You may or may not have heard, but there were a couple NBA playoff games going on Thursday night while you were waiting for Johnny Manziel to get drafted and debating whether that was actually beer in his green room cup. OK, well there was one game that was actually a contest, sort of. The other was more like large cat playing with a cornered mouse for 2½ hours. Fortunately, if there was ever a night to miss — and you didn’t already burn it on the first games of the Heat-Nets and Spurs-Blazers series — then this one would have been it.
It’s not that the basketball was bad in the respective Game 2s in those series. In fact, some of it was quite good. Unfortunately, there was only one team playing it at a playoff level for large swaths of each game, which made it tough to watch at times. For the second time in as many contests, Miami put it in cruise control until late, only to speed away from a Nets team that should probably stop talking about how it swept the regular season series now. And then the Spurs, once again, spent a majority of the night beating Portland like Damian Lillard accidentally led his old Wright State teammates out onto the floor instead of an actual NBA squad. It sounds harsh, sure, but trust me when I say that these characterizations are more praises of the Heat and Spurs than they are indictments of their opponents. The favorites in each conference are solidifying their status as such, and it’s got to come at someone’s expense.
Takeaway: We keep waiting for the Heat to hit a speed bump these playoffs, but they’re going to have to play a team that puts up a fight before that happens. The two-time defending champs had their way with the Nets again in Game 2, especially in a telltale fourth quarter that saw Miami shoot 56.3 percent to Brooklyn’s 33.3 percent. And while the Nets continue to search for something — anything — to work, the Heat seem content to rely on consistent performances from their stars and clutch minutes from their reserves. Consider this: Miami’s most efficient lineup Thursday night was LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen, who played just three minutes together but teamed up for 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting in that span. That same grouping with Norris Cole subbed in place of Chalmers scored eight points on 4-of-4 shooting in their three minutes on the floor as a unit. Small sample size? Definitely. But you’ve got to like Miami’s ability to rely on names both big and small to get the job done while Brooklyn really doesn’t seem too sure who it can count on.
Star Review: The good news for the Nets — because goodness knows they need some — is that Mirza Teletovic was incredible on Thursday night. Dude was just lights-out: 7-of-12 from the floor, 6-of-9 from 3, 20 points. Can’t ask for much better than that from the guy. The bad news, unfortunately, is that everyone else who was supposed to be good stunk. Like, really stunk. After going scoreless in Game 1, Kevin Garnett was again a non-factor in Game 2 with just four points. And he was joined in his abject futility by Deron Williams — a “star” making nearly $19 million this season — who missed all nine shots he took and quite literally added nothing to the Brooklyn offense in the loss. (OK, fine, he had six assists. Whatever.) Williams has two other scoreless games in the past nine seasons, and in those games, both with Utah early in his career, he played a combined 22 minutes. He played 36 minutes Thursday, and got paid roughly $200,000 to do it. And in doing so as poorly as he ever has, D-Will made the jobs of Miami’s Big 3 easy. LeBron scored 22 as the Big 3 combined for 54 points.
Looking Ahead: Game 3 Saturday in Brooklyn, 8 p.m. ET.
What To Look For: Since the moment he was hired, Jason Kidd has faced questions about his coaching credentials, and now we get to see what he’s learned in his first year in the boss’ chair. Red Auerbach could rise from the grave and take over this team, and there’s nothing he could do to fix this if Williams doesn’t show up, but beyond Williams, Kidd is going to have to get crafty to figure out what might work to make this a series. One could hardly fathom sitting KG or cutting Williams’ minutes with a season on the line, but maybe you start there. Maybe you try to find more time for Teletovic, Shaun Livingston and Marcus Thornton, who have been effective when they’re on the floor. The problem, still, is that the Heat don’t seem like a team that is going to beat itself, so Brooklyn is going to have to be much, much better to make this competitive. As the saying goes, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. Maybe it’s time Kidd makes a drastic change in an effort to improve his team’s chances before it’s too late.
Takeaway: Can we just call this one now? No, seriously, is there any point in continuing to play this series, at this juncture? Most basketball minds projected a San Antonio win against the Blazers in these Western Conference Semifinals, but maybe they weren’t giving quite enough credence to the idea of a sweep. Game 2 wasn’t quite the ritual sacrifice that Game 1 was, and Portland made things vaguely interesting during a spirited start to the fourth quarter. But by and large, San Antonio walked into Game 2 with a time-tested game plan, and went ahead and did exactly what it expected — which is exactly what the Spurs have done for almost two decades. Look, I had as much fun watching Portland battle Houston as you did, and I wish I could in good faith say that there’s more of that to come here — and trust me, I hope the comforts of home bring out a different Blazers team than the one that got waxed in Texas. But after watching the Spurs systematically dismantle the Blazers two times in a row at home, you almost have to wonder if this series will even return to San Antonio for a Game 5.
Star Review: The problem for the Blazers always was going to be handling the Spurs’ bench, and just as it did in Game 1, that disadvantage reared its ugly head again on Thursday. Kawhi Leonard (20 points) was great and Tony Parker (16) did his thing, but the rest of the Spurs’ starting lineup was just kind of there in Game 2. Normally that would be a recipe for an upset, but Portland had no answers for the Spurs’ reserves — namely Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills, who combined for 32 points on 12-of-14 shooting — and that did the Blazers in. It didn’t help that LaMarcus Aldridge (16 points on 6-of-22 shooting) played a facepalm of a game and Lillard had no touch from deep, the two supposed stars spoiling a great effort from Nicolas Batum (21 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 9 rebounds). But for Portland to have a chance at all of making this a series, its defense is going to have to start by stopping the San Antonio reserves.
Looking Ahead: Game 3 Saturday in Portland, 10:30 p.m. ET.
What To Look For: Maybe this sounds a little too elementary, but priority No. 1 for Portland in Game 3 needs to be not getting in an early hole. In Game 1, San Antonio took an 11-point lead with 3:01 left in the first quarter and saw that edge dip under 10 only once, for 19 seconds early in the second frame. In Game 2, the Spurs took a 12-point lead with 9:32 left in the second period and led by double digits for all but 1:47 from that point forward. In Game 1, the Blazers’ deficit reached 26 in the first half, and Game 2 brought more of the same, with Portland trailing by as many as 19 before the break. Portland isn’t a bad team by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s dealing with a mechanical Spurs bunch that simply isn’t built to squander leads. (The Blazers are also dealing with a team that is exceptionally good on the road, having won 30 games away from home this season.) If the Blazers can play the role of aggressor, knock the Spurs on their butts for once and at least keep things competitive for the first couple quarters, then maybe it opens a door for a much-needed win at home. But if Terry Stotts’ team falls behind big again early like it has been, it’ll likely be in for more of the same.