Facing Elimination, Nuggets need to pull out all the stops against Warriors

8 Comments

Few people expected we’d be at this point this soon, if they even thought we’d be here at all.

The Nuggets are facing elimination in the fifth game of their series versus the Warriors — a series many had them winning at the outset, with even more jumping on the bandwagon after David Lee was injured in game one.

But since that loss in the first game, momentum is clearly on the Warriors’ side with head coach Mark Jackson making all the right moves while George Karl struggles to find answers to counter them. And really, adjustments are what this series is all about now. Can  George Karl find the right lineups and implement the proper tweaks to his team’s approach to get a win?

With everything on the line, Karl has no choice but to try every trick in his bag to try and get this series back to Oakland. Maybe that means Andre Iguodala guarding Stephen Curry for every minute that Curry plays. Maybe it means playing Andre Miller less with Ty Lawson and going with Corey Brewer at shooting guard more often. Maybe it means playing JaVale McGee more than his usual amount of minutes to give the Nuggets a shot blocking presence and athleticism they lack when he’s on the bench.

Whatever he tries, however, it needs to be different than what he’s been doing because it’s clear those tactics aren’t working.

On the Warriors’ side, the approach is simple: just keep giving the ball to Curry and letting him create until the Nuggets figure out a way to stop it. Curry has proven to be the series’ best player by a wide margin and his combination of shooting, ball handling, and play making has turned the Warrior offense into an unstoppable force.

Defensively, they need to continue to rely on Andrew Bogut to anchor the back line while using their wings to pressure ball handlers into that murky mid-range area where they’ve proven to be less effective. This combination of wing pressure and Bogut protecting the basket has given the Nuggets fits in the half-court while their choice to get back in transition rather than chase offensive rebounds has forced Denver into a more controlled style.

The Nuggets can’t win that way and they know it. They want to try and do it’s create a chaos all over the floor in order to overwhelm their opponent.

Maybe with the increased stakes and playing on their home floor they’ll be able to manufacture the energy needed to turn up the tempo. If they can pressure the Warriors’ ball handlers and create some turnovers, it would go a long way towards getting this win. It would also help if they could get out to a fast start to build some momentum, get the crowd behind them, and then ride that wave of emotion.

Needless to say, the Nuggets need something to go their way after the way the last three games have unfolded. If they can’t turn it around tonight, they’ll have a long time to think on how they let it all slip away after one of their most successful regular seasons ever.

Al Horford had to tell Aron Baynes to take the ball to the basket (VIDEO)

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Boston’s Aron Baynes has seen his minutes increase the past couple of games of the Eastern Conference Finals as Brad Stevens tries to match up better with Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson.

Baynes is a solid big man who can step out and hit a three, but he’s not exactly blessed with the offensive gene — he’s no natural scorer. Sometimes it’s not even clear he knows where the basket is.

Such as on this fourth quarter play from Monday night, where Al Horford has to point Baynes to the rim and tell him to go there.

It worked. This time.

Baynes, Horford and the Celtics made things interesting in the second half, but could not overcome their early deficits and lost Game 4 to the Cavaliers 111-102, tying the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2.

Fast start, LeBron James enough for Cavaliers to hold on to win, even series

Getty Images
8 Comments

For the first time in 11 days, we had an NBA playoff game that finished with a single-digit margin. Barely.

It didn’t look like it would be early — Boston missed lay-ups and dunks all through the first quarter, LeBron James was being LeBron James, and the Cavaliers had a 16 point first quarter lead. It was 15 at the half.

But these Celtics would not go quietly.

Boston started to find it’s offensive groove — hunting Kevin Love incessantly — but in the end couldn’t get enough stops because, well, LeBron James. He finished with 44 points on 17-of-28 shooting, his sixth 40-point game of these playoffs. He got wherever he wanted on the floor all night, carving up the top-ranked regular season defense of the Celtics like a surgeon. No other Cavalier had more than 14 points (Kyle Korver), but the supporting cast played enough defensive and made hustle plays to hang on.

@realtristan13 with the swat and @kingjames with the finish!

A post shared by NBA (@nba) on

Cleveland got the win, 111-102, and evened the series at 2-2. Game 5 is Wednesday night back in Boston.

What Celtics fans can feel good about is their team’s resilience and grit. Down big for the second-straight game on the road in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics fought back from as much as 19 down earlier in the game to get it to single digits and make the fans in Quicken Loan Arena nervous in the fourth quarter. That is something the team can carry over to Game 5, as they can some defensive tweaks that shut down opportunities for Korver and the rest of the supporing cast.

What should bother Celtics fans was another night where they struggled to generate offense in the face of more intense defensive pressure.

That came from the opening tip, with the Celtics missing a few layups and a couple of Jaylen Brown dunk attempts — all of which allowed the Cavs to get early offenses and mismatches going the other way. Those missed shots fueled a 10-0 Cavaliers run that had Cleveland up 19-10 early. The Celtics shot 3-of-10 at the rim in the first quarter, shot 26 percent overall, and trailed 34-18 after one.

The second quarter saw the Celtics start to find their offense — they scored 35 points on 50 percent shooting — but they only gained one point on the Cavaliers lead because Boston couldn’t get stops. LeBron had 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first half to pace a Cleveland team that shot 61.5 percent overall and hit 6-of-11 threes. That’s why the Cavs were up 68-53 at the half.

The Celtics energy was better than Game 2, but in the first half they looked like a young team, one that made a lot of mistakes.

In the second half, the Celtics started to figure things out — they started making the extra pass, they got stops for stretches, they looked more like a young team finding their footing on a big stage on the road. They finished the night with 25 from Jaylen Brown, 17 from Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier had 16 points and 11 assists.

They just couldn’t completely close the gap because they couldn’t get consistent stops — the Cavaliers shot 60 percent as a team for the game, and a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 59.6. Cleveland mercilessly hunted Rozier on switches — forcing him on to LeBron or Kevin Love then attacking — and the Cavs got enough from their role players. Tristan Thompson did what he needed to bringing energy in the paint and some defense, plus he had 13 points. Korver was diving on the floor for loose balls. Larry Nance Jr. had his second good game in a row. George Hill had 13 points.

And whenever the Cavaliers needed a play, they had LeBron to turn to. He set another NBA record on Monday night, most playoff field goals made for a career.

LeBron is what needs to worry Boston most of all. The Celtics will be better at home in Game 5 — they have not lost in TD Garden all postseason — but if this thing goes seven, it’s a dangerous thing when the other team has the best player on the planet.

LeBron James passes Kareem to become all-time leader in playoff made field goals

Getty Images
7 Comments

LeBron James is already the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer, having passed Michael Jordan last postseason.

However, LeBron racked up his buckets in the era of the three-point shot (as did Jordan, to a lesser extent), so Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the all-time leader in field goals made in the postseason. A lot of them beautiful skyhooks that still give Celtics fans nightmares.

Monday night, LeBron made history passing Abdul-Jabar for the top spot in NBA playoff made field goals.

Just add that to the already insane resume.

Kevin Love with insane touchdown outlet to LeBron James for bucket

8 Comments

Not sure what part of this was better.

Was it Kevin Love‘s length-of-the-court outlet touchdown pass that was right on the money, where only the receiver could get it?

Or was it LeBron James, with a catch in a crowd that would make Julio Jones’ draw drop?

Either way, this first quarter bucket from the Cavaliers may well be the play of the game.