The first round of the NBA playoffs continues today with four pivotal Game 4s. 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. Catch up on yesterday’s games here.
• John Wall wasn’t going to let the Wizards lose Game 4, and now the series is tied and headed back to Toronto
• Manu Ginobili scored 16 points off the bench, and the Spurs won’t be swept by the Warriors after all.
• It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t easy, but the Bucks survived Game 4 to tie up their series with the Celtics.
As the Cleveland Cavaliers saw their lead evaporate in the second half of Game 4 of their first-round series against the Indiana Pacers — just as it did in Game 3 — it looked like Cleveland’s season was about to be put on its deathbed.
But then LeBron James — with an assist from Kyle Korver — ensured that it didn’t.
Two driving layups from James, and two three-pointers from Korver (one assisted by James) powered a 10-2 Cleveland run late in the fourth quarter to give the Cavaliers the lead for good and allow them to escape from Bankers Life Fieldhouse by a score of 104-100.
“I think the one thing we did in Game 3, we lost our composure,” said James, who had 32 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. “We didn’t lose our composure [this time].”
At times, it looked like Cleveland was about to. The Cavaliers appeared to be going through the motions for large stretches of the second half. That included James, though he at least had an excuse given he never left the court after halftime for the second straight game.
But then, after Cleveland fell behind by two when Victor Oladipo made one of two free throws to make it 93-91 with 4:28 remaining, the Cavaliers flipped the game on its head.
After Oladipo — who had by far his worst game of the series, finishing with 17 points and five assists but going 5 for 20 from the field — missed a jumper that would’ve put Cleveland up four, Korver came off a screen to bury a three-pointer that put the Cavaliers ahead for good.
That was followed by a James layup. And then, after Oladipo made a jumper, Korver hit another three (assisted by James) and James made another layup to give Cleveland a six-point lead with 1:52 remaining that it would spend the rest of the game barely managing to salt away.
“We are a resilient bunch. It’s our 33rd starting lineup [this season], in the playoffs, in a must win. But our bench was phenomenal, came in and gave us a lift.”
The Cavaliers will now head back to Cleveland for Game 5 on Wednesday hoping to — finally — take control of this series.
“We’re a confident bunch,” James said. “We have to clean up some things.
“The good thing is we don’t play til Wednesday so we have time to clean up some things. But hopefully we come out in Game 5 a lot better than we did in Game 3.”
The final seconds of Game 4 of Cavaliers-Pacers were marred by a strange play involving Lance Stephenson and Jeff Green.
With the Cavaliers leading by three with 10 seconds remaining, the ball was inbounded to Green and Stephenson locked him up, trying to draw a jump ball.
Initially, it looked like Stephenson had gotten one when referee Pat Fraher signaled for it — and, with it, the chance to get the ball back and potentially tie the game.
But, after a replay review, it became a foul on Stephenson, and Green made one of two free throws to seal the 104-100 win for Cleveland.
So … what happened?
“You can see Kenny Mauer come in with his fist up,” Joe Borgia, the NBA’s senior vice president of officiating, said in an interview on TNT. “He had a foul on Stephenson with the headlock. They came to replay to see if there were any hostile acts that needed to be called.
“They did not have any personal foul except for the foul on Lance. That’s what they stayed with, the foul on Lance.”
It turned out another referee, Ken Mauer, had (correctly) called a foul — which is what should’ve happened in the first place, given Stephenson took down Green like he was a wrestler, as you can see for yourself here:
After the ultimate instigator has been going at James throughout the series, here in the fourth quarter of Game 4 Stephenson got back in James’s face as a timeout was called and he shoved Stephenson to the ground, resulting in a technical foul.
Later, Stephenson tied up James and, after getting a jump ball, held the ball aloft to the crowd.
Nobody plays wrestling heel in the NBA quite like Lance. It’s making a hugely consequential game that much more fun to watch.
Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue knows the importance of Game 4. And so, for the second game in a row of this first-round series, he isn’t taking LeBron James out of the game in the second half.
That didn’t do anything to stem the tide in Game 3. We’ll see if does in Game 4.
The third quarter hasn’t just been an issue the past two games for the Cleveland Cavaliers — it’s been one all season long.
Cleveland outscored its opponents by exactly six points in the third quarter this season, which left them right in the middle of the pack. Indiana, meanwhile, was fifth, outscoring its opponents by 111 points.
That is a regular season edge that’s carried over to the playoffs, as the Cavaliers have almost immediately blown double-digit halftime leads each of the past two games in Indiana.
“We’ve had horrible third quarters all season,” LeBron James told reporters Sunday morning. “If I could put my finger on it, we’d change it.
“So you just hope going into the next time, coming out of the break that you play better.”
That hasn’t been the case tonight.
Game 4 of Cavaliers-Pacers is turning out to be exactly like Game 3.
That’s not good for Cleveland.
A 10-2 run for Indiana to open the third quarter has all but erased Cleveland’s 10-point halftime lead and is putting the Cavaliers back in danger of going home trailing 3-1 in this series.
We’ll see if the response in Game 4 is different from Cleveland than the capitulation Game 3 turned into.
Myles Turner has played well in Game 4 for the Pacers. The rare points Indiana has gotten its offense going have come with Turner, who has 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and he’s athletic enough to provide some level of rim protection when he’s going right for the Pacers.
But Turner had to head to the bench for his third foul late in the second quarter with Indiana trailing by nine — and that gap soon increased to 15. That was the case, at least, until Lance Stephenson forced a turnover and scored, and Victor Oladipo banked in a bomb from three-point range.
That allowed the Pacers to get to halftime trailing 60-50 — six points closer than they were in Game 3.
LeBron James has been able to drive into the paint time and again and has 23 points on 8-for-11 shooting with 7 for 7 from the line, as well.
The fact Cleveland is winning by 10 while going 5 for 17 from three is encouraging for the Cavaliers, as well. The same goes for Cleveland having Love basically be invisible in the first half because of foul trouble.
Turner leads the Pacers with 12 points, while Oladipo has 10.
So far, Game 4 of Cavaliers-Pacers looks eerily similar to Game 3.
The Cleveland Cavaliers showed up in matching outfits, as they did in Game 3. And, at least so far, Cleveland’s supporting cast around LeBron James has showed up.
Eight of the 10 players who have seen time so far for the Cavaliers have scored (though it is notable one of the two that hasn’t is Kevin Love, who so far has taken just one shot). Indiana, meanwhile, has given the ball away repeatedly — five turnovers have become 10 points for the Cavaliers — and is only in the game because of a hot start from three-point range.
They don’t call J.R. Smith “Swish” for nothing!
Here he is from 70 feet to give the Cavaliers a 30-24 lead after one:
The Washington Wizards were in trouble. They lost half their all-star backcourt, Bradley Beal, when he fouled out with five minutes to go. At the time, he’d been the only player doing anything for them offensively.
But then he got picked up by John Wall, the other half of that all-star backcourt. And with Washington’s season on the line, Wall didn’t let the Wizards lose.
Wall scored or assisted on Washington’s final four baskets, finishing with 27 points, 14 assists and three steals as he led the Wizards on a game-closing 14-4 run that allowed them to claim a 106-96 victory that evened this series at two games apiece.
After spending all season espousing they were going to play differently when they got to the playoffs, the Raptors collapsed down the stretch, reverting to their old ball-stopping style with poor results.
Now the series will shift back to Toronto for Game 5 on Wednesday, where all of the pressure will be on the Raptors — and the Wizards will have a chance to take control of this series.
Bradley Beal was understandably heated after he fouled out with 4:58 remaining in a tie game on a questionable call — to say the least — when DeMar DeRozan fell into Beal chasing after a loose ball.
It was, without question, a horrendous call, and one that could decide this game. That said, Beal put himself in this position with bad decisions in picking up both his fourth foul in the third quarter and his fifth earlier in the fourth on plays he easily could have avoided picking up a foul on.
But Beal didn’t, and that put himself at the mercy of the referees in the game’s final minutes. That cost him, and the Wizards. Now we’ll see if it costs them the game.
Twelve minutes to decide how this series, and the season, will go.
That’s what the fourth quarter of Game 4 means for the Washington Wizards. Win and they go back to Toronto for Game 5 with the series knotted at two wins apiece. Lose, and their season is all but over.
Washington fought back with a 40-point third quarter — one capped by a ridiculous Mike Scott runner at the buzzer — to tie the game at 80 heading to the fourth. Bradley Beal should be back to start the fourth after missing the final few minutes of the third after picking up a bad fourth foul. The Wizards will need him to stay as hot as he was before sitting.
A potential turning point: Bradley Beal committing a very ill-advised, and completely avoidable, fourth foul just as he’s getting hot.
Wizards Coach Scott Brooks sent him to the bench, which isn’t exactly the worst decision given there have been a lot of touch calls in this game, and Beal was going to need a break anyway. Now, with the final four minutes of the third quarter for rest, Beal can theoretically come back for the entire fourth quarter.
How Washington fares without him, though, could decide this game.
For much of the first half, the Toronto Raptors looked firmly in control of Game 4.
The third quarter, however, has been all Washington Wizards.
A quick 11-2 run has erased almost all of Toronto’s 11-point halftime lead and has the Wizards within two early in the third quarter. More importantly, all 16 of Washington’s second-half points have been split by Otto Porter and Bradley Beal.
The Wizards need all three of their perimeter players to get going in this series if they’re going to beat the Raptors. Porter has been quiet so far in this series, leading some to wonder (including me) if he got hurt when it looked like he injured his right ankle/foot early in Game 1. Beal, meanwhile, is now tied with DeMar DeRozan with a game-high 17 points.
Meanwhile, in non-suit news, Jose Calderon is starting for Cleveland in Game 4 because George Hill is out with a back issue. Not exactly the kind of news Cleveland needs as it tries to climb out of the 2-1 hole it finds itself in against the Indiana Pacers.
Well, the whole “Let’s wear the same outfit” thing worked for a half for the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3. Perhaps trying it again will result in a full game’s worth of play in Game 4?
As ESPN’s Dave McMenamin notes here, the Cavaliers are back in matching suits for Game 4 — black this time, after grey for Game 3.
We’ll see if it has different results.
The Toronto Raptors ended the first quarter of Game 4 up eight — a margin created largely because of DeMar DeRozan’s ability to get to the foul line.
DeRozan has already taken 12 free throws, and the Raptors 16 as a team. Washington, on the other hand, has only taken four.
With a quick whistle throughout for both sides, foul trouble has already set in. Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas both have two for Toronto, while Markieff Morris and Mike Scott each have two for Washington.
Potential turning point in this game: two fouls on Kyle Lowry halfway through the first quarter.
This is another instance where the loss of Fred Van Vleet looms large for Toronto. Van Vleet was the head of the snake for Toronto’s bench unit — by far the NBA’s best — this season, and his absence has been notable through the first three games.
Toronto still has plenty of depth to lean on, but how it absorbs these minutes without Lowry will be telling.
John Schuhmann, the stats maven for NBA.com, with a tweet that highlights how this game has gone for the Washington Wizards thus far:
Washington has gotten back into the game after a poor start, but needs to both get out in transition and start knocking down some of the open looks from the perimeter it is getting.
Want to know why the Toronto Raptors are off to a strong start in Game 4 against the Wizards? Scoring in transition.
That was the difference in Game 3 in Washington’s favor, as the Wizards were able to get out and run in ways they didn’t early on in this series. But to start Game 4, the advantage has swung all the way back in Toronto’s favor.
The Raptors have already scored 11 fast break points, while the Wizards have scored none. If that trend doesn’t change for Washington, it’s going to be tough to win this game.
The Washington Wizards are off to a bad start in Game 4, much like they were in losses to the Toronto Raptors in Games 1 and 2 of this series.
But at least the Wizards have one of the highlights of the day so far: this emphatic slam by John Wall.
If it doesn’t, it was fitting that what may have been his last shot in San Antonio was a three-pointer to salt away a game.
Ginobili scored 16 points off the bench, including 10 of San Antonio’s last 15 points of the game, to give the Spurs a 103-90 win over the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of their first-round series, ensuring the Spurs would not be swept and extending the series to a Game 5 on Tuesday back in Oakland.
“We are not a team that needs anybody to carry us,” Ginobili said in a postgame television interview. “We need team play. We need to help each other.
“If we are going to play one-on-one against them, we will go nowhere. We made shots but it was a team win.”
This was a game reminiscent of how the Warriors handled the preseason. They looked disinterested in the first half, throwing the ball around the gym and putting themselves in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
San Antonio, meanwhile, went 15 for 28 from three after they couldn’t make a shot from deep during the first three games of the series. It was a fitting tribute to Gregg Popovich, who missed his second straight game while grieving the death of his wife, Erin, on Wednesday.
“It’s a challenge,” Ginobili said of playing without the only coach he’s ever had. “We’ve never been through this. our leader is struggling so we are trying to respond and play was if he was here. I hope he keeps pushing us from home.”
Ginobili is a beloved figure around the league. His Euro-step has been copied by virtually every star in the NBA. He’s never had an issue with any player, friend or foe. Like another aging icon, Dirk Nowitzki, performances like the one Ginobili had Sunday draw plaudits from everyone.
That includes from his opponents, like Warriors Coach Steve Kerr — though Kerr is admittedly biased, having played with Ginobili in San Antonio.
“He should come back two more years,” Kerr said with a smile. “I smiled when he made that corner three right in front of us at the end of the game.
“So typical Manu … 41 years old and 16 points and hits the clinching three.
“He’s Manu. That’s what he does.”
The story of the first half of Game 4 between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs is pretty straight forward: The San Antonio Spurs have made threes, and the Golden State Warriors have turned the ball over.
San Antonio is 7 for 15 from three in the first half, while the Warriors have committed 11 turnovers that have become 13 Spurs points. Combine those 13 points with San Antonio’s nine-point advantage in threes made, and that plus-22 margin was what allowed the Spurs to go into halftime leading 56-42.
The opening minutes of the third quarter, though, look like a different game. Golden State has immediately scored five points, forcing a timeout form San Antonio interim coach Ettore Messina, to pull back within nine at the 10-minute mark.
Even if Golden State is engaged, though, the Spurs still have a chance to remain in control of this game. Doing so, though, will require typical non-shooters like Dejounte Murray — who is 3 for 3 from three thus far — to keep making shots they normally don’t.
As it has been throughout this series, though, this is about the Warriors — not their opponent.
It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t easy. But, after blowing a 20-point lead, the Milwaukee Bucks managed to survive and tie up their best-of-seven series at two games apiece with a 104-102 victory over the Boston Celtics Sunday afternoon.
A tip-in by Giannis Antetokounmpo of a Malcolm Brogdon miss with 5.1 seconds left proved to be the difference in a game where the Bucks dominated for long stretches, only to nearly give it away in the final minutes with an indifferent second half.
“This win is amazing,” Antetkounmpo said in the TV interview afterward. “Even when they came back, we still moved the ball, we still executed, we stayed disciplined, and that was the difference in this game.”
It probably isn’t right to say it’s quite that simple, as the Bucks didn’t look all that disciplined as Boston roared back into the game thanks to 34 points from Jaylen Brown on 5-for-8 three-point shooting, and 21 points from Jayson Tatum — including a jumper with 52.4 seconds left that made it 100-99 in favor of Boston.
But after Antetokounmpo missed a layup, the Celtics had a chance to break out for a layup to take a three-point lead. But Brown was stripped by Khris Middleton, who had 23 points in his latest outstanding game for the Bucks, leading to a Brogdon three-pointer from the corner to retake the lead for Milwaukee.
A pair of free throws from Al Horford tied the game at 102, before Antetokounmpo’s tip-in gave Milwaukee the win. Marcus Morris had a chance to tie the game, but his jumper clanged off the rim, and the Bucks found themselves back in the series.
They are in large part because of Thon Maker’s impact off the bench. He had five blocks for the second straight game, and changed the tenor of the series with his introduction in Game 3.
“Unbelievable,” Antetokounmpo said. “He’s the reason this series changed. He’s playing hard, he’s making the right plays, he’s knocking down shots. He’s playing at a high level right now.”
This is why Giannis Antetokounmpo is arguably the game’s most unique player: 7-feet tall, has the ball on the perimeter, and just drives to the rim and hammers one on one of the league’s best interior defenders in Al Horford.
Plus, the mean mug at the end to boot!
I’ve written a few times during this Bucks series that the outcome will be decided by who plays better among the supporting players in the series behind Milwaukee’s Giannis Anteteokounmpo and Boston’s Al Horford.
Khris Middleton and Jaylen Brown have both been excellent in Game 4, but everyone else? Not so much. Eric Bledsoe, who was wretched in Games 1 and 2 before playing well in Game 3, has been awful again. Terry Rozier has forgotten how to play the past two games. Marcus Morris is 4-for-12.
This game could come down to a very unlikely matchup: Thon Maker vs. Jayson Tatum. Maker has made an impact off the bench for a second straight game, while Tatum has 16 points on 5-for-12 shooting.
The Boston Celtics needed someone to breathe some life into them after a lackluster first half.
Jaylen Brown has done just that.
A three-pointer from Brown — his fourth of the game — has him up to 27 points now early in the fourth quarter, and has the Celtics all the way back to within three after trailing by as many as 20 in the third quarter.
The Milwaukee Bucks have once again gotten nothing from Eric Bledsoe, who has two points and is 1-for-6, but the second half has been much more about Brown — and, to a lesser extent, rookie Jayson Tatum, who has 16 points.
The Milwaukee Bucks dominated the final 17 minutes of the first half with Tyler Zeller on the bench.
So what do the Bucks do? Start Zeller in the second half!
Perhaps it will work out anyway for Milwaukee — the Bucks have been far superior to the Boston Celtics in this game — but this is no the optimal way to play. Milwaukee should be starting Thon Maker at center, and then playing either he or Giannis Antetokounmpo at center for 48 minutes.
That allows for the Bucks to have as much spacing as possible on the court, which they desperately need, and deploys their best lineups for the duration of the game. It’s something they need to consider going forward.
It is rare that the “WIRED” segments during NBA games offer any real insights into what the coaches are thinking. Late in the second quarter, though, the clip of Boston Celtics Coach Brad Stevens talking to his team was instructive as to why the Milwaukee Bucks have built a big lead in the first half of Game 4.
“When we’re on offense the ball is sticking too much. We are ISO-ing too much,” Celtics Coach Brad Stevens said. “We outplayed them til the end of the first quarter, when we lost our minds.”
Starting in Game 3, the Milwaukee Bucks changed their defensive scheme to switch just about everything, and to pressure up on Boston’s perimeter players more. The result has been that the Celtics have short-circuited on offense (other than Jaylen Brown, who scored 15 first-half points), allowing Milwaukee to get out and run in transition and put multiple possessions together as the Bucks have built a 51-35 halftime lead.
After Boston struggled in Game 3, the Celtics are shooting 30 percent overall and 20 percent from three at halftime of Game 4. Some of this is that role players are struggling away from home — like Terry Rozier (1-for-7), Jayson Tatum (1-for-5) and Marcus Morris (2-for-8). But some of it, too, is Milwaukee forcing Boston’s players to do more than they’re comfortable.
That, as Stevens said, is causing them to lose their minds. As a result, Boston looks like it’s going to lose this game, and have this series go back to Boston tied up at two games apiece.
The Boston Celtics would’ve expected to win every stretch Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo spent on the bench in this series.
That’s why Boston getting outscored 14-5 in his time on the bench in the first half is such a problem for the Celtics. With so much firepower sidelined, Boston needs to out-execute the Bucks, and take advantage of their foibles — which will usually be intensified when Antetokounmpo is on the bench.
The opposite happened in Game 4, though — which is why the Celtics find themselves trailing by double-digits in the second quarter.
The Boston Celtics are considered to be the deeper team in their series with the Milwaukee Bucks — even without players like Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis.
But it is the Bucks’ bench that dominated the latter half of the first quarter, and led Milwaukee to a seven-point lead after one.
Jabari Parker followed up his impressive Game 3 with five quick points in Game 4, and has played better defensively than I’ve ever seen him. Thon Maker has done the same. Matthew Dellavedova stole an attempt by Boston to roll the ball up the court with a second to go in the first and flipped the ball in for a backbreaking bucket to end the first.
With two three-pointers to open the second quarter, it’s now a 25-5 run for the Bucks and a 13-point lead, and the Celtics quickly find themselves in trouble in Game 4.
The Milwaukee Bucks looked like a completely different team in Game 3 of their series with the Boston Celtics on Friday night. Part of that was because the series shifted back to Milwaukee, and role players generally play better at home (and worse on the road, as Boston experienced).
But part of it also was specific things that changed for the Bucks. Some were obvious, like Eric Bledsoe remembering he was a quality NBA player, and playing like it. But there also were more subtle adjustments. Milwaukee switched defensively for a majority of the game, negating much of Boston’s ball movement and forcing some of the team’s limited creators to muster offense on their own. They failed.
An injury to John Henson meant extended minutes for Thon Maker, who was lights out — much like he was last year in the playoffs as a rookie. With the ability to both space the floor (three three-pointers) and protect the rim (five blocked shots), he should continue to get big minutes in Game 4 to see whether he can repeat that performance.
And, finally, Milwaukee hoisted 33 three-pointers — a trend they’d be wise to continue again in Game 4, as well.
The formula for how to beat this Boston team is sitting there for the Bucks to take advantage of. They did in Game 3.
- Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks (Celtics lead 2-1); 1 p.m., ABC
- Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs (Warriors lead 3-0); 3:30 p.m., ABC
- Toronto Raptors at Washington Wizards (Raptors lead 2-1); 6 p.m., TNT
- Cleveland Cavaliers at Indiana Pacers (Pacers lead 2-1); 8:30 p.m., TNT
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