The chances of a LeBron James-led team failing to get out of the first round of the playoffs have become all too real.
It if it wasn’t clear after the series opener, it certainly is now that the Cleveland Cavaliers have their hands full with the Indiana Pacers, who erased a 17-point halftime deficit to take a 2-1 lead with their 92-90 win in Game 3.
After James exploded for 46 points to level the series in Game 2, the Cavaliers came out looking like a more confident and capable team on Friday, playing well on both ends of the floor for the first half. Following the intermission though, the same issues that plagued Cleveland through the first two games were once again prevalent.
Offensively, the Cavaliers were held to just 33 points in the half, including a paltry 12 in the third quarter when they shot 5-of-19 from the field and 1-of-10 from long range.
With the Pacers returning to their swarming ways and smothering most of Cleveland’s actions, the Cavaliers were forced to hoist up shot after shot from beyond the arc.
Most of their 3-point makes in the second half were of the desperation variety in the final minutes, after Indiana had already surged ahead.
And unlike in Game 2, James was held in check thanks to the impressive individual defence of Bojan Bogdanovic. James was 2-of-7 from the field with two turnovers when guarded by Indiana’s swingman in Game 3 and is shooting just 24 per cent for the series when Bogdanovic is on him in the half court, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
On the other end, Bogdanovic made Cleveland pay when they trapped Victor Oladipo, scoring a career-high 30 points on an efficient 11-of-15 from the field and 7-of-9 on 3-pointers.
If not for James’ heroics in Game 2, the Cavaliers could well be staring at a potential sweep, with no magic elixir seemingly on the way.
Celtics meet their Maker
Milwaukee looked like a different team after dropping both games in Boston, with their home crowd inspiring an energised effort as they thoroughly dominated the Celtics.
The Bucks’ offence wasn’t much of an issue in the first two contests when they shot 53.8 per cent overall and 39.5 per cent from deep, but along with carrying over their hot shooting to the Midwest, they received valuable contributions from Jabari Parker and Thon Maker off the bench.
Parker, who had complained about his lack of minutes in the series, was rejuvenated with 17 points in 30 minutes to provide a secondary scoring punch, while the 7-foot-1 Maker came out of nowhere to stretch the floor with 3-of-4 shooting on 3s for 14 points.
Maker was also a terror on the other end of the floor, blocking five shots as part of a stifling defensive effort by Milwaukee.
The Bucks packed the paint and switched 1-through-5, daring Boston to beat them off the dribble and finish in traffic.
The Celtics didn’t help themselves by struggling to move the ball side to side and turned it over a staggering 13 times in the first half alone.
If Milwaukee can continue to be the more physical team and utilise their length on defence like they did in Game 3, this series will be anything but short.
Winning the battle of the All-Star backcourts wasn’t a neccesity for the Raptors in the first two games because of their stellar bench play, but it was Washington’s reserves who held the edge in Game 3, outscoring Toronto 35-32.
The Wizards were also more active on the defensive end, forcing the Raptors into 18 turnovers – leading to 28 points – and recording 25 deflections.
Washington are a frontrunning type of team that gets rolling when they start gaining confidence, so Game 4 will be pivotal one way or the other.
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