We are very lucky to have the NBA return to us today. As we are all aware, the players went on strike to help initiate much needed changes in this world. I am very excited to have the basketball back, but we must remember to not let it distract us from the more important issues in the world. The work that has been started here is huge. It’s a battle against inequality and injustice. This won’t happen overnight. We all have a role to play and we all must do our part. Every little bit helps. Practice acceptance and patience. Educate one another. Support one another. Vote. Most importantly, do it with love and understanding.
I missed the first half, but if the game (and series) between Orlando and Milwaukee has shown me anything, it’s that Milwaukee does not know how to put a team away. After establishing a 21 point lead, the Magic fought back with a 24-7 run to get it within 3 points in the fourth quarter. I want to give full credit to Orlando for fighting back and giving themselves a chance, but it is unacceptable for the Bucks. A few times in this series, Orlando have come back in a game that they were completely out of. What’s the problem for Milwaukee? Is it effort? Lack of depth? Inability to defend the 3 point line? All of the above? I’ll get more into this in my second round preview this week.
I want to talk about the flagrant foul called on Ross in the third quarter. Seriously? How many times to I have to say this? It’s the playoffs, let the players play! I think Khris Middleton completely overreacted to being bumped. You are going to get fouled sometimes, it’s part of the game. Was it necessary for Ross to take that foul? No, but it wasn’t unnecessary either. What even counts as a necessary foul? If Ross felt that he should stop that break and foul, that is his right as a defender. I thought Middleton was being very sensitive and I was annoyed the referees decided to review it. You could see it coming a mile away though, you cannot do anything as a defender anymore. Was I annoyed the foul was deemed flagrant? Absolutely. Was I surprised? Not even a bit. I was all in on the Magic after that and they answered back with that impressive aforementioned run.
Otherwise, I don’t have a lot to talk about in this game. Giannis lead the Bucks again with 28 and 17. He picked up 5 fouls, if he fouled out Orlando may of been able to pull off the upset. Doubtful though. Williams shot the 3 well for Milwaukee, including a couple of very important ones to end Orlando’s surge. Another first round exit for Orlando, but being the 8th seed will usually have the same result.
Westbrook returns for the Rockets in a pivotal game 5. It was a very rough start offensively for OKC in this one. They managed only 14 first quarter points on about 30% shooting. Dort was a large problem in this. The Rockets were leaving him wide open and he could not make a shot. Essentially, Houston was playing 5 on 4 on defense. Dort was shooting every open shot, but he couldn’t make anything. He was shooting early in the shot clock and should of been driving to the basket. He single handedly outshot all of OKC’s guards – not a good recipe for success. It was nice to see Chris Paul having an encouraging chat with Dort and helping him learn and grown. Paul has really matured as a player and is doing a great job in a teaching role. Dort made up for it defensively and because of good team defense, OKC was only down 10 after 1. Schroder started to get it going and OKC started to sieze control in this game. Tucker and Westbrook were both showing signs of frustration, but Houston held a 3 point lead at half time. Harden had a very effective first half, SGA had no chance of staying in front of him. Every time that switch happened, Harden’s eyes lit up. On that note, SGA couldn’t defend anyone tonight. It was a tough night for him on both ends.
Houston started the second half with a quick scoring flurry. Blink and you can sometimes miss it with these guys. OKC had to burn two early timeouts after they found themselves down by double digits. First 11 points and then 20. The problem was Dort. OKC couldn’t score with him on the court and they couldn’t stop Houston with him on the bench. It was a tough position to be in and OKC could not figure it out. Houston were very impressive and did not settle for forced threes. They were playing aggressively and getting to the basket with ease. OKC were actually shooting more 3’s than Houston at one point.
After Schroder was ejected, it was just a formality at that point. OKC did not have enough firepower with him gone. Let’s talk about the double ejection, it was an important part of this game. I feel like not a game goes by without some part of the officiating coming up. I don’t know if I agree with this or not. From what I saw, I didn’t see anything conclusive enough to eject Schroder. From some angles, it maybe looked deliberate. I think it was too hard to call though. I hope the referees had a better angle and made the right decision. If not, they cost OKC any chance they had in this game. Losing Tucker wasn’t a big loss for Houston in this. He was frustrated all game and wasn’t doing much except fouling. It felt like he was always going to get ejected or at least pick up a technical in this one. I think his ejection was soft, but definitely warranted. A headbutt is a headbutt, regardless of the impact.
Chris Paul and Steven Adams had decent games if you look at the box score, but watching the game I never really felt their impact. No one else (except Schroder) could get going for OKC. Houston played a very good all round game. Harden was very effective (31 points on 73% shooting) and played smart basketball. He lead the Rockets to a well deserved victory and a 3-2 lead in the series.
I didn’t expect Portland to just roll over and go away, but I also didn’t expect them to still be in this at half-time. The Blazers came out hard and played a good game of basketball, all without their best player, Damian Lillard. They were aggressive and kept the game close throughout. Neither team had a clear advantage in the first half, it was a game of runs, so it was only fitting that it was all tied after 2 quarters. CJ and Melo lead the scoring for Portland with 21 and 18 respectively. They both shot the ball well, and Portland had made 10 of their 15 threes going into the break. Nurkic was comfortably on his way to a double/double and he had an amazing block in the 1st quarter. It was an absolute thing of beauty, if you didn’t see it, go and look it up! Whiteside dislocated a finger, hopefully it doesn’t impact him too much. The Blazers need everyone available for this. Portland also had a decent rebound advantage over the Lakers.
On the other end, the Lakers were lead by LBJ and AD, as is to be expected. Davis picked up a couple of early fouls and had to sit, but he bounced back and had 13/3/3 at the half. LeBron looked unstoppable for the Lakers. He had 24 points and was passing the ball really well. Dwight had a few good plays but nobody else really stood out for the Lakers. JR Smith managed to impress me (again) with his lack of awareness. It was a pretty bad turnover for him to end the first quarter. Usually when you see a guy called out of bounds in the corner, it’s his heel on the line, not his toe. To be fair, it wasn’t a great pass, but he was still way out of position.
I thought that Portland would run out of legs in the second head, but they never stayed out of this game. Even when Melo and Whiteside had to leave the game due to foul trouble. I don’t want to take anything away from the effort Portland put in, but the Lakers really failed to capitalise on their size advantage once Whiteside went out. They should been living in the paint, but they all seemed content to play the perimeter. Melo had 27 and the funniest play of the night. He kept shouting “I got it!” on every rebound. One rebound he shouted it and Green ripped the ball out of his hands and dunked it. I guess he didn’t have that one! Cj poured in 36 and Nurkic had another double/double.
It was a close game down the stretch, both teams essentially trading buckets. Then Davis finally went inside. 4 consecutive possessions, he played inside the paint and dominated. Davis scored 10 points on those 4 plays. Just like that, the game was over. The Lakers get the win 131-122. Another triple double for James (36/10/10) and 43 points for Davis.
As I mentioned, the Lakers failed to take advantage of their size match up when it was available. I also think that they played poor defense in this game, especially down the end. A couple plays they played good defense or had a good individual effort (check out Caruso’s block on Nurkic), but overall I think it was a poor effort. Gary Trent Jr could not miss, yet somehow he kept getting left open. The Lakers had so many opportunities to put this game away, but they just did not play as hard as they should. They really need to figure out how to bring it, every single game and every single play.
Well done to Portland. They fought hard to the very end. They should have a very successful season next year if everyone remains healthy.
I would like to dedicate this article to the memories Chadwick Boseman, Lute Olson, Cliff Robinson and everyone who has lost their lives in the battles against injustice and illness. 2020 has been a very tough year, but we will all come through it.