Clipper defense, Darren Collison lead L.A. to win over Houston

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For both the Clippers and the Rockets, the conventional wisdom is the same: If they can defend well and consistently in the playoffs they move into contender status.

Wednesday night it was the Clippers that defended when it mattered — the Rockets shot just 33 percent in the fourth quarter.

Combine that with some impressive play from Darren Collison — he had 12 points in the fourth quarter — and you get the Clippers pulling away for a 101-93 victory at home. That makes the Clippers 3-0 against the Rockets this season, but as this was the fifth game at the end of a road trip the Rockets come loaded with excuses for an off outing.

The Rockets legs looked tired late as the Clippers intensified their defense. A couple key Rockets looked flat all night — James Harden shot just 6-of-16 on his way to 18 points plus he had six turnovers; Chandler Parsons shot just 3-of-13. Without those guys the Rockets offense sputtered as they just tried to go inside to Dwight Howard without an outside to balance things.

That was part of the reason this was a lower-scoring game than expected. This game started out as a dream for the Clippers who were allowed to get in transition and raced out to a 17-4 lead. But for the rest of the first half the Rockets ground it down — Patrick Beverly harassed Chris Paul into a slow first half while the Rockets bench outscored the Clippers subs 21-10 in the first 24 minutes. The third quarter was back and fourth, with the Clippers up 74-73 after three.

Then in the fourth the Clippers went on a little run (8-3) early to give them a some cushion, and they wouldn’t give that up the rest of the way.

That’s where Collison came in — he had 7 straight in the fourth quarter (he finished with 19 points) to keep the Clippers ahead. Collison got more run, including time at the two, after Jamal Crawford had to leave the game just before halftime due to a calf injury. There is no word yet on how serious it is.

Glen Davis — you can call him “Big Baby — made this his Clipper debut in the fourth he was solid in the role 2 points (off of free throws), grabbed 2 rebounds, had 2 blocks, and gave up 3 fouls.

Blake Griffin had a huge night, scoring 23 points (on 25 shots, not exactly efficient) and adding 16 rebounds. He showed off his handles all night but Houston did a good job contesting him.

Dwight Howard finished with 23 points (on 12 shots) and 11 rebounds to lead Houston.

You can’t read much into a February game in terms of potential playoff meetings. That said, this helps keep the Clipper in a top four seed (they are currently the four seed, percentage points ahead of the Rockets) and a chance to have home court in the first round. Which is going to matter in the West.

Just not as much as who defends.

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.