So far, 2-0 leads have been the move in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, as almost every single series has seen one team take a 2-0 lead over their opponent. The one exception, which isn’t a surprise, is the series between the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs. Being down 0-2 isn’t an insurmountable deficit by any means, but for the teams on the wrong side of that two-game margin, Game 3 essentially becomes a must-win affair.
Not all 0-2 deficits are created equal, either: the 1-8 matchups in both conferences have been more competitive during their first two games than the 2-7 matchups, and the Toronto Raptors made themselves an extra special type of 0-2 deficit by losing their first two games at home.
How can these teams get back into the series? Here are a few keys to help these teams win Game 3 and give themselves a chance to stay competitive beyond that as well.
Boston Celtics (down 0-2 to the Cleveland Cavaliers) – Take advantage of the Cavs’ ebbs in energy.
During each of the first two games of the series, Boston has jumped out to early leads during periods in which Cleveland hasn’t appeared to be totally dialed-in. The problem has been the Celtics’ inability to not only build on these leads, but sustain them for any threatening period of time.
Boston has yet to hold a second-half lead in this series because the Cavs have half-heartedly flicked away every run the Celtics have made early on. If Boston wants to have any hope of making Cleveland uncomfortable and getting them on the ropes, they’re going to have to take better advantage of their lulls in energy and play early in the games, when the Cavs have appeared to take their time getting focused.
Toronto Raptors (down 0-2 to the Washington Wizards) – Play better defense.
There’s no team in deeper trouble than the Raptors. The team has failed to live up to the bold trash talk of their general manager, and they’ve failed to hold the North from the Wizards’ attack.
In Game 1, Toronto was lucky to see overtime, getting some good bounces en route to a comeback in the fourth quarter before Washington held them to just a couple buckets during the extra period. In Game 2, the Raptors took an early lead, but once the Wizards made a second-quarter run, the game was never close again.
Quite simply, the Raptors need to play better defense. Game 1 was a much slower affair, and Toronto was able to force Washington to see overtime. In Game 2, when the Wizards wanted to open things up, the Raptors let them get away with it. John Wall picked up easy buckets in transition for himself and others, and once that team got going, there was no stopping them. If Toronto wants to get their home-court advantage back, they need to make Washington uncomfortable at home, and go full-on Thibodeau-style Bulls with slower, deliberate, defense-first style.
OK, maybe not quite that extreme, but the Raptors will be home in four games if they continue at the level they’ve played.
New Orleans Pelicans (down 0-2 to the Golden State Warriors) – Keep feeding Anthony Davis and beat the Warriors’ bench.
Davis has been as terrific as anyone could have hoped during his first playoff series, and he has been the biggest reason the Pelicans have been able to hang around this Warriors team.
In Game 2, though, surely they couldn’t help but feel like they let one get away, as Golden State was able to build a lead even when Curry was taking his rest during the first half. Much like the case of the Celtics and Cavs, those are the types of moments that underdog teams need to take advantage of and try to chip away at leads when the superior teams are without their best players.
Davis is New Orleans’ best player, and although they need him to continue performing at his superstar level, he could benefit from some easier opportunities. Draymond Green did a terrific job not only defending Davis in Game 2, but also in making him work for everything and wearing him down during the course of the game. Every bit of energy conservation counts for players like Davis, who has hardly left the court during this series. He probably won’t much in the next games either.