August 22, 2020, 3:55 am
Friday had four games on tap and two teams, the Celtics and Raptors moved to a 3-0 lead in their respective series and are at the cusp of achieving a first-round sweep.
Toronto Raptors 117 – 92 Brooklyn Nets
Denver Nuggets 87 – 124 Utah Jazz
Boston Celtics 102 – 94 Philadelphia 76ers
Los Angeles Clippers 130 – 122 Dallas Mavericks
The biggest injury-related news of the was that Luka Doncic suffered a bad ankle sprain and had to leave the Game 3 vs. the Clippers. He’s scheduled to get an MRI on Saturday and his status for Game 4 still remains in question.
Kristaps Porzingis showed no signs of the left heel contusion he was dealing with recently and posted a game-high 36 points. Trey Burke (left ankle sprain) was also able to take to the court but was a lot more limited than Porzingis, scoring 10 points in 16 minutes off the bench.
Landry Shamet started for an injured Patrick Beverley, who is still out with a left calf strain. Shamet was solid in his spot-start, chipping in 18 points in his 27 minutes on the floor.
Marcus Smart started for the Celtics on Friday for Gordon Hayward (Grade 3 ankle sprain), who isn’t expected back anytime soon. Smart made the most of his 39 minutes as a starter and contributed 14 points (4-of-8 FG and 6-of-6 FT) with eight rebounds, three dimes and three swipes.
It was Al Horford‘s turn at as a fill-in starter for Ben Simmons Friday and he quietly put up six points and 10 boards in 38 minutes.
As expected, the Nuggets were still without both Will Barton and Gary Harris on Friday, but an off night by pretty much everyone on the Nuggets squad did not spare fill-in starter Michael Porter Jr. who was a mess in 15 minutes, providing seven points, five rebounds and a terrible effort on the defensive end of the floor.
Mike Conley (personal) returned to action after leaving the Orlando bubble to be present for the birth of his child. He looked no worse for wear as he led the Jazz to victory on the shoulders of his 27-point outburst as he rained down seven treys on the hapless Nuggets.
Tyler Johnson started for the Nets’ Joe Harris (personal) on Friday and rang up the scoreboard for 23 points (five 3s) and three assists. Still, even his heroics as a spot-starter was not enough to help Caris LeVert (15 points, four rebounds, six assists) overcome the rabid pack of Raptors that was hungry to clean up their first-round playoff plate as soon as possible.
Can you smell the Sweeps coming?
Preying on the weak and injured
Both the Raptors and the Celtics are leading their respective opponents 3-0 and are just one game away from sweeping their respective series. That’s about the extent of what they have in common at this point with each series having vastly different storylines.
The Raptors are facing an injury-depleted Nets team. Despite Brooklyn’s valiant effort in the seeding games, able to pull off some eye-opening upsets, they’re still heavily favored to get eliminated from the Eastern Conference as fast as humanly possible. With all due respect to Caris LeVert and whoever it is that steps up to help him out on any given night, the Nets simply don’t have the right tools to put up a competitive fight against the defending champions. There’s really not much more to add, sadly. Between superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant being unable to play and other guys like Taurean Prince, Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan opting not to play out the last notes of a sad swan song to their 2019-20 season, there’s very little to expect from the Nets.
Even if they’re playing against near-insurmountable odds, the players who are able to play are playing with gusto and a fiercely competitive spirit – something that deserves to be, no, needs to be mentioned and props sent their way.
Frankly, the Raptors need to dispatch with the Nets A.S.A.P., seriously. Marc Gasol isn’t the man he was in 2018-19 and the Raptors aren’t exactly at full strength health-wise either. So the sooner they can get some extra rest days squared away, the better their chances will be, come the second round.
Can the Nets pull off a miracle and steal a game? Yes, sure. Their fighting spirit sometimes has an electrifying effect on the play of their healthy guys and sometimes, games come down to which team wants the win more. But as long as the Raptors don’t get lulled into a stupor of complacency, which can happen, then they should complete the 4-0 sweep and breeze through onto the next round of the playoffs.
In “The Process” of an early exit
The Sixers are missing Ben Simmons, we’ve talked about that extensively. And despite the monster lines that Joel Embiid is able to muster, the Sixers can’t seem to steal one off of the Celtics – Gordon Hayward’s glaring absence notwithstanding, which says a lot.
The Sixers are, well to put it in an oversimplified form, not ready to be a competitive threat in the Eastern Conference playoffs – despite all the tools and talent at their disposal. Frankly, they’re probably in for a long hard session at the drawing board after their looming quick first-round exit. We could easily see them blow up their current roster of guys and go for a fresh start.
The credit really has to go to both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who’ve really stepped up their respective games in a big way a truthful carryover from their impressive rise to stardom (?) during the regular season. Of course, fellow FIBA World Cup teammates, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart have been there doing their part as well. Philly doesn’t have the answers to stop or slow down both Tatum and Brown, who have been able to keep putting up points on the board, even on nights that it looked like everyone was struggling to find their shot.
The Sixers have been unable to find the right kind of adjustment to compensate for the absence of Ben Simmons, whether from their guards or power forwards. Then again, it’s really time for the team to take a long hard look and take stock of how he and Joel Embiid have been playing together and whether or not the duo has the right supporting cast around them. By their results, the simple and straightforward answer is “no,” they don’t have the right mix, the right chemistry, or whatever is that missing X-factor to turn them into a legitimate playoff threat in the East.
In Game 4 expect Embiid to play his heart out, but also get ready for some more crying memes hitting the internet, followed by a brief hiatus by him from social media as he recovers from the disheartening first-round sweep.