5 Takeaways from Tuesday Night's Action
All three home teams looked to leave Tuesday night the same way they entered it: holding a series lead.
The Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks kicked off the action with their second South Beach showdown of the series.
For Miami, the game was a small step toward its championship-repeat aspirations. But Milwaukee played like a team backed up against the ropes, realizing what an 0-2 deficit against the defending champs might mean.
The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks then renewed their rivalry with a gritty clash befitting of its New York City backdrop. Carmelo Anthony looked to continue his torrid scoring stretch, but defense was the key to yet another low-scoring Eastern Conference playoff affair.
Finally, the action shifted out West where the Golden State Warriors tried to fight through the suffocating atmosphere in Denver. Both teams bullied each other with an offensive barrage, but which side delivered the decisive knockout punch?
Read on to find out everything you need to know about Tuesday's trio of playoff games.
1. Two Down, Fourteen to Go
It was deja vu all over again for the defending champion Miami Heat.
Despite a massive talent gap and 1-0 series lead against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Heat struggled to find any semblance of comfort on the night. They entered intermission nursing a four-point lead, which shrunk to three by the end of the third quarter.
But with an Erik Spoelstra flip of the switch, the Heat suddenly grasped control of the game (and possibly put this series to rest) with a 12-0 run to open the fourth.
While the story carried a familiar theme for the Heat, it was a new cast of characters leading the charge. Reserves Chris Andersen and Norris Cole combined for 10 of the 12 points, helped only by a LeBron James layup at the 11:08 mark.
Miami continued to struggle with its outside shot, hitting just 6-of-19 from deep two days after shooting 7-of-23 from three in the opener. And its Big Three were relatively quiet as James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 50 points—14 fewer than their regular-season average.
But Spoelstra's reserves helped pick up the scoring slack with 36 points. And Miami held a double-digit edge on the glass, 43-33, for the second time in as many games.
Pretty or not, Miami's 98-86 win still gives them a commanding 2-0 series lead over the eighth-seeded Bucks.
2. King of New York
Carmelo Anthony is driving the stat junkies mad this postseason.
He's shooting the ball with reckless abandon, apparently far more comfortable handling the chucker role than George Costanza ever was.
Through two playoff games, Anthony has totaled 70 points on 53 field-goal attempts. He has two assists in 80-plus minutes of work.
Ask anyone in the Big Apple if they care. If anything, they'll be asking for even more shots from Anthony after his 34-point outing gave the New York Knicks an 87-71 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 2.
Here's the challenge for anyone bemoaning Melo's activity: name the player(s) worthy of receiving his looks.
J.R. Smith, you say? He has 34 points on 34-field goal attempts through two games. Or Raymond Felton, perhaps? He's chipped in with 29 points on 28 field-goal attempts in the series.
After that it's a largely offensively challenged group. The rest of the roster needs to have shots created for them, but even then, who's to say they'll find anything as good as what Anthony's been getting? And does anyone think they'd convert those looks as efficiently as the scoring champion?
If the Knicks were losing, I could understand the outcry. But the fact of the matter is Anthony's ball-dominant approach has New York in prime position, up two games to none, to get past the opening round for the first time since 1999.
3. Doc Can't Find the Cure
It sounded great.
It was a strategy both predictable and effective. KG's minus-five rating in the plus/minus category might not sound like much, but it led all Celtics starters Tuesday night.
In the end, though, it proved to be nothing more than a Band-Aid on a gushing wound. Plagued by foul trouble, the Big Ticket was limited to just 24 minutes.
With their offensive focal point sidelined, the Celtics looked like, well, a team playing without an offensive identity. Boston shot just 37.1 percent from the field, tallied only 14 assists (less than three more than Rajon Rondo's season average, 11.1, by the way) and managed a total of 23 second-half points.
The Celtics' box score featured a horde of volume-scoring efforts.
Paul Pierce needed 19 field-goal attempts for his team-high 18 points. Jeff Green and Jordan Crawford each needed 11 to tally 10 points. Even Garnett, arguably the team's most effective scorer in the game, shot under 50 percent (4-of-9) and turned the ball over three times.
The Celtics have done what they needed to do on the defensive end in this series. They've held the Knicks, a team that averaged nearly 105 points over its last 17 games of the regular season, to just 86.0 points over the first two games.
But 74.5 points per game won't get it done, regardless of how strong the defense looks.
4. Road Warriors
The road has not been kind to any teams this postseason. The Chicago Bulls finally snapped the home team's winning streak with Monday night's 90-82 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
Yet the Golden State Warriors, playing without David Lee, somehow managed to saunter into the NBA's toughest arena and walk out with a 131-117 win to even their series.
Denver's win in Game 1 pushed their home record to 39-3 on the year, and the Nuggets hadn't lost inside the Pepsi Center since Jan. 18.
But behind 30 points and 13 assists from Stephen Curry (who twisted his left ankle in the third quarter, but returned for the fourth), the Warriors walked into the Nuggets home and beat them at their own game. Golden State shot a blistering 64.6 percent from the field (56.0 percent from deep) and raced out to 14 fast-break points.
As impressive as Curry looked, though, this victory doesn't happen without the play of rookie Harrison Barnes.
Starting at power forward in place of the injured David Lee (out for the playoffs with a torn right hip flexor), the Black Falcon soared to a career-high 24 points and six rebounds in 34 minutes of work. His delicious reverse throwdown over Anthony Randolph would have silenced the Pepsi Center, had it not been for the raucous reaction from Golden State's bench.
Jarrett Jack (26 points) and Klay Thompson (21) also did their part to keep Denver's defense honest.
The Warriors didn't exactly extend their dominance on the defensive end; the Nuggets connected on 50.0 percent of their field goals after all. But they certainly fared better than Denver in that regard.
This series now shifts to what will surely be a rocking Oracle Arena for Game 3 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Friday night.
5. Time for the Kitchen Sink?
Credit Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan for trying new things in the series.
His team's double-digit loss to the Heat in Game 1 featured a heavy dose of perimeter play, with the Bucks' starting backcourt, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, combining for 48 of the team's 87 points.
Frankly, this didn't even look like the same team on Tuesday. Ellis and Jennings, admittedly limited by self-inflicted wounds at times, totaled just 15 points while shooting a combined 5-of-22 in Game 2.
Milwaukee's offensive game plan had clearly changed over the previous 48 hours. Boylan's backcourt attempted just 30.6 percent of the team's field goals after hoisting nearly 48 percent in the series opener.
Since hero ball didn't work in the first game, the Bucks emphasized team basketball in the second. Nearly 64 percent of the team's field goals were assisted on Tuesday night, versus just 41.2 percent in Game 1.
Of course, it was all for naught as this outcome was no different than the first game. But at least Milwaukee was able to hold off its collapse until the fourth quarter this time around.
The collective firepower of Ellis and Jennings factored in heavily on the minds of those bold enough to predict anything but a Miami series sweep.
Given the strength of the Heat defense, though, this more methodical brand of basketball could fare better for the Bucks' chances to salvage a victory before the series' conclusion.