No. 1: George calls out teammates after Game 2 loss — Postgame comments from Paul George have shaped a lot of the storyline for the Indiana Pacers in their playoff run thus far. He had something to say about not getting the last shot in Game 1 and after last night’s 117-111 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2, George was talking again about his squad. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com has more:
Following Indiana’s 117-111 loss Monday to fall down 0-2 in their first-round series with the Cavs, George aimed at both Lance Stephenson and Myles Turner.
Stephenson — signed to a three-year deal late in the regular season and a major reason Indiana is in the postseason in the first place, with the Pacers going 6-1 after he was added to the team — had a plus/minus of minus-7 in five minutes in the third quarter when Cleveland took control of the game.
“He’s got to learn to control himself and be in the moment,” George said. “Lance, in our locker room, is looked upon as a leader. His body language has to improve — just for the team. We all know that Lance is an emotional guy. A lot of it is his heart and his competitiveness. That emotion comes out of him. He’s got to channel that toward making effort plays on the court and doing whatever he needs for us to succeed.”
With the Pacers going small in the third quarter, Cleveland targeted Kevin Love in the post against the combustible Stephenson. Love scored time and time again, with Stephenson picking up three fouls and at one point slamming the ball to the floor in frustration following a whistle against him.
George also wanted to see more out of Turner, the Pacers’ second-year center, who finished with six points on 3-for-10 shooting, five rebounds and three blocks in Game 2 after averaging 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game in the regular season.
“We just need him to challenge Tristan [Thompson], keep him off the boards,” George said of the 21-year-old Turner. “He needs to make himself available down low in the post. He needs to know at this point he has to take it to the next level. We’ll continue to work with him.
“I’ve been in his ear all the way up until this point — you know, that next step. And growth for him. In this league, you’ve got to find it. He’s still young. He’s still learning, so it’s a good thing. We’re going to work with him.”
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No. 2: Fizdale, Grizzlies show fire in Game 2 loss — If you somehow haven’t heard or otherwise missed Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale’s rant after last night’s Game 2, we’ve got you covered …
His comments and quips will live on for a long, long time in Grizzlies lore, but as Geoff Calkins of The Commercial Appeal points out, Game 2 was about much more than a sound bite:
Fizdale went through all the free throw numbers. His voice rose in bitter volume as he spoke.
“It was a very poorly officiated basketball game,” Fizdale said. “Overall, 35 times we shot the ball in the paint, we had 15 free throws for the game. They shot 18 times in the paint and had 32 free throws and Kawhi Leonrd shot more free throws than our whole team! Explain it to me! We don’t get the respect that these guys deserve because Mike Conley doesn’t go crazy, he has class and just plays the game, but I’m not going to let them treat us that way!
“I know Pop’s got pedigree and I’m a young rookie but they’re not going to rook us. That’s unacceptable, that was unprofessional. Our guys dug in that game and earned the right to be in that game and they did not even give us a chance!”
So at least there was anger, instead of abject humiliation. At least here was indignation, instead of more indignity.
The Memphis Grizzlies lost their 10th straight playoff game to the San Antonio Spurs, 96-82. But at least they regained some of themselves in the process. From the coach on down, they finally showed some fight.
And, no, that is not supposed to be good enough for the Grizzlies, a franchise that has been to the playoffs seven straight years. But given the way things had been proceeding, it was important to regain some respect.
The Spurs 26-point lead was cut to 10 by the end of the third quarter. When Marc Gasol spun into the lane for a 3-point play, the Grizzlies drew within four.
“I was really just proud of all our raw competition our team brought to the game,” Fizdale said. “I don’t think anybody watching the game could say we were out-competed in the second half. I just really thought we brought incredible, ferocious effort in the second half. Obviously, it wasn’t enough.”
No, it wasn’t. And there are a couple reasons for that. First, the Grizzlies still have an exceedingly limited roster. Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden can’t be permanently consigned to the bench. So Grizzlies fans can’t seriously point to officiating as the only reason they lost this one. But they are free to co-sign Fizdale’s rant.
And Fizdale may have found something in the revamped starting lineup, with Zach Randolph back where he has always quietly believed he belonged.
“It felt good getting out there and getting a rhythm,” is how Randolph put it.
Would he like to be in the starting lineup for Game 3?
“I mean, yeah, definitely,” he said. “But whatever he wants me to do, whatever role he wants me to play, that’s what I‘m going to do.”
So stayed tuned for news on this and other developments. Including the size of Fizdale’s fine. A coach can’t call the officials unprofessional without parting with some dollars. Fizdale surely understands that.
But at least the man got his money’s worth. However much money it is. The rook may not have Popovich’s pedigree yet, but he showed some much-needed fire.
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No. 3: Slow starts part of life for Raptors — The Toronto Raptors have played nine Game 1s in the first round in their playoff history. Each time, they’ve come out the loser. As Game 2 of their series with the Milwaukee Bucks looms tonight (7 ET, NBA TV), the Raptors have made their peace with their latest flat opener and are ready to bounce back. Scott Stinson of The Toronto Sun has more:
DeMar DeRozan was talking about cars.
“You ever had an old Regal?,” he asked, rhetorically, to a room full of reporters.
A Buick Regal, he meant. An old clunker. A beater. The kind of car that has to cough and belch for a bit before the engine comes to life.
The Raptors guard continued the analogy about the old Regal, after it has had some time to get from a rattle to something resembling a purr: “Once you get going, then it can feel like a 2016 Lexus?,” he said. “That’s just us.”
The Toronto Raptors have coughed and belched off the start, as they tend to do. They cannot, for the life of them, win the first game of a playoff series, having now dropped the opener in nine consecutive first-round series with Saturday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. They generally do not start games well, either, having trailed after the first half-dozen minutes of a game far more often than they are ahead over the last two seasons.
It is a problem that has plagued this team when it is at full strength, and when DeMar DeRozan was hurt last year and when Kyle Lowry was out this year. It was an issue when the starting lineup included Luis Scola, and then when it included Patrick Patterson and now that it has Serge Ibaka.
It is, as coach Dwane Casey said on Monday, “our biggest mystery.”
Not that he hasn’t tried to solve it.
“We’ve done everything,” he said. “We’ve looked at the numbers, statistics, matchups, rotations, groups that were in there …,” and the coach trailed off a little, in that way that you sort of throw up your hands when you’ve looked and looked at the evidence and haven’t found any kind of useful revelation.
Like, if they could identify the actual problem, they would have fixed it by now.
“It’s in our DNA,” he said. “Slow starts and hard finishes.”
For Serge Ibaka, who has been here for only two months, it’s just as much of a mystery.
“I don’t know why,” he said of Toronto’s poor early play.
“For whatever reason, we are better with our backs against the wall,” Casey said Monday. Toronto came back to win more games in which they were trailing by double digits than any other team in the NBA this season, a statistic that DeRozan cited on Monday when he wasn’t holding forth on old clunkers. This is, admittedly, a fact about which the Raptors can only be somewhat proud. The best teams in the league — Golden State, San Antonio — don’t have as many big comeback wins as Toronto simply because they do not fall behind by many points very often.
But Casey was correct when he noted that, at the least, the Raptors’ ability to come back says something about rising to the challenge. It’s true within games, and it’s true in series, where the Raptors had every opportunity to fold after losing the opener last year to Indiana and then to Miami, and after getting blown out in the opening two games in Cleveland. Then managed to make good fights out of all of them, winning a couple of series along the way. If anything, it has been success that has been Toronto’s biggest foe in the playoffs: Any time they started asserting themselves last year, they gave the edge right back with another puzzling loss.
So, perhaps it is for the best that the team has no edge left to concede. They had their chance to make this series easy, but that opportunity is past. It’s a fight now. Which is kind of their thing.
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No. 4: Winning Game 2 is job No. 1 now for Clippers — The Utah Jazz showed plenty of heart in taking Game 1 of their first-round series with the LA Clippers, earning the win after losing stalwart center Rudy Gobert to a knee injury. With Gobert out for Game 2 tonight (10:30 ET, TNT), the Clippers’ players and coaches are solely focused on getting a win. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times has more:
No longer do the Clippers have the home-court advantage after losing Game 1 on Saturday night at Staples Center.
So even after they had down time after practice Sunday and Monday, the players’ attention stayed on the Jazz and how the Clippers can even the series when it resumes Tuesday night at home.
“I don’t know as a coach if you ever let it go. I really don’t,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Monday. “I watched all the games yesterday. At the very end of the Houston game [against Oklahoma City], I changed [channels]. … Even when you’re watching games, I have a notepad. Even when you’re watching a movie, you have a notepad next to you.
“But I’m the same way during the regular season. I just don’t think you get away from it. I don’t want to. I love my job. I enjoy it. I think that’s just the life of a coach, and that’s not a bad life. I think we would all love that, like something we love or are thinking about. So that’s just me.”
Rivers rewound, in his mind, to Game 1 and what went wrong. He also fast-forwarded to Game 2 and the corrections the Clippers must make to avoid falling behind 2-0.
And of course, Clippers guard Paul was never far removed from trying to figure out ways to defeat the Jazz.
“I went to church yesterday morning with my family,” Paul said Monday. “Then came in and we had practice. Then after practice, I went home and watched all the games that came on. The kids got in the pool. I tried to enjoy Easter Sunday with my family.
“Ain’t no such thing as getting away from basketball. Like that’s my normal day with my family.”
The Clippers spent the last two days thinking about how they must match the physical play of the Jazz.
The Clippers rued that their defense wasn’t up to the task of slowing down the Jazz.
They regretted not playing as hard as the Jazz did.
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No. 5: Butler gives Bulls unique defender against Thomas — The Boston Celtics are looking to even up their first-round series with the Chicago Bulls tonight (8 ET, TNT). To do so, the Celtics will need Isaiah Thomas to deliver down the stretch. The Bulls bottled up Thomas a bit in Game 1 by putting Jimmy Butler on him, which reminds some of how the Bulls used to be defended. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune has more:
Celtics star Isaiah Thomas scored seven of his 33 points in the final five minutes Sunday after Jimmy Butler switched onto him exclusively, and three of those came on a 3-pointer in transition. Butler blocked Thomas’ shot with 1:36 left.
But perhaps the most telling moment of the matchup came in the first possession after the 6-7 Butler began guarding the 5-9 Thomas. The Bulls forced a shot-clock violation and Thomas wore an expression that suggested he knew the seriousness of the moment.
Butler, who also guarded Thomas some when Thomas got rolling in the first quarter, isn’t going anywhere.
“I had the luxury of playing with a guy named LeBron, and we did the same thing to Derrick Rose,” Dwyane Wade said. “You have a point guard who guards (Thomas). But when you need a guy who is longer and just as fast, it helps. It gives them a different look.
“You’re not going to slow down Isaiah Thomas. The guy can score as well as anybody in this game. But just to give him a different look and get their offense out a little farther and take a little more time off the (shot) clock, all those things help. It’s good to be able to have a guy like that to say: ‘Get us 30. And then go guard the guy who got 30.'”
Wade listed off the top of his head Butler, James, Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green and Paul George as versatile forwards with length who can guard multiple positions, from point guards to power forwards.
“I’m sure I’m leaving somebody out,” Wade said. “Avery Bradley is a great defender. He’s not as tall as those guys. Patrick Beverley is a great defender, but he’s not guarding a (power forward). There are some guys who really get after it, and we have the luxury of having one.”
“If I foul, I foul. If I don’t foul, great. I challenge every shot. Contest everything at the rim,” Butler said. “We all know what he’s done this year putting the ball in the basket. I think I can guard anybody.”
“When I came here, in my press conference, I said it was Jimmy Butler’s team,” Wade said. “We ride Jimmy until we can’t ride him no more. When they’re ready to ride me, I’m ready. At this point of the year, it’s all about doing whatever it takes to win.”
In fact, the Bulls aren’t satisfied with a split of road games.
“We didn’t come here just to win one game,” Butler said. “We came here to win, period. That means winning this one we’ve got coming up. And I think we’re capable of that.”
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Joe Ingles always relishes his role in being a pest for opponents … Robin Lopez could be a thorn in the side of the Boston Celtics all series long … The Toronto Raptors’ creativity at home games is something to behold … Solid Q&A with Boston Celtics backup big man Jonas Jerebko … Tarik Black is pretty confident he’ll be sticking around with the Los Angeles Lakers …