Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.
1) Portland, Memphis win and advance to play-in series. As expected.
On a day where we expected high drama, Portland and Memphis entered with a simple and clear path: Win and you’re in.
So they did. And with that, the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers advance to a play-in series for the eighth seed in the West. As the eighth seed at the end of the eight “seeding games” in the bubble, Portland need only win one of the two to advance. Memphis has to sweep them both — a tough task.
Memphis had little trouble advancing on Thursday, taking on a Bucks team without Giannis Antetokounmpo (suspension) that was just going through the motions and waiting for the playoffs to start. Memphis won 119-106, Dillon Brooks scored 31 points, while Jonas Valanciunas scored 26 and pulled down 19 boards. There was little drama in the Grizzlies win.
Portland, however, had all the drama it could handle, barely outlasting a scrappy Brooklyn team — and it took Damian Lillard playing like an MVP to get the win.
Lillard scored 42 points and carried the Trail Blazers for stretches when their offense faltered. CJ McCollum added 25 — and moved well for a guy with a fractured back — and Jusuf Nurkic added 22 and 10. Caris LeVert had 37 for a Brooklyn team that had a balanced attack, but LeVert’s potential game-winner bounced off the rim and Portland moves on.
Portland and Memphis played in the bubble back in July in the first restart game for both teams. Portland barely won in overtime, but Memphis was led in that game by Jaren Jackson Jr., who had 33 points. He is now out of the bubble recovering from a torn meniscus. Also in that game, Lillard targeted Valanciunas in the pick-and-roll and played the Memphis big off the floor — the Grizzlies do not have a good answer for that. Portland is not going to coast to a play-in game win, but it’s difficult to picture how the Grizzlies win back-to-back games.
2) Phoenix goes 8-0, but perfect wasn’t good enough
Memphis earned their spot in the play-in — they got the win Thursday, and more importantly, they were impressive in the first 65 games before the shutdown (those games still count). It was those pre-mask days when the Suns were terrible that did them in.
On Orlando, Phoenix was perfect — 8-0 behind Devin Booker playing like an MVP. The Suns outscored opponents by 12.5 points per 100 possessions in the bubble, with an elite offense and a solid defense anchored by Deandre Ayton. The bubble isn’t going to be the same without them.
Every young entering the restart said the same thing: It was about development. It was about using bubble games to grow a young core. Except most teams — Sacramento and New Orleans, for example — threw that opportunity to the ground and went fishing. Phoenix, behind Monty Williams, did what they said and got better. The Suns came from six-games back of Memphis to almost make the playoffs, but more importantly, they set themselves up for next season.
3) San Antonio’s playoff steak ends at 22 years
The last time the Spurs didn’t make the playoffs, “Titanic” was sinking in movie theaters, “Un-Break My Heart” was being belted out on your radio by Toni Braxton, and Allen Iverson was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. It was the 1996-97 NBA season — which you just relived through “The Last Dance” because it was in the middle of the Bulls’ second three-peat.
For 22 straight seasons, Gregg Popovich led the Spurs to the NBA playoffs — and they picked up five titles along the way — but that ended in the bubble. San Antonio played well behind DeMar DeRozan, Derrick White and a four-guard lineup, but it couldn’t climb out of the hole it dug before the league was shut down.
The always sentimental Popovich was very broken up about it.
“Looking at the past doesn’t do much good,” Popovich said, via the Associated Press. “Any success we’ve had has been because we’ve had some great players.”
Popovich also shot down speculation he was going to retire, saying, “why wouldn’t I?” coach next season.
Tim Duncan. David Robinson. Tony Parker. Manu Ginobili. The list goes on and on over 22 seasons (and even includes Steve Kerr), there were great players in San Antonio. But it was the mind and personality of Popovich that brought all those ingredients together and made it work.
The Spurs playoff streak is no more. Here’s to something we may never see the likes of again.