Five Things We Learned in NBA Tuesday: The basketball injury gods are heartless and cruel

13 Comments

If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while wishing the Starbucks near you served beer

1) The basketball injury gods are heartless and cruel.  Paul George. Kevin Durant. Russell Westbrook. Kobe Bryant. Kemba Walker. Steve Nash. Blake Griffin. Dwight Howard. Carmelo Anthony. Jabari Parker. Chris Bosh. Now Derrick Rose. Every one of those stars has missed significant time this season due to injury. Enough already. We are setting up for a what should be a brilliant playoffs, I’m sick of injuries potentially ruining that. Yes, all the injuries should lead to a discussion of the wear and tear the NBA regular season puts on players’ bodies — Adam Silver is already trying to do something about that — but some of this is just bad luck. A statistical anomaly, if you will. But I’m weary of it and sickened by it. Enough is enough.  Just let the guys play the game.

2) Stephen Curry is back and doing ridiculous Stephen Curry things. At least one star is healthy and showing it — Curry missed one game with a sore foot, but returned to the lineup Tuesday to drop 32 points (including five three-pointers) plus dish out eight assists against the Wizards. On top of all that he did a good job defensively on John Wall when assigned to him. If you had any questions Curry was fine, check out this ridiculous tear-drop floater.

3) LeBron James passed Scottie Pippen for most assists ever by a forward — and did it in style. Playing in the social media era has opened LeBron to more — and more public — criticism than any of the game’s all-time greats. And make no mistake, LeBron is going down as one of the game’s all-time greats (exactly where on that list is yet to be determined). He is arguably the most gifted player ever to play the game, but don’t let that distract you from the long hours he’s put in to grow his game. One thing he has always done well — pass. Midway through the third quarter LeBron hit Kevin Love with a behind-the-back dish setting up a three that gave LeBron five assists on the night and 6,136 dimes for his career, passing Scottie Pippen on the list. (LeBron had 11 dimes on the night.) LeBron will set more records before he walks away, but this one will have meaning for him.

4) Kevin Love can still drain the three, in case you forgot. You just saw one of Love’s threes on the night, but he found his groove from three on Tuesday night and drained eight threes, tying his career best. Not sure this means he’s comfortable in the offense yet, but he was feeling it Tuesday.

5) Russell Westbrook’s triple-double reminder he is in the MVP race now. Oklahoma City didn’t have too much trouble with Indiana, despite Kevin Durant being out, and that is thanks to Russell Westbrook, who notched 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. Westbrook is simply putting himself in the MVP race with his play since returning from injury — 26.1 points, 8 rebounds and 6.7 assists a game. Nobody else in the NBA is putting up better across-the-board numbers. Maybe he missed too many games to win the MVP, but he needs to be in the discussion.

Celtics’ Terry Rozier on Game 3: “We needed to get our butts whooped”

Associated Press
2 Comments

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?

1 Comment

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

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
9 Comments

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.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

6 Comments

Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.