It was a historic night in the NBA playoffs on Monday. Although, for some, it will be history that they hope is soon forgotten. Doc Rivers and the Philadelphia 76ers blew a golden opportunity to close out the Toronto Raptors, the Dallas Mavericks took the momentum in more ways than one, and the Brooklyn Nets leave the playoffs as the only winless team.
A Historic Night in the NBA Playoffs
The Celtics Sweep the Nets
The Brooklyn Nets’ season came to a fitting end after a game four loss at home to the Boston Celtics. Brooklyn faced more than their share of distractions throughout the regular season. Unfortunately, this trend continued in the first round. Ben Simmons, who was rumored to be coming back in game four, was suddenly out again after the Nets’ game three loss. Coach Steve Nash was continuously asked about Simmons throughout the series. The additional media and Twitter attention likely did nothing to help the issue. Many believed that the combination of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving would be enough to keep the Nets in contention with the red-hot Celtics. Jayson Tatum and the boys had other plans.
Tatum led the way for Boston with 29 points and five assists before fouling out on a questionable sixth foul call late in the game. Jaylen Brown and DPOY Marcus Smart contributed 22 and 20 points respectively. Durant did all he could to keep the Nets alive, scoring 39 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and assisting on nine baskets. He did shoot poorly from deep, often settling for contested threes down the stretch. Seth Curry had 23 points and Irving added 20 in the losing effort.
Speculation on the Nets’ future has already begun. Rumors are swirling that Brooklyn may move on from Nash as a head coach. Irving has already been quoted as returning to the team, but it wouldn’t be the first time he has gone back on such a promise.
The Celtics’ future, on the other hand, is bright. Some oddsmakers have Boston as the current favorite to win the Eastern Conference. Regardless of that, the Celtics are the first team to punch their ticket to the second round and now await their next opponent.
The 76ers Fail to Finish the Raptors
When the news went out that the Toronto Raptors would play game five in Philadelphia without injured guard Fred VanVleet, the common thought was that the series would be over that night. The 76ers already had the better team and now they have a chance to close out a wounded opponent? What could go wrong?
Anyone who was played or coached in the playoffs would likely tell you that closing out a team in a series is incredibly difficult. No one knows this better than 76ers coach Doc Rivers. Rivers has been historically ineffective at finishing a playoff series. He has lost seven of his last eight close-out opportunities and has 31 total losses in those chances. As far as history goes, Rivers has the most close-out losses of all time.
The Raptors outplayed the 76ers in every facet of the game. Philadelphia played poorly defensively, giving up great looks and easy alley-oops. Their offensive effort wasn’t much better, failing to move the ball via player motion or dribble penetration. Too often, the play-calling broke down to James Harden isolations or high pick and rolls. Toronto has clawed back from a 3-0 deficit to now host game six in what is certain to be an electric environment.
Dallas Dominates the Jazz
A huge performance from Luka Doncic elevated the Dallas Mavericks past the Utah Jazz in a big way Monday night. The 22-year-old guard had 33 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists. Doncic showed that he has healed up well from the strained calf that kept him out of the first three games. Jalen Brunson struggled with his shot but managed to score a healthy 24 points in the victory.
Utah looked tired in this one, again failing to stop the Mavericks’ dribble penetration and giving up easy points in the paint. Worse for the Jazz, star guard Donovan Mitchell left the game with a leg injury. We can only hope for a speedy recovery for Mitchell but with Doncic looking fully recovered, this will swing the momentum further in Dallas’ favor. The Jazz will look to redeem themselves at home in game six.
NBA Playoffs – A New Era
With the Nets’ disappointing first-round exit and the Los Angeles Lakers’ even more disappointing regular season, NBA fans will see something not witnessed in 17 years. The second round of the playoffs will be without LeBron James or Durant. Fans should have no fear, for the league is clearly in good hands. With young stars like Tatum, Doncic, and Ja Morant (and more) still in the mix, the future of this league, even its immediate one, is exceptionally bright.
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