Pivotal Game 2: Pacers avoid panic, while Bulls shoot blanks at home
The pivotal Game 2 of any seven-game series provides a thin wall between “now we’ve got a series” and “this thing is over.”
The second game is a heavy swinging hammer to jerk any knee, and after Tuesday night’s set, the current backlash tells us the Pacers have risen from the dead, the Raptors’ youth is about to unseat the Nets’ veterans and the Bulls are officially toast. Of course, all that will most certainly slam back the other direction depending on how each of the Game 3s go. Watch. React. Repeat. It’s the beauty of the NBA playoffs.
Series tied 1-1
Takeaway: In another huge upset, the No. 1-seeded Pacers beat the No. 8-seeded Hawks. Shocker. Indiana “didn’t panic,” a direct quote from David West after the game, even though full-blown terror probably should have struck the Fieldhouse when the Pacers trailed by as many as 11 in the first half. Instead, Indy finally played with a sense of urgency, outscoring the Hawks 31-13 in the third quarter on the way to a comfy win. If Indy is going to get its swagger back, whether against the Hawks or looking ahead to a team with an actual winning record, Paul George has to be that MVP type he was in the fall. In Game 2, he was. George dominated both sides of the ball (27 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists). Funny how when he plays like that, no one is talking about poor team chemistry.
Star review: Jeff Teague was starting to channel Pacers-killer Michael Jordan for a second there. Indiana’s defense had been making Atlanta’s backcourt playmaker look like quite the superstar. Teague had 12 points, five rebounds and four assists in the first half. But he had just two points, no rebounds and no assists in the second half.
Looking ahead: Game 3, Thursday 7 p.m. EST
Calling this Pacers team fragile is about as obvious as saying Frank Vogel’s job is in doubt. As we’ve seen this past month, anything can trigger Indy to collapse. In the second half of Game 2, the Pacers were energized by their defense and it saved them. If things don’t go well in Atlanta though, who knows how Indy will respond.
Series tied 1-1
Takeaway: Turns out the Raptors aren’t jittery fools after all. At least that’s the delusion that now can be mostly wiped away from these playoffs. The anxiety-stricken game of DeMar DeRozan finally eased back to normal in the fourth quarter of Game 2, when the All-Star scored 17 of his 30 points, including two clutch jumpers and 9-of-11 free throws. Toronto doesn’t have much of a postseason history, so DeRozan’s breakout could be the first of many treasured performances. He’s going to have to do it again if Toronto can win in Brooklyn. DeRozan wants to begin unfolding his own narrative as a playoff hero instead of just watching Paul Pierce continue his. Of course, it wasn’t all pretty for the Raptors. Toronto still looked far from settled in, turning the ball over 20 times, getting crushed 52-30 on the boards and waiting for 36 fourth-quarter points to rescue the series.
Star review: Someone needs to whisper to Pierce, discreetly as to not be disrespectful, and remind him all points are credited equally. “Hey uh, Paul: You don’t need to wait until late in the fourth, pal.” Pierce was 0-for-6 before scoring two buckets in the final minutes of the loss. When he did miss a three-pointer with 24.9 seconds remaining, which would have given Brooklyn the lead, even Toronto players seemed shocked. Pierce needs more consistent performances in Brooklyn.
Looking ahead: Game 3, Friday at 7 p.m. EST
This series may end up being the best of the first round — well, at least out East. But the Raptors still have their backs against the wall, even early in the series. No team has been better at home in 2014 than the Nets, a league-best 22-4 since Jan. 1. Or as Kevin Garnett said it after the game: “I don’t know if you can say ‘F*** Brooklyn’ and then come into Brooklyn. So we’re about to see what it’s like.”
Wizards lead series 2-0
Takeaway: Defense wins championships and bad offense loses a first-round series. Isn’t that how it goes? Chicago just doesn’t appear to have enough offense to beat the Wizards. When you rely on Kirk Hinrich to be your hero with a last-second bucket … well it’s not a good sign. All the Bulls had to do was play defense late in the game, ahead 87-80 with less than five minutes to play. But even the league’s best defense couldn’t overcome a cold stretch of just four points in the final seven minutes of regulation. Still, despite watching that awful offense, it’s dangerous to assume the Bulls are going to back down now. Anyone who’s believed that at any point this season has looked foolish.
Star review: This is what it’s like to witness two young stars mature in a postseason. At just 20 years old, Bradley Beal had 26 points with four three-pointers and 23-year-old John Wall tallied 16 points and seven assists. Everyone hoped for something like this when these two were paired, and the future looks good after just their first two playoff games.
Looking ahead: Game 3, Friday at 8 p.m. EST
Washington’s road sweep was unexpected. And now the Bulls have to try to magically evaporate all that Wizards momentum. It seemed like the Bulls would thrive off intimidation at home and knock the inexperienced backcourt of Wall and Beal in the jaw. Instead, there was no cowering and it’s Chicago that’s on its heels.
Follow the NBA playoffs with Jimmy Spencer on Twitter @JimmySpencerNBA.