Our quick look around the association on a busy Wednesday night.
Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Knicks. Stoudemire played 30 minutes. Stoudemire was clutch, hitting a key jumper with less than 3 minutes to go after the Bulls had stormed from 23 points back to tie the game. Stoudemire played good interior defense. Stoudemire showed a real chemistry with Beno Udrih. Stoudemire had 10 points in the Knicks 19-0 second quarter run. Stoudemire had 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Not sure I ever expected to type any of those sentences but he was as key as Carmelo Anthony’s 30 points to the Knicks win.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors. He’s here because he dropped 33 points, 16 in the fourth quarter. And he’s here because he does this:
New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls. That grade is for sucking the beauty out of the game of basketball. Since they won maybe the Knicks get a D-, but neither the win nor the injuries to either side excuse them from subjecting us to what they did to James Naismith’s game.
Jason Smith, New Orleans Hornets. The most unheralded of the Pelicans starters had a big night — 22 points, 16 rebounds — against one of the largest front lines in the league in Detroit (he was matched on Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. He’s a good pick-and-pop guard (or pick-and-flare to the midrange really) and when they use him that way he’s dangerous (he was 4-of-4 from the midrange on the left side of the court.
Utah Jazz offense. Sacramento didn’t play good defense but give credit where credit is due — Utah just could not miss. Richard Jefferson was 7-of-9, Derrick Favors 6-of-9, Alec Burke 7-of-11 and on down the line. The Jazz shot 53.9 percent, hit 13-of-23 from three and had an offensive rating of 133.2 (points per 100 possessions). After the rough start to the season Utah could use a laugher like this.
The battle has, stupidly, raged on between supporters of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Both sides seem to believe their preference is irrefutably the choice for the best player in NBA history.
And because they did not play in the same era, the question will never be answered. No doubt in 50 years they will write columns about Jordan vs. LeBron, just like their fathers, and their father’s fathers before them.
James has certainly seemed to take a bit of a leap in the eyes of the NBA community this season, likely because of his wonderful performance at age 33. He’s also single-handedly won two playoff series this year. It’s been incredible.
But LeBron rising above Jordan has also brought out some more reasonable takes. Former Chicago Bulls legend and Jordan running mate Scottie Pippen spoke up recently about the debate, giving a measured analysis that I think is pretty strong.
In short, Pippen basically said you can’t compare the two because of the eras, the style, and the fact they just don’t play the same position (if LeBron even has a position, that is).
That sounds right to me.
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.
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.
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.