The first round of the NBA playoffs continues today with three pivotal Game 2s. Follow along here for the latest analysis and commentary from The Post’s NBA reporter Tim Bontemps, and ask him questions in the comments section.
• How are the Celtics up 2-0 in this series? Here’s how.
• The Wizards so far in these playoffs in a nutshell. (Warning: NSFWizards fans.)
• Washington did not start off on the right foot in Game 2 and gave up 44 first-quarter points to the Raptors.
Playoff Rondo does his thing in another upset for the Pelicans
Playoff Rondo is back — and the Portland Trail Blazers are in trouble.
The combination of 33 points and nine assists from Jrue Holiday, 22 points and 13 rebounds from Anthony Davis and 16 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists from Rajon Rondo lifted the New Orleans Pelicans to a 111-102 win over Portland, giving the Pelicans a 2-0 lead in their first round series.
Both games have been nip-and-tuck affairs, which should give Portland some hope as the series shifts to the Big Easy — as will the return of Maurice Harkless, who should replace Evan Turner in the starting lineup in Game 3 after coming off the bench in Game 2 in his return from knee surgery.
But losing the first two games on the road is a brutal spot to be in — and one Portland finds itself in after falling apart late Tuesday night.
Can Lillard take over the fourth? The Blazers need him to.
Damian Lillard is known for taking over games in the fourth quarter. He needs to tonight to keep Portland from falling into an 0-2 hole at home.
It’s been a rough night so far for Lillard, who has 11 points on 5-for-14 shooting to go with five turnovers. That’s on the heels of a subpar Game 1, as well — giving further credit to Jrue Holiday’s unbelievable series thus far.
Still, there are few players with the crunch time pedigree of Lillard. He’ll need to find that level in the fourth to get this done for Portland.
Pelicans are dominating the paint
It’s been a topsyturvy game so far in Portland, with New Orleans retaking the lead thanks to a 23-9 run to start the third.
Why? Dominance in the paint. New Orleans has outscored Portland 14-0 down low so far in the third quarter, which has flipped the game on its head.
It helps when Anthony Davis can soar above the defense and dunk on people’s head over and over again.
Portland has to start walling off the paint — and soon.
The Jrue Holiday Redemption Tour continues.
Following up his remarkable Game 1, Jrue Holiday already has 12 points in the first quarter — including a layup to end the quarter and give the Pelicans a two-point lead.
Holiday has been the difference so far in this series. If he continues to play this way, New Orleans is going to be very tough to beat.
The Boston Celtics beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 120-106, to take a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series. So let’s take a look at the two-game stat line for Terry Rozier — Kyrie Irving’s replacement in the starting lineup:
— 75 minutes played
— 46 points scored
— 15-for-32 shooting overall (7 for 14 from three)
— Nine assists
— Zero turnovers
Now, let’s look at his opposite number for Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe:
— 64 minutes
— 21 points scored
— 9-for-25 shooting (2 for 6 from three)
— Eight assists
— Six turnovers
Wondering why Boston is up 2-0 in this series? That, right there, is your answer.
How are the Bucks losing this game?
The Milwaukee Bucks are shooting 60.3 percent from the field and losing by 18.
How is that possible? The same reason Milwaukee lost Game 1 to Boston: offensive rebounds and turnovers.
The Celtics have nine offensive rebounds in Game 2 (they had 11 in Game 1), and have forced the Bucks into 15 turnovers that became 21 Boston points.
Boston, meanwhile, only has five turnovers that have become six Bucks points. Erase that 15-point edge for the Celtics and this is a toss-up game.
Milwaukee is allowing Boston to get easy offense, for a team that can’t really create offense on its own without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
And that’s why the Bucks will be down 0-2 in the series barring an epic comeback.
Expect Wizards to stay small moving forward
A spirited second half wasn’t enough to get the Wizards over the top in Toronto, as the Raptors won, 130-119, to take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series.
Expect the Wizards to stay small as the series shifts back to Washington for Game 3 on Friday night — given how much success they had doing so. John Wall, who had 29 points and nine assists, looked like a different player in the second half, while DeMar DeRozan had 37 points in 37 minutes to lead Toronto.
But given the odds that are stacked against Washington now, as teams that win the first two games at home go on to win the vast majority of the time, it may be too little, too late.
Wizards go small, and climb back into Game 2
In desperate straits coming out of halftime, Wizards Coach Scott Brooks opted to go small. And, in doing so, he’s gotten the Wizards back into a game that looked over.
Well, that and John Wall being ridiculous, anyway.
What once was a 22-point lead has been cut to, at one point, five in the fourth quarter in Toronto, and currently sits at 113-103 with seven minutes remaining. But even if Washington fails to complete this comeback — and the most likely outcome is that they do come up short — expect the Wizards to remain small moving forward in this series.
It’s given Wall so many more lanes to operate, and the difference has been notable.
Celtics don’t seem to be missing their injured stars
All season, the Boston Celtics have managed to win games despite missing star players. And, through six quarters in the playoffs, that trend looks like it might continue.
Boston leads 60-51 at halftime of Game 2 against the Milwaukee Bucks thanks to a combined 40 points from Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris on 15-for-27 shooting — including 6 for 11 from three-point range.
If those guys can keep producing like that, it won’t matter that rookie Jayson Tatum is having a no-show thus far (no points on 0 for 4 shooting so far).
Khris Middleton has another 10 points but on just five shots — Milwaukee needs more from him. And that better Eric Bledsoe performance that was needed? Yeah, not so much (four points, all in the opening minutes, on 2-for-6 shooting).
Where is Giannis’s help?
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been great.
The rest of the Bucks? Not so much.
Boston leads Milwaukee 33-22 after the first quarter, as the Celtics are getting far more from their complementary players than the Bucks are. After a huge opening game, Khris Middleton hasn’t taken a shot. Eric Bledsoe has four early points, but is a minus-8. And the Bucks already have seven turnovers — including three by Virginia graduate Malcolm Brogdon alone.
All in all, not the start Milwaukee needed
Those questions about the Toronto Raptors finally being able to carry over their regular season form to the playoffs?
Yeah, those have been answered. And then some.
Toronto leads Washington 76-58 at halftime, and it’s hard to see how the Raptors won’t go on to secure a 2-0 lead in their first-round series against the Wizards. This has been a truly comprehensive performance, destroying the Wizards from start to finish and erasing all doubts about whether they’d be able to carry over the best regular season in franchise history to the postseason.
The question now is whether Washington can do something to change the course of this game after an embarrassing first-half display.
Eric Bledsoe needs to be better for the Bucks to win
Eric Bledsoe’s first playoff start was a complete disaster — nine points on 4-for-12 shooting with four assists, five turnovers and six fouls — as Milwaukee lost a nip-and-tuck game in overtime to the Boston Celtics.
So as Bucks-Celtics gets set to tip off, how Bledsoe plays in Game 2 is, to me, the most important thing to watch.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was great in Game 1, and he will be the best player in this series. Al Horford was great in Game 1, and he will be the second-best player. For Milwaukee to win, though, it needs Bledsoe and Khris Middleton to outplay Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Middleton did in Game 1. Bledsoe very much did not. That needs to change for Milwaukee to even the series tonight.
Rookie OG Anunoby is a wing defender Toronto has been missing
The Toronto Raptors have been up-and-down in the playoffs over the past few years, and there has been one consistent element that they’ve lacked: a credible wing defender. Instead, Toronto’s third perimeter spot next to Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan has been a rotating cast of characters that has failed to produce a long-term answer.
That answer, though, may have finally arrived, in the form of rookie OG Anunoby. After tearing his ACL last year at Indiana, Anunoby dropped to the 23rd spot in the NBA draft but has since emerged as a credible starter as the team’s small forward.
The big question: Can he create enough offense to be a factor? So far in this game, he’s hit a three and four free throws to score seven points in six minutes. If he can continue giving that kind of production — or even just consistent offense in some form — during the playoffs, Toronto could finally have the kind of weapon it needs to at least somewhat slow down LeBron James.
In the first seven minutes of Raptors-Wizards we have seen:
— John Wall pick up two fouls.
— Ty Lawson, fresh off a stint in China, checking into the game.
— Marcin Gortat being turned into a traffic cone.
— Mike Scott checking into the game for him.
— Four different Raptors hitting three-pointers, and going 4 for 5 from three overall.
That’s how a team that desperately needs to win Game 2 after losing Game 1 finds itself trailing by 15 points in the first eight minutes.
The Draymond Green flagrant foul tracker is underway
OAKLAND, Calif. — Draymond Green was called for his first flagrant foul of the 2018 NBA playoffs Monday night when he caught Davis Bertans in the face with an elbow as the two were tied up for a rebound beneath the basket late in the fourth quarter of what became a 116-101 win for Green’s Golden State Warriors over the San Antonio Spurs.
But to hear Green tell it, Bertans was equally to blame.
“It is what it is,” Green said. “I didn’t even see the replay. I thought it was a little bit of a flop, I don’t even know if I hit him. But if I did — I’m not saying I didn’t, I don’t know — but if it’s going to be a flagrant foul, shouldn’t it be a double flagrant? I can just get grabbed around my neck?
“I’m not going to sit up here and say: ‘I did nothing.’ But I got to get someone off my neck though. If you’re going to penalize me, why not penalize both? That’s my thing.”
Whether Green has a point, here are the facts:
Bertans and the Spurs will likely be done by early next week, perhaps as soon as Game 4 Sunday in San Antonio. Whether Bertans gets a flagrant foul point is irrelevant.
Green, on the other hand, needs to be careful he doesn’t put himself in the same situation he did in 2016, when he was suspended for Game 5 of the NBA Finals after punching LeBron James in the privates during Game 4.
That play wasn’t what got Green suspended, though. It was the accumulation of four flagrant foul points over the course of the playoffs — a process that began with a completely unnecessary body slam of Michael Beasley at the end of Game 3 of Golden State’s first-round series against the Houston Rockets.
In a few weeks, if Golden State is dealing with a Green suspension during a pivotal game against either those same Rockets or Cavaliers, this will be the moment everyone comes back to — when Green lost his cool while battling for position in the post and caught Bertans in the face.
Green kept bringing up the possibility of the play getting rescinded — which would mean his flagrant foul point would go away with it.
“Nah, I don’t care,” Green said when asked about the flagrant foul count adding up over the playoffs. “It is what it is. Life goes on. More important things in life than worrying about a flagrant point.
“Maybe it’ll get rescinded. I got put in a chokehold like I was in WWE or something. So it may get rescinded. Who knows?”
Assuming it doesn’t, though, Green’s rush of blood to the head could be a small footnote in an otherwise rote victory for the Warriors Monday night that could wind up looming far larger down the road — just as it did in 2016.
- Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors, 7 p.m. (NBA TV, NBC Sports Washington Plus)
- Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics, 8 p.m. (TNT)
- New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers, 10:30 p.m. (TNT)
Hop into the comments section below to chat with The Post’s Tim Bontemps about all of your NBA questions.