The first round of the NBA playoffs continued Wednesday with three pivotal Game 2s. The Post’s NBA reporter Tim Bontemps, and ask him questions in the comments section. Catch up on last night’s games here.
• The Rockets outshot the T-Wolves at a record pace in a lopsided Game 2 win
• It wasn’t easy, but Cleveland is back to even with in their first-round series.
I picked the Houston Rockets to sweep the Minnesota Timberwolves. The biggest reason why? Minnesota’s inability to solve the math problem of relying on twos while Houston relies on threes.
But I never would’ve guessed it would’ve been as lopsided as it was in Game 2, a game the Rockets won, 102-82, to take a 2-0 lead in this series. In fact, it was so lopsided the Rockets set an NBA record for the gap between opponents three-point attempts in a playoff game.
The Rockets went 16 for 52 from three-point range, while the Timberwolves went 5 for 17. That 34-attempt difference set an NBA record — one that had stood since the Golden State Warriors took 39 to eight by the Utah Jazz in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals on May 13, 2007.
Utah won that game by 14. Houston won this game by 20.
No other playoff game in NBA history has had one team take more than 26 threes than their opponent.
That could change as this series wears on, as the Timberwolves don’t take many threes — and the Rockets take tons of them. If Wednesday night is any indication, though, there will be only two more games in which it could happen.
Even more dispiriting for Minnesota is that James Harden, who was sensational in Game 1, was awful in Game 2. He was picked up by his fellow superstar guard, Chris Paul, who had been awful himself in Game 1 but responded by scoring 27 points in Game 2 to go with eight assists, three steals and just one turnover.
Minnesota will now host its first playoff game in 14 years Saturday night with its season on the line. A loss in that game, and this series is all but over.
In Game 1, James Harden was the only player on the Houston Rockets who played well. In Game 2, he’s the only player on the Rockets who has played badly.
The result looks like it will be the same.
Harden is just 2 for 17 through three quarters — including 1 for 9 from three — but the Rockets are holding an 80-58 lead after three quarters.
That’s because the rest of the Rockets are 12 for 33 from three-point range — including Gerald Green going 5 for 9 — while Minnesota is just 2 for 12 from three-point range. That, along with 14 Timberwolves turnovers, likely has doomed Minnesota to a 2-0 deficit headed back to Minneapolis for the first playoff game there in 14 years.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were up 22-13 late in the first quarter, and it looked like Game 2 of their first round-series with the Houston Rockets had a chance to be the same kind of nip-and-tuck affair that Game 1 turned out to be.
Then the Rockets woke up. And, before long, things got out of hand.
Houston, which started the game 1 for 8 from three-point range, finished the half going 7 for 17 from behind the arc. That powered a 42-18 run to close the half and allowed the Rockets to take a 55-40 halftime lead.
The Wolves were always going to have trouble making the math work in this series. The first half of this game — with Houston going 8 for 25 and Minnesota going 2 for 9 from three — was emblematic of that.
Scoring 20 of Utah’s final 36 points — seven in a row in the final minute of the third quarter, and then 13 in the fourth — as well as assisting in Ricky Rubio’s three-pointer with 4:02 remaining in the fourth that put the Jazz ahead for good, Mitchell carried Utah to a 102-95 victory in Game 2 that evens this best-of-seven series at a game apiece, as Oklahoma City’s stars couldn’t get it done in the fourth.
But don’t ask Mitchell about his individual performance.
“The biggest thing for us [was] Derrick Favors played his ass off,” Mitchell said when asked on the court after the game.
On a follow-up question about him being more aggressive in the second half, Mitchell said he got in his head a bit in the first half and needed to get back to how he put himself in a neck-and-neck race with Ben Simmons for rookie of the year honors.
“I noticed I was just settling letting them off the hook. I had to apply pressure and get to the basket,” Mitchell said. “I got away from that in the first half but had to get back ot that in the second half.”
Mitchell did just that, and the Jazz have tied this series 1-1.
On the other hand, Oklahoma City’s stars, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, combined to score just two points in the fourth quarter (by Westbrook) and missed all 14 shots they took as Utah outscored Oklahoma City 28-16 to swing the series back to even.
It looked like the Oklahoma City Thunder might be about to run away with Game 2 — and this series — with a 19-0 third-quarter run.
The Utah Jazz, however, had other ideas.
An 18-3 run has swung the game back in the other direction, with Utah re-taking a two-point lead with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter. And it is Donovan Mitchell — who was struggling earlier in the game — who has powered it with 14 points since the final minute of the third quarter.
This should be a wild finish in Oklahoma City, as the Thunder hope to make a 2-0 lead and the Jazz try to tie the series at one game apiece.
A 19-0 Thunder run — 15 points of which were scored by the team’s three stars, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George — allowed Oklahoma City to regain control going into the fourth, as it hopes to take a 2-0 lead in this best-of-7 series.
Donovan Mitchell did his best to keep Utah in the game by scoring seven points in the final 54.4 seconds of the third – including a huge dunk in the quarter’s waning seconds. But he’s now 6 for 16 in the game, and it’s fair to wonder if the left foot contusion he was dealing with from Game 1 is bothering him.
Utah will need more of that final burst from Mitchell to flip this game back around and take it back to Salt Lake City with a split.
Cleveland survived, winning, 100-97, after Victor Oladipo missed a potential game-tying three-pointer with 28 seconds left.
“We got lucky,” LeBron James said afterward. “We gave up a wide open three to Oladipo, and he missed it.
“We have to do a better job late in games instead of getting lucky somebody misses a shot they should make.”
James was sensational, scoring 46 points to go with 12 rebounds and five assists. But he got emotional when asked about the passing of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, which was announced during Cleveland’s game.
“Obviously I’m a huge Pop fan,” James said. “I love Pop. That’s such a tragedy. My best wishes go out to Pop and his family. I know that’s devastating news … holy.
“It’s a lot. The NBA family, we stick together. We compete every night, but something like this we stick together. I know the man above never makes a mistake, even when sometimes you have to ask why, but that’s just terrible news … my best of luck to pop and everyone to San Antonio and the Spurs family.”
James, who could be playing for Popovich in Tokyo in the 2020 Olympic Games and is close with the Spurs coach, had to catch himself more than once as he gave his answer.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers will wait to find out the severity of Kevin Love’s left hand injury — the same one he broke a bone in back in February that caused him to miss six weeks — after he injured it trying to deflect an Oladipo pass in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game.
Oladipo, who sat much of the first half with foul trouble, finished with 22 points in 28 minutes to lead the Pacers. He was plus-11 when he was on the court … and didn’t pick up a foul in the second half.
Needless to say, Pacers Coach Nate McMillan’s decision to sit Oladipo with two fouls 62 seconds into the game, and for the final 4:47 of the first half with three, will loom large after this one.
Cleveland is hanging on to a slim four-point lead over the Indiana Pacers, but all eyes are on Kevin Love and his left hand.
Love appeared to have his thumb bend in an awkward direction trying to stop a Victor Oladipo pass, and immediately had to go to the bench, where trainers were looking at it. It was the same hand that Love broke back in February, which caused him to miss six weeks.
If Cleveland loses Love for any length of time, what has been a rockier start to the playoffs than anticipated could suddenly become far, far worse.
Game 2 of Jazz-Thunder is going in a similar way that Game 1 did: with Oklahoma City’s Big Three carrying the day for the Thunder.
The difference is that, at least through one half, Utah’s balanced attack has been more successful.
The Jazz are winning 53-46 at the break, with 12 points, five rebounds and five assists from Ricky Rubio, 10 points and eight rebounds for Derrick Favors, and eight points each from Donovan Mitchell and Jonas Jerebko.
Oklahoma City, meanwhile, has 31 points from Russell Westbrook (10), Carmelo Anthony (10) and Paul George (11).
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers both rested their stars — LeBron James and Victor Oladipo — to start the fourth quarter.
Neither team could take advantage of it.
Each team scored nine points at the start of the fourth quarter to keep Cleveland’s lead at seven points. Pacers Coach Nate McMillan called a timeout with 8:50 remaining in the fourth, and likely will bring Oladipo back here. Seems safe to assume his counterpart for the Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue, will do the same with James here.
Just about everything has gone right in Game 2 for the Cavaliers. Cleveland has already made more three-pointers (10) than it did in all of Game 1 (eight). LeBron James has gone bonkers, scoring 35 points on 14-for-19 shooting. Victor Oladipo has been mired in foul trouble, and Indiana has gone just 3 for 16 from three after hot shooting from deep in Game 1.
And, despite all of that, it’s just a seven-point game after three in Cleveland.
Will the Cavaliers hang on here? Most likely. Oladipo is going to have to get some kind of a breather here in the second half, and Cleveland should close strong. But given how many things have gone in the Cavaliers’ favor in this one, it should be disconcerting for a Cavaliers fan to have the game be this close.
The Utah Jazz have a 26-25 lead after one in Oklahoma City, and that’s thanks to a balanced attack and offensive rebounding.
Four players on the Jazz have already scored multiple baskets for Utah — including Derrick Favors, who has nine points and seven rebounds already – including five (!!!) offensive boards.
The Jazz are just 1 for 6 from three, but have a ridiculous 22 points in the paint thus far. Oklahoma City, on the other hand, has again been hot from three (5 for 10), but has a ridiculous eight turnovers that have become 10 points for Utah.
The Indiana Pacers were outscored by nine points with Oladipo stuck on the bench with two fouls in the first quarter. They were outscored by six points with Oladipo stuck on the bench with three fouls in the third.
Those 15 points will very likely be the difference in a game that, when Oladipo has been on the court, Indiana has been quite competitive in — yet trails by 12 at halftime, 58-46.
The other thing to watch tonight in Cleveland: Does LeBron James take a run at Michael Jordan’s all-time playoff single-game scoring record? It’s unlikely — but possible — after he scored 29 points in the first half.
James’s playoff scoring record, though, is very much within reach: 49 points.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell was questionable to play in Game 2 with a foot contusion, but he’s on the court to begin the game in Oklahoma City — one the Jazz need to win if they want to stay in this series.
For the second straight game, the Jazz are off to a terrific start, taking a 9-0 lead in the opening minutes of Game 2. But remember: after the Jazz took a 16-4 lead in Game 1, Oklahoma City roared back into the game with a huge run of its own, and eventually went on to win.
With a great home crowd, expect the Thunder to make a run again here.
Victor Oladipo up to three fouls already.
Nate McMillan has twice had a chance to leave Victor Oladipo in the game with foul trouble.
Twice, he’s chosen not to.
After Oladipo was caught in the air by Kevin Love, who leapt into him and drew his third foul with 4:47 to go in the second quarter, McMillan opted to send Oladipo to the bench — just as he did when Oladipo picked up a pair of fouls 62 seconds into the game.
Perhaps Indiana will be able to survive this and make this a game. But for a team that already has trouble scoring, the more time it leaves itself without one of its best players, the more trouble it’s going to find itself in.
Forty-eight minutes in an NBA game is truly an eternity.
We’ve seen countless early leads evaporate as the game goes along, and the losing team makes a run to make things interesting.
When one of the teams involved is the Cleveland Cavaliers, though, that can be guaranteed to happen.
So it comes as little surprise that the Indiana Pacers have been able to make this game interesting in the second quarter. The reintroduction of Victor Oladipo, shockingly, has seen Indiana begin hitting shots again. And with LeBron James on the bench for the first few minutes of the second quarter, it was even less surprising that Oladipo was able to lead the Pacers back into this game.
The question, though, is if Indiana had to use up too much energy making a game of this again to prevent Cleveland from blowing it back open here over the latter stages of the first half.
Cavaliers are hitting three again.
In Game 1, Cleveland — the team that made the third-most three-pointers per game of any team in the NBA this season — went just 8 for 34 from deep. Indiana, on the other hand — the team that made the 25th most three-pointers per game this season — shot 11 for 28.
That was always likely to regress back to the mean. And, in the first quarter of Game 2, it did.
Indiana only got off two three-point attempts — and missed both. Cleveland, meanwhile, went 5 for 10 from three, with four different players making one (and LeBron James making 2 of 4 on his way to 20 points).
If the Pacers can’t start making more baskets from three, the math equation just isn’t going to work in Indiana’s favor.
Nate McMillan has opted to leave Victor Oladipo on the bench here after the Pacers have gone from down six to down 16 early in Game 2 thanks to an avalanche of baskets from LeBron James.
Oladipo has two fouls, yes. But Oladipo also has fouled out of exactly one game in his five seasons in the NBA. The chances of him fouling out of this game, even with the early calls against him, are low.
So are the chances of the Pacers winning this game now that McMillan has left him on the bench while James has gone nuclear to start this game. Indiana has trouble scoring normally — let alone with their only true creator stuck on the bench.
The longer he stays there, the worse Indiana’s chances of winning become.
Not the best start if you’re Indiana.
So in the first 78 seconds of Cavaliers-Pacers, we have:
– LeBron James scoring six points on three baskets.
– Victor Oladipo being called for a backcourt violation.
– Victor Oladipo being called for a charge.
– Victor Oladipo being called for a second foul and going to the bench 62 seconds into the game.
Let’s just say that wasn’t the start the Pacers were looking for.
The starting lineup that was supposed to last for the entirety of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ run through the playoffs lasted for all of one game.
After the Cavaliers were routed by the Indiana Pacers in the opening game of their first-round series, Coach Tyronn Lue leaned into his team’s strengths — offense, and specifically shooting the three — and began Game 2 on Wednesday night with a starting five of George Hill, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, LeBron James and Kevin Love.
That should be a devastating offensive attack, with four premium three-point shooters surrounding James. Cleveland needs to get its outside shot back on track after going 8 for 34 from behind the arc in Game 1, and this should do the trick.
What it won’t do, though, is allow the Cavs to play much defense. Truth is, though, Cleveland doesn’t have much of a chance to stop anyone, anyway. It’s going to have to score to win — and this lineup should give it a chance to score a lot.
LeBron James finds himself in an unusual position: down 0-1 in a first-round playoff series.
Before the Cleveland Cavaliers were blown out in Game 1 by the Indiana Pacers, James had won 21 straight first round playoff games — going all the way back to Game 4 of the Miami Heat’s series against the New York Knicks in 2012. The Cavaliers have gone 36-5 over the past three seasons in the Eastern Conference since James returned to Northeast Ohio in 2014.
Now, though, Cleveland heads into Wednesday night’s Game 2 against Indiana with the very real possibility of going down 0-2 in the series staring the Cavaliers in the face — a moment James said shouldn’t be surprising that it has arrived, given how turbulent Cleveland’s season has been.
“I think we spent so much time trying to figure out who we were in the regular season and getting the right lineups and guys in and out and things of that nature, we could never build for the playoffs. It was kind of like, build for the next game,” James told reporters Wednesday morning. “So the postseason finally hit us and it hit us very well. And I think that can be the best teacher for us to know exactly what we should be ready for tonight.”
The Cavaliers need to be ready, or their season could be in jeopardy. Indiana has gone 4-1 now against Cleveland this season, and former DeMatha star Victor Oladipo is playing at an all-NBA level.
It’s unlikely the Pacers will shoot 11 for 28 from three again (they were 25th in the NBA in three-pointers made this season), just as it is unlikely the Cavaliers will shoot 8 for 34 (they were third). But it will take more than shooting regressing to the mean for Cleveland to look better than it did in Sunday’s lackluster performance.
And, if it doesn’t, the Cavaliers might have far less time to build than James, or anyone else, could’ve expected.
- Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers, 7 p.m. (TNT)
- Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder, 8 p.m. (NBA TV)
- Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets, 9:30 p.m. (TNT)
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