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Cavaliers answer questions in 116-105 Game 1 rout of Raptors

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There were questions about the Cavaliers coming into their second-round playoff series against the Raptors Monday night.

Would the eight days off between games lead to a lot of rust? The Cavaliers went on two separate 10-0 runs in the first quarter and started to pull away to a double-digit lead early that they never surrendered.

Next question.

Would Cleveland find some focus on defense to keep Toronto in check? While they had lapses, in the first quarter the Cavaliers held the Raptors to 18 points, and through the first three quarters the Raptors had an offensive rating of just 96.7 points per 100 possessions, 13 points less than Toronto’s regular season average. Cleveland did a fantastic job of taking those misses and turning them into transition buckets going the other way. Like this.

Next question.

Monday night the Cavaliers had all the answers on their way to a 116-105 Game 1 rout of Raptors (garbage time made it seem closer than it was). Game 2 of the series is Wednesday night in Cleveland.

“I feel like I’ll be a lot better on Wednesday,” said LeBron James, who had 35 points on 13-of-23 shooting, plus pulled down 10 boards. “The eight days we had off, we weren’t able to get game play. So a little bit of rhythm here, a little bit of conditioning, that will come back on Wednesday.

“But as a team we had great energy,”

Things went so smoothly LeBron almost had time for a mid-game beer.

In addition to LeBron’s 35, Kyrie Irving had 24 points and Kevin Love 18.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 39 points on 14-of-29 shooting.

It was a rough night all around for the Raptors, who struggled to get clean shots and buckets, plus let the Cavaliers get into a rhythm offensively.

“Defensively I didn’t think we played with the kind of physicality we needed to in this game,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. They were well rested, they moved and were flying around, like a half-step quicker than we were tonight. We’ve got to make adjustments as far as how we want to guard the paint and then get out to the three, and then offensively get cleaner looks.”

All of that was evident early when Cleveland was putting together a couple runs while the Raptors just missed shots. But in the second quarter the Raptors stormed back, they went on a 19-3 run and we had a game again.. or so it seemed. But the Raptors got 3-of-12 shooting from their bench in the first half, 0-of-5 from three, and when the Cavaliers starters came back in they pushed the lead back to 14 at the half, 62-48. The Cavaliers big three accounted 40 of those points.

“When they came back and made that surge in the second quarter, and we kept our composure,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said of what he liked best in the game. “We brought the starters back in, was able to get the lead back up to 14 at halftime, built it up to 22 again, then they made another push and we just stayed the course. Our confidence never waivered.”

Cleveland stretched their lead out in the third and the game was never in doubt after that.

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.

Kevin Durant on Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I would tell him to play for himself’

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Kevin Durant was once the big star in a little city. The former Oklahoma City Thunder star now plays for the Golden State Warriors, and has a championship ring to his name after making a switch in 2016.

So Durant has at least some experience similar to that of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is currently leading the charge for the Bucks against the Boston Celtics in the first round, and he’s seen as the future in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo signed a 4-year, $100 million contract in the summer of 2016, so presumably he’ll be in Wisconsin for some time.

Meanwhile, Durant had some advice for Antetokounmpo, should he ask for it. In a feature on ESPN, Durant was quoted as saying he felt Antetokounmpo should be sure to have fun, and to play for himself.

Via ESPN:

What I would say to him, I would tell him to play for himself,” Durant said. “Because he’s the one out there putting in the work, he’s the one out there getting up in the morning staying committed to the game. Obviously [the comments about staying put] sounds good to the fans in Milwaukee and to the ownership, because he cares so much about wanting to please them and play well for them, and I get it. But his career is about him; it’s about whatever he wants to do and however he feels is right for him. And what type of basketball does he want to play? He’s not going to stay in Milwaukee if he’s not having fun playing the game.

That’s some pretty good advice, although factors surrounding Antetokounmpo will likely weigh the same as they did on Durant in OKC. The Bucks presumably need a new coach once their season ends. They’re currently helmed by interim coach Joe Prunty, who took over when Jason Kidd was fired earlier this year.

The Bucks also need to fill out their roster and find a way to stay healthy. The Thunder famously had roster issues (read: the James Harden trade) and eventually the lack of playoff success drove Durant to switch teams.

Milwaukee doesn’t seem close to that kind of juncture, although eventually things will flip for the young Bucks and fans and management will expect some kind of production in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in; series tied 2-2

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.