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Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Ben Simmons drives right into Nets, earns 76ers win

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The NBA playoffs are underway 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) Ben Simmons drives right to basket, into the heart of Brooklyn, leads Sixers to a road win. Jared Dudley has become enemy No. 1 in Philadelphia for saying out loud what has been in every scouting report on the 76ers all season:

Ben Simmons answered that with his best game of the playoffs Thursday night, driving to get to his right hand at the rim all night long, and the Nets could do nothing to stop him. Simmons was 9-of-10 from inside eight feet of the rim, took just one shot outside the paint all night (an 11-foot hook shot he banked in), scored 31 points and led Philadelphia to a 131-115 win in a game Joel Embiid sat out to rest his knee.

Simmons made his statement and won the argument with Dudley…

or did he?

Whatever it took to get this aggressive Simmons, this is the guy Philadelphia needed. He did have help — Tobias Harris was 6-of-6 from three and had 29 points, while J.J. Redick added 26 — but with Embiid out Simmons has to be the catalyst.

D’Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert each had 26 to lead Brooklyn.

With the win the Sixers are now up 2-1 and in control of the series, making Saturday’s Game 4 basically must-win for the Nets.

Brooklyn could use to be a little more efficient on offense — 8-of-39 from three, as they did Thursday, is not good enough — but the more significant issue is defensive. Brooklyn has to find a way to slow the Sixers, and that starts with keeping Simmons from getting the shots he wants going to his right hand. If Simmons is still attacking and getting his shots, this series will be over soon.

2) Kevin Durant reminds everyone exactly who he is, scores 38 in Warriors blowout win. Doc Rivers was prophetic before his Clippers took on the Warriors in Game 3 Thursday night. Just not in a way he wanted.

“If we get down 31 again, it’s not going to turn out well,” Rivers said.

They did and it didn’t.

Golden State went up by 31 with 7:10 in the third quarter Thursday night. That score and game time was very similar to when the Clippers came back from that record deficit to even the series on Tuesday. However, this time the Warriors did not lose focus, they did not take their foot off the gas and let the Clippers back in the game. Golden State held on to win 132-105, and it wasn’t that close.

The Warriors now lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 on Easter in Los Angeles.

Through 12 quarters of play, the Warriors have completely dominated 10 of them so far. They have been much the better side in this series.

Thursday was Kevin Durant’s turn to dominate as he finished with 38 points. The Warriors made some adjustments on how they attacked the Clippers’ “top lock” defense, leading to a lot of shots at the rim. Durant got more touches where he could isolate and shoot over the smaller Patrick Beverley, although though when Clippers switched up to a taller defender Durant torched them, too. It was just his night.

The Clippers also need to find some offensive outlets. The Warriors did a good job making life hard for Lou Williams (4-of-11 shooting) and Los Angeles struggled to get consistent buckets, shooting 37.2 percent as a team for the game, including going 7-of-32 from three.

The Warriors are in control of this series, they have been all along when they didn’t get bored. These Clippers do not quit, they will be feisty again on Sunday, but that alone will not be enough. Los Angeles needs to find some offense and a way to slow down Kevin Durant. Good luck with that.

3) Derrick White puts Spurs in control of series with Nuggets. Derrick White is a vintage Spurs story. What received zero Division I scholarship offers out of high school, so he played three years of Division II ball, but impressed enough that he transferred to Colorado for his senior season. After impressing there, the Spurs picked him 27th in the 2017 NBA draft in one of those “that could be a good fit,” picks San Antonio always seems to make.

Two years later, White “came out of nowhere” to score 36 points, be +30, outplay Kentucky product Jamal Murray, and lead the Spurs to a Game 3 win. Even Denver coach Mike Malone was impressed.

Denver’s defensive strategy the first couple of games this series was, basically, to not cover White — he was the guy they helped off of, and they dared him to shoot from the outside. On Thursday the Spurs and White attacked that strategy having him cut to the basket or, when the ball swung to him, drive into that space and get buckets. The Spurs also used White as a pick-and-roll ball handler to get the switch because Nikola Jokic isn’t quick enough to stop White in space. It all worked brilliantly.

Now the adjustments fall to Malone and the Denver staff, who already have to scheme for LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan and their midrange games. What it also means is Murray is going to have to step up his game and start winning the battles with White. Denver’s starters need to do better, they cannot get outplayed like they did in Game 3.

If they do, or if White goes off again, the Nuggets will be in too big a hole to climb out of it. A first round exit for the No. 2 seed would be a disappointment.

Derrick White scores 36 points as Spurs take 2-1 lead vs. Nuggets

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SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio point guard Derrick White was screaming, flexing and stomping around the court after almost every basket against Denver.

It was completely out of character for White, but the mild-mannered point guard has never been in this situation before.

White had a career-high 36 points and the Spurs beat the Nuggets 118-108 on Thursday night, withstanding a first-half lapse to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.

“I just had a chip on my shoulder,” White said. “This is the way I’ve played since I was young. Just try to go out there, compete and have fun.”

Nikola Jokic had 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for Denver.

Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio, where the Spurs are 3-0 against the Nuggets this season.

White attacked Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray from the opening tip after being on the receiving end of Murray’s career outing Tuesday night. Murray had only six points, a game after scoring 21 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter to help Denver overcome a 19-point deficit to even the series.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Derrick White, the last couple of days, has been reminded about Jamal Murray’s fourth-quarter performance,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Derrick White came out like he hadn’t eaten in two days. He came out hungry, he came out (ticked) off and he sent a very loud and clear message. I’m anxious to see our guys, how do we respond to that.”

White set his career high after being fouled by Paul Millsap on a driving layup that bounced off the side of the rim, hit the backboard and fell in to give the Spurs a 99-89 lead with 8:52 remaining. White added five rebounds, five assists and three steals while shooting 12 for 17. The point guard matched his overall career high with 26 points in the first half.

DeMar DeRozan took over after that, scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half. LaMarcus Aldridge added 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Rudy Gay had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

The Spurs finished with 62 points in the paint and had a 45-37 rebound advantage.

“They are doing a good job of attacking the paint,” Jokic said. “They were living in our paint. I think it’s not just smalls, it’s our bigs, too. I think we all need to be more disciplined and more focused.”

White had 10 points in the opening quarter while primarily being defended by Murray.

“He was obviously spectacular,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “I don’t know what else to say. At both ends of the floor.”

Denver’s second unit dominated, turning a 31-22 deficit after the first quarter into a 38-31 advantage early in the second quarter. The Nuggets opened the second quarter shooting 7 for 8, including a pair of 3-pointers by Malik Beasley. San Antonio’s first points came on Jakob Poeltl‘s two free throws with 8:41 left.

Beasley finished with 20 points, and Gary Harris added 12 points.

Harris stole the ball from Gay at midcourt and then calmly drained a 3-pointer before the Spurs’ defense could set for a 50-40 lead. San Antonio then went on a 21-8 run to close the half and recapture a lead it would not relinquish.

“We got our (butts) kicked because we couldn’t guard anybody,” Malone said.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver is the eighth youngest team in playoff history. . Jokic is averaging 11.7 rebounds and 9.7 assists the series. … Isaiah Thomas was eligible to play but did not. … Millsap picked up his third foul with 2:12 remaining in the first half after bumping Aldridge near the 3-pointer. Millsap threw his hands up in frustration as he exited. He finished with five fouls.

Spurs: The Spurs are 22-7 against the Nuggets in the postseason, including 13-3 at home. … White’s previous career highs were 26 points in the regular season against Brooklyn on Jan. 31 and 17 against Denver in Game 2. … Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are the only players to score more points in any half for the Spurs in the postseason than White’s 26 points in the first half.

MINDSET?

Popovich was bemused when asked what the Spurs’ mindset is after earning a split on the road.

“What’s their mindset,” Popovich asked. “I didn’t give any psychological tests today or anything. It’s their job, they are going to come play, so will the Nuggets. They are going to try to win. Nuggets are going to try to win. It’s a competitive sport, that’s the mindset. It’s not too difficult to imagine.”

EXPERIENCED

White made his first postseason start in Game 1 at Denver, but he joked that he has plenty of playoff experience.

“Everybody said I didn’t have playoff experience, but I did this in the G League,” White said. “Just kidding. But it was big for my development.”

UP NEXT

Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

Gregg Popovich on Spurs drafting Derrick White: ‘Never even knew he existed in the world. Didn’t know he was on the planet’

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Under president-coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have drafted legendarily well. Manu Ginobili (No. 57 in 1999), Tony Parker (No. 28 in 2001), Kawhi Leonard (No. 15 in 2011) stand out amid a long list of quality selections.

But maybe don’t give Popovich too much credit for Derrick White, the No. 29 pick in the 2017 draft.

Popovich, via ESPN:

I never even saw him, never even knew he existed in the world. Didn’t know he was on the planet.

I’m busy. I’ve got other stuff to do. I can’t watch this guy. I don’t know who these guys are. I’m at dinner. I’m ordering wine. I’m relaxing. They’ve got to find the talent, right? I’ve got to teach back-door, and I’ve got to find the talent?

Popovich is obviously joking about being too busy eating and drinking (though wine is actually quite important to Popovich). But not scouting White at all? I wonder how serious that is.

Though Popovich has the title and salary of a team president, he has empowered general manager R.C. Buford. It’s to the point people forget about Popovich when explaining why president-coaches “always” fail.

A big drawback of someone holding the dual title: It’s too much work for one person. However involved Popovich is in roster-building, he and Buford have clearly struck a productive balance.

White ascended to starting point guard after Dejounte Murray‘s season-ending injury and played well this season. White is a high-level defensive guard, and he showed his athleticism in Game 1 against the Nuggets:

San Antonio did well to identify and draft White, who began his college career at Division-II Colorado–Colorado Springs then transferred to Colorado for his senior year. White has also developed impressively while with the Spurs. At minimum, Popovich had a hand in that development.

But if drafting White were completely up to Buford, still give Popovich some credit for trusting the general manager. Popovich is in charge. Knowing how to delegate is part of good leadership.

No ‘panic’ for Nuggets before Game 2 vs. Spurs

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Minutes after missing an open shot that could have changed the outcome of his first career playoff game, Jamal Murray climbed the stairs from the Denver Nuggets locker room and started shooting on the practice court.

For about an hour, the young point guard tried to erase the 8-for-23 shooting night in a 101-96 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series.

“I just didn’t go into my shot like I normally do,” Murray said Monday about his miss. “I rushed it a little bit, so next game I’ll calm my shot down a little bit more and be more relaxed. Not be too excited, not be too anxious.”

Murray and the Nuggets get their chance Tuesday night at home in Game 2. It’s as close to a must-win game for Denver as it can be; a loss drops the No. 2 seed in an 0-2 hole heading back to San Antonio for two games.

“I don’t think we’re in panic mode. We don’t feel like we have to make a whole lot of adjustments,” Nuggets guard Will Barton said. “We have to make a few adjustments and we have to make shots.”

The veteran Spurs held Denver to 42 percent shooting and led for most of the game. The Nuggets were down five with 2:24 left and had a chance to take the lead, but Murray misfired on an 18-footer with 9.4 seconds left.

After two days of analyzing and breaking down the film, both teams are ready for Game 2.

“They’re going to be more aggressive, defensively, offensively, and we’ve got to be prepared for that,” Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said. “We’ve got to be better, we’ve got expect it. It’s going to be even more of a dogfight this time around.”

Denver didn’t score a point in transition and San Antonio held center Nikola Jokic to 10 points by double-teaming the All-Star center when he was in the low post. Jokic did have 14 rebounds and 14 assists, but he could have had nearly 20 assists if his teammates hit open shots.

“I thought Denver had a lot of great shots that they missed,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “Our defense could have been better and we were fortunate they missed some of those shots.”

The Nuggets did miss shots, but the Spurs’ top scorers weren’t doing much better.

DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge scored 18 and 15 points, respectively, and missed 24 of their 36 shot attempts. Bryn Forbes (15 points), Derrick White (16 points) and Rudy Gay (14 points) picked up the slack and shot a combined 19 of 28.

“We lost that game because, yes, we couldn’t make shots but you have to give a ton of credit to Forbes, White and Rudy Gay,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

The Nuggets vowed to play better, and the Spurs, a playoff-tested team, are ready for that. They’re also not satisfied going home with a split.

“It’s not about one game, it’s about the series,” Aldridge said. “We didn’t play great and we got the win.”

 

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Upset Saturday leaves Sixers, Raptors, Nuggets in hole

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The NBA playoffs are underway 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.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Maybe there is something to having to win down the stretch of the regular season — to basically have your playoffs start early — when it comes to being ready for Game 1.

1) Joel Embiid is not himself and Sixers earn boos from fans in a loss to Nets. Sixers fans suffered through the losing of “The Process” for this? They know good basketball when they see it, but Sixers fans didn’t see it on Saturday in Game 1… well, not true, they saw it from a scrappy Nets team that picked up a 111-102 Game 1 win on the road.

Philadelphia fans didn’t see it from their hometown Sixers, who looked tight. So the fans booed.

Ben Simmons did not appreciate that, saying “If you’re a Sixers fan and you’re going to boo, stay on that side.”

Simmons earned those boos, however, with his nine-point, seven-rebound, three-assist night where the Nets dared him to shoot jump shots and he passed on those invitations. Simmons was not the playmaker Philadelphia needed him to be.

Joel Embiid was not the player the Sixers needed him to be. The Sixers best player was a game-time decision with knee pain but decided to play through it and wasn’t himself, except in flashes. Embiid put up numbers — 22 points on 5-of-15 shooting, 15 rebounds, and five blocks — but he wasn’t able to impact the game the way he was used to. He started the game shooting 1-of-9 and was not moving well at points.

In what seemed to symbolize the Sixers approach to the night, Amir Johnson and Embiid were caught checking texts on a phone during the loss. Johnson was fined by the team for that.

Brooklyn, a team of underdogs and cast-offs, played harder and with more passion than the star-studded Sixers. The Nets had a we-have-nothing-to-lose attitude that seemed to free them. D’Angelo Russell, in his playoff debut, was 3-of-15 shooting in the first half, but was 7-of-10 in the second half and finished with 26. Russell made sure there would be no comeback.

Philly did get 36 from Jimmy Butler.

One of the questions for Philadelphia this playoffs was how the team would handle adversity. We’re going to find out starting Monday night in Game 2.

2) The more things change, the more they stayed the same for Toronto in Game 1 loss. This was the year that was going to be different. They have Kawhi Leonard. They have a deeper roster. They have a coach who focused on preparing them for the playoffs along each step of the 82-game season. These Raptors were ready for the playoffs…

And they lost Game 1 at home 104-101 after D.J. Augustin did this.

Kyle Lowry had zero points. Raptors fans have seen this movie from him before in the playoffs, but check out this shot chart

Kawhi Leonard was up and down, and the Raptors went as he did. When he was 4-of-4 shooting for 11 points in the first quarter, Toronto was up five and seemed to be in control. When he was 0-of-5 and didn’t score in the second quarter the Raptors were outscored by 13. And so it went, right down to the final shot of the game, Leonard’s “answer” to Augustin’s shot.

The Magic have been in playoff mode for a while, they had to close the season 22-9 just to make the playoffs. Orlando was ready. Toronto, not so much.

This series is far from over, but now it falls to the Raptors to prove that this season will be different from the last few.

3) Nikola Jokic has a triple-double in playoff debut but it’s not enough as San Antonio wins. The last guy to get a triple-double in his playoff debut? You might not remember him because he’s not in the playoffs this season, but it was LeBron James back in 2006. Nikola Jokic did it on Saturday with 10 points, 14 rebounds, and 14 assists. He also played solid defense all game.

But in crunch time the Nuggets lacked a scorer who could take over. Denver and Jokic tried to play the team game they had all season, giving up good shots looking for great shots, when what they needed was someone to just take and make a few shots.

Nobody was making shots, the Nuggets shooting woes from the end of the regular season followed them into the playoffs. Maybe Mike Malone needs to put Rocky in the game.

The Spurs were poised under pressure. Shocking, I know. They played like a franchise that has been to the playoffs for 22 straight years. Derrick White was the best Spur on the floor, with 16 points on offense and defense that smothered Jamal Murray on the other end. The Spurs needed that on a night DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge combined to shoot 33.3 percent.

The Spurs were the trendy first-round upset pick and in Game 1 they showed why — they knew how to execute under pressure.

Now the pressure is ramped up on the Nuggets for Game 2, we’ll see how they respond.