The Boston Celtics hosted the Milwaukee Bucks for Game 7, while the Warriors and Pelicans kicked off the second-round in Oakland. 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 with Friday night’s results here.
Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr signaled his intentions for the way these playoffs will go from here with his starting lineup for Game 1 of this Western Conference semifinal against the New Orleans Pelicans.
No, in the future no one is going to remember Nick Young was the fifth member of Golden State’s starting five. But by going small right from the start – and in preparation for Stephen Curry’s return to the court in either Game 2 or Game 3 of this series, Kerr sent an unmistakable message: Golden State was done messing around.
For much of this season, Golden State did mess around. It’s why people started doubting the Warriors were going to win the championship, and why they questioned if they were even still the favorite to emerge from the Western Conference. Sure, the Houston Rockets had a remarkable season, and are clearly the second-best team in the NBA.
But no team can match the Warriors when they are playing with purpose and focus. New Orleans learned that the hard way Saturday night.
The final score was 123-101, but this game was actually over at halftime, after Golden State went on a 25-2 run over the latter half of the second quarter. A one-point game after one quarter had become a 21-point game after two – and that was with Curry still watching from the bench in street clothes.
In Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the Warriors have three of the best 15 or so players in the world, even without Curry. And when they play like they did Saturday night – with Durant putting up 26 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two blocks; Green going for 16 points, 15 rebounds, 11 assists, three steals and two blocks; and Thompson 27 points, six rebounds and two blocks – there isn’t a team in the league that can hang with them.
The Pelicans dictated the terms of engagement in their four-game sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers, but Golden State is Portland on steroids. Curry and Thompson are a better version of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum – and that’s before adding in the likes of Durant, Green and Andre Iguodala, all of whom are better than the third best player on Portland.
The Warriors can dominate on both ends of the court. The reason New Orleans struggled in this game is, unlike against the Trail Blazers, the Warriors were able to stop its top offensive threats. Golden State came into this series knowing Nikola Mirotic was the X-factor; stop him, and New Orleans wasn’t going to have enough scoring to hang with the Warriors.
So the Warriors stuck Iguodala on him, and Mirotic disappeared, putting up nine points on 3-for-9 shooting. Jrue Holiday, who had a terrific series against Portland, had 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting. Even Davis played below his usual extremely high standards, finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots in 33 minutes.
Now Golden State prepares to get Curry back – likely in Game 2, but no later than Game 3 – and has a clear game plan to take out the Pelicans quickly that will be difficult for New Orleans to counter. More than anything, though, the Warriors simply had to play with the kind of effort and execution they did not all season long.
Kerr’s starting lineup signaled that would be the case. His players then reminded everyone why they are the defending champions. If they stay healthy and locked in like this, good luck stopping them from repeating.
Some nights, it just isn’t your night.
Tonight’s example for the New Orleans Pelicans: this clown show of a possession for the Golden State Warriors that somehow resulted in an Andre Iguodala and-one layup.
The Golden State Warriors led by one point after the first quarter.
They lead by 21 points after two.
A 24-2 run late in the second propelled the Warriors to a 76-55 halftime lead — one that would’ve been 24 points had Darius Miller not thrown in a 75-foot bomb to end the half.
The Pelicans tried to push the pace with the Warriors in the first half, and while they hung around for a quarter, Golden State got some open air space in the second and didn’t look back. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson both have 18 points for the Warriors, while Draymond Green has 12.
Anthony Davis is the only player in double-figures for the Pelicans with 12 points, but there is a worry about his left hand/wrist after he fell hard on it in the final moments of the second quarter and didn’t move it much before walking off the court at halftime.
That was about all that could make matters worse for the Pelicans after they were outscored 41-21 in the second quarter, and trail by 21 despite shooting 5-for-13 from three-point range.
Golden State, on the other hand, is shooting 53 percent overall, 6-for-13 from three and has turned seven Pelicans turnovers into 15 points.
Oh, and remember: Stephen Curry isn’t even playing in this game.
Golden State’s bench has been maligned all season long. But so far in Game 1, it’s providing a huge boost.
Midway through the second quarter, both Kevon Looney and Shaun Livingston are plus-11 for the Warriors, helping stake them to a six-point lead. While neither has posted an eye-popping stat line, they’ve each made several little plays to help Golden State extend the lead.
That not only will matter in this series, but it will also play a role in the Western Conference finals in a hypothetical matchup with the Houston Rockets, in particular.
The first quarter of Warriors-Pelicans was as entertaining as everyone hoped it would be, with the Warriors holding a 35-34 lead in what seems like a precursor to a high scoring, fast-paced series.
New Orleans, which got 10 points early from Anthony Davis, has to be somewhat discouraged that after shooting 60 percent in the first quarter it trailed by one. But the Pelicans will likely take solace in the fact Nikola Mirotic only got one shot and the game isn’t out of hand already.
Golden State, meanwhile, came out with the intensity it only had in spurts in the first round, accurately sensing it will need more to beat the Pelicans than it did during the five-game snoozefest against the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Kevin Durant — who the Pelicans don’t really have anyone to guard — already has 12 points (and 12 shots), in what also looks like a sign of things to come.
The Boston Celtics earned homecourt advantage, and it propelled them into the second round of the playoffs for a second straight season.
Behind 26 points from both Al Horford and Terry Rozier, the Celtics emerged with a 112-96 victory in which they took a double-digit lead with a 20-2 run to end the first quarter and never looked back. The Celtics are now 20-4 at home in Game 7s all-time.
Boston did a brilliant job of keeping Milwaukee out of transition, holding the Bucks to zero fast break points after they scored 25 in their Game 6 win. And while Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe combined for 77 points, the rest of the Bucks only had 19. Other than Jabari Parker, who had nine, the rest of the roster scored 10 on 4-for-19 shooting.
Even with Jaylen Brown limited because of injury, the Celtics got enough from their supporting cast — not to mention another 20 points from rookie Jayson Tatum along with the combined 52 from Horford and Rozier — to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals, which will begin when the Philadelphia 76ers come to Boston Monday night.
Saturday’s loss means the end of interim coach Joe Prunty’s tenure in Milwaukee. The Bucks currently have the most attractive job on the market, and would make a lot of sense as a landing spot for Mike Budenholzer, who agreed to part ways with the Atlanta Hawks after five seasons Wednesday night.
The Warriors have made the first move.
By inserting Nick Young into the starting lineup for JaVale McGee, Golden State signaled it’s going to go small the entire series, both before and after Stephen Curry likely returns in Game 2.
It also means Draymond Green will start on Anthony Davis, and Andre Iguodala will likely start on Nikola Mirotic, the player the Warriors need to eliminate to ensure victory.
Now we’ll see how New Orleans counters, or if the Pelicans even need to.
As the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans get set to tip off, here are a couple of matchups that will determine the series.
From Golden State’s perspective, a key focus is stopping Nikola Mirotic. The sweet-shooting power forward has been on fire for the past few weeks for the Pelicans, allowing Anthony Davis to play center and factoring into New Orleans picking up their pace over the second half of the season.
Davis is going to put up big numbers, and Jrue Holiday was outstanding when New Orleans swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. What made the Pelicans so hard to contain for the Blazers, though, was Mirotic going off.
With Stephen Curry out for Game 1, it would seem likely that either Andre Iguodala or whatever big starts for Golden State will begin on Mirotic, with Draymond Green starting on Davis. However Golden State begins will require constant monitoring.
As for New Orleans, it has to decide how to slow down Kevin Durant. There isn’t an obvious option in the typical starting five, which is why Solomon Hill may get extended time this series to body Durant up.
This one feels over.
Over the final 4:04 of the third quarter — the same stretch that saw the game get away from the Milwaukee Bucks in the first quarter — the Celtics went on an 11-4 run that doubled their lead from seven to 14 points, and has Boston up 89-77 in the fourth quarter.
It’s hard enough to win on the road in a Game 7. Letting that happen makes it almost impossible.
In their biggest game of their season thus far, the Boston Celtics are getting one of the biggest games of the season from their lone healthy max player.
Al Horford, who spends so much of the time doing everything but scoring, has been sensational so far for the Celtics, scoring 24 points on 12-for-15 shooting to go with eight rebounds, helping stake the Celtics to a double-digit lead.
That scoring has proven even more important because Jaylen Brown’s return to this game is in doubt due to an injury he suffered late in the first half. Brown, who limped back to the locker room shortly before the halftime break, came back out to ride an exercise bike as the second half began.
A few minutes ago, however, Brown went back to the bowels of TD Garden again, apparently to test his leg and see if he can return.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has not had that he was hoping for in the first Game 7 of his career.
The Bucks star forward is just 2-for-7 and has seven points in 18 minutes in the first half. More importantly, he was called for three fouls.
Boston, meanwhile, is now without one of its key players in Jaylen Brown, who limped back to the locker room. Still, the Celtics have to be feeling good about things at halftime, as they go into the break leading 50-42.
Al Horford had a terrific half for the Celtics, scoring 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting to go with seven rebounds, while Jayson Tatum has nine points, but has cooled off considerably after a hot start.
Eric Bledsoe, meanwhile, leads the Bucks with 12 points, and Khris Middleton hit a couple late shots to salvage his first half and finish with nine.
The Bucks are going to need a lot more from both Antetokounmpo and Middleton in the second half if they hope to win this one.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry won’t play in Game 1 of Golden State’s Western Conference semifinal series against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Curry practiced both Thursday and Friday, then scrimmaged 5-on-5 after practice. He also participated in shoot around Saturday morning. But Warriors Coach Steve Kerr decided to hold him out at least two more days until Game 2 here in Oakland.
At that point, Kerr said there could be a minutes limit on Curry, and that he also could come off the bench. “Everything is a possibility,” Kerr said.
Saturday marks five weeks since Curry suffered an MCL sprain when JaVale McGee accidentally fell into his leg during a game. Now right in the middle of the time frame when he could come back, it seems likely that the latest return date for the star guard — barring a setback — will be Game 3 next Friday in New Orleans.
The Celtics closed the first quarter with an 20-2 run, with 14 of those points coming after Tyler Zeller checked in for Thon Maker with 4:04 remaining. That allowed them to take a 30-17 lead after one.
That 13-point advantage is massive in a series where neither team has showed much propensity for offense. Factor in Milwaukee is the road team, and their chances of coming back are even more difficult.
The one player on the Bucks who has been terrible most of the series, Eric Bledsoe, actually finished the first as their leading scorer with six points. But he also committed a dumb foul and picked up a technical when he shoved Shane Larkin in the back on a drive to the basket after Larkin had blown by him.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton went a combined 1-for-7 and each committed a turnover, the kind of start Milwaukee couldn’t handle from one of them, let alone both.
Jayson Tatum has nine points to lead the Celtics, while Aron Baynes — who hit a buzzer-beating jumper to end the quarter — has six on perfect 3-for-3 shooting off the bench.
In a series where neither team has consistently found much scoring, the Celtics have gotten an early boost from Jayson Tatum.
The rookie forward has nine early points for Boston, including five straight to push the Celtics back into the lead late in the first quarter. Between Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, the Celtics likely need at least two of them to get going consistently to score enough to win.
Early on, Tatum is fulfilling his end of the bargain.
One early boost to Milwaukee’s chances: the play of Thon Maker.
Maker changed the tenor of the series starting in Game 3, as his ability to both protect the rim and space the floor has given Milwaukee an element at both ends it otherwise doesn’t have.
Maker already has a three and a tip-dunk early in this game. Milwaukee could use him to continue being able to provide offense — and stay out of foul trouble.
The Game 7 stage can often be the launchpad that sends a great player to another level of stardom. The Milwaukee Bucks will be hoping their Game 7 against the Boston Celtics will serve as that for Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Road teams in such matchups generally lose about 80 percent of the time. But those road teams also generally don’t have the best player in the series, which the Greek Freak clearly is.
After the home teams evenly split the first six games of the series, it’s going to take a herculean effort from the Bucks to advance to face the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. It’s a golden opportunity for Antetokounmpo to have one of his first true NBA moments. We’ll see if he can pull it off.
OAKLAND, Calif. — The New Orleans Pelicans are decided underdogs in their Western Conference semifinal series against the Golden State Warriors.
Just don’t tell that to Anthony Davis.
“We know that we can beat them,” the Pelicans’ superstar big man said after practice here Friday afternoon. “We’ve done it in the regular season. And we’ve been in every game that we lost [against them] so we know that we’re a good matchup against these guys and we’ve got a lot of confidence in ourselves.
“Anytime they score, we know they’re going score and make shots, it’s tough, we just got to get the ball out fast and push it down the floor and try to [go] quicker.”
Actually beating the Warriors will be easier said than done. Davis is right that New Orleans beat Golden State in the regular season, but that’s virtually irrelevant. Golden State won the first three games, all by early December and featuring DeMarcus Cousins playing a prominent role for the Pelicans.
New Orleans then won the fourth and final meeting three weeks ago, but the Pelicans were playing desperately while trying to lock up a playoff spot, while Golden State was playing out the string.
The Warriors also didn’t have Stephen Curry, who looks like he might play in Game 1 Saturday night. Curry practiced both Thursday and Friday, and went through a 5-on-5 scrimmage after practice Friday afternoon. He then spoke to the media for the first time in weeks, and deemed himself “50-50” to play in the opening game of the series.
Saturday, Curry went through shoot around and remains questionable. It seems more likely than not that he plays, but also likely that the Warriors will continue to start Andre Iguodala at point guard for the next game or two, at least, with Curry coming off the bench. Curry will likely have a minutes limit, allowing Golden State to ease him back into action.
Even in limited minutes, Curry’s presence would be a boost to the Warriors, who will face a far stiffer test against the Pelicans, coming off an impressive first-round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers, than they did in their five-game yawn-fest against the San Antonio Spurs.
Davis will be a big reason. He’s made a case this season to be considered the best player in the league, reinforced with an dominant performance against the Trail Blazers that saw him average 33 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 2.8 blocks and shoot 57.6 percent from the field across the four games.
So what do the Pelicans expect from Davis as he plays in the second round for the first time in his career?
“What happened last series,” said Jrue Holiday, who had his own breakout series against Portland.
- Boston Celtics 112, Milwaukee Bucks 96 (Celtics win series, 4-3)
- New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors, 10:30 p.m., TNT (second-round series tied 0-0)
Hop into the comments section below to chat with The Post’s Tim Bontemps about all of your NBA questions.