Brandon Bass? Yes, Brandon Bass leads Celtics to win, 3-2 series lead

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In Game 3, Doc Rivers went with a lot of small ball and not enough Brandon Bass, and after the loss said he regretted it.

Well, that worked out well.

Brandon Bass scored 18 of his 27 points in the third quarter — Bass alone outscore the Sixers 18-16 in the third — and that sparked a 101-85 win that gives the Celtics a 3-2 series lead.

“I think it all started for us on the defensive end,” Bass said after the game. “We were able to pick up our defensive intensity and it led to good offense.”

Boston did pick up its intensity in the second half, and now the question that faces the young Sixers is the same one from after Game 3 — can Philly find another gear to match what Boston has brought? They did last time, and a series where momentum has been fickle and fleeting nothing would really surprise.

Boston and Philly played a basically even first half (50-47 Sixers at the half) but that intensity really showed in the third quarter — that’s when it felt like Game 3 and Philly was overwhelmed. Boston pressured hard off the pick-and-roll (it was an aggressive show by Boston’s bigs who then recovered well), they cut off any lane to the hoop and blew up the Sixers go-to play. The result was a scrambling Philly team rushed into bad shots as the shot clock winds down and had six third-quarter turnovers.

Philly shot 32 percent in the fourth quarter as the Celtics defense kept the pressure on. They couldn’t mount a comeback. On the night both Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala were 3-10, and Evan Turner was 5-13.

Philly has to get better shots against that pressure — or get turnovers and transition points of their own — if they plan to force a deicing Game 7.

On the other end, Brandon Bass was just playing smart. He made cuts to open spaces and rolled to the hoop when the defense collapsed on a cutting Rajon Rondo. He attacked and got to the line 10 times. When he got looks at the rim it open up space for him when he caught the ball 16 feet out, and he knocked down the midrange, too.

Rondo played well — 13 points, 14 assists — but this was not Boston’s best offensive game. Kevin Garnett had a big first half and finished with 20. Paul Pierce was the focus of the Sixers defense but had 16.

In Game 6 Boston isn’t going to change who they are or what they do. Philly knows what they are going to get.

We’ll see if they can match it.

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.