After recapping Saturday’s action in the Association, which included Kawhi and the Raptors stomping the Sixers and Jokic powering Denver past San Antonio, we’ll look ahead to Sunday afternoon with a preview of Game 1 in the Warriors-Rockets and Bucks-Celtics series.
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Toronto Raptors 108, Philadelphia 76ers 95:
The Raptors simply out-classed the Sixers all night on Saturday, thanks in large part to an incredible performance from Kawhi Leonard.
Kawhi set a new playoff high, and tied a career-high, by pouring in 45 points. He did so in a remarkably efficient fashion, shooting 16-of-23 from the floor and 10-of-11 from the free-throw stripe. He also racked up 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block and three 3-pointers in 38 minutes. According to Basketball-Reference, Leonard is just the sixth player in NBA history to tally at least 45 points, ten rebounds and three made 3-pointers in a playoff game. The other five are Charles Barkley, LeBron James, Paul Millsap, Russell Westbrook and Dirk Nowitzki. This month has served as a solid reminder that Kawhi is still one of the five best basketball players on the planet.
Leonard wasn’t the only Raptor to make the most of his offensive opportunities in Game 1. Pascal Siakam was 12-of-15 from the field en route to 29 points, seven rebounds, one assist and three 3-pointers in 35 minutes. Siakam was very good for Toronto during the regular season, and will probably be awarded the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award for his efforts. However, he’s been great in the playoffs. Over the Raptors first six postseason contests, Siakam is averaging a whopping 23.7 points (on 57.1 percent shooting), 8.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 treys, and 0.7 blocks.
Heading into Saturday night, no player in Raptors franchise history had ever scored more than 40 points on fewer than 25 shots in a playoff game, and no player had scored more than 28 points on 15 or fewer shots. Then Kawhi scored 45 on 23 FG attempts. And Pascal Siakam scored 29 on 15 FG attempts. One last Kawhi/Siakam stat: They are the only two players in the league averaging over 23 points and seven boards, while also shooting over 55 percent from the floor.
Other than Siakam and Leonard, no other Raptor scored in double figures, but Toronto still cruised to the win. Kyle Lowry contributed nine points, eight assists, three rebounds, a steal, a block and a turnover. Marc Gasol had eight points, two boards and four dimes, but played excellent defense against Joel Embiid. Serge Ibaka also stymied Embiid when he was on the floor. Ibaka finished with seven points, six boards and two emphatic blocks in 19 minutes off the bench.
As noted above, Embiid struggled in the loss. He was 5-of-18 from the floor for 16 points, with eight rebounds, two assists and one 3-pointer in 30 minutes. He’s been battling knee soreness for months, and he didn’t look sharp in this one. Tobias Harris also had struggled with his shot, shooting just 6-of-17 for his 14 points. However, he did grab 15 rebounds and dished out six assists, with one steal and two 3-pointers in 38 minutes. Ben Simmons tallied 14 points (on 7-of-8 attempts) nine rebounds, three assists and two steals in 34 minutes. Jimmy Butler was disappointingly quiet, finishing with 10 points (4-of-12 FGs), three rebounds and five dimes. J.J. Redick had 17 points, two rebounds, two assists and five trifectas.
The Sixers will look to even the series on Monday night in Toronto.
Denver Nuggets 90, San Antonio Spurs 86:
Nikola Jokic recorded another triple-double in the Game 7 victory over San Antonio, scoring 21 points with 15 rebounds, ten assists, one steal and three blocks in 43 minutes. It was the first triple-double in a Game 7 since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals. Jokic has been incredible in his first taste of playoff experience. For the series, he averaged 23.1 points, 12.1 boards, 9.1 assists, 1.4 treys, 1.3 steals and just 1.7 turnovers. Per BBall-Reference, he is the first and only player in NBA history with at least 160 points, 80 boards and 60 dimes in a single playoff series.
Jamal Murray also played a crucial role in helping Denver advance to round two. He scored a team-high 23 points (9-of-19 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs) with five rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes. Murray has been a true X-factor for the Nuggets. In their four wins in this series, Murray averaged 23.5 points, 5.3 assists and 2.3 treys in 32 minutes, while shooting 51.5 percent from the field and 90 percent from the stripe. In Denver’s three losses, Murray averaged 13.0 points, 2.7 assists and 1.0 triples in 33 minutes, while shooting 35.4 percent from the floor and 40 percent on his free throws.
Gary Harris chipped in 11 points, five boards, three dimes and two blocks. Mason Plumlee gave the Nuggets five points, six boards and two dimes in 12 minutes off the bench. Paul Millsap shot 3-of-10 for his nine points and seven rebounds. The Nuggets host the Blazers in Game 1 on Monday night.
DeMar DeRozan struggled with his shot, missing 14 of his 21 attempts for 19 points (5-of-6 FTs) to go along with eight rebounds, six assists and two steals in 43 minutes. LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t fare much better, shooting 6-of-16 for 16 points, 11 boards, four dimes and three blocks. Rudy Gay came to play for San Antonio, keeping them close throughout. He scored a team-high 21 points (on 8-of-17 shooting) with eight rebounds, one assist, one steal, two blocks and two 3-pointers in 33 minutes. Derrick White looked like a rising star early in this series, but came crashing back down to earth. He missed all seven FG’s he attempts in Game 7, scoring just four points with two rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes, as he was benched down the stretch. Bryn Forbes tried to pick up the slack for White, scoring 19 points (7-of-11 FGs) with six rebounds and three 3-pointers in 39 minutes.
Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks
1:00 pm EST on ABC. The Bucks are a 7.5-point favorite
Boston was frustratingly inconsistent over the second half of the 2018-19 regular season, but seemed to finally find their stride late in the year. Marcus Smart, who has always been a driving force for Boston, is sidelined with an oblique injury, and many suspected that would really hurt the Celtics. However, a shortened rotation actually worked to Boston’s advantage in their first-round victory over the Pacers. Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum all appeared more comfortable in their current roles. Gordon Hayward, who can be an X-factor for the C’s, looked great in Game 4, scoring 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting. The Celtics are undefeated this season when Hayward scores 20-plus points. Boston hadn’t won four straight games since prior to the All-Star break, before sweeping away Indiana in the opening round.
Of course, the Bucks are a far more complete and formidable opponent than the shorthanded Pacers.
Milwaukee, under new head coach Mike Budenholzer, was the only team in the league to finish inside the top-5 in the NBA in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency during the 2018-19 campaign. The key to the Bucks success obviously starts with Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak averaged career-highs in points (27.7), rebounds (12.5) and assists (5.9) while shooting a career-best, and franchise record, 57.8% from the field. He became the first player ever to average 25/10/5 while shooting over 55 percent from the floor. The Bucks didn’t need Giannis to go crazy against the Pistons in round one, but he’s typically played very well against Boston in his young career. The C’s will throw a variety of defenders at him and consistently switch up schemes in hopes of slowing down Antetokounmpo. Good luck.
However, the Bucks are by no means a one-man show. As expected, both Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe played very well vs. Detroit. Brook Lopez did a great job protecting the rim (averaging 3.5 blocks vs. the Pistons) and stretching the defense. Underrated Pat Connaughton gave the team a nice spark off the bench. Ersan Ilyasova and Nikola Mirotic didn’t contribute much in Milwaukee's opening series, but they are more than capable of chipping in important contributions. Malcolm Brogdon (right foot) will sit out Games 1 and 2, but it sounds like he has a chance to return later in the series. He'll be re-evaluated next week.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors
3:30 pm EST on ABC. The Warriors are a 5.5-point favorite
Welp, we’ve been waiting 11 months for this rematch. And here it is. After jumping out to a 3-2 series lead vs. Golden State in the Western Conference Finals in 2018, the Rockets will look to do the impossible this time around: vanquish the mighty Warriors.
Last year, it was the Rockets battling injuries to a star guard, as Chris Paul missed the end of the series due to a groin injury. Now, both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are dealing with ankle issues. Thompson’s right ankle is reportedly in “pretty bad shape” after he sprained in the third quarter of Friday night’s victory over the Clippers.
As for Curry, he tweaked his ankle in the first quarter on Friday when he attempted to block Landry Shamet's shot. He went to the locker room a short while later to have the ankle taped but returned to action in the second quarter. After the game, he said his ankle felt "fine" and that he planned to play Game 1 vs. the Rockets on Sunday afternoon.
However, speaking with reporters after Saturday’s practice, coach Steve Kerr intimated that it’s possible that he may be without one of the Splash Brothers in this incredibly important contest. “Let’s just call it questionable. They both came in today and got some work and we’ll see how they’re doing tomorrow,” said Kerr. He added, specifically related to Thompson, “It was a significant sprain. He was limping last night.”
Someone who is not hurting: Kevin Durant. Over the final four games of the Warriors first-round victory over L.A., KD averaged: 41.5 points, 5.8 rebounds 6.0 assists and 4.3 three-pointers, while shooting a scorching 57.3 percent overall, 40.5 percent from downtown and 95 percent from the free-throw line. Golden State will need Durant at his absolute best if either Curry or Thompson is sidelined.
The Rockets, who flew to Golden State even before the Warriors finished off the Clippers in Game 5, have been preparing for this series for a year. As GM Daryl Morey admitted earlier in the season, Houston is “obsessed” with figuring out a way to beat Golden State. It would seem like this is as good an opportunity they’ll have. With Kevin Durant’s future in doubt, this may be their last chance to beat a fully-stacked Warriors squad. That’s a bit of extra motivation as if they needed it.
Yes, Houston’s offense generates the headlines, but it has been their underrated defense that has sustained them. After the All-Star break, not only did the Rockets post the second best Offensive Rating in the NBA, they also ranked second in the league in Defensive Rating (allowing just 105.3 points per 100 possessions). Their Net Rating (+9.6) led the league.
The Jazz was able to limit James Harden to “just” 27.8 points per contest on 37.4 percent shooting in round one, but that was because they funneled him into the middle of the floor, towards their all-world defensive stopped, Rudy Gobert. Harden will look to post MVP-caliber numbers vs. Golden State.