The first round of the NBA playoffs continues today with four pivotal games — two Game 4s and a pair of 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.
• Another big fourth quarter does the trick for the 76ers against the Heat
• Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis made sure the Pelicans finished the job against the Blazers
• Fourteen years later, the Timberwolves finally have another playoff win
Ricky Rubio’s offensive explosion was a big reason why the Jazz won Game 3 of their first round series with the Thunder on Saturday night.
The fact Rubio got most of those points against Russell Westbrook wasn’t lost on reporters, either.
So, before his press conference ended, he was asked about what allowed Rubio to get going.
“He made some shots,” Westbrook said. “You know … too comfortable.”
Then he paused.
“But I’m going to shut that s— off next game, though,” he said.
Ladies and gentleman, here is your story line for the next 48 hours until the end of Game 4 Monday night.
Westbrook had better be right, too — not just from a pride standpoint, which he obviously cares about. But also because if Rubio goes off again, expect the Jazz to be up 3-1 going back to Oklahoma City for Game 5, and the Thunder to be staring at a far earlier exit from the postseason than they anticipated when they put Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony together last summer.
Donovan Mitchell streaked down the court, blew past Russell Westbrook and Paul George and laid the ball into the bucket to give the Utah Jazz a 110-92 lead with 2:20 left. As Billy Donovan called timeout to take the Thunder’s starters out of the game, Mitchell raced back to the other end and celebrated in front of a raucous crowd in Salt Lake City.
Then, after Jazz Coach Quin Snyder took out Utah’s starters — minus Mitchell — he came back down and hit a three-pointer on the wing for good measure.
It was a fitting conclusion to a stunning second half for the Jazz, who took over despite Mitchell getting into foul trouble in the third quarter and came away with a 115-102 victory, one that gives Utah a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven series.
Ricky Rubio had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for the Jazz, while Mitchell had 22 points, Joe Ingles 21 and Rudy Gobert finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Paul George, meanwhile, had 23 points for the Thunder, as their Big 3 of George, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony combined for only seven points in the fourth quarter after having just two in Game 2.
Now the focus will shift to Monday night, when these teams once again meet in Salt Lake City for Game 4 of this series, as the Jazz hope to take a decisive 3-1 advantage and the Thunder try to even it up before going back home for Game 5.
A 13-0 run – capped by a Donovan Mitchell three off the dribble – has given the Utah Jazz a 20-point lead with five minutes to go, all but ending Game 3 of this series and giving the Jazz a 2-1 lead over the Thunder.
The Jazz have been able to get whatever they want offensively in the fourth quarter, while Paul George and Raymond Felton are the only players who are hitting anything for the Thunder.
When Donovan Mitchell went to the bench with his fourth foul, it looked like the Utah Jazz could be on the ropes.
An offensively challenged team in good times, without their leading scorer in the third quarter of a back-and-forth affair against the Thunder in Game 3 of their first round series, it looked like it could be a decisive point in the game.
It may turn out to be one – just not in the way anyone could’ve anticipated.
Utah has extended its lead from four to 14 with Mitchell on the bench, outscoring the Thunder 20-10 over the final 5:40 of the third, and led 89-75 after three quarters. The fact the Jazz were able to do so mitigates a bit of the damage caused by Utah Coach Quin Snyder’s decision to switch Mitchell onto Russell Westbrook in the third quarter – a move that resulted in three fouls in a little more than six minutes for the star rookie.
After the Thunder ended the first quarter with an 18-2 run, the Jazz responded, just as these teams have all series long, with a run of its own.
Utah closed the second quarter with a 25-8 run, a stretch buoyed by Steven Adams going to the bench with three fouls at the nine minute mark in the second. The charge was led by Ricky Rubio, who had 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists at halftime.
Oklahoma City only has one player, Russell Westbrook, in double figures (he has 10). But the Thunder also has seven players with at least five points, a sign of an unusual amount of ball movement.
Keeping Adams on the court, though, will be critical in the second half after he fouled out of Game 2 and only played 10 minutes because of foul issues in the first half tonight.
The Thunder is going to have to play small for the rest of the first half after Steven Adams picked up a third foul early in the second quarter.
Ironically, it might actually wind up working in Oklahoma City’s favor, as the Thunder are shooting the lights out so far (15-for-23 overall, and 7-for-11 from three-point range). The smaller, perimeter-heavy lineup Oklahoma City is utilizing provides lots of shooting to keep the floor spaced.
Billy Donovan made a slick tactical adjustment in the first quarter of Game 3 that paid immediate dividends for the Thunder.
By pulling center Steven Adams early in favor of Patrick Patterson, then bringing Adams back a few minutes later for Carmelo Anthony, Donovan did two things. First, he had five perimeter players on the court against Utah’s towering center, Rudy Gobert, limiting his ability to make an impact. That was especially true when you factor in Utah’s reticence to attack the offensive glass, a potential advantage for the Jazz in that scenario.
Second, by bringing Adams in for Anthony once Gobert went to the bench, Donovan was able to match Adams, one of the strongest players in the league, up against Favors, who serves as both Utah’s starting power forward and backup center. That allowed Adams to go to work when Gobert was sitting.
The combination helped spur an 18-2 run to close the first quarter giving the Thunder a 30-22 lead after one.
The matchup we highlighted before today’s game – Carmelo Anthony vs. Derrick Favors – has been all Anthony so far. He’s already knocked down two shots, including a three-pointer, while Favors has yet to do anything.
But Utah is winning early anyway, up 16-10 after back-to-back corner three-pointers from Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell.
As Fred Katz from the Norman Transcript notes, the Thunder has allowed more corner threes this season than any team. That’ll be something to watch against a Jazz team as well-drilled under Quin Snyder as any team in the league.
A 121-105 victory moved Minnesota to within 2-1 in the series thanks to an offensive explosion after a lackluster performance in Game 2. Three Timberwolves finished with 20 or more points — Jimmy Butler (28 points), Jeff Teague (23) and Andrew Wiggins (20) — while Karl-Anthony Towns had 18 points, 16 rebounds, three assists and two blocks and Derrick Rose added 17 points off the bench.
James Harden had 29 points for Houston, which went 15-for-41 from three, missed nine free throws and allowed 19 points off 10 turnovers.
Minnesota, meanwhile, shot 50 percent from the field, went 15-for-27 from three and only committed seven turnovers. Minnesota will need that kind of offensive production Monday to get another win and even this series at two games apiece.
Back-to-back threes by Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague pushed Minnesota’s lead to 108-90 with 5:37 remaining.
Five players have at least 14 points for the Timberwolves, who are 12-for-22 from three-point range. This series, at least for a couple days, just got interesting.
Welcome to the playoffs, Karl-Anthony Towns. After lackluster showings in Games 1 and 2, the Timberwolves center is finally into double figures for the first time in this series. Not coincidentally, Minnesota has a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.
That lead is 98-85, with Towns putting up 14 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, a steal and two blocks. Jimmy Butler, meanwhile, has 20 points to lead Minnesota despite spraining his ankle late in the first half.
Houston has missed seven free throws and 22 three-pointers in this game, and looks like it won’t be able to muster the run necessary to steal it.
The Timberwolves have a 52-51 halftime lead over the Rockets, but they’d probably give up a few points in exchange for a healthy Jimmy Butler.
As the second half gets set to begin, it’s unclear how healthy Butler actually is after he rolled his left ankle late in the first half. Butler stayed in the game for the final defensive possession, but was clearly laboring. He was then in to start the second half, but again looked like his mobility was compromised.
With Houston starting to get hot from three (9-for-22), and Minnesota predictably cooling off (5-for-13), the Timberwolves desperately need a healthy Butler to try to keep from falling behind 3-0.
An unlikely source is helping the Timberwolves maintain their lead over the Houston Rockets: Derrick Rose. Now plus-11 for the game, Rose is 4-for-6 for eight points, still showing a potent ability to get to the rim. He even knocked down a mid-range jumper.
That isn’t sustainable over 48 minutes, nor over multiple games. But if it’s enough for the Wolves to get a first win in this series, they’ll undoubtedly take it.
Behind 47 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks from Davis and 41 points and eight assists from Holiday, the New Orleans Pelicans won, 131-123, to sweep Portland and advance to almost certainly face the Golden State Warriors. It is the first time New Orleans advanced past the first round in a decade.
It was fitting that Davis and Holiday played the way they did. They were clearly the two best players in this series from start to finish, outclassing Portland’s star backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in all four games.
There will be plenty of time to address New Orleans in the coming days, so let’s focus on Portland for a minute. Losers now of 10 straight playoff games, the question facing the Blazers is, what comes next?
Rumors have swirled in recent days that both Coach Terry Stotts and General Manager Neil Olshey could be in trouble. A potential trade of Lillard or McCollum could be explored. At this point, it feels like anything could be on the table.
In their first home playoff game in 14 years, the Minnesota Timberwolves are playing like a team that wants to avoid the same fate that just befell the Portland Trail Blazers.
Midway through the second quarter of Game 3 of their first round series with the Houston Rockets, the Timberwolves have a 38-32 lead, built on a strong offensive showing, in particular from Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins.
Butler is off to a nice start, scoring 13 points, while Wiggins has 10 points, three rebounds and two assists. Minnesota would be wise to get Karl-Anthony Towns going, but this is an encouraging start after the Timberwolves were demolished in Game 2.
It’s been another rough shooting game for Houston, which is 5-for-15 from three-point range. Minnesota, on the other hand, is already 5-for-11.
76ers Coach Brett Brown says greatness is possible for his two best players.
In the wake of the Philadelphia 76ers moving to within one win of advancing to the second round of the playoffs, 76ers Coach Brett Brown summed up why his team looks set to rule the NBA for the next decade.
“Those two players, and I don’t use the word lightly, have a chance to be great,” Brown said, referring to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. “And they are ours.”
If Simmons and Embiid are healthy, they have a chance to have a dynastic run in Philadelphia — one that looks like it could begin as soon as this year, given how the playoffs are breaking down in the Eastern Conference.
If one team has the two best players in a playoff series, it’s virtually impossible for them to lose.
Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday have earned that distinction so far in this series. And now, with the Pelicans on the verge of sweeping the Blazers, Davis and Holiday are trying to ensure it will happen after a dominant third quarter.
The duo combined for 32 of the 42 points the New Orleans Pelicans scored in the third (Davis scored 19, and Holiday added 13), outscoring Portland’s entire team 32-29. New Orleans has opened up a 100-86 lead after three, moving to within 12 minutes of advancing to almost certainly face the Golden State Warriors in the second round.
The Trail Blazers have clearly decided they aren’t going to go down without a fight. With that, there might be an actual fight in Game 4 of their first round series with the Pelicans.
The chippiness that was evident throughout the Sixers-Heat game earlier Saturday was equally on display in the first half of this Game 4, which saw the Pelicans and Trail Blazers enter the break tied at 57 aftert he teams combined for five technical fouls — three on New Orleans, two on Portland — and 25 regular fouls.
Several players thus find themselves in foul trouble, including Pelicans star Anthony Davis, who had 14 points and two blocks but has three fouls, as do Blazers guard C.J. McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkic.
Damian Lillard went just 2-for-7 in the first half and has eight points, once again not looking like the same player likely to finish in the top five in MVP voting. That’s largely been because of the play of Jrue Holiday, who has 14 points and four assists, but also has committed five turnovers.
Since coming back to the Miami Heat in a deadline day trade back in February, Dwyane Wade has dropped some hints that this could be his last year in the NBA.
After Miami lost Game 4, putting the Heat down 3-1 to the Philadelphia 76ers in their best-of-7 series, Wade was asked if there was any thought this could be his last game in Miami, and if that led him to have any different thoughts as he walked off the court.
Wade, who scored 25 points but missed a key free throw late, smiled and said after a long pause, “I don’t want to answer that. I’ve got another game to play. I’m focused on the next game, trying to win that one.”
The Portland Trail Blazers are not being boatraced in Game 4 by the New Orleans Pelicans after one quarter like they were in Game 3. But one thing hasn’t changed: Damian Lillard’s complete lack of an impact on the game.
In nine minutes so far, in a game that New Orleans leads 26-25 after one, Lillard has two points on 1-for-3 shooting and two fouls. It has truly been remarkable how Lillard has been erased from this series by Jrue Holiday, who has again gotten off to a good start offensively with seven points and three assists in the first, and this is the latest example.
Still, even with New Orleans winning by just one early on, there are further danger signs for Portland, which trails 3-0 in the series. The Pelicans turned the ball over six times, which only resulted in four Trail Blazers points. Portland, meanwhile, only has one turnover. And Nikola Mirotic, who has torched Portland in this series, went scoreless in 10 first quarter minutes.
So yes, Portland is in the game. But it needs Damian Lillard to get going to actually win it.
None of it mattered.
Behind 24 points from J.J. Redick, a triple-double for Ben Simmons — the first by a rookie in the playoffs since Magic Johnson in 1980 — and a dominating defensive performance from Joel Embiid, the Sixers won, 106-102, over the Miami Heat to take a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.
In what was possibly Dwyane Wade’s final game in Miami, the future Hall of Famer did his best to will his team over the finish line. But despite scoring 25 points, he will be remembered in this game for missing the second of two free throws — his only miss in six attempts in the game — with 17.6 seconds remaining with a chance to move the Heat to within one.
Wade’s missed free throw was part of a theme for the Heat in Game 4: Miami finished the game 13 for 25 from the free throw line.
The Heat wouldn’t score again after his miss, and Redick buried two free throws to make it a four-point game with 16 seconds left and give Philadelphia a chance to advance with a win back home Tuesday night in Game 5.
Simmons had 17 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists and four steals in becoming just the fifth rookie to ever have a triple-double in a playoff game, while Embiid, in his second game back from suffering a facial fracture in late March, continued to threaten every Heat shot attempt in the paint.
That was enough for Philadelphia to win despite going 7 for 31 from three-point range and committing 27 turnovers that led to 30 Heat points.
“To me the thing that most stood out was we flipped our whole discipline in the 4th period,” Sixers Coach Brett Brown told reporters after the game. “We stayed way more in our rules and our game plan … the fact you can win a playoff game with  turnovers is mind boggling.”
The Philadelphia 76ers have gone 7 for 26 from three. They have committed 24 turnovers that have become 28 points for the Miami Heat.
And yet, after the third quarter, the Sixers are only trailing by four. That has to be seen as a win for Philadelphia.
Miami is at home and has played well — and hard — in this game. But the two best players on the court are in Sixers uniforms. That gives Philadelphia the upper hand as it tries to take a commanding 3-1 lead in this series.
The Philadelphia 76ers are throwing away Game 4. Literally.
Early in the third quarter, the Miami Heat have jumped out to a 72-62 lead and have done so thanks to the Sixers handing them the ball and points, time and time again.
Overall, the Sixers have 21 turnovers, including six each by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, that have led to 26 Heat points. If it wasn’t for Philadelphia doing unusually well converting turnovers to points themselves — scoring 19 off just nine Heat giveaways — this game would be a rout.
This is an instance where a young team, playing on the road, needs to get itself under control and play with composure. If it doesn’t, this game could get away from Philadelphia in a hurry.
Josh Richardson, who left the first half with a bruised left shoulder, is back to start the third quarter for Miami. So is Justise Winslow, who needed stitches to patch up a cut over his eye.
Miami needs both players, so that is welcome news for the Heat.
After a thrilling first half of Sixers-Heat, how the third quarter goes will likely determine the outcome.
This season, Philadelphia was one of the NBA’s best third-quarter teams, posting a plus-7.2 net rating — good for fifth in the league. Miami, on the other hand, was one of the worst; the Heat’s negative-5.9 rating was 25th in the NBA.
So far this series, Philadelphia is plus-24 in the third quarter, outscoring Miami by 18 in Game 1, and then three points each in Games 2 and 3. The Heat have to be better in Game 4 as they try to even this series at two games apiece.
What a first half in Miami.
Scuffles, fouls, big moments, big shots — Sixers-Heat has it all. And, at halftime, the Heat have a 61-56 lead.
Goran Dragic has 13 points at halftime to lead Miami, while Dwyane Wade has 11 and Wayne Ellington 10.
J.J. Redick has 12 points to lead Philadelphia, which has all five starters with at least two fouls — and, most importantly, Ben Simmons with three.
This Heat-Sixers series has everything — and it all was on display in the last sequence of play.
Goran Dragic was fouled at halfcourt, but kept going to the rim. Robert Covington then fouled him and gave a little push to send Dragic, who was trying to make a layup, tumbling to the floor.
That didn’t sit well with James Johnson, who gave Covington a shove as a way of expressing his displeasure. That led to Ben Simmons — who has been jawing with Johnson repeatedly throughout the series — getting into Johnson’s face. The fracas eventually earned double technical fouls for Johnson and Covington.
More importantly, though, Josh Richardson — Miami’s excellent wing defender and shooter — looked like he suffered a potentially serious left-shoulder injury when diving for a loose ball at the start of the play, only to have Joel Embiid fall on top him.
Richardson immediately went to the locker room, where he was joined by Justise Winslow, who caught an inadvertent elbow from Embiid in the same pile-up and required stitches.
Meanwhile, both Simmons and Hassan Whiteside picked up their third fouls in the moments after all this happened. So, in the span of about 90 seconds, a lot changed in Miami.
Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra has a difficult task on his hands.
His mercurial center, Hassan Whiteside, is visibly losing confidence as this first-round series progresses. He struggled to find anyone to guard in the first two games, when Joel Embiid was injured, and when Embiid returned he was still invisible in Game 3.
Spoelstra, whose relationship with Whiteside has waxed and waned, has been seen repeatedly trying to talk to his big man and encourage him, as he attempts to keep his head in the series and not lose him.
Whiteside has begun to have more of an impact in Game 4, though. He has four points and five rebounds — along with two fouls — in nine minutes. He’s the only player on Miami, and one of the few in the league, big enough to actually handle Embiid’s strength and physicality. Miami needs him to be engaged in this series. There are signs, at least, that he’s getting there.
Dwyane Wade spent a year and a half bouncing from the Chicago Bulls to the Cleveland Cavaliers, looking like he was on the downside of his career.
Then he returned to Miami at the trade deadline in February. And, as the playoffs have arrived, Wade has shown he still has the potential to become the player that dazzled for the first 13 years of his career on the shores of Biscayne Bay — at least in brief stretches.
A strong Game 2 was followed by a rough Game 3, but Wade already has a quick nine points and is a plus-six for the Heat in Game 4, helping the Heat stay with the Sixers as halftime approaches.
From Philadelphia’s side? A rough three-point shooting half so far (4 for 14), and it’s good to see Brett Brown going back to Joel Embiid with two fouls and not being afraid to play him.
An interesting first quarter ends in Miami with the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat tied at 26, Sixers star Joel Embiid picking up two fouls and no court time for Markelle Fultz.
Embiid had six points in seven minutes, but turned the ball over twice — two of Philadelphia’s eight first quarter turnovers that became nine Miami points — and picked up a second foul late in the quarter. Sixers Coach Brett Brown took him out right away, and we’ll see if he returns in the second quarter.
As expected, T.J. McConnell got the backup point guard minutes behind Ben Simmons over Fultz, who struggled in Game 3. McConnell didn’t do much — but, more importantly, didn’t screw anything up. That’s what Brown is looking for.
Miami, on the other hand, had five turnovers that turned into 10 points for the Sixers, and went 3-for-8 from the free throw line.
The matchup that will decide the first-round series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz won’t be Donovan Mitchell vs. Russell Westbrook. It won’t even be Rudy Gobert vs. Steven Adams.
Instead, it will be who wins the positional battle between Derrick Favors and Carmelo Anthony.
Really, one might ask? Yes. Really.
In winning Game 2, the Jazz looked good when they had Gobert and Favors on the court together, and they gambled that Anthony wouldn’t make enough shots to prevent them from playing that way.
It’s hard to believe that’s where we are these days with Carmelo Anthony, who has spent his career as one of the league’s preeminent scorers, is now in a position where he needs to prove he can hit shots against a power forward to win a first-round series for his team as a third option. Yet here we are — and that’s exactly what Utah is going to make him do.
It was clear watching Game 2 that the Jazz aren’t too concerned about Anthony making shots. And, given he is 11 for 31 overall and 4 for 16 from three through two games, it’s hard to argue against Utah’s strategy.
Favors, meanwhile, had 20 points and 16 rebounds — including eight offensive boards — in Game 2, showing the kind of impact he can have when guarded by the smaller Anthony for much of the game. Utah, which scored 50 points in the paint in Game 2, will be hoping for that kind of production as the series shifts to Salt Lake City for Game 3 Saturday night.
If the Jazz get it, they could take the upper hand in this series. Whether they are able to have Favors in there to provide it — as opposed to a smaller player like Jae Crowder — will likely come down to whether Anthony makes shots.
So if you’re looking to hone in on one specific matchup in Game 3, it’s Favors vs. Anthony. Determine the winner of that one, and you’ll likely determine the winner of the game — and, possibly, the series.
- Philadelphia 76ers 106, Miami Heat 102 (76ers lead 3-1)
- New Orleans Pelicans 131, Portland Trail Blazers 123 (Pelicans win 4-0)
- Minnesota Timberwolves 121, Houston Rockets 105 (Rockets lead 2-1)
- Utah Jazz 115, Oklahoma City Thunder 102 (Jazz lead 2-1)
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