While the Thunder were providing exit interviews, the playoffs marched on without them. Yesterday’s action was quite surprising; here’s what we’re missing while watching.
1) How shocking was it to watch the Celtics — not exactly a model of consistency this season — to take apart Milwaukee on the road?
Dom Flaim: I was floored by how well they really just held the Bucks down defensively. I had seen numbers floating around on Horford vs. Giannis but Giannis looked....human? The loss of Brogdon seems like it could be a bigger deal than I’d expected and though I think the Bucks bounce back and still could win the series, that game was shocking.
Nile McNair: I was shocked by Boston performance, first time seeing Giannis struggle like that all year it seems. Boston seems to be playing with tremendous confidence, let’s see if Milwaukee can respond in a must win game two.
Kevin Nesgoda: I’m incredibly shocked. I honestly thought that the Bucks would win in five games (they still can), but they did not even look remotely close to being ready for the Celtics. Before we switch bandwagons I want to see what sort of adjustments the coaches make going into Game 2. The Bucks need to figure out a way to get Giannis on some switches and away from Horford. That shouldn’t have happened.
Ryan Harris: Offensively it wasn’t too shocking. Jaylen Brown has put together a few nice performances for the Celtics in the playoffs, but the key has been Gordon Hayward returning to form. Obviously it was a huge surprise defensively. I really like Brad Stevens and I think he is a big reason they were able to slow down Giannis, but it won’t last. The Bucks will adjust and he will get going. It’s crazy to me that so much of the conversation surrounding this game was about how much Boston slowed down Giannis on offense, and yet he still had a team high 22 points. This should be a great series moving forward.
J.A. Sherman: One thing I’ve learned over the years is to never react too aggressively to a blowout. Over the course of a seven game series, each team is likely to get blown out at least once, and it was Milwaukee’s turn after a very impressive 1st round win over Detroit.
The playoffs are all about adjustments, and the Celtics cooked up something special to defend Giannis. Fortunately for them, they have a coach who knows how to counter those moves, and then the Celtics will counter those counter moves, and so on. It’s what makes the playoffs so compelling, and each team hate each other by the end.
Dom: 20 per game? I mean Harden and Paul are pretty good for 5-8 a night and Draymond manages to get a tech just rolling out of bed. That’s before getting to coaches and if Durant or Curry or anyone else gets upset. I think a fun prop bet is Cousins technical fouls from the bench, over/under one?
Nile: Every star in that series is going to complain about 3-4 times a game. Add in about 4 looks of confusion from Iggy. Not to mention the two coaches complaints, you’re looking at about 30 a game.
Kevin: The league has become very complain-y in general. Charles Oakley and Rick Mahorn are rolling over in their graves.
Ryan: I would say between thirty and forty complaints a game. Harden, Paul and Draymond will go for at least half of those. Durant will chip in a few on the obvious blown calls. I think a few more techs get handed out in this series as well. Out of all of the semifinals, this one is the most intriguing by far. I need this series to go seven games.
Sherman: It’s fun to watch other teams argue with refs over calls/no-calls, because you eventually see how futile and kind of silly it is when your own team does it. That said, I’m 100% with Royce on this one:
I’m just imagining a world where Russell Westbrook gets a second technical and tossed in a one possession game with five seconds left.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) April 28, 2019
James Harden: “I just want a fair chance, man. Just call the game the way it’s supposed to be called and we’ll live with the results.”— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 28, 2019
Nile: Harden wasn’t fouled on the last shot by Draymond, but the refs did miss multiple times when Klay jumped into him. Also, there was 1-2 times Chris Paul was jumped into by a defender on his jump shots.
Kevin: He’s got a point. There were three instances where Klay landed under him on his jump shot. He didn’t kick out his legs on any of those shots and Klay landed right under him and two spots pressed his lower body out as Harden was landing. It happened once to Draymond and then it happened at least twice to Paul. I guarantee that will get called in Game 2.
Ryan: 3. I don’t have any complaints to Harden saying this, but this won’t change the way officials officiate these games. Instead of complaining about the fouls the Rockets need to adjust to how the game is being played and officiated. It’s absurd to me that the Rockets missed 33 threes and only lost by 4 points. Houston has a shot in this series if they take smarter shots. Harden and CP3 seem too reluctant to try and draw fouls on borderline calls late in the game rather than winning it themselves and that is an issue.
Sherman: My favorite reaction was from Draymond Green:
“When you land 3 feet ahead of where you shoot the ball from, that really ain’t my issue,” Green said. “I’ve been fouled by James on a James 3-pointer before.”
Also, this is such a Daryl Morey thing to do. I’m not complaining, mind you, but now I’m just kind of surprised Mark Cuban hasn’t submitted an audit of the 2006 NBA Finals. (Not to mention, did Houston also audit their MVP’s 22-53 shooting (6-25 from three) and 14 turnovers in their two biggest games of the whole season?)
4) What happens to Enes Kanter in game 1 against the Nuggets?
Dom: Seems they’re hoping he plays, I expect Denver to run Murray at him with Jokic. That’s a great pick and roll/pick and pop duo and he’s getting played off the court (unless they have zero faith in Collins). The difference in personnel and system is huge.
Nile: Seeing that Kanter plays, a good coach would attack him constantly throughout the game in the pick and roll. I could easily see Jokic dominate Kanter like he did the Spurs in games 6&7.
Kevin: We’re going to be seeing a lot of Meyers Leonard and Zach Collins this series.
Ryan: I think Kanter gets abused on defense in this series. Jokic can stretch the floor unlike Steven Adams and if the Nuggets can draw him out of the paint he will get abused on defense. I hope he proves me wrong.
Sherman: Who is the one player on the Nuggets team you don’t want to see Kanter guarding? Then that’s the guy who he will end up guarding, if the Nuggets finally get their offensive rhythm in gear. Sometimes, it’s just not that hard. Do you not want Kanter guarding Jamal Murray or Monte Morris in open space? Then you run screen after screen after screen until you get that exact matchup. And then you watch Enes go from “Can play!” back to “Can’t play.”
5) Is Kawhi Leonard a top-5 player again after his playoff performance so far?
Dom: He’s in the conversation but outside for me. I didn’t even have him top 10 for the regular season, but above him for now I’d still take Giannis, Curry, Durant, Harden, and Jokic. That’s before Embiid being in the discussion as well as Lillard, a healthy PG if that exists, and even Gobert. It’s too limited a sample.
Nile: I felt Kawhi was always a top 5 player even during the regular season. Its just he sat so much during the regular season, us as fans were neglected from great performances like we saw in game 1 during the regular season.
Kevin: I’d say Top 10, I don’t know about Top 5 yet. I’m really bitter about the way he handled the Spurs situation and that takes him down a couple notches for me.
Ryan: In the playoffs, yes. When he gets going he can be almost as unstoppable as Kevin Durant. I’m not sure I would call a guy who so routinely sits for “load management” a top-5 player in the league, but he is a weapon in the playoffs and someone I would fear having to go against. It’ll be a shame for the Thunder if he decides to go play for the Clippers this summer. If that happens the Clippers become another contender in the west. Speaking of which, I LOVED this seasons Clippers. I wasn’t ready for their season to end but, ya know, Warriors.
Sherman: I know this. What makes Kawhi particularly dangerous on both ends is not just his length and size. He’s also really, really strong, particularly in his legs, and he has a lower center of gravity than most guys his height. He proved he can dislodge just about any 76ers defender, and did so time and time again. Perhaps his game isn’t as aesthetically fluid as Kevin Durant, but it is an economy of motion, and he doesn’t get pushed around the way KD does.