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Cavaliers return home, seek first series win over Celtics

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Cavaliers have survived so much this season.

They’re one loss from facing a scenario no NBA team has survived — being down 0-3 in a playoff series.

The Eastern Conference finals shifts to Cleveland for Game 3 on Saturday with the Boston Celtics holding a 2-0 lead. History is already way, way in the Celtics’ favor.

Of the 300 teams to take 2-0 leads in best-of-seven series, 281 won the series.

Then again, of the 19 teams who’ve made the comeback, two were piloted by LeBron James.

So, unless the Celtics steal Game 3, this series isn’t over. But the Cavs have their heels on the edge of history’s cliff.

“We’re down 0-2. No need to panic,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “I mean, we played a Game 7, so I mean, that’s the danger. The danger’s not like we come out and don’t play well tomorrow and lose, it’s over. We still have games to play.”

The Cavs did indeed already play a Game 7 in the playoffs — avoiding elimination by beating the Indiana Pacers in the first round. The Celtics faced the same situation in the opening round against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Boston has won both games in the conference finals by double digits — including a 107-94 victory in Game 2. James posted his fifth triple-double with 40 or more points (42) in that game, and the Cavs still lost.

Jaylen Brown has scored 23 points in both games of this series, and overall Boston’s starting backcourt (Brown and Terry Rozier) has outscored the Cavs’ starting guards 72-12.

But Boston is just 1-4 on the road in this postseason, with statistical drops in just about every major category when playing away from TD Garden.

The Celtics are also a young team missing its two best players (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward). The Cavs aren’t what they once were (remember, Irving used to play for them), but organizationally they are the three-time defending conference champs.

“Like what happened in previous games, what happens in the future is all out the window,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s just about what happens in that 48-minute segment. Our guys know that. We’re going to have to play really hard. We’re going to have to play really connected.

“Obviously, with all they’ve accomplished over the last two years, they’ve been tremendous on the road and at home, but especially at home. It’ll be a heck of a challenge.”

The Cavs are 5-1 at home in the 2018 playoffs, with two buzzer beaters from James to steal two games. James steered the 2007 Cavs back from an 0-2 hole to beat the Detroit Pistons in the conference finals, and James and Irving co-piloted the Cavs from deficits of 0-2 and 1-3 in the 2016 Finals to stun the Warriors.

Only four players remain from the 2016 championship team — James, Kevin Love, JR Smith, and Tristan Thompson — and Kyle Korver represents the only other current Cavs player on the 2017 Finals team that lost in five games to Golden State.

And yet this veteran group lost its composure in the second half of Game 2, blowing an eight-point halftime lead and missing all eight 3s in the fourth quarter.

“Going to the Finals a bunch of years in a row, when things don’t go the way you want them to it’s like, ‘Man, why didn’t that work?'” Korver said. “And this year there’s been a lot of turnover.

“We just have to learn how to — not learn how to, we know how to — we have to be focused on just playing through (mistakes), staying positive.”

Russell Westbrook outduels Damian Lillard, Thunder pick up win to get back in series

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook called his play in Game 2 “unacceptable.”

It was more than acceptable in Game 3. He had 33 points and 11 assists and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Portland Trail Blazers 120-108 on Friday night to cut their series deficit to 2-1.

Paul George added 22 points, Jerami Grant had 18 and Dennis Schroder 17 for the Thunder. They will host Game 4 on Sunday night.

Damian Lillard scored 32 points, but he had just three in the fourth quarter after scoring 25 in the third.

C.J. McCollum had 21 and Enes Kanter added 19.

Oklahoma City closed the second quarter on a 10-1 run to take a 49-39 lead. Lillard was held to four points on 2 -or-6 shooting and the Trail Blazers shot 37.5% in the half.

George hit a 3-pointer, was fouled and made the free throw in the opening minutes of the second half to push Oklahoma City’s lead to 55-43. Westbrook backed down Lillard, hit a bank shot and was fouled. Westbrook brought out his “rock the baby” celebration, then made the free throw to put Oklahoma City up by 15.

Lillard scored 23 points the rest of the quarter to help cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 86-82 at the end of the period. McCollum hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 89 early in the fourth.

Oklahoma City regained control, then kept it. Westbrook’s jumper with just over two minutes remaining put the Thunder up 10.

 

Celtics beat Pacers 104-96 to take 3-0 series lead

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and Kyrie Irving added 19 to help the Boston Celtics beat the Indiana Pacers 104-96 on Friday night for a 3-0 lead in the first-round series.

The Celtics can close out the Eastern Conference series Sunday in Indianapolis.

Irving also had 10 assists and five rebounds.

Tyreke Evans matched his career playoff high with 19 points for the Pacers. Bojan Bogdanovic had 15, not enough to prevent Indiana from losing its sixth straight to Boston in the regular season and playoff.

Indiana desperately needed a win to avoid facing its second sweep in three years, but Boston started fast and closed it with a 10-4 spurt late in the fourth quarter.

And once again, Boston’s defense turned the game by allowing just 12 points in the third quarter.

It’s been that kind of series for Indiana, which erased a 15-point first half deficit to take a 61-59 halftime lead. Myles Turner opened the third with a 3-pointer to make it a five-point game.

But Boston charged back with eight straight points to retake the lead, closed the quarter on a 9-2 run to make it 80-73 and pulled away late.

The Celtics took control quickly by going 8 of 10 on 3s in the first quarter to build a 37-22 lead.

Evans finally got the Pacers righted with 12 second-quarter points including bookend 3s to start and finish the 17-3 spurt that allowed Indiana to tie it at 52. The Pacers closed the half on a 9-2 run to take the lead.

 

Pascal Siakam scores 30, leads Raptors past Magic for 2-1 series lead

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Toronto Raptors think Pascal Siakam should be selected the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

He was their MVP on Friday night.

And the East’s No. 2 seed has the home-court edge back again.

Siakam had 30 points and 11 rebounds, hitting a floater with 1:33 left to help snuff out a big Orlando rally and the Raptors held off the Magic 98-93 to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.

“He’s unbelievable,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “He’s the most improved basketball player in the NBA this year and he’s only going to get better.”

Siakam was 13 for 20 from the floor and the Raptors held Orlando to 36% shooting.

“It’s just taking what a defense gives us and going with it,” Siakam said.

Kawhi Leonard — battling illness this week — had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Danny Green had 13 points and Lowry finished with 12 points and 10 assists, plus ran down a huge offensive rebound with about 15 seconds left to extend a critical possession and spoil Orlando’s first home playoff game since 2012.

“It was really what I thought it was going to be tonight,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I really thought this was going to be a tough atmosphere to play in.”

Terrence Ross led Orlando with 24 points, and Nikola Vucevic shook off a slow start to finish with 22 points and 14 rebounds.

Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.

“Our turnovers hurt us again,” Vucevic said, lamenting Orlando’s 16 giveaways. “We had too many of those. Empty possessions for us and against a team like that you can’t have that.”

The Raptors trailed 61-60 midway through the third after a brief Orlando spurt, then went on a 16-0 run over the next four minutes to take the lead for good. Siakam and Green were both 3 for 3 during the run, the Magic missed 10 consecutive shots over a span of 6 1/2 minutes and had to play uphill the rest of the way.

That being said, they went down swinging.

Lowry’s 3-pointer with 7:48 left gave Toronto its biggest lead at 86-69. The Magic came flying back, and Ross’ 3-pointer with 41 seconds left got Orlando to 96-93.

Leonard was short with a jumper on the next possession — but the Magic couldn’t control the rebound, Lowry ran it down and Leonard made a pair of free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining to clinch the win.

“Critical,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said.

Orlando, which finished the regular season by winning 13 of its final 14 home games, was 13 of 44 from 3-point range.

Toronto scored the first 10 points — the last five by Siakam, who was a problem from the outset for the Magic — and led by as many as 11 in the first half. The Magic got within 48-45 at the break after Ross beat the clock from midcourt at the buzzer.

The Magic got the lead twice in the second half, once by one point, the other by two points. And both leads lasted exactly 15 seconds, getting taken away on 3-pointers by Siakam and Green.

And now it’s up to Orlando to regroup, the same way Toronto did after dropping Game 1.

“It’s 2-1,” Clifford said. “It’s not like it’s 3-0. It’s 2-1…. Handling disappointment is a huge part of NBA basketball and it’s a bigger part of playoff basketball.”

Watch Orlando’s Terrence Ross drain halfcourt buzzer beater just before half

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Back on their home court, the Orlando Magic are hanging right with the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the 1-1 series.

This helped.

It looked like the Magic would go into halftime down by at least six, and then Terrence Ross did this.

Ross’ name came up a lot just before the trade deadline when other teams thought the Magic would decide to tank and move on from their players who could bring back assets to help the rebuild. The Magic were 10 games below .500 and four games out of the eight seed. Orlando decided instead to push for the postseason, and they made their first playoffs since the Dwight Howard era, climbing all the way to the seven seed. That would not have happened without Ross.

Now they are making the most of their opportunity.