Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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James_dunk.jpgOur game recaps from Thursday, or what you missed while trying to figure out who are the worst parents on LOST

Cavaliers 108, Celtics 88: Yes Celtics fans, that was as bad as you think. Not the game itself, although that wasn’t good for you. But because this game was a vision of your eventual playoff demise.

In the first half, the Cavaliers (whose front office has been obsessed with adding size and will get more when Big Z returns) tried to match up with the long front line of Boston. Didn’t work. The Celtics gave the Cavs trouble with penetration — Rondo got into the lane at will. He hit shots at the rim (or high banks off the backboard), and when Cleveland finally started to collapse on him Rondo set up teammates. The Celtics ran and got easy buckets.

Cleveland made its run after Shaq went out and Mike Brown was forced to go small, with an Atlanta Hawks like lineup. Something the Celtics struggled with all season. Plus Brown was forced to play JJ Hickson again, something he never should have stopped doing. Basically, Shaq’s sprained thumb forced Brown to be a smart coach. On accident.

Small, athletic bigs are hard for Boston to deal with. Cleveland moved better on defense and started trapping Rondo to take the ball out his hands. The result: Boston went 9 of 41 from the floor in the second half. The small lineup also allowed the Cavaliers to run, something else they should do more of, and they got those easy buckets.

Cleveland is one of only a handful of teams that had the roster depth and versatility to win that game. But what they did in it was provide the blueprint for the rest of the league on how to beat the Celtics come April and May.

Bucks 112, Pacers 110: The Bucks are hot and showed why they are looking like a playoff team — they controlled the tempo, they got offensive boards (30 percent of their missed shots), and they were hitting their jumpers (well, except Brandon Jennings, again). They deserved the win, it wasn’t really in doubt.

The Pacers almost stole the win anyway. Down 14 with 5:30 remaining in the game, Indiana got on fire from three, as they do. Brandon Rush hit one, Troy Murphy a couple, even T.J. Ford (who did his the old-fashioned way with the foul). But the Bucks hit their free throws (even Jennings) at the end and held on.

Nuggets 127, Warriors 112: Denver is the far superior team with the superior athletes, when they cared even a little they ran away with it. They jumped out early, were up 19, got bored and gave most of it back, got focused again and won going away. Not much else to it, but it was entertaining. JR Smith draining the three, stealing the inbounds pass then dribbling to the arc and hitting another three. Billups doing whatever he wanted on the way to 37. And it’s just fun to watch Steph Curry play. And Ronny Turiaf dunk. Fun show if not that competitive. 

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.

Playoff losses wearing on LeBron James: ‘I lose sleep’

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost one game before reaching the NBA Finals. The season before that, two. The season before that also two. In Miami before that, the last couple of years they went to the Finals the Heat lost three and four games before reaching the Finals.

This year, the Cavaliers have lost five games already and find themselves down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics heading into Game 3 Saturday night in Cleveland.

The losses do weigh on LeBron, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I mean, I lose sleep,” James said after shootaround Saturday morning. “I mean, at the end of the day, when you lose any game in the postseason, [you lose sleep], so it’s never comfort. Playoffs is never comfort. There’s nothing about the playoffs that’s comfortable until you either win it all or you lose and go into the summer.

“So, for me, it’s always [a] day-to-day grind to figure out ways that you can be better.”

Cleveland has a lot to figure out to win the next two games because if they don’t and go down 3-1 in this series, it’s hard to envision how LeBron can drag this roster back to the Finals (what would be his eighth straight trip).

Offensively Cleveland has to get consistent play from guys other than LeBron (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Love) — J.R. Smith has been awful and needs to find a rhythm at home, George Hill needs to make some plays, Kyle Korver needs to get open and knock down some looks, and some help from the bench is needed.

But that’s not even the end of the floor that is the Cavs real problem. Defensively the Cavaliers recognition and communication has been dreadful, and the passing and player movement of the Celtics has carved them up. Cleveland has outscored teams and not defended all that well for a long time now — that’s how they made the Finals a season ago — but it’s not enough now. The offense and LeBron can’t carry them all the way.

We’ll see after Game 3 if LeBron is going to be able to get any sleep Saturday night.

Bulls’ Paul Zipser has surgery to repair broken left foot

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CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Bulls forward Paul Zipser has had surgery to repair a broken left foot.

The team said Friday the operation was performed in his native Germany. The Bulls gave no timetable for his recovery.

Zipser averaged 4.0 points in 54 appearances before sitting out the final nine games last season.