The NBA Playoffs churn forward, and while we’ve encountered some small surprises, one of the games offered, sadly, the lease surprising surprise so far.
1. LeBron does the Raptors in again
The facts: Despite trailing for much of the game (47:15) to be exact, the Cavaliers came back in regulation to tie things up at 105. LeBron James recorded a triple-double but had a bit of an off-game, shooting only 12-30 from the floor, 1-8 from three and 1-6 from the free throw line. He credited his teammates for stepping up, but it was the Raptors, leading nearly throughout, who could not come up with enough offense in the 4th or OT to hold serve in game 1, shooting only 5-25 in the 4th (20%).
The Reaction: Oh, Raptors. After watching Toronto surge to the #1 seeding this season by remaking their approach to the game, everything they put into the transformation really came down to last night’s game. They could either put it all together and maintain their edge, or all the things that have plagued them in the playoffs, particularly against LeBron, would resurface again.
And then it did. Even more alarming than watching Toronto shoot so poorly with the game on the line is the kinds of shots they missed. Open jumpers, shots at the rim, and Jonas Valanciunas was practically beside himself, ultimately missing 3-4 layups in the final seconds that could have sealed the game.
And just like in previous years, now the doubt begins to settle in.
2. Pelicans up their game, but Steph is ready
The facts: The Warriors grabbed a 2-0 lead over the Pelicans, as Stephen Curry returned from injury hiatus. In 27 minutes of action, the former league MVP scored 28 points on 8-15 shooting, including 5-10 from three and 7-7 from the free throw line. While New Orleans kept things close behind a combined 46 from their backcourt of Rondo and Holiday and a strong 25-15 from Anthony Davis, it wasn’t quite enough. The Pels closed the deficit to a single point with 7:48 remaining in the 4th, and the Warriors responded with a 11-0 run that sealed it.
The Reaction: Game 1 surprised me, game 2 did not. Curry’s presence completely changes the ball game, as his offensive gravity disrupts defenses like no other team can. The Pelicans played solid basketball, and it is not inconceivable that they could win a game or two at home, but even playing well, they will be hard-pressed to stay with the Warriors.
Further tipping the scales in Golden State’s favor was their 27-7 advantage from the free throw line. Curry went to the line 7 times. Anthony Davis went to the line...zero times. So in Davis’ 43 minutes of action, where he took 24 shots, not one single time was he fouled in the act of shooting?
It’s up to coach Alvin Gentry to make sure that doesn’t happen again, because otherwise, Davis will never had the same impact as the Warriors’ host of all-stars.
The facts: The Celtics, down yet another starter in Jaylen Brown, still beat up the 76ers to take a 1-0 lead. Terry Rozier finished with 29 on 11-18 shooting, including 7-9 from 3-point range. Al Horford finished with 26 on 10-12 shooting, and Jason Tatum got 28 of his own, working to the free throw line 12 times. Meanwhile, the Celtics’ defense kept the Sixers’ perimeter players at bay, as the team struggled to 5-26 shooting from 3-point range.
The Reaction: I don’t know how Boston does it, but they keep putting better teams on their heels and finishing games. While the Sixers are the more talented team, I wonder if they are going to encounter a similar fate that the Lakers did when Shaq and Kobe kept losing in the playoffs before Phil Jackson arrived.