No. 1: Tempting to turn to Lance, but leave it alone -- In the wake of a nail-biting loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1, Indiana Pacers coach Nate McMillan was asked if he'd adjust his starting lineup with Lance Stephenson. He said no, of course. And as tempting as it might be, the thought of shaking things up for Game 2 tonight at Quicken Loans Arena (7 ET, TNT) with the unpredictable Stephenson, Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star agrees with McMillan that it's best to leave the first five alone:
Of course the Indiana Pacers’ starting lineup would be better with Lance Stephenson replacing Monta Ellis at shooting guard. If that were the debate here, well, the debate would be over.
The more time Lance spends on the floor, the better the Pacers are. Let him play with the starters, let him play with the reserves, let him play more, more, more. Born Ready needs a new nickname: Barbecue Sauce.
Because everything is better with barbecue sauce.
The Pacers are better with Lance Stephenson, so much better than the pile of 37-39 mediocrity that was steaming toward the 2017 NBA draft lottery before Lance got here. Some math is simple. Without Lance: 37-39. With Lance: 5-2 – and those two losses were by a combined six points. To the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. In Cleveland.
More Lance? Yes, obviously.
But let’s be clear: Pacers coach Nate McMillan is right to leave Lance on the bench to start Game 2 on Monday, as he said he would do.
“I know people are excited about wanting to see Lance maybe play a little bit more,” McMillan was saying Sunday, after Stephenson was the Pacers’ second-best player – behind Paul George – in a 109-108 loss in Game 1 on Saturday. “But we’re going to focus on what’s best for the team and try to keep it balanced.”
In 27 minutes Saturday, Stephenson had 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists, no turnovers. He was 8-for-13 from the floor. More minutes? Absolutely.
Putting Stephenson in the starting lineup? Absolutely not.
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No. 2: Lillard takes trash talk from Green as 'a challenge' -- Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum were unbelievable in Portland's Game 1 loss to the Golden State Warriors, doing any and everything to battle the league's best team for every inch. But in the end, their best simply wasn't good enough against an energized Warriors team eager to redeem themselves after last season's Finals fizzle. Throw in some Draymond Green trash talk throughout that loss and Lillard has all the fuel he needs, writes Joe Freeman of The Oregonian:
There was a little trash-talking, a flurry of incredible offensive performances, a game-sealing run and a whole lot of Draymond Green.
But hidden beneath the highlights of an entertaining slugfest between the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, there was also a surprising discovery.
This best-of-seven series might just end up being more competitive than anyone thought.
The underdog Blazers went toe-to-toe with the supposedly unbeatable Warriors for three quarters Sunday afternoon before stumbling in the fourth quarter and falling 121-109 to the Western Conference champions at Oracle Arena.
At the center of the beat-down was Green, the bombastic matchup nightmare loved by Warriors fans and loathed by everyone else. Green terrorized the Blazers in Game 1, finishing with 19 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, five blocks, three steals and too much trash-talking to count. Included in the 37-minute personal highlight reel that showed why he's the leading contender for Defensive Player of the Year were two especially incredible blocks.
He also affected the game with his relentless tongue. There was a heavy dose of trash-talk between the teams Sunday and much of it seemed to be spearheaded by Green, who has never been shy about antagonizing opponents. In the second quarter, Lillard and Green jawed back and forth on the perimeter as Green took a break in between free throw attempts. Another time, when the teams were going their separate ways during a timeout, Green chirped at Harkless and Turner, which snowballed into a four-person jaw-fest that eventually included Durant.
If anything, Lillard said, Green's taunting provided a boost.
"I think (Green) raises the level of the game," Lillard said. "I don't even talk trash and he was saying so much out there that I had a whole lot to say (Sunday). I think that's just good for the game. I think the league has softened up a lot. He's not like that. So you better have a rough guy like him out there. I think it's necessary and I think their team, they depend on him to be that dog out there, to be that person. For me, it's just going to make me raise the level of my game. I take it as a challenge."
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No. 3: Hawks get whipped MMA style in Washington -- Paul Millsap said his team played basketball against Washington in Game 1 Sunday. The Wizards, he said, operated with MMA principles, a nod to the physicality the Wizards employed to finish off the Hawks at Verizon Center. It might sound like sour grapes everywhere but D.C. But if nothing else is clear after that first game, as Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, the playoffs have officially begun for these teams:
The playoffs have begun.
Make no mistake.
In a physical game – with plenty of heated words exchanged – the Hawks took one punch from the Wizards. But not two.
The Wizards grabbed control of a game they led early with a strong third quarter. The result was a 114-107 victory over the Hawks in Game 1 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center.
Paul Millsap and Markieff Morris exchanged words. Dennis Schroder and John Wall exchanged words. Welcome to the NBA playoffs.
However, Millsap took issue with the physical nature in which the game was officiated. At one point, Morris dove on Millsap’s midsection as he was on the floor with a loose ball over his head. A jump ball was called.
“The difference in the game was we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA,” Millsap said of the difference in the game. “They were physical. When the game is like that we have to match their physicality. But again, we’ve got to go get some moves and bring them back to the court.”
The Wizards put up 38 third-quarter points, with John Wall scoring 15 of them. The Wizards had 17 field goals in the third quarter. They had 16 in the first half. The Wizards took an 83-76 lead into the fourth quarter despite leading by as many as 14 points in the period. The Wizards pushed their lead to as many as 15 points and held on for the series-opening win.
The Hawks closed to within five points, 108-103, with 2:04 remaining on a Taurean Prince corner 3-pointer. However, the Wizards scored the next four points from the free-throw line for enough separation.
“I thought they were more aggressive than us in the third quarter on both ends,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Usually the aggressor is rewarded. We have to remember that and take that forward.”
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No. 4: Harden, Rockets win round 1 of MVP fight that's already over -- James Harden wanted no part of the MVP race that he insists is already over. Whatever campaigning he and Russell Westbrook did during the regular season is over and will not play a factor the first round series between Harden's Rockets and Westbrook's Thunder, per Harden. Good luck convincing the rest of the basketball world that it's a non-factor. But it wasn't the Rockets' trademark 3-point shooting that did the Thunder in. It was everything else. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman has more:
James Harden missed his first 3-point shot.
An air ball. Seemed like that ought to be a good omen for the Thunder.
But Rocket hustler Patrick Beverley saved the ball while jumping out of bounds and a few seconds later got the ball back for an open 3-pointer. Swish.
On Houston’s next possession, Steve Adams blocked James Harden’s driving shot, but Harden corralled the ball and flipped to Beverley. Another 3-pointer.
The next time the Rockets got the ball, Ryan Anderson missed a 3-pointer. But Clint Capela outjumped Steven Adams for the rebound and passed to a cutting Trevor Ariza for a dunk.
The Thunder had played solid defense, with nothing to show for it. It was a sign of things to come.
The Rockets routed OKC 118-87 Sunday night in Game 1 of their Western Conference playoff series, after heating up in the second half. And the Rockets always heat up.
But it wasn’t 3-pointers that sunk the Thunder. It was getting beat at its own game.
The best way to beat these spread-it-out, shoot-it-up Rockets is to muscle them. Push them around. Batter them on the boards.
Instead, the Thunder was the team pushed around. The Rockets had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, when they outscored OKC 21-0 in second-chance points.
Somehow, the Thunder trailed only 59-54 at halftime, but that was fool’s gold, considering Houston had made just three of 16 3-pointers, and all three makes came off offensive rebounds. Houston made four 3-pointers in the first 7-1/2 minutes of the third quarter, and the rout was on.
The final numbers were ugly. The Rockets outscored OKC 31-4 in second-chance points. Rebounding has to go the Thunder’s way to have any chance in this series. Instead, Capela and Nene Hilario continually made the Thunder pay.
Nene and Capela combined for 29 points on 14 of 17 shooting, plus 12 rebounds. Thunder big men Enes Kanter and Adams combined for 14 points on six of 13 shooting, plus eight rebounds. That’s a recipe for Thunder disaster.
“We limited their second-chance points and made it tough for them pretty much the whole night,” said Ariza.
Adams and Kanter have to play better. Each had one offensive rebound, Adams in almost 28 minutes, Kanter in 16-1/2 minutes.
If the Thunder can’t rebound better than that, Billy Donovan is better off going super small and not even playing a center.
Part of the problem was OKC’s defensive strategy, which switches on all screens and often took Adams, Kanter or Taj Gibson far from the basket. That is a mismatch on two ends: 1) a Thunder big man trying to keep up with Harden or Eric Gordon or Lou Williams, adept shooters and ballhandlers; 2) a Thunder guard or wing trying to box out the springy Capela or the burly Nene.
Thirteen of the 21 second-chance points in the first half came against OKC’s big lineup.
It all has to leave Donovan wondering what to do in Game 2. His big lineup otherwise held up, guarding the Houston perimeter reasonably well. But the rebounding domination put OKC in a severe hole. Through three quarters, Houston had outscored the
Thunder 50-32 in the paint; the Rockets had made 25 of 37 shots in the paint, despite a much smaller team.
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES:It's too early to tell if Jusuf Nurkic will get his opportunity to battle the Golden State Warriors, but the Trail Blazers are hopeful their prized big man will see action at some point ... Win or lose a game in the playoffs, Raptors coach Dwane Casey is living his (basketball) dream ... The Los Angeles Clippers have studied their Game 1 mistakes and are trying to stay upbeat for Game 2 ... Thon Maker helped hype up the Bucks in his first taste of the playoffs ... A 1-0 series lead is a great start for the Utah Jazz, but by no means an invitation to relax ...