Today’s NBA action was shaping up to be a cracker, as three teams that were upset at home by their playoff counterparts looked for redemption on the road. There was a lot to be learned from the pivotal game 3’s, and only one game was a true blowout. While the Warriors did what they should have and the Sixers lifted in Embiid’s absence, there is real concern starting to build in Denver.
Let’s start on the East coast.
Brooklyn Nets (1-2) v Philadelphia 76ers (2-1): 115 to 131
The Nets have a real chance in this series with Embiid missing time. If the injury to his knee is something that will keep him out of the series or at least hamper him for it, there is an Achilles heel the Nets could expose going forward.
But they may have poked the bear in Ben Simmons.
It was clear in the lead up to this game that the Nets were trying to get in the head of Simmons. Jared Dudley told the media that he thought Simmons was an average half court player, posters appeared in Brooklyn inquiring as to the whereabouts of his jumpshot, and the Nets fans every mistake/foul he made.
But he didn’t make many mistakes today, scoring 31 on 11/13 shooting along with 9 assists and a stellar defensive performance (3 blocks and 2 steals). Simmons stepped smoothly into the role of main man in Embiid’s absence, pushing the tempo on every opportunity and keeping the Nets on their back foot constantly.
Harris’ 29 and 16 and Redick’s 26 are also indicators that an accelerated pace could be beneficial for the Sixers’ in this series, so long as they are able to keep the same intensity on the defensive end.
The other key to this series is in the centre spot Embiid left behind. Total disclosure, I thought the Nets would take this game. It’s hard to replace a defensive stalwart and low poster banger like Embiid, which opens up opportunities for Jarrett Allen to make key help defensive plays and excel as a shot blocker at the rim.
But Boban is a big boy, being able to put Allen’s head under the rim on almost every position, widening the driving lanes for Simmons, Harris and Butler for drive and kick/finish opportunities in the paint. Boban posted a 14 and 8 in 18 minutes and was a +18 on the floor. Some key offensive rebounds and deep seals really made it a tough day at the office for Allen.
LeVert and Russell put up 26 apiece, but if the Nets can’t figure out how to manage the size, speed and shooting of the Sixers attack, they will be in a lot of trouble going forward.
And if Simmons keeps his edge, the Sixers could be a major threat in the East.
Next game @ Nets: Sunday (21/4) at 5am AEST
Los Angeles Clippers (1-2) v Golden State Warriors (2-1): 105 to 132
When the Warriors built their lead up to 30, they did not relent like they did in game 2.
Durant in particular looked incredibly focussed, and like he was enjoying the challenge of facing a strong defensive team who try hard every possession. Durant finished with 38 points on 14/23 shooting with 7 assists. Durant posted 27 points in the first half and was definitely making a point to be aggressive offensively in the Staples Centre.
Curry ran into foul trouble in this one, putting up 21 points in 20 minutes. Klay was also quiet with 12 points on 5/11 shooting. Iguodala was able to supplement some scoring off the pine for the Warriors with 15 points and Looney followed suit with another 10.
Despite strong scoring performances off the loaded Clippers bench from Lou Will (16 points), Montrez Harrell (15) and Jamychal Green (15), along with a 18 point 15 board performance from Zubac, the Clippers couldn’t keep up with the Warriors offensively.
No surprises in Staples today and it’s likely the stunner in Oracle in game 2 will be all the real fight the Clippers can put up against the defending champs in this series.
Next Game @ Clippers: Monday (22/4) at 5:30am AEST
San Antonio Spurs (2-1) v Denver Nuggets (1-2): 118 to 108
I’m going on record: The Spurs are winning this series.
Jokic put forward a respectable performance for he Nuggets, posting a line of 22-8-7 in a losing effort on the road. It’s also interesting that the 7 assists may be the most impressive part of that line, as the Spurs sparingly doubled the big man down low and made him a 1 on 1 scorer. 8/14 shooting from The Joker is good, but not great, which is what he needs to do for the Nuggets to get over the line.
Widely inconsistent play from Murray and Harris has been a concern for Denver all year, with no clear number 2 to Jokic emerging even now in late April. Murray only mustered 6 points, while Harris shot 4/13 to post only 12. Malik Beasley emerged as the second best scorer and best rebounder on the day for the Nuggets with 20 and 9.
Not having a clear number 2 can work…..and it did for the Spurs today. The difference is that the Spurs have two players who are consistently brilliant and a litany of valuable system players who can produce on any given night.
Derozan got his 25 and Aldridge was steady with 18 and 11. But it was Derrick White who was the difference maker, erupting for an impressive 36 point performance. This is the beauty of Pop, knowing that there would be significant attention on shutting down Derozan and Aldridge, the Spurs turned to their third man to be the difference maker.
The Nuggets have a deep back court of capable players. But their inconsistency and inexperience could (and I predict, will) doom them against a well tempered Spurs outfit.
It’s really a poor match up for Denver, as they find themselves against the only team who does what they do better than them. Unless the young backcourt in Denver can take a much needed leap, the Nuggets will be heading home sooner than initially expected.
Next game @ Spurs: Sunday (21/4) at 7:30am AEST