Predicting the NBA awards during the offseason is always tough to get right, but everyone loves whacking together a few bold predictions to see how wrong they are this time next year.
NBA Playoff action continued last night as a pair of second round series got underway.
The Raptors were in Cleveland hoping to avenge last year’s Eastern Conference Finals defeat – while the Rockets travelled to San Antonio for a clash between two of the NBA’s best teams.
Let’s dig into the action.
Toronto Raptors 105 Cleveland Cavaliers 116
The Cavaliers jumped out to an early lead against the Raptors and kept Toronto at arms length the rest of the way to take a 1-0 lead.
Toronto briefly rallied in the second quarter – going on a 19-3 run to close within 3 – but the Cavs proved too strong and prevailed comfortably.
As always the Cavaliers were lead by LeBron James – who was at his dunk-tastic best last night – exploding for 35 points and ten rebounds. James was supported by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love as Cleveland’s big three combined for 77 points.
James looked in the mood from tip off – setting of a fast break with a steal which he then finished with a ridiculous dunk from a Kyrie Irving lob of the backboard. Throughout the game LeBron had his way with the Raptor’s D – getting to the rim at will as well as hitting his unreliable jump shot.
When James has that part of his game working – as it was last night – he is simply impossible to guard.
The most pleasing aspect of last nights win for coach Tyronn Lue will be Cleveland’s improved defensive performance. Through three quarters Cleveland held the Raptors to 74 points and although Toronto made up some ground in garbage time for the most part this was a huge improvement defensively for the Cavs.
For Toronto it is yet another chastening defeat at the hands of the Cavs. In moments they showed that they can hang with Cleveland – particularly during that second quarter 19-3 run. However, too often their offence goes missing for large chunks of games.
Kyle Lowry – 20 points 11 assists – and DeMar DeRozan – 19 points seven rebounds – both had decent games but you feel that Toronto is going to need more from their backcourt if they are to seriously challenge Cleveland.
The problem for Toronto is when DeRozan and Lowry aren’t hitting shots it is hard to see where the next basket is going to come from. This is never a good sign in playoff basketball – especially against a team with the scoring power of the Cavs.
Toronto will believe they can play the Cavs tougher than they did last night – but with The King in this kind of mood it is hard to see anything other than a comfortable Cleveland win.
The series continues in Cleveland on Wednesday night.
Houston Rockets 126 San Antonio Spurs 99
The Rockets stormed into San Antonio and embarrassed the Spurs – hitting 22 three pointers – in a 27 point blowout victory on the road.
James Harden was outstanding on the night – bisecting San Antonio’s vaunted defence of the pick and roll creating mismatches at will. Harden finished with 20 points and 14 assists to lead a balanced Houston attack in which six players scored in double figures.
As they have done all season Houston exploded out of the gate and lead by 30 points at the half – the biggest halftime deficit in Spurs postseason history.
Spurs coach Greg Popovic was visibly frustrated with his teams defence – getting into it with both Danny Green and David Lee after they failed to cover a Houston pick and roll effectively. For a team that prides itself on lockdown defence it was a chastening night.
After the game Popovic summed it up in his typically blunt fashion – “We lost. They won. They played better”. He went on to commend Houston’s performance but lamented his teams execution which he felt played right into Houston’s hands.
The game was played at a frenetic pace which suited Houston all day – expect the Spurs to slow it down in game two and make Houston work much harder for their points.
When the Rockets shoot the three like they did last night they are hard to beat. Houston attempted 50 three pointers – the most ever against the Spurs in the postseason. San Antonio will have to find a way to disrupt Houston’s perimeter shooters if they are to regain control of the series.
The series continues in San Antonio on Wednesday night and the Spurs will be looking to put this embarrassing night behind them.