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Tuesday’s NBA Playoff Scores, Takeaways: Thunder Seeks Out Mavs;  Celtic’s depth shines
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Tuesday’s NBA Playoff Scores, Takeaways: Thunder Seeks Out Mavs; Celtic’s depth shines

By Anthony Slater, Tim Cato, Jared Weiss, Jay King and Joe Vardon

The Boston Celtics easily handled the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 on Tuesday, even with superstar center Jayson Tatum having an off night. Meanwhile, the Dallas Mavericks were eliminated next their superstar Luka Dončić fought against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

This is what we saw.

Thunder 117, Mavericks 95

Series: Thunder leads 1-0

Game 2: 9:30 PM ET Thursday in Oklahoma City (ESPN)

Thunder create distance in second half after adjusting rotation

The Thunder’s Game 1 win over the Mavericks turned around midway through the third quarter. Coach Mark Daigneault quickly subbed Isaiah Joe for Josh Giddey after the Mavericks cut a nine-point halftime lead to one.

Giddey does a lot for the Thunder, but his presence grates on the floor and his jersey was off. Joe, a floor spacer, made a 3 on his first possession. Luguentz Dort, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chet Holmgren followed with 3s as part of a 14-4 run in Joe’s first three minutes on the floor. OKC sprinted away.

As this series progresses, Giddey’s minutes will be important to keep track of. He started but played only 17 minutes in Game 1 and was minus-7. Joe was a plus-12 in his 15 bench minutes.

Cason Wallace hit two threes and guarded well. Aaron Wiggins was perhaps the Thunder’s third-best player despite starting the night as the 10th man: 16 points in 19 minutes, plus several hustle plays. As future matches tighten, Daigneault’s final lineup will be under a microscope.

Jalen Williams seemed to wake up after three horrible quarters and what appeared to be a calf bleach. He was 2-of-11 shooting but exploded for 10 straight points on an early fourth-quarter surge to seal it. If the Mavericks get more from Dončić and Kyrie Irving – 39 points on 33 shots, nine turnovers – the Thunder will need a steadier Williams for the duration of the game, not just a spurt.

Gilgeous-Alexander led OKC in the first half, taking advantage of a tight whistle. He had 19 points through the first two quarters and made his way to the free throw line 11 times. Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 29 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

The Dallas Bigs struggled to defend him without making mistakes. The Mavericks tried to go small down the stretch. It didn’t work, but it was striking that Jason Kidd tried, even without the injured Maxi Kleber. – Anthony Slater

Luka is still not right

As of Tuesday, the Mavericks had not won a Game 1 in the four series in which Kidd has been head coach. The team’s loss to Oklahoma City made it five.

On one hand, Dallas came back to win three of those four series. The team has shown that it can adapt in the subsequent games of a close series. But no adjustment on the floor can address the team’s main concern arising from Tuesday’s defeat: that Dončić was once again far from his usual attacking self.

He injured his knee in Game 3 of the team’s previous series, against the LA Clippers, an injury that caused him to briefly retire to the locker room before returning. He didn’t miss any significant time, but Dončić admitted before Game 5 that he probably would have sat out if it had been the regular season. He said again before Tuesday’s game that the injury would likely not improve until he was rested this summer.

Dončić has shot 46 of 120 from the field since that injury. He shot particularly poorly behind the three-point line (8 of 49), despite having his best shooting season ever this year and finishing with more made threes than anyone except Stephen Curry. He appears to move sideways, but struggles with an explosion.

There are two options: Both teams deal with the player who has baffled defenses since he entered the league six years ago and who entered this postseason with the highest playoff per-game average for any player not Michael Jordan is called. Or his knee is affecting him, something no Game 1 adjustment can fix. – Tim Cato

Series: Celtics lead 1-0

Game 2: 7:00 PM ET Thursday in Boston (ESPN)

Tatum struggles, but an unexpected hero emerges

The Celtics opening a 20-point lead has become an everyday occurrence this season, and it didn’t stop against a team that had all of its playmakers healthy. Miami lacked a ton of offensive firepower in the first round, so it wasn’t a shock to see the Heat fall so far behind. But given the way Celtic’s second unit played in Game 1 of the second round, Cleveland may find itself in a similar situation.

With Kristaps Porziņģ out, Luke Kornet was huge (four points, 10 rebounds, two blocks) and stepped into the rotation. The Cavs will need to take Kornet off the edge if they want to score consistently in this series.

Tristan Thompson got the backup center minutes in place of Georges Niang, so will Cleveland look to give as much space as possible next game? The Cavs need to do something to get Darius Garland going, as Donovan Mitchell (33 points) and Evan Mobley (17 points, 13 rebounds) can’t play much better offensively than they did in Game 1.

On the other side of the room, Joe Mazzulla had the ideal scenario. Thought Tatum was struggling to score (18 points on 7-of-19 shooting), Jaylen Brown and Derrick White stepped up and were on fire (32 and 25 points, respectively).

If there’s anyone you can trust to find his way onto the series, it’s Tatum. The Celtics want him to keep his pace and steadily find his rhythm so he doesn’t overextend himself. Their hope is that he gains momentum as they get closer to the conference finals. –Jared Weiss

Derrick White’s shooting lights Celtics on fire

During a press conference last week, a reporter asked White if he had come back to Earth after a big game against the Miami Heat.

“I don’t think I left Earth,” White replied.

Maybe that’s because he’s been flying in space all this time. After averaging 26.3 points per game through the final three games of the first round, White practiced seven three-point attempts in Game 1 of the second. He finished with 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting, including a 7-for-12 effort from downtown, as Boston was able to maintain a double-digit lead for most of the second half.

Tatum did not play an efficient offensive game. The Celtics defense didn’t always operate at top intensity. Mitchell went off for 33 points on 12-of-25 shooting. Boston still held a commanding lead for much of the game, largely because White buried outside shot after outside shot.

Once a doubtful shooter, he now has complete confidence. Based on his performance all season, he should. It will take a huge defensive effort to slow the Celtics’ offense if White can remain in his rocket ship for the rest of the postseason. – Jay King

Cavs continued to shoot rightly, but again no shots were fired

So apparently there’s more going on than just shooting a bunch of 3s.

In their series opener with the Celtics, the Cavs actually reached the magic number of 40 three-point attempts (they attempted 42 after hitting 40 midway through the fourth quarter).

They were blown away anyway.

The backstory to this, of course, is in mid-December when things seemed so bleak for Cleveland due to a slow start and both Garland and Mobley were on the verge of missing two months. The Cavs shocked the NBA by posting the best record in history. the competition from then until the All-Star break. They did it by spreading the floor and firing an obscene amount of 3s, and they slowly slipped away from that style as the season progressed and Mobley returned to the lineup.

Cleveland doesn’t have much choice but to play like this while Jarrett Allen is out; he missed his fourth straight playoff game with a rib injury. But it didn’t work against Boston.

First, the Cavs continued their woeful outside shooting from last series, making just 11 of their 3s (after shooting about 28 percent from deep against the Magic). Second, the Celtics play small, with essentially three guards, Tatum and one big. They lead the league in 3s and were 18 of 46 on Tuesday.

The one-in, four-out style fits this Boston group perfectly. Just stand on the edge and bomb until the defenders dare to come out. If they do, Tatum, Brown, White and Jrue Holiday can put him on the ground and drive past their man.

We won’t know what kind of series this will be until Game 3, when we see how the Cavs fare at home. The last playoff game this franchise won on the road was here, in Boston, six years ago: Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. There’s no reason to suspect this streak will end Thursday, barring a lack of focus on the Celtics’ part or a sudden change in Cleveland’s shooting percentage.

That’s why Game 3 is the litmus test. In the meantime, Mitchell became the fourth player in NBA history to score at least 30 in six consecutive Game 1s. His 33 points follow the 89 he scored in Games 6 and 7 against the Magic. Mobley’s 17 points and 13 boards were nice, but the Cavs couldn’t get enough from their bench or Max Strus (2-of-8 shooting). —Joe Vardon

(Top photo of Jalen Williams: Joe Murphy / NBAE via Getty Images)