April 26, 2018, 3:25 pm
It’s Thursday Night and that means there’s going to be some quality, nationally televised PLAYOFF basketball being played in between wondering if you should dare switch the channel during commercials to see which NFL teams are actively screwing up their futures. Only one feature game tonight and it should be a doozy so lets get after it.
Boston Celtics @ Milwaukee Bucks
The Celtics are a game away from making it into the second round and the Bucks are back at home to try to bring this to a Game 7. With so much great basketball all around, this series has stood out as one the best in the playoffs so far and a Game 7 would cement that status. The series been chock full of close games, ridiculous finishes, and bad blood. Come to think of it, that last part has actually been the really under appreciated part of this year’s playoffs. Almost every series has had some real testiness behind it. The fouls feel harder and the nastiness has kicked up a level. This one has been no different and it’s a welcome feeling.
Since there’s only one game tonight, I’ll just run through a number of things I’m thinking about for each team.
Terry Rozier insisting on calling Eric Bledsoe “Drew” is some great shade. First, there are few more infuriating things that someone calling you the wrong name. That’s way crappier than trying to pull the “Who’s that guy” card. Second, Drew Bledsoe had a great career and then was replaced by Tom Brady who went on to become an all-time great. Don’t think that messaging hasn’t sunk in. Eric Bledsoe has been a good player on bad teams and had a history of injury issues. So if this is also Terry Rozier’s way of saying, you’re past you’re prime and time for you to go then it’s an incredible burn. If Eric Bledsoe really wanted to flip the script and bring this beef full circle, he could refer to Rozier as Terry Glenn, so long as he doesn’t go full Parcells.
Jaylen Brown has been fantastic in the series and it’s a shame that he’s likely doomed to a 6th man scoring role next season. This assumes that both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward return to full health and will be starters alongside Al Horford and Jayson Tatum. Fantasy owners are going to start a #FreeJay campaign when his nightly lines start to look like they belong to Shabazz Muhammad.
I don’t know if this Celtics team can make a deep run without Irving and Hayward, but I want them to just so we can turn Marcus Smart into a full-fledged playoff villain. Smart’s return was a huge factor in Boston’s Game 5 win and that alley-oop block on the Freak was a thing of beauty. He’s going to make enough defensive plays for every opposing fan to want to punt him into the sun. Marcus Smart is the kind of player that everyone else hates, but you’d absolutely love if he were on your team. This generation needs a new Bruce Bowen and Smart could fit that bill.
I hope the Sixers give Markelle Fultz some playing time for a potential Tatum vs. Fultz grudge match. This has been such a fantastic season for the 2017 draft class and whoever gets the best of the traded pick war would just be a cherry on the rookie sundae. If these two teams wind up fighting for the future of the East year in and year out then I hope we can look back at this being the start of something special between the two.
Call me crazy, but I think it’s a wise idea for the Bucks to get Giannis more than 10 field goal attempts. Only getting 10 FGAs in Game 5 is simply unacceptable, I don’t care who is guarding him whether it’s Marcus Smart, Aron Baynes, or a Cthulu that rises up from under the arena. Giannis had exactly two games this season with 10 or less FGAs and take a wild guess how those games wound up for the Bucks.
They’re not Irving and Hayward, but I also wonder what this Bucks team could do if John Henson and Malcolm Brogdon were fully healthy. Henson has missed the last couple of games with a back injury and Brogdon is still finding himself after his knee injury. When the Bucks get going Henson can be a menace to opposing big men and Brogdon has sneaky offense. The Bucks are missing those factors on nights when Giannis can’t do it all.
I hate to write the Bucks off and move onto next season when they still could force a Game 7, but so much of what happens to this team depends on who will be their next head coach and what they do with Jabari Parker. Parker’s squeaky wheel act seemed to work, but that was partly due to the team losing Henson. Most teams’ cap situations aren’t great so Parker may find getting offer sheets pretty difficult. Perhaps there’s a bit of a “prove it” deal that his people and the Bucks can work out. I can’t possibly imagine that the Bucks let their former No. 2 overall pick walk without knowing what could be if he can get a healthy season in alongside Giannis, Middleton, and Bledsoe.
Part of what makes this Bucks team so frustrating is that the talent is there, but the results haven’t been. That’s got to fall on coaching. Jason Kidd was never consistent with player rotations and Joe Prunty isn’t a viable long-term option. So much of the Bucks’ would-be success also hinges on finding the right head coach and they have no shortage of options. It’s probably the biggest job available given whoever takes the reigns will be coaching an in-his-prime Greek Freak. And given how close he was to Kidd, it behooves management to find someone who can take his freakish talents to the next level and keep Giannis happy. A happy Freak is going to be the best kind of Freak.
But I do hope there is a Game 7, because Game 7s rule. A Bucks win tonight means shifts all the pressure onto Boston and Brad Stevens. If the Celtics lose in 7 then the season is a failure, regardless of who is in and out of the lineup. Win and, well, they were supposed to win and their reward is a fired up Philly squad that is growing in strength by the day. Don’t let us down Bucks.
April 24, 2019, 2:18 amDamian Lillard - G - Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard put up an instant classic performance featuring a game-winning deep three, 10 total triples and a 50-spot in Tuesday's 118-115 closeout win over the Thunder in Portland.
Lillard started off Game 5 with 34 first-half points while playing all 24 minutes. He finished with seven boards, six dimes, three steals and a block while shooting 17-for-33 from the field and 6-for-8 from the line. Despite a big second-half Thunder run, Lillard kept it going all the way until the buzzer as his shot from near the logo fell, giving him an even 50 and a series win as he waived goodbye to the Thunder.
April 24, 2019, 2:08 amCJ McCollum - G - Trail Blazers
CJ McCollum put up 17 points (8-of-19 FGs), two rebounds, two assists, one triple and two blocks in 32 minutes in Tuesday's closeout win over the Thunder.
McCollum sat a little more than usual in the first half after getting his third foul early, though he also ended with three fouls in another example of why coaches should just leave players in until they get their fourth or fifth. McCollum had been on fire in this series, averaging over 26 points per game coming into tonight's game. He and the Blazers now wait to see if they'll get the Nuggets or the Spurs in the next round.
April 24, 2019, 1:55 amEnes Kanter - C - Trail Blazers
Enes Kanter toughed out a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double over 32 minutes in Tuesday's Game 5 victory over the Thunder.
Kanter also had four assists and a block while shooting 6-for-9 from the floor tonight. He got pretty banged up in the first half, injuring his shoulder which was heavily wrapped after the game. Kanter averaged over 13 points and 10 rebounds in under 30 minutes for the series and he looks like one of the best mid-season signings in the league at this point.
April 24, 2019, 1:48 amMaurice Harkless - F - Trail Blazers
Maurice Harkless had 17 points on just nine shots with seven rebounds, an assist and a steal in 33 minutes on Tuesday vs. the Thunder.
It's not wise to rely on Harkless, but he can be the wildcard the Blazers need every few games. After closing out the Thunder tonight, they'll await the winner of the Spurs and Nuggets series.
April 24, 2019, 1:37 amPaul George - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul George had a huge game with 36 points (14-of-20 FGs, 5-of-8 FTs), nine rebounds, three assists and three 3-pointers in Tuesday's 118-115 road loss to the Blazers.
George was feeling it early, making his first five shots. He battled through first-half foul trouble and likely some lingering pain from his injury. But it wasn't quite enough as Damian Lillard out-played him in this one to end the series in Portland.
April 24, 2019, 1:30 amRussell Westbrook - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook put up one final triple-double with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists as the Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs by the Blazers on Tuesday.
Aside from making all three of his free throws, it was a microcosm of Westbrook's season. He shot just 11-of-31 (4-of-11 from three) and had four steals, two blocks and five turnovers in 45 minutes. There's no better value if you're looking to punt three categories next season.
April 24, 2019, 1:24 amDennis Schroder - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Dennis Schroder went for 17 points on 7-of-10 from the field in addition to two rebounds, three assists, two treys and just one turnover in 33 minutes in Tuesday's Game 5 loss.
That makes it three straight games of 17 points and two threes for Schroder. It'll be interesting to see if he can carve out a slightly bigger role as he returns to OKC next season with the Thunder possibly looking to make some changes.
April 24, 2019, 1:19 amJerami Grant - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Jerami Grant had an incredibly efficient 16 points (7-for-8 FGs) to go with eight boards, one assist, three blocks and two threes in 44 minutes in Tuesday's close loss to the Blazers.
It was quite the fantasy line for Grant, though it will be his final one until October. The Thunder had a great shot at a win tonight, but the Blazers closed the game and series out in miracle fashion.
April 24, 2019, 1:03 amJamal Murray - G - Denver Nuggets
Jamal Murray knocked down plenty of shots again on his way to a game-high 23 points (9-of-16 FGs) in 28 minutes in Tuesday night's 108-90 home win over the Spurs.
Consistently inconsistent, the streaky Murray put together a second straight great game tonight. In addition to the shooting, which included 4-for-9 from deep, he added four boards, seven dimes, two steals and a block. The Nuggets often go as he goes, so they'll look for him to keep it up in Game 6 in San Antonio.
April 24, 2019, 12:53 amNikola Jokic - C - Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic had another double-double on Tuesday vs. the Spurs, going for 16 points (5-for-11 FGs, 4-for-4 FTs), 11 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, one block and two threes in 33 minutes.
The Joker wasn’t needed down the stretch as the Nuggets put this game out of reach early. It’s been a great series for him with averages of 19.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 9.0 assists. He'll try to help secure a series win this Thursday night in San Antonio.