Nothing shatters an in-six narrative quite like an underdog, up 2-1 and with a chance to lose Game 5 on the road before coming home and closing out their opponents, failing to do the one thing an underdog needs to do in order to win a playoff series.
That’s right; the Sixers and Blazers couldn’t win a Game 4 at home.
Toronto Raptors fans went from “crap, we’re going to lose on our home floor in Game 5 without Pascal Siakam” to “Conference Finals, here we come!” in as much time as it took Siakam to get some Mr. Miyagi treatment and crane-kick the Sixers out of Wells Fargo Center.
Nuggets fans…well, after the Spurs series and the first four games of this series, I think all Nuggets fans need is a heart rate monitor and an asthma inhaler. After years of missing the playoffs, and after more years of losing in the first round, it’s easy to forget what a roller coaster ride it can be trying to get to the third round.
We begin in Philadelphia.
Least Improved Player
Colin Cowherd referred to Ben Simmons as the “Least Improved Player” in the league, and it’s not often that Cowherd is right about any NBA take but he nailed that one.
Simmons had 10 points on 0-of-0 from three-point land to go with five rebounds, four assists, and a minus-16 in 38 minutes, somehow managing to do even less with the ball than Andrew Wiggins typically does in the same workload during a Timberwolves game.
That is…putrescent, and it’s a big reason the Sixers lost the game.
Well, that, and Tobias Harris shooting 7-of-23 for 16 points, one of those “bad games” where a player takes 20+ shots and has more FGA than points, which league-wide in 2018-19 led to a 26-56 82-game pace for teams that had a player do that during the regular season.
Meanwhile, on Toronto’s side, Siakam was 2-of-10 for nine points and a non-factor in the ballgame, but his Willis Reed act was inspiring.
Kawhi Leonard led the way with 39 points on 13-of-20 (!) shooting, Kyle Lowry showed up with 14 points on 6-of-13 and added six rebounds, seven assists, and just one turnover, and Nick Nurse is finally starting to figure out that Fred VanVleet should not be allowed into an NBA playoff game unless he’s sitting in the upper deck of the arena.
VanVleet played seven minutes, missed both of his shots, and posted a minus-6.
The end result of all this was Toronto winning Game 4 101-96, tying the series at 2, and getting Kawhi into the highlight reel at breakfast time:
Game 5: Tuesday (5/7), 8pm/et, TNT pic.twitter.com/Fb9rdmP1EE
— NBA (@NBA) May 6, 2019
You Had One Job, Portland
The Blazers could’ve gone up 3-1, played with house money in Denver, and closed the series in 6 at the Domus.
But you can’t close out a series as the underdog if you lose at home, and with the Nuggets’ 116-112 win behind a triple-double from Nikola Jokic, this is now Denver’s series to win with two of the remaining three games in the rarefied air of Pepsi Center.
Jokic had 21 points on 8-of-15, yanked down 12 boards including six offensive rebounds, and dished 11 assists to go along with a game-high plus-17 in 39 minutes.
Jamal Murray, meanwhile, powered the scoring with 34 points on 10-of-20, six clutch free throws to seal the game at the end (and 11-of-11 from the line overall), and a plus-10 in 38 minutes.
So with the starters having themselves a time, who ended up making this game close?
Mason Plumlee, that’s who. He got slapped around on defense and ended up minus-16 in 16 minutes off the bench.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were huge for Portland, scoring a combined 57 points on 19-of-41 shooting, but they got no help at all from their teammates, who despite shooting 20-of-41 themselves, only got two guys (Al-Farouq Aminu and Seth Curry) into double figures.
Enes Kanter disappeared with five points and a minus-11 despite ten rebounds, Evan Turner had no points at all in 12 minutes and missed both of his shots, and Maurice Harkless went just 1-of-5 on his way to four points.
One question remains, however:
Is Jokic OK after appearing to get hurt on a play where he assisted Harris for a bucket?
If so, Denver just grabbed the narrative back.
If not, the Blazers could create a lot of interesting drama in Game 5 and seize back the chance to win this in six.
Jokic is your man of the match:
Game 5: Tuesday (5/7), 10:30pm/et, TNT pic.twitter.com/XuwtIOu6XD
— NBA (@NBA) May 6, 2019
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) May 5, 2019
THAT is how you show the world that the game is almost literally over before it starts.
More breakfast tomorrow. And do allow me to recommend the “Analysis” tab in the menu at the top of the page, where you can catch up on a lot of deep dives (h/t NBA Twitter, who called attention to my piece about playoff pace in a Zach Lowe thread. That was a nice thing to see on the traffic report!)
Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!