With Game 2 win over Pacers, the Celtics are closing in on the NBA Finals

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May we all have the power to fire a coach in order to deflect any blame we might incur for building a roster that wasn’t good enough to compete.

Here Comes Boston

Celtics close in on NBA Finals berth

Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals was not nearly as eventful as the series opener. Boston dominated the second and third quarters last night to take Game 2, 126-110, and place the Celtics two wins from their second NBA Finals appearance in the last three years. Unfortunately for us drama-loving fans, this was pretty much devoid of any suspense in Boston.

Jaylen Brown was the best player on the court, tying his playoff career-high of 40 points. The Celtics’ offense outmatched the Pacers’ in pretty much every way. It reminded everybody that, while Indiana’s historically great offense can be very flashy, Boston was better on that end of the floor all season. Tyrese Haliburton left the game with a hamstring injury, which may have just made the ECF potentially boring and devoid of tension altogether. Here are three questions I have following Game 2.

1. How bad is Haliburton’s injury? Let’s be honest. If this hammy injury for Haliburton hinders him at all in this series, the Pacers are cooked. They might be cooked anyway, but Hali was an elite point guard before his hamstring injury early in this season, after which his play was merely solid. He finally started building momentum in the last couple games before leaving Game 2. If he can’t go 100 percent, let’s start booking travel for Boston in June.

2. How do the Pacers make Myles Turner more effective? We saw a monster performance from Turner in Game 1, especially when he attacked the basket upon figuring out how to navigate Al Horford’s presence. It was a massive boost for the Pacers’ scoring attack. But Turner went from 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting in Game 1 to just eight points on 3-of-7 shooting in Game 2. Indiana has to get him open in space and get him attacking toward the rim in order to have a chance.

3. Can the Pacers win without shooting better from deep than Boston? I think it’s important to remember the Celtics didn’t actually shoot all that well from 3-point range in Game 1. They made 15 3s, which sounds like – and objectively is – a lot. But they needed 45 attempts in Game 1 for those 15 3-pointers. Boston is always comfortable being a high-volume shooting team from deep but needed only 37 attempts to make 15 3s in Game 2. The improved efficiency matters because Indiana must feel pressure to match Boston from deep. It’s one of the Pacers’ greatest potential equalizers to steal games.

The Latest From Shams

One-on-one with Alex Sarr

Last draft cycle, Victor Wembanyama emerged immediately as the consensus top overall pick. This year, things are a bit different, with no one name being mentioned as head and shoulders above all the other top prospects.

But one name that has been in the mix consistently for that No. 1 pick is Alex Sarr, the 7-footer whose pre-NBA career has already taken him to Spain, the U.S. and Australia.

I sat down with Sarr recently to talk about lessons learned from playing in those places, Wembanyama, the Hawks and a lot more. For more on Sarr, here are John Hollinger’s thoughts on his potential.

How Do The Wolves Howl?

Minnesota must avoid an 0-2 hole

Game 2 of the Western Conference finals between the Dallas Mavericks and the Minnesota Timberwolves tips off from the Target Center at 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT tonight. The Mavericks took Game 1 on the road, so the Wolves must feel pretty desperate to avoid going down 0-2 at home. Here are my three questions ahead of Game 2.

1. Will the Wolves lose the rebounding battle? As discussed in the series preview, the Wolves rarely lose on the boards. It’s a massive part of how dominant they tend to be. In Game 1 of this series, the Mavericks outrebounded the much bigger Wolves 48-40 overall and 11-10 on the offensive boards. Minnesota even had a massive offensive rebound tip dunk taken away on a basket interference replay that swiped a key bucket away from Karl-Anthony Towns and deflated the Wolves’ late momentum.

The Wolves are one of the best rebounding teams in the league. Dallas has been one of the best rebounding teams in recent months. Minnesota has to control the boards for an even greater advantage to win. If the Wolves don’t get it figured out on the glass, the Mavericks could replicate their dominance in the paint from Game 1.

2. How does Anthony Edwards turn things around? One of the biggest takeaways from Game 1 was about Anthony Edwards needing to do more. The problem was his exhaustion and being tapped of energy by the fourth quarter. You could see he just physically didn’t have it down the stretch, which helped cost Minnesota a home game. So, how does that change for Edwards and the Wolves? Part of it has to be breaking through the wall of defense set up in front of him. Attacking downhill much more would also help. Edwards even said as such following the loss. There was a calmness to his comments that should inspire confidence for Minnesota, but that only matters if he follows it up with a timely performance in Game 2.

3. Can Minnesota come back from another home loss? We just saw in the Wolves’ previous series how hard it is to go down 0-2 as the home team and still win the series. It looked like Denver could do it, but the Nuggets lost the series because Minnesota took it to them for all of Game 6 and in the second half of Game 7. The Wolves are probably not good enough to overcome such a deficit. Dallas is also too good to fall after taking a 2-0 series lead on the road. Historically speaking, the pressure is on Minnesota to win Game 2 before heading to Dallas.

Cavs Coaching Change

Did Cleveland need to change its coach?

I genuinely have no issue with the Cavs thinking they might need a better coach than J.B. Bickerstaff. I think it’s possible he wasn’t the right coach for them, and, more importantly, that the next coach might be better for this group. However, I don’t see how you look at the team’s last two seasons and think Bickerstaff was the problem or hindrance for Cleveland’s greater success.

During Bickerstaff’s four-plus seasons in Cleveland, the Cavaliers were pretty successful, namely in in the last two seasons. Last season, they won 51 games before getting bounced in the first round by the Knicks. It was a disappointing playoff appearance but their first postseason moment together. In short: Hey, it happens. This season, they won 48 games, made the second round and eventually got bounced by the heavily favored Celtics. Here’s the thing though: Even without their first playoff series win since 2018, the Cavs were much improved this season.

Their stars — Donovan Mitchell (27), Darius Garland (25), Evan Mobley (32) — each missed many games. Somehow, though, the Cavaliers regressed by only three wins but managed to advance deeper in the playoffs. Their injuries were overwhelming at times. Somehow, Bickerstaff had to take the fall for them … coming up short this season?

I just don’t understand why the blame falls on him. We should ultimately wait to see his replacement before judging, but losing your three best players for at least 25 games each, barely falling short of last year’s win total and going further in the playoffs than the previous season doesn’t seem fireable. Was Bickerstaff perfect? No. But I don’t see where it was necessary to fire him.

The Cavs’ backcourt of Mitchell and Garland doesn’t seem to mesh well. Even their big man duo of Jarrett Allen and Mobley is somewhat suspect. This Cleveland “failure” – if we can even call it that – feels like a roster construction problem far more than a coaching issue, but alas. It’s always easiest to blame and swap out the coach to save your job or deflect blame. Or both. 🤷

Bounce Passes

Denver must compete again before next summer complicates things.

This is what makes Edwards a star in this league.

(Top photo: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images )

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