The Conference Semifinals are in full swing and continue today with a pair of Game 2s.
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The action starts when the East's top-seeded Bucks look to tie things up with the Celtics after losing home court in an underwhelming Game 1 performance. Later on, things continue in the Bay Area where No. 1 seed Golden State will try to build upon its Game 1 win over Houston.
While we're far from "must-win" territory, both the Bucks and Rockets should have a heightened sense of urgency as history does not favour teams that fall into an 0-2 hole in best-of-seven postseason series.
Here are a few things to watch for in each game.
Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks
How will Giannis respond?
After an uncharacteristic performance in Game 1, the message from Giannis Antetokounpmo was simple and straightforward: "I can't promise you we are going to win, but I can promise we are going to play hard."
The Bucks All-Star forward was held to just 22 points (on 7-for-21 shooting) in the series opener as his team suffered a 22-point loss - its largest margin of defeat all season.
Credit goes to Al Horford, who made things difficult for Antetokounmpo throughout Game 1, earning the praise of head coach Brad Stevens and his teammates alike, but holding Milwaukee's MVP at bay isn't exactly the easiest task to replicate.
Antetokounmpo shot under 40.0% from the field just three times during the regular season: Dec. 22 at Miami, Jan. 27 at Oklahoma City and April 1 at Brooklyn. He bounced back from each in a major way.
|Dec. 22 at MIA - 3-12, 9 PTS, L||Dec. 25 at NYK - 13-21, 30 PTS, W|
|Jan. 27 at OKC - 8-22, 27 PTS, L||Jan. 29 at DET - 8-16, 22 PTS, W|
|Apr. 1 at BKN - 9-23, 28 PTS, W||Apr. 4 at PHI - 13-22, 45 PTS, W|
While it's different from the regular season in that Giannis will face the same defensive strategy as in Game 1 history and his statement both indicate that a statement game could very well be on the horizon.
Will Kyrie continue to facilitate at a high level?
As indicated by the final score, Boston put forth a clinic in Game 1 with plenty of credit to Kyrie Irving, who set the tone on the offensive end.
Not only did the C's All-Star guard finish with a game-high 26 points (on 12-for-21 shooting), he dished out 11 assists, tying a postseason career high; it was the first game of 25+ points and 10+ assists in his postseason career.
Irving is averaging 8.4 assists through five postseason games, up from his regular season average of 6.9 per game.
Prior to the series opener, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer touched on how important Kyrie's playmaking abilities are for the Celtics big men in the half court. In Game 2, the Bucks must look to limit one of the two dimensions of Irving's dangerous offensive game.
Should Irving continue to be a lethal threat as a scorer and passer, Boston could very well take another game from Milwaukee at Fiserv.Forum.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors
How much will Houston improve from beyond the arc?
When reports surfaced that Houston made its way to the Bay Area a few days early for practice, it was assumed that the team would come out in a nice offensive rhythm.
That wasn't the case in Game 1.
The Rockets scored just 19 points in the first quarter while connecting on just one of their 14 3-point attempts in the frame. An off start couldn't discourage Houston from leaning on its perimeter shooting, as the team has adopted the shooter's mentality of having a short memory and confidently shooting the next shot.
Over the next three quarters, Houston would shoot 13-for-33 (39.4%) from beyond the arc to finish the game shooting 14-for-47 (29.8%). Eric Gordon (4-for-13) and James Harden (4-for-16) combined to shoot 8-for-29 and the remainder of the team was 6-for-18.
Many things contributed to Houston's Game 1 loss, but an uncharacteristic first quarter from beyond the arc is one of the biggest factors. A number of Rockets missed high-quality open looks that they normally make; if they get similar looks and are able to connect in Game 2, things should have a much different outcome for the visiting team.
Expect a highly-focused and motivated Houston team to lock in and improve upon its subpar shooting performance.
Does Durant keep it up?
By now it's no surprise as everyone has taken notice: Kevin Durant is on another level.
After scoring 35 points in the Warriors Game 1 victory, the back-to-back reigning Finals MVP is averaging 40.2 points over the team's last five games.
Despite Houston throwing a number of different bodies at Durant on the defensive end, he found a number of ways to carve through its defence. The do-it-all forward got to the rim, scored from the mid-range and knocked down one of his three 3-point attempts. As he remained in attack mode throughout the game, he got to the free throw line 15 times, where he knocked down 12 of his attempts.
While he often makes it look effortless, it's fair to question if Durant will put forth yet another awe-inspiring performance in Game 2. It will be Golden State's third game in five days and Houston will continue to be physical and try a number of defensive schemes to slow him down.
The adrenaline that comes with starting a new series with a rival seemed to have carried Durant and the Warriors over the hump in Game 1, but what will the case be in Game 2?
Don't be surprised if he finds a way to keep it up.