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Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Portland’s win was about Enes Kanter not Jennifer

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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) It was less Jennifer’s motivation and more Enes Kanter that got Portland Game 1 win. With Jusuf Nurkic out, a lot of pundits (myself included) picked Oklahoma City to knock off Portland in the West’s 3/6 first-round playoff matchup. Probably handily.

That’s not what happened in Game 1 Sunday, a 104-99 Trail Blazers win at home. That got Royce Young of ESPN and others talking about the preseason viral Tweet from Portland’s CJ McCollum about a playoff win. It all started when McCollum said wouldn’t do something like join the Warriors to chase rings.

Portland got that win Sunday. On Twitter, Jennifer took credit.

It was less Jennifer and more Enes Kanter — and some dreadful shooting from Paul George and the Thunder — that got Portland the victory at home.

Kanter — the former Thunder big man, about whom coach Billy Donovan was caught on video saying “can’t play Kanter” to an assistant during the playoffs two years ago — had 20 points and 18 rebounds in the Blazers win, filling Nurkic’s shoes well for a night. What Donovan was talking about two years ago was Kanter’s poor pick-and-roll defense, but the Thunder as a team did a poor job trying to exploit that. It allowed Terry Stotts to play Kanter all he wanted, and Kanter was fantastic on offense.

Portland also got 30 points from Damian Lillard — including a tone-setting three to start the game — and 24 from McCollum.

Defensively, Portland followed the book on the Thunder: Pack the paint, cut off drives for Russell Westbrook and Paul George as much as possible, and dare OKC to beat you from the perimeter with jumpers. The Thunder were 10-of-46 (21.7 percent) outside the paint and 5-of-33 from three. Oklahoma City relied on Paul George’s shooting and scoring to provide balance this season, but coming off of — or still bothered by — a sore shoulder, he was 4-of-15 from three and said after the game it was a rhythm thing. We’ll see if he has better rhythm in Game 2.

Westbrook had a triple-double of 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, but was 1-of-9 shooting outside three feet of the rim.

Game 1 does not decide a series, this is far from over for the Thunder. However, the Trail Blazers just got a boost of confidence. If Kanter can play this well, not get exposed on defense, and be out on the court for 30ish productive minutes a night, Portland’s chances in this series go way up. The Thunder also just need to hit some jumpers.

2) Houston wins Game 1 with physical defense against Utah. And some James Harden. Going into the 4/5 playoff series in the West, I had three questions about the Utah Jazz: Would they be able to slow James Harden and not let him take over games? Could they keep Chris Paul from carving them up like he did when these teams met in the playoffs a year ago? Could they score enough against Houston to keep up?

The answer to the third question is no, they could not score enough in Game 1, a 122-90 Houston win. It rendered the answers to the other two questions moot.

The Rockets were physical on defense, taking away the cuts and some of the drives the system-offense Jazz are used to getting. The result was a Jazz team that shot 39 percent overall and had an offensive rating of 89.1, well below a point per possession in this one. Donovan Mitchell, the primary (some would say only) elite shot creator on the Jazz saw multiple bodies every time he touched the ball and tried to make a play. Defenders collapsed on Mitchell (and Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio, or anyone else driving the lane) and bet the Jazz could not find the open shooter and knock down the shot. Houston bet right in Game 1.

Defensively, Utah went to the defensive strategy Milwaukee used effectively on Harden — sit on his left shoulder, force him right, try to take away the step-back three and funnel his drives to the big man waiting in the paint (Rudy Gobert in this case). The problem wasn’t that Harden had 29 points (he needed 26 shots to get there), it was the 10-assists — given a free run to the basket Harden became a playmaker and set up teammates to get the Houston offense clicking.

Utah has some adjustments to make before Game 2, or they are going to head home for Game 3 in a big hole.

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo dunked almost from the free throw line… and that’s pretty much all you need to see from that game. With Blake Griffin sidelined (maybe for the series) with a sore knee, Detroit was completely overwhelmed by Milwaukee in Game 1. It was a 121-86 thrashing. Nothing to see here, just move along…

Well, except this: Giannis Antetokounmpo dunking from almost the free throw line.

The Greek Freak finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds.

James Harden, Rockets rout Jazz 122-90 in Game 1

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HOUSTON — James Harden had 29 points and 10 assists to help the Houston Rockets rout the Utah Jazz 122-90 on Sunday night in Game 1 of a best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

The Rockets had a double-digit lead for most of the game, but the Jazz got within five points midway through the third quarter before Houston used a big run to pull away and sail to the victory.

It’s the second consecutive year these teams have met in the postseason after the Rockets eliminated Utah in five games in the second round last season.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Houston.

Houston was up by 15 in the fourth quarter before Harden, who had eight rebounds, scored six points in a 9-2 run that stretched the lead to 108-86 with four minutes left and both teams cleared their benches about a minute after that.

Houston’s starting lineup helped carry the scoring load on Sunday night, with each starter scoring at least 10 points. Eric Gordon had 17, Clint Capela scored 16, Chris Paul added 14 and P.J. Tucker had 11.

Rudy Gobert had 22 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Jazz after not scoring more than 15 points in a game in the playoff series against the Rockets last season. Donovan Mitchell had 19 points, but did not have an assist as the Jazz went long stretches without scoring.

Ricky Rubio started after missing four of the last five games of the regular season with a quadriceps injury. Rubio, who finished with 15 points, didn’t play against Houston in the playoffs last season after injuring his hamstring in a first-round series win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Houston had a 12-point lead entering the fourth quarter and an 8-0 spurt, with two 3-pointers from Danuel House, extended it to 95-75 with nine minutes remaining.

The Rockets led by 17 when Harden re-entered the game about a minute later. Soon after he returned he found House behind the 3-point line in the corner and drove to the basket and finished with a one-handed slam.

The Rockets were up by 15 at halftime, but Utah opened the second half with a 10-3 run, with six points from Gobert, to cut it to 62-54 with nine minutes left in the third.

The Jazz got within five with a shot from Mitchell later in the third, before the Rockets scored next 10 points, with a 3 from Gordon and a three-point play from Harden, to make it 76-61 with about four minutes left in the quarter.

Mitchell ended a Utah scoring drought of about 4 1/2 minutes after that with a 3-pointer, but Harden hit a 3 seconds later to leave the Rockets up 79-64.

Utah cut into the lead a bit after that and trailed 83-71 after three.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Derrick Favors had 13 points. … Utah went 7 for 27 on 3s. … The Jazz had 18 turnovers. … Jae Crowder scored nine points off the bench.

Rockets: Coach Mike D’Antoni was back on the sideline after missing Houston’s last three regular-season games with an intestinal virus. … Hall of Famer and former Rocket Hakeem Olajuwon watched the game from a courtside seat. … Houston made 15 3-pointers, led by four from Harden.

UP NEXT

After Game 2 on Wednesday the series moves to Utah for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on April 22.

Kemba Walker is Charlotte’s offense; watch him score 47 points vs. Utah

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Kemba Walker is the Charlotte offense.

No team has the drop off after it’s All-Star to its second best player like Charlotte (that player is probably Jeremy Lamb right now, and he comes off the bench), and that puts an insane burden on Walker every night.

Walker tried on Monday night, he put up 47 against the Utah Jazz — the best defense in the NBA since the All-Star break.

It wasn’t enough. The Hornets couldn’t get stops as Donovan Mitchell had 25, Ricky Rubio 20, and Rudy Gobert 18 in a 111-102 Utah win.

Charlotte is three games out of the last playoff spot with five games to play. The Hornets needed that win. Walker tried. Charlotte is all but out of it, fivethirtyeight.com gives it a four percent chance of making the postseason.

I had heard from sources that Walker was frustrated at the trade deadline that no move was made to add talent to the Hornets’ roster (they were in the mix for Marc Gasol but did not land him). If that frustration boils over into this summer when Walker is a free agent, all the money Charlotte can offer him to stay — and as much as he likes the city and living there — may not be enough.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert sets single-season record for most dunks at 270

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Mention Rudy Gobert and the first thing that comes to mind is his defense. The Jazz center is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and may well win the award again this season, Utah has a defensive net rating of just 92.2 when Gobert is on the court after the All-Star break, 14.5 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits.

However, Gobert can provide offense, too — he rolls to the rim, has soft hands, and knows how to finish at the rim.

Meaning he dunks. A lot.

In the second quarter of Utah’s win against Phoenix on Monday, Gobert finished off an alley-oop from Donovan Mitchell and it was Gobert’s 270th dunk of the season, setting an NBA single-season record (Dwight Howard held the record t 269 from his 2007-08 season; this stat has only been tracked since the 1997-98 season). Gobert averaged 3.7 dunks per game, just finishing plays around the rim as defenses focus on Mitchell, Joe Ingles, or can’t anticipate the passing of Ricky Rubio.

Gobert finished with five more dunks in the game as the Jazz almost had their own private dunk contest against the Suns’ interior defense. Gobert finished with 27 points and got the Gatorade shower for it.

Gobert isn’t going to be the only person passing Howard’s old record this season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has 262 dunks on the season. The race for most dunks this season is not over.

We just know it’s going at a record pace.

Hawks stop Jazz win streak at five thanks to Trae Young

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ATLANTA — Trae Young scored 23 points, including a go-ahead three-point play, and the Hawks beat Utah 117-114 on Thursday night to end the Jazz’s five-game winning streak.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 34 points.

It was a costly loss. The Jazz entered the game fifth in the Western Conference but only a half-game ahead of a pack of three teams tied for sixth.

Utah led 110-109 before Young’s basket and free throw with 1:47 gave the Hawks the lead.

The Hawks stretched the lead to four points when an officials’ review confirmed a goaltending call against Rudy Gobert on Dewayne Dedmon‘s shot.

A slam by Gobert, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds, cut Atlanta’s lead to 114-112. Dedmon made two free throws. Following a layup by Mitchell, Dedmon made only one of two free throws with 6.2 seconds remaining to give Utah, trailing 117-114, a chance.

Vince Carter fouled Kyle Korver on what was initially ruled a three-shot foul. A review determined Korver would only shoot two free throws. Korver missed both free throws, the second one intentionally, and Mitchell missed a last-second 3-pointer from the corner.

Hawks rookie Kevin Huerter, who had 14 points, sank a 3-pointer to cut Utah’s lead to 99-98 midway through the final period. Ricky Rubio answered with two straight jumpers, including a 3-pointer, and set up a layup by Derrick Favors that pushed the lead to 106-98.

After going 12 of 21 on 3-pointers, Atlanta led 65-54 at halftime.

Mitchell opened the second half with a steal and jam to start a 9-0 run. Gobert had a tip-in and made a free throw in the run. A three-point play by Rubio tied the game at 71-all. Utah took the lead on Royce O'Neale‘s 3-pointer and stretched the lead to 82-73 – capping a 28-8 run to open the half.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Derrick Favors had 15 points and 15 rebounds. Rubio had 17 points and seven assists. … Each of Utah’s five straight wins had been by margins of at least 15 points. … Korver, who played for Atlanta from 2012-17, was honored with a video tribute and received an ovation during a first-period timeout.

Hawks: Kent Bazemore sank three 3-pointers in the final four minutes of the third period to cut Utah’s lead to 91-86 entering the fourth. … Dedmon had 18 points. … Huerter has been overshadowed by fellow rookie Young but also has become a starter with a role in the team’s long-term future. “I think the beauty is he’s a modern day perimeter player,” coach Lloyd Pierce said. Huerter has five games with at least five 3s. Only Young, with six such games, has more among the league’s rookies this season.

UP NEXT

Jazz: Visit Chicago on Saturday night.

Hawks: Host Philadelphia on Saturday night.