Associated Press

Three things we learned on Thursday: One strong Warriors quarter enough vs. Pistons

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It was an international day for the NBA, with games in London and Mexico City. If you missed it because you were trying to decide what to do with a giant inflatable Trump rooster balloon, we’ve got your back, here’s the big takeaways from the day.

1) When the Warriors play at their peak — even if only for one quarter — it is a thing of beauty. And the Pistons can’t stop it. So far this season, the Warriors are beating teams by a league-best 11.6 points per 100 possessions — the exact same net rating they had last season. But it doesn’t feel the same. Golden State hasn’t played with the consistent focus we saw the last two seasons from this team, they have tended to “flip the switch” more. Of course, two years ago they were just bursting on the scene, and last season they were pushing for 73 wins. This season they are trying to integrate Kevin Durant (which certainly hasn’t always been smooth) and focused more on being right for the postseason. It hasn’t seemed the same, but they are still blowing teams out.

Case in point, Thursday night against the Pistons at Oracle Arena. The Warriors seemed to coast through the first half, then they turned it on in the third and won that quarter 41-19. From there, Golden State coasted in for the win, 127-107. The Warriors ball movement was phenomenal, beautiful to watch, and left the Pistons’ defense scrambling. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson combined to score 72 points.

Of course, the Warriors are not going to be judged on regular season wins, all that matters is how they play in June. To that point, Golden State has the weekend off, then will face Cleveland at home on Martin Luther King Day Monday.

2) Knicks pick up a needed win at the expense of Bulls. It was the second night of a back-to-back after having blown a late 10-point lead to the Sixers, and Kristaps Porzingis was sitting out with a sore Achilles. The Knicks had lost 9-of-10, and this set up to be another “L.”

So, of course, they beat the Bulls. Comfortably.

This game lacked star power — no Jimmy Butler, no Porzingis — but the Knicks role players stepped up, with Mindaugas Kuzminskas scoring 19 and Kyle O'Quinn adding 12 points and 11 boards. The Knicks seemed to get whatever they wanted in the paint, and that started with Derrick Rose drives.

The Knicks need more wins like this, they currently sit two games out of the playoffs in the East. The Bulls are one back of the eight-seed Wizards. These are both teams where the front office made win-now moves this summer bringing in pricey veterans, and both of these teams need to string together some wins or they will be able to book early tee times this spring.

3) London gets to see the Nikola Jokic show. Mexico City saw the Devin Booker show but a Mavericks’ win. Remember, the NBA makes a healthy chunk of its revenue overseas — broadcast rights, merchandise sales, etc. — so it’s going to keep taking the product to foreign lands when it can. Enter the international slate of games Thursday: Nuggets and Pacers in London, then Mavericks and Suns in Mexico City.

In London, it was the Nikola Jokic show as he dropped 22 points, grabbed 11 boards and dished seven assists to lead Denver to a comfortable 140-112 win. Also, this may have been Danilo Gallinari‘s best game as a Nugget this season, he had 18.

In Mexico City, Devin Booker dropped 39 points for the Suns, but it wasn’t enough in the battle of Western Conference lottery-bound teams, the Mavericks got the 113-108 win behind 23 from Deron Williams.

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

Associated Press
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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

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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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.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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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.