Like an owl out of the dark sky above Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, only the Los Angeles Lakers could swoop in on a Friday night, hire Luke Walton as head coach and steal the playoffs when the franchise isn't even participating. Bringing in the 36-year-old Walton is a move that will resonate around the NBA, and Walton's arrival buys the Lakers a little credibility back after back-to-back tumultuous seasons under Byron Scott.
For a night with just three matchups on the docket, there was certainly no shortage of action. The Clippers' season came to an anticlimactic close, the Pacers and Heat forced winner-take-all scenarios and all eyes are on Stephen Curry as the Warriors prepare for Round 2.
Toronto @ Indiana: Pacers 101, Raptors 83
Grab your jackets, pack some earplugs and prepare to enter Jurassic Park; we're traveling north for a decisive Game 7. Maybe the Raptors can prepare by listening to Drake's new album on the way home.
Kyle Lowry can deny it all he wants, but both his (in)efficiency from the field (4-of-14 FGs) and demeanor simply tell another story. Now shooting a lowly 26-of-84 (30.1%) overall, Lowry—who had double-digit assists (10) in Friday's loss for the first time since before April began—is trending in the wrong direction at the wrong time for the second straight season. Even if the Raptors manage to move on, it's hard to envision his right (shooting) elbow suddenly improving.
Following a 34-point outburst looked like it would get DeMar DeRozan back on track, the USC product again struggled to get anything going, finishing with more shots (13) than points (eight) for the fourth time this series. Anyone suggesting DeRozan is costing himself in free agency is being naïve with what's set to come his way, but a better showing with Lowry hurting could have had Toronto in a different position…perhaps he's waiting on his moment for the do-or-die Game 7. DeMarre Carroll (15 points, two triples, two steals) was decent and Cory Joseph kicked in 15 points (three 3PM) of his own while registering a minus-17 during his time on the floor, but Jonas Valanciunas was the clear bright spot from a fantasy perspective with 14 points, nine boards, two steals and two blocks. Guys like Patrick Patterson and Norman Powell—who combined for seven points on 13 shots—need to perform better if the Raptors are going to avoid another first-round upset.
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It's difficult to fathom the idea that Lavoy Allen, who played three minutes in what turned out to be a blowout win, was starting this series ahead of Myles Turner, who was a key difference-maker in a must-win situation. Fifteen points, nine rebounds, a steal and four big blocks over a big 33 minutes, Turner was one of three Pacers players—joining Paul George and Monta Ellis—to finish with at least 10 shots from the field, and nobody should be doubting his role with his team's campaign on the line. He's going to be a player, and Turner's future is arriving even sooner than the Pacers previously projected.
George and Ellis both began unable to find a rhythm, but each settled in to force the matchup back to where dinosaurs still roam the Earth. George wound up stuffing the stat sheet with 21 points, 11 rebounds, six dimes, two steals and a block, while Ellis finally cracked the double-digit scoring barrier with 14 points, five assists and four steals on 6-of-12 shooting. If Indiana wants to keep playing beyond just one more contest, Ellis has to play a similar—or bigger—role with everything on the line. The basic box score won't display their true impact, but Solomon Hill (plus-32) and Rodney Stuckey (plus-29) were both big sparks off of the bench with steady but unspectacular contributions from Ian Mahinmi (12 points, two steals, two blocks) and George Hill (12 points, five rebounds, four dimes).
Miami @ Charlotte: Heat 97, Hornets 90
His name is Dwyane Wade, he's one of the best shooting guards the NBA has ever seen and he wasn't ready to have his 13th season come to a close on the road. It's back to Miami we go. Although his last three-point make came before Christmas, Wade caught fire as a result of putting the Heat on his back, sunk two critical triples late and completely dominated a fourth quarter that saw a hungry but humble Hornets team make a very legitimate push to pull off a feat many believed wasn't realistically possible. With 23 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and three blocks on a tidy 10-of-20 shooting, Wade—the elder statesman of this group—starred in the spotlight despite performing on Michael Jordan's stage.
Chris Bosh's nickname for Luol Deng has to be money since the versatile forward has been nothing but cash since shifting to power forward. Deng, who was two off the team's lead in scoring with 21 points of his own, was able to do whatever he wanted vs. Charlotte, making 9-of-14 shots (3-of-4 3PM) with four boards, two blocks and a single turnover. He's really been the unsung hero of this club in Bosh's absence, and it's about time Deng gets the recognition he so sorely deserves for rejuvenating his career—and Miami's season—in his new role. It was important for Wade and Deng to go off with Hassan Whiteside (12 points, four blocks, 28 minutes) fouling out in limited playing time, Goran Dragic struggling with his shot and Joe Johnson not doing much.
The good news: Whiteside's right hand didn't appear to limit him, so that shouldn't be an issue moving forward. The bad news: Miami may have lost Josh Richardson (left shoulder) for Game 7 and whatever potentially lies beyond. And if that's the case, Tyler Johnson could move from DNP-CD to a much more familiar role very quickly.
Even with Al Jefferson (18 points, nine rebounds, 8-of-14 FGs) cracking the 30-minute plateau for the first time since March 12, a 37-point night from Kemba Walker wasn't enough to seal the deal and advance to the second round. That means Twitter is destined to be filled with the crying Jordan face meme until at least Sunday afternoon, so plan your social media use accordingly.
Frank Kaminsky—who flashed some versatility with seven points, seven boards, three dimes, two steals, two blocks and a triple in his 36 minutes—promises to keep playing an extended role with Nicolas Batum aggravating his left foot strain in just 15 minutes off the bench, and although a Game 7 would be tough to stomach sans Batum, the Hornets have to find some solace in the fact that they've already won two games in this series without him. Marvin Williams and Jeremy Lin—who combined for a dynamic eight points on 1-of-15 shooting—have to play better if Charlotte is going to move on, but the momentum is blowing back in Miami's favor and the breeze is being felt strongly throughout South Florida right about now.
Los Angeles @ Portland: Blazers 106, Clippers 103
When Doc Rivers put together this roster, there was no scenario he envisioned that saw him starting his son Austin, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jeff Green alongside DeAndre Jordan in a season-deciding game. The undermanned Clippers deserve a ton of credit for fighting with every ounce of remaining strength, but nothing is going to remove the sting for those diehard fans that have been waiting —and waiting and waiting—to see this team take off to elevated heights. Expectations can be dealt a crushing blow when juxtaposed with the harshness that reality often brings, and a Los Angeles squad without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin was facing an uphill climb that few, if any, expected them to complete.
Despite taking an elbow to the face that resulted in two different cuts, 11 stitches and compromised vision as he had just one good eye to play with, Rivers turned in a gutsy performance with 21 points, six rebounds, eight assists and a steal on 8-of-19 shooting without turning the ball over. Rivers was only second in shots on the team to Jamal Crawford—who carried the Clippers in the first half before cooling off to finish with 32 points and three steals—but they all came within the flow of a contest and he likely improved his stock around the league as he heads into free agency given the magnitude of the moment. DeAndre Jordan's season finished with 15 points, 20 rebounds, while J.J. Redick (heel) fought through the pain as best he could to finish with 15 points of his own.
As the Clippers prepare to enter the most critical offseason of the Doc Rivers era, I can't help but wonder if we just watched Paul Pierce's final NBA game. The Truth didn't set anybody free, his feel-good reunion with Rivers didn't contain a Hollywood ending and Pierce really looked out of gas in more than a handful of instances. It may not be the ending that Pierce had hoped for, but I don't see it getting better before it gets even worse. For what it's worth, Pierce said he's "50-50" on returning.
It's a shame that Terry Stotts was robbed of the Coach of the Year Award, but I'm convinced Neil Olshey will receive strong consideration for Executive of the Year. Olshey bought low on talent with room to grow, believed in Damian Lillard as a leader of grown men and built a foundation for the future while replacing four of Portland's five starters in a single offseason. I can't say enough about the jobs both Olshey and Stotts have done for the Blazers, and Lillard's career season playing with a completely new cast of characters is only the first bullet point of what makes this club so fascinating to follow.
Leading the way in punching Portland's ticket to a second-round date with Golden State, Lillard had 28 points, five rebounds, seven assists and four triples with backcourt partner C.J. McCollum—Mr. Most Improved Player—pouring in 20 points of his own. Mason Plumlee's under-appreciated inaugural round concluded with nine points, 14 rebounds, four assists, a steal and two blocks, while Moe Harkless (14 points, career-high four 3PM) continues to make the Orlando Magic look silly for giving up on him without first providing Harkless a real chance.