Wow! Another crazy night in the NBA Playoffs! The Raptors and Hawks both looked demoralized at times last night, but both teams came away with pivotal Game 5 victories. Here’s a deep dive into last night’s games and look ahead to the action in all of the other playoff series.
Toronto Raptors (Eastern Conference No.2) vs Indiana Pacers (Eastern Conference No. 7) – Raptors Lead 3-2
Heading into the fourth quarter of last night’s game five, the Indiana Pacers held a 13-point lead, 90-77, over the Toronto Raptors on the road. Paul George, who is the best player in this series (no offense to Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan), was rolling, and playing like the best player in this series, as he had 22 first-half points and finished the game with 39 points.
Lowry, who is one of the top ten point guards in the Association, had another clunker of game, scoring 14 points on a measly 3-11 shooting, and despite DeRozan’s stellar 34-point performance, it didn’t appear that the Raptors were going to capitalize on his incredible performance.
Then the Raptors switched to a small-ball lineup that they hadn’t used all year: Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, and Bismack Biyombo. What ensued was a 21-2 run powered by the rebounding of Biyombo, 16 rebounds, the space-invading defense of Powell that limited Paul George in crunch time, the 3-point shooting of Ross and Joseph, and play-making of Lowry. That lineup, outside of Lowry, is comprised of a seldom-used second-year player (Powell), two backup guards (Ross and Joseph), and a center whose offensive game is nonexistent unless he’s scoring on a cutback off of an offensive rebound (Biyombo). Yet, Toronto’s hastily assembled group somehow took over.
Much of that credit should go to Powell, who limited George to just two points in the fourth quarter. However, the Raptors also needed a lot of fortuitous bounces in order to escape with their 102-99 Game 5 win. The Pacers’ Solomon Hill hit two three-pointers in the last 20 seconds, one that cut the Raps’ lead to one and another three that appeared to send the game to overtime. Upon further review of Hill’s buzzer beater, the basketball was on a couple of his finger tips, which nullified the shot, giving the Raptors a much-needed victory.
The importance of this win for the Raptors cannot be understated because the home team in this series is 5-0. Had the Raptors gone on to lose this game in overtime, they would’ve needed to stave off elimination inside of the raucous Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the Pacers.
Instead, Toronto has a one-game cushion. They’ll need it because they’ll probably lose Game 6 on the road, which will force a winner-take-all Game 7, which they’ll probably win since it’s back in Canada, with Drake heckling the visiting Pacers like it’s his job.
In Toronto’s case, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Atlanta Hawks (Eastern Conference No.4) vs Boston Celtics (Eastern Conference No. 5) – Hawks Lead 3-2
Much like the Raptors, the Hawks appeared to be destined for a first-round exit after shooting a putrid 6 of 34 to start the game.
Even though the Boston Celtics were only up about eight or ten points, the Hawks had 19 points halfway through the second quarter.
Then the Hawks remembered they were the Eastern Conference’s number-one seed just over a year ago, and they proceeded to go on a 28-8 run right before halftime to take 47-39 lead into the locker room at intermission.
Reserve forward Mike Scott hit a three, starting point guard Jeff Teague hit a three, and starting forward Kent Bazemore hit three consecutive three-pointers in two minutes.
The third quarter treated the Hawks even better as they scored 42 points in the first 12 minutes of the second half alone on an incredible 62% shooting from the field.
Celtics’ guard Evan Turner most appropriately summarized the Hawks hot streak after the game, “I don’t think they missed for an hour,” Turner said. “What could you possibly do?”
Only making matters worse, Celtics’ All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas sprained his left ankle with ten minutes remaining in the lopsided 110-83 Hawks victory.
However, Thomas did declare that he will play in Game 6, “I’m playing no matter what,” Thomas said.
Before Thomas’ injury, the Hawks had finally figured out a strategy to bottle up Thomas, who was averaging 28.3 points per game against Atlanta heading into Game 5.
Their new defensive game plan was to harass Thomas with double and triple teams, forcing the ball out of his hands. It worked as Thomas scored a measly seven points on 3-12 shooting.
“It should be a sign of disrespect to my teammates for [the Hawks] to put two on the ball every time I have it,” Thomas said. “Other guys have to step up and make plays, that’s what it comes down to.”
Last night, the Celtics’ “other guys” did not make plays. The loss of Avery Bradley, their best perimeter defender and three-point shooter, has crippled both the Celtics’ offense and defense.
Expect the Hawks to continue their red-hot shooting and close out the series in Game 6.
Miami Heat (Eastern Conference No.3) vs Charlotte Hornets (Eastern Conference No. 6) – Tied 2-2
After the Miami Heat dominated the first two games of the series, the Charlotte Hornets countered with two home victories of their own, which makes tonight’s Game 5 in Miami the game that could define the series. If Charlotte doesn’t win tonight in Miami, there’s no way they’re going to win in Miami for a possible Game 7. However if Charlotte pulls off the road upset tonight, they’ll probably close out the Heat in six back in Charlotte.
Along with this series being as close as it can be, it’s starting to get a little chippy which is always fun because who doesn’t love a good rivalry?
After the Heat’s Game 4 loss, starting center Hassan Whiteside complained about the officiating, labeling their first round series against the Hornets “the flop-offs.”
Naturally, Hornets’ head coach Steve Clifford fired back with a loaded response of his own, “If you’re going to get into career flopping between the two rosters, it wouldn’t be close,” Clifford said. “We don’t have anybody that flops.”
Honestly, this series could go either way and will probably be unofficially decided by tonight’s Game 5.
Los Angeles Clippers (Western Conference No. 4) vs Portland Trail Blazers (Western Conference No. 5) – Tied 2-2
This series did not follow the script at all. After dominating home victories in the series’ first two games, the Los Angeles Clippers looked like they were on the verge of sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers right out of the playoffs.
Then, Blake Griffin reinjured his quad, Chris Paul broke a bone in his hand, and just like that it looks like Blazers are going to continue their winning streak beyond their last two games in Portland and end this series in six.
Without Chris Paul around to contain Damian Lillard, he and the NBA’s Most Improved Player CJ McCollum will run wild all over the Clippers’ defense and power them to four straight wins to end the Clippers playoff run way earlier than it should have.
Golden State Warriors (Western Conference No. 1) vs Houston Rockets (Western Conference No. 8) – Warriors lead 3-1
“Our mentality going into Wednesday is simply to close this series out,” Draymond Green said. “Let’s not let this series linger on.”
However, Rockets’ guard Jason Terry has other ideas, as he guaranteed the Rockets would win Game 5, according to ESPN’s Calvin Watkins.
The Warriors haven’t lost at home in the playoffs since Game 2 of last year’s NBA Finals, and Green and Klay Thompson won’t let the Rockets be the team that ruins their perfect 2016 home playoff record.
On to Round 2
Cleveland Cavaliers (Eastern Conference No. 1) vs Hawks/Celtics winner (Eastern Conference No. 4/5) – 0-0
The Cleveland Cavaliers had a tough time against the Detroit Pistons, but prevailed and swept Andre Drummond and friends out of the playoffs in four games.
They await their next opponent who will most likely be the Atlanta Hawks. LeBron’s Cavaliers will likely receive a fight from the Hawks but will probably prevail in five or six games.
San Antonio Spurs (Western Conference No. 2) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (Western Conference No. 3) – 0-0
While this Western Conference Semifinal matchup is all set and ready go, these two heavyweights must wait until Saturday to square off in San Antonio. This series could honestly go either, but the Spurs have too many weapons this year with Kawhi Leonard developing into a true two-way superstar this year, growing his offensive game by leaps and bounds, in addition to offensive dynamo LaMarcus Aldridge scoring with ease in the paint.
While Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both phenomenal superstar basketball players, their supporting cast just isn’t up to par with Leonard’s and Aldridge’s. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, David West, Patty Mills, and Danny Green make up the Spurs’ group of “other guys”, while Andre Roberson, Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter, Stephen Adams, Anthony Morrow, and Randy Foye make up the Thunder’s group of “other guys.”
Give me San Antonio’s supporting cast every day of the year. Spurs in seven.
Featured image source: Curtis