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PBT Extra Preview: Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers

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Nobody expected the Indiana Pacers to be here. Before the season they were pegged as a lottery team, but Victor Oladipo had other plans and lifted this team up.

Nobody expected the Cleveland Cavaliers to be here. A LeBron James led team wasn’t supposed to struggle to defend this much and fall to the four seed.

But here we are, the Cavaliers host the Pacers in the first game of the 4/5 Eastern Conference playoff matchup Sunday. Do the Pacers have a chance? I get into it in this latest PBT Extra.

PBT Extra Preview: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Boston Celtics

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Teams in the East were jockeying to get on Boston’s side of the playoff bracket because the Celtics are so banged up — no Kyrie Irving, no Gordon Hayward, no Marcus Smart, no Daniel Theis. The Milwaukee Bucks finished with the seven seed and got the chance to take on what’s left of the Celtics in the first round.

But can the Bucks beat them?

Milwaukee will have the best player in the series by a mile in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and they have strong players around him such as Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton. However, the Bucks are undisciplined and make mental mistakes all the time. On the other side, Boston still has Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown — and they will be disciplined. The Celtics will defend well and not make mistakes.

That combination makes this an interesting clash.

Watch Jrue Holiday’s block that secured Pelicans win

Associated Press
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Anthony Davis was everything you want an MVP candidate to be in a playoff game — 35 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks, in a dominant performance.

However, it was Jrue Holiday and his defense that saved the day for the Pelicans.

New Orleans had been in control of this game until a combination of C.J. McCollum getting hot and Davis (and Nicolas Mirotic) wearing down with exhaustion led to a Trail Blazer comeback. This was tight late, but Holiday just kept making plays.

First, he broke up a three-on-two Portland fast break where Portland could have tied the game.

Then came the big one: Down three with :09 seconds left, Portland went for the quick two on a Pat Connaughton cut and layup, and Holiday blocked his shot.

Holiday was nothing short of brilliant defensively in this game and saved the Pelicans, who got the Game 1 win on the road 97-95.

No Embiid, no problem, 76ers roll past Heat in Game 1

Associated Press
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Ben Simmons had 17 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds in his playoff debut, and the Philadelphia 76ers romped again without Joel Embiid, beating the Miami Heat 130-103 on Saturday night for their 17th straight win.

Embiid was a spectator in Game 1 of the first-round series because of a broken orbital bone around his left eye. The All-Star center has been hopeful he can return early in the series. The Sixers could end this one early with Embiid back in the lineup.

Simmons dished and dazzled in the paint and the Heat had no answer for Sixers reserves Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. Belinelli and Ilyasova combined to hit four 3-pointers in the third quarter that helped shift the tone from physical and foul-filled to a long-distance game that allowed the Sixers to put away this one. They used a 15-0 run in the third in their first postseason game in five seasons under coach Brett Brown to get the rout rolling.

Brown won 47 games his first three seasons as the Sixers underwent the Process – and 52, plus Game 1 this season.

JJ Redick scored 28 points to lead the Sixers, who host Game 2 on Monday. Belinelli had 25 and Ilyasova 17.

Embiid ditched the black mask he’s been wearing in light shooting drills for a white “Phantom of the Opera” mask to ring the ceremonial Liberty Bell before tipoff.

The Sixers crowd roared as Embiid, the self-proclaimed “Phantom of the Process,” waved his arms toward the crowd and exhorted them to get louder. Sixers fans started tailgating in the sports complex about seven hours before tipoff and one group posted a sign on their tent that read “Saturdays Are For The Process.” The Sixers had a blue-out and gave away free T-shirts in preparation of their first playoff game since 2012.

“There is a gratitude that I have, we have. Finally, here we are and our fans genuinely have something to be proud of with us,” Brown said.

The Game 1 victory sure didn’t surprise Embiid.

He had already mapped out the 76ers’ road to an NBA championship on his Instagram feed.

“It’s about that time!!! (hash)Playoffs (hash)PhantomofTheProcess

Embiid posted a photo burst of teams in order of a potential road toward a Process title. He started with the Heat, followed by Boston, then a picture of him hugging Cleveland’s LeBron James, and ending with Embiid looking at Golden State’s Draymond Green.

The Heat would swipe left on the collage.

For a half, the Heat got what they needed against one of the NBA’s toughest teams and James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk helped them take a 60-56 lead at the break. Olynyk led the Heat with 26 points.

The Sixers, who set an NBA record with 16 straight wins to end the season, got the rout in full swing with a raucous crowd behind them. The Heat shot 26 percent in the third and were outscored 34-18.

Simmons assisted on Ilyasova’s 3 and then hit a jumper for a 66-63 lead. Dario Saric, who the Sixers waited for two years to come over while he played overseas, also buried a 3 off an assist from Simmons. Simmons made a statue out of Olynyk, crossing him up and busting through for a two-handed slam that brought down the house.

All that was left was the “Trust the Process!” chants and they rang out inside the Wells Fargo Center once Saric buried a 3 in the fourth for a 109-87 lead.

 

Popovich’s plan for slowing Durant? Have Danny Green grow five inches to start

Associated Press
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Kevin Durant had his way with the San Antonio Spurs Saturday afternoon — 24 points on 17 shots, hitting 4-of-6 in the paint and killing it from the midrange. Plus he had seven assists and eight rebounds, plus played strong defense.

The Warriors won Game 1 going away 113-92, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich may have a longer list of problems to deal with than President Trump. At the top of the Spurs’ list, what to do about Durant. What the Spurs plan to do is a legitimate question to ask. But if you’re a reporter who is going to ask about KD and how to defend him in the postgame interview, be very careful about how you phrase it.

Classic Popovich.

Also, that answer may be the Spurs best option, unrealistic or not. There are not good answers here.