Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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What happened Saturday in the NBA:

Nets 104 Celtics 96: Well, on one side of the coin it was the Boston apocalypse. On the other, the biggest win of the year for the Nets. When the Nets assembled this year’s roster, this is likely what they were thinking. Courtney Lee plugging in shots, Devin Harris playing at a level which he is expected to, and Brook Lopez evolving into a dominant center.

Lopez doesn’t just make great plays on his own. Late in the game, with the Nets’ lead dwindling, he recovered the ball from a blocked Harris pass and immediately went up and drew contact to get crucial free throws. Kris Humphries was part of the reason the Nets took control, as his ability to draw fouls is becoming huge. I’ve been saying this for a while, but honestly, the Nets really aren’t that bad.

Bucks 94 Heat 71: When the Bucks are winning, it’s hard to argue with their formula. Start with the big man offensively. Spread the floor. Slow the pace down and work for quality shots. Defend like a madman and rebound all the time. The Heat were without Wade, which may have seemed manageable for a game or two, but it now is becoming evident that Riley has simply not produced a capable support squad. The Miami Heat were overwhelmed by the Milwaukee Bucks today. Outright overwhelmed. Salmons had 18, and continues to look like arguably the best mid-season pickup of anyone.

Pacers 100, Bulls 90: Three things on this one. First, the Bulls got some great opportunities early off Pacer turnovers and screw ups. Out in transition, forcing fouls, playing great ball. Then the Pacers stopping screwing up and the Bulls just kind of said “okay, then.” Second, the Bulls I would imagine are even worse than the league average on second games of back to backs.

And third, though Rose still had an okay game, he still has a habit of leaping into traffic and then trying to decide what to do with the ball. Which works out how you’d imagine most times. He has the fearlessness, it’s his imagination that needs work.

Grizzlies 120 Knicks 109: Fun. Needed Ritalin. But fun.Al Harrington is constantly derided a a terrible player but he’s able to hit tough shots which is an invaluable skill in the NBA and he kept the Knicks in this one on a night where Galinari was run roughshod over. Although he probably had something to do with the Grizzlies’ frontcourt insanity.

Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined for 51 points and 35 rebounds. They were simply everywhere, and the Knicks were powerless to close out. The best way I can describe it is the Knicks were handled.

Blazers 110 Wolves 91: Signs you may not be a good defensive club. Nicolas Batum goes off for 31 points on you.

Judges also would accept: “gave up 110 points to one of the slowest teams in the league  on a second night of a back to back.”

The Blazers had their way, without needing to grind much inside. LaMarcus Aldridge stepped up, Batum knocked down shots, and the Blazers rolled. The Wolves scored 10 points in the second quarter. Game over.

Jazz 133 Rockets 110
: Whatever it is about Houston that Utah has the advantage in, it’s thorough. The Jazz put on a clinic, and rested starters most of the fourth. The Rockets have improved on offense with their trade, but gotten worse defensively. Kevin Martin looked good knocking down tough shots, but the Jazz came out and kicked them in the nuts and they fell over.

Warriors 95 Pistons 88: The Pistons ran out of gas right as Stephen Curry got in gear.

One of the things that’s impressed me the most is Curry’s ball-control on passes. He knows exactly where to find guys and how to get it to them. He’s working brilliantly in Golden State and it’s paid off on stat nights like this.

The Pistons are flawed in so many ways it’s difficult to count.

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

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.