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

Already? Giannis Antetokounmpo says Joel Embiid tried to recruit him to Sixers

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The Greek Freak (now trademarked) Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be a Buck for a while — he has three fully guaranteed years on his contract after this one, taking him until at least the summer of 2021. At that point, Milwaukee almost certainly will be able to offer him the designated player super max contract that will be hard to turn down. The Greek Freak is going to be in Milwaukee for a long time.

That didn’t stop Joel Embiid, who tried to recruit Antetokounmpo to Sixers during All-Star weekend. Via Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

Of course, if somewhere down the line Antetokounmpo and Embiid team up some tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist will say “they have been planning this since 2018.”

Embiid probably did this tongue in cheek, but he is fearless about this stuff — remember a couple of summers ago he tried to recruit Kevin Durant through social media.

As for Antetokounmpo and the Sixers, nothing to see here, move along.

Rumor: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert might not offer LeBron James no-trade clause in next contract

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The Cavaliers’ three deadline-day trades appear to have invigorated LeBron James, but a key issue remains as LeBron’s player option approaches: Dan Gilbert still owns the Cavs.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

“LeBron wants to be in charge of everything, which is what puts him at odds with Dan,” one source said. “Dan wants to be in charge of everything.”

The belief is that Gilbert, having reasserted control after chasing out Griffin, will rebuff James’ request for a no-trade clause, or any other measures that give him leverage. And that will be enough to drive James away.

“Dan Gilbert’s not going to do what it takes to keep him,” the same source predicted. “Not a chance in hell he’s going to give him a no-trade clause, or let him dictate contract terms.”

LeBron’s no-trade clause might have been useful this season. When things got particularly bad in Cleveland, he affirmed he wouldn’t waive it. I doubt the Cavs would have dealt him regardless, but he made it a certainty.

But a no-trade clause was relevant only because LeBron signed a multi-year contract due to salary-cap rules relevant in 2016. With those no longer pertinent, he might go back to the 1+1 deals he first signed in his return to Cleveland. That’d give him an implicit no-trade clause, as those contracts are treated as one-year deals until the option is exercised, and players on one-year contracts who’d have early or full Bird Rights after can veto any trade.

Still, Gilbert taking this stance would matter if LeBron wants to sign long-term. An official no-trade clause would also carry over to LeBron’s next team if he approves a trade or in the second year of a 1+1 if he opts in. The implicit no-trade would not.

That could be enough for LeBron to demand the official no-trade clause – not just for the possibility it’s useful, but to show he can get it. He seems unwilling to give an inch. It’s about respect.

It also might be about stubbornness – both LeBron’s and Gilbert’s. This would be a ridiculous battleground for LeBron’s Cavaliers tenure to end on – just give LeBron whatever contract he wants – but it wouldn’t be the first ridiculous showdown between Gilbert and LeBron.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: I could never see myself playing for Los Angeles

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All-Star Weekend was (at least) an implicit recruiting tool for the Lakers and Clippers. The host teams could show off Los Angeles – the beautiful weather in middle of winter, the nightlife, the glitz and glamour.

LeBron James‘ praise drew the most attention:

I think L.A. is a perfect place to host All-Star Weekend. It’s one of the few cities that we have in our league that can accommodate all of this. And when I mean all of this, you have over 200-plus countries that’s covering the game. You’ve got so many people from all over the world coming to watch our game and just be a part of All-Star Weekend. And we know the traffic. We understand that. But traffic is traffic and — but L.A. can accommodate that. It’s built for stars. It’s built for entertainment. It’s built for cameras and bright lights, and it’s a great place for it.

Of course, we already knew LeBron was partial to Los Angeles. He has a house there.

But not every All-Star raved about the city.

Bucks forward Antetokounmpo, via Matt Velazquez Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“I could never see myself being out there,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s great for two, three days but it’s a little bit — things are going a little bit crazy.

“Of course, because of the All-Star Game, there was a lot of people there. … In Milwaukee — I love Milwaukee — it’s low-key. I can walk down the road, down the streets without anybody bugging me — nobody interrupts my conversation or anything. I love how quiet and calm Milwaukee is.”

The Bucks ought to appreciate this outlook. Antetokounmpo once said he wanted to stay with them forever, and – as rumors swirled about his future in Milwaukee, he tweeted, “I got loyalty inside my DNA.” But he has since explained how important it is for a team to do right by its star player, supporting him with a winning supporting cast.

Maybe Antetokounmpo will eventually leave the Bucks, but it seems unlikely that’d be just to reach a bigger market. Milwaukee can’t change its location. The Bucks can somewhat control whether they put a winner around Antetokounmpo.

Still, other teams will try to poach Antetokounmpo – like Joel Embiid‘s 76ers. Antetokounmpo, via Velazquez:

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

PBT Podcast: What to watch during stretch run of season

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Are the Cleveland Cavaliers for real? And by “real” do you mean best in the East or threat to Warriors?

Who is going to make the playoffs in the West? Is Utah going in? Portland? The Los Angeles Clippers?

Is James Harden going win MVP? Is it Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year?

Those are just some of the storylines as the NBA races down the stretch run of the season (most teams have around 25 games left). Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all the things to watch from the end of the season, including if Detroit can climb up into the postseason, and how the top of the East is going to shake out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.