It was the end of the road for one National Basketball Association combatant on Sunday, and the beginning of a new journey for two other clubs. The Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers finished their surprisingly close series in an exciting Game 7 on the home floor of LeBron James in the afternoon, and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference started their second leg of what they hope is a championship journey against the upstart Utah Jazz. The biggest stars were shining brightly on the hardwood Sunday. Let’s get started!
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Cleveland Cavaliers 105, Indiana Pacers 101:
You knew it was going to be a dogfight when LeBron James suffered a loss in Game 1 of the opening round. Just when it seemed like the Cavaliers were going to shake off the Pacers, they came back harder and stronger to push the Cavs to the brink. It was uncharacteristic seeing LeBron going seven, especially in the opening round, but he did everything he could to avoid an embarrassing first-round exit.
The King fought off leg cramps in the second half, dropping in a game-high 45 points on 16-of-25 shooting, to will his team to victory and a date with the Toronto Raptors in Round 2. He added nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals while dropping in a pair of 3-pointers. It was all the more impressive considering the other four starters combined for just 43 points while shooting 40.0 percent (14-of-35). It was all LeBron all day, as the Cavs were able to shake off the pesky Pacers to move along.
Victor Oladipo was unable to get his team over the hump, as his unbelievable season came to a disappointing close. He went out with a bang, though, dumping in 30 points on 10-of-21 shooting, including four 3-pointers along the way. He also snagged 12 rebounds, six assists and three steals while turning it over just two times in the showcase game. Indiana gave Cleveland all they can handle, showing either how far they have come, or how far the Cavs have slipped. It was impressive nonetheless. Oladipo gave his fantasy owners early-round value this season, well exceeding his average draft position. He won’t be a secret next season.
Thaddeus Young ended up with 14 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and a steal with just two turnovers over 38 minutes, while Darren Collison stepped up his game with 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Perhaps the biggest difference, fair or not, was the lack of production from Bojan Bogdanovic. He hit at least one 3-pointer in all seven games, but the one he hit Sunday was his only bucket on nine attempts. It was a far cry from the 30 points he posted in Game 3. Lance Stephenson was up to his usual tricks as an irritant, and he finished with eight points and a pair of 3-pointers off the bench.
If you were laying the points with the Cavaliers, you were likely left saying bad words at the end of this one. While it made no difference in the overall result, Oladipo’s triple with 0.6 seconds left changed the result at most shops from a Cavs cover to a backdoor cover for the Pacers.
Houston Rockets 110, Utah Jazz 96:
The Rockets certainly looked the part of No. 1 seed as the fired an impressive opening salvo against the Jazz. James Harden and the Rockets were good for a 14-point victory, and the final score doesn’t even indicate how lopsided this one was.
The Rockets held a 25-point lead at the break, and Utah was slowly able to chisel away at the lead in the second half. Still, the Rockets were able to comfortably keep them at arm’s length thanks to the heroics of Harden. ‘The Beard’ was good for 41 points on 12-of-26 shooting, hitting 7-of-12 from behind the arc. He added eight rebounds, seven assist and a steal with just three turnovers in the impressive performance, his sixth-career 40-plus game in the postseason. The Jazz were tied for No. 1 in scoring defense in the NBA during the regular season, but that didn’t bother Harden. He was good for 34.3 points per game during the regular season against the defensive-minded Jazz.
He wasn’t the only story, though, as Houston has a balanced attack from its starters. Chris Paul served as a dependable wingman with 17 points, including three 3-pointers, while Clint Capela was his normal, productive self with 16 points, 12 rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal across his 36 minutes of action. P.J. Tucker was also very efficient from the field, hitting 6-of-8 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from behind the arc, to give his team 15 points with six boards. If the Rockets are going to continue to dominate this series they’ll need dependable secondary and tertiary scorers before their MVP candidate.
Donovan Mitchell lost the battle in Game 1, although his 21-point effort is nothing to hang his head about. He hit 9-of-22 from the floor, but was just 1-of-7 from behind the arc. If he improves from the perimeter he and his teammates could close the gap somewhat. Rudy Gobert was outstanding battling down low with Capela, hitting 4-of-4 from the field while adding 11 points and nine rebounds. He might have done more if not for the referee’s whistle. Joe Ingles continues to build his stock as he heads toward a potential huge payday in the offseason, picking up 15 points, six rebounds, five assists, a steal and a blocked shot. He picked up the slack with Ricky Rubio (strained left hamstring) in street clothes.
* Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics – TNT – 8:00 PM
Injury notes for Monday:
Jaylen Brown is listed as doubtful for Game 1 against the 76ers on Monday due to his strained right hamstring, head coach Brad Stevens said on Sunday. The coach did say that Brown could return sometime later in the series, so it sounds like guard is going to sit in the opener. He left Saturday’s Game 7 victory against Milwaukee with the injury. Brown averaged 14.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game this season.