Good afternoon, folks. So about the Lakers… Let’s talk NBA Bubble.
AD and Lebron dominate Game 3 against Blazers
Remember when the Portland Trail Blazers were up 1-0 on the Los Angeles Lakers and everyone was calling for an upset and declaring that Damian Lillard has more range than Steph Freaking Curry? I sure do! And that’s why I am going to overindulge myself for a minute.
I’ve spoken on this topic before, but there is a distinct (and annoying) difference between “regular-season” LeBron James and “playoff” LeBron James. What we saw in Game 3 exemplified exactly what “playoff” LeBron looks like. I cheered on LeBron heavily during his most recent four-year run with the Cleveland Cavaliers and this was an every-year trend: LeBron’s team struggles right up until the playoffs, question marks begin to pop up, then he rattles off a 38-point near triple-double with a tied series where he was unstoppable all evening–at 35 years old, mind you. Add in Anthony Davis to the equation and you’ll begin to wonder why anyone ever doubted the Lakers in the first place.
The former Wildcat poured in 29 points to go along with 11 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and three blocks while shooting 11-18 from the floor. After Davis shot a pitiful 8-24 in Game 1, he’s gone 24-39 over the last two outings. He was even an uncharacteristic 7-14 from the charity stripe in Game 3 but scored 23 of his 29 points in the second half alone to help relieve some of the scoring pressure off of LeBron. Davis even took over the game for a brief moment down the stretch, knocking down jumper after jumper from just inside the arc that no Blazers defender could realistically contest.
Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo was expected to make his return to the lineup after a fractured thumb kept him out of the seeding round and the first three playoff games, but he was ruled out at the last minute due to back spasms.
As for Wenyen Gabriel, the matchups are proving to be too much for Portland head coach Terry Stotts to trust the former Wildcat. It’s not that Gabriel can’t keep up–although it’s been difficult for him against the likes of Davis and LeBron–he just isn’t capable of making a noticeable impact without an ability to consistently score. His energy levels are insane, but the Blazers need scoring right now from everyone and Gabriel doesn’t fit that scheme. The one-time ‘Cat appeared in just four minutes in Game 3, recording one block and a turnover.
My favorite moment from this game was during a minute-long stretch in the second-half where the entire Lakers roster was absolutely gassed. Davis and LeBron were noticeably waltzing back on defense (with a double-digit lead) which led to commentator Mark Jackson unloading on them, saying that what he was seeing wasn’t “championship effort”, which made me literally laugh out loud because what in the hell does Mark Jackson know about championship effort??? He sure does know a ton about getting knocked out in the early stages of the playoff with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson as his best players, so I think I’ll trust what the Lakers are doing right now. Also, LeBron is an actual champion.
Miami goes up 3-0 over Indiana
The Miami Heat were on the brink of running away with Game 3 after the first half, leading by 18 at the intermission, but, as they have consistently throughout the season, let their foot off the gas and allowed the Indiana Pacers to make it a game in the closing minutes. Even after Miami rained in 74 first-half points, a franchise playoff record for one half, the Pacers scratched and crawled their way back into the game.
The Pacers quickly rattled off a 12-2 run to open up the third quarter that cut Miami’s lead to just eight and they continued to fight down to the end. They were able to trim the Heat advantage all the way down to just two points on several occasions in the fourth quarter, but could never get over the hump to take the lead. Bam Adebayo finished with an impressive 22 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists for Miami (with six turnovers, as well) while Tyler Herro added 20 points on a 6-12 shooting clip to lead the Heat to a 124-115 win and a 3-0 series lead.
The Heat shot 52 free-throws as a team, connecting on 43 of them for an 82 percent clip. Indiana shot 75 percent on just 28 free-throw attempts. Jimmy Butler attempted 20 free-throws by himself for Miami.
“I can’t explain that,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said after the Game 3 loss. “I mean, 52 free throws is ridiculous. They had 24 at the half, Butler shoots 20 of them … this is the playoffs, and I thought some of those calls were … I can’t explain it.”
Miami’s closing lineup through the first three playoff games included both Adebayo and the rookie Herro, but we briefly saw why that group might still be a work in progress as they navigate through the postseason. The Pacers were targeting Herro whenever he was guarding the ball, trying to switch pick-and-rolls so that either Malcolm Brogdon or T.J. Warren could go one-on-one against Herro. Unfortunately for the one-time Kentucky hooper, his defense was clearly not up to par. Brogdon went right by Herro late in the game for back-to-back easy layups. With under two minutes left, Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra had to take Herro out in favor of a better defender in Jae Crowder.
Herro’s offensive prowess has been vital to Miami’s success on that end, especially with rookie Kendrick Nunn struggling at the moment. He looks anything but a first-year player with the ball in his hands and he’s averaging 16.7 points through three playoff games, but he’s a clear liability on defense in late-game scenarios. Luckily for Miami, they have plenty of other sturdy defenders, but none that can shoot like Herro. It’ll be interesting to see how Miami handles Herro as the playoff progress. You have to play him because of his scoring ability, but how much can that cancel out his defense?
OKC steals a must-win in overtime
The Oklahoma City Thunder probably shouldn’t have won this game, but they did everything possible to avoid a 3-0 series hole against the Houston Rockets and were successful in the end.
Houston led by five with under two minutes left in the game before Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit the biggest shot of the night to put OKC up by one point with just 14 seconds left in regulation. Danuel House Jr. wound up getting fouled on the next possession for Houston but made just one of his two free-throws, ultimately sending the game into overtime. In those extra five minutes, the Thunder put the Rockets to bed in the first 60 seconds. Once James Harden fouled out with 4:07 left in OT–and with Russell Westbrook still on the bench dealing with an injury–the Thunder knew they had it in the bag. They would control the overtime period and win the game 119-107 to stay alive in the series down 2-1.
SGA finished the night with 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and four steals for OKC, shooting 9-18 from the field while playing a career-high 48 minutes. Yes, Shai played 48 minutes out of a 53-minute game. The three-headed backcourt monster of SGA, Dennis Schröder, and Chris Paul exploded for a combined 78 of the team’s 119 points (or 65 percent of the overall scoring). When those three are all on at the exact same time, OKC has been nearly unbeatable when the game is tight.
As for the two other BBNBAers, Nerlens Noel and Hamidou Diallo might not be made for this series. Noel played just 12 minutes, adding three points (all free-throws) and two rebounds while Diallo was a DNP-Coach’s Decision. Against the Rockets small-ball lineups, deploying Noel for heavy minutes just doesn’t match up in favor of OKC. Diallo has been completely bumped out of the Thunder rotation now that Lu Dort is back and healthy. Dort is a lethal on-ball defender and is the only chance OKC has of slowing down Harden (and Dort actually did fantastic in Game 3, holding Harden to a 3-13 mark from beyond the arc). Diallo, unfortunately, can’t stay in front of Harden in the same style that Dort can. In reality, there are maybe three people in the entire world that can stay in front of Harden; Dort might be one of them.
Other notes from the Bubble
- Is anyone else shocked that the Milwaukee Bucks have utterly destroyed the Orlando Magic the last two games after the latter stole Game 1? Yeah, me either… Milwaukee skipped through Game 3, winning 121-107 behind 35 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists from Giannis Antetokounmpo. Former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe was excellent in limited minutes, contributing 14 points, five rebounds, and eight assists while shooting 5-9 from the floor. Milwaukee led by 27 at the half as many as 34 in the third quarter to go up 2-1 in the series.
- Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic is considered a game-time decision for Sunday’s Game 4 matchup with the L.A. Clippers after suffering a sprained ankle in Game 3.
Series standings from Saturday
(1) Bucks lead (8) Magic 2-1
(5) Heat lead (4) Pacers 3-0
(1) Lakers lead (8) Trail Blazers 2-1
(4) Rockets lead (5) Thunder 2-1
|Anthony Davis (LAL)||116-108 W @ POR||29||11-18 (0-2)||11||8||2||3||2||+15||40|
|Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (OKC)||119-107 (OT) W @ HOU||23||9-18 (3-7)||7||6||4||1||1||+13||48|
|Bam Adebayo (MIA)||124-115 W @ IND||22||7-11 (0-0)||11||5||1||0||6||+8||33|
|Tyler Herro (MIA)||124-115 W @ IND||20||6-12 (3-6)||3||1||0||0||0||+8||28|
|Eric Bledsoe (MIL)||121-107 W @ ORL||14||5-9 (2-3)||5||8||3||0||4||+21||25|
|Nerlens Noel (OKC)||119-107 (OT) W @ HOU||3||0-0||2||0||0||0||0||-8||12|
|Wenyen Gabriel (POR)||108-116 L vs. LAL||0||0-0||0||0||0||1||1||-6||4|
|Hamidou Diallo (OKC)||119-107 (OT) W @ HOU||DNP-CD||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--|
|Rajon Rondo (LAL)||116-108 W @ POR||DNP-Thumb||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--|
TODAY IN THE BUBBLE
1:00 (ABC): Celtics (Kanter) @ 76ers [BOS leads 3-0]
3:30 (ABC): Clippers (Patterson) @ Mavericks (Kidd-Gilchrist) [LAC leads 2-1]
6:30 (TNT): Raptors @ Nets [TOR leads 3-0]
9:00 (TNT): Nuggets (Murray) @ Jazz [UTA leads 2-1]