January 12, 2019, 1:16 am
The Portland Trail Blazers beat the Charlotte Hornets 127-96 at Moda Center on Friday night, their second largest victory of the season. They shot 55.9 percent from the field and drained 15 three-pointers. Portland doled out a season-high with 31 assists, too, an impressive number made all the more notable because it committed only nine turnovers – over half of which came in the fourth quarter, when Terry Stotts put four of his five starters on ice. C.J. McCollum scored 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting, including 5-of-11 from three, despite playing just 29 minutes. Damian Lillard stuffed the stat sheet with 20 points, four rebounds, five assists, three steals, and a career-best four blocks. Jusuf Nurkic was the Blazers’ only starter to play in the final stanza, chasing a triple-double he couldn’t quite catch before Stotts took him out for good, finishing another strong performance with 11 points, 11 rebounds, and a career-high eight assists. He also notched six of the Blazers’ 16 blocks, a season-high total that just missed the team record for blocked shots in a game, and was instrumental in holding the Hornets, quietly ranked 10th in offensive rating this season, to 40 percent from the field.
Obviously, there are many individual and team-wide stats that indicate just how well Stotts’ team played on Friday, in what could be considered their most encouraging game of the season. It’s not like the eye test was any less telling. Portland flat-out dominated Charlotte, flying all over the floor in transition and the halfcourt en route to highlight after highlight after highlight. One innocuous sequence, though, that didn’t even result in the Blazers scoring, forcing a turnover, or producing any single box-score statistic whatsoever, perhaps serves as a better encapsulation of their play against the Hornets than anything else.
It came midway through the third quarter, as Portland’s starters extended their team’s seemingly insurmountable halftime lead with surgical precision on both ends of the court. Kemba Walker, following a corner three by Jake Layman off a cross-court bullet from Nurkic, calmly crossed halfcourt with a lefty dribble as Lillard waited for him beyond the arc. Charlotte’s franchise player crossed over between his legs then back to the left, preparing to use a high screen from Bismack Biyombo attacking the middle. Lillard went below Biyombo, quickly scooting back into position, as Nurkic met Walker just above the free throw line, allowing one of the game’s craftiest ball handlers a sliver of space between he and the recovering Lillard. After Walker successfully split the defense, veering back the other direction with a slick crossover, he leapt off his left foot in one swell motion, ostensibly to attempt what amounts to a fadeaway floater – exactly the type of difficult, acrobatic shot that’s helped propel him to stardom.
Instead of jumping to shoot, Walker decided to leave his feet for a pass back to the rolling Biyombo, unaware that he’d finally found enough space in the paint to get a clean look at the basket. It’s not often you see a player of Walker’s skill, smarts, ingenuity, and confidence get spooked into shot-putting the ball off the glass, anticipating a block that was never going to come and forcing a pass that was never there in the first place.
It’s hard to blame Walker for his gaffe. After all, he needed 19 shots to put up 18 points against the Blazers, and all five of his buckets came at least 15 feet away from the rim. Lillard, locked in from the opening tip, had already blocked his jumper twice via rear-view contest in the third quarter, and the Hornets shot a dismal 14-of-30 from the restricted area overall. Portland was as active, engaged, and disruptive defensively as its been all season. Even Meyers Leonard, who didn’t record a single blocked shot in 2017-18, matched his season-long total and set a new career-high with three blocked shots of his own. If Charlotte wasn’t hot from three-point range, going 13-of-30, its offensive performance would have ranked as one of the most anemic of the entire NBA season to date, a hypothetical scenario the Blazers didn’t need to prove their defensive mettle on Sunday.
A far bigger test comes Sunday, when Portland visits the conference-leading Denver Nuggets at 5,280 feet. In easily dispatching of another inferior Eastern Conference foe, though, the Blazers, who have won six of their last seven, showed again just how good they can be when clicking at something close to all cylinders. And as striking as the statistics and awe-inducing as the highlights were, it’s those factors combined with doing all the little things that has this team playing its best basketball of the season – by far.
May 26, 2019, 1:17 amKawhi Leonard - F - Toronto Raptors
Kawhi Leonard posted a monster line in Saturday's 100-94 Game 6 win, scoring 27 points with 17 rebounds, seven assist, two steals, two blocks and six turnovers.
Leonard put the Raptors on his back and carried them into their first NBA Finals appearance. After losing the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals the Raptors stormed back to take the next four to seal the series. Kawhi has been simply marvelous for this team and found a way to crank it up another notch, averaging almost 30 points per game this series. He was all over the court this game and dominated the Bucks from inside the paint. A 4th quarter dunk over Giannis Antetokounmpo punctuated this dominance and sent the hometown crowd in a frenzy. The Raptors will try to keep their hot streak going as they face the Warriors in the NBA Finals.
May 26, 2019, 1:14 amGiannis Antetokounmpo - F - Milwaukee Bucks
While Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible for a five-year supermax contract worth over $247 million, ESPN's Malika Andrews is reporting that the 2020 playoff run could swing whether or not Antetokounmpo stays with the Bucks long-term.
The Bucks have three of their starters and two key bench pieces heading into free agency this summer, so they might have to make some bold choices to keep the necessary parts around while also improving the team on a budget. It's possible that this is the Antetokounmpo camp's way of encouraging Milwaukee to empty the wallet and keep the current group together, but it goes against what Giannis has said publicly about the team and city from day one. The Bucks were eliminated mere hours ago but we're already having this conversation. The NBA news cycle is perpetual.
May 26, 2019, 12:59 amKyle Lowry - G - Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry posted a solid line in Saturday's Game 6 win scoring 17 points while adding five rebounds, eight assists, three 3-pointers, one steal and only one turnover.
After a pedestrian series against the 76ers, Lowry stepped it up against the Bucks, averaging almost 20 points per game in the Eastern Conference Finals. He did a great job making smart plays for the Raptors and they will need him to continue to operate at this high level as they head off into the NBA Finals next week.
May 26, 2019, 12:48 amMarc Gasol - C - Toronto Raptors
Marc Gasol scored six points, all from behind the arc, in Saturday's Game 6 win, adding three rebounds, two assists and a block/steal in 26 minutes.
Gasol continues to do what the Raptors ask of him though the years of grinding in the paint for Memphis are long gone. He has adjusted his game play and now acts as a facilitator for the rest of the team. Gasol continues to split time in the post with Serge Ibaka (25 minutes, nine points) and will see his minutes fluctuate based on the Raptor's offensive scheme heading into the NBA Finals.
May 26, 2019, 12:24 amFred VanVleet - G - Toronto Raptors
Fred VanVleet was a difference maker for the Raptors' series clinching Game 6, scoring 14 points off the bench on 5-for-6 shooting while adding two assists.
VanVleet played 34 minutes off the bench and continues to be a menace from behind the 3-point line (4-for-5 today). In the past three games he has gone an unbelievable 14-for-17 from behind the arc. The Raptors will continue to rely on his ability to stretch the floor as they head into their first NBA Finals and will square off against the Warriors and their own formidable shooters.
May 26, 2019, 12:08 amGiannis Antetokounmpo - F - Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 21 points in Saturday's Game 6 loss while contributing 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals, three blocks and two turnovers.
Antetokounmpo did all that was asked of him on both sides of the ball but could not get past the Raptors this series. Giannis continues to operate at an MVP-level but his freethrow woes continue to plague him. He was "Shaq-esque" this series (55%) and shot 5-for-10 in tonight's loss. This is a tough break for Antetokounmpo and the Bucks as they head into the offseason with four of their five starters entering free agency.
May 25, 2019, 11:46 pmKhris Middleton - F - Milwaukee Bucks
Khris Middleton scored 14 points in Saturday's Eastern Conference Finals loss adding just four 3-pointers, four rebounds and two turnovers.
All-Star Middleton struggled this entire series as he was tasked with the unenviable task of guarding Kawhi Leonard. He was poised to continue his fabulous playoff success following strong performances against the Pistons and Celtics but failed to deliver this series, with the exception of a 30-point Game 4 loss. Middleton will be a free agent this summer and will be one of the Bucks' top priorities heading into the offseason.
May 25, 2019, 11:29 pmEric Bledsoe - G - Milwaukee Bucks
Eric Bledsoe scored an inefficient eight points (3-for-9 FGs, 1-for-3 3-pointers, 1-for-2 FTs) in Saturday's loss while adding five rebounds, seven assists, one steal and two turnovers.
Bledsoe seemed to ebb and flow all series and just could not find the consistency that the Bucks needed during the Eastern Conference Finals. He has always been able to produce outside of scoring but his team really needed him to put the ball in the hoop this game.
May 25, 2019, 11:19 pmBrook Lopez - C - Milwaukee Bucks
Brook Lopez scored 18 points on Saturday's Game 6 loss, adding nine rebounds, one assist, four blocks and zero 3-pointers.
Lopez had a productive 4th quarter for the Bucks scoring six points in the paint against the Raptors frontcourt. Unfortunately, he could not get it going throughout the rest of the game and caused most of his damage at the freethrow line, going 8-for-9. Lopez provided a great boost for the Bucks this season and will be a free agent this offseason.
May 25, 2019, 7:58 pmPatrick McCaw - G - Toronto Raptors
Patrick McCaw, who has been dealing with a personal issue for the last few games, is active for Game 6 on Saturday vs. the Bucks.
It looks like McCaw got things sorted out. With him active now, the Raptros will get a bit more depth at the guard spot. That said, Fred VanVleet has been playing well, so McCaw will not likely see a lot of burn tonight outside of potential garbage minutes (if any).
Source: Blake Murphy on Twitter