There’s only one game anyone cared about today. This is with the deepest apologies to Nuggets/Spurs as it heads into game 6. The Blazers/OKC game was amazing, rich with story and with a conclusion befitting of a multi-season HBO drama (#TeamSansa).
But like any good family dinner, we have to eat our meat and potatoes before moving to the sweet sweet dessert, so let’s talk about some other results first.
San Antonio Spurs (2-3) vs Denver Nuggets (3-2): 90 to 108
For a series that has been so close, it sure does have a very simple fact at the centre of it. It doesn’t really matter how any of the players on either team play, it only really matter how one guy plays.
Jamal Murray. Today he had a 23 and 7 game to give Nikola ‘I’m putting up Shaq playoff numbers right now please notice me’ Jokic the kind of secondary scoring and offensive production the Nuggets need to overcome the Spurs.
From there, the Nuggets can survive with a few barely in double digit performances, a breakout game from one of Morris/Beasley and on the back of their great defence, a hallmark of Mike Malone coached teams.
But again it all comes back to Murray. If Murray scores over 20, the Nuggets beat the Spurs (Murray in the three wins for the Nuggets: 24, 24, 23) and if he goes under 20, the Nuggets lose to the Spurs (Murray in two loses: 17 and 6).
So when the Nuggets go to San Antonio, the Nuggets need to make sure Murray is getting good looks and feeling good about making them. If he makes, then they move on to face Portland (yikes). If not, game 7 in Denver against a veteran Popovich team (double yikes).
If the Nuggets want to go to the Conference Finals they need to be at their best and they only achieve that if Murray takes the mantle of second best player to Jokic by force.
Next game @ Spurs: Friday (26/4) at 10am AEST
Toronto Raptors (4-1) vs Orlando Magic (1-4): 115 to 96
The first of our two ‘vegetables we feel like we have to eat but don’t enjoy’ games is this one.
Toronto finally and mercifully stomped out the Magic at home to set up a great Sixers/Raptors second round matchup. Leonard and Siakim combined for 51 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists to lead the way in a dominant close to a vaugely interesting series.
If it weren’t for the DJ Augustin game to start the series, this would have looked a lot more Bucks/Pistons on paper. But boy did it feel like Bucks/Pistons, as the Magic head into an offseason where everyone begs the question, ‘should the Magic trade almost everyone who isn’t under 24?’
Thankfully we don’t have to think about the Magic for a while as they head home to DisneyWorld to like their wounds.
Philadelphia 76ers (4-1) vs Brooklyn Nets (1-4): 122 to 100
Now this is how you make a 4-1 series loss seem like it mattered to your franchise.
The Nets fought hard, metaphorically and literally, to try and upset the Sixers in round one.
However as it turns out when you have a team consisting of a modern day Hakeem-lite, a modern day Magic Johnson-lite, a Jimmy Butler and a Tobias Harris, your team isn’t going to lose to D’Angelo Russell and the island of misfit toys.
Embiid in particular destroyed the Nets in this series, snuffing out Jay-Z’s team with a 23-13 performance that made Jarrett Allen look like a child. Solid, mid teens scoring and mid singles rebounding/assist performances from the rest of the Sixers key players (along with the shutting down of Russell to hold his scoring under 10) made it an easy game 5 win for the Sixers.
Save for a pointless fight between role players in the 4th, you could’ve skipped watching this game.
Again, more vegetables and no thrills. Give us the second round already.
Portland Trailblazers (4-1) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (1-4): 118 to 115
As promised, the sweet sweet dessert that was the 5th and surprisingly final game of the Trailblazers/Thunder series.
With 7:45 left in the game, the Thunder had a 105 to 90 edge over the at home Blazers. Lillard had 42 at that point, but it seemed like their offence had stalled due to the shooting struggles of C.J. McCollum and some missed three point opportunities.
But the Blazers came out of a timeout and started to exploit the fact the Oklahoma City weren’t guarding Maurice Harkless, who finished the game with 17 and 7 boards. This loosened up the offence for the Blazers and helped them claw back into the game in the last three minutes.
From there, fans were treated to some of the finest Playoff basketball we’ve had in the last few years, on par with any last three minutes of a series you can think of.
First, Lillard and Westbrook trade threes to make it a 6 point game. Then McCollum hits a banker with 1:39 left to cut the lead to 4.
Harkless free throws cut it to 2 before McCollum ties it with a jumper. George scores down the other end. Lillard comes back and ties it 115 to 115 (more importantly: gets the two for one opportunity guaranteeing them the last shot).
Then Westbrook throws up a contested Westbrook layup with 18.3 seconds left.
Then it was Lillard time.
For perspective for how huge this shot was other than how it looks:
- This sends OKC home for the year. Done, that’s it, goodbye, go fishing
- This is Lillard’s 10th three of the night, second most in a single game all time (one under Klay’s 11 from the infamous OKC/GSW game 6 that marked the end of another OKC era)
- It gave Lillard 50 for the game (active players to have 50 in a playoff game: LeBron, Russ, Dame).
- IT ELIMINATED OKC
- It gives Lillard his second series closing three pointer of his playoff career (Harden/Howard in Houston anybody?)
- Number 1 and 5 again
There’s also a lot of other things that aren’t facts to think about as a result of this shot. Do we have to apologise to Dame for not being more grateful to have him the last few years? Does Dame need to have a seperate three point line further away just for him? Did Dame just blow up the whole OKC franchise? Can Portland go to the Finals?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but what I do know is that Lillard just did one of the craziest things on a basketball court I’ve ever seen and we need to send him some kind of seperate trophy for being badass.