Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell have historic nights and still lose

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with four playoff games 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.

Opening day of the 2020 playoffs featured the game’s young stars throwing up historic numbers… then still losing.

1) Record-setting Luka Doncic needs more help — and the refs to let guys play

Luka Doncic dropped 42 points in his playoff debut — the most points ever scored in a player’s first playoff game. He did this at age 21. With guys like Paul George, Patrick Beverley, and Kawhi Leonard in his face all night. Let that sink in for a second. We don’t have the right words to describe Doncic.

What impressed Clippers coach Doc Rivers was Doncic’s passing and feel for the game.

“He’s amazing…” Rivers said postgame. “I thought what we did poorly, what shows his greatness, is every time we made a mistake on the weak side, he found that guy and that guy made a shot.”

“I mean, he’s great,” Leonard said more succinctly.

It wasn’t enough. Los Angeles came from behind 29 points from Kawhi Leonard, 27 from Paul George, and an important 19 from Marcus Morris (who may be one of the Clippers’ most critical players this postseason). The Clipper defense, while sloppy at points, was physical and wore down Doncic, who had 11 turnovers on the night.

Los Angeles got the 118-110 win and lead the series 1-0.

The Clippers also got some help from the referees.

Kristaps Porzingis was ejected three minutes into the third quarter after a couple of questionable technicals. The first one, in the first half, was the kind of thing that just hurts the NBA as an entertainment product. Porzingis got called for a foul on George on a play KP thought he had a clean block, so he punched the air with nobody around. It’s a quick emotional response in an emotional game, not an effort to show up a referee. It was silly at the time.

The second technical was not worthy of an ejection, but Porzingis gets some blame here. Early in the third, Doncic and Morris got tangled up battling for position in the post. Words were had. Porzingis came in and pushed Morris as the protector of Doncic (not that he was threatened, KP escalated the situation, just not that much). The refs gave Morris and Porzingis the double-technical, but that was two for Porzingis and he was ejected.

LeBron reacted for most of us.

Bottom line: Dallas led by five when Porzingis was ejected and lost by eight, a 13-point swing. This was not pure cause and effect, would the Mavericks have still lost if he played the rest of the way? Maybe, maybe not. But we should have found out, rather than debating it.

Let the players be emotional. It’s part of why we watch the game.

2) Donovan Mitchell poured in 57 points for Utah and that still wasn’t enough

With no Bojan Bogdanovic or Mike Conley, it was going to fall on Donovan Mitchell to carry the Utah Jazz offense. He did that and more — 57 points on the night. That’s more than Karl Malone ever scored in a playoff game. Or John Stockton. Or “pistol” Pete Maravich. Or Adrian Dantley. Or Deron Williams. Or Mark Eaton (okay, maybe that’s not the best example). Mitchell scored the most points in a game in Jazz playoff history.

Mitchell, however, shot his team in the foot late. Utah was up four with 1:54 left in the game, and Mitchell took the inbound pass and walked the ball up the court, trying to eat time off the clock and direct traffic in the frontcourt. Mitchell was too casual about bringing the ball up and got called for an eight-second violation.

Jamal Murray drained a three on the next possession — he finished with an impressive 36 points on the night — and it was a one-point game. The Jazz and Nuggets eventually went to overtime, where Denver got the win and the 1-0 series lead.

These are two evenly matched teams, and this looks like it is going seven.

3) Philadelphia misses Ben Simmons a lot. And they miss shooters.

Overall, the Sixers offensive numbers in this game were not bad — a 111 offensive rating with a 56 true shooting percentage — but it wasn’t pretty to watch.

Philadelphia lacks perimeter shot creation. They lack shooting. What they have is Joel Embiid being an absolute beast inside — 26 points and 16 rebounds — and hitting some threes.

But nothing else in the Sixers offense feels reliable. Throw in too many turnovers — Embiid had five of those — and the offense was just not enough. Coach Brett Brown will pay the price if the Sixers fall in this series, but their issues start with roster construction.

Philly’s other problem is they have nobody who can guard Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown. The Sixers are loaded with good wing defenders and have Embiid in the paint, but the Celtics’ young stars are still a problem. A big problem.

The most important storyline out of this game may have been Gordon Hayward rolling his ankle and limping off the court in the fourth quarter. He left the arena in a boot and will have an MRI, but if he misses time the Celtics are a little less versatile and threatening on the wing.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.