After giving back most of a 26-point lead, Knicks get Game 6 victory to close out Celtics

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In each of the first three games of the series between the Knicks and the Celtics, all of which were New York victories, Boston managed to put together a horrific half of offensive basketball.

The trend that subsided for two games returned for Game 6 back in Boston, and that was more than enough for the Knicks to come away with an 88-80 victory that closed out the Celtics, and advanced New York to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2000 season.

Boston scored 25 points in the second half of Game 1, 23 points in the second half of Game 2, and 31 points in the first half of Game 3. In an elimination game at home, after battling back into the series with two straight victories, the Celtics looked gassed in this one from the start, and managed just 10 first quarter points, on the way to a dismal 27 by halftime.

The Celtics just couldn’t get any easy looks, and couldn’t get whatever open looks they did have to fall. Paul Pierce looked especially drained after playing more than 44 minutes in Game 5 two nights earlier, and finished 4-of-18 from the field, and only 1-of-9 from three-point distance.

The Knicks were unable to pull away until late in the third, however, thanks to a lack of fluidity on the offensive end and plenty of missed shots of their own. New York led by 12 at the half, but was able to push its lead to 20 at the end of three thanks to Boston’s continued inability to score.

New York’s lead reached 26 points at 75-49 with 9:49 to play in the fourth, before the Celtics, essentially out of nowhere, put together a furious rally to try to keep their season alive.

Boston went on a monstrous 20-0 run over the next four minutes to cut the Knicks’ lead all the way back down to six. New York didn’t do themselves any favors during that stretch, settling for isolation basketball on virtually every possession, while forcing contested long jump shots out of rhythm or throwing up wild attempts on heavily-defended drives to the basket.

The Celtics were aggressive defensively, and got out in transition for some fast break opportunities. Avery Bradley was especially key during the run, and scored 10 fourth quarter points while forcing the action by coming up with three steals in the period.

Eventually, the Knicks stabilized, but not before the Celtics cut it to four with 3:32 remaining on a steal and breakaway dunk from Bradley. Carmelo Anthony then scored five straight, followed by an and-one layup from J.R. Smith that put the Knicks back up by 12, and ended the drama for the evening.

Of course the Celtics deserve plenty of credit for making this a series after falling behind three games to none, and for refusing to say die when things were at their bleakest in the fourth quarter of what was ultimately their final game of the season.

But the Knicks were their own worst enemy in this series. J.R. Smith throwing the elbow near the end of Game 3 that got him suspended gave Boston life against an undermanned opponent in Game 4, and then Smith’s overconfidence combined with Kenyon Martin’s effort to have the whole team wear black for some funeral nonsense had New York mentally unprepared for the close out opportunity at home in Game 5.

The Knicks were able to take advantage of the Celtics’ inability to score for long stretches in this series to ultimately win it, but things shouldn’t have been this close. Now that they’ve advanced in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, perhaps they’ll be more focused against the Pacers in their second round series, which is set to begin on Sunday.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on Kyle Korver’s playing time: Brad Stevens ‘threw us for a loop’ by not playing Semi Ojeleye

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James is obviously the Cavaliers’ best player. Cleveland’s second-best player? Usually Kevin Love, but Kyle Korver has made a case lately.

So, how did Korver play just 19 minutes, including none in the first quarter, in the Cavs’ Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night? That was his playoff low, besides Game 1 against the Pacers, when he was still recovering from injury.

Blame Boston coach Brad Stevens removing Semi Ojeleye from his rotation.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue:

Well, initially, he’s been putting [Semi] Ojeleye in, so that’s been kind of Kyle’s matchup when he comes in the game. He didn’t play him tonight, so it kind of threw us for a loop.

This won’t slow the talk of Stevens being a genius. He neutralized one of Cleveland’s best players simply by not using a limited rookie.

Still, Lue’s strategy held some merit. Korver is a defensive liability, but Ojeleye’s offensive limitations make it hard to take advantage. Ojeleye’s biggest strength, his physical strength, is of limited utility in trying to stick tight to Korver on the perimeter.

In Games 1-4, Cavaliers with Korver on and…

Ojeleye on:

  • Offensive rating: 111.9
  • Defensive rating: 102.1
  • Net rating: +9.9

Ojeleye off:

  • Offensive rating: 97.0
  • Defensive rating: 109.5
  • Net rating: -12.5

That said, Korver is too good to plant on the bench. Other perimeter options – J.R. Smith, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Jeff Green (who actually played fine last night) – are just so unreliable. Lue shouldn’t just wait for the perfect matchup to use Korver.

But will Lue get it, anyway?

Stevens:

We believe in Semi and we think he’s a big, huge part of our team. It would not be a shock if he plays a ton for us in Game 6.

Lue better develop a plan for using Korver in Game 6 Friday, with contingencies based on Stevens using or not using Ojeleye. I wouldn’t trust Stevens’ declaration one bit, and Lue doesn’t want to get thrown for a loop again.

PBT Extra: Rockets showed defense, resilience, can Warriors show same in Game 5?

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Game 4 was an epic game, and the Houston Rockets proved they are a serious threat to knock the Warriors off the top of the mountain. They took Golden State’s big punch to start the game (a 12-0 run) and Stephen Curry haymaker in the third, cranked up their defense, got a great game from Chris Paul, and evened the series at 2-2.

Heading back to Houston, we can expect more of the same out of the Rockets Thursday night — they know a win in Game 5 puts them in a very dominant position in the series.

The question is, do the Warriors have another gear? That’s one of the topics I get into in this PBT Extra. For a few seasons now, the Warriors have been able to play lockdown defense and hit tough shots in the clutch, with Kevin Durant making them especially hard to stop, but in Game 4 when it got tight they looked tired and slow. Houston’s ball pressure threw Golden State off its game, and fatigue had set in for the Warriors. Can they not only go on big runs but slow down Chris Paul, James Harden and the Rockets’ attack?

Thursday night is going to be interesting.

LeBron James recalls six turnovers with striking precision (video)

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James showed off his memory after the Cavaliers’ Game 1 loss to the Celtics, detailing every play of the beginning of the fourth quarter:

He was at it again after Cleveland’s Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night.

Asked about his six turnovers, LeBron perfectly described six turnovers:

The turnover LeBron very noticeably said went off Jeff Green‘s hands was actually assigned to Green. So, that meant LeBron omitted one of his own:

Still, this was incredibly impressive. It was also maybe a little passive-aggressive, the way LeBron notes the ball going off Green’s and J.R. Smith‘s hands.

So, it was quintessential LeBron.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.