It was a workman like performance by the Blazers. Not a lot of flash, they were just the better team and they never let up.
And they needed the win. It moved them half a game ahead of the Hornets for the six seed in the West. It matters — the six seed likely gets Dallas, seven seed gets the Lakers. Portland feels it has a shot against Dallas (and the Lakers would be happy to avoid Portland). Los Angeles is a harder road.
Portland was without Marcus Camby (sore neck) and Utah make a priority of not letting LaMarcus Aldridge beat them — he was denied and doubled and finished with 12 points on 6-of-19 shooting.
But now Portland has Gerald Wallace. He does a little of everything for this team and on a night they needed scoring he pitched in 29 (on 16 shots). He was getting inside and was still 5-9 on jumpers. Plus he had 8 boards. And defended like mad. He is a great fit for what Portland does and makes them much more dangerous in the playoffs.
The Blazers also got solid play off the bench from Brandon Roy, and Nicolas Batum had 21 points on 13 shots.
Devin Harris was back for the Jazz after a seven-game absence and looked sharp, but the Jazz are giving the kids their due now. And that leads to challenges. Gordon Hayward was barely a factor (he had 10 points, still). There were fourth quarter runs to make it a game, then the Blazers tightened their defense and the result was the Jazz taking rushed long jumpers against the shot clock. There is still learning to do.
Next up for Portland is the hated Lakers Friday night (and Los Angeles looks plenty beatable right now). A win helps them get what they want, which is to avoid those same Lakers in the first round.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.
Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.
Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:
“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”
Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.
But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.
He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.
If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.
The Spurs are reportedly worried Kawhi Leonard‘s camp wants to get him to the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks or 76ers.
Leonard hasn’t said much himself – except apparently to San Antonio teammate Danny Green
Get Up on ESPN:
I talk to him here and there, check up on him, see how he’s doing.
I think he wants to be in San Antonio. He’s let me know that. He’s let me know verbally he wanted to be there. So, we’ll see what happens.
Green has tried playing peacemaker throughout this saga – going as far as denying tension that clearly exists. He’s not the most reliable source.
And even if Leonard explicitly told Green he wants to remain in San Antonio, I’m not sure Leonard is confrontational enough to tell Green he wanted out, even if he did.
Those caveats acknowledged, this could be a huge revelation.
If Leonard wants to stay with the Spurs, the next step is meeting with them, mending their relationship and convincing them he deserves a super-max extension (which projects to be worth $219 million over five years). No matter how Leonard feels about San Antonio right now, if the Spurs don’t trust investing so much in him, that could lead to a fractured relationship and his exit.
So, there’s still a lot to sort out. But Green saying this means something.
His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?
"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.
He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.
Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.
Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.
LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.
A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:
Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.
Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.
The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.
Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.
Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.
Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.
This was the risk.
We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.
That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.
Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.