Celtics-Heat Game 4: The bizarre development of the Boston offensive juggernaut

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It makes no sense, you understand. We’re talking about throwing away not just the stats, forget the stats. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen the Boston offense not only struggle, but look absolutely apoplectic for six months. That Sixers series was something out of a Rob Zombie film on offense. It wasn’t just gross, it was poorly done with little cohesion. And that defense was worse than Miami’s! But yet here we are, and we’re going to have to live with it.

Boston can score on Miami. Often, and well. The Celtics have a 98.2 offensive efficiency in the playoffs, which is dreadful. Against Miami through three games, they have a 107.6 offensive rating. Which is spectacular. Boston can score. It makes no sense, but that was the trend in the regular season, and that’s the trend now. Miami’s defense is every bit as good as Boston’s, and yet neither team can stop one another (Miami has a 109 offensive efficiency vs. Boston in the Conference Finals). And what’s even crazier? That’s the Celtics’ best chance to win. Out-gun the mighty Heat.

In Game 1, Boston tried making it into a streetfight. Slowed the game down, tried to make it into their kind of mud-wrestling match. Miami walloped them. In Game 2, they broke the game open and nearly won. In Game 3, they took them to the races and ran them out of the building. This is the way. It goes against everything Boston does philosophically, it goes against logic and reason, but this is Boston’s best chance at evening this series, winning this series, “shocking the world.” (Note: Most people picking the Heat does not in any way indicate that Boston winning would shock the world. Most people would not be surprised if you told them before the series that Boston would win. They’d be surprised you traveled back in time to tell them the outcome of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals series.)

So we’re just going to have to adjust. Boston hasn’t even gotten all its weapons going. Paul Pierce is still barely scoring more points than field goal attempts, Ray Allen is still spotty, and in reality it was Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling who carried the day in Game 4. So they can play better on offense. Miami will find ways to adjust, but some things they can’t adjust to. They can’t get longer to battle Kevin Garnett. They can’t get faster to cover Rajon Rondo. And if the Celics keep up this “fire when ready” approach, running the offense through Rondo and not Pierce, they’ve got a great chance at winning Game 4 and sending the Heat back to South Beach with their tails between their legs.

Miami has to slow down Boston. (Things you never thought you would say.) They need to get their transition defense back, get better interior rotations, and stay engaged defensively. They can score on their own end, and the formula isn’t tough. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James score a lot of points. If Wade has another off day, they’re sunk. That’s just the reality without Bosh, but their bigger concern is defense.

It’s strange, it’s baffling, it’s against what we know and understand. But this plodding, awful Boston offense that relies on contested jumpers can score on the Heat, at will. The degree of how much will determine whether the Heat can put the Celtics to the edge of the shore.

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

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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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.