Apr 19, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) reacts after making a three point field goal against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter in game two of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Every day during the 2017 NBA Playoffs, we’ll be taking a look at the action, highlights and prevailing storylines with an NBA roundup session. Here’s Day 5.
The 2017 NBA Playoffs are off to a tremendous start, and even if we end up with the Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers Finals matchup everyone’s expected since the offseason, would anyone be upset as long as the playoffs remain this enjoyable?
The first few games have been filled with surprising upsets, big-time performances and unexpected role players stepping to the forefront of the playoff conversation. Day 5 of the playoffs on Wednesday was no different.
As we advance through the postseason, we’ll be taking a look at what stood out from each day of playoff action. Here’s what we took away another matchup between the leading MVP candidates in the Houston Rockets-Oklahoma City Thunder series, the shorthanded Dubs dominating the Portland Trail Blazers at home, and the Washington Wizards going up 2-0 on the Atlanta Hawks.
Wall Wills Washington Wizards To Wins
In Game 1, John Wall dropped a playoff career-high 32 points, 14 assists and four rebounds, shooting 12-of-24 from the field and getting whatever he wanted against Dennis Schroder and the Hawks defense en route to a win.
In Game 2, John Wall dropped a playoff career-high 32 points, nine assists and five rebounds, shooting 9-for-20 from the field and getting whatever he wanted against Dennis Schroder and the Hawks defense en route to a win.
You think Wall remembers the last time these two teams met in the playoffs, or nah?
During a TNT interview segment during Game 2, the All-Star point guard talked about the Washington Wizards‘ playoff loss to Atlanta in the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals, reminiscing on a photo where Schroder was celebrating right next to a dejected Wall.
Now that he’s been given his chance to exact revenge on this underwhelming Hawks team, he’s taken advantage of it. As has been the case all season, Wall wills the Washington Wizards to wins, and Atlanta should be very concerned about how they’re going to possibly slow him down in a 2-0 hole.
Apr 16, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) dribbles the ball during the third quarter as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) defends in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Rockets-Thunder Is The MVP Debate In A Nutshell
No matter where you stand on the Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden for MVP, Game 2 of this first round series between the two leading candidates served as the perfect representation of the debate itself.
On one side, you had Russell Westbrook making history, dropping 51 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds for the first 50-point triple-double in NBA playoff history…all in a loss to a superior team, receiving little help from the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder as he absolutely dominated the shot chart.
Russ went just 17-for-43 from the field and 2-for-11 from deep, taking a playoff record 18 shots in the fourth quarter but making just four of them.
The Rockets beat the Thunder despite Russell Westbrook’s 50-point triple-double, which was the first in playoff history (via @EliasSports).
On the other side, you have James Harden, whose 35 points, eight assists and four rebounds were impressive in their own right but didn’t stack up to Westbrook’s numbers.
Then you remember that they may have been more impactful since his team won the game and overcame a 15-point deficit, even if the Houston Rockets were able to make their comeback with a collective team effort and 43 bench points from Eric Gordon and Lou Williams alone.
Westbrook’s MVP advocates will argue that Game 2 showed his superior numbers and the lack of help around him make him deserving of MVP for a 47-win team. Harden supporters will argue Game 2 showed Westbrook’s triple-doubles and inefficiency gunning don’t always lead to wins, that he should’ve trusted his teammates more in the fourth, and that the Beard holding a 2-0 advantage matters.
For a regular season award, this playoff series has zero bearing on the MVP debate. But when the award-winner of one of the closest MVP races in NBA history is announced on June 26 (for God only knows what reason), one side will be vindicated, and one will be crushed, and Game 2 just made sure each side was more firmly entrenched in its position.
December 15, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors center JaVale McGee (1) celebrates with guard Klay Thompson (11) during the third quarter against the New York Knicks at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Knicks 103-90. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Reminder: JaVale McGee Was Good This Season
As entertaining as Shaqtin’ A Fool is, and as juicy as that beef with Shaquille O’Neal was, it’s about damn time JaVale McGee started getting some respect. Why? Because anyone who watched the Golden State Warriors this year knows he actually had a pretty darn good season in his limited minutes.
Does one decent season in a bench role make up for years of gaffes, boneheaded on-court decisions and plays that simply made basketball fans laugh? No. But pretending like McGee is still some joke as a backup on a 67-win team is just as ludicrous as some of the plays people hammer him for.
In Game 2 Wednesday night, McGee finished with 15 points, five rebounds and four blocks in just 13 minutes, going a perfect 7-for-7 from the field. In a game where Kevin Durant, Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes were all out, McGee stepped up as an injection of adrenaline off the bench.
Winning by 29 on a night where KD and Livingston sat, plus Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson went a combined 12-for-35 from the field, is a testament to Golden State’s balance and better-than-expected depth.
But McGee — who averaged 6.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in just 9.6 minutes per game this season — was a legitimate difference-maker for yet another night, even if it came against a Blazers team missing Jusuf Nurkic. For a guy who was leading the league in plus/minus per minute at one point in February, McGee’s significant impact in limited minutes shouldn’t be that big of a surprise.
Apr 10, 2017; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard chats with injured Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic on the bench during the first half of the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
Nurkic Is Portland’s Only Hope
Speaking of Jusuf Nurkic, he’s really the only hope the Portland Trail Blazers have of winning a single game in this series, let alone making things interesting for the No. 1 team in the West.
Rip City did just that in Game 1, ultimately losing by 12 points in a contest that was much closer through the first three quarters. But the fact that Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for 75 points on 28-of-54 shooting and Portland still lost did not bode well for the future.
In Game 2, Dame and C.J. went cold, combining for just 23 points on 9-of-34 shooting with nine turnovers, and the Blazers were routed by 29 in a game without Kevin Durant. Suffice it to say Portland needs Jusuf Nurkic back on the floor as soon as possible to keep its season alive.
With no Nurkić, you saw 14-17 shooting from the Warriors’ three centers tonight.
In 20 games with Rip City, the Bosnian Beast put up 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals per game, but his impact extended far beyond individual numbers. Just look at how much better the Blazers were in his 20 games than they were prior to his arrival (league ranks in parentheses):
With Nurkic: 14-6 record (4th), 110.6 Offensive Rating (5th), 105.4 Defensive Rating (12th)
Before Nurkic: 23-33 record (21st), 106.5 Offensive Rating (13th), 109.0 Defensive Rating (26th)
As you can see, Nurkic pretty much saved the Trail Blazers’ underwhelming season. He made them fun again and was the biggest reason they even reached the playoffs at all.
His health obviously comes first, but if the Blazers want to delay those summer vacation plans a little longer, they’re going to need Nurkic back on the court to have any prayer in this series.
Apr 16, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) and Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) and forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) during the second quarter in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
MMA Doesn’t Suit The Hawks
After Game 1, Paul Millsap lamented how the Atlanta Hawks were playing basketball and the Washington Wizards were “playing MMA,” due to the physical nature of the game and how it was officiated.
After Markieff Morris suggested Game 2 might be like “double MMA,” Millsap made sure to throw his body into Keef on the game’s early possessions, trying to set the tone for himself and his teammates. All those MMA comments led to a tightly whistled affair, with 29 fouls called in the game’s first 24 minutes. By the end of the night, there were 55 fouls and 71 free throws overall.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, who led by four entering the final frame and lost by eight, none of it was enough to knot the series at 1-1. Even with a nine-point advantage from the foul line, plus 27 points and 10 boards from a determined Millsap on a night where Morris and Otto Porter Jr. scored just seven combined points, Atlanta came up short.