Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics @ Cleveland
Cavaliers lead 2-0
For a title contender, they let their defense slip to below average levels at times today. It was worrying that, despite the Celtics struggling to find a flow on offense, the Cavaliers never really put them away until late in the fourth quarter. While that speaks volumes the character of this Celtics team, the Cavaliers need to gather the cojones to put the proverbial foot on the jugular and close out games earlier if and when they can. They also broke character or some ill advised shots, especially JR Smith. While they have the ability to rally and comeback against an underdog Celtics team, they will have a tough time against a more elite defensive team that will come out of the Bulls vs. Bucks matchup. Mozgov was brilliant today, rightly trailing behind every shot / layup to follow up with a tip in case of a miss. Love contributed defensively, something that one does not see often and something that the Cavaliers can most definitely use as they progress along the playoffs. The Cavaliers seemed to be using more off the ball screens today, an adjustment from on-the-ball screens between the Lebron-Kyrie-Love combination they used in Game 1. Lebron seems to have settled into a Chris Paul-like pace with his game, getting his teammates in volved for three quarter and taking matters into his hands in the fourth. This gives the Cavaliers the cushion to allow Kyrie, Love and the rest of the Cavalier team to find their legs and pace in playoff basketball.
The Celtics are giving the Cavaliers everything they can handle, and then some. What was most impressive was even when, in the third quarter, the Cavaliers made a run and went up by 13, they stuck to their system and pulled back within 4 in almost no time. It spoke volumes of their character that despite of their struggles in the first half, the Cavaliers could not put them (the Celtics) away until late in the game. I’d like to see more movement of the ball on offense, something that worked for them in Game 1. They aren’t a team with stars and great one-on-one players, so stagnating the offense after a screen or two for a jump shot does not work for them and it showed early in this game. The moment they began to move the ball more in the second half they found the basket much easier, and made came back from 13 down to within 4 in almost no time. Stevens will look to run a few plays for Sullinger especially if he continues to make those threes and the Cavaliers do not switch / rotate on him.
Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards @ Toronto
Wizards lead 2-0
I do not recognize this Toronto team. Gone is the comfort level they had in running offensive rotations during the regular season. Come playoff time, something in this Raptors team has switched, and I’m sure even they do not know what it is. They are struggling on both ends of the floor, with respite coming in spurts during brief runs spread across the duration of the entire game. It will be tough for them to win 4 out of the next five, especially after losing home court advantage. They look like the underdog in this series now. There are glimmers of hope…(Amir) Johnson is still as effective, Lou Williams struggled in this game but has the ability to snap out of his funk, Kyle Lowry is still an All Star and both Ross and DeRozan can pull their weight. This is still a team loaded with talent, question is can they come together and play as a team to at least win back home court advantage in Game 3? Whatever they need to do, they need to do fast because this Wizards team not only has the momentum, but it has Pierce, who is the veteran presence needed in the locker room to keep the Wizards humble in pursuit of that second round appearance. I certainly hope Casey spends the next few sleepless nights crafting a master plan to stop the Wizards in their tracks.
I do not recognize this Wizards team. Gone are the deer-in-the-headlights offensive and defensive rotations that made them a team least deserving of a playoff spot in a very very long time. They had no business being here. Yet, here they are up 2-0, both road wins, against the higher seed who happen to be a very effective and established offensive threat in the East. I’ve said this before, the Wizards are surviving on sheer talent, the only difference in this game was all the talent moved like they had a purpose. They still played barely league average defense at best, but offensively they have found a groove that they are hoping will take them past the Raptors. Good things happen when John Wall is left by himself, something that the Wizards team (unintentionally / innocently) sabotaged in Game 1 by setting too many picks for him. Wall is among the top ten one-on-one players in the League, something he proved in this game by notching a 26-17 on 50% shooting. Beal was spectacular and so was Porter (and unusual but not surprising suspect), and if the Wiz keep playing with this sense of purpose, something Pierce is sure to lecture them on, look for a first round upset.
Houston Rockets vs. Dallas Mavericks @ Houston
Rockets lead 2-0
The Rockets we built by mastermind Daryl Morey to play the way they played in Game 2. High lobs to Dwight. Harden at the line. Wing players like Brewer and Ariza making cuts and making threes, and Josh Smith doing everything he should be doing except taking threes. As much as I personally dislike the Rockets for Harden’s getting-cheap-calls-on-the-move style of play and Dwight’s dwightness, I must admit to enjoy watching the second half when they clinically took apart the Mavericks, one basket after the other. Josh Smith took quickly to being the facilitator on offense, and here’s hoping he realizes that he most effective in the low post area from where he can make those crisp passes to either of the wings or lob it to an undermatched (in this series) Howard. Don’t be fooled by his 20 pt games, because Harden hasn’t still taken over. It will be ugly for the Mavericks if he does and the other Rockets perform the way they did today. Nearly every aspect of their game was on point and you’d have to be a sucker for perfection to pick a single flaw. If anything, I’d like them to make adjustments on Barea who is proving to be the X-Factor for the Mavericks. But all in all, the Rockets played some beautiful basketball today. So uncharacteristic of them.
Everything went right for the Rockets. Nothing went right for the Mavericks. They looked out of sorts right from the whistle and it may have had to do with the psychological injury of not having Parsons on the floor. They were never a good defensive team, but they were beyond terrible today. They gave up on nearly every second possession, simply forgetting to rotate defensively. Of course the emergence of Smith as a “elite” passer in this game coupled with Dwight’s resurrection made it difficult to switch, but the least the Mavericks could have done is tried. There were possessions where Chandler, the only rim protector they have, looked so helpless deciding whether to help on a Harden-Smith pick-and-roll or stick with Howard lurking in the paint in search of lobs. Not having Chandler hurt them on both ends of the floor, but give credit where due, the Rockets choked them on defense, making sure they worked for every shot they took this game. Aminu was a bright spot, and if he can elevate his play the Mavericks may steal a game at home. But from the looks of it, the Rockets are gonna enjoy and feed off this new found efficiency. And for whatever reason they don’t, they’ll always have Harden.