Celtics forward Garnett sits on the court in the closing minutes of their loss to the Hawks during Game One of their NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs basketball game in Atlanta

No Rondo, but Boston still dangerous against Hawks in Game 2

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It can happen. For one game, the Boston Celtics can beat the Atlanta Hawks while Rajon Rondo sits at the hotel, suspended for bumping an official. It would Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett would need to bounce back with huge games, it would mean the Celtics bench would have to step up. But it could happen.

Or, it could go the other way — Boston could become disorganized on the offensive end, Boston could watch Joe Johnson get hot from three and knock down shots while Jeff Teague again controls the flow. Boston could well be down two games after Tuesday night.

How Boston plays without Rondo, and how the Hawks attack with him gone, is what will determine the outcome of Game 2. The Hawks already lead the series 1-0.

Boston is used to playing without Rondo, they did it for 13 games this season. They are not as good without him, not over the long haul. But the playoffs are a series of one-game acts in a much longer play, and for one night Boston can win and even this series.

For the Hawks, the way they won Game 1 did not seem sustainable — Josh Smith jacked up 14 jump shots longer than 16 feet from the rim and took just five shots inside the restricted area. Joe Johnson was 0-9 from three. You can say it’s good they won despite those things, but if Smith jacking up jumpers is the rule and not the exception it will come back to bite Atlanta. In Game 1 those missed shots were balanced out by Jeff Teague’s good play and 15 points, plus a quality night from Jason Collins. Yes, he played well, particularly on post defense against Garnett. If the Smith and Johnson keep shooting and missing from distance (in Smith’s case, just shooting from there) Atlanta will pay a price.

Teague needs to have another big game, Smith needs to get in the paint and Johnson needs to shoot better. Which will not be easy against a good Celtics defense, but the Hawks have a better game in them.

Boston needs Pierce to simply shoot better. He had 12 points on 19 shots and was 2-of-14 from beyond 16 feet — Josh Smith was a better jump shooter in Game 1. If that happens again Boston will lose.

Boston will start Avery Bradley at the point and Mickael Pietrus at the two. Rivers doesn’t really have a choice with those moves, but it’s the kind of thing that after the game could look brilliant or foolish.

Bradley and Pierce need to attack Jason Collins on the pick-and-roll — that was very successful for the Celtics in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and Boston needs to do more of it. Rondo is by far their best pick-and-roll ball handler, but somebody else needs to step up for them.

The Hawks need this game — go to Boston tied 1-1 with Rondo returning and it will be bleak for the Hawks. The need to be up 2-0. The veteran Celtics know if they can pull this one out they will have snatched home court and momentum. Lose and the Celtics are not dead but they have to win 4 out of 5.

It’s big for both teams. And without Rondo it is unpredictable.

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.