May 3, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) reacts in the third quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game two of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
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On Day 18 of 2017 NBA Playoffs Roundup, the Cavaliers don’t respect a Raptors team running out of options, Tony Parker goes down and the Rockets are still just fine.
The conference semifinals of the 2017 NBA Playoffs are in full swing, with every series but one featuring an early 2-0 lead.
Wednesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers protected their home-court with another dominant win over the Toronto Raptors, signaling once again they have little concern over this supposed challenger.
Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs were able to bounce back with a Game 2 win over the Houston Rockets, but lost Tony Parker for the season in the process.
As we advance deeper into the postseason, we’ll be taking a look at what stands out from each night of playoff action. Here’s a look at the Cavaliers’ blatant disrespect, the Raptors running out of adjustments, how TP’s injury impacts the Spurs and why the Rockets are just fine.
The blatant disrespect
In Game 1, LeBron James dropped 35 points, faked a sip of beer and led his Cleveland Cavaliers to an 11-point rout over Toronto that was nowhere near as close as the final score indicated.
In Game 2, the blatant disrespect continued, with the King pouring in 39 points on 10-of-14 shooting, playing pop-a-shot in front of Serge Ibaka and largely coasting to a 22-point victory over the Raptors.
The Cavs do not view their opponent as a legitimate threat, and to be perfectly honest, Toronto has given them zero reason to do so.
Despite the Raptors’ changes to the starting lineup, the Cavs put together their third 10-0 run of the series in the first quarter to jump out to another early lead. They started a perfect 8-for-8 from downtown, wound up leading by the exact same halftime score as Game 1 and limited DeMar DeRozan to an appalling five-point, 2-for-11 performance in the process.
Cleveland’s defense was an issue in the first round, but so far in the postseason, Playoff LeBron has been more than enough to make up for it. Through six playoff games, King James is averaging a gargantuan 34.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.8 blocks per game, all while shooting 56.6 percent from the field and 48.4 percent from downtown.
He has it in his mind that this Raptors team is inferior, and they’ve shown nothing to make him consider changing it.
Last year’s Eastern Conference Finals matchup between these two teams changed when the series shifted back to Toronto, with the Raptors winning the next two games to tie it up.
But with Kyle Lowry just being “meh” and DeRozan bordering on “Mother of God” territory (and not in a good way), this series feels very different. The jury’s still out on whether the Cavs have actually joined LeBron in “flipping the switch,” but to be perfectly honest, they don’t need to in order to win this series.
May 3, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) reacts in the third quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game two of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Are there any adjustments left for the Raptors?
In Game 1, the Toronto Raptors started Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas. That lineup that was outscored by 10 points in 13 minutes together — the worst total plus/minus for any five-man lineup in the game.
In Game 2, head coach Dwane Casey moved Patrick Patterson and Norman Powell into the starting lineup to go small, but his new starting five was outscored by 11 points in 10 minutes together — once again the worst total plus/minus for any five-man lineup in the game.
Bringing Jonas Valanciunas off the bench seemed to work wonders for the big man, who put up 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting in his 20 minutes. Cory Joseph had 22 off the bench as well, while Serge Ibaka added 16 on 7-of-14 shooting.
I thought the Raptors had the best shot of beating the Cavs of any team in the East because of multiple creators, but DeMar has been bad.
But with DeRozan playing one of the worst games of his playoff career — which is saying something — the Raptors had no chance. And no matter which wing they threw at LeBron James, the King continued to have his way.
Noted “LeBron James stopper” P.J. Tucker was abused in his 16 minutes on the floor. Carroll didn’t fare any better in his 19 minutes, and even worse, the two were a combined 0-for-9 from the floor. Patterson had three points in 18 minutes as a starter and Powell finished with eight.
Does Casey try starting Tucker in Game 3? Bringing JV off the bench seemed to work, but Powell and Patterson clearly weren’t the answer as starters. Do the Raptors need to find a way to get DeRozan going at home? Can Lowry step up his game at all? Two games in, it’s all questions for a Toronto team that went all in on its current roster, but no answers.
May 3, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker (9) rests on the court after being injured against the Houston Rockets during the second half in game two of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
The impact of TP’s injury
The San Antonio Spurs bounced back in a big way in Game 2 Wednesday night. They evened the series with a 25-point win at home, they held the Rockets’ mighty offense under 100 points, Kawhi Leonard dropped a 34-8-7 line and James Harden was muzzled into a 3-for-17 performance.
They won the Game 2 battle, but unfortunately for the Spurs, they might have lost the war after Tony Parker went down with a knee injury.
According to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, TP is expected to undergo season-ending surgery — obviously a significant blow to San Antonio’s starting lineup, continuity and veteran leadership.
However, as much as this injury flat out sucks for Parker and for fans, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Spurs are in any more trouble than they were when they got shellacked by 27 in Game 1 to lose home-court advantage.
Patty Mills is a more than capable backup, and even with as well as TP was playing through the first round of the playoffs, he can step right in and fill the void.
The Spurs are also not at all done if Parker’s out, even with how good he is. Mills is better defensively and gave Harden fits.
The problem is what happens when Mills needs a breather. Don’t be surprised if Gregg Popovich considers starting rookie Dejounte Murray for the sake of continuity with the starting lineup, even though the lion’s share of point guard minutes will now be going Mills’ way.
Manu Ginobili and Jonathon Simmons will need to step up. Patty Mills will have to prove why he’s worthy of a big contract this summer as a free agent, and more pressure will be placed on Kawhi Leonard than ever before.
Heading into Game 3 though, the Spurs are in the same spot they were with Tony Parker: In desperate need of another poor Harden performance under the influence of the league’s top-ranked defense, with immobile bigs who may not be able to defend the perimeter if the Beard gets going.
May 3, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) puts up a shot over San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili (20) during the second half in game two of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Houston, we don’t have a problem — yet
Was anyone really surprised at the way Game 2 unfolded? While Game 1 looked like a massive revelation that San Antonio’s frontcourt couldn’t hang with the Houston Rockets‘ stretch-bigs, the Spurs were still a 61-win team in need of a victory at home playing under one of the greatest head coaches of all time.
Game 2 meant far more to the Spurs than it did to Houston, because another loss may have effectively wrapped up this series. Instead, Kawhi Leonard played like the MVP candidate he is, the league’s best defense clamped down and the Spurs did what they needed to.
Losing Game 2 by 25 seems to have put these two teams back on even ground, but as the series shifts to Clutch City, the Rockets should feel good about stealing home-court advantage.
James Harden isn’t going to go 3-for-17 at home (fingers crossed). Trevor Ariza is going to find the happy medium between his Game 1 performance (23 points, 5-of-10 from three-point range) and his Game 2 dud (two points, 0-for-4 from deep). And with all the open looks Houston has generated against those Spurs bigs, the Rockets can shoot much better than 32.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Losing Game 2 makes Game 3 at home a must-win for the Rockets, but with Tony Parker done for the series and James Harden likely to bounce back at home, no one should be hitting the panic button just yet.