The first round of the NBA playoffs continues today with four Game 5s, including two possible elimination games. 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 yesterday’s games here.
• The Thunder trailed by 25 points in the third quarter. They won by eight to avoid elimination.
• The Timberwolves (again) had a lead at half. The Rockets exploded (again), and Minnesota is done.
• The Wizards, and John Wall in particular, ran out of gas, and fell behind 3-2 in the series.
• Non-playoffs update: The Atlanta Hawks and Coach Mike Budenholzer have parted ways.
Early in the third quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder trailed by 25. It looked like their season was over — and, questions about Paul George’s future, and whether he would leave as a free agent in July, were already on the way. The Thunder had no life, no energy, and, seemingly, no chance.
Then, out of nowhere, the Thunder started a comeback. And, before long, they had completed it.
Oklahoma City, which ended the game on a 61-28 run over the final 20:32, eventually came away with a 107-99 victory to send their series with the Utah Jazz back to Salt Lake City for Game 6 Friday night.
“Just continue to go,” said Russell Westbrook, who had 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists — including scoring 33 points in the second half on 12-for-23 shooting, including 5 for 7 from three.
“We have a great group of guys in the locker room who never quit. “We have everyone doubting us, and we just have to take it one game at a time, go to Utah and get it back here for a Game 7.”
It truly was a remarkable turnaround. No one watching the game when the comeback began could see it coming. That seemed to include the players, who looked lifeless and disinterested. The crowd inside Chesapeake Energy Arena was quiet.
But then one shot after another started falling, the Jazz offense disintegrated and everything changed. From the moment Jae Crowder scored to make it 71-46 with 8:32 remaining in the third quarter, Westbrook and Paul George took over.
Just look at their numbers: 20-for-35 shooting overall, including with 6 for 8 from three-point range, and 8 for 9 from the foul line. They combined to score 54 of Oklahoma City’s 61 points, and nearly doubled Utah up (54-28) by themselves.
It was a truly remarkable performance — one that showed both the potential that tandem can have together, and the confusion as to why the game was so much different up until they took off.
One thing that worked in Oklahoma City’s favor: foul trouble for star center Rudy Gobert, who drew his fifth foul in the third quarter and wasn’t the same impactful presence inside he was throughout the series.
But really this was all about Westbrook and George powering the Thunder back from the dead, and ensuring they’ll get at least one more chance to play together Friday night.
It has been a repetitive theme throughout the series between the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves, that Houston had a fundamental advantage from the start because of the math that comes with taking so many more threes than Minnesota.
That was the case again in Game 5 — and helped bring the series to a close.
Houston went 18 for 44 from three-point range in Game 5, while Minnesota went 9 for 19. Those 27 points more than made the difference in a 122-104 victory for Houston, giving the Rockets the series 4-1 and moving them on to face either the Utah Jazz or Oklahoma City Thunder.
Clint Capela had 26 points and 15 rebounds for the Rockets, while James Harden had 24 points and 12 assists. Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points, 14 rebounds and four assists for the Timberwolves, while Jimmy Butler — who has dealt with injuries throughout the series — had eight points, five rebounds and five assists and didn’t play in the fourth quarter.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Russell Westbrook and Alex Abrines have opened up a five-point lead for Oklahoma City with 5:50 to go in the fourth quarter.
It is now a 50-20 run for Oklahoma City since the 8:32 mark of the third quarter, as the Jazz have committed seven turnovers and the Thunder have gotten nuclear hot.
It might not have been a 50-spot they put up in the third quarter of Game 4, but the 30 points the Houston Rockets scored in Game 5 will be how this series comes to an end for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Rockets turned a four-point halftime deficit into an 11-point lead after three quarters, outscoring the Timberwolves 30-15 in the third quarter.
The other thing that sums this game — and series — up: The Timberwolves have attempted 15 threes. The Rockets have made 15 threes — and taken 38.
It took until the Oklahoma City Thunder were trailing by 25 points, but they finally found some life.
A 22-3 run for Oklahoma City in the third quarter has allowed the Thunder to get back within single digits in a game they looked completely out of just a few minutes ago.
That run has been powered largely by Russell Westbrook, who has 14 points in the third quarter alone.
Of equal importance: Jazz center Rudy Gobert picked up his fifth foul during this run. Those two events coupled together have Oklahoma City suddenly with all the momentum as the third quarter draws to a close.
Once again, the Minnesota Timberwolves are in the game at halftime.
We’ll see how they handle the third quarter.
In Game 4, the Houston Rockets scored 50 points in the first half before dropping the same number in the third, taking what had been a nip-and-tuck game and turning it into a blowout.
The Timberwolves have gone on the road and hung tough through the first half and now into the third, giving the Rockets — who had the league’s best record — far more than most expected them to.
If that’s enough to get them a win Wednesday, though — and, with it, send this series back to Minnesota for Game 6 — remains to be seen.
The Utah Jazz have picked up right where they left off in Game 4 against Oklahoma City in Game 5, and are running the Thunder off their home court.
The Thunder have been dominated so far by the Jazz, who entered halftime with a 15-point lead and have only increased it in the second half. Oklahoma City, frankly, looks like it has given up.
The Jazz are now 12 for 22 from three-point range, while the Thunder are 2 for 10. Oklahoma City’s stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony — are a combined 11-for-36, including 1 for 8 from 3.
So, on a night where his teammates did next to nothing to help him, he made sure that he didn’t.
James blocked Victor Oladipo at the basket at one end, then rose up and buried a buzzer-beating three-pointer at the other to ensure the Cleveland Cavaliers emerged with a heart-stopping 98-95 victory over the Indiana Pacers to give Cleveland a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“Just give me the ball,” James said. “Give me the ball.”
James finished the game with 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, going 14 for 24 from the field and 15 for 15 from the free throw line, dragging the Cavaliers over the finish line on a night the rest of the team shot 17 for 51 from the floor and 9-for-28 from three-point range.
It didn’t matter, though, as James served as a human battering ram to pound the Pacers in the paint time and again, while Oladipo went 2 for 15 from the floor — including 1 for 7 from three — after going 5 for 21 in Game 4 of this series Sunday.
It is his last shot, though, that he’ll be thinking about. After driving past James and looking like he was going to make a layup, James came flying back into the play and blocked him at the rim, with Cleveland securing the rebound and calling timeout with three seconds to go.
James may have committed a goaltending foul on the play, but it was exceedingly close. Even if he had, though, the ball looked like it should have been out off of Indiana on the prior possession instead of Cleveland, which is what allowed Indiana to get the ball in the first place.
In other words: It evened out.
Then James took the inbounds pass, made one dribble to his left, rose up and buried his only three of the game over Thaddeus Young to move Cleveland within a win of advancing to the second round.
After doing so, he went and leapt up on the scorer’s table, celebrating with the sellout crowd inside Quicken Loans Arena that, just moments earlier, was wondering if it was seeing James play for the final time in a Cavaliers uniform at home.
“They know me,” James said. “They know me. My 15 years, I’ve spent 11 here.
“I’m just trying to make my teammates proud, my fans proud.”
More importantly, he gave them a desperately-needed win.
After Budenholzer had interviewed with the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns in recent days, it seemed like only a matter of time before he was extricated from the two years and $13 million remaining on his contract to pursue another job on the open market.
It was clear Budenholzer wasn’t on board with the beginning of a long rebuild in Atlanta. After he relinquished his control over basketball operations last summer when Travis Schlenk came over from Golden State and became the team’s general manager, it isn’t a surprise this was the eventual outcome.
Now Atlanta can hire a young coach to go with Schlenk into their rebuild, while Budenholzer can look for another job. Expect him to get a lot of attention from the Milwaukee Bucks, who could see their season end Thursday if they lose Game 6 of their series at home to the Boston Celtics and who are both expected to be looking for a coach to replace interim man Joe Prunty and looking to make a splash with Giannis Antetokounmpo now three years away from free agency and with Milwaukee moving into a brand new arena next season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have one of the best homecourt advantages in the NBA.
Trailing 3-1 in their best-of-seven series heading into Game 5 against the Utah Jazz, however, it seems that has changed.
With 3:38 remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 5 between the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards, Raptors guard Delon Wright got the ball well behind the three-point arc as the shot clock was winding down. Wright, who had gone 2 for 9 from three the past three games, buried the shot.
On the next possession, Bradley Beal got a good look from three to match it. Beal, an all-star shooting guard, missed the shot.
Sometimes, the NBA really is a make-or-miss league. And that sequence could decide how this first-round series plays out.
Wright’s three-pointer started a 12-0 run for the Raptors over the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, taking a game that had gone back-and-forth throughout to one Toronto managed to win going away, claiming a 108-98 victory to take a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven series.
The Wizards will have a chance to even the series at home in Game 6 Friday night, but through 44 minutes they’d put themselves in a perfect position to win Wednesday and didn’t. John Wall played a terrific game, finishing with 26 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, but he had seven turnovers and appeared to run out of gas in the second half as Wizards Coach Scott Brooks didn’t learn his lesson from Game 7 against the Boston Celtics last year and tried to play Wall the entire second half.
Wall — along with the rest of the Wizards — faded late, with only Kelly Oubre Jr. played more than 14 minutes off Washington’s bench. Washington will also rue going just 5 for 26 from three — including 2 for 18 among anyone not named Beal. Oubre, in particular, struggled, going 1 for 7.
DeMar DeRozan was terrific for Toronto, finishing with 32 points, while Wright had 18 off the bench.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were in trouble at halftime of Game 5 against the Indiana Pacers.
Then LeBron James took over.
Cleveland started the third quarter on a 20-3 run, and currently has a 27-10 advantage in the third over Indiana. James, who has 31 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, has turned himself into a one-man battering ram, pounding the Pacers into submission by attacking the rim and either scoring or getting to the foul line, where he has yet to miss.
Through three quarters, Wizards-Raptors remains a tight affair. After one, the Wizards led by one. At halftime, the Raptors led by one. And, after three quarters, Toronto maintains a 79-78 lead.
The game remains in the same place, with Washington forcing Toronto to give the ball to their stars and make them carry the Raptors home, while limiting Toronto’s support players.
If the Wizards could make a three — they are now 4 for 16 in this game — they would be in a strong position heading into the fourth. As it is, they should still feel good about things after Bradley Beal got going in the third and John Wall continued what has been a superb game.
A key sequence to watch: the start of the fourth quarter, when DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are both on the bench. The Wizards would be wise to get some separation here if they can.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are in trouble.
Even with LeBron James scoring 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting, Cleveland finds itself trailing by nine at halftime to the Indiana Pacers in Game 5.
The reason why? The rest of the Cavaliers are a combined 10 for 30 from the field. Kevin Love is 2 for 7, J.R. Smith is 0 for 4. The Cavaliers as a whole are just 3 for 12 from three.
Indiana, meanwhile, is shooting 55 percent from the floor, has made four of its eight shots from three, has taken more free throws and created 14 points off nine Cavaliers turnovers.
Perhaps the most troubling sign for Cleveland? Victor Oladipo has shot just 2 for 9. If he gets back to his usual percentages in the second half, this could easily be a loss for Cleveland.
The Washington Wizards are losing by a point at halftime of Game 5 in Toronto. Despite that, this game is playing out pretty well from Washington’s perspective.
Yes, DeMar DeRozan was great in the first half, scoring 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting. The rest of the Raptors, though, are a combined 11 for 27 – including 2 for 10 from three-point range. Remove Kyle Lowry from those numbers, and they get even worse: 8 for 21, and 1 for 7 from three.
In Game 1, the “others” for Toronto — meaning everyone but DeRozan and Lowry — were a combined 31 for 51 from the field, and 13 for 21 from three. In Game 2, they were 28 for 4 from the field, and 9 for 21 from three. Both of those, not surprisingly, were Raptors wins.
When the series shifted back to Washington, however, the Wizards began to switch more and made a concerted effort to take the depth players out of the game. The results were immediate: 21 for 44 overall and 6 for 17 from three in Game 3, and 17 for 35 overall and 2 for 8 from three in Game 4.
Not only did Toronto’s shooting percentage dip among those players, particularly from three, but their shot attempts did, too. In essence, the Wizards have forced the Raptors back into what they’ve been for so many years: a team overly reliant on DeRozan and Lowry to score for them for 48 minutes in the playoffs.
If that holds to form, it would seem the Wizards have put themselves in a position where DeRozan, in particular, will have to do that in Game 5.
And, if that’s the case, Washington should have a golden opportunity to steal homecourt advantage in this series.
Game 5 of Raptors-Wizards is going exactly as Washington would like it to. No one on the Raptors is really clicking besides DeMar DeRozan. The Wizards have turned the ball over a little too much (six so far), but the Raptors only have four points off of them.
One very important thing, however, is not going the Wizards’ way: the play of Bradley Beal.
In 12 minutes, Beal is just 1 for 5 for two points, including missing both of his threes. The Wizards as a team are shooting under 37 percent, but it is Beal that they need to get going. If he can start making shots, that will open up easier opportunities for others.
The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t get off to a good start in Game 5, but a strong close to the first quarter at least mitigated some of the damage they inflicted on themselves.
LeBron James, as usual, has showed up to play, scoring 14 of Cleveland’s 23 points as the Pacers lead 25-23 after one — a lead that was 10 before the Cavaliers closed the quarter on an 8-0 run that consisted of four baskets by James all within the vicinity of the hoop.
The rest of the Cavaliers, though, haven’t show up. While James went 6 for 7 in the first quarter, the rest of the Cavaliers were just 3-for-15.
If the Washington Wizards are going to win on the road, they’re going to need their all-star guards to carry them home.
John Wall, at least, is getting the job done so far.
Nine points from Wall — including a bucket to end the quarter — has Washington leading by a point after one quarter. DeMar DeRozan has 13 of Toronto’s 22 points, but the rest of the Raptors aren’t getting going early.
That has been the formula for success for the Wizards in both of their wins.
The Toronto Raptors needed to get off to a good start in Game 5 against the Washington Wizards.
So far, so good.
Seven quick points from DeMar DeRozan and four more from Kyle Lowry has Toronto out to an early 13-8 lead. And for a team carrying a lot of past playoff baggage into this game, getting out in front — and avoiding its home crowd turning against it — was critical.
Now, the Raptors have to continue playing this way.
The Cleveland Cavaliers need a big game from Kevin Love tonight.
The all-star forward, who is dealing with a thumb injury, scored just five points in Cleveland’s Game 4 win Sunday. That snapped a six-game losing streak for the Cavaliers when Love had five or less points this season, per Cavs beat writer Joe Vardon.
As Vardon says, the Cavaliers need more from Love tonight. LeBron James remains the best player in the world, but he needs help to defeat the Pacers. Love is the player best positioned on Cleveland’s roster to give him that help.
When the NBA playoff bracket was finally set, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors seemed all but assured of a collision in the second round.
That, though, was before both have looked thoroughly unimpressive at times during the opening four games of their respective first-round series, splitting four games with the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards, respectively. And now, as both teams enter pivotal Game 5s on their home courts Wednesday night, they’ll be without key pieces as they try to move within one victory of advancing.
Cleveland will be missing George Hill, as the starting point guard will miss his second straight game after injuring his back during Game 3. Jose Calderon will once again start for the Cavaliers. Calderon is a very good shooter, doesn’t turn the ball over and Cleveland has generally played very well when he has played this season.
But Calderon is also another terrible defender on a team full of them. Hill, on the other hand, is one of the few Cavaliers capable of actually stopping someone.
Fred VanVleet, meanwhile, will miss his third straight game for Toronto with an injured shoulder. VanVleet, who has been the leader of the Raptors’ league-leading second unit this season, injured his shoulder in the final minute of regulation of Toronto’s regular season finale against the Miami Heat. He didn’t play in Game 1, played three minutes in Game 2 and hasn’t played since.
Toronto has missed his presence — particularly in Game 4, when Delon Wright got some of the open looks VanVleet normally would knock down and didn’t take advantage of them.
Ahead of Cavs-Pacers, both Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue and Indiana Coach Nate McMillan suggested they could change their rotations in Game 5. McMillan said that Glenn Robinson III, who missed much of this season with an ankle injury, could play, while Lue said Turkish rookie Cedi Osman could see time.
- Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors, 7 p.m., NBA TV (series tied 2-2)
- Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers, 7 p.m., TNT (series tied 2-2)
- Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder, 9:30 p.m., NBA TV (Jazz lead 3-1)
- Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets, 9:30 p.m., TNT (Rockets lead 3-1)
Hop into the comments section below to chat with The Post’s Tim Bontemps about all of your NBA questions.