Baseline to Baseline recaps: Boston’s defense has serious issues

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the games yesterday in NBA action. Or, what you missed while in a massive food fight including flour and eggs….

Clippers 107, Jazz 96: The Clippers win streak is at 17 and if you are having an early season MVP discussion and not including Chris Paul in the mix, you are doing it wrong (he likely doesn’t win because his numbers are not gaudy enough for some voters, but he should be in the mix). Our man D.J. Foster broke the game down.

Kings 118, Celtics 96: You can come up with some excuses for the Celtics — second night of a back-to-back, last game of a four-game West Coast road swing, it was past their bedtime — but none of it really holds up because that was not the problem in this ugly loss.

The problem is Boston’s defense isn’t that great. Particularly their ability to keep penetrating guards out of the paint — 19 of the Kings 22 first half Kings field goals came in the paint. They were breaking down the Celtics off the dribble and off the pass, meanwhile the Celtics bigs were a step slow with the rotation — and if the help does get there nobody helps the helper. The result was Isaiah Thomas with 27 points and DeMarcus Cousins putting up a triple double (12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists).

Avery Bradley’s return soon helps the Boston defense in a number of ways, but he alone is not going to solve the focus and rotations issues. It’s bigger than that now.

Boston made some fourth quarter pushes behind Paul Pierce (20 points), but Sacramento had answers, going 9-of-14 from three in the second half. John Salmons helped that cause with an efficient 23 points on 12 shoots.

Pistons 96, Bucks 94: Detroit jumped out to a 13-0 lead and it looked like it would never surrender that lead. The Pistons were in control. Detroit was aggressive, going right at a pretty good Bucks defense and getting into the paint to get their shots.

But the Bucks had a 13-0 run of their own in the fourth quarter, led by Monta Ellis who had 30 points and 9 assists on the night. It was Ellis that hit a jumper with 1:06 left to give Milwaukee a 94-92 lead. But Tayshaun Prince scored the Pistons’ final four points — two on a hook shot, two from the free throw line — to secure the win. Prince finished with 20 points.

Spurs 111, Mavericks 86: After the game Manu Ginobili said that the Mavericks did not look “very inspired.” Which frankly is pretty kind. And if you combine a lethargic Mavericks team with the quintessential efficiency of the Spurs you get a game that wasn’t in doubt from early on. It was the usual suspects doing the damage for San Antonio: Tony Parker had 21 points, Manu Ginobili added 20, and Tim Duncan had a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds

Dirk Nowitzki had eight points in limited minutes. That is six straight losses for the Mavs.

Celtics’ Terry Rozier on Game 3: “We needed to get our butts whooped”

Associated Press
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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.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.