Weekend Baseline to Baseline: Up, down, and all around

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Friday Night

Hornets 110 Rockets 105 (OT): A fun little romp, but also yet another in a seemingly endless case of Houston working hard in a mad scientist’s lab to discover new ways to lose games. This time it was letting David West take over down the stretch, then playing zero defense in the extra frame. CP3 nailed the clinching jumper, then stole the desperation possession for a runaway layup just to be sure.  The Hornets have now won four in a row.

Warriors 122 clippers 112: Monta Ellis isn’t an All-Star, but he does a pretty mean impression. The Warriors kept peppering the Clippers with little bursts of offense to keep and spread the gap, and the Clippers just couldn’t find another gear. The Clips got turnover-heavy while Stephen Curry hit five threes. A weird step back for LA in-between solid games on either side.

Saturday Night

Bulls 99 Heat 96: A wild, exciting race to the finish… that never, ever should have been. The Bulls were without Joakim Noah, which is a bummer, but the Heat were without LeBron James, which is considerably worse, and lost Chris Bosh to an ankle sprain in the third. Still, the Heat kept coming. Particularly, Dwyane Wade kept coming. Three consecutive contested threes to end the game for Wade, and only a fortuitously terrible playset from the Heat on the final possession kept the ball out of Wade’s hands with a chance to tie. Derrick Rose was everything you’d dream he’d be, and continues to make his case for MVP. But to assess that this was a signature win for the Bulls without two of the Big 3 to end the game is preposterous. A good win in a season full of them, only.

Grizzlies 89 Mavericks 70: Welcome back, Dirk! You’re ejected, Dirk! Dirk Nowitzki returned from injury, didn’t play well, objected to a call strenuously, and bam, he was gone, just like that. Meanwhile, the Mavericks, without Tyson Chandler, decided that Brian Cardinal would be the one to check Zach Randolph for a while. That didn’t work out well. 23 and 20 for Z-Bo, while Darrel Athur added 17 as the Grizzlies chewed up the Mavericks inside and spit them out.

Sunday

Clippers 99 Lakers 92: If the Lakers lose to the Clippers while the country is watching football, does it count in the standings? The Clips will demand so as they put together a very Lakers-like performance, closing hard on the defending champs as Blake Griffin roused himself from a terrible afternoon. Griffin just started beating the crap out of the Lakers. I have no other word for it. Baby hooks, dunks, inside scoops, more dunks, the works. Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, everybody got annihilated as Griffin went off. Meanwhile, Eric Gordon gave enough to keep a good day from Kobe on the shelf and the rest was your typical day of LA going through the motions. When it came down to it, the Clippers wanted it more. Yes, that felt as weird to write as it did for you to read it.

Spurs 110 Nuggets 97: Its’ entirely possible that this was the game that drove Nuggets management to the brink when we look back on it. Probably not considering the obscenely drawn-out nature of the Melo stuff, but still. The Nuggets had a double digit lead in the first. Then the Spurs woke up and handed them their bus tickets out of town. Ty Lawson had no interest in guarding the corner three, Richard Jefferson kept initiating the offense, and Parker had his step-back going. The Spurs hit another gear in the second quarter, and just like that it was over. Though no one told Melo it began, as he slept his way through a terrible shooting night (5 of 17 from the field). 30 for Parker in the win.

Cavaliers’ Kendrick Perkins not into “all that new stuff” like Chewbacca

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Chewbacca was at Game 3 in Cleveland Saturday. Sitting courtside.

Why? Because growing up on Kashyyyk he played a little hoop and admires LeBron James‘ skill? Because Drake gave him the tickets? Maybe. I mean, it’s not like that was just a clever little publicity stunt for a movie.

After the Cavaliers’ win, Kevin Love decided to make a little joke of it with noted humorist Kendrick Perkins, and it went over as well as expected (with Dave McMenamin of ESPN catching it).

That’s vintage Perkins.

Celtics’ Terry Rozier on Game 3: “We needed to get our butts whooped”

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Cleveland dominated Game 3 Saturday night. They played harder, to start. The Cavaliers’ defensive pressure on the ball was better, they were sharper rotating out to shooters and covering passing lanes. Cleveland’s role players stepped up and helped LeBron James.

Boston, meanwhile, wilted in the face of that pressure Saturday, something it has done a few times on the road these playoffs. The Celtics got away from the things that got them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Guard Terry Rozier put it more bluntly, via A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:

“I feel like we needed this (loss) to get us back … to get us ready for Monday,” Rozier said.

Rozier later added, “We needed to get our butts whipped. Come back to reality and take care of business on Monday.”

Cleveland is a championship team — from LeBron James on down through the core guys, they all have rings. They have been down before, and heading home it was expected they would play with force. Cleveland’s back was against the wall and they responded.

From the Celtics’ perspective, they also got a little too fat and happy and were not ready for what the Cavaliers came with in Game 3.

Now the pressure is on Boston to push back, to get back to their level of execution and do it under pressure. Make the Cavaliers prove the improved defensive effort was not a one-off game. The Celtics must move the ball and play with some pace, then see if the Cavaliers can keep it together in the face of crisp play.

When this series heads back to Boston Wednesday, it will either see the Celtics in control up 3-1, or the series will be a best of three (with the Cavs still having to figure out if they can win on the road). At home, the Cavaliers are going to play with force again and have some depth. We’ll see if Game 3 was enough of a wakeup call for Boston.

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.