The Celtics, Bucks and Rockets all handled their business on Wednesday, and all took 2-0 leads in their series. Of course, they say a series really doesn’t start until the home team loses a game, but we haven’t seen anything that leads me to believe any of the favorites aren’t going to win in these three series. And Blake Griffin (knee) still hasn’t played in these playoffs.
Celtics 99, Pacers 91 – Celtics lead 2-0
The Celtics, powered by Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum, won the fourth quarter of this one 31-12 to take a 2-0 lead in the series. Irving put a lot of bad memories from earlier this season in the rearview mirror, torching the Pacers for 37 points, six rebounds, seven assists, a steal, two blocks and six 3-pointers on 15-of-26 shooting. Sure, the Celtics are probably still a bit of a dysfunctional family, but winning cures all, right? Irving scored 19 points in the second half and helped dominate the fourth quarter, when the Celtics went on a 16-0 run, while Tatum came through with 10 points in the decisive fourth quarter. Tatum was big last night, hitting 11-of-20 shots and three 3-pointers for 26 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal in his 39 minutes. Al Horford was battling an illness and was quiet, hitting just 2-of-6 shots for four points, but also had 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, and Gordon Hayward added 13 points, five boards and a 3-pointer off the bench. Starters Aron Baynes and Jaylen Brown were both really quiet in this one, and Terry Rozier hasn’t stepped up in the absence of Marcus Smart (oblique). Irving only committed two turnovers and Brad Stevens is outcoaching Nate McMillan thus far. I don’t see that trend changing, and you have to think the Celtics will take one of the next two games in Indy, which should effectively end the series for all intents and purposes. Horford should be better in Game 3 now that his illness should be behind him.
The Pacers got just eight points, three boards, two assists, two blocks and two 3-pointers from Myles Turner, as both starting centers were very quiet in Game 2. Bojan Bogdanovic led the way for Indy with 23 points, eight boards, three assists, four steals and four 3-pointers on 9-of-21 shooting, Thaddeus Young had 15 points, six boards, three assists, three steals, a block and a 3-pointer, starter Darren Collison added 13 points, three assists and a 3-pointer, and Tyreke Evans had 13 points, seven boards and three 3-pointers off the bench. Domantas Sabonis was invisible with one point in 22 minutes, and the Pacers are really going to need Turner and Sabonis to step up if they’re going to hang with the Celtics in this one. The Celtics have more talent, a better coach and home-court advantage, which doesn’t bode well for the Pacers. But getting two wins at home could change the momentum in this one. The problem is, I’m not sure the Pacers are capable of beating Boston in two straight games without Victor Oladipo. If the Pacers hadn’t lost Dipo, they’d be seeded higher, playing a different team, and would be a much more formidable opponent for whoever they were playing. Just like in fantasy, injuries are the ultimate buzzkill in hoops. The Pacers have to find a way to avoid taking a quarter off in the future, as a third-quarter, 8-point collapse took them down in Game 1, and a 12-point fourth-quarter meltdown ruined them in Game 2. The Pacers missed 10 straight shots at one point in the fourth quarter last night. Game 3 is Friday in Indy.
Bucks 120, Pistons 99 – Bucks lead 2-0
Eric Bledsoe, and not Giannis Antetokounmpo, led the Bucks with 27 points, four rebounds, six assists, three steals, a block and three 3-pointers on 11-of-19 shooting in another easy win. Giannis overcame some early foul trouble and a quiet first half, and hit 11-of-18 shots and a 3-pointer for 26 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, and Khris Middleton came through with 24 points, five rebounds, a team-high eight assists, a steal and two 3-pointers, and that was really all the Bucks needed against the undermanned Pistons. Pat Connaughton, helping to fill in for injured Malcolm Brogdon (foot), was nice off the bench with 18 points, nine rebounds, three assists, four blocks and two 3-pointers in 31 minutes, and is an intriguing DFS play for as long as Brogdon is out. Sterling Brown was quiet in this one, finishing with eight points, three rebounds, an assist, a block and a 3-pointer in 26 minutes. It’s going to be tough to figure out if Brown or Connaughton is the DFS play from night-to-night in the playoffs, but Connaughton was the guy in Game 2. It wasn’t a great night for several centers, and you can add Brook Lopez to that list, as he hit just 3-of-8 shots for eight points, six boards, a steal and a 3-pointer in the easy win. The Bucks are cruising through this series, as expected.
Blake Griffin (left knee) was a game-time decision, but sat out again on Wednesday and it’s unknown if he’ll play at all in this series. Luke Kennard, who came off the bench in Game 1, started and led the Pistons with 19 points, four rebounds, two assists, a steal and four 3-pointers, and it’s hard to imagine a team led offensively by Kennard beating the Bucks in one game, let alone four of them. Andre Drummond had 18 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks, and Reggie Jackson also scored 18 with eight assists and a 3-pointer in the loss. Ish Smith struggled in this one, hitting just 3-of-13 shots, and the Pistons got nothing off their bench. Unless Griffin makes an incredible comeback and battles with Giannis, this thing has sweep written all over it. Griffin has picked up a technical foul off the bench in both games of this series, which is probably some sort of record. Thon Maker is starting for Griffin and not doing much, and Game 3 is Saturday in Detroit.
Rockets 118, Jazz 98 – Rockets lead 2-0
James Harden hit 11-of-24 shots and six 3-pointers on his way to 32 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, a steal and eight turnovers for his third career playoff triple-double, and the Rockets were never really challenged in this one. Chris Paul came through with 17 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks, a 3-pointer and six turnovers, and P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon each scored 16 points, hitting a combined seven triples with two steals a piece. In keeping with the trend of quiet centers, Clint Capela had just seven points and 10 rebounds, but also had a steal and three blocks in the win. The Rockets bench was pretty quiet, led by Danuel House and Austin Rivers with eight points each, but so far, the Rockets haven’t been slowed down by the normally stout defense of the Jazz. Both games in this series have been blowout wins by the Houston. On a side note, has there ever been a better pairing of coach and player than Mike D’Antoni and Harden? If there has been, I’d like to hear it.
The Jazz got a balanced attack, which is not what they need against the Rockets. They need guys like Donovan Mitchell (5-of-19, 11 points, 6 assists, 4 turnovers), Rudy Gobert (11 points, 12 rebounds, zero blocks) and Joe Ingles (7 points, 5 steals, 1-of-6 3-pointers) to step up and go off, but it didn’t happen in Game 2. Ricky Rubio came through with 17 points, four rebounds, nine assists, four steals and a 3-pointer, Derrick Favors had 14 points and 12 boards, and Royce O’Neale hit 7-of-10 shots and three 3-pointers for 17 points, four assists and a steal off the bench, but the Jazz are going to need all hands on deck if they’re going to stop the Rockets. Mitchell has hit just 12-of-37 shots with nine turnovers in the first two games of this series, and they’re going to need a huge offensive burst from him if they’re going to do something to challenge the Rockets. Home court will help, and Game 3 is set for Saturday in Utah. Calling all stars.