Everyone was excited for round two of the playoffs and rightfully so, great match ups, great series and all the best NBA players (sorry LeBron and Davis), but never in our wildest dreams did we think we would get two game 7’s that went down to the buzzer. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present Denver Nuggets v Portland Trailblazers and Toronto Raptors v Philadelphia 76ers: Game 7 edition.
Denver Nuggets (3-4) v Portland Trailblazers (4-3): 100 to 96
For the first time since 2000, the Trailblazers are heading to the Western Conference Finals.
I want to start by saying what a close game (well at least in the second half). The blazers overcame a 15 point deficit to win a huge game 7.
Dame Lillard continued his slump, he hit 3 shots and had 13 points BUT he had 3 steals, 8 assists and 10 rebounds. What’s more, he reminded us why he is a true leader. When the game was on the line, a selfish superstar would take that final shot, take the ball out of CJ McCollum’s hands and take some ridiculous three pointer (and knowing Dame, he would have sunk it). But Dame didn’t do that. Instead the entire Blazers team spaced the floors so that CJ could play iso, get to his spot and ice the game. This is the Portland Trailblazers and this is why Dame Time is their glorious leader.
Overall the Blazers just played better and had more fire power than Denver, despite shooting 4-26 from three. CJ was phenomenal, shooting 17-29 with 37 points and had a block that was heard around the nation. Rodney Hood (who has had a terrific series) went down and you thought Portland were all but done and then Evan Turner (he still plays for them) emerges from the ashes. They put him on Paul Millsap and Turner effectively shut Paul down. Turner had 14 points, 8 of which from the line and provided the hustle and spark from the bench that took Portland over the line. Kanter had a double-double, Zach Collins played pretty decent defence against Jokic.
The problem for the Nuggets is: who is their third scorer. Jokic was incredible as per usual (29 points, 4 blocks and 13 rebounds) but Murray, currently their second offensive option, was a bit off (despite his jumper in the final minute of the fourth that kept Denver in it). He was 4-18 with 17 points but this is the problem. Denver didn’t really have much other help. Garry Harris was great (7-11 for 15 points) but he a defensive not offensive force. Paul Millsap was shut down (3-13), they had no help from the bench and couldn’t hit a 3 (2-19).
So in times of need, who do Denver go to for that offensive help. The honest answer is no one…yet.
Denver really need to think in the offseason about who they could bring in to help out on offense (Tobias Harris maybe), otherwise in a 7 game series they will be picked off, no matter how good Jokic is.
But for now, the Nuggets get to sit back and relax as they watch the rest of the finals from home as we back for Portland and hope that the Blazers can dethrone the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
Toronto Raptors (4-3) v Philadelphia 76ers (3-4): 92 to 90
I think we all forgot how good Kawhi Leonard was.
He had a season of rest pretty much last year (bar the 9 games he reluctantly played last season) and then in the regular season this year, he got a lot of rest (only played 60 games). We saw this season that he was pretty good but great? Well that we were unsure of during the regular season.
And we are so quick to forget greatness in this new age.
But today we remembered.
With four seconds left on the clock, Kawhi drives past the double team of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and shoots an off balance two in the corner over the 7’3 Embiid. The Ball clangs on the ring, it bounces around for what seems like years and then… it goes in.
This shot was probably the greatest thing to ever happen to Toronto.
Kawhi is now a hero (even if he leaves…well maybe).
This shot was what legends are made from.
Besides this shot, Game 7 overall was pretty darn great, well besides the first quarter (which was absolute garbage, with the final first quarter score being 18-13).
Kawhi took 39 shots and hit 16 (not great I know), but he needed every single one of those shots for his game winning 41 points. Even with triple teams on him, he played superbly (lest we forget how good he is on defence). He wasn’t afraid of the big lights. He was the Kawhi that Toronto had hoped would emerge from the ashes of the San Antonio Spurs and looking at this game, it is clear that Toronto won this trade (at least for now).
Unfortunately the rest of the Raptors did not set up to the bright lights of a game 7. Pascal Siakam was 4-11 and pretty much threw the ball away as soon as it touched his fingers. Danny Green only took 3 shots and hit one of them. Gasol was 3-8 (but killed Embiid on defence). Besides Serge Ibaka who was 6-10 (17 points), the rest of the Raptors were just eager to give the ball away, ideally to Kawhi and let Kawhi take it from there.
Lowry was 1-7 from three but his hustle on defence more than made up for it as did his team high six assists. Fred VanVleet was 0-5 and really needs to have a hard look at himself before he steps onto the court against the bucks.
Quite simply, the Raptors supporting cast did not pull their weight, but thankfully in this game they didn’t need to. The Claw came out and willed this team to a win. This is the Kawhi we all dreamed of.
Now lets talk about the 76ers.
Firstly, Embiid should never play that many minutes, 42 is about 10 too many. Jimmy Butler cannot be your best and go to offensive player in a Game 7. Your 6’10 point guard should not ever take only five shots and refuse to attack the rim and Greg Monroe should ALWAYS stay on the bench.
Sorry now that that’s off my chest, lets talk business. Brett Brown at the end of the game managed to get two (nearly three) shot clock violations. Sure, the Raptors had good defence BUT that should never happen. Not with two minutes left in game 7. That is unacceptable and that is squarely on his shoulders. Sorry Brett, I like you, but you are fired.
Ben Simmons attacked the basket for about one quarter and then went back to his passive ways, Embiid was killed by Gasol (as we expected) and hit 6-18 for 21 points. Butler was 5-14 with 16 points and despite a game tying lay up, should never be the one running the offense.
Quite simply: despite having the better starting five, the 76ers team does not work well together.
This team played all their starters 40 minutes or more, which I get (it is game 7) but they need more bench depth and currently their pieces do not complement each other, they need to shake it up and maybe even look to trading Simmons. We all know either Reddick (5-11 for 17 points, actually a decent game from him), Harris or Butler (or all three) are leaving in the offseason, so it is time to start thinking about how to make this team actually work.
When you trade all your bench for Butler and Harris (and Boban I guess), you need to make at least the conference finals to make it worthwhile. I think looking back, Clippers definitely won that trade and the 76ers need to go back to the salary cap drawing board.
The 76ers have a lot of thinking to do, while us basketball lovers get what will be a phenomenal and close series between the Raptors and Bucks, I am salivating already!