Heat blowout win doesn’t define series, but it might win it

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Even for the Miami Heat, this game was an outlier.

They scored 70 points on 63 percent shooting with one turnover in the first half. Udonis Haslem hit 8-of-9 to lead Heat players outside the “big three” shooting 55 percent. Haslem’s shooting eventually pulled Roy Hibbert away from the paint and opened everything inside. LeBron James did damage in the post, Dwyane Wade hit 8-of-14 and pretty much anything the Heat did went right.

Come Game 4 Tuesday night it is unlikely the Heat will put together that amazing an effort.

But the fact they can once or twice in a seven game series — that for one game they can be so dominant that the best defense in the NBA looks helpless — is part of why it is so hard to beat them four out of seven. Miami just took one game off the board, saying to the Pacers “in a tightly contested series now you have to beat us four out of six, we’re just going to own this one.”

It stacks the deck against the team in the other uniform, whether it be yellow pinstripes or any other color.

“If you are not perfect guarding them they will do what they did to us tonight,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after the game. “Sometimes when you are perfect with your coverages they find ways to make baskets.”

Haslem jumped in the hot tub time machine back to 2005 and was the key for Miami. There was a time years ago when Haslem was automatic from 15 feet out along the baseline, he was that guy again Sunday night.

It put Hibbert in an impossible position. In Game 2 Indiana was able to park Hibbert near the paint and let him alter drives and grab rebounds because neither Haslem nor anyone else made him pay. Sunday, Haslem made him pay. By the second half Hibbert had to step out of the paint to respect that shot and things opened up for LeBron James to post up on the left block. Indiana left Paul George on an island with him one-on-one on the block and, as great a defender as George is, that was not going to work.

It was more than that. It was an up-tempo first half that played to Miami’s strengths. It was Dwyane Wade driving the lane and breaking down the Pacers defense in the first half (six assists before the break). It was Miami getting 32 points in the paint in the first half. To quote Dawes, it was a little bit of everything.

Miami overwhelms even good teams teams sometimes. It happens.

It doesn’t mean Game 4 will look like that — I expect it will not. Indiana’s defense will be sharper and they will have some adjustments. In Game 3 the Pacers continued to have good offensive success against the Heat’s defense.

I expect Game 4 will be close, more like games one and two. Indiana may or may not get the win.

But you can’t beat the Heat in a series playing them to a tie most nights then occasionally getting blown out. Game 3 does not define this series. But it makes it a whole lot harder for Indiana to win it.

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

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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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.