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Home teams down 0-1 face challenge, but also opportunity

By Matt Moore | NBA writer

It's time. (USATSI)
Three teams face must-wins Tuesday. (USATSI)

More playoffs: Playoff schedule, results | Court Vision | Tuesday's games

On Monday, the Clippers set things straight. After a wacky Game 1 in which Stephen Curry had more shots than points and Blake Griffin only played 19 minutes, LA evened the series with a vengeance. Whether Game 1 was an outlier due to foul trouble or Game 2 was simply the Warriors conceding after getting the split on the road they needed, the result is the same. The Clippers righted the ship headed back to the Bay.

Now three teams have the same chance on Tuesday. The options are simple.

Restore order or activate panic.

In Indiana, the panic is palpable. It is a tangible fog that rests on the Pacers' shoulders. They are desperate in every sense of the word, but the more desperate their situation has become over the past six weeks, the worse they have played. Atlanta doesn't enjoy a tremendous homecourt advantage, but if they were to take Game 2, it would mean the Pacers simply don't match up with the Hawks. And the odds of figuring things out down 0-2 are slim. The Pacers don't seem mentally or emotionally stable to recover if that happens. They're on the cliff.

But win ... and now all of a sudden Game 1 was a blip. Yes, the Hawks match up, but the Pacers are the No. 1 seed in the East. A win and they can feel like Game 1 was nothing more than their failure to figure themselves out. In other words, if they figure themselves out, it doesn't matter what the Hawks do.

In Toronto, it's desperation time. The Raptors spent all season trying to prove they belonged here. From bottom feeder to playoff team, from playoff team to division winner, from division winner to third seed. The Raptors squandered a raucous crowd when they seemed overwhelmed by the moment in Game 1. You can talk about Brooklyn's experience, but Toronto is better than they played in Game 1.

(So are the Nets, who missed a metric ton of 3s.)

Amir Johnson was non-existent, DeMar DeRozan was perplexed and overwhelmed. Toronto played disconnected, which is not its identity. They have, as a franchise, a city prepared to raise them on their shoulders just for winning a series. Win Game 2, and the momentum is back, and no one's scared of playing in Brooklyn. (Piped-in crowd noise isn't intimidating.) Toronto can right itself and earn a chance to get back to the maple leaf, but the Raptors have to win Tuesday.

The Bulls have to get angry. They came into the playoffs with a small amount of entitlement. Every publication in the country was writing about them as "the team no one is writing about." They are the darlings of narrative and those that liked perceived effort over flawless execution. And Washington smacked them in the face in Game 1.

Joakim Noah kept screaming in Game 1. Trying to get the energy level where it needed to be. But the Wizards kept the energy in the game on a string, leading it behind them at a safe distance. But this team is better than Washington. The Wizards' better is better than the Bulls' better because the Bulls' better can't shoot. But the Bulls are able to hit their better-level more consistently.

Win, and Game 1 becomes an annoyance, a blip on their radar. Lose, and it's effectively proof the Bulls are not constructed for the playoffs. That their offense is too much of a hindrance for them to advance. It doesn't mean that the Bulls would be eliminated, Washington could easily blow a 2-0 lead. But it means they're going to be in a serious fight against the five-seed who is only the five-seed because Brooklyn wanted the sixth.

It's not hard to figure out that going down 0-2 is a serious enough concern to make this a must-win for the home teams. But it should also be seen as an opportunity. They blew the chance to feel great going into Game 3. But Game 2 is a chance to restore order and make a statement. One way or another, the home teams will say something about themselves Tuesday night.

 
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