The National Basketball Association was staring at the specter of two series sweeps in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Toronto Raptors entered the postseason with high hopes, securing the No. 1 seed for the first time in franchise history. Would this be the first time they also got over the hump against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers? The Philadelphia 76ers fans have trusted 'The Process', and they were rewarded with an outstanding regular season and first round series win. However, they might be golfing soon unless things turn around in a hurry. Let's get started!
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Philadelphia 76ers 103, Boston Celtics 92:
Philly fans in the Twittersphere appeared to disagree with head coach Brett Brown, who sent Robert Covington to the bench and replacing him in the starting lineup with T.J. McConnell. Covington had been struggling, going 0-for-14 from the field between Games 1 and 3, but for some reason Philly fans didn't trust the undrafted guard who had been a starter for 68 games over the past two seasons. Cold takes exposed showed the fans were wrong, and Brown was right, as McConnell dumped in a career-high 19 points.
McConnell hit 9-of-12 from the field while adding 1-of-1 from behind the 3-point line over his 39 minutes and he added seven rebounds and five assists with no turnovers and a plus-18 rating over his 39 minutes. Covington, meanwhile, continued his struggles against the Celtics, going 1-of-7 from the floor in his 19 minutes off the bench and he racked up a quick four personal fouls. Based on the results of the lineup change you can likely expect McConnell to be plugged back into the starting five for Game 5, with the ice-cold Covington again coming off the bench. As such, McConnell will be a solid mid-tier DFS value, even if he tails off a bit.
McConnell wasn't the only story, as Ben Simmons racked up a double-double with 19 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and two steals over 33 minutes while Joel Embiid ended up with a game-best plus-22 rating while posting 15 points, 13 rebounds and two assists while dumping in a pair of triples. Dario Saric doesn't get the headlines of Embiid and Simmons, and he isn't as well known to the casual fan. But he is a huge part of Philly's success, and he was sharp in this one. He actually finished with a team-best 25 points with eight rebounds, four assists, a steal and a blocked shot over 39 minutes.
The solid play of Embiid, McConnell, Saric and Simmons made up for the struggles of J.J. Redick, who was just 3-of-11 from the floor and 1-of-7 from the floor. Redick was poor at the free-throw line, too, misfiring on each of his two attempts. The bench will certainly need to contribute more, too, as Covington wasn't the only one blowing chunks off the pine. Covington, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova were the only three Sixers to attempts shots off the bench and they ended up a combined 5-of-24, including 2-of-10 from behind the 3-point line. That simply will not do on the road in Beantown if the Sixers wish to play another game in the City of Brotherly Love.
The only thing that went remotely well for the Celtics was their ability to block shots. They combined to swat 10 shots, including three from Al Horford. The big man ended up with 10 points and 10 rebounds for the only double-double among Boston players. Jayson Tatum scored a team-high 20 points over his 36 minutes, while Marcus Morris also posted 17 points off the bench. The Philly native was a major irritant, too, getting into a dustup with Embiid, flashing a 3-0 signal at one point with his hand, which the Philly center took exception to. The shoving match resulted in double technicals for the two combatants. Morris was playing in front of his twin brother Markieff Morris of the Washington Wizards. Shane Larkin (shoulder) left the game early and his status for Game 5 is uncertain.
The series will now shift back to Boston for Game 5, giving Philly native and comedian Kevin Hart another chance to attend a road game. In his last trip to the Bay State his private plane blew a tire upon landing at Logan.
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Cleveland Cavaliers 128, Toronto Raptors 93:
LeBron suffered his first-ever loss in Game 1 of the opening round against the Indiana Pacers, and Victor Oladipo and company took The King to the mat in a seven-game nail-biter. Fans figured there might be more of the same against the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but the Raptors will need to wait at least one more year before trying to dethrone The King and his merry band of Cavs.
For the third consecutive season the Cavaliers dispatched the Raptors from the playoffs and to the golf course, and it was the second straight four-game series sweep of the Raps by the Cavs. It happens a lot in the NBA. Michael Jordan's Bulls used to keep this Cavaliers franchise down. MJ's Chicago teams had a difficult time getting past the Detroit Pistons back in the day. The Raps are a fine team, but they have to come up with another plan if they want to become the kings of the Eastern Conference. Everyone has a nemesis, and this is how rivalries develop. Perhaps no one more than 'We The North' will be hoping LeBron changes zip codes in the offseason, hopefully to a Western Conference club.
LeBron dumped in 29 points with 11 assists and eight rebounds, flirting with a triple-double in the laugher. He hit 12-of-19 from the floor, and perhaps the only thing that didn't go right was his 0-for-3 mark from behind the arc and his 5-of-8 night from the charity stripe. And everyone loves to compare LeBron to Jordan, and here's another comparison. James entered Game 4 with 348 points in the first 10 games of the postseason, second-most in NBA history to Jordan's 354 in the first 10 playoff games in 1992. All five starters were plus-22 or better, and Kevin Love really stepped up his game in the clincher by going for 23 points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots. Love reached 500 rebounds for his career in the playoffs, joining LeBron, Tristan Thompson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas as the only members of the club in Cavaliers franchise history.
George Hill was also instrumental in the team's success, hitting a very efficient 5-of-8 from the field while going for 12 points, five assists and three rebounds over 29 minutes. J.R. Smith also came up big with a perfect 6-of-6 night from the field, ending up with 15 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals while adding three triples. Even Larry Nance was hot off the pine, going 4-of-4 for eight points and a pair of blocked shots in six minutes.
The most memorable moment of the blowout might have been a Flagrant 2 call on DeMar DeRozan, as he swatted at the head of Jordan Clarkson after a steal and attempted layup. It resulted in an early shower for DeRo, who finished with just 13 points in 33 minutes. He was absent in the fourth quarter in all games during the series, and he never even made it to the final quarter in this one. Clarkson ended up not being hurt, although he did lose a contact on the play.
It was a shocking way for the season to wrap up for the Raps. They didn't lose three straight during the regular season, but they were dumped in four in a row against their archrivals.
* Utah at Houston - TNT - 8:00 PM
* New Orleans at Golden State - TNT - 10:30 PM
Injury note for Tuesday:
The Jazz will be trying to extend their season and bring the series back to Salt Lake City, but they'll have to do so with the services of Dante Exum (hamstring) and Ricky Rubio (hamstring). As such, you'll probably want decent exposure to Royce O'Neale in DFS, especially since he'll carry a very low price tag while logging big minutes.