The NBA playoff field is winnowing. Two teams were eliminated from the bubble over the weekend, and two others are facing elimination in their next games. While chalk has reigned in the Eastern Conference, the West has had no shortage of drama. Let’s take our regular look at what has transpired around the league over the past three days.
Our first conference semifinal is set: Boston and Toronto will meet for Game 1 on Thursday.
The defending champions set an NBA record with 100 bench points in the final game of their sweep over the Brooklyn Nets, winning 150-122. The Raptors collectively won their four games by 82 points, sweating through only one close contest in Game 2 before cruising to the final two victories. Six players averaged double-digit scoring for Toronto, led by Fred VanVleet’s 21.3 points per game, and no Raptor had to play more than 34 minutes per contest.
Their reward for their first-round domination is a date with the Boston Celtics, who also swept their series. The Celtics faced more resistance from the Philadelphia 76ers, only winning their four games by 47 points, but the continued excellence from Jayson Tatum bodes well for their next matchup. Tatum averaged 27.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game while shooting 45.2% from the field against Philadelphia. He’ll actually face a team with wing defenders in this round, however, in what promises to be an outstanding series. Boston won the regular-season series 3-1.
The other Eastern Conference semifinal is almost in place.
Credit to the Pacers, who have fought gamely against the Heat in every game, but they simply run out of gas down the stretch each time. Miami has settled on a new starting lineup and new closing lineup in the bubble and looks more dangerous than at any point during the regular season. The Heat are itching to win a playoff series for the first time in four years, and they’re one game away from a sweep. Their projected opponent is the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who have bounced back from a shocking Game 1 loss to go up 2-1 on the Magic. The Bucks have yet to look the part of a true contender, but it’s been enough against Orlando.
Donovan Mitchell is on a mission.
Denver won the first game of its series thanks to a two-star onslaught that was able to overcome Mitchell’s 57 points. Since then, Utah has had the balanced attack, and the Nuggets have had no hopes of defending it. Mitchell became just the third player in NBA history to have multiple 50-point games in the same playoff series, joining Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan, and the Jazz have been firing on all cylinders since the return of Mike Conley Jr. This team is so much more potent than would have expected without Bojan Bogdanovic.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had another epic playoff moment.
The former Clipper is only two years into his NBA career, yet he already has an enviable highlight reel. He hit a huge three to put the Thunder up late against the Rockets, and Chris Paul carried OKC through overtime to give his team life in their matchup against Houston. The Rockets are still up 2-1, but the Thunder are starting to figure things out defensively thanks to rookie Luguentz Dort. The winner of this series will certainly provide a challenge to their next opponent, likely the Lakers after L.A.’s other team found a way to stifle the Blazers yet again in Game 3.
Today’s Playoff Games
More news for Monday:
- Zach Lowe has his missive as the only media member in attendance for the 2020 NBA Draft lottery. This is Lowe’s favorite day of the league calendar, and that shines through in his piece.
- Tim Bontemps shares how NBA referees are adapting to the unusual circumstances of the bubble.
- The Mavericks tied the series against the Clippers in dramatic fashion. Here’s Helene Elliott on the burgeoning threat of Luka Doncic, and Ryan Mainville on Doncic’s brilliant third quarter.
- Meanwhile, Mirjam Swanson looks at what’s up with Paul George.