Man, playoff basketball is awesome, isn’t it? The intensity and attention to detail seen on every possession is incredible, and it’s great to hear fans react to big plays again, and it’s even better if/when they behave. It feels so good to have this type of basketball back. Let’s review what’s taken place thus far, shall we?
Utah (1) leads Memphis (8) 3-1
The Grizzlies are a fun story, and man do they play hard. Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks have kept them in most every game, but it looks like their fun probably stops here. With the return of Donovan Mitchell, Utah once again looks like the offensive juggernaut we saw during the regular season. When Mitchell is hitting jumpers, they’re nearly impossible to stop.
This series has shown a few cracks in the armor, though. If Utah doesn’t sure up their perimeter defense, they could bow out earlier than the traditional top-seed. Both the Mavericks and Clippers have stars who will be happy to blow past their perimeter assignment and connect from inside the three-point line but before meeting Rudy Gobert (who has been excellent albeit annoying, this series) at the rim. They need to be better defensively to make their playoff run last as long as they hope it does.
This is a 1-8 series that somehow makes both teams look good. Memphis has fought and battled back every time but the Jazz are so good they keep staving off the runs.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) June 1, 2021
Dallas (5) leads Los Angeles Clippers (4) 2-2
Well, your guess is as good as mine as to how this series will end. We all got our jokes off about the Clippers last week, and all they’ve done since then is look exactly like the dynamo we thought they could be. They showed an immense amount of mental toughness, taking both games in Dallas, including Game 3 after falling behind by 19 points early on.
This series ultimately will come down to Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard. That may seem like an oversimplification, but Dallas is pretty much toast if Doncic is limited by his neck strain, and if Kawhi plays the way he did in Games 2-4, LAC is going to be pretty tough to beat. It sounds like the extra off-day is going to help Luka immensely, but you never know. I’d guess Clippers in 7 at this point.
Kawhi’s last 3 games:— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) May 31, 2021
29 PTS - 10 REB - 11/15 FG
36 PTS - 8 REB - 13/17 FG
41 PTS - 6 REB - 14/21 FG pic.twitter.com/Uumnt6bcs7
Denver (3) and Portland (6) tied 2-2
This series is destined to go 7 games. There’s no other way about it, with these two teams looking remarkably evenly matched.
We know that Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic are going to be fantastic nearly every game, but this series is going to be decided by the other guys. Portland cruised to a comfortable Game 4 victory because they got 29 points from Norman Powell, and he held Michael Porter Jr. to just three field goal attempts. If you’re Denver, that absolutely cannot happen.
The exciting part here is that it does feel like this will go the distance, which gives us the opportunity to see Lillard and Jokic in a winner-take-all setting. In that scenario, we’re all the real winners.
Los Angeles Lakers (7) and Phoenix Suns (2) tied 2-2
Holy smokes, do we have a series here or what? For a moment, it looked like the Lakers were in full-control. Now, Anthony Davis is sidelined with a groin injury and Chris Paul looks at least somewhat healthy. The momentum in playoff series can change so, so quickly. Game 5 is tonight in Phoenix, and while you’d never count LeBron James out, it feels like a must-win game for the Lakers.
For the Lakers to extend this series to 7 games, they badly need to find an answer for DeAndre Ayton. He has absolutely annihilated them.
DeAndre Ayton’s first 4 playoff games:— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) May 30, 2021
21 PTS - 16 REB - 10/11 FG
22 PTS - 10 REB - 11/13 FG
22 PTS - 11 REB - 11/15 FG
14 PTS - 17 REB - 6/8 FG
Give him his respect ✊ pic.twitter.com/Ru6uX78WLD
I do think the Lakers win tonight, too. Davis being out is a real problem for them, as they’re likely to be even worse when LeBron sits now, but it also is going to force Frank Vogel to play LeBron at the 4 with only one big. That should help to open up the driving lanes for James, Dennis Schroder, and others. I think we’ll get a great game from James tonight, and it’s about time for one of the Lakers shooters to get going as well. If I had to guess, I’d guess Lakers win tonight, Phoenix wins Game 6, and then I’m not picking against LeBron in Game 7.
Philadelphia (1) leads Washington (8) 3-1
So, Philly is going to advance, but all that really matters here is the status of Joel Embiid’s MRI.
Joel Embiid (right knee soreness) will not return in Game 4 https://t.co/OWFeG9sDEe— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 1, 2021
With Embiid, Philly is a Finals contender. Without him, they’ll be in a dogfight with (likely) Atlanta in the next round. It feels foolish to say much more than that until we know what his status is.
Atlanta (5) leads New York (4) 3-1
Unfortunately for the Knicks, the talent gap here is just too wide. New York played with a playoff-like intensity throughout the entire season, which helped them earn a top-4 seed. That’s something to be proud of, but the reality is that when your opponents match your intensity level and attention to detail in the playoffs, you need to have the horses to matchup with them.
What New York can hang their hat on, though, is that they’ve shown themselves to be competent again. Traditionally, if the Knicks are competent, they’re an attractive destination for a star. Finding someone to slide Julius Randle into a more natural secondary role would be healthy for this team long-term.
Atlanta has also been quite a bit better than I expected them to be. They’re really good, and they’re really fun. If Embiid’s healthy, they probably don’t have quite enough to get past the Sixers, but I do think they could make that a competitive series.
HAWKS TAKE A 3-1 LEAD— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 30, 2021
Trae Young (27 PTS, 9 AST) carries ATL to a Game 4 win pic.twitter.com/hpiP0rFKcS
Milwaukee (3) sweeps Miami (6) 4-0
I hope the Heat have a great time in Cancun.
Brooklyn (2) leads Boston (7) 3-1
So, the Nets are clearly going to advance, and they look like the buzzsaw that we thought they would be when they acquired James Harden. Their three stars just had hardly played together, so we’re just now getting to see it. They have to be the favorite to win the finals.
Their second round series with Milwaukee is going to be awesome, and I think I’d pick whoever wins that series to win the Finals. They’re the real deal.
Boston just doesn’t have enough, especially with all of their injuries. They maybe could have made this mildly interesting if Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown were healthy, but that still feels like a reach. The Celtics have a fantastic core on the wing, and Rob Williams looks like he’ll be a good starting center for a while. The Celtics have a ton of re-tooling to do beyond that, though, and it remains to be seen how Almost Trader Danny Ainge will accomplish that.