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

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.