NBA Playoffs Cavs Celtics Game 3: Witness the power of this fully operational elbow

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The pendulum swings both ways. Tonight, LeBron James swung it through the Celtics’ fortress walls and left their homecourt advantage in ruins.

James took over in a way we haven’t seen, maybe since his Game 5 performance against the Pistons in 07, completely dominating at both ends of the floor while getting his teammates involved. He outscored the Celtics in the first quarter, en route to a virtuoso 38 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks performance that, regardless of your personal leanings, had to leave you breathless.

But it’s hard to give James all the credit, as his team racked up 124 points on only 87 (estimated) possessions. Their efficiency  was incredible, scoring 142.5 points per 100 possessions (estimated). That’s absolutely absurd. The Celtics’ defense, which has been so prolific in the playoffs, was completely overrun, unable to stop anything.

There were several wrinkles the Cavs created with their adjustments in this game. First and foremost, they chose to switch Anthony Parker on Rondo, which, amazingly, was very effective. Rondo had 18 and 8, but had a terrible first quarter with Parker on him, being forced into a long-range and mid-range offensive game, at which he’s still unsteady. By the time Rondo adjusted and started getting aggressive, the outcome was decided.

The Cavs also started using Antawn Jamison (20 points, 12 rebounds) off the cut, instead of in ISO, and the result was phenomenal. Having Jamison curl off screens, getting the ball mid-move, and flip up leaners, runners, and teardrops was much more effective against the bigger Garnett and man-help Celtics defense.

For the Celtics, this was a pretty depressing performance. Paul Pierce (11 points on 4-15 shooting) was an outright disaster. He couldn’t do anything to even slow down James and offensively had no lift or cohesion. Kendrick Perkins was 2-2 for 5 points, and played decent defense on Shaq, though the big man finally wound up getting some production. But Perkins was never given the opportunity to produce, with only two shots. Kevin Garnett was nearly flawless, but only had 11 shots, nailing 8 on turnarounds, hooks, and mid-range jumpers off the pick and pop.

So Paul Pierce shoots 15 shots, Ray Allen shoots 9, and Perkins and Garnett shoot 13 combined. And that pretty much says what you need to know about the Celtics’ offense. But for the pace of the game, the C’s could have lived with the offense. A few tweaks here or there, and that would have been fine. But the defense? The defense was a nightmare.

And in this nightmare, LeBron James was the boogeyman, the Freddy Krueger, the thing that went dunk in the night. Shrugging off the talk of the elbow, James had everything going. The long-range, the transition game (including a give-and-go-and-get with Jamario Moon that was sheer poetry), and the drive.

So Cleveland gets homecourt advantage back, and the pressure is off of them. The momentum has now swung dramatically back in their direction. But a blowout of this proportion almost guarantees a Celtics response in Game 4. Each team now has a dominant win, and we’ve seen the best from both clubs. Where we go from here will determine the legacies of both of these teams and their leaders.

PBT Podcast: MVP, Rookie of Year, other awards plus NBA playoffs, Finals predictions

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Will James Harden repeat as MVP or will someone else — LeBron James, Anthony Davis — grab the award away from him?

Luca Doncic and Deandre Ayton seem to be the favorites for Rookie of the Year, but could Trae Young or Jaren Jackson Jr. push their way into the conversation?

Who will win Coach of the Year? Is Jamal Murray a guy to watch for Most Improved Player?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports discuss all the major awards plus get into playoff predictions in this latest PBT Podcast. Can Charlotte sneak into the final playoff slot in the East or is Detroit going to take that? Are the Spurs going to miss the playoffs in the West for the first time in 22 years? And are the Warriors a lock to win it all? (Hint: They are not.)

We want your questions for the podcast, and your comments, email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com. 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.

Report: Suns signing Jamal Crawford

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The Suns are desperate for a point guard.

How desperate?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I wouldn’t assume Phoenix plans to play Crawford at point guard. Perhaps, he’ll be an off guard. But the possibility is scary – whether the fear comes from playing Crawford out of position or the possibility he’d actually be the Suns’ top point guard.

It’s questionable whether the 38-year-old can help in either backcourt spot. He doesn’t attack the rim like he used to, and his defense has become even more porous.

Though he declined a $4,544,400 player option with the Timberwolves, there’s a reason he remained a free agent so long. He’ll likely settle for the minimum with Phoenix, one of the NBA’s bottom teams.

The Suns now have 14 players with guaranteed salaries on standard contracts, three with small or no guarantees (Richaun Holmes, Isaiah Canaan and Shaquille Harrison) plus Crawford. The regular-season standard-contract roster limit is 15. So, it’ll be interesting to see whom Phoenix drops in the next day. The Suns reportedly applied for a disabled-player exception for Darrell Arthur.

The Suns might try to spin this as adding veteran leadership. But they already have Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Tyson Chandler. How many veteran leaders do they need?

They need a starting-caliber point guard. Crawford isn’t it. At best, they realize that and have other plans for him.

Charles Barkley says he hasn’t worn underwear in a decade

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Charles Barkley can’t control everything, like whether the Magic hire him as general manager.

But he can control his underpants, as he explained on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Knicks stress patience, indulge impatient tendencies by stretching Joakim Noah

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry talked a big game about patiently rebuilding – practically a foreign concept in New York.

And most of the summer, they backed up their words.

They drafted Kevin Knox No. 9 and Mitchell Robinson No. 36. They didn’t sign a single free agent to a multi-year deal. They made no win-now trade (or any trade at all).

Yet, even in the Knicks’ most patient offseason in years, they closed it with an incredibly impatient move.

New York stretched Joakim Noah, locking in a cap hit of $18,530,000 this season and $6,431,667 each of the following three years. The move opens an additional $12,863,333 in cap space next summer.

But what if the Knicks don’t need that extra room? What if they don’t attract free agents worth spending that amount then? Eating Noah’s entire $19,295,000 2019-20 salary that season, rather than splitting it over three years, is off the table.

What if they need even more room? What if they can draw great free agents who command more money than New York can offer? Attaching sweeteners to trade Noah’s salary and remove it entirely is also now impossible.

The Knicks could have waited until next summer to stretch, straight waive or trade Noah. They would have had far more information then, as the stretch deadline is Aug. 31.

This move puts so much needless pressure on New York to use its cap space next summer. Though the Knicks’ reported top target, Kyrie Irving, already said he’d re-sign with the Celtics, Kevin Durant-New York rumors are swirling, and Jimmy Butler put the Knicks on his list. The Knicks project to have about $33 million in cap space next summer, including a cap hold for only Kristaps Porzingis. They could add a franchise-changing star.

But this doesn’t jibe with a patient rebuild.

Biding time until next summer, New York took fliers on Mario Hezonja (one year, $6.5 million) and Noah Vonleh (one year, minimum). But despite seemingly tepid markets for those two in free agency, the Knicks didn’t capitalize on their leverage by attaching any additional unguaranteed seasons to their contracts. That will make it extremely difficult to get value from them. If Hezonja or Vonleh break out, they’ll be in line for bigger deals next summer.

Of course, it’s more likely New York’s first-, not second-, draft players dictate the team’s future. For the first time in eight seasons, the Knicks will have three players simultaneously on rookie-scale contracts – Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and Knox. That most-modest benchmark is a major accomplishment in New York, where quick fixes have ruled the day.

After waiving Noah, it’s hard to see the Knicks as truly committed to a new, more prudent approach.

 

Offseason grade: C-