April 21, 2018, 8:48 pm
At least they put up a fight. The Portland Trail Blazers lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 131-123 on Saturday, putting an official and depressing end to their season by becoming the first three seed since 2001 to get swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Anthony Davis played perhaps the best game of his career, finishing with a postseason franchise-record 47 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks on 15-of-24 shooting. Jrue Holiday, incredibly, might have been better, pouring in a personal playoff-best of 41 points on 15-of-23 shooting to go along with eight assists. Those eye-popping numbers don’t tell the real story of their impact in Game 4, either. The film certainly does.
With Portland, courtesy of some key two-way adjustments, staging a sustained fourth-quarter rally in a last-ditch effort to extend its season, New Orleans’ best players consistently came up big when their team needed them most. On eight separate occasions, the Blazers’ chance to take the lead on their next trip down the floor was thwarted by scores from Holiday or Davis. They did it however they wanted, embarrassing Portland defenders with the frightening combination of ease and intensity they displayed throughout this series.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 21, 2018
— NBA (@NBA) April 21, 2018
It’s not like Holiday and Davis only dominated late, either. They combined for 32 of their team’s 43 points in the third quarter, a new franchise best for the postseason, and spearheaded an offense that shot a remarkable 66 percent on two-pointers and doled out 28 assists. The Pelicans’ offensive rating in Game 4 was 130.5, an easy high in a series that made the Blazers’ surprisingly strong defensive performance during the regular season moot – and calls into major question the makeup of Neil Olshey’s roster going forward.
Jusuf Nurkic, a restricted free agent this summer who had 18 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and two blocks, helped Portland get back into the game late by beasting Nikola Mirotic in the post. C.J. McCollum erupted for 38 points on 15-of-22 shooting, and Al-Farouq Aminu, arguably his team’s best player in Game 4, had 27 points while connect on 5-of-11 from beyond the arc. Damian Lillard was better, too, scoring 19 points on 16 shots, dishing six assists and committing a single turnover. The Blazers shot 52.6 percent from the field, 10-of-27 from three and 13-of-16 from the line. They managed 20 assists against six turnovers, a major departure from the previous three games, and were far better prepared to deal with double-teams on the perimeter.
None of it mattered. Holiday and Davis were relentless, and the hole Portland dug itself during the first 36 minutes of Saturday’s contest proved just a bit too deep to save the season.
“There’s no way you could have told me before the series that there wouldn’t be a Game 5,” Ed Davis told NBC Sports Northwest in the post-game locker room. “We’re shocked.”
Just as shocking, though, were means of the Blazers’ almost-comeback, which aren’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Terry Stotts’ job security. The Pelicans put Mirotic on Nurkic from the opening tip of Game 4, just like they did the previous two games. But it was only late that Portland began exploiting that mismatch with planned post-ups, an especially vexing non-development given New Orleans’ success neutralizing Lillard in ball-screen action. Stotts also toggled the defensive matchups with the season on the line, moving Aminu to Holiday and stashing Evan Turner on Mirotic. Holiday had some success against Aminu, but hardly to the calm, casual extent he did while being checked by Turner, Lillard, McCollum, Pat Connaughton or even Moe Harkless, the latter of whom missed the 2017-18 finale with left knee soreness stemming from arthroscopic surgery late last month.
Portland’s personnel is limited in many ways, a reality forcefully manifested in the Pelicans’ two-way game-planning and, more troublingly, their new frontcourt pairing of Mirotic and Davis. An overwhelming majority of league analysts picked the Blazers to advance past the first round, but most did so acknowledging the possibility that the Pelicans could pose them an unfixable set of problems. Fine. But the simple strategic tweaks that turned Game 4, playing through Nurkic and letting Aminu guard Holiday, were available all series long, yet only put into place when Portland’s collecgive back was against the wall. Why?
Stotts is a very good coach, but he’s culpable here. So is everybody else.
This offseason is the Blazers’ most important since 2015, when the departures of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez ushered in a new era of Rose City basketball. The inevitable rebuild accompanied by those losses never came; Lillard, McCollum and Stotts made sure of it. Might similarly drastic changes be on the horizon?
Only time will tell. After a well-earned sweep at hand of a lower-seeded team, though, it’s never been more obvious the status quo just isn’t good enough.
April 23, 2019, 8:33 amMonty Williams - Team - Phoenix Suns
Adrian Wojnarowksi of ESPN is reporting that the timing on the dismissal of Igor Kokoskov from the Suns was partly rooted in their desire to compete against the Lakers in pursuit of Sixers assistant coach Monty Williams.
Suns GM James Jones played under Williams while he was an assistant coach with the Blazers, and new senior VP of basketball operations Jeff Bower hired Williams as head coach of the Pelicans in 2010. The Suns' next coach will be their seventh in an eight-season span which is all you need to know about the franchise’s direction. The Lakers are planning on a second meeting with Williams later this week, assuming the Sixers defeat the Nets on Tuesday to end their first-round series.
April 23, 2019, 8:22 amIgor Kokoskov - Team - Phoenix Suns
The Suns on Monday night announced that they have fired head coach Igor Kokoskov after just one year on the job.
After the end of the season, it looked like Phoenix had planned to bring Kokoskov back for a second year, especially after the team's strong play in late stages of the calendar. “After extensive evaluation, I determined it is best to move in a different direction with our head coaching position," Suns GM James Jones said in a statement. Former GM Ryan McDonough, hired Kokoskov away from his assistant job with the Utah Jazz last May but he was also let go nine days before the start of the season. Kokoskov has been a well-respected tactician who becomes another victim of the constant turnover in Phoenix but he should have no problem finding another job as an assistant in the near future.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
April 23, 2019, 1:30 amChris Paul - G - Houston Rockets
Chris Paul had a great Game 4 in Monday's 91-107 loss to the Jazz with 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting with eight rebounds, seven assists, five steals, two blocks and two 3-pointers.
Paul had a nice breakaway dunk late in the fourth, showing that he's still got the hops and his defense throughout tonight was also solid. He brought back some of his vintage layup package, but the Rockets as a whole went cold from deep late in the game and couldn't stop Donovan Mitchell's barrage in the fourth quarter.
April 23, 2019, 1:30 amJae Crowder - F - Utah Jazz
Jae Crowder finally had a strong night offensively in Monday's Game 4 with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go with four rebounds, an assist, two steals and three 3-pointers.
Crowder had 18 first half points which would have been the most he's scored in any game this series. He was on fire to start the first period and his energy levels were much higher tonight. The Jazz finally got a strong game out of Crowder on both ends of the floor and he'll have to keep nailing shots for the Jazz to drag out this series.
April 23, 2019, 1:29 amRudy Gobert - C - Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert logged 24 foul-plagued minutes in Monday's Game 4 and scored four points on 2-of-4 shooting with nine rebounds, two assists, a steal and three blocks.
Gobert was a net-positive whenever he was on the floor tonight and he's getting better at keeping up with Houston's guards on the perimeter. He's blocked several of James Harden's floaters over the past two games and has dominated the paint when he plays, but was limited due to fouls tonight. Derrick Favors (24 minutes, 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting with 11 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block) more than carried his weight tonight as he kept the Rockets at bay with his suffocating defense inside the paint in the final period of action.
April 23, 2019, 1:24 amClint Capela - C - Houston Rockets
Clint Capela struggled in Monday's Game 4, scoring four points on 1-of-6 shooting with seven rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes.
Capela went 2-for-6 at the line and he was severely limited in tonight's game as he struggled with Utah's physicality. The normal lobs he received from James Harden were much more difficult to control tonight and he had trouble finishing around the rim. We expect him to be much better in the next game.
April 23, 2019, 1:24 amDonovan Mitchell - G - Utah Jazz
Donovan Mitchell carried the Jazz in their 107-91 win over the Rockets in Game 4 on Monday with 31 points on 11-of-26 shooting to go with seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and three 3-pointers.
Mitchell finally got some help from his teammates tonight as they helped carry the team's offensive burden throughout the first three periods. In the final quarter, Mitchell scored the Jazz's first 13 points and ended up with 19 fourth quarter points. He had a dazzling spin move, some deep triples and a freakishly athletic alley-oop dunk all in the span of 12 minutes and has kept the Jazz season alive for at least another game due to his heroic efforts. Although the team as a whole has struggled offensively, Mitchell showed his superstar potential tonight.
April 23, 2019, 1:17 amRicky Rubio - G - Utah Jazz
Ricky Rubio scored 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting while adding 11 assists, three rebounds, a steal, a block and a 3-pointer in Game 4 on Monday.
Rubio played much better defense on Houston's guards tonight but was still unable to stretch the floor with his shooting as he went 1-for-7 from deep. If he can make incremental improvements on his defensive assignment while hitting a couple more triples, the Jazz have a good shot at extending this series.
April 23, 2019, 1:15 amJames Harden - G - Houston Rockets
James Harden scored 30 points on 8-of-19 shooting with three rebounds, four assists, two steals and six 3-pointers in Game 4 on Monday.
Harden is facing one of the toughest defenses in the league so the shots he makes are difficult. The step-back 3s were on full display tonight, but Harden had difficulty penetrating the Jazz defense whenever Rudy Gobert was manning the paint. Although his shooting percentages were high, he committed eight turnovers as the mid-range territory is one of the hardest to navigate. Gobert is predicting his floaters and Clint Capela couldn't grab and finish the usual lob passes which hampered Harden's success tonight. He's slowly figuring out the Jazz defense and if Capela can return to form we can expect his assist numbers to spike.
April 23, 2019, 1:12 amEric Gordon - G - Houston Rockets
Eric Gordon scored 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting with five 3-pointers, a rebound, an assist and a block in Monday's Game 4.
Gordon started off hot and did all the stuff the Rockets expected him to do, but late in the game he was unable to hit timely shots for Houston. He'll get another crack at some open looks due to Utah's defensive scheme.