Friday marked yet another exciting night of playoff basketball, capped with playoff career-highs from James Harden, Dwight Howard, Kawhi Leonard, and Monta Ellis. It was a night to remember in the NBA… unless you were the Clippers.
Houston takes 3-0 lead over Dallas in 130-128 victory
This game was played at a breakneck pace, and as Kevin McHale stated after the game, "It was a hell of a game if you like offense. If you like defense, maybe not so much." Houston came out gunning, and put up 42 points in the first quarter alone, which was the most points they’ve scored in any quarter of basketball this season. James Harden was essentially unstoppable, and he finished with a playoff career-high 42 points on 15-of-24 shooting (7-of-7 from the stripe), with five rebounds, five 3-pointers, nine assists, a steal and five turnovers. That's good for a usage rate of 35.7, and a true shooting percentage of 77.5, pretty ridiculous. Harden’s final two points came on a step back jumper over Tyson Chandler with 12.7 seconds left, and that essentially iced the game for Houston.
However, Harden wasn’t the only one setting playoff career-highs in this one as Dwight Howard hauled in a new playoff best 26 rebounds, which also tied Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone for the most rebounds in playoff game in Houston franchise history. It’s also the most rebounds by any player in the playoffs thus far, and from a health standpoint, Howard looked fantastic in this one while logging 38 minutes of action (his most minutes played since returning from the knee injury earlier this season). He also chipped in 13 points, three assists, two steals and two blocks, and he was an absolute force in the paint. While Howard’s offensive arsenal has come under scrutiny over the years, there’s no denying that he’s one of the best defensive centers in the league, and with James Harden running the show on offense, Howard has been able to focus a bit more on the defensive end. So far he’s holding opposing players to just 34.8 percent at the rim, and if Houston can keep on playing the way they have, they’re going to be a legitimate threat to take the West.
One of Houston’s greatest weapons is that they are a very deep team, and that was put on full display Friday night with solid contributions from both Corey Brewer and Josh Smith. Brewer started relatively slow, going 1-of-4 from the field in the first half for two points with a rebound. But then he caught fire during the second half of action, going 5-of-7 from the field to finish the game with 15 points, three rebounds and two 3-pointers through 21 minutes of action. Brewer’s a fantastic fit in Houston. He can hit the open 3-point shot, and his constant hustle on defense has earned him a steady spot in coach McHale’s rotations. He’s hit 15 points exactly in Games 1, 2, and 3.
Smith was a steady presence off the bench throughout the contest, and he finished Friday’s game with 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting, to go with three rebounds, four assists, two 3-pointers and two turnovers through 27 minutes of action.
As for the Mavericks’ side of things, both Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki got it going combining to score 68 of Dallas’ 128 points. Ellis joined the party in setting playoff career-highs with his 34 points, while adding nine assists, three steals, three 3-pointers, two rebounds, and just one turnover through 39 minutes of action. One thing Ellis has made a major improvement upon this season is keeping his turnovers down (from 3.2 turnovers per game last season, to a respectable 2.5 turnovers per game this year). What makes the decline in turnovers even more impressive is the fact that his usage rate with Dallas has gone up a bit this season to 27.9. Monta also spent a lot of time in this one running Dallas’ offense with Rajon Rondo (back) no longer in the picture, and although Dallas lost, their offense looked great tonight (they scored 71 points by halftime, which was the most points scored by Dallas in a postseason half since 2003). However, it wasn’t all positive for Monta, as he forced up a difficult shot during the closing seconds of regulation that bounced off the right side of the rim, and resulted in Dallas going down 0-3 in the series. Unfortunately the Mavs players likely only have a maximum of two games left after falling into the dreaded 0-3 hole tonight, but with Raymond Felton not really able to log major minutes, Rajon Rondo banished, Devin Harris (toe) hurting, and Chandler Parsons (knee) done, Ellis could be in for another big game; and he’ll be someone to consider in daily leagues for Game 4 on Sunday.
Dirk was his usual ultra-efficient self, connecting on all 11 of his free throw attempts, while hitting 10-of-19 shots for 34 points with eight rebounds, four assists, three 3-pointers, one block and one turnover through 36 minutes of play. This bounce-back performance was a bit expected after he only managed to put up 10 points during Game 2. Despite Dallas facing a nearly impossible deficit in the series, they’re going to do everything in their power to pull out a win for their home crowd during Sunday’s Game 4, so expect to see a lot of Dirk and Monta in that one.
Aside from Dallas’ one-two punch of Dirk and Monta, J.J. Barea was a major contributor. It seemed like every time he stepped on the court for Dallas, the speed of the game was greatly elevated, as he constantly pushed the break and created opportunities for his teammates. Barea finished Friday’s game with 11 points, six rebounds, nine assists, on steal and one 3-pointer over 25 minutes. He had a plus/minus rating of plus-22, which was substantially better than Devin Harris’ minus-21. Mavs’ head coach Rick Carlisle may want to keep Barea in the second unit to serve as a sparkplug off the bench, but he’ll be heavily involved in what Dallas does however he enters the game. He could make for a sneaky low-end play in daily leagues on Sunday.
Raymond Felton started at point guard for the Mavericks, but he was pretty useless during his 13 minutes of action, missing all three of his shots, while handing out just one assist. He tweaked his right hamstring, and although he was able to return, this is something we’ll be monitoring heading into Game 4 on Sunday. Devin Harris (toe) played through the pain, but he only managed to hit 3-of-8 shots for 10 points with two assists and a rebound. He’s clearly not 100 percent, but the Mavs need him out there, so he’ll probably see around the same amount of minutes during Game 4 on Sunday.
Richard Jefferson only managed to log 12 minutes after sustaining an injury to his calf, and it’s unclear at this point if that will force him to sit out Game 4 as well. However, Jefferson’s absence resulted in Al-Farouq Aminu logging 34 minutes, and he had a pretty nice game with 15 points on 4-of-5 shooting (5-of-6 from the line), five rebounds, two 3-pointers, two steals and two blocks. If Jefferson can’t go on Sunday, Aminu would more than likely start, and he’d be worth considering in daily leagues.
Washington pulls out the win, Toronto on the verge of elimination
DeMar DeRozan took it to Washington early, putting up 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first quarter which set a Raptors’ franchise postseason-record for most points scored in a quarter. However, bad shots ensued, and he ended up finishing the game with 32 points on 11-of-29 shooting (7-of-7 from the line), six rebounds, six assists, three 3-pointers, one steal and one turnover through 41 minutes. DeRozan often settles for way too many mid-range jumpers, and while Paul Pierce’s “it” comment was not a welcome criticism by Toronto fans, it’s really proved to be true as Washington has put them in an undesirable 0-3 hole.
Kyle Lowry finally managed to crack double-figures in the scoring department, but it took him 22 shots to reach 15 points, and he’s now shooting a putrid 23.8 percent from the field through the first three games of the series. Lowry did manage to add seven assists, four steals, and three 3-pointers, but when you’re taking 47.6 percent of your shots with a defender within 2-4 feet of you, you’re going to make it very difficult on yourself. To Lowry’s credit, he is playing through a shin contusion, a bad back, and an illness right now, but so far, he hasn’t done a lot to help Toronto’s chances of securing a first-round victory.
Amir Johnson replaced Tyler Hansbrough in the starting lineup (a move that probably should have happened during Game 1) and he provided Toronto with some much-needed energy on his way to 14 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block. Johnson has been one of the few bright spots for Toronto as they’ve been dismantled by Washington, averaging 14.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks through the first three games of the series. He should get another start for Sunday’s Game 4, and he could make for a nice low-end play in daily leagues. Hansbrough got his standard 12 minutes of action serving as Toronto’s irritant, and he finished with one point, three boards, two steals, two assists, and a turnover. Hansbrough is not someone that should be targeted in any fantasy format.
Jonas Valanciunas returned to the gutter on Friday, scoring just eight points on 4-of-10 shooting, with 10 boards and two turnovers. Valanciunas is yet another one of Toronto’s key pieces that has been underperforming through the first-round, and he’s particularly struggled on defense, allowing his opponents to shoot 66.7 percent from the field.
And that brings us to Marcin Gortat who dominated tonight’s matchup. Gortat logged a whopping 42 minutes of action on Friday night, and he did not disappoint going off for 24 points (11-of-15 FGs, 2-of-5 FTs), a game-high 13 rebounds, five assists, and four blocks. He imposed his will upon the opposition, and he showed up in a big way giving Washington the rebounding edge, playing some stellar defense in the process. Gortat’s numbers were down a bit this season, but he’s been fantastic through the first-round with averages of 16.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game on 70.0 percent shooting from the field. He’s also locking down his opponent, limiting the opposition to just 41.9 percent shooting from the field.
John Wall got it going late, and finished Friday’s game with 19 points, five rebounds, a game-high 15 assists, one steal, one block and five turnovers through 43 minutes of action. He had a ridiculous 54.9 percent assist percentage, to go with a quality 25.5 percent usage rate, and he also became the first player since Steve Nash in 2000 to have back-to-back games with at least 15 assists. He’s been playing some elite-level defense against Kyle Lowry, and he should be an top tier asset in fantasy leagues for many years to come.
But while both Wall and Gortat played admirably, it was Paul Pierce with the late-game theatrics. With 16.3 seconds left, Pierce hit a dagger 3-pointer to put the game out of reach, turned to the Washington crowd and screamed, “That’s why I’m here!” It’s yet another highlight play to add to Pierce’s Hall of Fame career, and while he likely doesn’t have many fans in Toronto due to the “it” comment, he’s certainly backed up his talk this series. Through three games, Pierce has put in averages of 16.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.3 three-pointers per game on 53.8 percent shooting. Washington brought him in to not only be a steadying veteran voice for a young team, but also to hit those shots in the clutch, and that’s exactly what he’s doing as the Wizard’s X-factor. That being said, he is playing a little bit over his head right now, and I’d expect his numbers to dip a bit in the next series with a much more difficult matchup against the Hawks.
The Wizards’ reserves were also very effective with Drew Gooden turning back the clock for 12 points, seven rebounds and three 3-pointers over 18 minutes; and Otto Porter coming away with 11 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block and a pair of clutch 3-pointers. Porter has now scored in double figures in the past two games for the Wizards, and if he can continue to play at this level for the remainder of the postseason, he’ll carry some momentum with him into next year’s fantasy drafts.
Spurs blowout Clippers in statement-win behind Kawhi Leonard’s career-high 32 points.
Simply put, Kawhi Leonard was phenomenal during Friday’s Game 3 win over the Clippers. The day after receiving the Defensive Player of the Year award, Leonard made sure the world knew he was just as much of an offensive force as he is a defensive stopper, erupting for a career and postseason-high 32 points (13-of-18 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs), with four rebounds, three steals, two blocks, one assist and one turnover over a mere 29 minutes of action. He was all over the place Friday night, and had the score not been so lopsided, he likely would have added to the already gaudy numbers. His usage rate has steadily been climbing through the first three games of the playoffs, and on Friday it was at 36.1. One of the scariest things about Leonard is that he’s only 23-years-old, and while he clearly doesn’t enjoy giving the speeches, or having the spotlight focused directly on him, he better get used to it, because this young man is a superstar in the making. The only real drag about Leonard is that he’s missed a considerable amount of time over the past three seasons, although he seems to always be there putting up first-round value when the fantasy playoffs hit. Just know when drafting him next season that over the past three years he’s missed an average of 19 games. He’s healthy now, and he’ll be a popular daily league target the rest of the way.
Parker didn’t look bothered by the right Achilles tightness that forced him to spend the fourth quarter of Game 2 on the sidelines, and he finished Friday’s game with six points on 3-of-11 shooting, with three rebounds, three assists and two turnovers over 26 minutes. While his numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, this outing has to be viewed as a win for Spurs’ fans as he attacked the basket fearlessly, and showed a quick first step. He’s not a great fantasy option right now, as he has a tough matchup with Chris Paul, and Gregg Popovich is going to do anything he can to keep him rested, but he’s a crucial part of the Spurs’ championship aspirations.
Tim Duncan, after going off for 28 points and 11 rebounds during Game 2, came back to earth during Game 3, matching his career-low in postseason points with just four to his credit. However, it wasn’t a total loss for Duncan’s owners as he also chipped in seven rebounds, four assists, one steal, three blocks and one turnover, but this is the kind of random production that can be expected from a guy that just turned 39-years-old. Most the Spurs took a backseat to the Kawhi Leonard show on Friday night, as Manu Ginobili finished with just two points and six assists, and Danny Green chipped in 11 points with three 3-pointers.
Boris Diaw was a bright spot off the bench, scoring 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting (5-of-6 from the stripe) to go with six rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block and one turnover through 23 minutes of action. Diaw gets consistent minutes for San Antonio, but his production is rather sporadic, so plugging him into your daily league roster will always come with a bit of risk.
While Friday’s Game 3 was a dream realized for Kawhi Leonard, it was a nightmare that just wouldn’t end for the Clippers. The Clippers set numerous records of the wrong variety during Friday’s blowout loss, setting a new franchise-low in points scored in a playoff game with 73, shooting a postseason franchise-worst 34 percent from the field, and scoring just 11 points in the third quarter, which was the lowest point total in any quarter this season. Chris Paul hit just 3-of-11 shots for seven points, three rebounds, four assists, and two steals while turning the ball over an uncharacteristic six times. J.J. Redick managed just seven points through 31 minutes of action. Jamal Crawford was abysmal, connecting on just one of his 11 attempts from the field to finish with five points, two rebounds, and two assists. And while Blake Griffin managed to double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, he too struggled from the field, connecting on just 6-of-15 of his attempts. The Spurs played some suffocating defense in this one, and Los Angeles just never really was able to get anything going. However, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are far too talented to let this happen twice, and I’m expecting a bounce-back game from them during a crucial Game 4 on Sunday.