What a night of basketball.
Where does one even begin.
The night started off with an overtime thriller between the Celtics and the Heat in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals, and concluded with the once thought impossible, becoming reality. Let’s revisit what went down in these matchups in this historic night of hoops action.
Celtics vs Heat
Celtics vs Heat.
Classic Eastern Conference rivalry.
Yet again, the rivalry did not disappoint.
In a game that came down to final possessions of overtime, the Miami Heat barely snuck away with a win over the Boston Celtics by a score of 117-114. Goran Dragic led the way offensively, scoring 29 points on 11/19 shooting from the field. Dragic also played a pivotal role down the stretch, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter and overtime combined on 3/4 shooting from the field.
Jimmy Butler also came up big time in the clutch, hitting the go-ahead three point shot in the fourth quarter before Marcus Smart drew contact on a foul on the other end of the court. Butler also hit the ultimate game winning shot with twelve seconds left in the overtime period.
For Boston, Jayson Tatum played a great game statistically for the most part. He scored 30 points on 10/24 shooting, grabbed 14 rebounds, and dished out ten assists. Statistically, that looks like an amazing performance, but one would have to downgrade it to simply a good or average performance due to his poor play down the stretch.
He had poor shot selection, missed multiple fadeaway shots, airballed some shots, missed every single shot in overtime, fouled Jimmy Butler which allowed him to hit the game winner on an and-one, and last but not least, got blocked on a potential game-winning layup by Bam Adebayo which will go down as one of the most clutch defensive plays and block in NBA Playoff history.
On another note, Kemba Walker seriously needs to step it up. Ever since game four of the previous series against Toronto, Walker has been a major disappointment. In this matchup, Walker did hit timely shots down the stretch, but on the game he only scored 19 points on an extremely inefficient 6/19 shooting from the field. He needs to drastically improve his shot selection and efficiency throughout the course of the entire game if the Celtics want to stand a chance.
Marcus Smart was exceptional in every way, offensively, defensively, you name it. Marcus Smart did everything at a high level. However, if players like Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown do not play to their capabilities, it does not matter how much Smart can replicate Gordon Hayward’s lost scoring load.
This team needs Hayward back, and desperately.
Clippers vs Nuggets
What was once thought as impossible, has become reality.
The Denver Nuggets, yet again, have come back from a 3-1 deficit to take down the Los Angeles Clippers, the preseason favorite to win the NBA Finals.
Before one is to highlight all the negatives, primarily from the Los Angeles Clippers, one must highlight the positives, which primarily came from the Denver Nuggets
Jamal Murray put on an absolute show and was damn near unstoppable during this win or go-home game. Murray scored 40 points on an extremely efficient 15/26 shooting from the field, which led the Nuggets to victory. Half of these points were generated during his sensational second quarter, where he scored 20 points on 9/13 shooting to keep the Nuggets within two points of the Clippers going into halftime.
In the second half, Denver out-scored Los Angeles 50-33 and yet again, it was Murray who came up clutch down the stretch. He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter including multiple timely shots that put this game out of reach.
Nikola Jokic, the undisputed best center in basketball, did not have his best scoring night but was extremely impactful towards this victory for the Nuggets. Despite only scoring 16 points on 5/13 shooting, Jokic grabbed an eye-popping 22 rebounds and dished out 13 assists. His work on the glass and his ability to find open passing lanes and create shots for others on and off the ball is really what helped Denver close out this dangerous Clipper team.
Now, let us get to one of the most disappointing teams in NBA History.
The team many had slated to win the championship.
The team many thought was unbeatable.
The team that had the deepest roster from top to bottom.
This team is the 2020 Los Angeles Clippers, or as some would say, “The Paper Clips,” because on paper, this team looked like the best in the league. On paper, they looked like championships. But what’s on paper can be extremely deceiving.
One could talk about how Kawhi Leonard, who many proclaimed “The Best Player in the World” scored 14 points on an abysmal 6/22 shooting from the field in an elimination game including zero points in the fourth quarter.
One could talk about Paul George, Playoff P, yet again having another disappointing playoffs, especially when facing elimination, where he only scored 10 points on 4/16 shooting from the field.
One could talk about Lou Williams scoring seven points on 3/11 shooting in an elimination game.
One could go on and on about the poor performances from the Clippers in this game, but at that point, the message of what transpired during this game, would be evident, if it isn’t already.
Let’s talk about the Clippers season as a whole however.
They came in over-confident, thinking that they were on some other level than everyone else. Maybe they were talent wise, but not having the proper mindset could lead to one’s demise, which was one of the reasons this Clippers team disappointed when it was all said and done.
Another reason is that with all the injuries, the load management, and the overall lazy approach of the Clippers during the regular season, they took their competition for granted which really hurt them when it mattered most. Once again, they felt that they had the luxury of resting and being lazy because on paper they were better than the rest of the field. This led to a lack of on-court chemistry and rhythm, which once again severely hurt them when it mattered most.
There’s another factor that is related to the point about thinking they were better than everyone else. They took competition that wasn’t the Los Angeles Lakers very lightly. They had a different motor when playing the Lakers, as seen by their Opening Day and Christmas Day victories, but didn’t carry that same energy when playing other teams, like the Lakers did.
A perfect example of that was the events that have just transpired. The Clippers were in the driving seat of this series and ultimately choked because they got too overconfident and quite frankly, beat themselves with sloppy play, especially in crunch time.
There are a lot of conversations that must be had about every individual within the Clippers organization. Not just the players, but everyone, all the way down to the last man on the bench, up to Steve Ballmer.
There are conversations that must be had about Kawhi Leonard’s legacy and current status in the NBA, because right now he is not a top 3 player when everyone is healthy. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant, despite all of their playoff struggles in the past, have never disappointed this badly.
Whether that was choking in the 2011 Finals for LeBron, choking in the 2016 Finals for Steph, or choking in the 2016 Western Conference Finals for KD, none of those are as bad as this. Simply because those players had better production in those series against better competition and had made it further than Kawhi had. Those three, are undisputedly better than him at this point in time and one can create arguments for other players as well.
There are conversations that must be had about Doc Rivers’s overrated career as a head coach. He has only won one championship, which came with a top 15 player ever in Kevin Garnett, but since then has had very little playoff success and been a catalyst towards multiple chokejobs, including the one that ended the Lob City era.
There are conversations that must be had about the supporting cast that consisted of Paul George, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell.
This Clippers team has a lot to figure out in a short season. But for now, the Nuggets rush for gold lives on.
Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and the Nuggets is on Friday Night.