that they just simply did not use well.

Look at it this way: Chris Paul had as many rebounds as Gasol and Odom combined (thanks to ESPN’s Land o’ Lakers). That is 6’0” point guard Chris Paul. A little shrub among the trees. Yet het got the ball. That should say all you need to know about the effort and play of the Lakers front line.

And we know they are fully capable of putting together back-to-back games the Hornets cannot match.

But CP3 might come close. He has flat out been the best player in the series. But not in the first half of this game.

It was actually a pretty offensively efficient half for one where Kobe Bryant didn’t score and Chris Paul had just four points. It was the shootout we all expected — Ron Artest vs. Trevor Ariza. Both had 16 first half points. The really the big shock was the Hornets had controlled the boards and that combined with some penetration in the second quarter had them controlling the paint on the taller Lakers.

That trend continued, the Hornets controlled the boards all night.

Kobe had 14 points in the third quarter. That’s when Chris Paul reached his triple double. And you had the feeling these two might start to really go at it.

Even with all of Paul’s brilliance, the Lakers had their chances

But while Kobe was good, Paul was brilliant. Runners, jumpers, threes, he was hitting them all. More important was the 15 assists as he got his teammates involved.

He will need to have two more games like this for the Hornets to have any chance. But really, it’s about the Lakers big men. No matter how bad Kobe’s ankle hurts (he twisted it in the fourth quarter but stayed in the game) the big men are the key. They did not shine tonight. Paul did.

And that’s why the series is tied.

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.