Going into Thursday night’s slate of NBA Playoffs games, each series is two games in. That seems like a good point to take stock of the first round so far.
Game 3 is arguably the most important in a seven-game series. If a team with a 2-0 series lead increases that margin to 3-0, the series is effectively over. Teams locked in a 1-1 tie can gain an edge by going up 2-1.
With six of the eight first-round series in a 2-0 situation, one of which has to be viewed as a surprise, here are some quick thoughts and insights as the top seeds now go on the road for Games 3 and 4.
How Much Trouble Are The Celtics In?
Losing the first two games at home in a series almost always spells disaster for that team, so how can the top seeded Boston Celtics climb out of a 2-0 hole to the Chicago Bulls?
In my postseason preview for The Comeback highlighting key stats for each playoff team, I mentioned how the Celtics’ 3-point field goal defense was third in the league at 33.2 percent. Chicago hit 10 of its 25 3-point attempts in its 14-point Game 2 win.
Chicago’s key stat was limiting opponents to 19 free throw attempts during the regular season. In Game 1, Boston attempted 19 free throws. In Game 2? Nineteen free throws. One of Isaiah Thomas’ biggest strengths is getting to the line, and perhaps he’ll get there more over the course of the series as he grieves and mourns after the loss of his sister, Chyna.
Boston also has to figure out what it wants to do on offense with Marcus Smart, who Chicago is going full “Andre Roberson” on (ignoring him and basically playing five on four defensively). If the Bulls continue to get great performances from Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez, the upset could really be on for Chicago.
Pacers Will Regret Missed Opportunity
Game 1 was there for the taking. Indiana overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take a 105-103 lead on Jeff Teague’s three with 3:31 left. After six straight points by Cleveland, Paul George’s three put the Pacers down one with 40 seconds left. But the scoring ended there, with Cleveland escaping with a 109-108 win at home after CJ Miles missed a 14-footer as time expired.
After the game, George admitted that he was the one who should’ve taken the last shot.
“I talked to CJ about it,” George said. “In situations like that, I gotta get the last shot. CJ took it upon himself. I’m confident with all of my guys taking shots. That’s not the issue. In that situation, I need the ball.”
Cleveland led by 18 after three quarters in Game 2 and held on to win by six. As the series shifts to Indianapolis, we wonder if the Pacers will get as close to winning a game in this series as they did in the opener. If not, George and Indiana will look back at Game 1 and wonder what could’ve been.
Will Toronto Have Enough Offense?
The Toronto Raptors can play defense, no one’s doubting that. But after struggling mightily in the playoffs last season during its conference finals run, we questioned whether that offensive struggle would re-emerge during the 2017 postseason.
It has. The struggle is real.
Toronto was 25-4 during the regular season when it allowed fewer than 100 points in a game, but the Raps shot 36 percent from the field and 5-of-23 from three in a 97-83 Game 1 loss to Milwaukee. But the Raptors responded well in Game 2, hitting 14-of-29 from three in a six-point win.
Kyle Lowry is the key to Toronto’s offense, no one doubts that. He scored 24 points in Game 2, shrugging off his pitiful four-point performance in the opener. Milwaukee doesn’t really have anyone to guard Lowry, so it’s on him to bring Toronto past the Bucks into round two.
Red-Hot Backcourt Carrying Wizards
Your best players should carry your team in the playoffs, and that’s exactly what John Wall and Bradley Beal did in Washington’s opening two wins over Atlanta, the team that eliminated the Wiz last season.
Wall and Beal combined for 54 points in Game 1 and 63 in Game 2 on a combined 45.7 percent shooting. And after finishing second in the league this season in forced turnovers at 15.4 per game, Atlanta only managed a total of 23 in the first two games a the Verizon Center.
The Hawks also need more from Dwight Howard, who’s scored just 13 total points in this series in 49 minutes. Atlanta was outscored by 21 when Howard played in 29 Game 1 minutes, but was plus-five in 20 minutes in Game 2. Three-point shooting has also failed the Hawks, 11-for-45 so far including 4-of-20 in Game 2.
Golden State Locked In Defensively
He best part of this is Evan Turner wigging out because he wanted a goaltend ?????? pic.twitter.com/ljN33hmEgd
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 20, 2017
When you first think about the Warriors, you probably focus on Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and their high-powered offense. And rightfully so. But Golden State was masterful on the defensive end in Game 2 even without Kevin Durant, holding Portland to 30-of-90 from the field, 7-of-34 from three and 10-of-34 shooting from the Blazers’ backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
A huge problem for Portland is its lack of scoring beyond Lillard and McCollum. That duo combined for 75 points in Game 1 and the Blazers still lost by 12. Signed to huge contracts in the offseason, Evan Turner and Alan Crabbe have been non-factors on offense in the series, combining for 26 points in the series so far. Portland misses Jusuf Nurkic’s offense in this series.
Despite Complaints, Memphis Needs Better Offense
Just gonna leave this here… pic.twitter.com/12iF8P771A
— FOX Sports Grizzlies (@GrizzliesOnFSSE) April 18, 2017
Heading back to Memphis for Game 3, we’ll see if the free throw disparity changes after Grizzlies coach David Fizdale’s epic “Take That For Data” rant following a Game 2 loss when San Antonio took 32 foul shots to Memphis’ 15.
But the Grizzlies are in trouble if their best plan to climb back in this series is complain about the refereeing. After finishing last in field goal percentage and 29th in points per game, Memphis has scored 82 points in each of its first two games in San Antonio and shot a combined 14-for-47 from three. If the Grizzlies don’t get more scoring from Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and their supporting cast, this series will be over quickly.
Also, containing Kawhi Leonard would help. The MVP candidate has a combined 69 points on 20-of-28 shooting so far in the series.
Thunder Goes As Far As Russ Takes Them
In a playoff preview Q&A last week for Awful Announcing, Turner Sports’ Mike Fratello broke down whether Houston would try to contain Russell Westbrook and let role players beat them, or let Westbrook get his numbers and shut down the Oklahoma City role players.
After a 31-point blowout in Game 1 when Westbrook committed nine turnovers, Game 2 came down to the fourth quarter. OKC led by three going in, but then Westbrook shot 4-of-18 in the fourth quarter. What good is scoring the most points, 51, in a postseason triple-double in league history if you lay an egg in the fourth quarter with a winnable game on the line?
Live by the Russ, die by the Russ. Would a more even shot distribution have helped OKC beat Houston in Game 2? Will a more even distribution help the Thunder win Games 3 or 4 at home? We’ll wait and see what Russell Westbrook decided.
Can Utah Win Without Gobert?
In a series where defense reigns and every possession contested inside is going to be a struggle, not having Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert in the lineup is a huge, really big deal. Gobert hyperextended his left knee during the first possession of the Jazz’s Game 1 win, stealing that one at Staples Center on a Joe Johnson buzzer beater.
The Clippers re-adjusted in Game 2, shooting 38-for-64 (59.3 percent) on two-point baskets in an eight-point win. DeAndre Jordan was 9-of-11 from the field and was a plus-12 in the game, things that probably would not have happened with Gobert on the floor. Utah isn’t really good enough offensively to win games that way, especially in the playoffs, and may be doomed here without Gobert, its best defensive player, on the floor.