LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard will take center stage in the NBA playoffs Monday after all the series openers are in the books.
The best two-way players in the league are looking to give their respective teams 2-0 series leads, though each took different routes to get their first postseason wins this year.
The Cavs barely dodged the upsets that opened two other playoff series on Saturday, not that James is thinking about how close Cleveland came to losing its opener against Indiana. All that matters this time of year is winning, which is all the Cavaliers have done in the first round since James returned to Cleveland.
San Antonio, the only higher seed that won easily Saturday, goes for a 2-0 lead against Memphis in the other game on Monday’s schedule.
Whether it was first-game jitters or evenly matched opponents, it wasn’t easy for the favorites Saturday. Third-seeded Toronto was overwhelmed by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 28 points and blown out 97-83 by Milwaukee, while the No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers were edged 97-95 by Utah on Joe Johnson’s basket as time expired.
The Cavaliers escaped with a 109-108 victory when C.J. Miles missed a jumper at the buzzer.
James refused to allow himself to consider the consequences if Miles, a notorious ”Cavs killer” who has had several big games against his former team, had knocked down his shot.
”If I didn’t get that block last year in the Finals, what happens?” James said when asked how the Cavs would have handled a loss. ”There’s so many (hypotheticals). You can’t look at a game like that. He missed, we won. So if it’s not a rain delay in Cleveland here in the World Series, then we win the World Series? Listen, you can’t ask that question, man.
”It is what it is.”
The Cavaliers improved to 9-0 in the first round since the return of James, who had 32 points, 13 assists and six rebounds.
San Antonio looked as if it might be in trouble – for 10 minutes. But Leonard seized control of the game at both ends, finishing with 32 points as the Spurs overcame their early 13-point deficit to beat the Grizzlies 111-82.
The Spurs blew it open with a 19-0 run over the third and fourth quarters, shutting out Grizzlies guard Mike Conley in the second half.
”I just try to do something on the defensive end,” Leonard said. ”At that time, they were making every shot. When they go up and they’re shooting at 75 percent in those first couple of minutes, you have to put your hat on on the defensive end.”
Some things to know about Monday’s matchups:
Pacers at Cavaliers, Cleveland leads 1-0. Game 2, 7 p.m., TNT
NEED TO KNOW: James has won 18 straight games in the first round and Cleveland has won 12 in a row at home in the postseason.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Cleveland’s free-throw shooting. The Cavs were just 14 of 27, the kind of performance that often comes back to bite a team – and nearly did.
”We can play better and we will play better,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. ”We missed 13 free throws, turned the ball over and got 19 points in transition. The playoffs are about adjustments and what you can do better. … Hats off to them, they played well. But we’ll be better.”
INJURY UPDATE: The Pacers are still listing backup big man Al Jefferson (sprained left ankle) and Glenn Robinson III (sore left calf) as questionable.
PRESSURE IS ON: Paul George. Indiana’s All-Star made it clear after Game 1 he needs to take the last shot. So if the Pacers get another chance, he better not miss it.
Grizzlies at Spurs, San Antonio leads 1-0. Game 2, 9:30 p.m., TNT.
NEED TO KNOW: The Spurs have won nine straight in the postseason against Memphis, sweeping series in 2013 and 2016.
KEEP AN EYE ON: San Antonio’s 3-point shooting. The Spurs led the NBA at 39.1 percent during the regular season and were even more lethal in Game 1, going 10 for 19 (52.6 percent).
INJURY UPDATE: The Grizzlies don’t expect defensive stopper Tony Allen (strained right calf) to play in the series. The Spurs’ Manu Ginobili played the second half of Game 1 after getting a small cut under his left eye late in the first half.
PRESSURE IS ON: Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies need more than Marc Gasol and Conley to beat San Antonio, but Randolph was only able to deliver six points and three rebounds with 3-of-13 shooting in Game 1. Memphis was outscored by 39 points in the 26 minutes its sixth man played.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland and freelance writer Raul Dominguez in San Antonio contributed to this report.