Day 3 of the NBA playoffs saw two series become even and two look like they will end quickly. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.
1) Sharp Celtics carve up flawed 76ers roster that looks defeated
It smells like the winds of change are about to blow through Philadelphia.
Philadelphia teases you with flashes of its potential. They did that Wednesday to open Game 2 against Boston. In the first quarter Joel Embiid owned the paint and had 15 points, Shake Milton couldn’t miss (3-of-3), and the huge contract players signed last summer — Al Horford and Tobias Harris — were a combined 3-of-5 shooting and making plays. The 76ers were up six after 12 minutes.
And as it has all season, reality set in as time wore on. The flaws in the Philadelphia roster were exposed.
Embiid shot 5-of-12 the rest of the way and looked worn down and beaten by the fourth quarter (although he did finish the game with a strong 34 and 10 line). Harris shot 2-of-11 in the final three quarters. Milton hit two more shots all game. Horford took just three shots all game. Rookie Matisse Thybulle tried, but right now nobody can slow down Jayson Tatum, who is playing like an MVP candidate. Ben Simmons is injured and out, and without him there isn’t a clear playmaker to step up. There isn’t enough shooting, Philly was 5-of-21 from three.
It was ugly, and it was a comfortable 128-101 Boston win.
This fan summed up the feelings in Philadelphia.
76ers fan put on a blindfold while getting blown out by Celtics 🤦♂️
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 20, 2020
Boston took a commanding 2-0 lead in this first-round series. Philadelphia is not heading home to be lifted by its boisterous crowd, it is going to have to find something internal to turn this series around. And it’s hard to watch this team and think “they have what they need inside to fix this.”
The winds of change are blowing stronger and stronger each game.
Coach Brett Brown will pay the price for the 76ers shortcomings, and he’s far from blameless in the mess the 76ers have become. He doesn’t have the players believing this will work anymore. However, the bigger flaws are in the roster construction — GM Elton Brand and the front office bet big on size and defense last summer after Jimmy Butler left. Brand and company tried to zig while the league zagged toward more shooting, and going smaller with multiple ball handlers on the court.
The Celtics are an example of what shooting and multiple playmakers can do.
Boston watched Horford and Kyrie Irving bolt last summer and Danny Ainge retooled his roster to have versatility and shooting. The Celtics signed Kemba Walker to be their point guard, and trusted in the growth of Tatum and Jaylen Brown as playmakers and shooters on the wing. Those three combined for 75 points in this game. Tatum had 33 points and shot 8-of-12 from three on the night.
Boston’s bench outscored Philadelphia’s 41-20 in Game 2.
Philadelphia would be a better team with Simmons, their best playmaker and perimeter defender. However, he alone would not be the answer in this series, the way he was not the answer all season long. He doesn’t bring shooting and floor spacing to the table. He doesn’t bring enough to make this all work.
While watching the fourth quarter of Game 2, it was hard to envision how Philadelphia might turn this series around. Philly fans had even tuned out, some taking to Twitter to long for the days of Sam Hinkie.
Way more embarrassing than the 10 win team
— Chartisse (@SnowmanEmbiid) August 20, 2020
The winds of change are blowing in Philadelphia.
2) The Clippers as title favorites? Not so fast. Luka and Mavs even series.
After the Lakers and Bucks lost their playoffs opener, the odds were changing in Las Vegas. These were the championship odds around Sin City before games tipped off Wednesday, and the Clippers were the new favorites.
• Clippers +220
• Bucks +340
• Lakers +350.
Then the Clippers went out and lost to Dallas 127-114 Wednesday night — and through two games the Mavericks have looked like the better team. So who is your title favorite now? (Maybe it should be Toronto, who has been the best team in the bubble and is now up 2-0 against Brooklyn, but that’s another story for another day.)
Luka Doncic and the Mavs ballhandlers beat the Clippers perimeter defenders one-on-one or off picks, then often got to the rim because the Clippers defensive rotations have been a step slow. The result was another monster game for Doncic, who had 28 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. The only player to ever score more points than Doncic through his first two playoff games (70 points) is George Mikan. Who played for the Lakers before they even moved to Los Angeles.
The Clippers offense is fine — Kawhi Leonard had 35 points and 10 rebounds, Lou Williams came off the bench to add 23 — but the defense needs to adjust. Dallas was the best offense in the NBA during the regular season, but the Clippers are loaded with wing defenders — Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley (who was out this game with a calf injury) — but through two games it has not shown the ability to slow Doncic. Doc Rivers is going to have to make adjustments.
Dallas is a good team with an elite offense and an MVP candidate player — they were never going quietly. The Mavericks drew blood, and now it’s on the Clippers to adapt and look like the championship team Vegas thinks they are.
3) Utah evens series with Denver; looks to be the better team
In Game 1, it was the Donovan Mitchell show for Utah, and while his 57 points forced overtime it was not enough. In Game 2, Mitchell still had 30 but the Jazz found space at the three-point line and let it rain — 20-of-44 from three as a team and it overwhelmed the Nuggets. Utah cruised to a 124-105 win.
It’s up to Denver to adjust — and find a way to start playing good defense, something they have not done in the bubble — but through two games Utah has been the better team.