The NBA playoffs are on
Brooklyn Nets big three blazing the trailFriday, May 28, 2021
BY MARK ARCHER
WITH the novel National Basketball League (NBA) Play-In Tournament out of the way and the seventh and eighth seeds decided for both the Eastern and Western conferences, the play-offs began in earnest last Saturday (May 22) with four games.
In the play-off opener, the Eastern third seed (Milwaukee Bucks) welcomed the sixth seed (Miami Heat) into Fiserv Forum and needed overtime to secure a 109-107 victory. Considering it was Miami that booted Milwaukee out of the NBA's 2020 “bubble” the matchup had an elimination-game intensity, and it took a last-second fadeaway jumper from forward Khris Middleton to seal the deal.
In game 2 on Monday (May 24) the Bucks upped the intensity to crush the Heat 132-98 and take a 2-0 lead in the series. The Bucks dominated the first quarter with 10 three-pointers matching an NBA record for the most in a quarter, and their 26-point lead (46-20) matched the largest after the first quarter in post-season history. They maintained a substantial lead by outscoring Miami in every quarter and cruised to victory with six players finishing in double digits.
In the other Eastern matchup on the opening day of the play-offs, the second seed Brooklyn Nets got off to a sluggish start against seventh seed Boston Celtics but their 'Big 3' (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden) put on their game face in the second period. The Nets trailed by six points at half-time before the Big 3 combined to score the first 22 points of the second half for the Nets, powering an 18-4 run to open the third quarter and lifting Brooklyn to a 104-93 victory. The Nets outscored the Celtics 57-40 in the second half and Durant, Harden and Irving scored or assisted on 98 of the 104 total points.
In game 2 on Tuesday (May 25), Brooklyn displayed the dominance they anticipated when the Big 3 were signed, after a 130-108 dispatch of Boston with 14,774 spectators in attendance at Barclays Center. The Nets led the Celtics 40-26 at the end of the first quarter and the rest of the evening saw a smothering Brooklyn defence that ensured a 2-0 lead in the series heading to Boston.
The Western Conference play-offs began at Staples Center last Saturday with the fourth seed Los Angeles Clippers hosting fifth seed Dallas Mavericks. The visitors took a 1-0 advantage in the series following a 113-103 victory, with Luka Doncic leading Dallas (31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists) for the second 30-point triple-double of his career (most at 22 years or younger).
In the game 2 encounter on Tuesday (May 25) the Clippers gave a better account of themselves, but despite 39 points from Doncic and 28 from Tim Hardaway Jr, they couldn't overcome the hurdle and fell 121-127 to trail 0-2 in the series. The Clippers have lost five straight play-off games dating back to last post-season in the bubble when they blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round.
The other Western matchup on opening day saw third seed Denver Nuggets take on sixth seed Portland Trail Blazers, which turned out to be historic for Portland's Damian Lillard. Lillard led the Blazers with 34 points and a career playoff-high 13 assists to steal a 123-109 away win, and the Portland defence held the Most Valuable Player (MVP)-elect Nikola Jokic to a career-low one-assist (he averaged 8.3 assists per game this season).
In game 2 on Monday (May 24), with Lillard scoring 32 points in the first half, it appeared the Blazers were sailing to a 2-0 lead in the series, but a defensive second-half rotation saw Aaron Gordon dousing Lillard's fire, limiting him to only 10 second-half points. Jokic regained his impressive season balance (38 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) and led the Nuggets to a 128-109 victory, tying the series 1-1.
The No 1 seeds in both conferences started their play-off runs on Sunday (May 23) against the respective No 8 seeds, but the results fell on opposite ends of the spectrum. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers' defence shut down Russell Westbrook and limited the rest of the Washington Wizards' offence to secure a 125-118 win, with Tobias Harris (37 points) and Joel Embid (30 points) leading the Philadelphia scoring. However, in the West the Utah Jazz couldn't find enough answers to avoid a 112-109 defeat against the surging Memphis Grizzlies (fresh off their thrilling play-in victories over the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors).
Also on Sunday, in the East the No 4 Atlanta Hawks welcomed the No 5 New York Knicks back to the post-season (after a seven-year hiatus) with a 107-105 defeat, while, in the West the No 2 Phoenix Suns surprised a lacklustre No 7 Los Angeles Lakers with a 99-90 loss. The Suns were making their first play-off appearance since 2010 but Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton (34 and 21 points, respectively) played like it wasn't their first dance – Lakers' LeBron James was not his usual self and Anthony Davis was outpaced by Ayton rendering him largely ineffective.
However, the Lakers (in particular Davis) rebounded for game 2 on Tuesday (May 25) for a 109-102 win to tie the series 1-1. Booker and Ayton (31 and 22 points, respectively) played with the same commitment as game 1 but Davis shouldered the load and put in 34 points to push the Lakers over the hump — this may (surprisingly) turn out to be a very watchable series.
There are intriguing matchups every day in the play-offs and every encounter has a game 7 atmosphere. It's hard to predict any sweeps in this round but stranger things have happened. Keep watching.
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Brooklyn Nets 2.70
Los Angeles Lakers 4.60
Milwaukee Bucks 6.80
Philadelphia 76ers 7.60
Utah Jazz 8.20
Dallas Mavericks 15.00
Los Angeles Clippers 15.00
Phoenix Suns 22.00
Portland Trail Blazers 30.00
Denver Nuggets 35.00
*Only top 10 odds shown (see website
for full list).
*Odds are subject to change.