NBA Playoffs: The Knicks get swept

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It looked like the Knicks were going to give the Celtics a run for their money after the first and second games of the series were so close, but the Knicks didn’t have the same energy in New York that they did in Boston, and the Celtics were able to sweep the Knicks out of the playoffs on Sunday.

On offense, the Celtics were able to succeed because Rajon Rondo looks like Rajon Rondo again. Rondo didn’t look quite right offensively in the last part of the regular season. He averaged 11.2 points per game on 40.3% shooting in April’s regular-season games, and he was even worse in March.

Against the Knicks, Rondo looked dominant, averaging 19 points on 50% shooting and 12 assists per game for the series. When Rondo doesn’t have his game working, the Celtics are forced to rely on isolation play and contested jumpers for much of their offense. When he’s on, they become a team that attacks the rim and punishes defenses with open catch-and-shoot jumpers. On Sunday, Rondo was feeling it. He got to the basket at will, actually managed to hit four jumpers, and set his teammates up with open mid-range jumpers, threes, and shots at the rim. Assuming the Heat win one of their next three games and face the Celtics in the second round, Rondo’s performance will be key, especially since he struggled offensively against the Heat all season long.

Boston’s supporting is still a concern, as Jeff Green and Delonte West still aren’t contributing and Shaq still isn’t healthy, but if their four best players are all doing their jobs, they’re a nightmare matchup for anybody.

Defensively, the Celtics were able to hold Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire to go a combined 15-44 from the floor. While the free throw line kept Anthony from having a completely inefficient night, Stoudemire and his injured back looked two steps slow, and Kevin Garnett completely dominated him on both ends of the floor.

With Anthony forced to be a volume shooter, Amar’e shut down, and Billups in a suit, the Knicks needed their supporting cast to step up. The results were gruesome and predictable. Outside of a few out-of-nowhere jumpers from Anthony Carter, the Knicks’ supporting cast had nothing for the Celtics, and shot a combined 15-44 from the field — exactly what Carmelo and Amar’e shot. Toney Douglas, Bill Walker, and Shawne Williams couldn’t find the rim with a map, and Jared Jeffries and Landry Fields were both complete non-factors.

If the Knicks’ big three can develop some chemistry over training camp and the beginning of next season and stay healthy, the Knicks have a lot to look forward to, even with their anemic supporting cast. If they actually manage to make some upgrades and Landry Fields can re-find his game in the off-season, they could be a force to be reckoned with in the East. But in 2011, the Knicks simply didn’t have any answers for the Celtics’ blend of defense, experience, chemistry, and talent.

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.