The schedule gives us another opportunity to make some snap judgments with a rare off day in the middle of the playoffs. With no games Thursday, we can take stock of what we’ve seen so far in the second round as all four series have played two games.
The top-seeded Suns and Heat are in control of their series with 2-0 leads and appear to be well on their way to the conference finals. On the other side of those matchups, the Mavericks and Sixers are searching for answers before their seasons slip away.
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So while we prepare for games to resume, let’s once again dispense with nuance and break down the biggest overreactions so far from the second round of the NBA playoffs:
Suns poised for a sweep
After a small speed bump in the first round, the Suns are not messing around with the Mavericks.
Chris Paul, Devin Booker and company put away the Mavs in Game 2 with a clinical second-half destruction. Phoenix outscored Dallas 71-49 after the break, including 40-26 in a fourth quarter that snuffed out any hopes the Mavericks may have had of pulling off a series upset.
The Suns set a franchise playoff record by shooting 64.5% from the field as they methodically picked the Mavericks apart. They shot an incredible 16-for-19 in the fourth quarter. Phoenix made a point to put Dallas away after nearly coughing up a big lead in Game 1.
“We have good players,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “I’d love to sit here and tell you I’m moving the chess pieces around, but we have good players who can knock down shots.”
If they continue to knock down shots like they have in the first two games of the series, the Suns won’t have any trouble finishing off the Mavericks and could make quick work of the Grizzlies or Warriors in the conference finals.
— Matt Eppers, USA TODAY Sports
Heat feasting without Embiid
The first two games have confirmed most of the suspicions heading into the series: Miami will cruise as long as Joel Embiid is out for Philadelphia.
Defense carried the Heat in Game 1, and it was good again in Game 2 as the offense also found its rhythm. Miami shot 51.3% from the field in Game 2 and 14-of-29 (48.3%) on 3-pointers while running up an offensive rating of 125.3 (the best rating in the regular season was 116.2).
Without Embiid defending the paint, Heat center Bam Adebayo has been able to wreak havoc. Adebayo is averaging 23.5 points while shooting a combined 15-for-21 (71.4%) from the field. He’s also gotten to the free throw line where he’s 17-for-19 total.
Tyler Herro is averaging 21.5 points and shooting 63.6% from 3-point range to help make up for the absence of Kyle Lowry, who has missed the first two games of the series with an injured hamstring.
On the other end, Miami has been able to lock down on Philadelphia’s shooters without Embiid’s dominant presence inside. The Heat have held the Sixers to 21.9% shooting from 3-point range.
Sixers put themselves in tough spot
The Sixers headed home from Miami without the one win they wanted and needed. The Heat’s 119-103 victory dropped the Sixers into a 2-0 hole in the East semifinals.
The series shifts to Philadelphia for Games 3 and 4. There’s a chance Embiid could return Friday after missing the first two games with an orbital fracture and mild concussion, but they’re going to need to improve in other areas, too.
Asked about the possibility of Embiid playing in Game 3, Sixers coach Doc Rivers said, “I really don’t know. … He looked good as far as talking (via FaceTime), but he’s got so many steps to go through right now. He hasn’t cleared any of them.”
Former MVP James Harden was more aggressive in the second quarter, scoring 12 of his 16 first-half points in the period, but the Sixers still trailed by eight at intermission. He finished with four points and one made field goal in the second half for the second straight game.
Tyrese Maxey paced the Sixers with 34 points and Tobias Harris added 21 points, but Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle continued to struggle.
— Tom Moore, Bucks County Courier Times
Doncic exploited for Dallas
Part of the Suns’ offensive plan in the second half of Game 2 was to test Mavericks guard Luka Doncic as a defender. Don’t worry if he scores 45, as he did in Game 1, or 35, as he did in Game 2. Just make sure he earns his points, then attack him relentlessly with your offense, because as great as Doncic is, defense is not his forte.
The Suns did that time and time again in the second half. Doncic guarding you? Penetrate and take a good shot yourself, or kick it to teammates. The Suns did that so often that anyone in the sellout crowd could have yelled out what was coming.
Afterwards, the Suns downplayed their targeting of Doncic. Just taking what the defense gives us, they said, obviously not wanting to create quotes for Mavericks coach Jason Kidd to put on a white board.
“We’re just trying to win the game,” Suns coach Monty Williams said when asked about attacking Doncic. “We feel like we have guys who can put them (the Mavericks) in certain positions, but within what we do.”
— Kent Somers, Arizona Republic
Grizzlies figuring out Warriors
What if, with Ja Morant, the Grizzlies could be on the verge of cracking the Warriors’ code?
Those 47 points Morant scored in Game 2 were each sensational in their own way, and the final 15 materialized in a fantastic closing kick, as well-timed as any moment in franchise history.
Indeed it was the battle-tested Warriors who sounded a bit rattled by the ill-advised shots they took down the stretch, and the two horrible shooting performances they’ve had to start the series.
It was Morant, meanwhile, who went nuclear again, even when he apparently couldn’t fully see out of his left eye. He rescued Memphis when Dillon Brooks got ejected, and Desmond Bane looked hobbled by injury, and the entire postseason felt like it was close to teetering.
He turned what would have been a devastating loss for Memphis into new seeds of doubt for Golden State, and then he told Steph Curry about what he had just done.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Morant said. If the Warriors didn’t know that yet, they do now.
— Mark Giannotto, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Warriors need a stopper
Injuries continue to play a major role in these playoffs, and the latest could be costly for the Warriors. Defensive whiz Gary Payton II will likely miss the rest of the second round against the Grizzlies after sustaining a fractured left elbow in Game 2 on a flagrant foul by Brooks.
Payton left the game just three minutes in, and Morant took advantage of his absence to pour in 47 points.
How the Warriors replace Payton’s minutes will be a huge key for the rest of the series. Payton has been Golden State’s best perimeter defender this season, and he had moved into the starting lineup against Memphis to take the lead on guarding Morant.
Trying to contain Morant will be a handful, but the Warriors could get help in the return of Andre Iguodala, who has missed the last four games with a neck injury. The 38-year-old won’t solve all Golden State’s problems if he plays Saturday in Game 3, so guarding Morant will have to be a collaborative effort.
Celtics defense still smothering
Boston turned the tables on Milwaukee in Game 2 despite Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart sitting out with a quad contusion.
Even without their emotional leader, the Celtics made things incredibly difficult for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks offense. The Celtics have as much size and versatility as any team can throw at Antetokounmpo, and they used mostly one-on-one looks on the former MVP to help limit the Bucks’ ball movement. They forced 16 turnovers in Game 2 and held the Bucks to 3-of-18 (16.7%) from 3-point range.
After hounding Nets star Kevin Durant in the first round and limiting him to 39.4% shooting, Boston is doing much of the same against Milwaukee and Antetokounmpo.
“Every game isn’t gonna be perfect,” Jayson Tatum said. “We’re playing against the defending champs. They punched us in the mouth first game. I knew we were gonna be ready from a competitiveness standpoint.”
Bucks must unlock Giannis
Over the first two games of the series, Antetokounmpo is a combined 20-for-52 (38.4%) from the field for 52 points. He is 1-for-6 (16.7%) from 3-point range and 11-for-20 (55%) from the free throw line. Those numbers are easily far below what Antetokounmpo did against Chicago in the first round and the regular season, but it’s been awhile since he’s put together consecutive games like that in the postseason.
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have three days off before Saturday’s Game 3 matinee in Milwaukee to begin to solve the Celtics’ puzzle.
Antetokounmpo has insisted the Celtics haven’t done anything extraordinarily different in how they’ve given him trouble — they just have.
“Obviously it’s the playoffs — the physicality is going to be higher, the discipline is going to be way higher,” Antetokounmpo said. “But you gotta find a way. You gotta find a way to win games. You gotta find a way to figure (it) out no matter whatever they’re doing.”
— Jim Owczarski, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel