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Playoff Journal May 24

   by Larry Ness - 05/24/2016

Playoff Journal (May 24)

Very few All Star-caliber players have had the ‘mood’ swings experienced by Toronto’s Kyle Lowry during a single series. The Raptors were non-competitive in losing Game 1 (by 31 points) and Game 2 (by 19 points) in Cleveland and while there was plenty of blame to go around, there was no bigger ‘goat’ than Lowry. He was 4 of 14 from the floor in each of the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, including going a combined 1 of 15 from three-point range. He had more TOs (9) than assists (8), as well. However, he got things turned around with a solid 20-point Game 3 effort on 7 of 13 shooting (4 of 8 on threes) in support of DeRoizan’s 32 points and Biyombo’s 26 rebounds in Toronto’s 99-84 victory. Yes, DeRozan had another 32-point effort in Game 4 but it was Lowry’s ‘show,’ as he scored 35 points on 14 of 20 shooting, including 4 of 7 on threes.

The Raptors shot 53.8 percent as a team, after shooting 45.8% in their Game 3 win and a combined 41.1% in the two losses at Cleveland (averaged only 86.5 PPG). However, as is almost always the case, the Raptors rarely make things easy on themselves. The Cavs were horrific from behind the arc in the first half (3 of 23) and Toronto led 57-41 at the break (Lowry scored 15 of Toronto’s 30 points in the second quarter). However, the Cavs made a game of it the third quarter and then opened the fourth quarter by making 11 consecutive shots! The Cavs took an 88-87 lead with 7:03 left and still led 96-94 at the 4:52 mark. However, Cleveland would make just ONE of its final 10 shots the rest of the way (an Irving three-pointer with 2:20 remaining), as the Raptors outscored them 11-4 for a 105-99 win.

LBJ had 29-9-6 but one didn’t get the sense he was dominating anyone. Irving contributed 26 points but was 3 of 8 on threes. J.R. Smith was 3 of 11 on threes and Kevin Love just 2 of 7 (held to 10 points and seven rebounds). The Cavs hoisted 41 three-pointers for the second straight game, making just 13 (made only 14 in Game 3). This after shooting ‘lights out’ vs the Hawks from behind the arc in the semis. Have the Cavs now been exposed? Can the Raptors, who went 32-9 at home in the regular season and are now 8-2 at Air Canada Centre in the playoffs, win in Cleveland? The Raptors are 0-3 this season in Cleveland (losing by a combined 72 points) and are 2-6 on the road in the playoffs. The Cavs are 6-0 SU at Quicken Loans Arena this postseason. We find out Wednesday.

Home teams continue to dominate play in the conference finals, going 6-1 SU and ATS with FOUR of the seven games going under (“Zig-Zaggers” are 3-2 this round). Checking in on the postseason numbers to-date, home teams are 50-23 SU (.685) and 44-29 ATS (60.3%). Forty-four of the 73 games have stayed under (60.3%) and those following the Zig-Zag theory are 31-28 or plus-0.2 net games. Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals goes tonight at 9:00 ET on TNT, as the Warriors and Thunder meet in OKC. Golden State corrected all the mistakes that plagued the team in the second half of a Game 1 loss, when the Warriors let a 13-point halftime lead skip away by scoring just 42 points, including just 14 in the fourth quarter. Golden St was the more aggressive team in Game 2 and walked away with a 118-91 victory.

However, those second half Game 1 mistakes came back in a big way in Game 3, as the Thunder seemingly turned every rebound and every errant pass into an opportunity to get out in transition. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 63 points, 16 rebounds and 14 assists, as the Thunder scored a franchise playoff record 133 points, the most points scored by any team in the 2016 postseason, to date. Game 3 was tied at 40-all with just under nine minutes left in the first half on Sunday night when the Thunder outscored the Warriors 32-7 over the rest of the half, with Golden St going an ABYSMAL 2-of-23 from the floor over that span. The Warriors are now down in this series for a second time (2-1, like 1-0 after Game 1) but it should be noted that TWICE during the team’s run to the 2015 title, the Warriors fell behind 2-1 in a series before ultimately winning.

However, the Warriors were never as thoroughly crushed as they were on Sunday. “We got our butts kicked,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr told reporters. “It doesn’t matter if (the loss was by) one point or 30. You’ve got to look at the tape and you’ve got to figure out how you can be better and then you come back with a better effort. But they were the more desperate team (Sunday), they were beating us to loose balls, to rebounds, and our quick shots just fed their transition.” Warriors All-Star Draymond Green was held to six points on 1-of-9 shooting in the loss but the Warriors ‘dodged a bullet’ with the NBA ruling that Green would NOT be suspended for Game 4 for his flagrant foul for kicking Oklahoma center Steven Adams in the groin in the second quarter. As Jeff Van Gundy said so well last night, “Does anyone seriously think that if Curry had been the ‘victim’ of a similar act by Adams, that Adams would NOT have been suspended?”

Now here’s the rub. The Warriors’ Game 3 loss marks just their 13th loss this year, nine in the regular season and now four in the playoffs. Golden St has NEVER lost back-to-back games all year, sitting a PERFECT 12-0 SU and 9-3 ATS following a loss year-to-date. Will that trend hold or will the Warriors return to Oakland down 3-1 with their championship hopes on ‘life support?’ Golden St is favored by 1 1/2 points.

My Wednesday journal will be available by 12 noon ET.

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