Day 2 of the 2019 NBA Playoffs is in the book, and after an opening day in which three road teams won the higher seeds took care of business on Sunday. All four home teams won, including the Bucks blowing out Detroit and Boston coming back to beat Indiana. Portland also held serve at home, beating Oklahoma City thanks in large part to the play of Enes Kanter. The win ended a ten-game playoff losing streak, with the Trail Blazers also benefitting from the Thunder shooting 5-of-33 from beyond the arc. Below is a look at Sunday’s action, with James Harden, Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo among those that shined.
Celtics 84, Pacers 74
Boston outscored Indiana 26-8 in the third quarter, turning a seven-point halftime deficit into an 11-point lead heading into the final quarter. That was essentially the ball game, as the Pacers could not generate enough offense to mount a comeback. The Celtics, who lead the best-of-7 series 1-0, were led offensively by Kyrie Irving and Marcus Morris, who scored 20 points apiece. Irving (6-of-17 FGs, 6-of-6 FTs) also accounted for seven assists, five rebounds, two steals and two 3-pointers in 34 minutes, with Morris (5-of-12 FGs, 7-of-9 FTs) tallying seven rebounds and three 3-pointers in 29 minutes. Morris was part of the first major lineup change in this series, with Brad Stevens inserting he and Gordon Hayward into the game after Boston committed four turnovers in the game’s first four minutes.
That move opened things up for Boston on the offensive end, without compromising the team from a versatility standpoint on the other end of the floor. That’s key with regards to defending Bojan Bogdanovic, who was the lone Pacers starter to score in double figures. He finished with 12 points, doing so on 4-of-11 shooting from the field (4-of-4 FTs) while missing all three of his three-point attempts. Boston has been a tough matchup for the veteran forward this season, as he averaged 13.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.8 three-pointers per game in four meetings. In those games Bogdanovic shot 43.9% from the field, 36.8% from three and 61.1% from the foul line. Not having Smart certainly hurts Boston defensively, but the Celtics have multiple players capable of dealing with Bogdanovic.
In addition to Irving and Morris, Hayward (ten points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals), Jayson Tatum (15 points, three rebounds, two steals, one blocked shot and three 3-pointers) and Al Horford (ten points, 11 rebounds, five assists, one steal and one three-pointer) also scored in double figures. Jaylen Brown replaced Smart in the starting lineup and did not have much of an impact offensively for the Celtics Sunday afternoon. He shot 1-of-5 from the field, scoring two points with five rebounds and one steal in 28 minutes. But he defended well during his time on the court.
Cory Joseph was the only other Indiana player to score in double figures, as he led the team with 14 points (5-of-9 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs) while also accounting for two rebounds, one assist and two 3-pointers in 23 minutes. Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis accounted for eight and nine rebounds, respectively, but they combined to score 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting from the field. And despite scoring just seven points (3-of-8 FGs, 1-of-1 FTs) Thaddeus Young also accounted for six assists, five steals, three rebounds and one blocked shot in 26 minutes played. Game 2 is scheduled for Wednesday night in Boston.
Trail Blazers 104, Thunder 99
Damian Lillard scored 30 points (9-of-21 FGs, 7-of-8 FTs) with four rebounds, four assists, three steals, five 3-pointers and six turnovers, and CJ McCollum added 24 (9-of-24 FGs, 3-of-5 FTs) with six rebounds, three assists and three 3-pointers as Portland jumped on Oklahoma City early and hung on for the Game 1 victory. But it can definitely be argued that neither guard was the Trail Blazers’ most valuable player. That label would go to Enes Kanter, who was excellent on both ends of the floor. The center, who moved into the starting lineup when Jusuf Nurkic went down with a broken leg in late March, shot 8-of-15 from the field and 4-of-6 from the foul line, scoring 20 points while also tallying 18 rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and one steal in 34 minutes.
Kanter finished the game with a personal offensive rebounding percentage of 44.9%, and his defensive rating of 97.6 was the best of any of the Trail Blazers that played. Al-Farouq Aminu added ten points (2-of-5 FGs, 6-of-6 FTs) with seven rebounds and three blocks, and Moe Harkless chipped in with six rebounds and three blocked shots to make up for a 1-of-5 afternoon from the field. Aminu and Harkless were the primary defenders assigned to Paul George, who scored 26 points but shot 8-of-24 from the field (4-of-15 3-pointers) in doing so. George also accounted for ten rebounds and four steals, but he looked rusty against a team that he performed extremely well against during the regular season.
Following the game George said that, due to his bad right shoulder, he had not shot since last Tuesday’s home win over Houston. While he noted that earlier in the week he was unable to lift his arm above shoulder height, the issue on Sunday was more about rhythm than any physical pain. George’s right shoulder could be the key to this series. When he’s feeling comfortable and shooting the ball freely, either off of the catch or off the dribble, the Thunder are that much tougher to defend. But on days like Sunday Portland can play him to take the jumper, and that approach paid off.
Russell Westbrook added 24 points, ten rebounds and ten assists, and Dennis Schroder scored 11 points off the bench but shot 5-of-17 from the field (0-of-7 3-pointers). Schroder shot the ball well to end the regular season, making 38.9% of his three-point attempts over the last ten games. But that didn’t carry over into Game 1, with the backup point guard settling for some questionable shots that Portland was all too willing to let him take. Schroder played 36 minutes off the bench, with guard Terrance Ferguson (three points, three assists, one rebound and one steal in 16 minutes) being the only starter to not play at least 35 minutes. Steven Adams posted a line of 17 points, nine rebounds, three steals and one assist in 36 minutes. Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday, so George will have just one day of rest for his ailing shoulder.
Bucks 121, Pistons 86
Even with a healthy Blake Griffin, this was going to be a tough ask for the Detroit Pistons. Griffin (knee) was unable to go Sunday evening, and Detroit had no chance against the East’s best team. Seven Bucks scored in double figures, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo who scored 24 points with 17 rebounds, four assists, one steal and one three-pointer. George Hill added 16 (6-of-11 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs) with three rebounds, two assists, one steal and one three-pointer in 23 minutes off the bench, and fellow reserve Pat Connaughton tallied ten points, eight rebounds, one assist, one blocked shot and one three-pointer. Connaughton (28 minutes) was the lone Milwaukee player to surpass the 25 minute mark, as this game was essentially over within the first six minutes.
Nikola Mirotic made his return, playing just 15 minutes as he was on a restriction. Mirotic scored four points with one assist, and he turned the ball over a team-worst four times. Of Milwaukee’s ten turnovers nine were committed by reserves, with Connaughton and D.J. Wilson having two apiece.
For Detroit Luke Kennard was the lone player to flourish offensively, as he scored 21 points with four rebounds, two assists, and four 3-pointers in 28 minutes. Andre Drummond, whose night came to a premature end due to a flagrant 2 four committed on Antetokounmpo during the second half, finished with 12 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and one steal, and Reggie Jackson posted a line of 12 points, five assists, one rebound and one steal. Detroit will need more from all of its contributors, especially after it was reported by Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill that Griffin could miss the entire season due to his knee injury. Thon Maker started in Griffin’s place but didn’t have much of an impact, scoring four points on 2-of-10 shooting to go along with four rebounds and one blocked shot.
Game 2 is set for Wednesday night in Milwaukee, and Detroit will need more from all of its players on both ends of the court if the Pistons are to entertain any hope of winning the series.
Rockets 122, Jazz 90
When it comes to defending reigning MVP James Harden, many teams take the approach of looking to force him right. There’s a big difference between forcing a player to do this and allowing them to use their off half. Utah did more of the latter Sunday night, and the end result was a big night for Harden and a 32-point win for the Rockets. The MVP candidate shot 11-of-26 from the field, scoring 29 points with ten assists, eight rebounds, one blocked shot and four 3-pointers in 33 minutes. Harden was one of seven Rockets to score in double figures, with the other six scoring between 11 and 17 points.
Clint Capela, who was on the receiving end of multiple alley-oops, shot 8-of-13 from the field and finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot. Eric Gordon, who also did a good job of defending Donovan Mitchell, tallied 17 points, three rebounds, one blocked shot and three 3-pointers in 31 minutes, with Chris Paul (14 points, seven assists, three rebounds, one steal and done blocked shot), P.J. Tucker, Kenneth Faried and Danuel House Jr. (11 points apiece) being the others in double figures. Of the nine Houston players that entered the game eight scored, with Iman Shumpert accounting for one rebound in his seven minutes on the court.
The good news for Utah in this one was the fact that both Ricky Rubio and Raul Neto were back in the rotation after missing the final games of the regular season due to injuries. Rubio played 32 minutes, scoring 15 points with six assists, three rebounds, two steals and one three-pointer, with Neto tallying two rebounds and an assist in his 11 minutes played. The aforementioned Mitchell scored 19 points but did so shooting 7-of-18 from the field, finishing with five rebounds, one steal and three 3-pointers, and Rudy Gobert led the Jazz with 22 points, 12 rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot. Derrick Favors, back on the court after missing three of the team’s final four regular season games, scored 13 points with six rebounds, three assists, one steal and one blocked shot in 24 minutes.
Game 2 is scheduled for Wednesday, and how the Jazz adjust their defensive approach with regards to Harden will be of high importance. Not only can Harden himself be a tough matchup for an individual defender, but his presence impacts the entire defense from one to five. Gobert wasn’t as effective as he can be defensively on Sunday, with the Rockets involving him in ball screens on a regular basis. Gobert is at his best as a rim protector, and while he has improved with regards to his lateral movement on the defensive end the best approach is to make him defend in space. Houston was able to do this, hence the blowout.