Good morning, folks. Glad to be back… Let’s talk NBA Bubble.
The league returns after a brief three-day break
I think we can all agree that a three-day hiatus was necessary considering the circumstances. The stress of living inside a confined Bubble environment for close to two months is something not many of us will ever be able to relate to, then add on top of that the raw emotions and frustration the world saw from players and coaches alike following the tragic shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin and it would be easy to understand why morale is low. For the benefit of everyone’s mental and physical state, a three-day break was like hitting the reset button.
The Bubble was on the brink of popping Wednesday night, but cool heads helped guide the situation to a continuation of play. The debate of how everyone could make a bigger impact–whether that be inside the Bubble or on the front lines of their respective communities–was front and center. Several players, most notably LeBron James, were adamant that they would no longer continue with the Bubble if real, physical change was not visible before they took the hardwood again. After several passionate and thought-out discussions between the players, coaches, and top members of the league office, there is proof that the strikes worked: Every single NBA arena will now be set up and utilized as polling locations for the upcoming Nov. 3 general election. The idea behind opening up these massive venues to the public is that it will provide a safe and accessible area for people to vote during a pandemic. The fight is long from over, but progress is being made.
”We thought we could make more of a statement staying here and playing in front of the world instead of going home to our respective cities, our respective communities, you know, doing it by ourselves,” Bucks guard Khris Middleton said on Saturday.
As an added bonus, we all get playoff basketball back on our TVs. So let’s dive into what happened during the first day back.
Lakers advance thanks to AD’s 43
The Portland Trail Blazers were without Bubble MVP Damian Lillard in Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers but still managed to give the Western Conference’s top-seed some issues. Lillard has left Orlando in order to receive treatment for an injury, leaving C.J. McCollum and Carmelo Anthony to clean up the scoring responsibilities. And they did just that, combining to drop 63 points in a must-win outing. However, the Blazers suited up just nine healthy players and watched as LeBron and Anthony Davis combined to pour in 79 points of their own while shooting an insane 75 percent from the field.
Davis finished with a game-high 43 points on a 14-18 shooting clip in addition to nine rebounds for the Lakers in a 131-122 win over Portland, moving L.A. into the second-round and setting them up with a date against either the Houston Rockets or Oklahoma City Thunder. 43 points set a new playoff career-high for Davis as the Lakers won its first playoff series since 2012. LeBron added 36 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds, extending his perfect first-round winning record to an impressive 14-0 mark.
Blazers forward Wenyen Gabriel was actually projected in the starting lineup prior to the game but was ruled out just ahead of tipoff with right quad tendinitis. As for the still-injured Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo, he practiced ahead of Game 5 but was eventually ruled inactive due to back spasms. Rondo is seemingly recovered from the fractured thumb that initially held him out, but now his back is giving him fits. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go in the second round for L.A., as they’ll need all the backcourt help they can get against either the Rockets or Thunder–two teams with guard-heavy rosters.
SGA and Thunder struggle in Game 5, Bucks advance to second-round
Speaking of the Rockets and Thunder, Houston exploded in the third quarter of Game 5 to gain a critical 3-2 series lead. Oklahoma City trailed just 48-45 at the half but was manhandled in the third period, being outscored in that 12-minute stretch by 19 points. Dennis Schröder popped off for 18 points in the second quarter that allowed OKC to stay within striking distance, but once he was ejected in the third quarter–along with Rockets wing P.J. Tucker–Houston took control. James Harden dropped 31 points and Russell Westbrook made his return from injury as the Rockets came out ahead by a final score of 114-80.
What killed the Thunder was arguably the worst performance of the Bubble from sophomore guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who posted a paltry stat line of four points, three rebounds, and four assists while shooting 2-8 from the field, missing all four of his attempts from distance, and turning the ball over four times (SGA turned the ball over just four times total in the first four outings of this series). Without Schröder and SGA struggling, Chris Paul couldn’t do nearly enough by himself to make up for the lost production. OKC is at its best when all three of its star guards are clicking; and we saw what happens when two have off nights.
The late-game blowout did provide bonus minutes for OKC guard Hamidou Diallo, who was seen his playing time shift in favor of lockdown defender Lu Dort, who has done a terrific job on Harden (even though Dort is shooting a miserable 26 percent from the floor in the series). Diallo found seven minutes of clock, adding six points and three rebounds for OKC. Nerlens Noel corralled nine rebounds off the Thunder bench in his 13 minutes.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks were finally able to send the Orlando Magic home (is ‘home’ the correct term for a team that lives 30 minutes away from the Bubble?) after securing a 118-104 Game 5 win in the first round. Milwaukee was the team that initially sparked the strikes from Wednesday, refusing to take the floor in response to the shooting in Kenosha. Four days after the scheduled tipoff, the Bucks finished what they started.
The recently crowned Defensive Player of the Year, Giannis Antetokounmpo, posted 28 points and 17 rebounds for the Bucks, who advance to the second round of the playoffs where they’ll face a dangerous Miami Heat squad. Khris Middleton added 21 points and 10 rebounds for Milwaukee while former Wildcat Eric Bledsoe recorded 10 points, three rebounds, and eight assists in 27 minutes.
Bledsoe was far from stellar in the first-round series, posting averages of 11.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 6.6 assists in just over 26 minutes per outing. He shot 44 percent from the floor but a mere 27.8 percent from deep. Luckily, his efforts on the defensive end helped make up for his lack of efficiency on the other end of the court. The Miami Heat has several talented backcourt players such as Goran Dragic, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, and–of course– Tyler Herro who will make life hell for the Bucks defense. Bledsoe is going to have his hands full in the next round and I wouldn’t expect much improvement in the shooting department. He’s going to make his impact felt on defense while playing around Giannis and Middleton.
Bucks-Heat is going to be an awesome series.
Series standings from Saturday
(1) Bucks beat (8) Magic 4-1
(1) Lakers beat (8) Magic 4-1
(4) Rockets lead (5) Thunder 3-2
|Anthony Davis (LAL)||131-122 W vs. POR||43||14-18 (4-6)||9||4||1||0||1||+15||36|
|Eric Bledsoe (MIL)||118-104 W vs. ORL||10||3-7 (2-5)||3||8||1||0||2||+26||27|
|Hamidou Diallo (OKC)||80-114 L @ HOU||6||2-4 (0-1)||3||0||0||2||1||-11||7|
|Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (OKC)||80-114 L @ HOU||4||2-8 (0-4)||3||4||0||0||4||-27||34|
|Nerlens Noel (OKC)||80-114 L @ HOU||2||1-4 (0-1)||9||0||0||1||0||-2||13|
|Rajon Rondo (LAL)||131-122 W vs. POR||DNP-Back spasms||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--|
|Wenyen Gabriel (POR)||122-131 L @ LAL||DNP-Quad||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--|
TODAY IN THE BUBBLE
1:00 (ESPN): Celtics (Kanter) @ Raptors [Series tied 0-0]
3:30 (ESPN): Clippers (Patterson) @ Mavericks (Kidd-Gilchrist) [LAC lead 3-2]
8:30 (TNT): Nuggets (Murra) @ Jazz [UTA lead 3-2]