NBA Playoffs: Chris Paul goes cold, Lakers go on better for effort

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For five games, Chris Paul was playing like the best point guard in the game. He had played two super-human games to earn New Orleans two wins against the defending champions, and even in the losses he had been special.

The Hornets needed him to do that. He was their only hope.

And when he crashed back to earth in Game 6 — in part due to good Lakers defense, in part he had an off night and in part because he was passive — the Hornets were totally outmatched. Especially on a night where the Lakers big center Andrew Bynum asserted himself.

The result was the Lakers cruising to a 98-80 win. With the victory the Lakers advance to the second round, where they will face the winner of the Portland/Dallas series.

This series was not easy for the Lakers, but they may be the better for it in the end. They came into this series playing lazy from the end of the season and carried it over to Game 1. By Game 6 the Lakers had found the defensive groove that had them winning 17-of-18 for a stretch in March and looking like contenders.

Paul finished with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting, plus he dished out 11 assists. But when faced with another night of good interior defense from the Lakers he became passive. That has been the knock on him in recent years, in part that was caused by injuries. But there seemed to be a frustration to, a realization that for all he could do — as much as he looked and played like the vintage Chris Paul in this series — his team was overmatched.

Meanwhile, Andrew Bynum had 18 points and 12 rebounds — 8 of them on offense. More importantly he and Pau Gasol (each with two blocks) took control of the paint, cutting of drives and turning the Hornets into jump shooters.

The Hornets two easily settled for those jumpers rather than driving into the lane, they aren’t that good at hitting those midrange shots and as a result in the second and third quarter the Lakers started to pull away.

This was by no means a pretty game. The first quarter was filled with ugly offense. Good defense was part of it, but there was just some bad offense too. No motion, missed shots. The Lakers adjusted some but even at the half the score was 40-34 Lakers.

The Lakers move on, but like we said they exit this series better than they came into it. CP3’s play and the heart of the Hornets, their hard effort, forced the Lakers to play closer to their potential. The problem for New Orleans really was that once the Lakers woke up they were going to be out matched.

For the Hornets, seemingly countless questions lie ahead.

Starting with, who will own the team? Can the NBA — which has boosted local sponsorship and increased season tickets while working to get a better lease deal — find local ownership? New Orleans has not been an easy NBA market in the best of times.

Then there is the Chris Paul question. He can leave in the summer of 2012, next season he could put the Hornets in the position the Nuggets were in with Carmelo Anthony this season. Is he frustrated enough with the situation, does he see so little hope that he could try to force his way out? How will the lockout and the new collective bargaining agreement impact all of that?

There are hard questions ahead for the Hornets. But one thing was clear as the fans in New Orleans rained down a “thank you Hornets” chant on their team at the end of that game — New Orleans has some passionate fans that love that team.

Scottie Pippen on LeBron James, Michael Jordan: “It’s not a fair comparison”

AP
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The battle has, stupidly, raged on between supporters of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Both sides seem to believe their preference is irrefutably the choice for the best player in NBA history.

And because they did not play in the same era, the question will never be answered. No doubt in 50 years they will write columns about Jordan vs. LeBron, just like their fathers, and their father’s fathers before them.

James has certainly seemed to take a bit of a leap in the eyes of the NBA community this season, likely because of his wonderful performance at age 33. He’s also single-handedly won two playoff series this year. It’s been incredible.

But LeBron rising above Jordan has also brought out some more reasonable takes. Former Chicago Bulls legend and Jordan running mate Scottie Pippen spoke up recently about the debate, giving a measured analysis that I think is pretty strong.

In short, Pippen basically said you can’t compare the two because of the eras, the style, and the fact they just don’t play the same position (if LeBron even has a position, that is).

Via Twitter:

That sounds right to me.

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”

Associated Press
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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.