Jekyll/Hyde Rockets fall to Thunder, continue to confound

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It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves.

Unfortunately for the Rockets the worst of halves was the second one.

That’s when Houston went ice cold from three (0-of-9), shot just 19.4 percent overall and put up 19 points. It was that half that makes you realize how far this Rocket team is from where it ultimately wants to be.

It was that half that cost the Rockets a win as they fell to Oklahoma City 104-92.

But oh, the Rockets fist half was glorious — they put up 73 points and shot 12of-20 from three. James Harden was attacking — on one play he raced up court and pretty much drove past every Thunder player for a dunk — and had 16 points. Chandler Parsons and Terrence Jones each had 10. Even Dontas Motiejunas had 13. As you can see from the Rockets shot chart for the first half they did their damage from three and got 24 shots inside 8 feet.

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Then there was the second half shot chart.

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Let’s give Oklahoma City some credit for cranking up the defensive pressure in the second half — clearly embarrassed by their first-half performance they got in front of guys, challenged shots and generally seemed to give a crap. Which is more than you can say about the first 24 minutes. Despite what some seem to think of him, Scott Brooks can and does make adjustments and the ones he made worked well.

But the Rockets just also missed shot after shot after shot.

Going from 73 to 19 points between halves is the biggest discrepancy in NBA history, and the 19 ties the NBA record for fewest points in a half.

Houston has been up and down all season, looking like a team trying to figure out who they are some nights, especially when challenged. Tonight was a microcosm of that. Dwight Howard was a non-factor all night with 11 points and 8 boards. It all shows they have a journey ahead of them still.

For a Thunder team struggling without Russell Westbrook this was a sustaining win for the Thunder, something they can build off of. You knew Kevin Durant would be special and he was with 36 points, but it was Serge Ibaka with 21 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks that put the Thunder over the top. Reggie Jackson came in with 23 points to give the Thunder other scoring options.

It was just one game, but it was one wild game. And one where the real character of teams at this point shown through.

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.