Are The Toronto Raptors bound for the Eastern Conference Finals? It may seem like an odd concept for some to consider, but a key injury to Hassan Whiteside could very well move momentum to Toronto’s side for good.
Are the Portland Trail Blazers for real? When you’re the only team that has taken down the defending champs more than one time this season and you’ve proven that your success is no fluke, it’s time to stop asking that question. I’m not going to sit here and suggest that the Blazers will pull off a historic upset of the Warriors, but I will say that Stephen Curry’s (knee) potential return just made this series a lot more interesting.
Toronto @ Miami: Raptors 95, Heat 91
Raptors lead series, 2-1.
Miami and Toronto, two teams whose identities have transformed and evolved extensively over the last few seasons, could both be forced to again find a brand new look.
Hassan Whiteside, who admitted that his right knee strain was still an issue prior to Game 3, sustained an unrelated injury to the exact same area that forced him to depart the contest for good after just eight minutes of action. As Whiteside was falling to the ground, Luol Deng collided with the big man’s knee. An already compromised area sustaining additional trauma is never a positive development, and although initial X-rays were negative, the impending MRI will tell us the information that we really need to know. Given how quickly the Heat ruled Whiteside out for the remainder of the game and the fact that he left the locker room wearing a soft cast over his entire right leg, he should be considered questionable at best—and that’s being exceedingly generous—for Monday’s Game 4. Set to see his stock explode in free agency this summer, possible ligament damage would be a worst-case scenario for Whiteside. If he were sidelined for any extended period of time, the Heat would be forced to go smaller more often with Udonis Haslem—who started the started the second half—and possibly Josh McRoberts stepping up off the bench. Unfortunately for Miami, there is no Whiteside replacement and their season would go on life support without him.
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Jonas Valanciunas, a walking double-double and arguably Toronto’s best player in this series, racked up 16 points and 12 rebounds in just 22 minutes before a nasty looking ankle roll knocked him out of the game in the beginning of the second half. Like Whiteside, JV was ruled out fairly quickly, and if he were forced to miss any action, the Raptors would have little choice but to play small ball in order to a) match up with the Heat and b) put their best players on the floor. For what it’s worth, Dwane Casey is hopeful that Valanciunas can be back for Game 4 as he’s simply day-to-day, but if not, Bismack Biyombo will be on the DFS radar as a value play.
As for the game itself…
Kyle Lowry picked a good time to find his rhythm from the floor. Although he struggled with his shot through games one and two with just 25 combined points on 10-of-35 field goals, Lowry found the flow to bust out for 33 points and five triples on 11-of-19 shooting in Game 3. With Valanciunas in (some) question moving forward and DeMar DeRozan (19/6/5) still struggling with his efficiency, Lowry is going to have to have to look like the All-Star we saw during the regular season if the Raptors are going to advance to the next round. Patrick Patterson was reinserted in the starting five for Norman Powell, and the rookie’s role has been on the firm decline since the action got going in Round 2.
Dwyane Wade is something special. To be considered one of the greatest shooting guards ever is an honor that he’s earned; but given how Wade has made his living, to do it while playing in an era that emphasizes the 3-point shot is nothing short of incredible. Erupting 38 points on 13-of-25 shooting, including 4-of-6 from distance and 8-of-8 from the foul line, Wade added eight boards and four dimes to an all-around effort that just wasn’t enough to pull out the win. A little help from his teammates would have gone a long way with Luol Deng (four points, 2-of-6 FGs), Goran Dragic (12 points, 5-of-14 FGs) and Josh Richardson (one point, 30 minutes) all struggling to make a positive offensive contribution. Deng is going to have to step up—again—if the Heat are going to see familiar face LeBron James in the next round, something he’s already proven capable of doing this season in Chris Bosh’s (blood clots) absence. Justise Winslow, who has seen a reduction in minutes as Miami’s march through the postseason has continued, picked up a DNP-CD.
Golden State @ Portland: Blazers 120, Warriors 108
Warriors lead series, 2-1.
I have a feeling that Stephen Curry is going to feel well enough to play in Monday’s Game 4.
Damian Lillard’s big first half set the stage for what would be an electric night in Portland. Finishing with a new playoff career high of 40 points to pair with five rebounds and 10 assists on 14-of-27 shooting, including 8-of-13 from distance, Lillard came through when his team needed him to save the season. As good as the Weber State product was, he got plenty of help from his supporting cast. This crucial win wouldn’t have happened without Al-Farouq Aminu—who had a solid but unspectacular first couple of games—stuffing the stat sheet with 23 points, 10 rebounds, a block and four triples on 8-of-9 from the field. The Blazers may have lost their first half momentum if C.J. McCollum had been unable to locate his shot, but that wasn’t the case and the Most Improved Player of the Year completed his evening with a tidy 22 points, five rebounds and four dimes. Portland couldn’t have finished this out without the hard-nosed play of Ed Davis, who excelled off the bench with eight points, 10 boards, a steal and two blocks on an evening where Mason Plumlee struggled with foul trouble. And although he didn’t make a real impact in the box score, Gerald Henderson’s value to this team has been made as clear as Lillard’s superstar status, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him start Game 4 ahead of Moe Harkless, who is dealing with hip pain and played just six and a half minutes after being benched at halftime in favor of Hendo. The point I’m trying to make? This is a team that plays with each other and for one another, a powerful ingredient in the team chemistry recipe that can’t be overlooked when trying to slay the NBA’s dragon.
Klay Thompson’s 24 points were the story of Golden State’s first half, but it was all about Draymond Green by the time the final horn sounded. Anyone still looking for Green’s “superstar credentials” should start a new scavenger hunt since it’s clear they have no idea what they’re looking for. Green’s ridiculous stat line—fueled by 19 third quarter points—of 37 points (a career high), nine rebounds, eight assists, one steal, one block and eight (!) 3-pointers on 13-of-23 shooting is almost beyond comprehension, and it’s amazing to think that Green—a player some were wondering truly deserved max money—has already established himself as a steal of a deal less than one full season into his five-year, $80-plus million contract. Thompson finished with 35 points, five triples, a steal and a block, and although the two combined for 72 points on 27-of-51 from the floor—including 13-of-21 from distance—the Warriors had just one other player, Leandro Barbosa, that scored at least 10 points. Even with Curry’s return presumably around the corner, this group needs more from Harrison Barnes. Andrew Bogut’s night (six points, eight rebounds, three blocks) could have been a lot more productive had he not picked up five fouls under 12 minutes, and it’s worth noting he’s played at least 20 minutes just twice so far in the playoffs.