Kurt Helin

Three things to watch in playoffs Tuesday: Who steps up for Boston with Bradley out?

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Some playoff series are starting to get interesting in the first round after we moved out of a one-sided opening weekend. Will we get a game worth watching on Tuesday? Here are three things to look for.

1) How will the Celtics adjust to the loss of Avery Bradley? Boston is going to miss Bradley. A lot. He is out for the rest of the series against Atlanta with a hamstring injury, and in a series seen as a coin toss, this could be the difference. During the season, the Celtics were 3.1 points per 100 possessions better when Bradley was on the court rather than sitting, but that stat underestimates his value. Particularly defensively — Bradley was sixth this season in Defensive Player of the Year voting, and he was the highest ranked guard. Boston’s defense pressures and forces turnovers (second most per game in the league) and Bradley was at the heart of that, averaging 2.2 steals per game. Offensively, Bradley was inconsistent, but he made smart cuts off the ball, created space with that off-the-ball movement, knew how to use curls/pin down screens to get open, and hit his midrange jumpers fairly well. All things Boston needs this series.

Brad Stevens’ creativity and Boston’s trademark depth will be tested with this injury (maybe Stevens slides to bigger lineups). Marcus Smart likely will get the start and be asked to slow down Jeff Teague, who had 23 points and 12 assists in Game 1 and feasted once Bradley left the game. Smart isn’t the pick-and-roll defender Bradley is, and you can expect that to get tested early. Terry Rozier will get minutes for Boston, as will R.J. Hunter. Don’t be shocked if Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer adds to the defensive pressure in the backcourt by playing Teague and backup point guard Dennis Schroeder together.

2) Can Atlanta replicate their first half of Game 1 for 48 minutes?
Atlanta took a 1-0 series lead over Boston with a tight 102-101 win, but people forget this was a 17-point game at the half, and the Hawks were locking down the Celtics (who shot 23 percent in the first half). It was a balanced attack in that half (isn’t it always for the Hawks?) with Kent Bazemore scoring 11 while both Al Horford and Paul Millsap scored nine. The easy way to do this for the Hawks would be to hit their threes — they were 5-of-27 in Game 1, well below their season average.

The other thing we could see from Atlanta — angry and motivated Al Horford. On the Celtics’ broadcast, Boston color commentator and general Celtics homer Tommy Heinsohn said Horford was “not a great player.” Horford shrugged it off as Heinsohn’s opinion and he didn’t care — but it’s motivation for the All-Star forward. Horford is just good at everything — maybe not A+ elite at any one thing, but he’s A-/B+ at everything, and if he finds a Celtics weakness he can exploit it. If that happens in Game 2, the Hawks will win handily.

3) Maybe Memphis can keep it close for a half? That’s about the best I can do for you this series. Memphis is going to struggle to score (37 points in the first half of Game 1), and the Spurs will get their buckets and just grind Memphis down. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge will get theirs; the Spurs bench will feast in particular against an injury-riddled Grizzlies roster.

This column is about things to watch — I would recommend binging season four of “House of Cards” or “Mozart in the Jungle” over this game. We’ll watch the Spurs go up 2-0 for you and put up a quality recap. Promise.

Russell Westbrook shoves aside Charlie Villanueva to continue pregame dance routine

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Nobody, and I mean nobody, interrupts Russell Westbrook‘s pregame dance routine.

Westbrook and Cameron Payne were doing their pregame routine when Dallas, Charlie Villanueva decided to get in the middle of it. Literally. Westbrook just shoves him out of the way and keeps on dancing.

After the game, Kevin Durant and Westbrook both took shots at Charlie V.

Thing is, if you’re a superstitious basketball player and you did something like disrupt a player’s pregame routine, and the disrupted player then went out and shot 8-of-22 on the night (which wasn’t much better than Durant’s 7-of-33 night) and your team got the upset win, wouldn’t you do it again next game?

Then again, you’ll just make Russell Westbrook angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Ice cold Kevin Durant opens door, Mavericks walk through it to even series 1-1

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How cold was Kevin Durant shooting from the floor in Game 2 of the Thunder’s series against the Mavericks?

Sometimes a picture — or in this case, a shot chart — is worth 1,000 words.

Durant shot chart

Forget the adjustments that Dallas made — and Rick Carlisle made a few good ones — that picture shows what opened the door for Dallas, a 7-of-33 shooting night from one of the usually best in the game. Behind 21 points from Raymond Felton and 17 from Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas barely got through that door for an 85-84 win.

The first-round series is now tied 1-1 headed to Dallas for Game 3.

Credit a Mavericks team that Felton said postgame was “embarrassed” with their Game 1 effort (as they should have been). Monday night they were more physical and defended better, for example they contested 28 of Durant’s 33 shots, and he hit just six of those. But Durant usually hits contested shots before breakfast, and with the game on the line late he missed two clean looks — one to tie and one to win.

Off that second miss, Wesley Matthews (also an ice-cold 3-of-11 on the night) pulled the rebound away from him, went the length of the court and hit the layup in front of Steven Adams — the shot that put Dallas up four and would prove to be the game-winner.

That’s because Durant did hit a three (notice the one yellow patch in the shot chart) to make it a one-point game with 9.5 seconds left. A couple of quick fouls (OKC had one to give) sent Felton to the line to try to stretch out the lead, but he missed both. Russell Westbrook pushed the ball up the court looking for the win, he dished to Durant who missed the contested layup, Westbrook missed the tip in, and then Adams did not miss a second offensive rebound and lay-up — but he got his off just a split second after the buzzer (see the video above).

Carlisle’s biggest adjustment was going with the athleticism and youth that propelled Dallas into the playoffs with a late-season run — Salah Mejri and Justin Anderson. Dallas’ veteran core can be old and slow (see Game 1 for reference), but the two rookies brought energy and some highlight plays. Anderson was picking up Durant full court and being physical to knock him off his game. Mejri impact can be seen this way — he was +17 on the night (tied with Devin Harris for the team high).

Now it falls to Billy Donovan to make adjustments for the Thunder. Which he will do. But all he really needs is his two stars not to combine to shoot 15-of-55 on the night and things will look a lot better for the Thunder.

Kyle Korver sings praises of new Nets coach Kenny Atkinson

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Brooklyn fans, if you’re looking for an endorsement of your new head coach Kenny Atkinson, look nor further than Kyle Korver, one of the game’s best shooters and a member of the Atlanta Hawks (where Atkinson remains an assistant until they are eliminated from the playoffs).

Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did ask Korver about the Nets new boss and got this response about Korver’s free agency in 2013.

“I didn’t know if I was coming back,” Korver said Monday. “That is something as a free agent, you don’t know what the team is going to be, what the coaching staff was going to look like. But he said he was going to be back (as part of Mike Budenhozer’s staff). And that was a starting place for me. Kenny is going to be here? Things are going to be OK….

“He has been awesome for us here in Atlanta,” Korver said. “I think our player development has been second to none the last four years. I think it has been amazing watching guys develop and grow and Kenny leads that.”

That’s also what the Nets need because they are going to spend the next few years trying to acquire and develop young players through what will be a slow rebuilding process (the Nets don’t control their own first round pick until 2019).

It’s the best sign about the hiring of Atkinson by new GM Sean Marks — they are clearly looking at the long-term and building for stability. Which is the exact opposite of what Billy King was forced to do as GM by owner Mikhail Prokhorov when he purchased the team. (That’s not to excuse some poor moves by King, but he was told to pursue a strategy doomed to failure no matter who was GM.)

Tyronn Lue’s strong debut: Cavs coach shines in first playoff game playing Love at center

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Flanked by a security official, Tyronn Lue walked from Cleveland’s locker room toward his first postgame press conference in the NBA playoffs.

Lue had nothing to fear. He had all the answers in acing his first test.

The Cavaliers withstood a gritty Game 1 performance by the young and brash Detroit Pistons, who shot themselves to a seven-point lead early in the fourth quarter before Lue, making his postseason coaching debut, called a timeout and moved Kevin Love to center. Cleveland took off from there and rolled to victory.

“Nice job, coach,” a fan shouted at Lue. “Just 15 more.”

Lue smiled.

With Cleveland’s Big 3 of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Love reunited in the postseason and leading the charge, the Cavs showed composure down the stretch in a 106-101 win over the No. 8 seed Pistons, who flew back to Michigan afterward to regroup for Game 2 on Wednesday night.

Lue’s “small” lineup produced big-time results.

The Cavs ran their offense – specifically a play called “elbow wedge short” – through Love, giving him the ball in the high post. That forced Pistons All-Star center Andre Drummond, the league’s leading rebounder, outside to defend. That opened more space for Cleveland, which reeled off seven quick points to tie the game.

Then, with the teams knotted at 88-all, Love made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and the Cavs were off and running.

“Kevin at the 5 is tough for them to try to defend,” Lue said. “I think we manufactured probably 10 points in a row just running that play alone. … Kevin at the 5 was a big adjustment for us.”

The Cavs spent Monday watching film at their complex in Independence, Ohio, figuring out how to improve on their performance. They committed just one turnover, but will need to do a better job of contesting the Pistons on the perimeter. Detroit made 10 3-pointers in the first half, when Lue chose to pack the paint to keep Drummond from taking control.

But while the defense wasn’t stellar, Love’s 28-point, 13-rebound performance provided both a confidence boost for the three-time All-Star and perhaps a glimpse of how the Cavs will play the rest of the postseason.

One of the knocks on former Cavs coach David Blatt, fired in January despite a 30-13 record, was that he didn’t use Love properly. There were many games when Blatt kept Love on the bench in the fourth quarter. Lue, though, has managed to maximize Love’s skills and given Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy more to consider for the rest of this series.

The matchup between Lue and Van Gundy, considered one of the league’s best basketball strategists, figured to favor Detroit. But Lue, who played for Van Gundy in Orlando and sat on Doc Rivers’ bench as an assistant with Boston and the Los Angeles Clippers, landed the first blow against his former coach.

“There’s some things I regret,” Van Gundy said afterward. “There’s some things I have to do to help them a little bit more.”

The Pistons prepared for the possibility of Cleveland playing a smaller lineup, but didn’t do enough to stop it. They’re likely to see it even more now given the Cavs’ success.

Van Gundy can counter Lue’s move by taking Drummond out, but doing so would sacrifice inside offense, rim protection and rebounding. Another option would be to switch assignments and perhaps put either forward Marcus Morris or rugged rookie Stanley Johnson on Love.

Whatever Van Gundy decides, Lue will be ready.

He didn’t show any nerves before, during or after his playoff entrance.

“I’ve been preparing for this moment,” he said before the opener. “I think I’m very well prepared.”