Baseline to Baseline recaps: Pistons handle Celtics easily

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What you missed while trying to decide if you should vote for the naked cowboy guy for president

Knicks 104, Mavericks 97: So Mark Cuban, still think Linsanity is all about New York? Matt Moore broke this down as our game of the day Sunday.

Heat 90, Magic 78: It wasn’t that close, the Heat are steamrolling everyone right now. PBT broke this game down as well.

Thunder 124, Nuggets 118: Kevin Durant had 51 points, Russell Westbrook had 40 — it’s been 27 years since two teammates scored 50+ and 40+ in one game (Kiki Vandeweghe and Alex English for the Nuggets in 1983). Matt broke this game out as well.

Pistons 96, Celtics 81: This is five losses in six games for slumping Boston. Kevin Garnett did not play (personal reasons, he was excused by the team). We can all admit that KG is a step slower than he was a few years back, but even so Boston’s defense is not the same without him. In fact, it’s pretty poor. The Pistons were able to get to the spots the wanted on the floor, control the flow of the game and generally whip the Celtics. Boston’s 22 turnovers didn’t help. It also didn’t help when Rajon Rondo got ejected for throwing the ball at an official in the third quarter (you can bet a suspension is coming). Greg Monroe had 17 points, Rodney Stuckey 16 (10 in the first quarter) to lead the Pistons.

Pacers 108, Bobcats 73: The Bobcats are very, very, very bad. That really is all you need to know.

Cavaliers 93, Kings 92: You got vintage DeMarcus Cousins at the end of this game — the good and the bad. With the game tied at 88-88 and less than a minute left he came up behind Kyrie Irving in transition, swiped the ball away, threw a length of the court pass back to Marcus Thornton for a layup and the lead. Then tied 90-90 with 12 seconds left the Kings had multiple shots, missed them, then Cousins foolishly fouled his Alonzo Gee 88 feet from basket and sent him to the line to give the Cavaliers a lead (91-90). The Kings come down (6.2 seconds left) and give the ball to Cousins on the block and he made a strong spin and drive around Tristan Thompson, hits the reverse layup and the Kings lead 92-91 with 2.9 seconds to go.

Everyone in the building knows Irving is going to take the last shot, but when he drives Tyreke Evans makes a bad (and obvious) reach in foul out by the top of the key with 0.4 seconds left. The Kings were in the penalty. Irving sinks both free throws and the Cavs win. Evans made that play while his backup, rookie Isaiah Thomas, had 23 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds.

Bucks 92, Nets 85: While everyone is caught up in what Durant and Westbrook did, nobody noticed that Ersan Ilyasova had 29 points and 25 rebounds on the day. The Bucks were in control from the middle of the second quarter on, and a 15-4 run to start the second half all but sealed it. Deron Williams did have 26 for the Nets.

Rockets 101, Jazz 85: Houston cranked up the defense in the second half and Utah shot just 28 percent for those 24 minutes. Combine that with Kyle Lowry draining seven three pointers on his way to 32 points and you get a Rockets win. Luis Scola had 26 for Houston, Al Jefferson’s 23 led the Jazz.

Timberwolves 92, Sixers 91: Neither team had a lead of more than 1 for the final six minutes of this game, it was that close. Following a Lou Williams miss on an 18-foot fadeaway, the Timberwolves got the last shot. Minny inbounded to Kevin Love who spun around Thaddeus Young, that’s where Andre Iguodala had helped off and he reached in to try and strip the ball and got called for a foul — a call that left coach Doug Collins and Sixers fans livid. With reason. It was a borderline call at best, not one where the whistle should be blown with 0.1 seconds left in the game. (Love had gone forward and had his shot blocked by Elton Brand, they had body contact and while that wasn’t a foul either it was more of one than what was called on Iggy).

Love sank both free throws and Minnesota wins. The Sixers have lost three in a row.

Suns 102, Lakers 90: The league schedules these home-and-homes to build up a little playoff-like tension. The Suns got beat handily Friday but bounced back with some fire in this one and won behind 25 from Jared Dudley, 21 from Marcin Gortat and 14 assists from Steve Nash. The Lakers have no depth. Lakers not named Kobe/Gasol/Bynum shot 34 percent on the night.

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.