The NBA playoffs are deep into the second round, and with all that is on the line there can be a lot to unpack in these 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) Go ahead and hit the “now what happens” panic button in Boston after ugly Game 4 loss. It was maybe the biggest question heading into this round two series: Had the Boston Celtics finally found themselves in their first-round sweep of the Pacers, or would the ugly habits of the regular season return when faced with a good Milwaukee Bucks team?
Monday night, with their season essentially on the line, Boston played inconsistent defense with missed rotation after missed rotation. The offense devolved into a series of isolation, hero ball plays. Then Kyrie Irving headed back to the locker room with 10 seconds left to play, leading to all kinds of easy-to-draw parallels to what could happen in July.
Turns out, bad habits die hard.
Behind another strong outing from Giannis Antetokounmpo with 39 points on 15-of-22 shooting, and him getting help from the Bucks bench, Milwaukee has taken a commanding 3-1 lead in this series, heading home for Game 4.
This loss felt like someone threw a gas can into the “where will Irving play next season” fire. Boston fans can reach for the panic button now because a second-round exit is not helping Kyrie Irving want to stay.
The Celtics season isn’t over yet, but Knicks fans are already on Zillow hunting out places for Irving to live if he comes to Manhattan. That speculation is only going to grow, and his decision could impact Kevin Durant‘s decision, the Anthony Davis trade and more.
The decisive stretch of Game 4 Monday came in the final 6:20 of the third quarter, when Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton went to the Milwaukee bench with four fouls apiece, plus Boston was in the bonus. This is when the Celtics should have stomped on the gas pedal, run the Bucks off the court, and taken control of the game. Instead, the Bucks went on a 19-9 run, with George Hill leading the way (he had 9 of his 15 points in that stretch). When the quarter ended, the Bucks were in control.
That leads to the other big question heading into this series: Where the Bucks a regular-season phenomenon? They had the best record in the NBA, but would their style of play hold up when the game slowed down and defenses focused in to take away strengths during the postseason.
Turns out the Bucks are just fine in the playoffs.
Both of these teams are talented, but right now only one is playing like a team, only one has its star setting up teammates and getting them involved when the defense focuses on him. Milwaukee is getting big games from not only its stars but also Hill is getting key buckets, Pat Connaughton is playing quality minutes and throwing down big dunks, and Eric Bledsoe is a pest.
The Bucks are for real and about to head into the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics are about to head into the summer where, whatever they look like on the other end of it, they will not be the same.
2) Now we have the series we expected, Houston beats Golden State to even series 2-2. For the past couple of seasons, Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr has used his “Hamptons’ five” lineup — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green — almost as a “break glass in case of emergency” lineup. He’d bring it in when the game was on the line and no team had an answer for it.
Until Houston this series. In a sign of how much respect he had for the Rockets, Kerr opened the series starting the Hamptons’ Five, leaning on them for heavy minutes. In Game 4 they played just shy of 22 minutes — and were -11. For the series, this lineup is just +5, it is not dominating or intimidating the Rockets.
Mike D’Antoni has gone small to counter that lineup at the end of games, leaning on a lineup of Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, and P.J. Tucker at center. All 6’6″ of him.. D’Antoni tried to call it the “South Beach” five, which doesn’t at all fit them. But the lineup is a thing in this series.
James Harden is dominating. The beard shot 7-of-11 in the paint and 6-of-17 from three on his way to 38 points.
Houston won 112-108 and after an ugly start in the first two games has bounced back and turned this into the intense, emotional, knock-down drag-out series we expected. It is 2-2 after both teams held home court, with Game 5 Wednesday back in Golden State.
The Rockets are making Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson work hard on defense, and it seems to impact their offense — the Warriors were 8-of-33 from three in Game 4. That is why they lost. It was summed up in this final play, when Golden State had a chance to tie it.
Kevin Durant has been otherworldly and had 34 in this game, he just needs some help. In the Steve Kerr era, this Warriors team has always responded with a big defensive effort when their backs are against the wall. That’s where they are in Game 5, but can they really solve the Harden riddle? Because nobody else has this season.
3) Lakers apparently closing in on a deal to make Tyronn Lue their next head coach. With Monty Williams off the board and ensconced in Phoenix, Tyronn Lue became the clear and lone frontrunner to get the Lakers coaching job. The latest update is that the side are working toward a deal, one that brings Frank Vogel in as a lead assistant (which would be a good hire, Vogel is a strong defensive coach).
Once announced, it’s a highering that will get ripped in some quarters because it looks like LeBron James got his man. Which he did. LeBron trusts Lue. The perception is that Lue is LeBron’s patsy, but the reality is Lue is one of the few guys with a relationship that allows him to really challenge LeBron, to call him out. The Lakers will need that.
Lue is not the terrible coach some want to paint him as, but he’s also not an elite NBA coach. Lue got his team to defend and ran some creative stuff near the end of his run in Cleveland. Lue is not brilliant, he is somewhere near the middle of the bell curve of NBA coaches. Go ahead and say “that’s not good enough for the Lakers” but in reality who were they going to get that’s better?
Lue can do the job if he has enough talent on the roster. The question is can the Lakers land the talent they and Lue need? Rob Pelinka is going to have a wild summer.