When the Clippers–Suns game ended Saturday night, Steve Ballmer, the Clippers owner, could not sleep. He was buzzing from a close win over the Suns. He stayed up late, checking Twitter and the rest of the internet.
He likely didn’t have that issue Tuesday night. But just because the games weren’t all down to the final minute didn’t mean they weren’t consequential. Two of the road dogs from Game 1 couldn’t follow up on their performances. One of the title favorites took a strong lead in their series.
The Cavaliers are back. The Knicks are hurting. The Celtics are sitting pretty. The Hawks have questions. The Clippers couldn’t keep it up. The Suns showed off how good their high-profile top two can be.
And it wouldn’t have been surprising if everyone still needed a moment afterward to wind down a little bit. And if you missed it, you can catch up now.
No. 4 Cavaliers 107, No. 5 Knicks 90 (tied 1-1)
How the Cavaliers won: By being more physical and finding their jumpers. Both mattered in nearly equal ways.
The Knicks won Game 1 by outworking the Cavaliers, even in Cleveland. On Tuesday night, there was a turn in fortunes. This series has rewarded the more aggressive team, the one that has set the tone with its physicality. Cleveland turned it on in Game 2, leaving the Knicks bruised and, at times, bloodied. The Cavs didn’t get crushed on the boards and didn’t surrender the paint. They played with gusto, and then the shots followed.
The Cavaliers hit 14 3s after shooting 32.1 percent from 3 in Game 1. They found a willing gunner in Caris LeVert, who dropped 24 points on New York and gave Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland some help. The shooting broke open the game in the second quarter after it looked like this might be an old school ’90s affair.
The Knicks couldn’t recover, and the Cavaliers kept draining jumpers. Garland kept the Knicks at bay. Jalen Brunson went quiet, hitting just 5 of 17 shots. So it goes sometimes.
Star of the game: It was Garland’s turn in the spotlight. He had 32 points and seven assists and wrecked the Knicks over the first three quarters. He had timely bucket after timely bucket and offered responses the few times New York tried to make a push, including a third-quarter wing 3 that settled the storm just as it seemed the Knicks might finally put on a real rally.
Mitchell was happy to take a step back and let Garland get his points, and it was a great example of how the backcourt duo can work together so well this series.
Wow of the game: It didn’t really matter in the big scheme of the things, but Mitchell had a crazy assist to put the Cavaliers up 29. He went hard to the rim, and it looked like he was going to try to put it down hard on Isaiah Hartenstein. He cocked his arm back and looked ready to try before firing a laser to the far corner to Cedi Osman for a 3. Just wild stuff. You have to watch it a few times.
That was close: When Julius Randle went flying to the ground late in the fourth on a transition dunk attempt, seemingly down in a lot of pain, all it took was one look at the scoreboard to wonder why it had to happen at all. Randle was down with 2:22 left and the Cavaliers up 21 after Jarrett Allen tried to chase him down and block his dunk try.
Allen was hit with a Flagrant 1 foul, but the heat wasn’t on him afterward. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has a habit of playing his best players late into games even in blowouts, and this one nearly blew up on him as Randle hit the court hard. Thibodeau said afterward that Randle was still in the game because he asked to stay in to build rhythm after missing the final two weeks of the season with an ankle injury.
The Knicks should feel… like they need some time in the cold tub. Those first two games could have been a lot worse. Yes, they got blown out in Game 2, but they’ve already taken one on the road. And they also need a few days to rest. Josh Hart hurt his ankle in Game 1. Randle went down hard at the end of Game 2. Brunson took a hit to the face from Randle. Quentin Grimes had a bloody mouth. They should be content with the split on the road, but they do need some time recover and heal.
The Cavaliers should feel… rejuvenated. They found their groove again in Game 2. Their star backcourt had the game in their hands, with 49 points and 20 assists between them. Maybe they’ve even found a lineup that works with LeVert alongside them and their two bigs.
No. 2 Celtics 119, No. 7 Hawks 106 (Boston leads 2-0)
How the Celtics won: They suffocated the Hawks offense, causing havoc for Atlanta. Boston had 10 steals and 12 blocks. The Hawks shot just 42.6 percent from the field. While the Hawks hit 16 3s, they couldn’t even take much solace from that since Boston hit 15 of its own.
It was just the furthering of what’s been a lopsided matchup so far. Atlanta went down 20 in the third quarter and made it close enough in the fourth, whittling the deficit to 96-88, but that would be as good as it got. Atlanta was down 20-plus again half a quarter later.
The Hawks haven’t been able to put up a strong pushback against the Celtics in this series. Maybe things change in Atlanta. Maybe they don’t.
Star of the game: Jayson Tatum. Have you heard of him? He had 29 points, tied for the game high with Dejounte Murray, and 10 rebounds and six assists. He was his typically great self.
But as always, the Celtics had strength in numbers. Like four others in double digits. Derrick White had 26 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Jaylen Brown added 18.
Maybe the Celtics did it for the petty last night.
The Hawks should feel… Open to change. They struck gold (well, the kind that gets you a conference finals appearance) in the 2021 playoffs and seemed as if they were on the ascent. Instead, the last two seasons have sent them tumbling down to earth. The franchise has already pushed out its lead basketball operations executive and fired a coach this season, and that seems like it might be, or need to be, the first of their changes. This series isn’t done yet, but the Hawks are in a tough spot.
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The Celtics should feel… Like they’re in a good spot. They have a taken a strong grip on this series. The top-seeded Bucks just lost Game 1, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is dealing with a back injury and who knows for how long. Their other main rival in the East, the 76ers, are up 2-o in their series but there are signs of concern, not least of all that James Harden has yet to get to the free-throw line in these playoffs. Two games in, Boston has had things line up pretty well.
No. 4 Suns 123, No. 5 Clippers 109 (Tied 1-1)
How the Suns won: They got big performances from their big two, riding it to a big playoff win. Devin Booker had 38. Kevin Durant had 25. The Suns needed them all.
They were down a dozen in the first half. The team that was supposed to be a title contender after the midseason trade for Durant was struggling. Durant even had his jumper blocked by Russell Westbrook in the first quarter. Then Durant and Booker went to work. They scored or assisted on 18 of the Suns’ final 20 points of the half, which sent the two teams tied into the break.
They kept rolling after that. The Suns went up 10 less than four minutes into the third and nursed that lead the rest of the game.
It reinforced what they were hoping for when they traded for Durant. They have a top two as good as anyone in the NBA. The entire starting lineup scored in double digits. What they lacked in depth, they made up for with great talent.
The Big Streak Is Done: Everyone was talking about it. Everyone knew about it. The big rivalry this series. No, not Clippers-Suns. It’s Scott Foster and Chris Paul. The Suns star and the ref have a history. Paul has called out Foster in the past — not very kindly. He mentioned his streak after the Suns lost a game Foster reffed in the 2021 NBA Finals.
Heading into Tuesday night, Paul had lost 13 straight games refereed by Foster. Paul broke the streak in Game 2 and it was hard to avoid, though he tried to play it cool.
Doing it their way: If the Suns are going to win, they are going to do it how they want to. While everybody is shooting 3s — all this new age stuff — the Suns keep it old school. They’re living in the midrange. They took just 24 3s in Game 2 and took more than half as many shots at the rim as the Clippers. They kept wearing LA down with jumpers. They hit 15 long midrange 2s — the Clippers only took six from that range, according to LivePBP — and just kept going to work. That’s what happens on a team with Booker, Durant and Paul. They took 17 long 2s between them.
The Clippers should feel… like they let one get away. They had an early lead. They got a big game from Westbrook — 28 points, five rebounds, five assists. For a half, it looked like they could have stolen another game on the road and really put the squeeze on the Suns. Instead it’ll go back to Los Angeles all tied up.
The Suns should feel… a little more urgency. Another game, another slow start. They were down double-digits in the first half for the second straight game. Again, they had to make a run to get the game close, though they eventually won. Maybe it can be a little easier for Phoenix if the Suns stop putting themselves in big holes early on.
(Photo of Chris Paul and Scott Foster: Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)
A multi-lingual talent head, Allen is fluent in languages such as Spanish, Russian, Italian, and many more. He has a special curiosity for the events and stories revolving in and around US and caters an uncompromising form of journalistic standard for the audiences.