Nuggets need to get back to basics to beat the Warriors in crucial game 3

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Even though the series is tied at one game a piece, the Nuggets have been thoroughly outplayed by the Warriors in the first two games. Golden State has had the better game plan and has made the better adjustments. The Nuggets, meanwhile, have been very good in some areas but not able to play their normal breakneck style for sustained stretches.

This, of course, is a problem. If the Warriors are controlling the tempo, dictating the match ups, and playing their own game more than the Nuggets get to play theirs, this series will turn out different than many expected — expectations that shifted even further when David Lee was injured.

If the Nuggets are to regain the momentum lost during a split on their home court, they need to get back to playing their game; get back to dictating the terms of engagement. That means getting out in the open court and scoring baskets in the paint.

The Warriors have done a good job of stopping the Nuggets’ open court attack by abandoning offensive rebounding chances in favor of getting at least three players back in transition defense. Also, it’s very hard to run for easy baskets when you’re taking the ball out of the bottom of the net as often as the Nuggets have this series.

Denver, then, needs a counter and needs one quickly. Enter Ty Lawson. The speedy point guard has had a very good series so far, shooting the ball relatively well and being aggressive in stretches. However, if the Nuggets want to change the pace and feel of this game, it must start with Lawson getting aggressive every time he touches the ball, looking to push in the open court and not settling to back the ball out and run a half court set. The Warriors are a good defensive team and are taking away the Nuggets’ deep passes up the sideline. So, Lawson must change the attack and rather than throw the ball up the court he must advance it with the dribble.

Second, the Nuggets must get back to being the team with the better frontline. In the first two games, Andrew Bogut has been the series’ best big man and has controlled the defensive paint. In game two, the Warriors’ best lineup was Bogut and four wings (Jarrett Jack, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes) and the Nuggets tried to counter that with an equally small lineup only without a traditional center. That approach failed as Kenneth Faried clearly wasn’t physically 100%.

Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee need to have more of an impact in game 3, doing a better job defensively in the pick and roll, but especially being more active around their own offensive paint. The Nuggets are at their best not only when they attack the rim in the open court and off dribble drives in the half court, but when their big men effectively crash the offensive glass. Yes, the Nuggets have to balance their pursuit of their own misses with getting back on defense, but they also need to remember why they’ve been so successful this season and that involves punishing teams with second chance points.

Of course, none of this will be easy. The Warriors have the momentum now. And, while Denver has been so great at home they’ve been a much worse team on the road. And few arenas in the league are as wild and rambunctious as Oracle Arena during a playoff game. The crowd will be into the game and they will spur on the home team.

But the Warriors have their own questions to answer and can’t just rely on the crowd to push them to a win. Curry is coming off a sprained ankle in game 2 and is a game-time decision for this game (though I bet he plays). Their small lineup was effective in the last game but how much of that success was based off a shooting performance that isn’t likely to be duplicated? At some point, missing David Lee has to matter, right?

How the Warriors answer these questions and whether or not the Nuggets can find their lost rhythm will determine the winner.

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

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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.