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Playoff Journal, May 17

   by Larry Ness - 05/17/2016

Playoff Journal (May 17)

Golden St took a 60-47 lead at the half in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals last night, when Curry hit an off-balance three-pointer at the buzzer. Considering that the Warriors were 37-0 this year when leading by double digits at the half, the second half figured to be a formality. Not so fast, as Lee Corso would say. OKC closed the gap to 70-66 midway through the third quarter but Golden St led 81-69, with 3 1/2 minutes left in the period. However, the Thunder ended the period on a 16-7 run to enter the fourth quarter down just 88-85. The Thunder took a 90-88 lead at the 10 1/2-minute mark and NEVER trailed after that. The Warriors were held to 14 points in the final period, as OKC won Game 1, 108-102.

Westbrook had 24 points in the second half, finishing with 27 points, six rebounds, 12 assists and seven steals. Durant had 26 & 10 plus the team’s two-headed center combo of Adams (16 & 12) and Kanter (8 & 6) was again, a major force. Throw in Ibaka’s double-double (11 & 11) and OKC won the rebounding ‘battle’ 52-44. Curry broke Reggie Miller’s record with a three-pointer in his 45th consecutive playoff game but that mattered little. The two-time MVP had 26 points, 10 rebounds (a career playoff high) and seven assists. Thompson had 25 points and has now scored 20-plus points in EIGHT straight postseason games but he also made just 3 of 10 FG attempts in the second half. Green had 23-5-4 but the Golden St reserves added a modest 16 points on 6 of 16 (37.5%) shooting.

The loss ended Golden St’s run of SEVEN consecutive Game 1 wins, while the win ended OKC’s stretch (going back to when the franchise was in Seattle) of 12 straight Game 1 losses on the road. The Thunder are now 5-1 on the road this postseason with the last three wins coming at San Antonio (twice) and Golden St (Spurs were 40-1 at home TY and the Warriors were 39-2). Home teams are now 44-23 (.657) and 38-29 ATS (56.7%), with 41 of the 67 games staying under (61.2%). The Eastern Conference Finals open tonight in Cleveland at 8:35 ET on ESPN.

The Cavs have swept both the Pistons and Hawks to reach the conference finals (have had a nine-day break!), while the Raptors have needed to win consecutive Game 7s to reach a conference final for the first time in franchise history (21st year). That’s in stark contrast to LBJ-led teams, as King James has led Miami (four times) and Cleveland (once) to FIVE straight NBA Finals’ appearances. LBJ has averaged 23.5-8.8-7.3 this postseason but is getting outstanding support from Irving (24.4 PPG on 47.7 percent shooting) and Love, who is averaging a double-double (18.9 & 12.5) while shooting 44.4 percent on threes. In fact, after shooting 36.2 percent on threes during the regular season, the Cavs are connecting on 46.2 percent beyond the arc in the playoffs.

Toronto’s DeRozan and Lowry have struggled throughout much of the postseason but both came up big in Game 5 and Game 7 wins against Miami. However, DeRozan is shooting 35.5 percent from the floor this postseason, including 18.2 percent on threes. Lowry is shooting 36.6 percent, including 28.3 percent on threes, after going 12 of 21 on threes in the last three games of the Miami series. The Raptors will be without center Jonas Valanciunas in Game 1 and maybe for the entire series. The 7-footer is still recovering from a sprained right ankle sustained in Game 3 against the Heat and his loss damages Toronto's depth and rebounding. Valanciunas was averaging 15.0 & 12.1 before getting hurt and will miss a FIFTH straight game, tonight. However, Biyumbo had contributed double-doubles in THREE of the four games Valanciunas has sat out, averaging 11.0 & 12.0.

Toronto did win TWO of the three regular season meetings but Miami is a strong 15-to-1 favorite to win the series, as well as an 11-point choice in Game 1.

Wednesday’s journal by 12 noon ET.

Good luck...Larry

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