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LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard will take center stage in the NBA playoffs Monday after all the series openers are in the books.
The best two-way players in the league are looking to give their respective teams 2-0 series leads, though each took different routes to get their first postseason wins this year.
The Cavs barely dodged the upsets that opened two other playoff series on Saturday, not that James is thinking about how close Cleveland came to losing its opener against Indiana. All that matters this time of year is winning, which is all the Cavaliers have done in the first round since James returned to Cleveland.
San Antonio, the only higher seed that won easily Saturday, goes for a 2-0 lead against Memphis in the other game on Monday’s schedule.
Whether it was first-game jitters or evenly matched opponents, it wasn’t easy for the favorites Saturday. Third-seeded Toronto was overwhelmed by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 28 points and blown out 97-83 by Milwaukee, while the No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers were edged 97-95 by Utah on Joe Johnson’s basket as time expired.
The Cavaliers escaped with a 109-108 victory when C.J. Miles missed a jumper at the buzzer.
James refused to allow himself to consider the consequences if Miles, a notorious “Cavs killer” who has had several big games against his former team, had knocked down his shot.
“If I didn’t get that block last year in the Finals, what happens?” James said when asked how the Cavs would have handled a loss. “There’s so many (hypotheticals). You can’t look at a game like that. He missed, we won. So if it’s not a rain delay in Cleveland here in the World Series, then we win the World Series? Listen, you can’t ask that question, man.
“It is what it is.”
The Cavaliers improved to 9-0 in the first round since the return of James, who had 32 points, 13 assists and six rebounds.
San Antonio looked as if it might be in trouble — for 10 minutes. But Leonard seized control of the game at both ends, finishing with 32 points as the Spurs overcame their early 13-point deficit to beat the Grizzlies 111-82.
The Spurs blew it open with a 19-0 run over the third and fourth quarters, shutting out Grizzlies guard Mike Conley in the second half.
“I just try to do something on the defensive end,” Leonard said. “At that time, they were making every shot. When they go up and they’re shooting at 75 percent in those first couple of minutes, you have to put your hat on the defensive end.”