Boston’s defense not all of Cleveland’s problems, Celtics’ offense is clicking, too

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In the wake of Game 1, Boston’s defense on LeBron James and how it frustrated Cleveland as a team was the hot topic. With good reason. Marcus Morris led a ball-pressure attack on LeBron, the other defenders stayed home and pressured shooters, Boston took away passing lanes, and all that forced Cleveland to shoot 36 percent overall and 4-of-26 from three, plus turn the ball over and just look out of sync.

That, however, was not Cleveland’s only problem.

Boston’s offense had a net rating of 114 (points per 100 possessions) in Game 1 — that’s 8.8 more per 100 than the Celtics averaged during the regular season, and 6.6 more than in the playoffs. Boston attacked and scored 60 points in the paint Game 1, added 17 points off 10 Cavaliers turnovers, found some opportunities in transition (off their many stops) and in the end put up 108 points without much effort on Sunday afternoon.

Going back to last playoffs, the Cavaliers have just tried to outscore teams, not win with defense. That has worked well enough, so far. It may not be any more.

Sunday we saw what looked like the Cavaliers’ regular season defense, which was 29th in the league. The Cavs had a couple good defensive possessions in the first five minutes of the game, but soon the Celtics figured it out and picked the Cavs apart. Boston went with a lot of isolation attacks early, specifically targeting Kyle Korver, and it worked beautifully. It set a tone.

If the Cavaliers do not defend better going forward it may not matter that LeBron and the offense started to click because they may not be able to just outscore Boston. These Celtics stick to their gameplan, are not going to make the mistakes of Indiana and Toronto, and are not going to back down from the moment.

In the playoffs, the Cavaliers’ defensive effort has been better, but their recognition and communication on that end was still lacking. Boston blew that up Sunday afternoon. They moved the ball and found the open man, with 27 assists on 43 made buckets.

Boston attacked the rim from the start, and their best defenders on LeBron had the best games on the other end — Jaylen Brown had 23 points, Marcus Morris had 21 points (and 10 assists), and Al Horford had 20.

Despite lacking the shotmaking of Kyrie Irving, the Celtics’ offense has been dialed in during the playoffs. The reason in part is knowing who is on the court, and the chance to follow a good game plan — the Celtics game-plan discipline is the best of any team in the playoffs this season.

“Through the regular season there was so much changes with our group, different injuries, things like that,” Horford said after the game. “Once we’ve been able to settle down and find what fits this group, that’s prompted us to be better offensively. Then you just got to give credit to coach (Brad Stevens), he’s making adjustments and is able to key in, whatever the matchup, and giving us those options to go out there.”

Boston’s offense did feed off the defense. That was especially evident in the 25-4 run that decided the game.

“On offense, we were taking good shots, really moving the ball, and really taking really good looks,” Horford said of the offense during that run. “That helped.”

Tyronn Lue has a lot of work to do before Game 2. Sunday was a wakeup call for the Cavaliers that it will take more than LeBron to carry them this round, and the Cavs need to knock down those open shots they missed in Game 1.

However, the bigger challenge will be coaxing a team that has not played quality team defense all season to start doing it now. If they can’t get better fast, LeBron may not be able to carry this team much further.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.