The NBA Playoffs are all about match-ups and adjustments. The Raptors knew that they had one huge advantage over the Pacers, and that was third year big man, Jonas Valanciunas who ran roughshod in Game One of the series but was limited due to foul trouble. In Monday's 98-87 win it was Valanciunas who got the party started. The Lithuanian found himself open under the rim early and often, and cleaned up on the offensive rebounds whenever Indy tried to collapse on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Jonas finished the game with an impressive double-double scoring 23 points on 10-18 shooting, and also grabbing 15 rebounds. It seems like whenever the ball is anywhere near the basket Valanciunas is at least getting his hands on it. If he didn't bumble away a couple of passes he could have ended the night with 30. Coming from someone who has butterfingers of his own, I'm rooting with Jonas to keep doing his thing. If you need any stickum I know a guy Jonas!
The Pacers have done a great job of keeping the slash brothers away from the goal in this series. Raptors Head Coach, Dwane Casey made a smart adjustment in the second half of game two by keeping DeRozan on the bench and running a backcourt of Lowry and Corey Joseph. Joseph adds another plus defender to the fray, and scored a really efficient 16 points off the bench. Lowry is still dealing with his own shooting woes but found other ways to contribute, dishing out nine assists and getting 10 points from the stripe. The big question for Toronto going forward is how to get DDR some good looks and out of his current slump. The Raptors need DeRozan to be at his best if they want to make a run at The Finals.
After having a crazy second half in game one of this series Paul George put up 28 points on 15 shots, going 10-11 on free-throws in a performance that still felt a little low key. There is not enough firepower on this team for George to only be shooting 15 times. If the Pacers want to get the upset in this series we're going to have to see some crazy numbers out of PG. They will have to keep up the defense on Lowry and DeRozan, and find an answer to the suddenly unstoppable Jonas Valanciunas.
Dallas Mavericks 85 - Oklahoma City Thunder 84 ???
Raise your hand if you had Dallas upsetting OKC in game two of this series.
I didn't think so.
So, what happened?
Before we get to that, big shout-out to whoever took this photo of Kevin Durant after his 7-33 performance.
I think it really captures the essence of how KD played.
In all seriousness, Durant had an awful shooting night. He missed a couple of shots to give his team the lead late and spent most of the night driving into a cluttered lane trying to force things to happen. If you watch the Thunder play a lot you know that this team goes into long ruts where either Durant or Westbrook will dominate the ball in empty sets, and it leads to a lot of bad shots. The scary thing is that I don't think Thunder Head Coach, Billy Donavan has the intelligence nor respect of the players to install sets that would get the ball moving and create easy looks.
The Thunder are a really deceiving team. At first glance it looks like they should be unstoppable. The duo of Durant and Westbrook are as good as any in the league. Serge Ibaka is a shot blocking center that can also hit threes, the rarest and most valuable commodity in the modern game. They have a player in Enes Kanter that can come of the bench and get you 20-10. They've gone through stretches this year where they looked like the best team, but when they are pushed by a great team their cracks start to show.
This team has spent the last three years now trying to find a shooting guard who can hit threes and play plus defense and the combination of Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters off of the bench is a defensive disaster. Perhaps the biggest problem with this team is that it has no identity when the game is close in the fourth quarter. It feels like this should be Durant's team when the game is on the line, but too often he either is stymied by double-teams or defers to Russell Westbrook who does not have the shotmaking ability to bring them back from a three point deficit. This is a mess of a team, one that is not going to be solved by its current head coach.
On the other sideline you have a head coach who is getting every last ounce of talent from his players. Rick Carlisle has tinkered with his rotations and found lineups that are effective even though the players on the court are all some combination of injured, washed up, or barely holding on. Deron Williams was hobbling around the court yet somehow managed to score 11 points in the first quarter. Raymond Felton also had a huge night, scoring 21 points and grabbing 11 boards. The biggest thing Mavericks did in this win was shut down Kevin Durant. Whenever you can make the other teams best player miss 26 shots you have a good chance of getting the win, no matter what motley crew you are running out there.
That all being said, I doubt Kevin Durant will have another night like this in this series, or for the rest of his career for that matter. Durant is a smart enough player to make adjustments going into game three, even if he's not going to get a lot of help from his coach. It's also important to note that the Thunder were a couple of milliseconds from having a Steven Adams tip win the game for them. The Thunder are a flawed team, but I do not think the Mavericks have quite enough fire power to prove those flaws fatal.
Golden State Warriors 115 - Houston Rockets 106
Speaking of a flawed team, how about those Houston Rockets! Don't worry guys, only two more games then you have a whole summer of not having to play with each other! Imagine a whole summer of getting to do things like playing golf or grilling, and not having to stand around watching James Harden take bad threes, or pretending to play defense. Doesn't that sound just splendid?
The most intriguing thing to come out of the game was the fact that Steph Curry did not play, and from comments made by Golden State Head Coach Steve Kerr, I wouldn't be surprised if Curry sat out game three. The good news for the Warriors is that Shaun Livingston proved more than up to the task of filling in for the MVP, scoring 16 points on 7-9 shots. The bad news is that this whole Curry ankle/foot situation seems much more fluid than anyone is letting on.
I don't know what else to say about this series. The Warriors are going to be just fine with letting Harden continue to take bad jump shots while continually exposing Houston's terrible defensive rotations. It has to be a little concerning for Golden State that Harrison Barnes is currently 4-22 in the series, but the return of playoff Iggy will more than make up for Barnes shooting woes. The bigger question is when will we see Curry play again. They may not need him in this series but there are no more bums left in the Western conference.