Game 4: Celtics 116, Nets 112 | Celtics sweep 4-0 series
Who was the guy? Smart Frame. He had a big game in Game 4, along with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, when the Boston Celtics broke the brooms. Tatum was very good, but he made fouls. Brown was really good, but he had a less diverse impact than Smart had on Monday. They all played great defense, but Smart managed to knock down shots and move the ball. He scored 20 points and dished out 10 assists. Also, his attempt to steal the ball with Brooklyn down three, which resulted in a foul, prevented the Nets from having a chance to tie it on a 3-pointer. Good bet.
What was the key here? Just general storm weathering. The Celtics knew a Kevin Durant game was coming, and they were pretty good for the most part in Game 4. They needed to stifle some other players and not let Kyrie Irving walk away. That happens. He just absorbs that last hit from a team about to be swept away, stick to what he does best, and get some more rest.
Key stat: 17-of-29. While the Nets got a generous whistle toward the end, they actually had a number of guys in early foul trouble. And thanks to a struggle down the line by Nicolas Claxton, the Nets missed 12 free throws in a game they lost by four points. Claxton was 1-for-11 from the free throw line, accounting for 10 of the Nets’ 12 missed free throws in the game.
The moment it ended: Durant was at the free throw line, down three with 22.2 seconds remaining. He did the first. He missed the second. Smart finished with the ball and shoved it in transition as the Nets scrambled for a foul. But then he looked for a layup/runner look to the left side of the rim, and missed. If the Nets get the ball back, they have a chance to tie it or take the lead. Instead, Al Horford completed his big drive by hitting a spiked shot to increase the lead to four points with 13.7 seconds remaining.
The moment of the game: Ben Simmons wasn’t sitting on the bench for the game he signed up for his debut. Simmons didn’t even show up for the game, or at least didn’t show up on the sidelines, which is a poor look for the beginning of this marriage.
What’s next for the Nets in their offseason? He clears Simmons for a four-on-four contact job. Just to see how she feels her back.
Who do the Celtics want to play in the next round? They want to play Chicago, but they’re going to get Milwaukee. They probably want Milwaukee to close out as quickly as possible against Chicago, so they can get the Bucks before Khris Middleton is ready to get back on the floor, if that’s even possible in this series.
Game 5: Raptors 103, 76ers 88 | Sixers lead 3-2
Who was the guy? Pascual Siakam. He managed this Toronto Raptors team without Fred VanVleet available due to a hip flexor strain. And without a more traditional point guard, he kept starting the offense. The beauty of the Raptors is that a lot of them do it throughout the game, and Siakam is no stranger to it. But it’s a little different when you don’t have that constant dribbler to rely on. He finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists with just two turnovers. The Philadelphia 76ers know that Siakam will be the one and that the Raptors lack traditional playmakers. They still couldn’t get him out of his comfort zone.
What was the key here? Precious Achiuwa was great off the bench. Obviously, the Raptors don’t have anyone who can physically handle Joel Embiid. He’s just too big for Toronto’s big men. But Achiuwa makes everyone work and he’s incredibly active on both ends. Embiid doesn’t have it easy with him orbiting, unless he can completely seal him off an inning pass. Achiuwa had 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks off the bench. He was cool.
Key stat: 29-11. That’s the Raptors’ bench points (29) compared to the Sixers’ bench (11) during this game. We already knew the Sixers didn’t have a lot of depth, and that is emphasized even more as Embiid is dealing with this thumb injury. He hasn’t been as dominant these last two games, which means someone has to step up. It wasn’t James Harden, who just had a good game. And no one on the Sixers’ bench scored more than one basket.
The moment it ended: After the Sixers cut a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to nine with 6:11 remaining, they didn’t score again for nearly three minutes of play. The Raptors cut the lead to 15, and when Harden scored with 3:13 left, there really wasn’t much hope of a comeback happening. The Sixers simply disappeared for a large part of the quarter.
The moment of the game: Sixers fans booed their own team at one point because they were so lackluster against a struggling Raptors team. There was still a lot of time left in the game and a lot of time to fix things. But Sixers fans may have begun to wonder if the impossible could really happen with a team losing a 3-0 lead. They don’t want to see this Raptors team in Game 7 again; otherwise, the boo birds may never go away.
What can the Sixers do to win Game 6? Two players have to step up and be overwhelming. I don’t know if you can count on Embiid to do it because of this thumb injury. He may still be pretty cool, but asking him to carry this gear when he winces every time his right hand catches the basketball is probably too much. This is why you brought Harden, but here we are. Second-year shooting guard Tyrese Maxey will probably be asked to have some moments in Game 6. Tobias Harris needs to play like he did in Game 1. They can’t put this kind of pressure on to allow a Game 7.
What can the Raptors do to win Game 6? They are doing it, but even getting one more win in these situations doesn’t usually happen. They didn’t give up much of the ball in Game 5. They crushed the Sixers in the paint 56-36. And they still didn’t have a good game shooting the ball from outside. Everything on this team is tough, but they can’t beat themselves. The defense needs to stay solid and start whispering to Sixers players about what happens when Doc Rivers’ teams get a 3-1 lead.
Sixers Worry Meter: 🙅♂️🙅♂️🙅♂️🙅♂️
Raptors Worry Meter: 🙏🙏🙏🙏
Game 5: Mavericks 102, Jazz 77 | Mavs lead 3-2
Who was the guy? Luke Doncic. Jalen Brunson was fantastic too, but it was Doncic who ran the show. Brunson played him very well and was a good secondary starter. Doncic just destroyed what Utah tried to do to contain him. He finished with 33 points on 22 shots in 33 minutes of action. He added 13 rebounds and five assists. The Mavs were over 32 when he was on the court. Luka seemed much more comfortable in this game than in Game 4, and the result was dominance.
What was the key here? The Jazz offense was completely powerless. Some of that was moments of suffocating defense by Dallas. One of that was the Jazz couldn’t make shots. They barely got 70 points. They went approximately seven minutes without shooting in the fourth quarter when everything was decided. They made 3 of 30 from 3-point range. They had more turnovers (13) than assists (12).
Key stat: 7-0f-36. That was the shootout of Jazz starters not named Rudy Gobert in this game. Bojan Bogdanovic was minus-37 on the night and didn’t make a shot in nine attempts. Donovan Mitchell was minus-38, shooting 4-for-15 from the field before leaving with a leg injury.
The moment it ended: Sometime in the second trimester. Perhaps the opening tip. Perhaps the alley-oop winner in Game 4 was just a point on the space-time continuum. This was a complete kick in the ass, pretty much from start to finish.
The moment of the game: Luka and Hassan Whiteside had something strange in the fourth quarter. Whiteside fouled Doncic a little more aggressively than should happen in 30 points in a game. Whiteside tried to help him up, and Doncic was unwilling. Then Dorian Finney-Smith came in to push him. Reggie Bullock got involved and Whiteside didn’t want to be touched, so he started pushing people. We got some technical fouls thrown and maybe a little bit of excitement in Game 6.
What can the Mavs do to win Game 6? Keep doing what they’re doing. The Mavs have the Jazz’s number, but they can’t get caught up in what happened last year in the playoffs. Against the Clippers last year, the Mavs were up 3-2 in the series. They shit the bed offensively in Game 6 and then defensively in Game 7. This Jazz team doesn’t have the fight of that Clippers team. But the Mavs must be sharks in the water regardless. That shows a step forward for them, especially under a new coach.
What can the Jazz do to win Game 6? We’ll have to see how bad Mitchell’s injury is and whether it limits him in Game 6 or keeps him out altogether. But the Jazz need to make shots. It sounds so simple and basic, but they continue to struggle to hit shots that normally knock down. Part of that is the Mavs are throwing them off their groove, but this is also what the Jazz tend to do.
Mavs Worry Meter: 🐎🐎
Jazz Worry Meter: 🎷🎷🎷🎷🎷
(Photo: Jerome Miron/USA Today)