WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT
Blakely: Here come the (free) agents of change
Every team that’s still left standing in the East, has more at stake in their second-round series than simply moving on to the next round of the playoffs.
All four of the teams remaining in the East have at least one prominent free agent-to-be whose play has been instrumental in getting them to this point and truth be told, may be playing their final games with their current team.
Kyrie Irving once committed to re-sign with Boston, and later seemed to sway from that position to the point where nobody knows what he’ll do.
Kawhi Leonard is far from a lock to return to Toronto after being traded there from San Antonio.
Philly’s Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler could be on the move as well, although it’s likely the Sixers will manage to retain at least one of them.
So as much as this time of year is about winning games, there are a few organizations who, while certainly wanting to do that at a high level, are just as consumed by winning over top-shelf talent.
Forsberg: God Dame!
OH MY GOODNESS, DAME LILLARD.
This man didn’t just will his team back from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit. He didn’t just hit one of the most absurd game-winners in playoffs history to cap a 50-point night. Damian Lamonte Ollie Lillard literally waved goodbye to the Thunder in the immediate aftermath of his winning shot, making it one of the most bad-ass celebrations these eyes have seen.
Then the Blazers’ Twitter account came in from the top rope, tweeting, “Next question,” with a picture of the final score.
Listen, Lillard was having himself a night but the Thunder went on a 30-6 run and opened a 105-90 lead with under eight minutes to play. It only set the stage for the absurd finish.
I’m not sure we appreciate Lillard’s game enough out here. Maybe it’s because the Blazers play out west and aren’t a marquee team with a bunch of national regular-season TV games. Regardless, Lillard has put up Kyrie-like numbers this season and we sometimes forget to include him in the conversation about the league’s best guards.
Last night was a reminder that Dame is a cold-blooded killer. In a series full of bad blood, he had ice water in his veins pulling up from 37 feet with Paul George directly in his face.
While we’re here: What the heck does Oklahoma City do now? That’s three straight first-round exits in the post-Durant era and only four wins to show for their efforts in those series. Russell Westbrook keeps averaging triple-doubles, George was an MVP candidate for much of the 2018-19 season, and yet this team can’t even get out of Round 1 against a team it swept in the regular season.
We should also mention that Jusuf Nurkic’s “Got Bricks? Next Question” T-shirt was pretty savage as well.
Nurkic's shirt is amazing pic.twitter.com/fwjIZXLRB8— Justin Phan (@jphanned) April 24, 2019
Elsewhere, it was Yawn City watching the Raptors and Sixers polish off their series.. … I really thought the Spurs had upset potential against Denver but, when Jamal Murray is making shots and Nikola Jokic is spraying the ball around the gym, Denver looks more the part of a top seed.
SO... THAT HAPPENED
NUMBER OF NOTE
34 -- Damian Lillard's point total in the first half -- more than Russell Westbrook and Paul George combined.
THEY SAID IT...
“It was quite a performance”
-- Portland head coach Terry Stotts, in the understatement of understatements when describing Damian Lillard’s 50-point performance that included a 37-footer with no time left.
“We think we can win it all."
-- 76ers center Joel Embiid, as Philly tries to win its first NBA title since 1983
- Toronto 115, Orlando 96 (TOR wins series 4-1)
- 76ers 122, Nets 100 (PHI wins series 4-1)
- Nuggets 108, Spurs 90 (DEN leads series 3-2)
- Trail Blazers 118, Thunder 115 (POR wins series 4-1)
WHAT WE'LL BE WATCHING
Blakely: Rest versus rhythm
The Celtics aren’t overly concerned about getting too much rest between their first and second round series, and you know what? They shouldn’t be worried.
The way they were playing in the first-round series against the Pacers, Boston was getting stronger as the series went on, building the kind of momentum that they would love to carry into the next round of play.
Judging by the increased number of ice bags and heating pads you see players donning before, during and after games, there’s no question that rest will do the bodies of many Celtics players a lot of good.
But will the downtime lead to some downright awful shooting or defense by the Celtics?
Because they really need to hit the ground running and try and steal home-court advantage at the first opportunity they get.
And that opportunity becomes much more real if the Celtics get the kind of rest they are sure to receive in the days between their first and second-round series.
Forsberg: Bring on the Conference Finals
Much like it simply felt inevitable that the Raptors and SIxers were going to win their series, there’s an even stronger sense of “Just get this over with!” as the Rockets and Warriors look to close out at home on Wednesday night.
We all want to see Rockets-Warriors. It’s the Conference Finals one round early. The Jazz put together a scrappy Game 4 win to avoid the sweep but we all know what’s coming this weekend. These teams need to take care of business because all these second-round matchups are far juicier than a lot of these Round 1 snoozefests.
Then again, with at least four more days until the Celtics and Bucks tip their series, we probably ought to savor whatever basketball we can get at this point.
- Jazz at Rockets, Game 5 (HOU leads series 3-1) -- 8:00pm, TNT
- Clippers at Warriors, Game 5 (GS leads series 3-1) -- 10:30pm, TNT
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