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.

Rumor: Bulls’ belief in Zach LaVine waning

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Zach LaVine was the centerpiece in the Bulls’ return for trading a star. Chicago was reportedly willing to match a max offer sheet for LaVine in restricted free agency.

But maybe the Bulls have at least somewhat soured on him.

Nick Friedell of ESPN:

I don’t know why the Bulls would be down on LaVine now. I also don’t know why they were so high on him the first place.

LaVine is a good 3-point shooter and impressive dunker. But, despite his athleticism, his all-around contributions are lacking. He also hasn’t looked completely over his February 2017 ACL tear.

This leak could just be strategy. Instead of trying to scare off teams with the threat of matching any offer to LaVine, Chicago could be trying to dissuade suitors by projecting its own reluctance.

The Bulls don’t want to overpay LaVine. But they also don’t want to lose him for nothing.

Will anyone make a hard push for the 23-year-old? He surely wants a lucrative long-term contract, whether he re-signs directly with Chicago or gets an offer sheet. But, if the Bulls aren’t sold on him, I’m not sure any team will is.

LaVine’s qualifying offer will be $4,333,932. That might wind up his next salary.

PBT Extra: Grading the top of the NBA Draft

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The Phoenix Suns got it right at the top of the draft — they took Deandre Ayton.

But what of their move to trade for Mikal Bridges, the No. 10 pick, surrendering a valuable pick and the potential of Zhaire Smith for what should be a solid “3&D” wing to go with their athletic stars?

How did the Kings do at No. 2? What about Dallas’ big trade up to land Luka Doncic at three, or the Atlanta bet on Trae Young?

In this PBT Extra, I grade the top 10 picks in the draft, from the moves I like (I think Dallas did well) to ones I’m not sold on (sorry Chicago).

 

Have questions leading up to free agency? Submit your questions via e-mail for our PBT Mailbag feature. Drop us a line at pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.