4/13/18 – First Round Preview

First thing’s first: let’s get the elephant out of the room. I am horrible at maintaining this blog. I started off the season on a nice run, and made it nearly two full months before falling off the face of the earth, which still means that I had a more productive season than Kawhi Leonard.

Now, let’s get the second elephant out of the room: every year I endeavor to watch every NBA playoff game because I am ridiculous, and every year, I fail. It’s just impossible to not have other obligations pop up over the course of two months, and on top of that, I don’t even get home from work in time for the 7:00 pm starts. That being said, overcoming adversity and rising to the occasion is what the NBA playoffs are all about, and with that spirit, here I am once again, fighting a losing battle in search of playoff glory.

With that in mind, and with the playoffs getting underway tomorrow, it’s definitely time to fire up the ol’ blog and embark on yet another playoff journey, typing furiously along the way to document the proceedings. Why? Because I like writing, like basketball, and think it’s fun, and after such an intriguing regular season, we’re no doubt in line for an exciting and memorable postseason. As is customary, before the real action starts tomorrow, it’s time to take a look at our first round matchups and try and predict just what the hell is going to happen, and what better place to start than the Eastern Conference…

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Toronto Raptors (59-23)
vs
(8) Washington Wizards (43-39)

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The Raptors had their finest season in franchise history, finally becoming a team that seems like it has the goods to be a true Eastern Conference contender, in large part because of the emergence of their bench, which dominated throughout the season in support of their steady starting lineup. Yet, the demons remain hovering around them. They’ve lost nine straight Game 1s, which is an utterly ridiculous feat. Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have a documented history of taking a step back in the playoffs, a reputation that needs to be shed if they’re going to have any chance this year. However, this team really rounded into form this year, and earned the top spot in the East. You’d think they shouldn’t have any first round problems.

Then again, they face the Washington Wizards, a team with an equally formidable backcourt that features John Wall and Bradley Beal. Though they lack the depth the Raptors do, Washington is no stranger to the playoffs, and they’ve become fairly accustomed to playing beyond the first round. Slowed by injuries this season, the proud and feisty Wizards fell to 8th this year, and recently, they’ve been dealing with some inner turmoil, with coach Scott Brooks going so far as to describe their recent play as “selfish”. The Wizards have long thought of themselves as an accomplished and worthy team, yet they’ve failed to make it past the second round of the playoffs. They remind me a little of this decade’s Clippers: lots of talent, lots of hype, plenty of talk, but little to show for it.

Last Playoff Meeting: 2015 First Round (Washington 4, Toronto 0)

An infamous series. Kyle Lowry was not at full health, and as a result, the Raptors struggled mightily, culminating in a horrendous 124-95 loss in Game 4 in which the team seemed to just give up. Adding insult to injury, Washington’s Paul Pierce famously declared that he didn’t want to go through customs anymore after the Wizards won the first two games in Toronto, and with the series ending in an embarrassing sweep, he didn’t have to. Series like this is why the Raptors have so many skeletons in their playoff closet, and why nobody would be surprised if the Wizards added yet another Game 1 loss to Toronto’s playoff resume.

Prediction: Raptors 4, Wizards 0. 

This will be a big test for the Raptors, one which I think they will pass, with the added bonus of exacting a little revenge on the Wizards. Washington’s been out of sorts lately, while the Raptors have been the opposite all season long. Their bench should dominate Washington’s, and beyond Beal and Wall, I don’t think they have the firepower to keep up. If this was any other team than the Wizards, I would fully expect the Raptors Game 1 curse to continue, and for Canada to enact a state of emergency. However, this year, there’ll be no extra trips through customs, because there’ll be no need for them to return to Toronto after the Raptors sweep them.

(2) Boston Celtics (55-27)
vs
(7) Milwaukee Bucks (44-38)

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The Celtics perseverance through their myriad injuries this season has been well documented. They’ll soldier on without two all stars, and a couple of other key rotation players. Understandably, there was talk over the last week or so of the season of the Wizards, Bucks and Heat all fighting to try and finish seventh, setting up an ideal matchup with a battered and bruised team that finished the season trotting out lineups of youngsters, reserves, and dudes you’ve just straight up never heard of. As a Celtics fan myself, I have felt personally offended by this. Boston can still hang with just about anyone else in the league, and in my admittedly biased opinion, it’s laughable to think that any of these lower rung Eastern playoff teams could upset them, which brings me to the Milwaukee Bucks.

On paper, you’d think that any team, even one that was fully healthy, would be dreading the prospect of spending up to seven games in the trenches battling the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker. That is a lot of talent and firepower to have to get through, but for some reason, the Bucks have seemed off all season long. They changed coaches midway through the season, but they remained the same middling team, often leaving you thinking that they should be better. Hopefully next year they can find a coach that can get the best out of them.

As for the Celtics, untold amounts of words have been written and said about their coach, Brad Stevens, and his genius. He does deserve a lot of credit for keeping them afloat with all of their injuries, so much so that at times, it can seem that he overshadows the players, who have all stepped up their games and risen to the occasion. I expect they will continue to do so, despite the formidable group of players the Bucks can throw at them.

Last Playoff Meeting: 1987 Semifinals (Boston 4, Milwaukee 3)

It’s been awhile since these two teams in green squared off in the postseason, in fact, I wasn’t quite born yet back in May of 1987, when they submitted a classic series that went all seven games, with Games 2-5 decided by no more than five points, including an overtime Game 3, and double overtime Game 4. Overall, they met four times in the playoffs during the 1980s, including twice in the Conference Finals, so this series provides a nice throwback to the days of Larry Bird and Sidney Moncrief. Of course, they also met in the Finals back in 1974, when Milwaukee was in the Western Conference. Boston prevailed in seven games.

Prediction: Celtics 4, Bucks 1

It’s not going to be easy, and the games are going to be close, and in a situation like that, whether or not you win comes down to how well you execute your game plan. In other words, coaching is going to matter a lot in this series, and it’s execution and coaching where the Celtics, despite all of those injuries, have a distinct advantage. Also, I’m horribly biased. It can’t be helped, I’m from Massachusetts, after all.

(3) Philadelphia 76ers (52-30)
vs
(6) Miami Heat (44-38)

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We all knew the Sixers were going to be much improved this year, but I don’t think anybody saw them winning over 50 games, thanks to an insane, franchise record setting 16 game winning streak to close out the season. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are the real deal, and they have surrounded their young stars with savvy veterans and role players, and the result is a fun and entertaining team that is poised to wreak havoc for years to come.

The Heat are a funky team with no true superstar, though Goran Dragic got a well deserved all star nod this year. More than any team in the Eastern playoffs, Miami’s sum is greater than their parts. They’re well coached, always play their asses off, and always submit a top notch effort.

Adding to the fun of this series is the rivalry between Philly’s Joel Embiid, who may or may not be available in Game 1, and Miami’s Hassan Whiteside. The two big men have exchanged a fair amount of trash talk this season, both on the court and via social media. It should be fun to watch them continue their rivalry over the course of the series, and settle the score once and for all. (Or, at least until next season). Please, Basketball Gods, let Joel Embiid come back in time for Game 1, and let he remain in good health going forward.

Last Playoff Meeting: 2011 First Round (Miami 4, Philadelphia 1)

This was back when Miami had LeBron, Wade and Bosh, and Philadelphia was starting Spencer Hawes and Jodie Meeks.

Prediction: Sixers 4, Heat 0

Perhaps it’s recency bias resulting from Philadelphia’s season ending 16 game winning streak, but while I think the Heat will put up a good fight, I just don’t think they have quite enough to snag a win. The Sixers have taken it to another level as of late, and there’s no better time to peak than now.

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32)
vs
(5) Indiana Pacers (48-34)

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It’s the most frustrating team of the year: your Cleveland Cavaliers! After about a month of LeBron James not trying, the Cavs revamped their roster at the trade deadline, but most of the time, they remained uninspiring. Recently, however, the effort has picked up, and they’ve looked like their old, unbeatable selves lately, though they did lose to the lowly Knicks in the regular season finale. It all hinges on LeBron James, one of the few players who can literally just go out there and win you a series all by himself. We know that he takes it to a different level in the playoffs, making it hard to judge them on their lackluster regular season, especially on the defensive end. Even lousy defense can be compensated for by LeBron, who even in his 15th season, remains one of the league’s few truly unstoppable forces (when he feels like it).

As for the Pacers, nobody expected much from them after they traded superstar Paul George to the Thunder, getting Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in return. Instead, they finished the season with the exact same record the Thunder did as Oladipo established himself as a star, and Sabonis proved to be a useful role player. On top of their solid play all year long, they went 3-1 against the Cavs during the regular season, though, once again, it’s nearly impossible to judge anything from Cleveland’s regular season performance and apply it to a playoff atmosphere.

Another exciting aspect of this series is that once again, we get to see Lance Stephenson go up against LeBron James. Hilarity is bound to ensue.

Last Playoff Meeting: 2017 First Round (Cleveland 4, Indiana 0)

Despite every game being close, the Pacers couldn’t manage to steal a game from the Cavs in last year’s playoffs. In fact, LeBron James hasn’t lost a game in the first round of the playoffs since 2012.

Prediction: Pacers 4, Cavs 2

Yeah, I said it. One of these days, the crummy defense and general tumult that this team lives under is going to catch up to them, and perhaps spectacularly. My other predictions for the East have been boring, so, I’m going way out on a limb here and saying that something completely ridiculous is going to happen. If a 16 can beat a 1 in March Madness, then the Pacers can shock the Cavs here in the NBA playoffs. You heard it here first, and probably only here, because this is, admittedly, a ludicrous prediction.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Houston Rockets (65-17)
vs
(8) Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35)

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On the final night of the regular season, the Timberwolves clinched their first playoff spot since 2004 with an exciting, do or die overtime victory against the Denver Nuggets. For their efforts, they’re rewarded with a matchup with the 65-win Houston Rockets. Some were initially skeptical of how the Chris Paul/James Harden backcourt would mesh in Houston, but it didn’t take long for all of that skepticism to be washed away by a torrent of wonderful ball movement and shooting. Along the way, the Rockets did something many thought was improbable: they emerged as a convincing opponent for the Golden State Warriors. Whether or not they can actually overcome the Warriors is another story that we’ll probably get to further down the playoff road. The playoff struggles of James Harden and Chris Paul are well documented, but they usually don’t occur until after the first round, so we can leave them for later.

I have to say, it is great to see Minnesota in the playoffs for the first time since I was junior in high school. Those were simpler times. Anyway, this marks the first time the Timberwolves have made the playoffs without Kevin Garnett, which gives you an idea of just how depressing the annals of their franchise history can be. Despite featuring three young stars, one of which, Jimmy Butler, is a proven warrior with playoff experience, it is looking like another depressing chapter is about to be added to the Wolves playoff lore. Defensively, they’re simply not good enough to have a hope in hell of slowing down the Rockets machine, and that’s enough to spell doom. If only Jimmy Butler didn’t miss time with injuries. There was a time when they were as high as third in the West, but, without him, they struggled, and find themselves here.

Last Playoff Meeting: 1997 First Round (Houston 3, Minnesota 0)

This was actually the Timberwolves’ first trip to the postseason, and it didn’t last long. They were handled pretty easily by a Rockets team that still featured the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley.

Prediction: Rockets 4, Timberwolves 0

We could be in for a similar series, and the Timberwolves will have to wait even longer to earn their first playoff win against Houston. Nevertheless, it’s nice that they’re even in the playoffs after such a long drought, and the future there is bright. They should be in for longer playoff appearances before too long.

(2) Golden State Warriors (58-24)
vs
(7) San Antonio Spurs (47-35)

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While most teams would love to win 58 games, seeing the Warriors do it makes them feel a little bit closer to earth. They have had a funky season which has featured nagging injuries to Steph Curry, who will remain out for at least the first round, as well as various injuries throughout the year to their core group of stars. Even without Curry, that core group presents any opponent with a tall task. With the rest of the group now mostly healthy, they can still handle most of the teams in the league, though they do lose a sizable chunk of their identity when Curry is sidelined.

Speaking of coming back down to earth, the Spurs failed to win 50 games for the first time this century, and for a brief period, their 20 year playoff streak seemed in jeopardy. They of course rallied and extended that streak to 21 straight seasons, but for the first time in nearly a generation, they have been susceptible to adversity and turmoil that they have otherwise been immune to. Star Kawhi Leonard missed all but nine games this season, with his status unclear at times. Though he has been cleared by the Spurs doctors, he remains out, and they have been moving forward as if he will not be returning this postseason. Without him, they are still a formidable foe, but he is the one that lifts their ceiling to its highest level, and his defensive prowess simply cannot be replaced.

Last Playoff Meeting: 2017 Conference Finals (Golden State 4, San Antonio 0)

This one remains fresh in our minds. In Game 1, the Spurs built up a 20 point lead. But then, Kawhi Leonard landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot, and the rest is history. The Warriors came back to win Game 1, 113-111, then went onto dominate the rest of the series. Frankly, the Spurs, and Kawhi, haven’t been the same since.

Prediction: Warriors 4, Spurs 1

Neither team is at full strength, but Golden State still has three other all stars to rely on, while the Spurs have just one, LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s usually good for at least one monster game each year in the playoffs, and that should be good enough to nab one win for the Spurs (I’m thinking something along the lines of 43 points and 17 rebounds in one of San Antonio’s home games). Other than that, the Warriors shouldn’t have too much trouble.

(3) Portland Trailblazers (49-33)
vs
(6) New Orleans Pelicans (48-34)

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Nobody would deny that the Utah Jazz had the best in-season turnaround this year, but the Blazers deserve a lot of credit, too. At one point this season, they were 22-21, and hovering around the last playoff spot. Eventually, they won 13 straight games, propelling them all the way up to third in the West, a spot they were able to hold onto, despite a late season slump, thanks to their 102-93 victory over the aforementioned Jazz in their season finale. Damian Lillard had perhaps his finest season as the team rounded into shape, with everyone knowing their roles and performing them fairly well.

Meanwhile, nobody would have blamed you if you declared the Pelicans dead after they lost DeMarcus Cousins for the season. It was such a shame, too, as they had finally seemed to figure out their twin tower lineup of him and Anthony Davis, and some real momentum had been built. Instead of careening off the rails, that momentum was sustained, thanks in no small part to Davis’ otherworldly play throughout the second half of the season. Aside from that, a pretty solid supporting cast evolved, and what’s been a frustrating team in recent years has finally figured itself out a bit. Here’s hoping they bring Cousins back, and that he’s fully healthy, next season.

Last Playoff Meeting: NONE

That’s right, this is the first playoff meeting between these two franchises, mostly owing to the fact that the Pelicans have only made the playoffs once since changing their name from the Hornets, and returning both that name, and all associated franchise history, to Charlotte. What sort of first impressions will these teams make on each others playoff history?

Prediction: Trailblazers 4, Pelicans 3

This has all of the makings of one of those series where the home team wins every game. Expect to see epic performances from Lillard and Davis as the battle rages on. This could very well be our most entertaining first round series.

(4) Oklahoma City Thunder (48-34)
vs
(5) Utah Jazz (48-34)

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In a splashy offseason, the Thunder had perhaps the splashiest, swooping in out of nowhere to acquire the services of not only Paul George, but Carmelo Anthony as well, teaming them up with Russell Westbrook, who has just become the only player in NBA history to average a triple double for a season twice. The results, however, were mixed. It’s been an up and down season in OKC, exacerbated by the season ending injury suffered by defensive specialist Andre Roberson, someone who never puts up gaudy numbers, but whose influence was sorely missed once he was gone. Furthermore, Melo has struggled all season long by his standards, though he has admirably accepted a more limited role than he’s been accustomed to throughout his career.

The Jazz, of course, spent much of the first half of the season on the outside of the playoff hunt. They were, at one point, 19-28, only two games ahead of the atrocious Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference standings. Then, they won 11 straight, and finished the season by going 29-6 the rest of the way. They have the league’s best individual defensive player, Rudy Gobert, and a delightful young rookie, Donovan Mitchell, who led them in scoring after they stole him from Denver in a draft day trade that is poised to make Nuggets fans miserable for years and years to come. Like the Miami Heat, and the current, injury ravaged Celtics, they are another well coached, sum is greater than their parts team, and they have great depth. Though they lack the star power that the Thunder enjoy, they are going to cause them a whole mess of problems.

Last Playoff Meeting: 2000 First Round (Utah 3, Seattle 2)

You have to go all the way back to the Seattle Supersonics days to find the most recent playoff matchup between these two franchises. The Jazz fended them off with a 96-93 victory in a decisive Game 5. Let me tell you something, I was there, and the first round of the playoffs was better when it was best-of-five. Anyway, in 1996, these two met in the Conference Finals, where Seattle won in seven games. 1993 saw another first round battle go all five games, this time with the Sonics getting the upper hand. These two franchises have a proud, yet recently dormant history of pushing each other to the limit in the playoffs.

Prediction: Jazz 4, Thunder 3

That tradition should be carried on this year. The Thunder have been inconsistent all year, and the Jazz are the kind of team that can exploit another’s inconsistencies. Their defense is going to cause problems for the Thunder, who lack scoring punch beyond their Big 3, one of which, Carmelo Anthony, has struggled so much this year that he appears to have lost his superstar status. Of course Westbrook is going to win them a game or two on his own, but he’s just as capable of losing them a game or two on his own. Whether or not Paul George can provide consistent scoring will be a key factor in this series, and I think the Jazz have enough to slow him down just enough to pull off an upset in what should be a pretty grimy series.

That does it for my predictions. It will be tons of fun watching them all go up in flames as the playoffs unfold completely differently. As the games roll along, I plan on documenting the proceedings with the same running diaries I’ve done in the past, and I vow to do a better job this time around, and not disappear for no reason. It won’t be easy, and there’s no way I’ll see every minute of every game, but goddamn it, I’m going to die trying, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with the two or three of you that read this lousy blog.

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11/21/17 – A Little Bit Shell Shocked

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

DeMarcus Cousins was ejected last night, following a minor elbow he gave to Russell Westbrook’s head. The Thunder point guard collapsed to the floor while Cousins had a hilarious reaction.

As you can see in the video, the Pelicans were down 76-72 at the time of his ejection. Perhaps inspired, they immediately went on an 11-3 run to propel themselves to a 114-107 victory.

“We didn’t think it was that fair. He doesn’t do anything intentional,” said Jrue Holiday (18 points). “We just wanted to win for him.”

The Pelicans did just that, outscoring the Thunder, 57-42, in the second half. Anthony Davis led them with 36 points and 15 rebounds, shooting 18-22 from the free throw line. Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with a triple double, putting up 22 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists, but he shot just 6-19 as the Thunder continue to struggle to gel.

The Hornets were led by a vintage performance from none other than Dwight Howard, who sprung for 25 points and 20 rebounds on 8-10 shooting, leading Charlotte to a 118-102 victory over Minnesota.

Timberwolves power forward Taj Gibson (1 point, 6 rebounds, 0-4 shooting) described Howard’s night, explaining, “We tried to get a body on him, but he was real active tonight. We tried to match it, but their whole group collectively did well moving the ball and had us strung out.”

It was Howard’s 49th career 20-20 game, which leads all active players.

The Celtics needed overtime, and a virtuoso performance from Kyrie Irving, but their winning streak remains intact, now at 16 straight games after a 110-102 victory down in Dallas. As they’ve done five times now during the streak, including in three consecutive games they fell behind double digits, but rallied down the stretch to pull out another victory.

Irving was magnificent, torching the Mavs for 47 points and 6 assists on 16-22 shooting. He outscored them himself, 17-12, down the stretch, and was a perfect 4-4 for 10 points in overtime.

“We’re just unwavering in our approach,” Irving said after the game. “And I think that we’ve been that way. In the last few games, we’ve been down quite a few, so for us it’s just about battling back when teams get a comfortable rhythm, whether it’d be in the first half or the second half. As a group, we continue just to stick together throughout anything and everything.”

While pleased that his team continues to find ways to win, coach Brad Stevens isn’t fully satisfied with their play as of late.

“We’ve got to play better,” the coach said. “We know that, but I do think we’ve been saying that kind of like a broken record. I do think we can take a step back and appreciate that comeback pretty good. Obviously, Kyrie made all those plays, but we had a number of effort plays there late that kind of kept us around.”

Harrison Barnes led the Mavs with 31 points and 6 rebounds, and torched Kyrie Irving in the third quarter, in which Dallas outscored the Celtics, 28-16. For awhile, it looked like the Mavericks were going to pull away, using their offensive creativity to get Irving switched on Barnes, and Dirk Nowitzki, who would just shoot over him. However, the Celtics adjusted in the fourth quarter, and the Mavs were unable to get as many easy shots to quell the Celtics rally.

Our Game of the Night turned into quite a dud, with the Cavaliers doing what they always do when challenged by an up and coming team. This time, it was the Pistons who fell victim to Cleveland “flipping the switch,” as they suffered a 116-88 defeat.

“That was 48 minutes of game planning and execution right from the beginning,” said LeBron James, who finished the night with 18 points and 8 assists. “They’ve been playing extremely good basketball. They were coming off a great win…so we knew that they were going to come out here and try to give us their best shot, and had to be ready for that.”

Despite the heavy defeat, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy still seemed proud of his team.

“I’m not upset at our guys. I didn’t see our guys quitting or anything like that,” the often ornery Pistons coach said. “We got a little bit shell shocked.”

Kevin Love led Cleveland with 19 points and 11 rebounds on 8-12 shooting. The less said about the Pistons box score, the better.

With a three pointer early in the third quarter, Bradley Beal became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 700 threes in his career, as his Wizards took care of the Bucks in a 99-88 victory. He finished with 23 points and 5 assists on 10-16 shooting.

The Clippers continued their unfortunate descent into basketball hell with a 107-85 loss to the Knicks. The loss was their ninth straight, and things are starting to get ornery. Patrick Beverley (9 points, 6 rebounds), never one to miss words, sounded off after the game.

“This … feels like 100 losses,” Beverley, playing in his first game after missing five in a row with an injury, said. “Straight up. This … is weak. This ain’t how I roll. That ain’t OK and I won’t allow it to be OK as long as I’m here. That’s a fact.”

“We too cool. We too cool,” he continued. “We come in this game, we come on the court like people are supposed to back down because of the name on the back of our jerseys and that’s not the case. The only thing people are looking at is the name on the front of our jersey, and that’s nine losses in a row.”

THE NIGHT AHEAD

(Only) Game of the Night – Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 pm, NBA TV)

Hilariously, there is only one game on tonight, a West Coast affair that sees the lowly Bulls visiting the Lakers. I can’t even watch this game because I don’t have NBA TV, and the games they show are blacked out on League Pass, so it’s no basketball for me, and with this matchup, it frankly might be a good idea to indulge in some of your non-basketball hobbies tonight.

 

NBA Playoffs Day 19: Game 2 Blowouts

As we did the other night, we’re joining the Cavs and the Raptors at halftime because I don’t get out of work in time for these 7:00 pm starts. Also, who cares about this series, anyway? Just kidding, I care about all of the series, but we do sort of know what to expect from it at this point. For instance, at halftime, it’s Cleveland 62, Toronto 48. Let’s head to Twitter to try and get a feel for what’s going on here…

See what I mean? We know what to expect from this series, right down to the Cavs having the same 14 point lead at halftime that they did in Game 1.

LeBron has 19 points to lead Cleveland, and Channing Frye has come off the bench to score ten. The Cavs are shooting 57.9% from the floor, and they’re a scorching 10-15 on their threes. Again, more of the same.

Not more of the same: Jonas Valanciunas leads the Raptors off the bench with 19 points! Kyle Lowry’s added 15 points, and you’d think this would be good news for the Raptors, but, DeMar DeRozan has scored just one point on 0-7 shooting.  Yuck!

Also, once again, it looks like the Cavs aren’t too worried about this one. Observe LeBron James messing around with the basketball before draining a three…

While we’re here, there was no Bonus for Tuesday’s games because I was at that Celtics game! What can I say about Isaiah Thomas that hasn’t already been said? Simply put, that was one of the most memorable individual performances I’ve ever seen, in one of the most most memorable games. Over the first half, I thought John Wall was going to have one of those games where he just wins it all by himself, and under normal circumstances, he did. Isaiah just outdid him, and it was awesome.

8:24 pm – All right, we’re back to Cleveland for the second half of Game 2 between the Cavs and the Raptors. Marv Albert and Brent Barry will narrate the action. How much do you want to bet that, like Game 1, the Cavs will win this game, 115-104?

8:26 – The second half is off to a horrendous start as it seems Kyle Lowry is injured underneath the basket. A reminder that things can always get worse. We solemnly go into a timeout. During the play, Serge Ibaka goaltended a shot from LeBron James, so our score’s Cleveland 64, Toronto 48 with 11:33 left in the third quarter.

8:29 – Looking at the replay, it seems that a falling Norman Powell careened right into Lowry’s knee. Lowry then dragged himself out of bounds to avoid any further contact with anyone. He walked off to the locker room with a limp, and as action continues, Cory Joseph is into the Raptors lineup to replace him.

8:30 – After Serge Ibaka sends LeBron to the ground with a hard hit, Tristan Thompson steps in and exchanges a few words with Serge. Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry is making his way back to the Raptors bench with an ankle injury, according to sideline reporter Kristen Ledlow. She reports he’ll test it out and see if he can get back into the game. After review, Ibaka gets called for a common foul.

8:33 – Kyle Lowry comes back into the game for the Raptors. Let’s see how effective he is going forward.

8:34 – Lowry immediately gets a layup, but he’s still hobbling around, as Marv Albert points out. Toronto trails, 66-52.

8:35 – Kyle Lowry gets called for a technical foul after he’s called for a foul slapping the ball away from Kyrie Irving. Lowry contends that it was a clean strip, but the refs don’t see it that way. Irving knocks down the technical free throw, plus the two he earned from the original foul, and the Cavs lead is 69-52. Lots of stuff is happening here to start the third, none of it good for the Raptors.

8:36 – LeBron James hits a three, tying him for second all time in NBA Playoff scoring with none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

8:37 – After Lowry’s fouled shooting a three, he knocks down his first two free throws, and before the third, the Cavs call a timeout with the score Cleveland 72, Toronto 56 with 8:52 left in the third quarter. Lowry deserves a hell of a lot of props for staying in the game, but he’s definitely struggling out there, despite how active he’s been since his return.

8:40 – Back from the timeout, Lowry knocks down his third free throw, and he’s up to 20 points, but the Raptors are down, 72-57.

8:43 – And with another three, LeBron is now in sole possession of second place on the NBA’s all time Playoff scoring list.

8:47 – Kyrie Irving finds Tristan Thompson all alone in the paint for one of the easiest dunks he’ll ever get. It leads to a timeout with the score Cleveland 85, Toronto 65 with 5:41 left in a third quarter that I am only half paying attention to.

Kyrie’s only shooting 4-15, but DeMar DeRozan’s at a lousy 0-8 from the field.

8:51 – DeRozan’s now 0-9 after missing a runner, but Serge Ibaka cleans up the mess with an offensive rebound and gets a bucket. Toronto’s down, 85-67.

8:59 – After Jonas Valanciunas tips the ball out of bounds, we’ll have a timeout with the score Cleveland 97, Toronto 73 with 2:40 left in the third quarter. The Cavs are pretty much openly dicking around with fancy passes as their lead continues to grow. The Raptors have started turning the ball over, and they look generally hopeless, I have to say.

9:01 – Back from the timeout, we learn that Kyle Lowry has limped back to the Raptors locker room.

9:03 – Not that it was in question, but, Kyle Lowry’s officially done for the night.

9:04 – The third quarter comes to an end without any Raptors field goals over the last four minutes and ten seconds, according to Marv Albert. As a result, the score’s Cleveland 99, Toronto 73. LeBron James is up to 36 points and seems to be genuinely delighting in ruining the Raptors season. Kyrie Irving, despite lousy 6-19 shooting, is up to 22 points and 11 assists. Meanwhile, the Raptors just lost their most important player to an injury, and their co-most important player is shooting 0-9.

9:07 – DeMar DeRozan kicks off the fourth quarter by making his first shot! Unfortunately, it’s still worth just two points, and the Raptors are down, 99-75.

9:12 – Another Raptors turnover as DeMarre Carroll steps out of bounds, and it’ll take us to another timeout with the score Cleveland 107, Toronto 79 with 8:53 remaining.

9:23 – The Cavs turn the ball over, and it’ll take us into a timeout. You know the game’s gotten bad when it’s turnovers, and not big baskets, that are sending us into timeouts. Anyway, it’s Cleveland 113, Toronto 90 with 5:09 left in the game.

9:29 – Iman Shumpert goes driving to the hoop for a layup, plus a foul, and finally it’s not a lousy turnover taking us into a timeout. Our score’s Cleveland 122, Toronto 97 with 1:39 mercifully remaining.

9:33 – Shumpert hits his free throw, and the Cavs lead goes up to 123-97. Marv Albert and Brent Barry are talking about volleyball movies, and I’m spending more time texting with the groom for the Bachelor Party I’m in charge with this weekend, than I am watching the game.

9:35 – The game comes to a close with a final score of Cleveland 125, Toronto 103. The 125 points set a Cavaliers franchise record for points in a Playoff game.

LeBron James had another great game, dropping 39 points on 10-14 shooting. That’s some efficient work. James also grabbed six rebounds, and shot 15-21 from the free throw line. Kyrie Irving added 22 points and 11 assists as the Cavs shot 54.1% from the floor, including an 18-33 effort from downtown.

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Jonas Valanciunas came off the bench to score 23 and grab 5 rebounds for the Raptors, and his fellow benchman, Cory Joseph, added 22 and 6. Kyle Lowry finished with 20 points and 5 assists, but he of course had to leave the game, and Raptors fans everywhere will hold their breaths until his status going forward is revealed.

I said this after Game 1, but, the Cavs just own the Raptors. Toronto has no answers for anything Cleveland throws at them, and everyone seems pretty resigned to an unfortunate Raptors fate.

9:43 – We’re whisked down to San Antonio for Game 2 between the Spurs and the Rockets. Game 1 was a surprising Rockets blowout, and the Spurs are looking to bounce back. Pau Gasol joins the starting lineup for San Antonio, replacing David Lee. Will this be more of the same like we saw up in Cleveland, or can the Spurs make the right adjustments to get themselves into this series?

9:45 – The Spurs take the opening tip, and Game 2 is underway at the AT&T Center.

9:46 – Kawhi Leonard knocks down a three, and the Spurs strike first. Trevor Ariza comes right back for a layup, and the Rockets are on the board, down 3-2.

9:52 – After Danny Green knocks down a three, we’ll head into our first timeout with the score San Antonio 19, Houston 16 with 6:22 left in a frantically paced first quarter. Obviously, this one’s off to a much better start for everyone than Game 1 was, but we already have a cause for concern…

9:55 – Back from the timeout, James Harden is still on the floor for the Rockets, but we’ll keep an eye on him.

9:58 – Ryan Anderson knocks down a transition three, and it’ll take us into another timeout as Anderson’s already up to ten points. The score’s San Antonio 25, Houston 19 with 3:32 left in the first quarter.

10:07 – David Lee finds LaMarcus Aldridge for a layup a mere 0.02 seconds before the first quarter expires, and it makes the score San Antonio 33, Houston 30 after one. Now this is more like it! Danny Green’s got nine points on 4-4 shooting to lead the Spurs, while Ryan Anderson has ten for the Rockets. The pace has been fast, and it seems like the Spurs are not so much disrupting the Rockets as they are just staying ahead of them. Nevertheless, it’s been awesome, but we’ll see if they can continue to hang at such a fast pace.

10:11 – Patrick Beverly kicks off the second quarter by getting to the bucket for a quick layup, plus a foul. He knocks down the free throw, and we’re tied at 33.

10:14 – Eric Gordon knocks down a shot, and we’ve got a timeout as the game continues in a fast paced, razzle-dazzle fashion. It’s San Antonio 39, Houston 37 with 9:19 left in the first half.

10:22 – The ball goes bouncing out of bounds for a timeout with the score San Antonio 50, Houston 46 with 5:50 left in the second quarter. After struggling in Game 1, LaMarcus Aldridge is contributing nicely for the Spurs here in Game 2.

10:32 – Tony Parker hits a three from the corner, and thanks in part to some sloppy possessions by the Rockets, the Spurs have been able to pull away to a double digit lead. It’s San Antonio 61, Houston 48 with 2:29 left until halftime.

10:40 – We’re here at halftime with a score of San Antonio 65, Houston 55. Kawhi Leonard’s been magnificent with 20 points and 5 assists on 7-9 shooting. Danny Green’s got 12 on 5-5 shooting, and Tony Parker’s added 11. Ryan Anderson has 15 points and 5 rebounds on 6-6 shooting to lead the Rockets, and Eric Gordon’s come off the bench to score 12. James Harden’s shooting just 1-9, and most surprisingly, has yet to attempt a free throw, but Houston is still well within shouting distance. Despite their deficit, the game is being played at their pace, which gives them a great shot at erasing this deficit if they can come out strong in the second half.

10:45 – I think it’s time for tonight’s episode of Today in Playoff History, brought to you by the scholars down at Basketball Reference!

It’s been a great bounce back for the Spurs so far tonight, but back in 1988, they suffered a first round sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers, thanks to a 109-107 loss in Game 3.

Walter Berry came off the Spurs bench to lead them with 27 points and 7 rebounds, Frank Brickowski had 22 points and 7 boards, and Alvin Robertson had 8 points, 5 rebounds, 11 assists and 4 steals. However, 25 points, 5 rebounds and 11 assists from Magic Johnson led the Lakers to the close victory. He had help off the bench from Mychal Thompson who submitted 23 points and 9 rebounds, while James Worthy contributed 16 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists.

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10:58 – Kawhi Leonard cans a jumper to start off the second half, and the Spurs lead swells up to 67-55.

11:01 – A Spurs turnover leads to Clint Capella, of all people, taking the ball down the court for a layup, and that Spurs lead is starting to shrink. A timeout is called with the score San Antonio 71, Houston 65 with 9:22 left in the third quarter.

11:11 – James Harden misses a three, and then he’s sent to the floor due to an accidental elbow from LaMarcus Aldridge after they both chase after the rebound. It leads into my least favorite aspect of the Playoffs – a long video review, coupled with Reggie Miller’s running commentary. It ends up being a common foul. Also, Harden appears to be okay, and he has one or two things to say to Aldridge as both teams get set to continue the game.

11:18 – After James Harden draws one of those infuriating fouls as he’s shooting a three, we have a timeout with a score of San Antonio 82, Houston 76 with 2:48 remaining in the third quarter. When we return, Harden will have a chance to make this a one possession game with his three free throws.

11:22 – James Harden goes 2-3 from the line, and the Rockets have cut this down to a four point game, trailing, 82-78.

11:24 – James Harden finds Eric Gordon behind the arc for a three, and it’s finally a one possession game with the Rockets behind, 84-81.

11:25 – Jonathan Simmons gets a bucket along the baseline, and the Spurs get their lead to 86-81. Lou Willams then fights his way inside for a layup, and the Rockets get the deficit down to 86-83.

11:26 – After a Jonathan Simmons jumper to close out the quarter, the score’s San Antonio 88, Houston 83. The Rockets are right back in this one, even with James Harden shooting a disgusting 3-15 from the floor. If they can keep the pace to their liking, they’ll have an excellent shot at overtaking the Spurs and heading home to Houston with a 2-0 series lead.

11:30 – Tony Parker misses a short shot, but Manu Ginobili “flies in untouched” as an excited Kevin Harlan puts it, and tips in the miss. It’s the first basket of the fourth, and it extends the Spurs lead to 90-83.

11:33 – Tony Parker finds Pau Gasol with a great bounce pass for a big dunk! The Spurs are on an 11-0 run after the Rockets got to within one possession, and we’ll have a timeout. The score’s San Antonio 97, Houston 83 with 10:07 left in the game after a perfect start to the fourth quarter for the Spurs.

11:38 – Oh dear. Tony Parker is sitting on the ground by himself, holding his knee. Looks like he had an awkward landing after attempting a runner. It’ll bring us into a timeout with the score still San Antonio 97, Houston 83 with 8:42 to go.

11:41 – We’re back, and Tony Parker was indeed carried off the court after taking a few painful steps himself. Kawhi Leonard replaces him in the Spurs lineup.

11:50 – Kawhi Leonard knocks down a three, and we’re getting a virtuoso performance out of the MVP candidate tonight. As we go into a timeout, it’s San Antonio 111, Houston 88 with 4:54 remaining. Kawhi’s up to 34 points on 13-16 shooting.

11:55 – Another timeout with the score San Antonio 114, Houston 88 with 3:57 left in the ball game. At this point, we’re all holding our breaths, waiting for news on Tony Parker.

11:59 – Allie LaForce, our intrepid sideline reporter, tells us that the Spurs say that Tony Parker has a “left leg injury”, and that he will go in for an MRI tomorrow. Eek.

12:04 am – This one draws to a close with a final score of San Antonio 121, Houston 96. Kawhi Leonard finishes with 34 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists on 13-16 shooting. Pau Gasol, inserted into the starting lineup, ended the night with 6 points, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks.

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Ryan Anderson led the Rockets with 18 points and 8 rebounds, while James Harden struggled mightily, shooting 3-17 and ending up with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 10 assists.

As much as things went well for the Rockets in Game 1, they went equally as bad here in Game 2. The Spurs also made some nice adjustments, starting Gasol and getting a nice spark from Jonathan Simmons. Of course, Kawhi Leonard played much better as well, leading his team to an important victory, tying the series after these teams have swapped blowouts.

Obviously, Tony Parker’s status is looming over an otherwise successful night for the Spurs. If he’s lost, it’ll be a serious blow to a team that doesn’t have a ton of point guard depth. We’ll know more after tomorrow’s MRI, but for now, best of luck to the Spurs veteran.

Each of the series we heard from tonight have been built upon blowouts, but at least the Rockets and Spurs seem equally likely to hand out a shellacking. As for the Eastern half of tonight’s action, it certainly looks like the Cavs are still looking for a worthy challenger in the Eastern Conference.

Remember earlier when I mentioned a Bachelor Party? That’s this weekend, so I won’t be around to cover the Playoff action. On top of that, a cousin I’ve never met before is in town, so I’ll be meeting him tomorrow, and as a result, The Bonus will return next week. Hopefully nothing exciting or interesting happens in the NBA Playoffs between now and then, but I wouldn’t count on it. So, with that in mind, dear readers, keep watching, because it’s been a great Playoffs so far, and keep me in your thoughts this weekend as I try and survive what promises to be a lively bachelor party.