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Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Westbrook vs. Lillard is best show in playoffs

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The NBA playoffs are underway and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook vs. Damian Lillard is the best show in playoffs; Round 3 goes to Westbrook and Thunder. Oklahoma City vs. Portland has become must-watch TV. This third-quarter sequence shows exactly why Russell Westbrook vs. Damian Lillard is the best drama going right now. Well, second after Game of Thrones, but best in the NBA playoffs and one you need to be watching.

Less than two minutes into the third quarter, Westbrook anticipated a Lillard layup attempt, got up, and swatted the shot back. When he landed, Westbrook looked at the crowd along the baseline and yelled something. Lillard, in turn, said something right back to Westbrook, and then the two started jawing. As they have at points throughout the series. Westbrook was making it personal, he demanded the ball on the next Thunder possession, posted up Lillard and knocked down a little turnaround jumper right over the Blazers’ guard. Westbrook then celebrated with his rock-the-baby move (the way he did this one was more shook-the-baby). After the game, Lillard said he didn’t even see it, although in the videos Lillard seems to smirk at it.

Lillard then went off scoring 23 of his 25 points in a historic, franchise-best third quarter to make it a game.

In the end, Oklahoma City got the needed win 120-108 behind 33 points ( on an efficient 11-of-22 shooting ) and 11 assists from Westbrook. Westbrook even hit the dagger three over Lillard.

The Thunder still trail in the series 2-1 and need another win on Sunday in Game 4 or they may fall too far behind to catch up.

Two keys in Game 3 led to the Thunder win.

First, Oklahoma City finally decided to be aggressive in trapping and pressuring Damian Lillard, taking the ball out of his hands early in the shot clock. At least OKC did in the first half. This has been the book on how to beat Portland in the playoffs for a couple of seasons now — make anyone other than Lillard or C.J. McCollum beat you — but OKC used it sparingly in the first couple of games. During the regular season Jusuf Nurkic became an excellent outlet for Lillard when those traps came, but he is out and now Enes Kanter has to be that man. He was not as good. Portland got away from it when Lillard got hot but the Thunder need to go back to it as often as they can.

Second, the Thunder hit their threes. Oklahoma City shot 10-of-61 from three (16.4 percent) from three in the first two games in Portland, but at home they felt comfortable and the shots fell — 15-of-29. This was the biggest difference in the game, Portland’s defense but the Thunder could not beat them from three and on Friday night OKC won that bet.

Can the Thunder sustain that at home?

Tune in for Game 4 Sunday to find out. Lillard vs. Westbrook is the best show going right now.

2) Pascal Siakam goes off for 30 points, 11 rebounds in leading Raptors to win on the road over Magic. During his pregame media availability, Raptors coach Nick Nurse was asked if Pascal Siakam was formally the Raptors third offensive option now.

“If he has he’s dropped down from being the 2nd option,” Nurse responded.

Siakam was option No. 1 on Friday night, scoring 30 points, pulling down 11 rebounds, and leading the way for Toronto to get a 98-93 win on the road. Siakam did it impressively, with everything from threes to postups, and plenty of attacking off the bounce, much of it against a good defender in Jonathan Isaac.

Toronto now leads the series 2-1 and if Orlando is going to have a real chance in this series it needs to win game 4 Sunday.

The Raptors needed the breakout game from Siakam because Kawhi Leonard looked human, scoring 16 points but needing 19 shots to get there (he also had 10 rebounds). Orlando geared its game to stop Leonard (who was under the weather), but the Raptors had other options in this one.

The Raptors also defended well — Evan Fournier was 1-of-12 shooting on a night the Magic as a team shot 36.2 percent and scored less than a point per possession (98.9 offensive net rating). Terrence Ross had 24 off the bench — and hit a halfcourt shot right before halftime — to keep Orlando close. The Magic better find their shooting touch before Sunday or this series will end quickly.

3) Boston has Kyrie Irving (and Jaylen Brown), Indiana can’t score consistently, and Boston is in command of series. We’ve seen this movie before. Boston went into Indiana Friday night and took control of the series going up 3-0 after a 104-96 win that followed the same formula that has worked for the first two games.

First, Kyrie Irving can get buckets whenever he wants. He had 19 points in this game, although it was Jaylen Brown’s 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting that was the dominant force. Jayson Tatum pitched in 18 points.

Second, Indiana just can’t score consistently The Pacers had 61 points in the first half, finding some offense in playing uptempo, even if that is not their style (the Pacers were 25th in the NBA in pace during the regular season, then this had been the second slowest paced playoff series so far this season). But the scoring would not last. Indiana started the third 1-of-8 from the floor and finished the quarter 5-of-21 shooting. Then down the stretch, Indiana was 1-of-7 from the floor. Without Victor Oladipo the Pacers are prone to these offensive droughts, especially against a good Celtics’ defense, and it is simply too much to overcome.

Game 4 is Sunday and maybe the Pacers extend the series to a fifth game, but we know how this movie is going to end.

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.

 

Kyrie Irving torches Pacers for 37 points in Celtics win

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In what had been a tight game, the Pacers built a four-point lead over the Celtics with four minutes left in the third quarter. From there:

Irving scored 37 points and dished seven assists, leading Boston to a 99-91 Game 2 win Wednesday. The Celtics now lead the first-round series 2-0. Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home have won the series 93% of the time.

The Pacers just can’t muster enough offense – not against this sound Boston defense. Indiana went nearly nine scoreless minutes in the fourth quarter. Even after ending that drought, the Pacers’ final five possessions: miss, miss, miss, turnover, turnover.

This is why the Celtics got Irving. His ability to create shots sets them apart in these slogging playoff games.

Jayson Tatum added 26 points. But Al Horford struggled while playing through illness. Marcus Morris shot 0-for-8. Jaylen Brown didn’t really get going.

This wasn’t the prettiest game for Boston, but because of Irving, it was a win.

Pacers searching for offense in Game 2 vs. Celtics

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Two teams looking to put together two strong halves meet again Wednesday night when the fifth-seeded Indiana Pacers visit the fourth-seeded Boston Celtics for Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.

Despite their lowest scoring game of the season, the Celtics prevailed 84-74 in the best-of-7 opener by dominating the second half, limiting the Pacers to 29 points after the visitors had taken a 45-38 halftime lead.

Kyrie Irving had 20 points and helped limit Pacers point guard Darren Collison to six points on 3-for-11 shooting to lead the Celtics’ win.

Afterward, he wasn’t necessarily proud of the achievement, insisting what comes next in a series is always more important than what’s just happened.

“At this point, it’s just moving on to the next thing,” he said at his postgame press conference. “When you have that kind of mentality, you don’t need to be fixated on mistakes.”

Mistakes were aplenty in Game 1, especially when it came to shooting.

The Celtics shot just 32 percent in the first half, before improving to 41 percent in the second half.

On this night, that was good enough, being that the Pacers followed up a 44-percent first half by missing their first 11 shots of the third quarter.

Just like that, a seven-point halftime lead had turned into a 60-48 deficit.

Outscored 26-8 in the decisive third quarter, Indiana wound up making just eight field goals in the entire second half, going 8-for-38 (21.1 percent).

In the end, guard Wesley Matthews found a positive.

“We’ve got to shake this off and realize there was a lot of good in there,” he said at his postgame press conference. “I don’t think if we played with our eyes closed we could have an eight-point quarter again.”

The 74-point total was 15 points lower than any previous game this season for the Pacers. But it was the third time in their last four games that they were held under 100, a stretch that included a key 117-97 home loss to the Celtics in the final week of the regular season.

The Celtics’ defensive brilliance came despite the absence of Marcus Smart, who is expected to miss the entire series with a torn oblique.

Boston moved Jaylen Brown into his starting spot, yet still managed to play the Pacers almost evenly off the bench, getting outscored just 36-35.

Marcus Morris (20) and Gordon Hayward (10) combined for 30 of the Celtics’ 35 bench points. Boston could be without Al Horford (illness) in Game 2. He was officially listed as questionable Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the Indiana bench contributed to the team’s poor offensive effort, with the usually reliable Domantas Sabonis (3-for-9), Tyreke Evans (3-for-11) and Doug McDermott (1-for-7) combining to shoot just 7-for-27.

The Celtics are quite familiar with winning the opening game of a playoff series. In fact, they went up 2-0 against all three of their postseason opponents last season, going on to beat Milwaukee 4-3 and

Philadelphia 4-1 before falling to Cleveland 4-3 in the Eastern finals.

The Pacers, meanwhile, have rallied to win the series on two of the last three occasions when they lost Game 1. Interestingly, they’ve gone 0-3 in series over that same span after winning the opener.

 

Celtics rally past Pacers in low scoring Game 1 victory

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BOSTON (AP) Kyrie Irving and Marcus Morris each had 20 points, and the Boston Celtics rallied in the second half to beat the Indiana Pacers 84-74 on Sunday to take a 1-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Jayson Tatum finished with 15 points. Al Horford added 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Gordon Hayward had 10 points. It was the first playoff game since 2017 for Irving and Hayward after each missed last year’s postseason with injuries.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Boston.

The Pacers led by 11 points in the first half but had just eight points in the third quarter. The Celtics capitalized and led by as many as 22 in the fourth. Indiana scored 29 points in the second half, and the quarter and half were both its worst of the season.

Cory Joseph had 14 points for the Pacers. Bojan Boganovic was the lone Pacers starter in double figures with 12 points.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens and Pacers coach Nate McMillan both said before the series that the more physical team would have the edge.

After a shaky start, it turned out to be Boston.

Indiana led by as many as 11 in the first half before Boston opened the third quarter with a 22-3 run to take a 60-48 lead. The Pacers didn’t get their first field goal of the second half until Cory Joseph dropped in a layup with 3:38 left in the third. They finished the quarter 2 for 19 from the field.

Boston’s run included a brief appearance by Celtics legend and former Pacers front office executive Larry Bird, who was shown on the big screen during a timeout.

The third period ended with Terry Rozier connecting on an acrobatic 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds remaining to put the Celtics ahead 64-53. The lead grew to 84-62 on a 3-pointer by Tatum with 3:34 remaining.

Stevens went with Jaylen Brown in the starting lineup in place of Marcus Smart, who is out with a torn left oblique.

But after Boston committed four turnovers in the first four minutes of the game, Stevens quickly adjusted, inserting Morris and Hayward.

The change paid off with Morris connecting on 3 of 4 field-goal attempts in the period, including two 3-pointers, and scoring 12 points. No other Celtics player had more than two points.

The Celtics continued turning the ball over, though. They finished the first half with 10 turnovers, which led to 11 Pacers points.

TIP-INS

Pacers: Went 12 of 21 from the free throw line (57%).

Celtics: Outrebounded the Pacers 55-42.

PATRIOTS’ KRAFT COURTSIDE

Patriots team owner Robert Kraft sat courtside beside Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck. Kraft was charged with two counts of solicitation in January after police said he twice paid to have sex with employees at a Florida spa.

UP NEXT

Boston hosts Game 2 on Wednesday.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports