Last night brought to us a blowout and a backbreaker, and I’m not sure which was worse, and for whom.
1. Are the Celtics and even bigger disappointment this year than the Thunder?
Reid Belew: Absolutely. They have one of the most talented rosters in the league, and a coach who was starting to garner some “best coach in the league” praise this time last year. Anything less than a competitive ECF run would’ve been considered a lost season. The Thunder had a rough year, but our bar was lower.
Ryan Harris: I always look at things in the NBA in two different ways. There is single season and future. This season was far more disappointing for Boston than it was for OKC. Let’s also note that Boston would have had pretty much the same season OKC did if they played in the west. The Celtics added two superstars (really only one, I’m willing to give Gordon Hayward a pass for this season) to a team that was a few minutes away from reaching the Finals last year. The Bucks are a much improved team, but Boston still should have beat them. Just like the regular season, Boston never got in a rhythm and it never looked like everyone was on the same page. If Boston returns most of its roster next season, role definition and acceptance should be the first thing they work on. However, Boston has options this offseason. They have superstars, they have assets, and I believe they have the potential to sign big free agents if they sign and trade Hayward’s contract. Boston is much better equipped for the future.
OKC will need to figure out something fast because Westbrook is 30 and doesn’t have many more years before he starts declining.
Will Brewer: That’s a tough one for me because despite the expectations coming into the year, the way the season went down made me have different expectations going into the playoffs. I always had the Thunder getting out of the first round, then with them drawing Portland with Nurkic injured, I thought OKC would get out of the first round at least. So, OKC losing in five games to Portland was a major disappointment.
Boston, from the start of the season, did not look like a team that could consistently get it done. They go up against a focused Milwaukee team with a top 3 offense and defense, it did not surprise me as much. So I would say OKC was the bigger disappointment.
Kevin Nesgoda: Yes, they are. I had the Celtics winning the championship this year. They seemed to be the best team in the league to be able to challenge the Warriors (outside of Houston). They had depth, they had youth, and they had the best young coach in the game. They, however, did not have chemistry.
Kyrie said he was going to be a leader this year and that’s where it all fell apart. He talked to the team through the media and did nothing to help out anywhere else it seems. By all accounts, he wanted out of Boston and has done everything he can to get out. I had OKC as a first round out, so they did not let me down there.
Dom Flaim: I think so, if only because they set the bar so high last season and their fans and team expected at minimum a conference finals run. Irving ended up being not such a great playoff performer without the best player in the league next to him and his attitude seemed to rub so many the wrong way. Really turned their season sideways and even OKC bouncing early felt much more expected given what we all thought preseason.
Nile McNair: The Celtics are a bigger disappointment than the Thunder for the simple fact that they had higher expectations. People expected the Celtics to win the East easily and possibly upset the Warriors in a potential finals series. OKC was expected to be an elite team in the West but nobody thought they could’ve beaten Golden State in a seven game series.
Phil Naessens: Not for me because I didn’t expect anything from either squad. Prior to the start of the season, I wrote them both off as paper tigers going nowhere, caught a boat-load of heat but as usual, I got the last laugh.
OKC sneaking out of the discourse after another team has an even more disappointing finish pic.twitter.com/eAdQlDlj6d— Welcome To Loud City (@WTLC) May 9, 2019
2. Did Damian Lillard use all of his mojo up in the first round? Do the Blazers have any shot at a game 7?
Reid: No, I think he has the mojo, but I think the opposing coach does too, now.
Ryan: The Blazers have a good shot at a game 7. They have been good at the Moda Center in the playoffs so far. I wouldn’t say Lillard “used up” all of his mojo in the first round, but he no doubt played better in the first round than he has in this one. Lillard could drop 50 on Denver in game 6 and nobody would be surprised. Of course, it’s more likely that he keeps playing the way he has, but great players do great things in elimination games. We’ll find out soon enough if Dame has taken the next step as a player.
Will: I think he is just tired. Denver just has more guys that can defend Dame, they also have an offense that doesn’t really allow Dame to get any rest on defense. Portland definitely can win game 6 at home, but game 7 would most likely be a copy of game 5.
Kevin: Denver is making him work harder. Russ did not make Dame work at all in the first round and he had the energy to do anything he wanted to OKC. Denver is running him off two or three screens a set on something like 62% of offensive possessions. They are making him run and making him work. You can see he doesn’t have the legs as the game drifts off. Stotts has done a poor job on his defensive sets this series and has not allowed Dame to succeed.
Dom: I think a bit. Nurk was their second best player, and without him the workload on Lillard is incredible. Kevin noted it, but Denver’s got him running around screens like crazy and is making him work on both ends, OKC just doesn’t do that on offense and makes it easy for any opponent. That plus Denver being a really great team has made for a big downturn in his play.
Nile: I think Dame is fine, the problem is more so his defense than his offense. Jamal Murray has been having his way in that series. Portland most likely will force a game seven, but I believe their season will ultimately come to an end in game seven in Denver.
Phil: Lillard seems to “get up” when he faces Westbrook so maybe that has more to do with his mojo than anything else. Lillard plays with a chip on his shoulder because of the All-Star slights so whenever he faces a Western Conference ALL Star guard like Westbrook, he usually goes off. I’ve seen Lillard go off and win games for too long to ever count that young man out and I suspect he puts up big numbers on Friday night.
Portland has a shot and that will depend on stopping those around Nikola Jokic. Kanter is a minus 10 in this series and only playing because Terry Stotts doesn’t have any other choice. So cool it with the Donovan cracks about not being able to play Kanter in the playoffs. Portland must stop Paul Millsap, as he has been feasting on the Trail Blazers weak interior defense for 19 points per game and +/- plus four in this series. Jamal Murray has exposed the weak Portland backcourt defense and if Portland is to advance, then slowing down Millsap and Murray will be crucial to their success.
Ben: Dame’s struggled, but he’s been defended better than he was in round one and the Nuggets are doing a much better job of hunting him on defends than the Thunder did, which has the twofold effect of getting themselves better looks and tiring Dame out. The nuggets planned for Lillard in a way the Thunder didn’t, and you see the results.
3. Do the 76ers need to think about trading Ben Simmons, given he’s been essentially useless in 4th quarters of these big games?
Reid: ooooooooooo. I don’t think so. I think Jimmy is the clear out-guy, ONLY because of his fit. If Butler is replaced with another A-tier shooter like Tobias Harris and JJ Redick are, the Simmons/Embiid pick and roll could be what the Thunder’s should be.
Ryan: I would say they should at least test the market for him, but I think they should hold on to Simmons. The 76ers have shooters (Harris, Redick, Butler) around Simmons and Embiid. They stole Landry Shamet in the draft last year and, even though they traded him for Tobias Harris, it’s an encouraging sign that maybe they can find talent late in the draft in years to come. Let’s also not forget Zhaire Smith, who missed his entire rookie season (wow, has that ever happened in Philly before??) due to an injury. This is all without mentioning that there is still hope that Simmons could one day find a respectable enough jump shot that teams have to defend him outside the paint.
Until that day comes, and it may never come, Philly should at least think about what they could get for him. Over the past few years we have seen big men like Brook Lopez and Al Horford develop three point shots. Then there are the Dwight Howard’s of the NBA. Hopefully Simmons can find a jump shot. If he doesn’t, he’ll be one of the better “what-if” players in the NBA.
Will: No, not at all. The way the team looks right now, just doesn’t allow Ben to be that effective. Ben was at his best last year when Philly had shooters around him (Bellinelli, Ilyasova, Saric).. Now they have a struggle for the ball with Embiid, Butler and Ben. Butler is most likely gone this summer, so they should look to go back to getting floor spacers.
Kevin: The Sixers need to hire the three best shooting coaches in all the land and assign them on eight-hour shifts this summer to Simmons. That dude needs to be out shooting every day for 24 hours a day. He’s not Giannis and he needs to develop a jump shot. There are rumors that people are inquiring about his availability already.
Dom: No. Someone just noted it on Twitter, but if Simmons was an all star at age 22 on a losing team, nobody would be saying a thing about him negatively. He’s their 3rd best and arguably 2nd most important player and has been integral in their many games when Embiid is out. He’s elite at pretty much everything but shooting and though I’d love to see him get a shot, he’s at least not forcing the issue. I’d argue they maybe shouldn’t have traded everything for Harris in hindsight, but they absolutely shouldn’t move Simmons. To add to all that, this lineup has barely even been together and has been marvelous in its short time.
Nile: Personally I would give Simmons until the end of his rookie contract to find some type of a jump shot. It doesn’t even have to a three point shot, but at least a consistent mid range game. But if he doesn’t find a jumper or at least the confidence to start shooting them, I would trade him because he then would become a talent player but with a ceiling to what he can become.
Phil: Simmons has a plus 3.3 during these playoffs and minus five during this series. He can’t shoot a lick, but he is a willing defender getting worked by better offensive players. Trading Simmons depends on what happens this summer with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris and I wouldn’t rush to trade someone under team control with a favorable contract and I would probably trade Embiid and his injury-prone self before I give away someone who does so many things well as Simmons does.
Ben: If the Sixers had rolled with the same team they had last year, they’d have more time to figure out the fit between Simmons and Embiid, as both guys grew and matured. But by cashing in all of their assets for Jimmy butler and Tobias Harris, the Sixers have moved the timeline up rapidly. Harris is about to enter his prime and Butler is already near the end of his; even if both guys re-sign (not a guarantee if the season ends in a second round loss), the Sixers will have little time to lose. But does trading Simmons get them where they want to go? they could move him in a ploy to bolster their depth and shooting, but is Embiid/Harris/Butler a championship winning trio, even with a better supporting cast? I’m not sold.
The Sixers best bet in my view is to run back the same core (hopefully with a real bench this time) and revamp their offense. Simmons should be used as a screener more- no one has paid attention to Draymond Green at the 3 point line for years, and he’s still managed to be the special sauce that powers Golden State’s offense, without the size, athleticism and scoring ability Simmons has. The spacing will always be a little cramped with him and Embiid, but Simmons is a generational talent as a playmaker and Embiid a near unstoppable force when healthy. They can make it work. Anyone reading an OKC blog should be very wary of moving a young budding superstar.
4. Did we just witness another one of “those” James Harden games?
Ryan: I would actually like to point out that P.J. Tucker played 45 minutes last night and CP3 is starting to look old. I like CP3, but I’m glad my team isn’t paying his contract right now. I’m also fascinated by Houston’s decision to give Paul all that money, seemingly going all in on last seasons team, but then couldn’t be bothered to bring back Trevor Ariza.
Will: Yes. James Harden has been playing the same way the entire season. He has taken it upon himself and lived with the results. He carried the Rockets from 14th place all the way back to being one of top teams in the West. He is 1 of 2 players in the running for MVP. Last night, we didn’t see that guy, especially after Durant’s injury. Harden should have smelled blood and became extremely aggressive but he was the complete opposite. Will this be a copy of the 2017 WCSF? Kawhi Leonard goes down with the ankle injury in game 5, doesn’t play game 6, Harden comes up small, and Rockets lose both games. Now KD goes down, Rockets lose game 5, Harden came up small. Game 6 will tell all.
Kevin: Yes we did. When Durant went down, you could see Harden downshift two gears. He thought that the rest of the Rockets team would be enough to get the Rockets the win. They didn’t count on the Warriors going back to their 73 win iteration and snapping the ball around the court and completely abandoning the ISO plays. By the time they caught on to what was happening he lost his legs. The Warriors ran his ass off on the defensive end and he didn’t have the legs to finish.
Dom: So I had a minute and had to check this. Harden nearly broke Westbrook’s usage record this season with a 39.3% usage rate. Last night it was at 21.2%, lower than three teammates, and in the fourth quarter dipped to 17.4%. I won’t say it was a collapse, but I’m really confused as to how he managed to only get 3 shots in the entire quarter in what would have been a possible death blow to the Warriors. A sense of urgency there could have really killed morale, yet MVP Stephen Curry showed up in time to save the Dubs again.
Nile: NO, James Harden did his job. Now I would’ve definitely liked to see him take more shots down the stretch, because the rest of the team was shooting so poorly I personally wouldn’t have mind Harden forcing some shots. But typically when Harden has bad playoffs game he is inefficient. Last night he had 31 points on 10/16 from the field.
Phil: Maybe we did, but I think what we witnessed was a Golden State side that trapped and double teams and even triple teamed Harden and his teammates didn’t step up. Specifically, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, and Clint Capela were a combined 12-44 from the field in Game Five and I suspect that is why the Rockets lost on Wednesday night.