The first round of the NBA playoffs continues today with three pivotal Game 3s. Follow along here for the latest analysis and commentary from The Post’s NBA reporter Tim Bontemps, and ask him questions in the comments section. Catch up on last night’s games here.
Durant, Livingston tweak ankles as Warriors cruise to 3-0 lead
The Golden State Warriors took a commanding 3-0 lead over the San Antonio Spurs with a 110-97 victory Thursday night, but the focus after the game was on the health status of Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston, both of whom tweaked their left ankles in the game’s final five minutes.
Both walked off under their own power – and Durant later went to the locker room without even much of a limp – but for a Warriors team already missing Stephen Curry, they can ill-afford to have more players miss time.
With two days off before Game 4 on Sunday afternoon, the Warriors should have enough time to get everyone healthy and ready to go for a closeout game to move on to the second round, where they’ll likely meet the New Orleans Pelicans.
Durant had 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists for Golden State, while Klay Thompson added 19 points. Livingston added 16 points and Quinn Cook chipped in 12 off the bench.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for San Antonio, and the Spurs managed to hang around until midway through the third quarter. But Golden State played mostly mistake-free basketball, only committing 10 turnovers, and the Spurs simply couldn’t score enough to get a victory for Coach Gregg Popovich, who was away from the team following the death of his wife, Erin, Wednesday.
Forego the stubble, reduce your opponent to rubble
Nikola Mirotic has been on fire for the past eight games – including scoring 30 points for the New Orleans Pelicans in their blowout win in Game 3 over the Portland Trail Blazers to go up 3-0 in their first round series.
So what is the reason for it? According to Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry, it’s Gillette.
Mirotic arrived clean-shaven for an April 4 game, and scored 25 points in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies. His teammates told him he had to stay clean shaven after that, and Mirotic has been – with exceptional results.
It looks like that’s going to be the case for at least a couple more weeks, as the Pelicans now are overwhelming favorites to advance to face another team that’s up 3-0, the Golden State Warriors, in the second round.
Pelicans on the verge of wrapping it up
The Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans were expected to play a long, competitive playoff series.
Instead, it could end with a sweep.
The Pelicans routed the Trail Blazers in New Orleans Thursday, winning 119-102 to take a commanding 3-0 lead. It could end as soon as Game 4 Saturday evening.
Nikola Mirotic finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, two assists and three steals for New Orleans, while Anthony Davis had 28 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and three steals and both Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo had 16 points.
It was another rough game for Damian Lillard, who has had a nightmare of a series. Lillard managed 20 points, but went 5-for-14 and had eight turnovers, eight of 24 for Portland on the night, which led to 35 Pelicans points. Portland also went 9-for-31 from three-point range, and outside of Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Al-Farouq Aminu the Trail Blazers were 1-for-9 from deep.
No damage to Embiid’s mouth
Joel Embiid may have had a facial fracture, but his mouth is working just fine.
After a strong return to the court in Philadelphia’s 128-108 victory in Game 3 over the Miami Heat – scoring 23 points to go with seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 30 minutes – the Sixers’ star big man had a few things to say.
The bad blood between the two teams is evident, though, and came out in the back-and-forth that went on between Embiid and Justise Winslow throughout the game. In one sequence, Embiid and Winslow took turns blocking the other’s shot – and talking about it – in the second half.
But the animus began in the first half, when Winslow stepped on Embiid’s visor that went over the eye holes of his protective mask. Winslow then picked it up and appeared to try to break it.
Here’s what Embiid had to say about it:
And here’s Winslow’s counter:
Hopefully Miami wins Game 4 of this series, just to ensure it goes at least six. What neutral observer wants any of this to end?
It looks like the Portland Trail Blazers are cooked
A thoroughly dominant performance by the New Orleans Pelicans, who won the first two games of this series in Portland, has them up 93-72 early in the fourth quarter of Game 3 back in the Big Easy.
Nikola Mirotic is now up to 30 points, while Anthony Davis has 20 and Jrue Holiday has 16. Damian Lillard, meanwhile, is just 5-for-13 and has seven turnovers in what has been another miserable performance in a series full of them.
The game can be summed up by this Anthony Davis tip-dunk.
A dominant performance by the Pelicans, and a baffling one for the Trail Blazers.
Keep an eye on Warriors’ turnovers
Here’s the stat to watch in Game 3 of Warriors-Spurs: Golden State’s turnovers.
The Warriors turned the ball over on the game’s opening possession, resulting in a bucket for San Antonio. Since then? None. That’s a big reason why Golden State leads early in the second quarter.
The problem for San Antonio in this series from the beginning is that San Antonio simply can’t score enough to keep up with Golden State, even without Curry. One way the Spurs can score, though, is if the Warriors give them easy opportunities by giving the ball away.
If Golden State doesn’t turn the ball over, it will win this game. Period.
Fourth-quarter barrage by Sixers extinguishes Heat
Ben Simmons with the exclamation point, and this one is over. The Sixers are up 2-1 in the series heading into Game 4 Saturday afternoon, with a 128-108 win.
The 76ers got Joel Embiid back, and his return helped them take back control of the series. Embiid led the Sixers with 23 points to go with seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks, Dario Saric had 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists and Ben Simmons had 19 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and four steals to lead Philadelphia.
The game was close until the fourth quarter, but the young Sixers closed the game out with a 32-14 advantage in the fourth quarter to seal the victory, giving them a chance to go home with a 3-1 series lead if they can get another victory Saturday afternoon.
While Embiid’s offense was a work in progress despite the stat line, his defensive impact can’t be understated. His presence alone helped keep Miami from even getting to the paint, turned the Heat into a jump shooting team.
Miami made them through three quarters, but its luck ran out in the fourth. That’s when Philadelphia took over, and took back home court in the process.
Trail Blazers in trouble
Playing in front of a raucous home crowd, the New Orleans Pelicans have carried over their strong play from the opening two games of their series in Portland to take a 64-45 halftime lead, putting Portland one half away from being down 3-0 in the series.
Anthony Davis recovered from a brief scare with a left wrist issue in the first half to return to the game, and has 12 points, eight rebounds, two steals and a block early on, and Jrue Holiday – who has been the story of the series thus far – has 12 points and four assists.
The story of this particular game, though, has been Nikola Mirotic, who has 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting to go with six rebounds, two asissts, two steals and a block. His play in this series has been worth the first round pick New Orleans gave up to get him alone.
Damian Lillard is 3-for-10, missing all three of his shots in the second quarter, and has 12 points, four rebounds and three assists. C.J. McCollum had a hot second quarter, and has 14 points overall, but both players need to be better for Portland to have any kind of a chance of making this a game.
Spurs start hot but the Warriors quickly counter
The San Antonio Spurs got off to a predictably hot start, scoring the opening six points of Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors.
That would’ve been the case normally, given the Spurs are down 2-0 in the series and fighting for their lives. But with the loss of Gregg Popovich home with his family in the wake of his wife, Erin, passing away Wednesday afternoon, it would’ve been stunning if San Antonio didn’t start the game with a lot of energy.
That said, Golden State immediately rattled off a 10-4 run to tie the game. If the Warriors play the way they are supposed to, they should win this game, and Game 4, as well. Even without Stephen Curry, who remains sidelined with a sprained MCL, they have far more talent than the depleted Spurs, especially with Kawhi Leonard out for the remainder of the playoffs with his lingering quad injury.
It will take Golden State slipping, and San Antonio playing inspired ball, to make this a series.
Embiid has 76ers in position to win
In Joel Embiid’s first playoff game, he put a dagger in the Miami Heat.
The combination of a banked in jumper from the free throw line, a wing three-pointer as the shot clock wound down and then a pair of free throws extended Philadelphia’s lead to 119-105 with 3:32 to go in Game 3, putting the Sixers in position to reclaim the lead in this series.
Embiid has been rocky offensively in this game, but a strong second half has him with 22 points – including 9-for-14 from the foul line – while his presence in the paint has limited Miami’s ability to even get near the rim, let alone score.
Pelicans on Davis watch after first quarter
The New Orleans Pelicans have an early lead at home over the Portland Trail Blazers, but there is early concern about the left hand/wrist of superstar forward Anthony Davis after he banged it early on.
Davis went to the locker room to get his wrist looked at, and if he’s limited at all it could loom large in both this game and the series.
Still, New Orleans looks terrific early in this one, leading 36-20 and continuing a trend that’s lasted nine quarters now. Nikola Mirotic had 14 first quarter points and was the only player for either team to reach double-figures, while Jrue Holiday has seven points in another hot start. Both he and Mirotic played the whole quarter for New Orleans.
Portland, meanwhile, is just 4-for-13 from three, though Damian Lillard is off to a decent start after subpar games by his standards in the first two games in Portland.
McConnell, not Fultz, gets key second half minutes
It was notable to see T.J. McConnell – and not Markelle Fultz – checking in for Ben Simmons at the end of the third quarter.
Fultz had a rough stint in the first half, with a minus-9 in four minutes and committing a couple of fouls. So with the game in the balance, Sixers Coach Brett Brown went with his veteran instead.
McConnell immediately made an impact, hitting a couple shots and getting a steal to help Philadelphia take a 96-94 lead.
Both teams are hitting a ton of shots, though it feels like Miami’s are more unsustainable. The Heat are 23-for-43 on shots outside the restricted area entering the fourth, likely tough for them to keep up for another 12 minutes.
The advantage here should be for Philadelphia, even though the Sixers are on the road. Should be a fun final 12 minutes.
Harkless returns to starting lineup in must win for Trail Blazers
Down 2-0 in their best-of-seven series, the Portland Trail Blazers are going back to the lineup that helped earn them the third seed in the West.
Maurice Harkless, in his second game back from knee surgery, will return to the starting lineup at small forward for Game 3 Thursday night in New Orleans, as the Trail Blazers try to save their season. It’s likely Harkless would have gone into the starting lineup regardless, but Evan Turner being out with an injury paved the way for him to come back.
Harkless was effective in Game 2, going 5-for-5 and scoring 11 points in 27 minutes off the bench, and was plus-10 on the night — by far the best of any Portland player. The Trail Blazers will be hoping that carries over to a game they desperately have to have if they want a chance of making this a series.
Dragic takes control for Miami
It seems no one on the Miami Heat can miss, but none of them are playing better than Goran Dragic.
Miami’s point guard has been sensational in this game, scoring 23 points on 8-for-11 shooting to go with seven assists and no turnovers, keeping the Heat ahead in an entertaining, back-and-forth third quarter.
With a combined 40 fouls being called so far (19 on Philadelphia, 21 on Miami) and three sets of double-technicals, this game has had a little bit of everything. All of Miami’s starters have at least three fouls (Hassan Whiteside has four), also something to watch.
Heat’s feat is its long-range shooting
In what a wildly entertaining Heat-Sixers Game 3, Miami is winning because it’s on fire from three-point range.
The Heat are an absurd 11-for-19 from deep so far – and would’ve been 12-for-20 if Josh Richardson hadn’t stepped on the out of bounds line while taking a three in the opening moments of the game.
Miami doesn’t have a lot of shooters, though so far Justise Winslow, who isn’t one, is leading the Heat by going 4-for-5 from three.
Can the Heat keep this up? The answer could determine the outcome of this game.
Winslow is having the game of his life
It’s been a rocky first three seasons in the NBA for Justise Winslow, who struggled with his shooting as a rookie, then missed most of last season because of shoulder surgery.
But after being a solid reserve for the Heat this season, Winslow has exploded for 19 first half points for Miami, pushing the ball repeatedly in transition and knocking down four of his five attempts from three. The Heat lead, 64-63, at halftime, in no small part thanks to Winslow.
He will likely get more attention, though, for stepping on, and then trying to rip apart, Joel Embiid’s goggles from his custom-made mask after they were broken off during the second quarter.
Simmons continues to perform magic
Ben Simmons is 6-foot-10. This simply is not fair.
Simmons is a plus-11, has 6 rebounds and five assists in 14 minutes – all while shooting 2-for-5.
That’s not a bad shot to have as one of your only makes, though.
Embiid, Sixers trying to get back in sync
Joel Embiid has made his return. Naturally, given this is both his first-ever playoff game and first game of any kind in three weeks, it’s been rocky.
Philadelphia held a slim 37-33 lead after one, though that was built in the few minutes Embiid spent on the bench, when the 76ers outscored the Heat 23-11.
With Embiid on the court, it was 22-14 Heat.
So what was the issue? Well, Philadelphia has grown accustomed to a very specific style without Embiid: spacing the floor with four shooters around either Ben Simmons or Markelle Fultz and flying up-and-down the court.
Embiid needs to play at a little slower pace and is going to need the ball. It’s will take some time for he and his teammates to get back in sync offensively. Defensively, however, Embiid immediately made an impact.
Embiid also looked like he was struggling to deal with his mask. When shooting free throws, on which he went 5-for-6, he would take the mask off. And, during the course of play, he could be seen fiddling with it.
Embiid’s mask unveiled
When the Philadelphia 76ers announced Joel Embiid would be back for Game 3, one question remained: what would his mask look like?
Well, here it is:
Not only did ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne provide the picture, she also summed up the technological innovations that went into making it happen:
The reason for all of the extra work to get Embiid’s mask just right? This is the second time he’s suffered a facial injury, the first coming in his lone season at Kansas back in 2013-14. Naturally that had doctors concerned about the potential of a third injury, hence the extra protection.
Now we get to see Embiid not only make his playoff debute, but go up against Hassan Whiteside – a player he’s openly feuded with in the past.
Needless to say, this will be fun.
Embiid is back
Joel Embiid watched from the bench Monday night as his Philadelphia 76ers lost for the first time in weeks. Immediately after the Game 2 loss, he took to Instagram and made it clear how he felt about being forced to sit out during the first two games of his team’s first-round series against the Miami Heat with a fractured orbital bone around his left eye.
“[Expletive] sick and tired of being babied,” Embiid wrote.
Then, he spoke to ESPN about it, and said, “I promised the city the playoffs and I’m not on the court, and I may not be on Thursday [for Game 3], either.
“I wish more than anything that I was out there. I just want the green light to play.”
Now he’ll get it.
After listing Embiid as doubtful both Wednesday and early Thursday, the Sixers upgraded their star center to probable two hours before Game 3, making it likely he’ll make his playoff debut in Thursday night at American Airlines Arena in Miami. It appears listing him as doubtful was the kind of typical gamesmanship teams engage in during the postseason.
Sixers Coach Brett Brown said before Thursday’s game that Embiid would not be on a minutes limit in his first game back since suffering the injury at home March 28 against the New York Knicks. There still remains some intrigue about just what Embiid’s mask will look like, though. He’s been wearing a black mask, but the NBA has banned those previously.
Philadelphia has been one of the NBA’s hottest teams, winning 17 games in a row before losing in Game 2, and has won nine of those games — including beating the Cleveland Cavaliers at home earlier this month — with Embiid sitting out. That part of the streak has been the latest impressive aspect of the Sixers’ rapid development this season, giving them pause about putting Embiid back out there before he’s completely ready to play.
While players can wear a mask with such an injury — and Embiid has been fitted with one — it is risky for someone like Embiid, who plays in the paint, to come back too soon and risk catching an elbow or shoulder the wrong way, like when teammate Markelle Fultz ran into him in the first place.
But the Sixers have been cautious with his health at every turn. Now we’ll see how the “Phantom of The Process,” as he’s now calling himself, will look in his return.
Embiid’s return is also sure to have an impact on the series, with both teams forced to adjust to his presence.
Philadelphia has grown accustomed to playing a very different style without their massive center, and there will be a stretch where Embiid both shakes the rust off and the Sixers get used to having him back.
It’s a great problem to have, one with which all 16 playoff teams would be fine. But it still is something Philadelphia will have to work through.
There also exists the potential for Hassan Whiteside to actually have a role in the series for Miami with Embiid back. Whiteside has largely been ineffective against the small, floor-spacing Sixers through the first two games of this series.
Like the stylistic changes, it’s another thing to pay attention to as Embiid makes his return.
- Philadelphia 76ers 128, Miami Heat 108
- New Orleans Pelicans 119, Portland Trail Blazers 102
- Golden State Warriors 110, San Antonio Spurs 97
Hop into the comments section below to chat with The Post’s Tim Bontemps about all of your NBA questions.