It’s an exciting time in the NBA when some of the league’s fresher faces are able to dominate the headlines at times and, more importantly, lead their respective teams to victory. On a light three-game slate in the Association, we had one of the younger guys playing a key role in all three contests.
Third Star: Avery Bradley (22 points on 10-15 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists)
The Celtics beat the Sixers in Philadelphia, which isn’t really news considering how bad the Sixers have been in recent weeks. But Bradley leading Boston to victory was different. He’s been known for his perimeter defense, but starting at the point guard spot, he lead Boston in scoring in this one, and the Celtics are now 12-4 since Rajon Rondo went down for the season with the ACL injury.
Second Star: Kenneth Faried (19 points, 12 rebounds, game-high +20)
It’s almost not fair to reward a player for going off against the Kings, considering Sacramento is 29th in the league in defensive efficiency, giving up an unconscionable 108.9 points per 100 possessions. But somebody has to be the one to contribute to win those games, and Faried was all over the place in this one, leading his team in rebounding and finishing a game-high plus-20 in his time on the floor.
First Star: Russell Westbrook (37 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists)
The Lakers aren’t exactly a great matchup for the Thunder at this point, but Westbrook had a below-average outing the last time these teams met, and it resulted in Oklahoma City losing in Los Angeles. Tuesday at home, Westbrook made sure to come out strong, and scored 13 first quarter points to ensure this one was never in doubt.
Scottie Pippen on LeBron James, Michael Jordan: “It’s not a fair comparison”
The battle has, stupidly, raged on between supporters of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Both sides seem to believe their preference is irrefutably the choice for the best player in NBA history.
And because they did not play in the same era, the question will never be answered. No doubt in 50 years they will write columns about Jordan vs. LeBron, just like their fathers, and their father’s fathers before them.
James has certainly seemed to take a bit of a leap in the eyes of the NBA community this season, likely because of his wonderful performance at age 33. He’s also single-handedly won two playoff series this year. It’s been incredible.
But LeBron rising above Jordan has also brought out some more reasonable takes. Former Chicago Bulls legend and Jordan running mate Scottie Pippen spoke up recently about the debate, giving a measured analysis that I think is pretty strong.
In short, Pippen basically said you can’t compare the two because of the eras, the style, and the fact they just don’t play the same position (if LeBron even has a position, that is).
Scottie Pippen’s full quote on the comparison between Michael Jordan and LeBron James: “There’s really no comparison.”
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.
Kevin Love: “Are you going to go hang out with Chewbacca?” Kendrick Perkins: “Who is that?” (Love shows Perk a photo on his phone of Chewy sitting courtside at Game 3) Perk: “Oh, I don’t really keep up with all that new stuff.”
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?
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.