Rockets, Bucks seek to avoid falling into 2-0 holes

ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 30, 2019 08:37 AM
Rockets, Bucks seek to avoid falling into 2-0 holes
Boston Celtics' Jaylen Brown dunks over Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo during the second half of Game 1 of a second round NBA basketball playoff series Sunday, April 28, 2019, in Milwaukee. The Celtics won 112-90 to take a 1-0 lead in the series. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press

The MVP front-runners are in some trouble.

It’s a virtual certainty that either Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo or Houston’s reigning MVP James Harden will win the coveted award this season. And while the voting results there won’t be known until June 24 (June 25, PHL time), the only results that truly matter right now to both players are the ones that were determined on Sunday (Monday, PHL time) — and the ones that are coming on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time).

Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were handed their worst loss of the season, a 22-point defeat by the Boston Celtics that cost the NBA’s No. 1 overall seed the home-court edge in their Eastern Conference semifinal series. And the Rockets were angered by what they felt were a series of calls that didn’t go their way in a 104-100 loss to Golden State on Sunday in Game 1 of a West semifinal series.

Both matchups resume with Game 2s on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time): Boston at Milwaukee and Houston at Golden State.

“Right now, we’ve got to focus on playing better,” Antetokounmpo said after Milwaukee fell 112-90 in Game 1. “Obviously, it was one of the toughest tasks we’ve had all season long and especially at home. We’ve just got to regroup ... and be ready for Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time).”

The Bucks were frustrated by Boston’s defense; Milwaukee’s 90 points represented its third-lowest total of the season.

The Rockets were frustrated by Golden State’s defense, for far different reasons.

Houston contended that Golden State was closing out recklessly on three-point attempts and not giving the Rockets the proper space to land in many cases — a play that the NBA has tried to crack down on over the last couple seasons, especially since then-Warriors center Zaza Pachulia was involved in such a play where then-San Antonio star Kawhi Leonard got hurt in the playoffs two years ago.

Harden took 858 free throws during the regular season, 172 more than Antetokounmpo — who was No. 2 in the league in that category — attempted. And Harden got to the line 14 more times against the Warriors on Sunday, but felt he should have been there more.

“I just want a fair chance, man,” said Harden, who had a three-point attempt to tie the game late Sunday (Monday, PHL time) — on a play where he wound up falling to the court after a closeout by Warriors forward Draymond Green. “Call the game how it’s supposed to be called and that’s it. And I’ll live with the results.”

Losses on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) obviously wouldn’t doom either the Rockets or Bucks, but the task would get significantly tougher going forward. Only 20 teams in NBA history have successfully rallied from a 2-0 series deficit in a best-of-seven matchup. Milwaukee is trying to avoid becoming the 28th team to lose the first two games of a seven-game series at home; of those, only four have recovered and actually won the series.

“It’s going to be tough to surprise anybody with a strategy,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s all about execution.”

WEDNESDAY’S (PHL time) GAMES

CELTICS AT BUCKS

Celtics lead 1-0. Game 2, 8 p.m. EDT (8am, PHL time)

NEED TO KNOW: The Celtics are 5-0 so far in the playoffs, and have kept Indiana and Milwaukee under 100 points in four of those five games while seeing their own scoring number increase in every outing so far. Al Horford was fantastic on both ends in Game 1 against the Bucks, and the Celtics had walls of defenders around the rim it seemed on every drive by Antetokounmpo.

INJURY WATCH: Celtics reserve big man Aron Baynes was limited to nine minutes in Game 1 with an ankle issue, but he’s hopeful of being out there for Game 2.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Milwaukee’s shooting. The Bucks’ starters shot 30 percent — 15-for-50 — in Game 1. For comparison’s sake, Boston guard Kyrie Irving was 12-for-21 by himself.

PRESSURE IS ON: No question, the Bucks. A team that rolled to 60 wins and swept through the first round is facing its biggest adverse moment of the season. Title-contending teams shrug off Game 1 losses, and that’s what the Bucks must do Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time).

ROCKETS AT WARRIORS

Warriors lead 1-0. Game 2, 10:30 p.m. EDT (10:30am, PHL time)

NEED TO KNOW: Houston hasn’t lost consecutive games in more than two months, winning each of its last six games following a defeat. And they’ve already won at Oracle Arena twice this season, so the Rockets will be confident — probably even moreso now that they believe non-calls helped the Warriors in Game 1.

INJURY WATCH: Golden State guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson played through gimpy ankles in Game 1; they shot a combined 10-for-25, and it was only the second time all season where both played, neither had more than five field goals and the Warriors won anyway.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Houston guard Chris Paul. He scored 17 points in Game 1, got ejected late for picking up a second technical — but what might trouble the Rockets is he only took nine shots in 36 minutes. If he’s more aggressive in Game 2 that could help Harden (who took 28 shots) get even cleaner looks.

PRESSURE IS ON: The referees. They’ll know that every call will be met with probably more scorn and disbelief than usual after the way the Rockets were angered in Game 1. Landing areas on three-point tries will be a point of emphasis, for obvious reasons.

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