Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers Game 5 preview: Can Pacers salvage one at home?

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I would not be shocked if the Pacers came out Wednesday night with a sense of desperation and played their best game in months, pounding the ball inside and playing the suffocating defense we saw in Game 1, the defense that got them the top seed in the East.

I also would not be surprised if they came out, rolled over and basically surrendered Game 5 once the Heat put on a little run.

Indiana has been the most frustratingly inconsistent, immature team of these playoffs. That has been increasingly evident as they have dropped their last three games to the Miami Heat and now stand on the brink of elimination down 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals. Maybe being in a must win game will refocus them on defense, get them to play to their strengths on offense.

Or maybe not. Who knows?

After an ugly outing in Game 4, rather than own that they got beat wire-to-wire and completely outplayed, the Pacers’ stars were pointing fingers and foolishly blaming the referees. That’s not a good sign for how they will come out in Game 5.

Coach Frank Vogel is trying to get his players to focus back on the court and the game, not the officials or anything else. And maybe have Lance Stephenson stop providing fuel to fire of LeBron James.

If the Pacers are going to win it will start with defense — in the regular season the Pacers allowed a league best 96.7 points per 100 possessions and allowed opponents to shoot 42 percent. The Heat are shooting 50.7 percent and have an offensive rating of 111.5 this series — Indiana, a defense built to slow the Heat, has not even come close. Miami has been able to go small with Chris Andersen out (and he is likely out for Game 5) and the Pacers have not made them pay a price. The Pacers struggles on offense are fueling the Heat’s transition game.

On offense, Indiana is often setting poor screens that are letting the Heat defenders fight over and through them. Miami’s defensive game plan is to be aggressive and force turnovers and combine that with guys fighting through screens and much smaller passing windows you get a Pacers team that is tentative on passes. Which means less ball movement. Which means tougher shots and the Pacers being easier to guard.

Indiana needs to run the offense more through David West on post ups (low block and at the high post) and Hibbert (on the low block) — then those two have to finish in the paint. They have not consistently.

Expect the Heat to come out playing with real energy on the road — they both know how to close a series out and understand a win Wednesday means a week off of rest before the Finals start. Dwyane Wade’s knees would appreciate that.

Chris Bosh came alive in Game 4 and if he is confident again and knocking down jumpers that’s trouble for the Pacers because it pulls Hibbert out of the paint and opens up driving lanes for LeBron and Wade. Miami is also using its defense to create transition and early offense points for itself, which is what they do best.

After Game 4, it’s easy to suggest that Pacers are back to imploding again, as they seemed to do the second half of this season and during parts of the playoffs. However, when threatened in this postseason they have put together their best games.

I have no idea what Pacers team will show up for Game 5. Sounds like the Pacers do not either.

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.