Al Horford and the Celtics have been smothered by the Bucks in Game 3 Friday night. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports)
The first round of the NBA playoffs continues tonight with three more pivotal Game 3s. Follow along here for the latest analysis and commentary from The Post’s NBA reporter Tim Bontemps, and ask him questions in the comments section. Catch up on last night’s games here.
The quote of the night goes to Scott Brooks, who was asked after Washington’s big win in Game 3 what led to Marcin Gortat having a strong game after two days of calls for the Wizards to bench him and go small.
Middleton, Bucks get back into their first-round series
The Milwaukee Bucks, like the Washington Wizards earlier Friday, came home for Game 3 of their first round series staring at a 2-0 deficit and needing a win to have a realistic chance of winning the series.
And, like the Wizards, the Bucks had an inspired effort and got the win they needed.
Behind 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists from Khris Middleton, and 19 points, five rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks from Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks earned a 116-92 victory over the Boston Celtics.
Unlike Games 1 and 2, Milwaukee got a strong performance from Eric Bledsoe (17 points on 8-for-13 shooting), who dominated Terry Rozier after being outclassed in both games in Boston.
Milwaukee had just about everything it threw up go in, shooting 57.7 percent from the field and going 16-for-33 from three-point range. Boston, meanwhile, shot 39.2 percent overall and 8-for-24 from three, and had no one higher than Al Horford’s 16 points.
Parker fully engaged for Bucks
Bucks forward Jabari Parker had a lot to say Thursday about his lack of minutes in Game 2 against the Boston Celtics.
“For myself, I just try to be a good teammate,” Parker told reporters. “I’m not getting what I want right now, but I think there’s a bigger picture. I think I did a better job the second game. Not to harp on the first game, but look, I’m human, right? I deserved to be out there and I earned it. Six games and to see that like, I’m not going to handle it well. I have feelings. I’ve been waiting two years. I’ve been waiting. And to see that time get cut short — nobody is going to handle that the right way.
“I just feel like I was cut short. I feel like I wasn’t supported, and I [didn’t] react the right way. I’m human. I was wrong. Going forward, I’m going to try and be a better person, be a better man and be there for my teammates. It’s hard to play four minutes then sit out,” Parker said. “Nobody on the team can do that. Nobody, especially in my position.”
Parker was frustrated at playing just 25 minutes combined in Games 1 and 2. But it was hard to argue with interim coach Joe Prunty’s decision to limit Parker’s minutes given he was just 1-for-7 from the field.
That said, Parker looks like a different player in Game 3. In 20 minutes off the bench through three quarters, Parker had 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field to go with four rebounds, two assists and two blocks. The Celtics closed Milwaukee’s lead to 14 in the third quarter but the Bucks have it back up to 20 early in the fourth.
“That’s exactly it,” Prunty said during the between quarters interview when asked what was different about Parker tonight. “The production is there across the board from a lot of people, Jabari included.”
Giannis cleared for liftoff
The dunk of the night goes to Giannis Antetkounmpo, who just ended Aron Baynes with an insane slam that saw him extend his arm like Inspector Gadget to throw it down over the Aussie big man.
Celtics show a little improvement headed into halftime
The Boston Celtics went 10-for-20 from the field in the second quarter of Game 3 of their series with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Even after that, the Celtics still shot just 29.7 percent in the first half.
That’s the way the game has gone so far, with the Bucks holding a commanding 58-35 lead at halftime. The scary thing for the Celtics is that it could be even worse than a 23-point deficit; Boston’s 14 turnovers only became nine Bucks points.
There will be little solace in that for Boston. Instead, the focus will be on trying to rein in a Bucks offense that ended the first half shooting 59 percent overall and going 7-for-13 from three.
Wizards take care of business, get back in series with Raptors
Behind huge games from all-star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Washington Wizards are alive in their first round series with the Toronto Raptors.
Wall and Beal combined for 56 points, while Wall added 14 assists and four steals, and Marcin Gortat had 16 points to lift the Wizards to a 122-103 victory, pulling back to within 2-1 in their best-of-7 playoff series.
Washington also outscored Toronto’s vaunted bench, 35-32, and forced Toronto into 19 turnovers that turned into 28 Wizards points.
The result is Washington’s season now hinges on how it plays in Game 4 Sunday night. Win, and this series becomes a toss-up again. Lose, though, and it’s likely over.
James sticks up for his teammates after big blown lead
After the Cleveland Cavaliers blew a 17-point halftime lead to lose Game 3 of their first round series with the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James was asked if there was anything he could do to get players to play “above their pay grade.”
James instead defended his teammates.
“What are you guys looking for?” he asked. “Are you guys thinking I’m going to throw my teammates under the bus? I’m not about that. Guys just got to play better, including myself. I had six turnovers tonight. I was horrible in the third quarter. I couldn’t make a shot.
“If I make some better plays in the third quarter, then the lead doesn’t slip. We know we all have to play better as a collective group, and no matter who it is … we got production today to start the game. The second half there wasn’t much production, but we still had a chance to win.”
That’s true. The Cavaliers did have a chance to win. But they didn’t act like it. It was visible to anyone watching that Cleveland didn’t have the same energy and effort as Indiana, and that played a huge part in the result.
Celtics overwhelmed early in Milwaukee
The Boston Celtics got contributions from up-and-down the roster in the opening two games of their series against the Milwaukee Bucks, allowing them to take a 2-0 lead despite having two all-stars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, out for the season.
It helped, as it usually does, for them to be playing in front of their home crowd at Boston’s TD Garden.
To say that hasn’t happened so far in Game 3 back in Milwaukee is an understatement.
The Celtics didn’t make a field goal for the final nine minutes of the first quarter, went 2-for-19 overall and had eight turnovers. The result? A 38-19 lead for the Bucks.
When asked for how Boston can do better in the second, Coach Brad Stevens deadpanned an obvious answer.
“Try to make a shot,” he said, “and not turn it over.”
Wizards show up when it counts
The Wizards have been one of the NBA’s most confusing and confounding teams this season. But with their season on the line in Game 3 of their first round series with the Toronto Raptors, they’ve at least shown up when it matters.
With more than 30 points in each of the first three quarters — including 39 in the second — the Wizards led 101-82 on the Raptors after three quarters, and looked poised to get themselves back into their first round series.
After Washington’s star guards alternately struggled in the opening two games, John Wall and Bradley Beal have combined for 51 of those points on 20-for-34 shooting, while Wall also has 13 assists and both guards have three steals. Marcin Gortat, meanwhile, has 16 points on 8-for-10 shooting, backing up Scott Brooks’s confidence in his starting lineup.
Cavaliers stall out while Bogdanovic carries Pacers to win
At halftime, it looked like the Cleveland Cavaliers were in position to retake control of their first round series with the Indiana Pacers. They held a 57-40 lead, were getting big contributions from their secondary players and looked like the team that had played well down the stretch of the regular season.
Then the second half happened. And now, once again, the Cavaliers look like a team in crisis.
Behind 30 points from Bojan Bogdanovic, who impressed both offensively and helped to slow down LeBron James defensively, the Pacers roared back to beat the Cavaliers 92-90, taking a 2-1 advantage in this series and making Cleveland look more vulnerable than it has at any point in an Eastern Conference series since James returned to Northeast Ohio.
“Our energy,” Bogdanovic said in a walk off interview with ESPN, when asked what caused Indiana’s second-half surge. “The crowd gave us energy, especially in the second half.
“We’ve been playing great defense all season long, so we did what we were supposed to … holding this team under 90 points is amazing.”
It’s especially amazing when one considers Cleveland was on pace for 114 points at halftime. But the Cavaliers stopped playing with energy, stopped moving offensively, and were simply overwhelmed at both ends by a Pacers team that looked like it wanted it more.
“Our point guards do a great job of finding us shooters,” said Bogdanovic, who went 11-for-15 from the floor and 7-for-9 from three-point range. “That was the key for us.”
James had a typically strong game numbers-wise, scoring 28 points to go with 12 rebounds and eight assists. But he looked disengaged down the stretch as things went sideways for Cleveland. Even still, he scored 10 straight points when it looked like the game might have been getting away from the Cavs, and Cleveland had a chance to win when J.R. Smith rebounded a missed free throw with five seconds left by Darren Collison.
But the Cavaliers didn’t have a timeout and Smith’s heave from 40 feet wasn’t close, leaving Cleveland to walk off the court and wonder what happened — and if its season is in jeopardy far sooner than anyone ever expected.
Defense doing the trick for Indiana
The downside of the Cleveland Cavaliers being a one-sided team is that if a team can shut them down offensively, they can be exploited.
That’s been the case in the second half of Pacers-Cavs Game 3.
Indiana has outscored Cleveland 44-26 in the second half, and the Pacers have been able to come back because they’ve completely neutralized Cleveland offensively.
Unless the Cavaliers can change that, they’ll be down 2-1 here in a few minutes.
Pacers rolling and Cavs need all they can get from LeBron
Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue kept LeBron James on the court at the start of the fourth quarter, opting to avoid his usual break to try to halt Indiana’s momentum after a strong third quarter.
It didn’t work.
The Pacers have continued to roar back into the proceedings, and now lead 84-77, with 5:40 remaining after trailing by 17 to start the second half. That’s a 24-point turnaround.
Now James will have to play the rest of the second half without a break, and Cleveland finds itself in another dogfight after building an early lead for the second straight game.
Cavaliers flounder in third period
Just when it looked like the Cleveland Cavaliers were getting things together, they fell apart in the third quarter.
Indiana outscored Cleveland 23-12 in the third, pulling to within 69-63 after three quarters. The Cavaliers did nothing right in the third: they went 5-for-19 from the field, including just 1-for-10 from three; committed seven turnovers, leading to six Pacers points; and gave up eight free throws to Indiana, while taking just one.
LeBron James would typically sit to start the fourth, but he remains in the game. That is perhaps a sign of Coach Tyronn Lue understanding the importance of these moments, and not wanting to risk losing even more of this advantage with James on the bench.
Late first quarter run just what Wizards needed
Things looked like they were about to go sideways in the first quarter again for the Wizards, who found themselves down 27-18.
But that was before a 12-2 run to end the first and turn the game to a 30-29.
Bradley Beal has 12 points on seven shots in the first quarter — after taking just 11 shots in all of Game 2 — to lead the Wizards in this one. Washington needs more of that to get back into this series.
Beal getting involved for Wizards
There’s been a lot of talk about the Wizards wanting — and needing — to get Bradley Beal more shots after he took just 11 in Game 2.
So far, mission accomplished.
Beal already has three shot attempts in the opening minutes of the game for Washington, and looks engaged in the action. That’s a good sign for the Wizards, who are fighting for their playoff lives.
And while it’s early, Marcin Gortat already has four points and four rebounds, lending some credibility to Coach Scott Brooks’ decision not to go small to start Game 3.
Still, Toronto has a four-point lead early in D.C.
Cleveland masters are of closing out quarters
The way teams close quarters very often determines how games go. Through one half in Indianapolis, the Cavaliers have a huge edge in that department.
Over the final 5:55 of the first quarter, Cleveland went on a 16-5 run. And, over the final 4:45 of the second quarter, Cleveland went on a 10-2 run.
That’s a plus-19 Cleveland in those two stretches of the game, building the entirety of the Cavaliers’ 57-40 halftime lead.
More important than the runs to close quarters for Cleveland: the continued production from the “others.” Kevin Love leads all scorers with 16 points, while George Hill has 11. As a team, Cleveland is 5-for-10 from three, as well.
Indiana, meanwhile, has gotten nothing from Victor Oladipo, who has five points on 2-for-6 shooting with four turnovers in 17 first-half minutes. Only Thaddeus Young (11 points) is in double figures for the Pacers.
Pacers need to clean it up
The Pacers are extremely lucky their tendency to turn the ball over in hasn’t cost them more.
Indiana has already given the ball away 10 times. But Cleveland has failed to take advantage, scoring only eight points off those turnovers. Given the Cavaliers are already up by 13 points, it could be a lot worse.
The Pacers have hung around thanks to shooting 50 percent overall and making four threes, but if they don’t clean up the mistakes it’s going to be extremely difficult for them to win.
Love doing his part
In the first quarter, a close-up of Kevin Love’s hand showed a lot of bruising around his left thumb, caused by a partial ligament tear in the fourth quarter of Game 2.
But other than flexing it a bit while he was about to shoot some free throws, Love has looked great so far in Game 3, scoring 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting so far after scoring a combined 24 in the first two games of the series.
More importantly, this Love-anchored second unit has allowed James to get some extended rest on the bench to start the second quarter.
LeBron getting plenty of help
The theme coming into Game 3 for the Cavaliers was to get more production from the players around LeBron James.
Through one quarter? Mission accomplished.
The Cavaliers lead 35-25 early in the second quarter, outscoring the Indiana Pacers 16-5 to end the first and getting 23 of their 31 points from players not named LeBron.
Refs calling it tight in Indy
Something to monitor moving forward in Cavs-Pacers Game 3: the quick whistle from the referees.
With six fouls called in the opening three minutes of the game — Indiana’s Bojan Bogdanovic and Cleveland’s Kyle Korver each picked up two — and 11 total just nine minutes in, it’s clear the referees are trying to call things tight in this one.
It’s broken down evenly on both sides, but early fouls add up later in the game.
Indiana, meanwhile, is lucky that despite already committing six turnovers, they have only allowed three points off them.
Hill the first Cav to aid LeBron on offense
George Hill had a very revealing quote in a pregame interview on the court with ESPN’s Lisa Salters when asked about his role in Cleveland two months after arriving in a deadline-day trade.
“I don’t know,” Hill said. “I’m still trying to figure it out.”
It was an honest quote, but one that’s emblematic of a Cavaliers team that has been in flux all season and certainly looked like it during the first two games of this series.
Hill has clearly tried to be more aggressive early in Game 3, though. After taking a combined 10 shots and scoring 13 points in the two games of this series, he’s already taken three shots and four foul shots (making three) to score nine of Cleveland’s 17 points early in this game.
As LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers prepare for Game 3 of their first round series with the Pacers Friday night in Indianapolis, the question that could decide the outcome of this series is obvious: will James start getting any help?
Through two games, he hasn’t. James has been sensational, particularly in scoring 46 of Clevleand’s 100 points in its Game 2 victory. The rest of the Cavaliers? Not so much.
As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst pointed out Friday, the second-leading scorer through two games behind James’ 70 combined points? Kevin Love, with 24. The next five leading scorers on the team this regular season behind James — Love, Kyle Korver, Jordan Clarkson, Jeff Green and Rodney Hood — have combined to shoot 22-for-68 from the floor overall in the series, including 11-for-35 from three. Remove Love and Korver, and the numbers for the remaining three are even worse: 10-for-33 overall, and 2-for-13 from three.
The Cavaliers ranked 29th in the NBA in defensive efficiency during the regular season, meaning subpar offensive performances simply won’t cut it. Cleveland needs to be great on offense to advance to a fourth straight NBA Finals.
In fact, the Cavs may need to be great simply to advance out of the first round. So far that quality has eluded them.
Cleveland took a step in the right direction in Game 2, when Coach Tyronn Lue went to an all offense starting lineup featuring George Hill, J.R. Smith, Korver, James and Love. That quintet isn’t going to stop anyone, but no Cavaliers lineup is. What that lineup will do, however, is score.
In the 16 minutes that grouping played together in Game 2, the Cavaliers outscored the Pacers by a margin of 50-29. They were outscored in the remaining 32 minutes, 68-50, which is far from ideal, but at least they found something that works.
They’ll need that to continue in Game 3 and beyond, even as the series shifts away from the friendly environs of Quicken Loans Arena to hostile territory of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Otherwise, the possibility of James not only seeing his consecutive NBA Finals appearances end at seven, but failing to get out of the first round for the first time in his 15-year career, becomes very real.
Cavs dressed for success
In an interesting show of unity prior to Game 3 of their first round series, the Cleveland Cavaliers all showed up at Bankers Life Fieldhouse wearing the same outfit: grey suits with a grey vest and black boots.
The outfits, per ESPN’s Lisa Salters, were gifts from LeBron James to his teammates from designer Thom Browne. We’ll see if it leads to better production from the rest of the Cavaliers after lackluster showings in the opening two games of the series.
Wizards stand pat with lineup
It isn’t all that surprising that Scott Brooks would decide against changing his starting lineup for Game 3 despite the Wizards’ success going small in Game 2. The Toronto Raptors will still start Jonas Valanciunas, and Marcin Gortat remains one of the league’s best screeners.
But it is a bold call on Brooks’ part, and one that had better pay off.
As my colleague Candace Buckner has written, the Raptors have owned the first quarter so far in this series, a big reason Toronto has a 2-0 lead. Washington needs that to change to make this a competitive series.
Changing the starting lineup would have been one way to try to do that. Brooks passed. Now we’ll find out if he was right.
Curry cleared for limited practice
The Golden State Warriors got a bit of good news Friday with the revelation that Stephen Curry had been reevaluated and allowed to begin participating in limited portions of practice.
Curry, who has missed the past 13 games since center JaVale McGee fell into his leg causing a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee on March 23, is continuing to, “make consistent functional progress since the injury,” per a statement from the team
As a result, the Warriors said Curry would begin to participate in “modified team practices” beginning Saturday and that the intensity of his rehab program would continue to increase.
Most notably, the team said that Curry would again be reevaluated a week from Friday, which, conveniently, marks either a day or two before the likely start date of Golden State’s conference semifinal series.
Because both the Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans are beating their respective opponents, 3-0, the overwhelming likelihood is both will advance in well short of the seven games necessary. That puts their next series either Saturday or Sunday of next week, with Game 2 being Monday or Tuesday before a lengthy gap between Game 2 and Game 3, which would come the following weekend in New Orleans.
Under such a scenario, Curry would be able to be evaluated — and potentially cleared to return — ahead of Game 1. The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson reported that Curry could take the full six weeks to return from his injury, which would keep him out of the first two games and push a return to that following weekend in New Orleans.
Assuming Golden State takes care of business in Game 4 Sunday, the Warriors will spend the next week watching Curry’s every move, and waiting to see when their superstar point guard will be cleared to return to join them in a quest for a second straight title, and a third in four seasons.
- Indiana Pacers 92, Cleveland Cavaliers 90
- Washington Wizards 122, Toronto Raptors 103
- Milwaukee Bucks 116, Celtics 92
Hop into the comments section below to chat with The Post’s Tim Bontemps about all of your NBA questions.