The NBA playoffs are fundamentally a problem of mathematical certainty given a large enough sample size.
When you combine 82 games of regular-season basketball with best-of-seven series, and especially in the first round stir in teams with a high likelihood of a talent disparity due either to the simple fact that there’s a big difference between contender and mid-first-round draft pick team or due to that circumstance being forced by injury…
…well, nobody should be surprised that Toronto and Boston both won on the road Friday.
The Indiana Pacers, who finished the season 16-19 after Victor Oladipo went out, are fundamentally the Charlotte Hornets for April purposes. Boston, meanwhile, has a better coach, better players, and more deep-level playoff experience, so they must naturally be heavily favored, on their way to a sweep so blatantly inevitable that the Pacers can’t even sell out Bankers Life Fieldhouse for Game 4.
There has been much gnashing of teeth on Twitter over this, but I’ll be honest…I wouldn’t drop 14 bucks for the cheap seats on this either. If I want to watch my favorite team meekly surrender and complete their 2016 Grizzlies-esque late collapse, I’ll watch on TV, and that’s just as true if I were in Indianapolis as it is here in Seattle.
Meanwhile, the Raptors beat the Magic on the road, and you get a distinct feeling Toronto’s going to win Game 4 as well and wrap this up in five, since it took a confluence of events so highly unlikely just for Orlando to win Game 1 (the only part that wasn’t surprising was Kyle Lowry disappearing because he always does that in Game 1) that there is no plausible reason to believe Orlando is winning another game.
And out west, speaking of broad expectations, everyone’s talking about the Thunder making revolutionary adjustments, but the only revolutionary adjustment I see is that a Thunder-Blazers game is more likely to result in an Oklahoma City victory if the game is not in Portland. A series doesn’t start until the road team wins a game (or it goes 7, whichever comes first.)
And yes, I’m setting all the narratives in the intro, because when it comes to the actual basketball, let’s keep this strictly about the numbers, shall we?
The Inevitable Pacers Collapse
Just once I’d like to see this Indiana team play 48 minutes of quality team basketball on national television.
But if they’re not choking in the “Turd Quarter”, their idiot coach (#FireNate) is getting a pole shoved where the sun don’t shine because he’s not smart enough or mentally agile enough to adjust to circumstances and instead simply stays slavishly devoted to his rotations come hell or high water.
Brad Stevens is smarter than Nate McMillan, and no amount of “but Victor!” is going to change the fact that the Pacers are a 55-win roster (when Oladipo is healthy) with a 35-win coach.
Jaylen Brown had 23 points on 8-of-9, Jayson Tatum had 18, Stevens brilliantly shortened his rotations to rely on nine guys total and eight in regular rotation—one thing about successful college coaches in the NBA, they tend to be best in the playoffs when they can do what’s common in the college game, and despite a Total Team Effort led by 19 points off the bench from Tyreke Evans, Nate’s squad scored just 35 second-half points to lose 104-96.
Boston had more points in the first quarter (41) than Indiana had in two quarters after everyone went into the locker room and Brad Stevens did coach things while Nate McMillan stuck his thumb up his ass.
Fire Nate. My professional objectivity just took off early for the day.
Efficiency will get you everywhere when you want to be man of the match:
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 20, 2019
His Name Is Pascal Siakam. National Media Just Met Him.
Skip Bayless fired off a tweet that reinforces my belief that the national sports media who aren’t NBA-centric (and quite a few national-media people who ARE NBA-centric; Charles Barkley, looking at you) never watch a game that isn’t on ESPN or TNT.
I’m starting to think Pascal Siakam is Toronto’s best player.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) April 20, 2019
I mean, I don’t agree with that take, not with Kawhi Leonard on the team, but Siakam is legit real good. Hands-down Most Improved Player this year and a star-in-the-making.
And you’d think the national sports media just learned his name.
Siakam had 30 points on 13-of-20 to go with 11 rebounds, and it was his step-up effort that overcame an atrocious 5-of-19 (16 points, 10 boards) from Leonard and a mediocre 12 points and 10 assists in 40 minutes on 4-of-10 from Kyle Lowry in order to give the Raptors a 98-93 win in Orlando.
The Raptors probably should’ve lost this game. Siakam didn’t let that happen, and in the process he demonstrated just how badly overmatched the Magic truly are in this series.
P-Skills pays the P-bills:
"He’s (@pskills43) unbelievable. He’s the most improved basketball player in the NBA this year and he’s only going to get better." – KLow
30 Pts // 11 Rebs // 4 Ast pic.twitter.com/nH0pAfiUPR
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 20, 2019
Thunder Down 2-1
You knew full well Portland wasn’t sweeping this series. Even if it’s a gentleman’s sweep in 5 after the resounding start to the series in Portland (and no, I don’t believe that either—this one’s going 6 if OKC wins Game 5 or 7 if Portland does, and everything’s going to hinge on that game), you knew Russell Westbrook and friends weren’t losing that Game 3 at home.
Sure enough, 120-108, as straightforward as you like.
Westbrook exploded for 33 points, 11 assists, and five rebounds, and it’s worth wondering if Westbrook backing off crashing the boards isn’t the best solution for the Thunder as they try to get moving in transition going the other way—triple-doubles are nice, but from a strategy point of view when you have Steven Adams and Paul George, they seem dumb, a case of stat-padding but hurting the team.
Of course, life is not perfect science, and we’re not going to see Russ average five boards a game in a season unless he gets a coach who sells him on winning the scoring title by getting out on missed shots for a whole year.
But that’s another story for another time.
George had the mother of all weird scoring stat lines: 22 points, 3-of-16 shooting, 2-of-7 from three, 14-of-17 from the line. That makes no stinkin’ sense at all.
The Thunder shot 15-of-29 (51.7 percent) from three, Westbrook hit 4-of-6…you get the feeling that’s not happening again in this series?
But sure, the Blazers may well have this in seven. I predicted OKC in six. Either is plausible. As long as the Thunder don’t yack Game 4, the series will be decided in Portland with only the shouting to come after Game 5. I for one can’t wait.
Give it up for Brodie:
Brodie held it DOWN at home for the @okcthunder to get their first win of the series! 😤⚡️
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 20, 2019
Coming later to a quality NBA site near you: The Rebounding Guard Problem. Stay tuned for that, and thanks for reading!