Surprisingly it’s Pacers offense that is too much for Knicks in Game 1

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A lot of the focus in the Indiana vs. New York series was strength on strength — could the very good Pacers defense slow the very good Knicks offense? And they did slow it, they frustrated Carmelo Anthony, but the Knicks still got their points.

However, it was the other end of the court that was key for Game 1 — the Knicks could not stop the Pacers offense. Indiana worked the ball inside-out, worked it from the strong-side to the weak with good passing, and New York couldn’t catch up and contest shots.

Indiana shot the ball better, got to the free throw line more, and grabbed more offensive rebounds on their way to a 102-95 Game 1 win in in New York. The Pacers lead the series 1-0 with Game 2 scheduled for Tuesday night in New York.

The concern for the Knicks is that the Pacers are in some key structural ways a better version of the Boston Celtics — a defense-first team that can be limited on offense. But the Pacers have better athletes (Paul George) as well as big men who can score (David West had 20 points, Roy Hibbert 14) than Boston did. The Pacers are not going to take the long offensive siestas the Celtics did in the first round. The Knicks are going to have to play better at both ends than they did much of Game 1.

New York got some good looks early running side pick-and roll action so the game was close through the first quarter. But the Knicks got away from that in the second quarter and the Pacers started to find their groove — Indiana shot 68.8 percent in the quarter, went on a 10-2 run late and won the second 30-19. Indy led by six at the half.

The Pacers got an unexpected offensive bump in the game from D.J. Augustin, who had 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting including 4-of-5 from three on the game.

The Pacers pulled away in the third and a lot of that had to do with Hibbert — he outplayed Tyson Chandler all night. The Knicks need to do something to pull him out of the paint because when he gets set up back there he blocks and alters everything around the rim. The Knicks struggled with that, or containing him on offense (Chandler eventually fouled out of the game.

The Knicks tried to exploit mismatches like David West on Carmelo Anthony at points, but Melo finished with 28 points but on 27 shots.

Melo’s advantage against West is speed, need to run him off screens/make him the screener to get West moving before Melo attacks.

In the third quarter the Pacers started to pull away, extending the lead up to 16. The Knicks made a push late in the fourth but could get it no lower than 5.

The Pacers are going to defend like this all series — Paul George did a good job limiting Anthony and J.R. Smith (who had 17 points on 4-of-15 shooting on the night). The Knicks will have better offensive games, but it’s not going to be easy against the size and length of the Pacers. New York needs more Raymond Felton side, pick-and-roll, they need plays that force Hibbert out and away from where he can protect the rim.

But the Knicks will score points. The issue is the other end, where the Pacers had an offensive rating of 110.3 (points per 100 possessions), well above their 101.6 average from the regular season.

Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony need to have a better defensive night — Indiana’s front line of Hibbert, West and George had 53 points and 14 rebounds. The Pacers won the points in the paint battle 46-32.

New York is going to have to change that to win this series, one in which they have now given up home court advantage.

Cavaliers’ Kendrick Perkins not into “all that new stuff” like Chewbacca

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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.

After the Cavaliers’ win, Kevin Love decided to make a little joke of it with noted humorist Kendrick Perkins, and it went over as well as expected (with Dave McMenamin of ESPN catching it).

That’s vintage Perkins.

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

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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.