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Celtics, Thunder aim to extend series leads tonight on TSN

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Oklahoma City Thunder Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - The Canadian Press

The NBA playoffs roll on Wednesday night with a pair of games on the schedule.

Up first it’s the Boston Celtics hoping to take a 2-0 series lead over the Miami Heat after a physical Game 1. Next, Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder look to build on a narrow win in the series opener against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Watch the Heat and Celtics tip-off LIVE at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on TSN1, TSN4, and the TSN App. Immediately after, see the Thunder take on the Pelicans with TSN3 and TSN5 each joining in progress at 11:30 p.m. ET/8:30 p.m. PT.

The Celtics dominated in all areas Sunday, winning Game 1 114-94 while making a franchise playoff record 22 threes. Every Celtic who saw the court made at least one three-pointer, the first time in NBA history a team has accomplished that feat in a playoff game. Boston shot more efficiently and made 10 more threes than the Heat, at one point building a 34-point lead in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics’ shooting from deep was no aberration. Boston took an average of 42.5 threes per game during the regular season – three attempts more than any other team – and finished a close second to the Thunder (.389) in team three-point percentage (.388).

Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra knows the Heat may not be able to go punch for punch with Boston from deep, but also let on he thinks his team needs to close the gap.

"I understand the math to it: You don't want to lose in a certain area by 30 points," he said. "It's probably going to require some balance, because we're not going to bring them down to 25 [attempts], and we're not going to shoot 50 of them – that's not realistic."

The Celtics are looking to avenge a loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Final last season. After jumping out to a 3-0 series lead, Boston fought back, but were blown out on home court by Miami in Game 7, preventing the Celtics from reaching the Finals for the second consecutive year. But this year is different, perhaps for no reason bigger than the absence of star guard Jimmy Butler.

Butler injured his right knee during the Play-In Tournament and is expected to miss the entirety of the opening round. For a team that lost all three games to the Celtics during the regular season, including once by 33 points at home, Butler’s absence isn’t a good sign.

Regardless of who has the advantage, Game 2 should have some extra juice because of how the opener ended. Miami’s Caleb Martin undercut Jayson Tatum while he was leaping for a rebound, causing the Celtics star to crash hard to the floor. Jaylen Brown stepped in and confronted Martin, leading to a brief scrum that resulted in both Martin and Brown receiving double technical fouls.

“I see a guy go down, I’ve got my guy’s back — 10 times out of 10,” Brown said. “You can’t tell what’s what in the heat of the moment. But it looked like something a little extra, so I said something. But it looked like it was just basketball, it wasn’t intentional. So, we keep moving.”

The second game Wednesday sees the Pelicans and Thunder play Game 2 of their first-round series in Oklahoma City. New Orleans gave OKC all they could handle in the opener, with the top-seeded Thunder squeaking by 94-92.

Hamilton, Ont.’s Gilgeous-Alexander scored a crucial go-ahead bucket in the final minute, hitting a difficult double-clutch jumper and drawing the foul to put the Thunder up 93-90 with just over 30 seconds to go. An 11-footer from C.J. McCollum made it a one-point game, and the Pelicans had a chance to win the game on their final possession after OKC’s Chet Holmgren split a pair of free throws. Except McCollum’s game-winning attempt from three was just off, giving Game 1 to the Thunder.

"Obviously, that was a tight game. It was a bit of a brawl for both teams offensively. And we made plays defensively down the stretch — big time plays — and had the resolve to go in and win the game,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault told reporters.

Despite the game’s low-scoring feel, Gilgeous-Alexander still poured in a game-high 28 points just hours after the NBA announced him as one of the league’s three MVP finalists, alongside Denver’s Nikola Jokic and the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic.

The Thunder will need more than just their MVP candidate if they want to advance past the Pelicans and deep into the postseason. The Thunder were outrebounded by the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans 52-44 in Game 1, allowing New Orleans to attempt 11 more field goals. Each team made 37 shots in the game as OKC was more efficient from the field, shooting 43.5 per cent compared to 38.5 from the Pels.

Head coach Willie Green knows an offensive improvement is necessary from his team for them to even the series Wednesday evening.

“We had quality shots coming down the stretch that we just didn’t make, and it came down to the final play," the 42-year-old said. "Our guys fought all night. Defence was solid. Game plan was executed at a high level. We’ve got to knock down some shots.”