France’s ugly finish (with Batum punching Navarro in groin) costs them in loss to Spain

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After three quarters, this was shaping up to be a classic. And with less than seven minutes to go France led 57-54.

Then the wheels came off for France. Actually, that’s too kind. France crashed and burned. They scored 6 points total in the fourth quarter and went scoreless for more than seven minutes. And then it got worse. France’s poor play degenerated into personal ugliness and a Nicolas Batum punch that probably had David Stern calling to suspend guys until he realized he couldn’t.

In the end, Spain wins 66-59 and advances to a rematch with Russia in the semifinals, the winner of that advancing to the gold medal game. France goes home.

France shot 0-for-11 to end the game (ignoring the meaningless bucket they made as time expired). Spain was down three in the fourth but went on a 12-0 to seal the game, a run in part sparked by a Pau Gasol defensive blocked shot that turned into a fast break and bucket for Sergio Lull that gave Spain a lead they would never relinquish.

Spain picked up their defensive intensity, but France could not create or hit shots they made earlier. They grew frustrated. They could feel the game slowly slipping away (slowly because Spain wasn’t scoring that fast either).

Then the frustration boiled over as France needed to start fouling to extend the game and have a chance.

First was a hard intentional hip check foul by Ronny Turiaf on Rudy Fernandez. That earned Spain free throws that they used to ice the game.

Then came the ugly moment — Portland’s Nicolas Batum came to intentionally foul Juan Carlos Navarro and flat out punched him in the groin. Wound up and punched him. This was way worse than what happened to Carmelo Anthony, this was a six game suspension if he tried it in the NBA. It led to Marc Gasol and other Spanish players coming to defend Navarro and a fight almost broke out.

Adrain Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports and the NBC Sports Network asked him about it (via twitter):

I asked Nicolas Batum why he hit Juan-Carlos Navarro in the groin. “I wanted to give him a good reason to flop,” Batum said.

David Stern read that and tried to tack on two more games.

Batum went on after the game to accuse Spain of intentionally losing to Brazil in the final game of group play to get France in the first round (and out of the American’s side of the bracket). A few hours later, Batum apologized on twitter:

I want to apologize for my stupid act at the end, I showed a bad image of France and myself, Congrats to team Spain.

Batum shouldn’t be blaming Spain — France could have won this game and they blew it all by themselves. He can blame himself for shooting 3-for-12 on the night. Overall France shot 33.9 percent for the game and missed a lot of makable looks. France did a good job defensively — they doubled Pau Gasol as soon as he touched the ball and made other guys beat them — but as has been their historic problem France couldn’t score enough.

Marc Gasol had 14 to lead Spain, while his brother Pau had 10 points and 11 boards. Boris Diaw and Tony Parker each had 15 for France, but Parker was so frustrated he shattered his goggles after the game. He really doesn’t like those things.

France had their chances. In the end, they resorted to ugly play. Spain acted like the team that has been there before, so they get a chance to keep playing for a medal.

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.