NBA playoffs 2018: Analysis, updates, schedule 76ers-Celtics, Cavaliers-Raptors

LeBron James shoots over DeMar DeRozan during Cleveland’s Game 2 win in Toronto Thursday night. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

Follow along with live coverage of tonight’s Game 2s. This post will update frequently. Catch up on Wednesday’s games here.

Jaylen Brown spent much of Game 7 against the Bucks and all of Game 1 against the 76ers watching from the sideline with a hamstring injury.

But after staying on the bench to start Game 2, Brown has made his debut in this Eastern Conference semifinal series. Brown immediately launched a three, missed, and then raced ahead of the pack to grab a loose ball and dunk it, forcing a Philadelphia timeout.

Something to watch, though: Brown looked like he was grimacing after the dunk. Hamstring injuries are tricky, and he could injure something again. The Celtics have to be careful to make sure he doesn’t re-aggravate something, and miss even more time.

For the past year, the Raptors spent every waking moment trying to erase the memories of a demoralizing sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers in the 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Raptors changed their style of offense, adding more passing and three-point shooting. They emphasized their bench, allowing Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to take less of a load on their shoulders. They added a physical presence on the wing in O.G. Anunoby to throw at LeBron James, and they added C.J. Miles to give them more shooting off the bench.

For the past few months, it looked like things could be different. The Raptors won 59 games. They earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, limped into the playoffs, then went seven games with the Indiana Pacers in a grueling first-round series.

But then the Cavaliers, after never leading in regulation, managed to win Game 1 of this year’s rematch. After all the postseason failures of Toronto’s past, there was some thought that game had ripped the heart out of the Raptors after all of the changes they’d made.

With his performance in Game 2, James removed all doubt.

James was transcendent Thursday night, scoring 43 points to go with eight rebounds and 14 assists, leading the Cavaliers to a 128-110 Game 2 victory in Toronto, sending the series back to Cleveland with the Cavaliers holding a commanding 2-0 lead and halfway to a second straight sweep and a third straight series victory against the Raptors.

And, with his scintillating second half, in which James went 13-for-19 to score 27 points, he destroyed the Raptors, taking the fight out of the players and the crowd, and letting anyone watching know how this series is going to play out.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” James said in his television interview after the game. “We just want to continue to try to improve each and every game, and that’s what we’ve done through nine games: we’ve improved. We’ve got to keep our guards up, and continue to push.”

It’s hard to see how James can improve from here.

Time after time in the second half, he buried ridiculous fade away jumpers, each one soaring higher in the air than the last before softly rippling through the net. All served as a dagger through the heart of his opponent, as if James was toying with the Raptors like a cat with a mouse.

And he wasn’t alone. The Cavaliers went 8-for-14 from three in the second half.

Individually, Kevin Love finally emerged in these playoffs, scoring 31 after never topping 19 through his first eight games. He also grabbed 11 rebounds, finally re-emerging as the second all-star he’s supposed to be.

“Kevin Love was phenomenal,” James said. “He was the all-star we know and have grown to love. This was a complete team effort … this was a big win for us. I said it before the game we’re going to continue to go to him. It was big time for Kev to see the ball go through the rim, and once he does he’s going to keep going.”

But for as much as this game was about James and about Love, it was also about the Raptors and their complete capitulation. A top-five team in both offense and defense this season, Toronto offered absolutely no resistance.

After the Cavaliers were in cruise control in the first half, trailing by just two at halftime, they scored eight straight points to take the lead for good to start the third quarter, and never looked back.

Now this series shifts back to Cleveland, where it will be up to Toronto to prove it has some kind of life left. The Raptors spent a year working to get back to this matchup against a Cavaliers team that has embarrassed them two years in a row.

Through two games, it looks like those 12 months were an utter waste of time.

The lack of fight from the Raptors as this game — and their season — slips away is astounding.

Sure, it can be demoralizing to see LeBron James make one insane shot after another on your home court. But how can Toronto, in front of its fans, with its season on the line, show no fight and no life? It’s hard to believe it’s happening, even as I’m watching it.

Trailing by 13 points with seven minutes to go, this game isn’t over yet. But if you look at the body language of the Raptors, you’d think it ended at halftime. It’s a stunning capitulation on a huge stage after months of hearing how things were going to be different this time around in Toronto.

The Raptors have been able to carry over their changes in style from the regular season, but their past postseason struggles against LeBron James and the Cavaliers have continued. Now their season is on the brink, and it’s unclear if they’re going to fight to save it.

The Raptors have less than 12 minutes to save their season.

No, their series with the Cavaliers won’t end if the Raptors lose Game 2. But trying to come back from a 2-0 deficit against LeBron James is too much to expect Toronto to overcome.

Something is going to have to change quickly for that not to happen, after Cleveland outscored Toronto 37-24 in the third quarter, including going 5-for-8 from three-point range after going just 3-for-12 in the entire first half.

“We let our foot off the gas defensively,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said in his ESPN interview between quarters.

Serge Ibaka was so bad early in the game that he went to the bench within two minutes of the third quarter starting, and looks like he’ll be staying there. Meanwhile, LeBron James now has 35 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds as the Cavaliers opened up a 18-point lead early in the fourth quarter.

Eight straight points to start the third quarter for the Cavaliers. Four fouls for Kyle Lowry. It’s safe to say the start of the second half did not go the way the Raptors would’ve liked.

A timeout less than two minutes into the second half by Toronto Coach Dwane Casey is what the Raptors hope will stop the bleeding, but this is the doomsday scenario for the home team: down 0-1 in the series, giving Cleveland no resistance at all defensively and looking tight.

That needs to change soon, or else.

The Raptors had a great first half. They shot 25-for-42 (58.5 percent) from the field and 7-for-14 (50 percent) from three-point range. They had 14 assists on 25 baskets. They got 29 points on combined 11-for-16 shooting from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

And, with all of those positive markers in their favor, the Raptors only led the Cavaliers by two at halftime.

That’s a big problem for Toronto.

Already down 1-0 in the series after falling apart late in Game 1, Toronto simply can’t afford to head to Cleveland for Game 3 Saturday trailing 2-0 in this best-of-seven affair. Yet, at this point, it feels like that is the most likely outcome.

Kevin Love finally broke out in the first half for Cleveland, scoring 18 points, more than in all but one game in these playoffs so far, while LeBron James had 16 points and seven assists. But Cleveland is just 3-for-12 from three-point range, a number that feels like it has to increase in the Cavaliers’ favor.

The New York Knicks agreed to hire David Fizdale as their next head coach, multiple sources confirmed.

Fizdale, whose hiring was first reported by ESPN, replaces Jeff Hornacek, who was let go last month after two seasons. Hornacek never had a chance in New York, spending his first season working under Phil Jackson and his second under new general manager Scott Perry.

Fizdale will now come into the job with the full support of the current regime, which has openly discussed a full-scale rebuild with Kristaps Porzingis recovering from a torn ACL, a rookie guard to develop in Frank Ntilikina and with a high pick in this year’s draft to come.

That is the kind of organizational buy-in that Fizdale was undoubtedly looking for following his first head coaching job, with the Memphis Grizzlies, ended earlier this season after his relationship with Grizzlies star Marc Gasol disintegrated and the organization sided with its longtime star player.

Fizdale, 43, was one of the league’s most highly regarded assistants for years, working under Erik Spoelstra with the Miami Heat. He formed close relationships with stars like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, and received unequivocal backing and support from Spoelstra both before and after he left Miami.

After five straight years without a playoff berth, the Knicks will be hoping Fizdale can finally be the coach to lift them out of what has been close to two decades of near-constant futility.

The Cavaliers have been waiting for the version of Kevin Love they got early on in Game 2 against the Raptors.

Love may not have been particularly efficient in his 12-minute stint in the first quarter, but he was aggressive, and Cleveland will gladly take aggressive. Battling a thumb injury throughout most of these playoffs, Love has not looked like his usual all-star self.

He began Game 2 going 4-for-9, scoring 10 points to go with three boards. That surpassed the seven points Love scored in Game 1, the fourth time finished in single digits this postseason.

The Cavaliers have been waiting for Love to get into a groove. Perhaps his start to Game 2 will serve as the beginning of it finally happening.

The Celtics have managed to survive — and, at times, thrive — in these NBA playoffs despite missing Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward throughout. Jaylen Brown also sat for part of a Game 7 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, and all of their Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

So how are they doing it? Because their remaining, healthy star, Al Horford, is doing the one thing in these playoffs that he has spent so much of his time in his NBA career not doing: scoring.

Horford has carved out a successful career as a five-time all-star — first with the Atlanta Hawks, before signing as a free agent with the Celtics two years ago — by operating as a big man who can do anything that’s asked of him. He’s an excellent passer. He’s a capable shooter out beyond the three-point arc. He’s one of the smartest defensive players in the league, capable of switching onto just about any offensive player and making a scheme work.

But, throughout it all, Horford has rarely taken on a large burden when it comes to scoring. In the 92 playoff games Horford played during his first nine trips to the postseason, he scored 20 or more points 13 times — and 25 or more just twice.

In eight playoff games this season, Horford has already scored more than 20 points four times — including matching his playoff career-high of 26 points twice.

So often, what hasn’t been asked of Horford is to score. Instead, it’s been to do everything else that’s necessary to help his team win. But with Hayward and Irving out, and the Celtics relying on a young supporting cast to try to advance deep into the postseason, Boston Coach Brad Stevens has called on Horford to become a the typical scoring threat that max players are at this time of year.

Horford has responded, and the Celtics are still playing because of it.

Schedule, results and channel:

  • Cavaliers at Raptors, 6 p.m., ESPN
  • 76ers at Celtics, 8:30 p.m., TNT

Additional reading:

Meek Mill will reportedly watch Sixers in Boston with 76ers’ owner

Get ready for more Stephen A. Smith: ESPN is expanding his role during the NBA playoffs

Donovan Mitchell on dunk vs. Rockets: ‘I just happened to be up there’

The Wizards quietly gave GM Ernie Grunfeld a contract extension last fall. Now he faces a tricky offseason.

Dragging these flawed Cavs to the NBA Finals would be LeBron James’s most remarkable feat

Steph Curry comes off bench to vault Warriors to 2-0 lead; Raptors lost a game they had to win

Breaking: LeBron James finally gets called for a lane violation on a free throw

Draymond Green invites Charles Barkley to punch him or else shut up. Or possibly both.

Global Ambassador starts war! Drake and Kendrick Perkins skirmish in Toronto!

NBA Podcast: USA Today’s Sam Amick on the West playoffs, what’s next for Paul George and Portland

The banged-up Celtics aren’t as talented as the Sixers. They didn’t need to be in Game 1.

Why is there a snake on the Philadelphia 76ers’ court?

‘A leader should say that’: Paul Pierce loved John Wall’s comments about Wizards teammates

Impressive as it was, the Pacers’ Victor Oladipo isn’t satisfied with his breakout season

For once, LeBron James’s supporting cast makes all the difference for Cavaliers

John Wall wants the Wizards to overhaul their roster. They likely won’t be able to.

Friday’s loss is likely just the beginning of a painful summer for the Oklahoma City Thunder

The Miami Heat bet big on Hassan Whiteside. It appears they made a mistake. Now what?

The one-and-done rule is on the way out — because of NBA money, not NCAA morals

It feels like the end of an era for the San Antonio Spurs

After first-round sweep, Blazers’ next steps could include trading away their stars

‘All my best games I was medicated’: Matt Barnes on his game-day use of marijuana

Adam Silver: One of the WNBA’s problems is that not enough young women pay attention to it

‘Get off her back’: LeBron James defends TNT reporter who asked him about Erin Popovich’s death

NBA, Twitch reach deal on 2K League streaming rights

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