NBA Playoff takeaways: LeBron has one for the books, jig might be up on Raptors
History was made and little of what was expected came to pass Thursday night
Wild comebacks, runaway blowouts from underdogs, and NBA playoffs romper Thursday.... Here are takeaways from an
Maybe aliens can make sense of LeBron James
Ultimately, this night will slip through the fingers that hold LeBron James' epic career at the top of NBA history. James' performance Thursday night in a 119-114 victory over the Indiana Paces to take a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series will only get footnotes in future books, will only be mentioned in passing by fans going over his many great playoff games. It wasn't his greatest performance.
But if aliens came to the planet Earth and asked "What is LeBron James?" -- Thursday night's game would be a great way to start the explanation.
- James passed Kobe Bryant
- He did so on a night he finished with a triple-double (41 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists)
- It was his highest-scoring playoff triple-double
- It ties his 10th-highest scoring playoff performance
- He led a comeback from 26 points down, and in doing so finished with 28 points, six rebounds and seven assists in the second half alone
More than that, though, James outright decided this game was over. There are very few players in NBA history who can come out and simply dictate reality to the other squad in a playoff game, but that's what James did. He led a unit that featured neither Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Love -- both on the bench -- and used them to fuel a dominant run on both ends. He hit 4-of-8 from 3-point range, exploded to the rim, he burned Paul George on an inbound play,.
It was everything that makes James the best player on the planet, and he only really needed one half of work to get it done.
There's more to talk about with the Cavs, whether they found a switch or if this was a blip, what it means that they made their run without Love or Irving, and about the disaster that was the Indiana Pacers in this game. But for now, just know that when those aliens land, and need the idea of LeBron James explained, you can bring other games, like Game 7 of last year's NBA Finals. But Thursday night wouldn't be a bad place to start either.
Cavs lead 3-0, chance to sweep on Sunday in Indiana.
Raptors' facade is crumbling
The Raptors entered Thursday night's Game 3 vs. Milwaukee with what I would call fake confidence. There was talk of how they had "been in this spot before," because they've split the first two games 1-1 in three of their past four first-round series. Somehow, that was supposed to instill a confidence bred of experience, when in reality it means that the Raptors have lost every Game 1 they've played the past four years.
But they were the better team. That's why they had the higher seed; they won more games, because they were the better team. So they could rely on that knowledge.
Funny thing about that fake confidence, however: It gets torn to shreds if the other team is truly confident.
Bucks 104, Raptors 77, Bucks lead 2-1.
It was a beatdown, a thrashing, a ruining. And it could have massive effects on the franchise for years.
DeMar DeRozan, their All-Star starter, who some would say is their best player, had no made field goals. He did not get a single bucket. Kyle Lowry, his partner in crime, fell back to earth after a great Game 2, with only 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting and just five assists.
If you want to go for the "never overreact" approach, you can. Surely not all the things that went wrong in this game will do so again simultaneously, where DeRozan and Lowry both suffered, the Raptors' defense was completely overwhelmed, Jonas Valanciunas was a disaster, the Raptors shot 6 of 22 from 3-point range, and the team outright gave up at once.
But on some level, this was a matter of the bill coming due. Lowry and DeRozan have both underperformed in the playoffs through the years. The Raptors barely made it out of the first and second rounds last year. There were signs this was possible.
Yes, the Raptors can still win Game 4 and even the series, go on to win. But losses like this tell you something about a team. When was the last time you saw a team make a major playoff run who had a performance like this, to a worse team? The Raptors are facing not just another first-round exit, their third in four years, but a referendum on this entire era. All the work the Raptors have done to establish legitimacy faces the threat of being exposed as a squad fundamentally flawed in a playoff environment.
Thursday was just a bad game, sure. But if the players, coaches, and most importantly management reach the conclusion that it was less of a fluke night and more of a reflection of their true playoff character ... big changes could be on the horizon.
Some losses hurt more than others.
Will the Grizzlies ever stop grinding?
Well, well, well. Grizzlies-Spurs isn't completely boring after all.
The Grizzlies won Game 3 in Memphis 105-94 to cut San Antonio's lead to 2-1. The Spurs struggled, especially defensively, as the Grizzlies had a throwback night with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combining for 42 points and Mike Conley playing as the best player on the floor. The Spurs didn't have it ,and that's it.
Except remember that the Grizzlies took it to the Spurs in the second half of Game 2. They've built momentum over the past six quarters, and in doing so reclaimed control of the paint with solid performances from Gasol and Randolph. It wasn't quite Grit-Grind, the Spurs shot 47 percent from the field. But it shows that the Grizzlies are finding things that work.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili finished with zero points. Kawhi Leonard was ineffective. It was a no-good game for the Spurs, but also one in which the Grizzlies built on their success. If the Spurs win Game 4, it was just a blip. But if the Grizzlies did find something to build on, the Spurs may find themselves in an actual series, which looked impossible after the first two games.
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