Baseline to baseline recaps: Celtics fall, Knicks fall, Heat almost join them

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What you missed while worried about what a bad year this was for elephants

Oklahoma City 98, Memphis 95: This playoff rematch was our game of the night.

New Orleans 97, Celtics 78: Don’t hit the panic button yet, Celtics fans. Still too early. But if you want to feel uncomfortable and a little ill, go ahead. You are 0-3 on the season. On the second game of a back-to-back (and third game in four nights) the Celtics looked old and slow. And unmotivated. They had given a lot the night before in a comeback and moral victory against the Heat and looked like they had nothing left. For the third straight game they were down double digits in the second quarter and could never really crawl back.

The only bright spot was backup center Greg Stiemsma who had six blocks. Of course, he was getting run because Jermaine O’Neal was awful (1-of-6 shooting).

The Hornets played hard and looked good — and were without Eric Gordon. Jarrett Jack sliced and diced the once feared Celtics defense for 21, Carl Landry added 20 and 11 with his usual efficiency. Credit coach Monty Williams, he has this team playing hard and playing smart defense — and they are now 2-0. Thank you very much.

Heat 96, Bobcats 95: Charlotte jumped out to a fast 11-0 run, hitting their shots which let them get back on defense and get set, slowing the running onslaught the Heat try to bring. The Bobcats basically forsook offensive rebounding to get back on defense. Miami looked a little dead-legged on a back-to-back. Miami’s entire system is based on defense and the Bobcats put up 60 points in the first half.

Miami charged back from 15 down in the third behind 12 points in the quarter from LeBron James, then Chris Bosh had the momentum in the fourth. Dwyane Wade was out with a foot injury (a contusion) for most of the third but came back and hit the game winner, a little bank with 2.9 seconds left. Not a great game by Miami, but they escape with the win and a few impressive highlights.

Warriors 92, Knicks 78: Golden State had to play without Stephen Curry, meaning the Knicks could exploit the point guard matchup… oh, yea, Mike Bibby was back, so I guess not. This was not a good night for the Knick shooters — Carmelo Anthony 3-of-13, Amare Stoudemire 5-of-15 and as a team the Knicks shoot 40 percent. Tyson Chandler had two points, three rebounds, zero blocks and five fouls.

The Warriors dominated the second half, particularly the start of the fourth quarter, to pull away for the win. Monta Ellis had 22 points but needed 22 shots to get there. Brandon Rush looked good with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Kwame Brown had five offensive rebounds (not Chandler’s best night, as we mentioned). As a team the Warriors shot a pedestrian 45.5 percent but that was good enough.

Pacers 90, Raptors 85: Toronto had 11 points in the first quarter (total!) and shot 39.5 percent for the first half — and they were the better shooting team. This game was filled with some post-lockout slop. .DeMar DeRozan had zero first half points but had 16 in the fourth, but it was not enough against the balance of the Pacers starters. Danny Granger had nine points in the fourth quarter alone including some key threes, and David West hit key buckets late.

Hawks 101, Wizards 83: Two wins in two nights for the Hawks, maybe not against the best competition but they are beating the teams they are supposed to. That said, 46 of their 75 shots (61.3 percent) came from beyond 16 feet — that is not a sustainable way to win. Nick Young had 21 and John Wall had 20 but nobody on the Wizards impressed, that is not a very good team.

Cavaliers 105, Pistons 89: After an ugly NBA debut, top pick Kyrie Irving looked good, not only scoring (14 points) but he was an impressive playmaker, seeming to make the smart play every time down. Samardo Samuels (17) led six Cavs in double figures scoring. Cleveland also owned the offensive glass in this one.

Spurs 115, Clippers 90: I love watching the Clippers play but I’ve said this from the start about them as a power in the West — I need to see them play good consistent defense before I totally buy in. The Spurs shot 56.3 percent on the night and were 10-of-19 from three as a team. It was vintage Manu Ginobili as he sliced and diced the Clippers for 24 points. DeJuan Blair had 20 points and dominated the heralded Clipper front line.

Sixers 103, Suns 83: There is something very wrong with the Suns offense — Steve Nash finished with four points, one assist and six turnovers in just 17 minutes. Yikes. Philly looked good again with a balanced attack — Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young all had 15 points. Holiday left at the end after banging his knee but said post game it was not serious, he could have returned if he were needed.

Nuggets 117, Jazz 100: Two games, two impressive wins for the Nuggets. Nene had 25 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks to lead the way. Two games, two ugly losses for the Jazz. In both cases, we may be seeing a trend here.

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

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Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.

Larry Brown once told Trevor Ariza to never shoot

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Larry Brown is a legendary basketball coach, but he’s also been known to ascribe to a certain style. Brown’s regimen has sometimes rubbed players the wrong way, and likewise Brown has been overly attached to players which he likes.

For Houston Rockets wing Trevor Ariza, Brown’s staunch attitude almost ruined his career.

Ariza was a second-year player with the New York Knicks during the lone season Brown coached in the Big Apple in 2005-06. The UCLA product didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line in college or during his rookie season, so when Brown came to town he told Ariza to stop shooting from beyond the arc entirely.

Seriously.

Via Dan Woike and the LA Times:

More than a decade ago when Ariza was a second-year player, his coach with the New York Knicks, Hall of Famer Larry Brown, thought Ariza shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Like ever.

“He told me not to even look at the basket or shoot the ball,” said Ariza, 32. “I was definitely afraid to shoot. I just wouldn’t. I would not shoot.”

Woike’s story is pretty incredible, and goes on to detail how Ariza’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers reignited his career and his confidence to shoot the ball. That’s obviously crucial for the Houston Rockets who need Ariza docked in the corner as Chris Paul and James Harden run pick-and-rolls and isolate.

Stories like this always sound wild, if only because they’re contextually being compared to completely different eras. Ariza was drafted in 2004, and has seen three different eras of NBA basketball (Iverson era, point guard PNR era, 3-point era) pass by during his time.

Larry Brown’s in the Hall of Fame but he whiffed on this one.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

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Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: II did a s–t job defensively against LeBron’

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.