Baseline to Baseline recaps: Mayo sticks dagger in Thunder

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What you missed while watching Kentucky win the national title they seemed destined to win….

Memphis 94, Oklahoma City 88: Apparently the Thunder are not comfortable on top of my (and everybody’s) power rankings.

This was always a dangerous letdown game for the Thunder — they beat the Heat, Lakers and Bulls in the eight days before and had the Heat coming up again Wednesday. This was the sandwich game, the one you ignored. And you can’t look past a desperate Memphis team in need of a good win. Memphis led much of the second half but you knew the Thunder run was coming. It did and this was close at the end. That’s when O.J. Mayo hit the dagger three with 17 seconds left, then celebrated with Russell Westbrook’s “six shooters in the holster” move. Nice. Mayo finished with 22. Big win for the Grizzlies who now sit fifth in the deep West.

Rockets 99, Bulls 93: The Rockets are not giving up that final playoff spot in the West without a fight. It was a roller coaster of a game with huge swings but a third-quarter 14-1 run by the Rockets tied it then a 17-2 run that spanned the third into the fourth gave Houston the win. Goran Dragic had 21 points to lead Houston.

This is two losses in a row for Chicago, the first time this season that has happened. Richard Hamilton returned and had six early points but mostly looked rusty and had five turnovers (the Bulls had 19, which was one of their problems on the night). Deng had 24 to lead Chicago, which finally looks like it needs Derrick Rose back.

Clippers 94, Mavericks 75: We knew it would take a little while for Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to really develop chemistry on the pick-and-roll. We knew that but we were still impatient. . Now we’re starting to see the fruits of that play, and the rest of the West may want to tremble a little. That play was key for the Clippers. The other guy who was hot was Randy Foye who had 28 points as the weakside outlet knocking down threes. Dallas shot just 39 percent for the game. Part of it was just an off night for Dallas but the Clippers defense deserves some credit, they were running the jump-shooting Mavs off their shots and making them put it on the floor.

Jazz 102, Trail Blazers 97: In a tight game where the Jazz fought back the Trail Blazers had a chance: Down one with 28 seconds left bringing the ball inbounds. Nicolas Batum made the pass to Raymond Felton, who was casual about catching it — Jamal Tinsley jumped in, made the steal, raced to the other end where seconds later Paul Millsap got a dunk that pretty much sealed the win. The lesson here kids — you have to give up position for possession. Or, to be more blunt, go to the ball, Raymond. Good come-from-behind win for the Jazz, who remain one game out of the playoffs in the West.

Bucks 112, Wizards 98: Washington did put up a fight, this was close until midway through the fourth quarter, but the Bucks were deeper — 15 more bench points — and they had Brandon Jennings. Ekpe Udoh also had 15 and 8, he’s been a good pick up for Milwaukee. The Bucks got a win that keeps them just two games out of the playoffs in the East.

Kings 116, Timberwolves 108: Sacramento opened the fourth quarter with an 11-0 run to get the win. Tyreke Evans had 24 points, Jimmer Fredette 19. The big story for the Timberwolves is Luke Ridnour suffered what looked like a nasty sprained ankle — this is a team already without Ricky Rubio. Tough break.

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.