Josh Giddey has notched the first double-double of his fledgling NBA career to help the Oklahoma City Thunder record their first win of the season with a surprise 123-115 triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers.
So, the sun hasn’t even gone down on Sunday in the States and we have just seen Cleveland squeak past Indiana to level the series at 2-2.
No folks, this is not a misprint – LeBron James generally waltzes through the first round, but you could argue this Pacers team has thrown away a chance to progress. James has done all he can do, as he normally does, but for once the NBA playoffs are not about the old, but instead the new.
The New Orleans Pelicans wiped the floor with the Portland Trailblazers, behind herculean performances by Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic. Hell, if the league was 4-on-4 they might even be title favourites! They now sit and wait for the Golden State Warriors. OK, I am being presumptuous because the Spurs are technically still alive. But while it was great to see the Spurs turn back the clock for a night, the Warriors will roll over them in Game 5 and set up an eagerly anticipated second round match-up with New Orleans.
Steph Curry will not be back for the start of the series, if at all, and the Warriors are playing sloppy basketball at best. Logic says Golden State win comfortably, but they will arguably have the best player on the floor in Davis, and four of the best (or most in-form) six players and present nightmare match-ups for the Warriors.
The Oracle Arena doesn’t pose as much of a threat as it once did, and man wouldn’t it throw the cat among the pigeons if the Pelicans came out and stole Game 1, with Curry sitting in street clothes.
Elsewhere in the West, the Utah Jazz are playing in front of arguably the best home court crowd in the league (flip a coin between them and Philly) and the way in which they handled the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3. The first two games were right and hard fought, but the Jazz’s defensive versatility was on full show in Game 3 and the Thunder were clueless.
Coaching is an issue here; Billy Donovan is apt at the caper, but Quinn Snyder is far better and has juggled his line-ups in such a way that Oklahoma City haven’t been able to settle into their offense, and the Jazz have promoted the idea of the Thunder playing hero ball. That, and the fact that Steven Adams has been dominated by Rudy Gobert, who is the defensive player of the year.
Jae Crowder, Royce O’Neale and Dante Exum are thriving in bench roles and Donovan Mitchell is proving that he is a deserved 1A in the Rookie of the Year. A injury is the only thing that gets the Thunder back in this game, or a Paul George explosion, as they need something remarkable to win in Salt Lake City.
Houston are plodding along against a Minnesota side that has Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford shooting more often than Karl Anthony-Towns. Despite that outrageous fact, Minny should have won Game 1 and they smashed the Rockets in Game 3, winning the mental battle and getting rowdy in the process.
Now, it remains to be seen whether this was the classic ‘home team comes out and responds in Game 3 after being down 2-0 but then reality sets in and it’s a Gentleman’s Sweep’ series, or whether the Wolves can actually cause a problem, but one thinks that Houston have enough defensive versatility to contain Rose and continue to force Towns to play outside his comfort zone.
Andrew Wiggins was outstanding in Game 3, which is a direct contrast to his entire career thus far so expect him to slip back to mediocrity when the heat goes on.
There is very little entertainment value in store in this series, as James Harden and his merry men are likely are to respond tomorrow and then wrap things up in Game 5. They would move onto a far more interesting series against Utah, one which would be intense and potentially epic.
Over in the East, the Toronto Raptors cruised through the first two games before running into a buzzsaw disguised as John Wall. Wall has been nothing short of spectacular in back-to-back Washington wins in Game 4, averaging 27.5 points, six rebounds, 14 assists and 3.5 steals while dominating Kyle Lowry at both ends of the floor.
Some would say this series turned when Drake called Kelly Oubre a ‘bum’ late in Game 2 (well, they wouldn’t, but Drake might be better served sticking to be a meh musician), the fact is that the Wizards are inside the Raptors head.
The pressure on this Toronto team heading into Game 5 is at fever pitch. We all know that they have struggled in the big moments over the last few seasons, and you can be damned sure that the Wizards know this and will remind the Raptors of it repeatedly if things get tight.
Their home court advantage is immense, but Bradley Beal is not going to be disqualified on such a disgraceful call again and the problem with the Wizards has never been talent – they have more talent that Toronto, without a shadow of a doubt. DeMar DeRozen will need to earn his contract, and the Raptors frontcourt need to realise that these next three games mean so much more than 82 regular season games.
The winner of this series faces the winner of the (bold)Cavs-Pacers(bold) series…hands up who saw this going as it has gone? Well, most of you are liars! James has been outer-worldly but it hasn’t been enough to put a gap on the Pacers, who have proven to be exactly what they were all season – drastically underrated and understated, but very competent and with a budding superstar who can almost match James.
The key being almost, as Victor Oladipo went missing when he was most needed. The kid will learn, but shooting 5-20 from the field in a game where you can send the game’s greatest player to the brink is something he may rue.
They got a win on Cleveland’s floor but need another to win the series – you would find it hard to see that happening unless James falls off the pace, but having said that the Cavs have needed Herculean efforts from Kyle Korver and J.R.Smith to even the series. Kevin Love has been as effective as Rodney Hood, which is remarkable – or Cleveland to progress any further, he must be the guy we all know he is!
Boston have been maimed by injuries, have a genius coach and two elite youngsters. But there is an issue in their series with Milwaukee – Joe Prunty has finally realised that his best five players are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Jabari Parker and Thon Maker (apologies to Malcolm Brogdon). It’s a big line-up, but the versatility and shooting prowess makes it unlike anything else that any team, let alone a wounded Celtics team, can put together.
Now, the coaching edge and homecourt advantage means that Boston are still slightly favoured in this series but its almost impossible to argue that, all things being equal (that is, even coaches and no home cooking), they would beat Milwaukee. It is an indictment on Milwaukee that they are not 3-1 ahead in this series, given the circumstances, and the idea of Milwaukee playing Philadelphia in the next series is salivating.
Now onto Philadelphia, who have taken the best of Miami and will likely wrap the series up in Game 5. Even the most critical analyst would struggle to find fault with Ben Simmons, who is quite simply unlike anything else in the league. No-one has reached the all-round heights of this kind in his first four playoff games, and despite having one of the better coaches in the league scheming with a versatile, strong defensive core they quite simply don’t have a chance against two once-in-a-generation talents.
In Simmons and Joel Embiid, we have two young players in whom we expect so much, but probably thought there would be some teething issues. While both have turned the ball over a little more than they would like, they have run rampant and may decimate a Heat side devoid of ideas and energy as they enter the cauldron that is Philadelphia for Game 5.
The Sixers shot 7-36 from three-point range in Game 2 and 7-31 in Game 4 and a combined 30-60 in Games 1 and 3; Miami have to find a way to force poor shots from the arc again in Game 5 for this series to head back to Miami.
For drama, shock, entertainment and outstanding basketball there has never been a better first round NBA playoff series and the best thing is there is still so much left to come!! For what’s it worth…I have the Cavs, Celtics and Raptors winning in 7, the Thunder winning in six and the Rockets and Warriors winning in 5.