The San Antonio Spurs showed more fight in Game 2, but the outcome wasn’t all that different from the series opener as the Golden State Warriors, when push came to shove, took care of business with a 116-101 win to go up 2-0.
Here are four stats that stood out:
The Spurs managed to keep the game competitive… until Durant and Thompson decided enough was enough and created distance.
It was a reminder of just how loaded Golden State are – even without Stephen Curry – that when two of their stars found their rhythm, there was nothing San Antonio could do to avoid the avalanche.
And the Warriors kept feeding them too as they combined for 39 field goal attempts, while no other player that saw minutes took more than nine shots.
14.3 – Spurs’ 3-point percentage
San Antonio were money from inside the arc, converting 16-of-20 attempts in the restricted area and shooting 54.4 per cent overall on 2-pointers.
That would normally be good enough to beat a lot of teams, but against the Warriors, 3-point shooting is paramount, and the Spurs misfired on 24-of-28 triples, while Golden State hit 15-of-31 themselves.
San Antonio were not a good 3-point shooting team in the regular season and their best offensive weapon, sans Kawhi Leonard, is to feed LaMarcus Aldridge in the mid-post. Unless they create some variance by hitting 3s, this series will be a short one.
2 – Spurs’ first-half turnovers
A major reason why San Antonio led 53-47 at halftime was because they didn’t beat themselves in the first half. Like, at all.
The Spurs committed just two turnovers over the first two quarters, which led to just two points for Golden State. In the second half San Antonio were sloppier and coughed the ball up seven times, leading to 12 Warriors points.
Even though they still won the turnover battle for the game, it speaks to just how perfect the Spurs have to be to have a chance in this series.
32.6 – Aldridge’s usage percentage
The Spurs big man did everything he could to even the series and steal one on the road, scoring 34 points on 11-of-21 and looking unstoppable near the elbows and in the post.
San Antonio made the right adjustments to free up spots for Aldridge after he got just 12 shot attempts in Game 1 and the results were encouraging.
No-one on Golden State is capable of stopping Aldridge, outside of JaVale McGee for stretches, so the Spurs’ best bet is to continue putting the ball in their All-Star’s hands as much as possible.
Aldridge and his mid-range jumpers alone won’t be enough to beat the Warriors, but San Antonio have precious few options.
Indiana delivered the biggest Game 1 shock of the first round when they not only beat James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but smoked them in a 98-80 win on the road.
It’s not exactly a revelation that Cleveland’s stay in the playoffs will be short-lived if LeBron isn’t the best player on the floor, but there’s more to this match-up than the individual play of James and Victor Oladipo, who shined in the series opener.
Coming into the match-up, the Cavaliers’ defined weakness was their defence – and that certainly showed itself on Sunday – but it was on the other end of the court where the Pacers controlled the game.
While Cleveland didn’t help themselves by missing 26 of their 34 attempts from beyond the arc, Indiana’s swarming defence proved to be a handful.
The Pacers’ collective ball pressure, combined with the pick-pocketing ability of Oladipo, bothered the Cavaliers and kept them from getting anything easy.
Cleveland is a one-way team, so engaging in a grind-it-out style of game is a recipe for disaster because of their paper-thin defence that struggles to stop anyone.
LeBron’s ability to impose his will is the great equaliser, but at some point he won’t be able to do it alone.
Giving yourself a nickname is corny in its own right. Giving yourself the nickname ‘Playoff P’ is as corny as you can get.
George splashed 8-of-11 triples for a game-high 36 points to look like the player that many thought would make the Thunder a title contender when he was traded from Indiana last summer.
He may not shoot the lights out like that again this postseason, but when George is aggressive and a threat to score, the Thunder look a lot scarier.
Especially against Utah, who have limited offensive options outside of rookie Donovan Mitchell, George can make this series much shorter than expected if he operates as a primary option.
He was passive at times in the regular season and had a rocky finish to the campaign, but if Playoff P is here to stay, Oklahoma City’s ceiling is within reach.
Horford’s all-around brilliance
The Celtics’ lone remaining healthy All-Star was at his absolute best in Boston’s thrilling 113-107 victory against Milwaukee, providing tremendous defence against Giannis on one end while being the centre of the offence on the other.
‘The Greek Freak’ will inevitably get his, as his 35 points in a decent, but not great, showing proved. But Horford made him work for a lot of his points and on several instances shut down his drives, using his length and strength to protect the rim.
Horford also made sure Giannis didn’t get to rest on defence as he posted him up at intervals, which either forced double teams or led to Antetokounmpo picking up fouls. Those fouls came into play in overtime when Giannis picked up his sixth to foul out of the game.
He’ll never be a volume scorer or an uber-aggressive player, but the perpetually underrated Horford is capable of being the main reason why Boston win this series.
Break in case of emergency
What a luxury it is to have two of the best isolation players in the league to bail you out.
That was the case in the 104-101 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, when Harden went off for 44 points by hitting some ridiculous step-back 3s in a contest that saw his teammates make just 3-of-25 from long range.
Minnesota may have missed their best chance to steal one as it’s not likely Houston shoot that poorly again. And if they do, there’s always the other way.
Here are four stats from the game that stood out:
44 – James Harden’s points
The MVP frontrunner was cooking in the opener, scoring in every which way to burn the Timberwolves.
Can Minnesota play better defence again him? Yes. Jimmy Butler even said so afterward. But it’s not like Harden was getting a bunch of easy points. He only shot nine free throws – below his season average of 10.1 – and many of his makes were contested, especially the flurry of step-back 3s he rained down.
Harden may be the best offensive player in the league and sometimes he’s going to have his way, regardless of the defence. The Timberwolves will have to hope he’s not feeling it to this extent next game.
27.0% – Houston’s 3-point shooting percentage
Here’s some bad news for Minnesota: the Rockets may have just had their worst shooting game of the series… and it didn’t matter.
Aside from Harden, the rest of the Rockets shot a paltry 3-of-25 from long distance. That’s just not going to happen much going forward, if at all ever again.
Houston averaged 15.3 triples in the regular season, so there’s a good chance their shooting is going to improve in the next game. That’s a scary thought for the Timberwolves, who may have missed their best opportunity to steal one.
14.2% – Karl-Anthony Towns’ usage percentage
Tom Thibodeau on Karl-Anthony Towns: "He has to be more active." Specifically, Thibodeau says Towns needs to run the floor better.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 16, 2018
Minnesota’s shot distribution was fairly balanced, with six players taking attempted at least nine field goals. Balance is good, but you also need your star players to be a bigger factor than what Towns was in Game 1.
The Timberwolves centre took just nine shots (making three) and was relegated to a bystander role in the offence, which has happened too often this season.
With Butler not looking like he’s 100 per cent, Towns has to be more of a focal point and Tom Thibodeau has to find ways to get him involved.
Strictly posting him isn’t the best strategy against the Rockets, who at times threw double teams his way, so the offence has to get a little more creative to create mismatches and put him in position to succeed.
-6 – Derrick Rose’s plus-minus
Speaking of usage percentage, the Timberwolves player with the highest mark in Game 1 was none other than Rose. That’s not ideal.
And yet, it’s not like he played poorly. Rose was fairly efficient in scoring 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting, while adding four assists in 24 minutes off the bench.
The problem is he was still a negative in plus-minus, which speaks to how little he helps on the other end of the floor. And in a series where Rose will have to guard the likes of Harden and Chris Paul, Minnesota will be in trouble if they have to rely on him this much.