Sunday night NBA grades: The Pistons’ “three bigs” lineup is a mess

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Our grades for what happened around the NBA Sunday….

source:   Pistons’ “three bigs” lineup of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. The Pistons are force-feeding this trio, trying to get it to work, but it remains a mess on the defensive end. Check out these numbers from Sunday night: When they were together the Lakers averaged 127.8 points per 100 possessions, shot 59.6 percent, hit 7-of-13 from three, which means an eFG% of 66.4 percent, and Jordan Hill went off against the Pistons for 24 points and 17 rebounds. The Lakers were able to run that trio and just space them out with shooters and beat them, plus Piston bigs got burned on their man cutting back door all night, or they just would lose track of their man in general. On offense there is now flow or spacing with them together. This is not a new thing, on the season teams are shooting 51 percent against this trio with an offensive rating of 114.8 (for comparison, the Bobcats had the worst defense in the NBA last season at 108.9). The Pistons have other issues as well (Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey don’t help the defense at all) but what happened against the Lakers is the norm right now. Is Maurice Cheeks a guy who can fix this?

source:   Jordan Hill, Los Angeles Lakers. David Thorpe (he of ESPN and Executive Director of the Pro Training Center) likes to say “energy is a skill.” That is Jordan Hill’s skill. Against the big Pistons’ front line Sunday he had 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting, he knocked down some baseline jumpers, and he had 17 rebounds. Hill outworks the competition, and if you pair him with Jordan Farmar there is a real pick-and-roll chemistry that works for the Lakers.

source:   Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors. He has had a rough season (37.5 percent shooting, trade rumors hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles) but when the Raptors needed him Sunday he played like the guy they hoped he would be. Gay had 11 fourth quarter points to spark a 10-point comeback by the Raptors to force OT against a good Blazers team — an he hit the driving layup to tie the game (he’s shooting just 47 percent in the restricted area this season, another issue he overcame Sunday). Gay finished with 30 points. He got a “B” because he was 1-of-4 in the OT and a not very efficient 12-of-27 on the night (he’s still a gunner) but he made plays when they needed him, which is a step in the right direction.

source:   Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies. We could have him on this list more often as he just consistently puts up numbers. No, not the best defender ever, you can go ahead and pick the team apart his game if you want, but he had 22 points and 10 boards against Sacramento on Sunday and was a key cog in the Grizzlies’ victory. As he is most nights. Thought it was time to recognize him.

source:   Mike Malone, coach of Sacramento Kings. Malone got so frustrated with his starters in the second half — who had gotten off to another slow start, let the Grizzlies lead balloon to 20 and had shot 12-of-32 to that point — that he benched the lot of them. For the rest of the game. And the Kings’ bench made it interesting, getting it all the way down to 3 points (82-79) before the Grizzlies starters restored order. But we here at PBT applaud coaches who make big, bold moves when their team is struggling and seemingly not trying.

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.