Today is Monday, May 1, 2017.
|Monday, May 1, 2017|
|National Basketball Assoc.|
|Rockets||vs.||Spurs||9:30 (EDT) Preview|
Stately rivalry resumes as Rockets visit Spurs
Sunday, April 30 at 10:13 PM (EDT)
SAN ANTONIO -- There will be a lot more on the line than pride and Lone Star State bragging rights when the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets meet for Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal playoff series on Monday at the AT&T Center.
The heated rivalry featured four meetings this season, and the Spurs won the final three by a combined 10 points. Two of San Antonio's victories in the series came in Houston, and three of the four games were decided by just two points.
The second-seeded Spurs advanced out of the first round by outlasting the seventh-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in a bruising six-game series.
Meanwhile, the third-seeded Rockets captured their first-round series against the sixth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, with the clinching game a 105-99 victory on Tuesday in Houston.
San Antonio won the deciding Game 6 against Memphis 103-96 on Thursday despite being down by six points midway through the fourth quarter.
MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, who scored eight consecutive points to propel the Spurs into the lead, had 29 in the game and averaged 31 points in the series. He had three games of 30 or more points, including a 43-point effort in a Game 2 victory in San Antonio.
"Kawhi Leonard is, in my opinion, the best player in the league right now," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He's the best two-way player and does it all with such class. It's impressive."
Tony Parker, San Antonio's venerable but rejuvenated point guard, added a series-high 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting in the final win against Memphis, which, as expected, was tough as nails.
"When you're in a position to close out a team, you have to do whatever it takes," Spurs center Pau Gasol said. "If you give them rhythm, give them confidence, then things can change. You want to try to go after the first opportunity, and that was Game 6. We understand how hard that is, but our mindset was to be aggressive."
In the Rockets' decisive Game 5, Houston guard James Harden overcame another poor shooting performance from the floor (8 of 25) and finished with a team-high 34 points. He was 16 of 17 from the free-throw line. Reserve guard Lou Williams totaled 22 points, while Patrick Beverley added 15 points and eight rebounds. Eric Gordon and Nene combined for 22 points off the bench as the Houston bench posted a 44-22 advantage.
"This team is improving throughout the postseason," Beverley said. "Our defense is kind of setting a tone. Last game, we kept an explosive team under 100 points. That always puts us in position to win basketball games. If you think about our defense, being where it is now, and our offense when it comes, the sky's the limit with this team.
"Attention to detail is critical, especially in the playoffs. Guys are locked in -- we're doing it together."
One of the keys to the Houston-San Antonio series will be the pace the Rockets are allowed to forge. The Spurs will make Houston work for everything it gets with their stifling defense, but if the Rockets can steal some possessions -- and make shots -- they can beat San Antonio.
"We have to really push the pace to see if we can get some open shots -- we have to play faster," Gordon said.
The Spurs and Rockets will meet in the playoffs for the fourth time. Houston won the three other postseason series -- most recently a six-game advancement in the 1995 Western Conference finals.
|Raptors||vs.||Cavaliers||7:00 (EDT) Preview|
Cavaliers, Raptors meet in playoff rematch
Sunday, April 30 at 11:32 PM (EDT)
CLEVELAND -- In so many ways, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors have been here before.
For the second consecutive season, they are preparing to face each other in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference playoff series in Cleveland on Monday, with the Cavs coming off a long layoff after a sweep and the Raptors fighting through a tough matchup to get to this point.
The Raptors are 1-11 all time in Game 1 of playoff series. The Cavs are 15-1 against Eastern playoff teams at home dating back to 2015.
Signs seem to be pointing toward more of the same.
However, third-seeded Toronto and second-seeded Cleveland are different clubs heading into this Eastern semifinals series than they were when they squared off in the conference finals last season.
That 2016 series ended 4-2 in the Cavs' favor, and Cleveland went on to win the first championship in franchise history. The Raptors built themselves up since then specifically to take Cleveland out in a seven-game series the next time.
"They're still the champs," Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan said, according to the Toronto Star. "Doesn't matter what seed you are. Once you are in the playoffs, they are still defending something they won last year. You still have to give them all the respect in the world, but it's on us Game 1 to start something new and start chipping away at it."
DeRozan led the Raptors with an average of 23.5 points per game in their 4-2 triumph over the Milwaukee Bucks in a series that ended Thursday. Toronto came through that series as the best defensive unit in the playoffs so far, holding Milwaukee to a league-low 93.2 points per game and keeping the Bucks under 100 points four times.
The Cavs swept the Indiana Pacers, and LeBron James became the first player to average at least 30 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, three steals and two blocks in a playoff series.
Cleveland averaged 112.5 points against the Pacers -- a franchise record for a playoff series -- and averaged 13.5 3-pointers per game, all while failing to get Kyle Korver (5.3 points per game) or J.R. Smith (6.8 ppg) going from the perimeter.
The Raptors added two key pieces -- Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker -- to deal with the problems the Cavaliers present.
Ibaka is a big man who can defend all the way to the edge and shoot 3-pointers, giving the Raptors a chance to match up with the likes of Kevin Love and Channing Frye -- two post players who stretch the floor.
Frye shot better than 58 percent against the Raptors during the playoffs last year, and Cleveland earned its wins by an average margin of 15.5 points.
Tucker is a wing defender brought on to help defend James.
"I think whoever we had to beat, Serge and P.J. were great acquisitions for us to build a playoff-style team," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said, according to the Star. "I don't think you wake up dreaming: 'We've got to make every move to beat Cleveland.' But to play playoff basketball, you have to have guys like that."
The Cavs face more questions because of their poor defensive performance throughout the regular season that, for the most part, carried into the first round against the Pacers.
Cleveland ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency during the season and allowed 111 points per 100 possessions to Indiana -- which was worse than the Cavs' regular-season average.
Toronto and Cleveland finished the regular season with identical 51-31 records, as the Cavs stumbled to a 10-14 finish. However, Cleveland is the higher seed because of three early-season wins against the Raptors, while the Cavs were still humming along on a championship honeymoon.
All is not lost for the champs now, not by a long shot. They haven't played in seven days, and they are healthy and confident. And they have a player in James who has gone to the last six Finals and who has won at least one road game in 27 consecutive series.
"Doesn't mean I'm going to be able to win a road game in this series," James said. "Just play the game. For me, I just go out and try to win every game and do whatever it takes to help our team be successful. Going to a hostile building in Game 3 and Game 4, and we know that. Their fans are unbelievable. I stated that last year after we closed that series out. Doesn't mean we're going to be able to win this year. We've got to go out and make it happen.
"We have to worry about Game 1 first."
|Sunday, April 30, 2017|
|National Basketball Assoc.|
Celtics rally to knock off Wizards in opener
Sunday, April 30 at 5:13 PM (EDT)
BOSTON -- Jae Crowder and Al Horford did plenty to help the Boston Celtics get the jump on the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday. So did Avery Bradley.
But when the series opener was over, most of the talk was about Isaiah Thomas, the physical and emotional leader of his team.
"Just been in continual amazement the last couple of weeks with his ability to function on the basketball court and excel on the basketball court," Boston coach Brad Stevens said after Thomas returned in the wee hours Sunday morning from his sister's funeral to deliver 33 points and 11 assists in the Celtics' 123-111 victory over Washington. "Today's just another chapter of that."
Thomas flew from Chicago to Tacoma, Wash., to attend the funeral of his sister, Chyna, on Saturday before flying back late Saturday night and getting in at 4 a.m. He scored 12 of his 33 points and Crowder 11 of his playoff career-high 24 (6 of 8 from 3-point range) in a 36-16 third quarter to blow it open.
Thomas, who gave an emotional speech at the funeral, lost a tooth to an Otto Porter inadvertent elbow in the first half -- the tooth flying up into the air before Thomas wound up picking it up off the floor.
Then, he helped pick up the Celtics after they spotted the Wizards the first 16 points of the game before rallying to maintain home-court advantage heading into Tuesday's Game 2.
"We always continue to just keep going," Thomas said. "We know it's not going to be I guess peaches and cream all the time. We've always played with our backs against the wall. Tonight we definitely didn't want to be down 16-0, but it happens. We locked in even more."
Thomas said he slept some on the plane and after he got home -- and then it was time for basketball. Stevens told him he didn't have to play, but you know that wasn't in question.
"It's tough, but it's the playoffs," he said. "There's no excuses. I decided to play and I just tried to give it all I got for my team, and we came out with the win."
Interviewed on ABC after the game, he said, "Basketball, when I'm on the court, it just keeps me going. I do everything for my sister now and that's all I can do."
The other side noticed.
"I think the biggest thing you can say, he's the biggest winner," Washington coach Scott Brooks said. "He's one of the biggest winners in this league. He plays with everything he has.
"I can't imagine being able to do it myself if I were in the same situation."
As far as the tooth, Thomas said, "It just bothers me to talk. My tongue goes right through my tooth ... I've always had teammates that I've always clowned them about their tooth being out, and now I'm one of them. Hopefully, we can replace it as soon as possible."
Top-seeded Boston, winning its fifth straight playoff game after losing the first two games of the first round, both at home to the Chicago Bulls, trailed 22-5 just 5 1/2 minutes into the game.
But the Celtics caught up in the second quarter, stayed close and then exploded in a 36-point third quarter to lead by 15 after three before holding off a Washington charge.
Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 27 points.
Down by 15, the Wizards scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter, but the game then belonged to Horford, who scored 10 of his 21 points in a 3:25 span to ensure the win.
Boston made 5 of 19 3-pointers (on 39 attempts) in a four-minute span late in the game -- the 19 treys matching a franchise playoff record.
Horford, who had no points or rebounds and just one assist in the first quarter, just missed a triple-double, finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds and a career playoff-high 10 assists.
Bradley added 18 points and Kelly Olynyk scored all 12 of his points in the first half off the bench to help dig his team out of the hole. Terry Rozier grabbed eight rebounds off the bench.
John Wall had 20 points and 16 assists for the Wizards. Marcin Gortat chipped in with 16 points and 13 rebounds and Otto Porter contributed 16 points and 11 boards.
Washington's Markieff Morris suffered a left ankle sprain after being fouled by Horford in the second quarter. He stayed in the game for the free throw, then left soon after, with 7:16 remaining in the second quarter and didn't return. He said after the game he will play in Game 2.
The 16-0 start was the biggest in the playoffs dating to at least 2002-03, according to STATS Inc., as the Wizards grabbed the first 12 rebounds and Boston opened 0 of 8 from the floor.
The win marked Boston's 56th straight in the playoffs when entering the fourth quarter -- dating to 1973.
NOTES: The Celtics became the eighth team in NBA history, the first in this year's postseason, to have back-to-back games with at least 15 3-pointers. ... The Wizards were missing C Ian Mahinmi (calf) ... Celtics PG Isaiah Thomas improved to 13-3 head to head against Washington PG John Wall. ... The four regular-season games between the teams (2-2) were rough affairs. Sunday was clean, except for Brandon Jennings stepping on Mike Rozier's shoe as Rozier tried to put it back on. ... Sunday marked the first playoff game between the teams in Boston since April 19, 1984. The then-Bullets had a double-digit lead after one quarter in that game and lost that one, too.
|Trail Blazers||vs.||Warriors||3:00 (EDT)|
Hayward helps Jazz bury Clippers to win series
Sunday, April 30 at 8:09 PM (EDT)
LOS ANGELES -- The Utah Jazz enjoyed another smooth ride through Staples Center.
Gordon Hayward had 26 points to lead seven Utah players who scored in double figures, and the Jazz eliminated the Clippers from the Western Conference playoffs with a 104-91 victory in Game 7 of a first-round series on Sunday at Staples Center.
George Hill and Derrick Favors contributed 17 points apiece as the Jazz advanced to the second round, where they will meet the Golden State Warriors. Game 1 is Tuesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.
Favors also grabbed 11 rebounds before fouling out with 5:24 remaining. He filled a void left by Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who also was plagued by fouls. Gobert finished with one point and four rebounds in 13 minutes.
"I was struggling a lot this season with injuries, and my teammates had to hold it down for me while I was out," said Favors, who connected on 8 of 11 shots from the field. "But I felt like I owed them, especially in this game. I just wanted to come out, be aggressive, make sure I had their backs.
"When Rudy got in foul trouble, I had to make sure I was ready mentally and physically, and I just wanted to pay them back for holding me down all season."
Joe Ingles had 12 points, Rodney Hood scored 11 and Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw added 10 each for Utah. Hayward pulled down eight rebounds.
The Jazz won three of their four games on the Clippers' home court. The road team captured five of the seven games in the series.
"It's unusual," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "I don't know if there's been a series where the two teams have won collectively five road games."
DeAndre Jordan had 24 points and 17 boards to lead the Clippers. Jamal Crawford added 20 points, and Chris Paul scored 13 points on 6-of-19 shooting from the field and had nine assists.
"Our bigs were up on pick-and-rolls," said Hayward, who scored 19 points in the second half. "We made it difficult for Chris Paul to get in the lane, get his little pull-up jump shot, too, and guys on the weak side were rotating, making them make the extra pass and make some other guys try to create for them."
None of the Clippers, with the exception of Jordan, Crawford and Paul, were able to step up. The Jazz muzzled J.J. Redick, who was 1 of 5 from the floor and scored three points -- his lone 3-pointer occurred late in the game -- in 22 minutes.
Clippers forwards Luc Mbah a Moute (two points, two rebounds) and Austin Rivers (nine points on 4-of-12 shooting) weren't effective down the stretch.
As he shouldered the scoring load for much of the series, Paul accepted blame for the Clippers falling short.
"Man, I know I've got to be better," Paul said. "I've got to be better, especially in a Game 7 like this. I think they did a good job tonight of shrinking the court. That means the big being up in the ball screen.
"It was sort of up tonight, not letting me get to my spots and stuff like that. But for me, I've got to figure out ways to do that anyway."
The Jazz used a third-quarter spurt to grab a double-digit lead and retained it for almost the rest of the game. A 3-pointer by Redick with 3:28 remaining closed the gap to 98-90, but the Clippers got no closer.
"Listen, they beat us," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said when asked if the absence of Blake Griffin, who injured a big toe in Game 3 and was done for the postseason, was a factor. "Not having Blake obviously is a major wound when you take your best scorer, your best rebounder, your second-best passer off the team, but give Utah credit. They won the series."
A 10-0 run put the Jazz up 61-44 after a jumper by Hill with 6:48 left in the third quarter. They increased the margin to 71-50 after Favors tipped in a Hayward miss with 3:23 remaining.
By the end of the third, the Jazz led 79-63.
Clippers forward Paul Pierce played his final NBA game. He scored six points in 22 minutes.
NOTES: The Jazz are 3-2 all time in Game 7 matchups, and the Clippers are 3-4. ... Utah defeated Los Angeles for the third time in three postseason meetings. In the previous two, the Jazz prevailed two best-of-five series, winning 3-2 in 1992 and sweeping the Clippers in 1997. ... Game 2 between Golden State and Utah is Thursday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., before the series shifts to Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City for Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and May 8.