No. 1: Raptors' hopes of comeback hinge on Lowry's health -- The Toronto Raptors find themselves in a similar to one they faced in the 2016 Playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They're in a 2-0 series hole to the Cavs -- much like they were in the Eastern Conference finals a year ago. Beyond the mere passage of time, though, other things have changed for Toronto -- the foremost being the status of point guard Kyle Lowry, who is questionable for Game 3 (7 ET, ESPN) with a sprained ankle. Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun has more:
But the big difference this year heading into Game 3 is that any comeback by the Raptors, assuming they have a comeback left in them, may just go off with the potential absence of Kyle Lowry from the proceedings.
That looked like a very real possibility after Lowry badly sprained his left ankle when teammate Norm Powell was thrown into him as the Cavs attacked the Toronto basket early in the third quarter Wednesday.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that Lowry came back and played another eight minutes on that ankle either. The Raptors training staff informed the coaching staff that as long as the ankle didn’t stiffen up, he would be fine to play. But as soon as he stopped and it did stiffen up, that would be it for Lowry.
Lowry did not practise Thursday, instead getting an MRI on that injured left ankle to rule out any structural damage.
Throw in the fact that he could barely put his full weight on it Wednesday night without cursing and there is a real possibility that he will not play in Game 3.
“Kyle is our driving force, our point guard, our leader,” DeRozan said. “So for us not to have him anything close to 100%, it would be difficult on us. But next guy, everybody else gotta do something a little bit more to fill whatever void it is he can’t fully do out there on the court.”
The Lowry uncertainty just seems to be piling on at this point when it comes to the issues facing the Raptors’ as they attempt to come back from a 2-0 deficit against the defending world champs.
There’s the potential of Lowry’s loss and all that entails, the need to find some way to keep the Cavs from getting everything they want offensively, whether that’s their seemingly unstoppable three-point game or James just scoring at will, and equally importantly finding space for DeRozan to get his game going.
So far in the series, they can’t stop the Cavs while failing miserably at the other end to get any kind of offence of their own. DeRozan, coming off a five-point night in Game 2, is incredibly frustrated by both his own struggles and that of his team.
But history has shown us that DeRozan can change in a heartbeat, just as he did a year ago with a pair of 32-point games in the third and fourth games of the series.
It would be nice if there was some indication the Raptors were capable of making that happen this year.
Right now, the only thing on their side is history.
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No. 2: Rockets know Spurs won't let up in wake of Parker's absence -- San Antonio Spurs fans everywhere had to be feeling a little glum yesterday after word came down star point guard Tony Parker will miss the rest of the playoffs. A ruptured left quadriceps has put Parker on ice going forward, yet the Houston Rockets aren't about to let up because, well, they know what the Spurs can do. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more:
As horrible as the news of Parker's ruptured quadriceps muscle had to be for the team the Rockets want to beat, it was bad news for the Rockets, too. Yet, as great a loss as Parker can be, the Rockets argued their Spurs will be all right.
"Man, he's been a staple in their organization for so long that he's done so many things for them, in the playoffs, throughout the regular season, that him not being there is going to be a huge hole for them," forward Trevor Ariza said. "What he brings to their team, I don't know how you replace that. Not saying they don't have good enough players to step in. But what he brought to that team, I think it's unmatched."
"You never want to see a player injured, especially a guy like TP, who is closing down at the end of his career," Rockets guard James Harden said. "He's been playing well all post-season. It's tough. We say a prayer for him. Hopefully, he can recover and get better soon.
"You can take anybody off that roster and they're a great team. Well coached. Very disciplined. It doesn't matter who's in the lineup, who's out of the lineup, they're going to be good and we have to be ready and we have to be even better. Same system. Same players. Their leader, Kawhi (Leonard), is aggressive. But they do the same things."
Patty Mills started the first game between the Rockets and Spurs this season as the Spurs went 15-4 when Mills started. Mills led the Spurs in net rating this season, with the Spurs outscoring opponents by 12 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
"You know how (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich) is; his team is a machine," Rocket guard Pat Beverley said. "One person falls down; next person steps up. They are going to come out with a lot more energy, we understand that. It won't be easy, but we are excited. We stole home court, and we have to protect home court now.
"It's unfortunate what happened to Tony Parker. Anyone who knows me, knows I'm a huge fan of his game. He's always been a good person to me ... always gave me words of wisdom. Me and my family are definitely praying for Tony. It's unfortunate. I really enjoyed the challenge this series with Tony really pushed me to be locked in each and every game because I know the capabilities he has. It's unfortunate."
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No. 3: Celtics bemoan lack of urgency in Game 3 loss -- When they looked up after the first quarter, the Boston Celtics were in a 39-17 hole in Game 3 to the Washington Wizards. That -- and a scuffle between Washington's Kelly Oubre and Boston's Kelly Olynyk -- set the tone in a blowout win for the Wizards that the Celtics feel could have gone a different way writes Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:
“Just coming out with more urgency. It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true,” Avery Bradley said. “We came out kind of cool, and they won the jump ball and attacked us right away. We have to do a better job defending those guys consistently.”
They weren’t cool for long, though.
The snarky nature of this rivalry carried on with eight technical fouls in Game 3, including ejections for Washington’s Kelly Oubre Jr. and Brandon Jennings and the Celtics’ Terry Rozier — the latter two after a pair of confrontations in the fourth quarter. The bad feeling spilled to the sideline, as coaches Brad Stevens and Scott Brooks earned technicals for separate complaints. In Stevens’ case, perhaps the complaint was about the horrid performance by his team.
Oubre was ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul, the cost for shoving Kelly Olynyk to the floor in the second quarter following a hard pick by the Celtics big man.
Considering the ill will that has spread between these two teams the past two seasons, both sides have every right to expect this tenor will continue.
“That’s the whole game. We talked about how we can’t go down big early. That’s what happened,” said Jae Crowder (14 points, seven rebounds), one of the few Celtics with a decent night. “They were the most aggressive team. We got down early and fought from behind the rest of the way.
“We’ve got to match it. It’s the playoffs, and the home team has been the most physical team. We were the most physical team at home, and the tables turned today.”
The takeaway is equally simple.
“Still the same game plan for who we want to attack, but it’s having a different mindset moving on to Game 4, imposing our will earlier in the game and not playing from behind,” Crowder said. “It’s about adjusting your mindset.”
Bradley admits maintaining composure has to be part of that mindset.
“You have to be physical but smart at the same time,” the guard said. “That’s the type of team we need to be. That’s how the best teams are. They don’t let teams get them out of their game plan. That’s what happened tonight. We lost composure a little bit. . . . Hats off to those guys. They played basketball the right way.”
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No. 4: Utah's point guards keep it together in Game 2 -- Hours before last night's Game 2 vs. the Golden State Warriors, the Utah Jazz announced starting point guard George Hill (toe) would miss the game. That opened the door for thoughts of a Warriors romp, but that didn't happen thanks to not-too-terrible play from Raul Neto, Shelvin Mack and Dante Exum. Mike Sorenson of The Deseret News has more:
The three point guards, Shelvin Mack, Raul Neto and Dante Exum combined for 26 points and eight assists, with Mack doing most of the damage. The problem was another slow start out of the gates until the Jazz clawed their way back into the game before coming up short.
Prior to the game, coach Quin Snyder explained how he would man the point guard spot, saying, “It’s not like we roll the dice or flip a coin. We’re going to need (all three) guys. We go into a game like this when we have injuries, substitution patterns are different, you see where you are . . . I don’t know. I do know what different guys' strengths are.”
Mack finished with a good line of 14 points (including 3 of 5 from 3-point range), four assists and three rebounds, while Exum had seven points and two assists and Neto finished with five points and a pair of assists.
Mack didn’t hurt the Jazz in his opening stint of eight minutes, assisting on the first basket of the game by Joe Johnson and sinking a 3-pointer for the second basket.
Neto, who played in just 40 games this year and never got a start after starting 53 games as a rookie last year, was first off the bench and he assisted on a basket in his four minutes.
Next up was Exum, who had started 41 games as a rookie in 2014-15, but only 26 games this year when he also missed 16 games because of injury and coach’s decision. Exum, who had made three baskets in garbage time at the end of Game 1, made an immediate impact in the second quarter with an assist to Boris Diaw and a nice drive to the basket.
It is unknown whether Hill will be ready to play by Saturday night, but if not, the Jazz will go back to their committee of point guards.
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