Baseline to Baseline recaps: Serge Ibaka is to be feared as Thunder beat Spurs

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while thinking “if you’re going to play Santa make sure you fit down the chimney”….

Rockets 109, Knicks 96: Jeremy Lin was back in New York and he doesn’t just play well at Madison Square Garden when Carmelo Anthony is out, he plays well against bad transition defense. He got all of that in an easy Rockets win we broke down here.

Thunder 107, Spurs 93: Serge Ibaka is a man to be feared.

Or at least he should be if you’re a Spur. Ibaka — he of the still developing game — had 25 points and 17 rebounds to led the Thunder. Ibaka started out hot, going 6-for-6 with 10 points with four boards and a blocked shot in the first quarter as he had a lot of success running the pick and roll with Kevin Durant (something the Spurs struggled to stop because Ibaka can both pop out for the midrange or roll hard to the hoop). This was a three-point game at the half but an 11-0 run sparked the Thunder to win the third quarter 29-16 and it was over before the final 12 minutes. Gregg Popovich didn’t even play his stars in the fourth quarter. Tony Parker had 14 points and seven assists. Russell Westbrook had 22.

Grizzlies 80, Bulls 71: You had to figure a showdown between the teams tied for the best defense in the NBA coming into the night (both allow 97 points per 100 possessions, via Hoopdata). You got just that — the winning team shot 37.5 percent. This wasn’t as much a case of terrible offense as it really was two lock-down defenses doing their thing.

Two key things separated the Grizzlies. One was the offensive glass — the Grizzlies grabbed 18 offensive boards, or to be more blunt they got a second chance on 38.7 percent of their missed shots. The other key was the Grizzlies bench, which outscored the Bulls bench 31-16. Wayne Ellington, Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter, Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur put together the second quarter Memphis run that gave them the lead for good in this one.

Clippers 88, Pistons 76: If the Clippers were going to go cold for a night shooting, against the Pistons was the place to do it and still get a win — their 10th in a row.

Los Angeles started out ice cold shooting 31.8 percent in the first quarter, and it felt like this might be the night the win streak ended. But the Clippers continued to defend well (Detroit shot just 40 percent), had a 12-2 third quarter run to take control, and got 15 points each from Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin. It wasn’t pretty for the Clippers but a win is a win. Or 10 of them.

Magic 102, Timberwolves 93: Ricky Rubio played for the Timberwolves Monday and will sit out Tuesday against Miami, part of the reasoning was to try and get the more likely win. The best laid plans of mice and men…

Minnesota led by 15 in the third quarter as they got 23 points and 15 rebounds from Kevin Love. But a 21-6 run started a dramatic comeback that included the Magic shooting 63 percent (12-for-19) in the fourth quarter. Glen Davis had 28 points, J.J. Redick had 18. Maybe the best way to look at it is Minnesota’s Love, Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic combined to shoot 17-for-29 in the first half but just 6-for-22 in the second half.

Suns 101, Kings 90: This battle of western conference bottom dwellers was a classic ‘tale of two halves’ game. Led by Jimmer Fredette’s 12 first half points (22 for the game), the Kings found themselves up 54-43. They were controlling the glass on both sides of the ball, benefitting from poor Suns’ shooting (37% in the half), and were well on their way to only their 2nd road win of the year.
In the 2nd half, however, the game turned around completely. Fueled by a dominant 3rd quarter that saw them hold the Kings to only 14 points (while scoring 31 themselves), the Suns grabbed the momentum. Shannon Brown scored 14 points in the period (on 6-7 shooting) while Luis Scola handed out 5 of his game high 10 assists (to go along with his 14 points). In the 4th quarter, the Kings made one last run but that was shut down by two Jared Dudley three pointers and a classic Scola scoop shot in the closing minutes that allowed the Suns to hold on.
—Darius Soriano

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.