The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Wave goodbye, Damian Lillard drops 50, game-winning three to eliminate Thunder. Paul George — the best perimeter defender in the NBA this past season, a guy who likely lands top three in Defensive Player of the Year voting — was on him. Didn’t matter. On a night when Oklahoma City was playing with a sense of desperation because their playoff lives were on the line, a night when George and Russell Westbrook combined for 65 points on 51 shots, plus 20 rebounds and 17 assists, it didn’t matter.
Because Lillard. Words do not do him or the moment justice. Just watch the game winner, which got him to 50 points on the night.
Lillard waved goodbye to the Thunder. That shot gave Portland the 4-1 series win.
It wasn’t one “bad” shot which did in the Thunder, it was OKC’s bad shooting.
The other hero of the night — and in this series — for Portland was big man Enes Kanter, who played through a separated shoulder Tuesday to have 13 points and 13 rebounds. More impressively, he played solid defense for much of the series (even if OKC didn’t drag him into enough pick-and-rolls).
Portland advances to the second round, where they will likely face…
2) The Denver Nuggets look like a team that has figured out Spurs, playoffs, take command for 3-2 series lead. Denver has won the last two games against San Antonio by a combined 42 points, and that makes it sound closer than it has actually felt.
Denver is the more talented team on paper in this series, but the question was would their lack of experience allow them to show it against a franchise that considers deep playoff runs part of its birthright. It took a few games for the Nuggets to get the confidence they needed that they could win this series, but now that they have it — now that they have figured this series out — Denver has taken command.
Tuesday was a 109-90 rout of the Spurs that has the Nuggets up 3-2 in the series. San Antonio is going home to try to force a Game 7, but they are going to have to dramatically step up their level of play.
Two things have helped Denver separate from San Antonio.
One is Nikola Jokic, who is impacting every aspect of this game and had 16 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists as the fulcrum of the Nuggets offense.
“There’s really nothing he can’t do — other than jump,” Jamal Murray joked after the game.
The other difference was the coaching move of this series (maybe of the playoffs thus far): Mike Malone moved Torrey Craig into the starting lineup and moving Will Barton to the bench. It changed the Denver defense: Craig is doing a solid job on DeMar DeRozan, it shifted Gary Harris onto the young Derrick White and Craig has won that battle, while Murray can now hide on Bryn Forbes. Craig has not been a drag on the Denver offense as predicted, Barton was not happy about the move to the sixth man but has played well and handled it like a pro, and Denver has overwhelmed San Antonio for two straight games.
Gregg Popovich will have adjustments, but what he and the Spurs need more to force a Game 7 is a role player to break out and change the momentum of this series.
3) Toronto, Philadelphia both advance to face off next round after blowout Game 5 wins. The Eastern Conference playoffs were always really going to start in the second round, with a rock/paper/scissors battle of four teams — Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston — all of whom can make a claim they can come out of the conference.
Tuesday night Toronto and Philadelphia closed out their series with easy wins to set up a second-round showdown between the teams.
Toronto dropped Game 1 of this series then took command the rest of the way, winning 115-96 on Tuesday in a game that was never close.
Kawhi Leonard had 27 to lead the way.
Sixers fans enjoyed letting Jared Dudley have it.
Philly got up 21 in the first quarter and cruised to a 122-100 victory. The Sixers got pushed some by the Nets, which is a good thing because Toronto is going to push a lot harder.