Is there any doubt that the Cleveland Cavaliers are the best team in the Eastern Conference?
The Cavs may have finished the regular season as the No. 2 seed behind the Boston Celtics, but they went into Boston and hammered the Celtics before the start of the playoffs.
Head coach Tyronn Lue's men are off to a 3-0 start in their best-of-seven series against the Indiana Pacers, and their comeback win Thursday night may indicate they are more prepared to defend their NBA title than many observers believed.
The Cavs limped home to end the regular season, but they put on a memorable show in rebounding from a 26-point deficit at Indiana.
LeBron James put on a vintage performance, scoring 41 points with 13 rebounds and 12 assists. He was at his best in the second half, when he scored 28 points.
"We knew we had to take (some) punches, but it was a flurry, more than we expected," James said after the game (h/t CBS Sports and Associated Press). "At halftime, I was just looking at the guys and telling them, 'Let's get a couple stops.'"
The Cavs were down by 25 points at halftime and they cut 18 points off Indiana's lead in the third quarter. Once the Cavs made that charge, it was just a matter of time before they passed the Pacers down the stretch, and they were able to complete the comeback with a 119-114 victory.
|NBA Postseason Standings and Bracket|
|Conference||Series||Standings||Next Game||Time (ET), TV|
|Eastern||Boston vs. Chicago||Chicago leads, 2-0||Boston at Chicago. April 21||7 p.m., ESPN|
|Eastern||Cleveland vs. Indiana||Cleveland leads, 3-0||Cleveland at Indiana, April 23||1 p.m., ABC|
|Eastern||Toronto vs. Milwaukee||Milwaukee leads, 2-1||Toronto at Milwaukee, April 22||3 p.m., TNT|
|Eastern||Washington vs. Atlanta||Washington leads, 2-0||Washington at Atlanta, April 22||5:30 p.m., TNT|
|Western||Golden State vs. Portland||Golden State leads, 2-0||Golden State at Portland, April 22||10:30 p.m, TNT|
|Western||San Antonio vs. Memphis||San Antonio leads, 2-1||San Antonio at Memphis, April 22||8 p.m., ESPN|
|Western||Houston vs. Oklahoma City||Houston leads, 2-0||Houston at Oklahoma City, April 21||9:30 p.m., ESPN|
|Western||Los Angeles Clippers vs. Utah||Series tied, 1-1||Los Angeles at Utah, April 21||10 p.m., ESPN2|
The Milwaukee Bucks were nearly as surprising as the Cavs. While the sixth-seeded Bucks did not have to come from behind to beat the third-seeded Toronto Raptors, their dominant 104-77 victory at home exceeded expectations.
The Bucks lead the series 2-1, winning the opener in Toronto before making a huge statement in Milwaukee.
The Bucks were balanced in their scoring, as Khris Middleton had 20 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo had 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Jason Kidd saw his team come through with a peak performance in a key postseason game.
"I think we all understand and appreciate Khris," Kidd said after the game (h/t Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). "We know what he can do. We thought in the first two games he had some great looks that just didn't go down for him.
"We trust him. He lets the game come to him. He's not going to force things if he doesn't have the shot. He moves the ball and he keeps things really simple. I thought he set the tone, but so did Giannis. And the crowd was into it from the beginning."
The series between the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls and the top-seeded Boston Celtics resumes Friday night at the United Center in Chicago.
The Bulls managed two victories in Boston and seemingly have the advantage as they return home. However, the Bulls were one of the most inconsistent and maddening teams during the regular season, and they will have to prove they are capable of playing consistently in this best-of-seven series by continuing their solid play.
Jimmy Butler is off to a tremendous start in the series, and former Celtic Rajon Rondo provided sharp leadership.
However, the Bulls received bad news Friday morning when it was revealed that Rondo fractured his thumb in the second game of the series and is out indefinitely.
Star guard Isaiah Thomas is contending with the personal tragedy of his sister's death following a car accident last weekend, and his teammates have looked troubled as they try to overcome a team that finished with a 41-41 record during the regular season.
Forward Jae Crowder believes that going on the road could help the Celtics. "I'm very encouraged by us getting away and just being together with just us as a group, away from all the other distractions," he said, as per Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe. "I think it will be good for us."
In addition to the the Boston-Chicago matchup, the Houston Rockets will try to take a 3-0 lead in their Western Conference series with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Los Angeles Clippers and the Utah Jazz meet in Salt Lake City with the series tied at 1-1.
James Harden helped the Rockets gain their lead at home, and he has gotten plenty of help from Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams. On the other hand, it's the Russell Westbrook show for the Thunder, and he is averaging 36.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.0 assists per game.
Westbrook continues to produce at an amazing rate, but if his teammates Andre Roberson and Jerami Grant can't support him with standout games of their own, it will be difficult for the Thunder to get back into this series.