WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT
Kawhi goes off; Nuggets put away pesky Spurs
Kawhi Leonard gets major props for what he brings to the floor defensively, but it was his dominant showing offensively that has heads turning. He lit up the Sixers for 45 points in their Game 1 tilt, the kind of performance that reminds us all as to why the Raptors were so willing to roll the dice on having for what’s essentially a one-season rental with the possibility of re-signing him to a longer-term deal. Look for Philly to have Ben Simmons spend more time defending Leonard in Game 2. Along with scoring 14 points on 7-for-8 shooting, Simmons was one of the few Sixers who did a decent job defending Leonard.
As for the Nuggets, if you don’t know about Nikola Jokic by now … you will in the coming weeks. The footwork, court vision and overall feel for the game is unlike any big man going now. And in the most important game of the season, he was delivering on all levels before finishing with a triple-double of 21 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, not to mention three blocked shots and a steal for good measure.
And as the No. 2 seed in the West, they are living proof of how important the regular season can be to a team’s chances at postseason success.
There’s a good chance that the Nuggets don’t win this series if Game 7 wasn’t on their home floor. Not only did they feed off the energy from their fanbase, but those same fans were so loud that Spurs big man Lamarcus Aldridge could not hear his teammates or coaching staff telling him to foul down the stretch in an effort to extend the game. That allowed some precious seconds to tick off the game clock, helping Denver secure the series-clinching win.
To have a crowd so engaged was a far cry from where the franchise was when Mike Malone was hired four years ago.
"You looked in the stands, it was witness protection night," Malone told reporters of his early days as the team’s head coach. "There was nobody here. To see where we've come in four years, to being a team that won a Game 7 at home and advancing to the second round for the first time in a while, is incredible. It's almost surreal at times."
SO... THAT HAPPENED
NUMBER OF NOTE
81.3 percent -- Kawhi Leonard's 2-point shooting percentage in Game 1 (13-for-16). That's the highest 2-point FG% in a 45-point playoff game since at least 1984.
THEY SAID IT
“One? Alright. That was great!”
-- Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard, not the most loquatious baller in the association, responding to a one-question walk-off “interview” with TNT sideline reporter Ros Gold-Onwude.
- Raptors 108, 76ers 95 (TOR leads series 1-0)
- Nuggets 90, Spurs 86 (DEN wins series 4-3)
WHAT WE'LL BE WATCHING
“Playoff” Kyrie meets The MVP?
Of course we won’t see Kyrie Irving matched up against Giannis Antetokounmpo, but that won’t prevent much of the spotlight in this series being shined brightly upon the two All-Stars.
There’s no getting around how their individual play will dictate the direction this series takes. In the first round, Irving found a nice balance between when to dominate the game and when to be a decoy that allowed others (Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown for example) to step up into a more promiment, high-impact role.
Antetokounmpo has been the front-runner for the league’s MVP award for weeks, and his control was just as great during Milwaukee’s four-game sweep of the Pistons in the first round. Boston has an army of players who will spend time trying to limit Antetokounmpo or at least make the bevy of shots he takes tough as can be.
Not even the snowfall on Saturday here in Milwaukee (yes, snow in late-April; welcome to playoffs in the midwest!) can dampen the mood for what should be one of the better second-round pairings.
- Celtics at Bucks, Game 1 -- 1:00pm, ABC (Celtics Pregame Live on NBC Sports Boston at noon)
- Rockets at Warriors, Game 1 -- 3:30pm, ABC
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