Celtics find Fountain of Youth (or offense), rout 76ers in Game 3

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For the first couple of games, Boston looked old and injured, with Philly’s aggressive defense forcing improvisation and a lot of missed shots.

In Game 3, Boston got their groove back. From 2008.

Boston attacked the paint early with post ups, Kevin Garnett could not miss a turnaround jumper on his way to 27 points (on just 17 shots) and Boston blew the game open in the second and third quarters in its way to an easy 107-91 win. Boston now leads the series 2-1.

Boston came out with a new aggressiveness and level of energy at both ends for this game. As veteran teams can do. Philly, a young team learning to play at this level, seemed taken aback by the new level of intensity. That is their task if they want to keep pushing Boston — the Sixers have to match that level, and they have to play better on the defensive end again. Boston shot 51.9 percent on the night and 45.5 percent from three and they will win every time if that happens.

This game was different from the opening tip, with both teams flowing better on offense. But after a couple games where Boston spent more time in the Rajon Rondo-led improvisational Celtics offense that Doc Rivers calls “random,” Boston got into their sets and into the paint early and often in Game 3.

“We (established ourselves in the post) the right way, I thought we did it through execution,” Rivers said after the game on an interview broadcast on NBA TV. “We did it through space. I thought in the first two games we tried to do it, but we did it out of random, and our spacing was poor. (Tonight) we also did it through posting the ball early, we posted Paul (Pierce 24 points on 17 shots) up early and we posted Kevin up early. And that’s the right way to play. That’s who we are. Now the shots have to go in, that makes you better. But at least the shots were the shots we wanted rather than the ones, because our offense was so poor, that we had to take. I thought that was the big difference.”

Pierce really set the tone at the end of the first quarter when the guy dragging around a leg with a sprained knee for a couple games drove and threw down two dunks, one over Thaddeus Young.

But Philly still had the lead 33-28 after one quarter as they matched Boston shot for shot. In the second the Celtics got back to playing their kind of defense — the Sixers had just 16 points in the second quarter. Boston had 32. It was an 11 point lead for Boston at the half (KG and Pierce each had 17 points already) and Philly scored just 17 in the third quarter as the game became a laugher.

This game was the best energy and aggressiveness Boston had played with this series. Philly, a young team learning to play at this level, seemed taken aback by the new level of intensity.

Rondo was impressive all night and had 23 points and 13 assists. Mikhail Pietrus knocked down some threes and had 13 off the bench. Philly’s stars struggled with Andre Iguodala taking just six shots while the previously hot Evan Turner was 1-10. The bright spot was Young coming off the bench for 22.

The two questions for Game 4 is can Boston keep this up — the energy level yes but the shooting likely cools off some — and can the Sixers raise their game to match? Game 4 is not likely to be a blowout like this gain, but it’s not going to return all the way to grind-it-out Game 2 either. The Sixers are going to have to adapt

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.