Sometimes, we are really lucky to be basketball fans. Today was one of those days. It was a double header on TNT and both games were a lot of fun to watch. Up first was Denver and L.A.
The Clippers came out on fire and looked poised to close the series out by the end of the evening. Leonard and George both got off to hot starts. Denver was hanging around, but they didn’t look convincing. Murray was aggressive early, but struggled to get going and so did mostly everyone. Denver were down double figures at halftime and that continued into the third, the Nuggets falling behind as much as 16 points. It just felt like every time Denver would make a run, the Clippers would answer right back.
Enter Paul Millsap. After a bit of minor pushing with Morris (Morris was assessed a technical) something was woken in Millsap. He went on a tear and scored 14 points in third quarter (he finished the game with 17) to help breathe a little bit of life into Denver. Once they got going, they never looked back. All of a sudden, Denver couldn’t miss, it felt like they all had the hot hand and the Clippers looked lost. The Nuggets scored 38 points in the fourth quarter and outscored the Clippers 67 – 49 in the second half. Denver go on to win, 111-105, and are now down only 3-2 in the series.
Murray finished with 26 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. I already mentioned the rough start for Murray. He could not buy a bucket early in this game. Once her found the three ball though, he couldn’t miss from outside. He shot an impressive 71% from deep (5 of 7) but finished only 36% overall, going 9 of 25. It’s hard to fault his game after the late scoring flurry, but I felt he wasn’t playing very smart early on. Too much iso and just poor shooting. I understand his game style is to put up shots and get points. But when it’s not your night, you need to identify that and get the ball to someone else or get better shots. He had a lot of success in the pick and roll with Jokic, but I don’t think they utilised that enough. Basketball IQ is what separates a good player from a great player. I’m not saying Murray doesn’t have it, but he needs to sharpen it. I have no doubt that Murray will evolve into a great player. Again, I know it sounds harsh to fault his game tonight, but I expect big things from Murray in the future and I will always look for ways for him to improve.
Jokic shot the ball well and had a double/double, finishing with 26 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. He hit a couple of timely threes in this as well. Michael Porter Jr. did basically nothing all game long and then had the most impressive final 60 seconds you could ever want. He had a big block, made clutch free throws and hit a very impressive three to help seal this one. The Denver bench was awesome in this game. Honestly, after Millsap provided the spark, everyone got rolling.
Leonard was a monster again. 36 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. He had 5 3 pointers on the night as well. Paul George finished with 26/6/6. It felt this game was theirs for the taking, but once the Nuggets got going, nobody else stepped up for L.A. This was a very closely contested game, but the Clippers let Denver hang around for too long. They had so many chances to put the game away and never did. If you leave the door open long enough, sometimes the opposition will kick it down.
Over to the main event of the evening, the Toronto Raptors vs the Boston Celtics in game 7! The winner advancing to take on the well rested Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. Spoiler alert : it was Boston.
Toronto competed well and after a slow start, they remained competitive for most of the game. What did I say yesterday though? You have to play 48 minutes to win a game. The Raptors were resilient as always (thanks to their defensive efforts), but the Celtics survived a late scare to advance. Full credit to Boston (I’ll get to them in a little but), but the Raptors were their own worst enemy tonight. Inefficiency and turnovers plagued them tonight, much like it has the whole series. It was capped off by inability to box out and a dumb VanVleet possession. Ultimately, the better team won this series. Let’s have a look at what went wrong for the reigning champions, and then what went right for Boston.
I already mentioned it, so it’s a good place to start. Turnovers! Toronto had twice as many turnovers as Boston. Literally. 18 for the Raptors and only 9 for the Celtics. If you are giving away the basketball that much, you are putting yourself at a huge disadvantage. Boston turned those turnovers into 31 points. When you consider that the final score was 92-87, you can truly see how damaging those turnovers were.
In terms of players, I’ll start with Lowry. Where was he in the first half? It was not the kind of game that Toronto needed from their leader. VanVleet managed to hit some shots and actually had a decent game, right up until that last possession. He just held the ball, dribbled, dribbled, dribbled some more and then finally forced a stupid 3. Did he think he was Steph Curry? He had such a disappointing series, and ended it all on such a stupid play. I’m not saying he shouldn’t of taken the 3, but move the ball around a little bit. Make the defense work and get an easier look. Your’e not getting off the hook on that one either, Nick Nurse. Call a timeout! No point saving it if you aren’t in the game. Pascal Siakam continued to struggle. OG was missing in action. Gasol was a liability, yet again. Powell couldn’t get it going. Serge looked ok, but the disappeared. The more I write about this team, the more I realise how lucky they were to force 7 games in this series. They were outclassed in every way imaginable.
I don’t mean to sound harsh on Toronto. Boston are an incredible team, especially defensive. And for most of this series, Toronto matched their defensive intensity. The Raptors needed to step up offensively though. They are the reigning champions and have the coach of the year in Nick Nurse. It was very disappointing to see them, and their all-star players, struggle offensively every single game.
Let’s talk about the Celtics. Well done, Boston! They fought hard all series and deserve to advance. I can’t wait for the matchup between them and Miami, but we will get into that another day. Another very impressive defensive effort from them, Tatum leading the way. It was such a great showing for him, especially at such a young age. The future is bright for this team and I’m sure this is the first of many finals appearances.
May as well start on Tatum. He really is blossoming into a superstar. 29 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists. It’s easy to forget how young he is and how the best is yet to come. His running mate, Brown also had 21 points. Walker and Smart combined for 30. Smart had another excellent defensive night and knocked down a few triples again. Check out his block on Powell. Theis, once again, made his presence know. I’m all about that guy. I just made a trade to get him on my team in 2k21.
This is such a likeable team and they leave everything on the court. It’s easy to get behind a squad like that. This will be such a great series against Miami.
By the way, just wanted to give a quick shout out to AEW’s Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus. It was cool to see them watching the game. Even if Brian Anderson misidentified Luchasaurus as “Rexosaurus”. Do your research, Brian!
I would like to dedicate this article to the memories of the many lives lost on 9/11, and the brave heroes and volunteers who helped out in the aftermath.