Three things to watch tonight in NBA Playoffs: Will Curry play for Warriors? Does it matter?


From now through the end of the playoffs, each day the team at PBT will give you a little preview of what will be coming that night and what to look for on the court. For Monday, the things to look for starts with the very basic question of whether Curry is even on the court.

1) Will Stephen Curry play for Warriors? Will it even matter? Stephen Curry has said he wants to play in Game 2 Monday. However, he did not go through practice with Golden State Sunday and is officially listed as “questionable” with a sprained ankle suffered in the Warriors blowout Game 1 win against Houston. Considering Curry’s ankle injury history (he’s had two surgeries on that same ankle) and his importance to their playoff run, Steve Kerr may be leaning toward having Curry sit out Game 2.

The real question is, can Houston do anything about it if he does sit? Technically Houston outscored Golden State by six points when Curry was on the bench through the first three quarters of Game 1 (which eliminates the garbage time of the fourth when Curry sat), but this will be different. The bickering Rockets tried to get James Harden going (17 points on 19 shots), but the Warriors did a great job of not fouling (zero free throw attempts for Harden), and the Rockets lack the shooters to prevent help from getting in the way of Harden. J.B. Bickerstaff has work to do looking for ways to get Harden playing downhill and back to being Harden.

This is simple for the Rockets: If Curry sits this is the road game Houston needs to steal to have any shot in this series. If the Rockets’ can’t, go ahead and start booking tee times.

2) Will DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry show up for the playoffs in Game 2? Toronto was the No. 2 seed in the East on the strength of their backcourt — the second best in the NBA — but the Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan who terrorized the league for much of the season didn’t show up for Game 1. They combined to shoot 8-of-32 from the floor overall, 1-of-10 from three, and they had nine turnovers. Credit the Pacers physical defense with some of that — they contested 20 of those shots and Lowry/DeRozan hit just four of them — but Toronto’s All-Stars are better than this.

Lowry and DeRozan — and coach Dwane Casey — said all the right things Sunday about them not being rattled by the pressure of history (the Raptors haven’t advanced out of the first round since the Vince Carter era), now they need to back that up. In part, that means coming up with play designs to create space for the guards, but then the duo just needs to hit shots. The Raptors didn’t play to their strengths or identity, that needs to change..

By the way, the Raptors don’t just need to adjust on the offensive end. DeRozan was assigned Paul George defensively much of Game 1 and was torched — George had 27 of his 33 points in the second half and keyed the Pacers’ win. Specifically, expect a change in who is on Goerge (Norman Powell?) from the Raptors, as well as how they deal with George on the pick-and-roll. Expect hedging and traps.

3) What can Rick Carlisle do to get Dallas buckets? Other than get back to playing Justin Anderson more. Dallas has far less talent than Oklahoma City. That’s not up for debate. The Mavericks’ only hope to make their first round series interesting was for brilliant coach Rick Carlisle to come up with some masterful stroke that neutralized Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the talent gulf. We’ve come to expect him to do just that. Except it didn’t happen in Game 1. Not even close, OKC won in a blowout.

For all the talk of the OKC offense it was the team’s defense that owned Dallas and decided that game. It was the best Thunder defensive performance in some time, they were active and aggressive. Carlisle has to find a way to get players not born in Germany some buckets to open up the floor — one way would be to play Justin Anderson more. The rookie started the six-game winning streak Dallas had to make the playoffs, and then Carlisle went away from him to get more minutes to trusted veterans. Stop it, go with what worked. To add to Carlisle’s challenges, for Game 2 J.J. Barea is out injured and Deron Williams is questionable. So that talent gulf just got bigger. What I’m saying is I do not envy Carlisle today.

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.