This first round just keeps getting better, and after Friday night, we’re now guaranteed at least two more games because of it. Both the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls finally got on the board with a playoffs victory, each earning a road win to climb back into their respective series, 2-1.
Both those wins came thanks to unexpected sources, one veteran and one rookie. Meanwhile, the Nets flexed their veteran muscle early in Game 3 to take a series lead, but still gave their late-arriving Brooklyn crowd some late drama.
Takeaway: The balance between love and being bashed is sometimes in the hands of an NBDL success story. The Rockets were on the verge of falling back 0-3 in the series, but what looked like a turnover by James Harden fell into the hands of Jeremy Lin, who found Troy Daniels for the game-winning shot. Harden, despite his 37 points, could have been the goat. He didn’t finish, and he was an inefficient 13-of-35 shooting. That’s not what Houston fans hoped for when Harden came to the Rockets with a cape attached to his beard. Still, Dwight Howard did deliver with 24 points and 14 rebounds, and the win proves Houston can close out games — even with slippery hands in the raucous environment of Portland. It’s going to take a perfect storm of all that for Houston to win again, unless they get back to playing defense.
Star review: Daniels just became the poster boy for the NBDL. He may also become the most Googled player of the first round. The VCU product and former Rio Grande Valley Viper just made his NBA debut in March, and now he’s a playoff hero.
Looking ahead: Game 4 at Portland, Sunday at 9:30 p.m. EST
The Blazers can’t make a deep run this postseason relying on just six guys. The starters have been spectacular, as LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum combined for 79 points and 25 rebounds combined on Friday. But only Mo Williams (17 points) provided anything off the bench in Game 3. That’s a lot of pressure to continue putting on Blazers starters.
Takeaway: You didn’t think the Bulls would just roll over, did you? It turns out the only thing Chicago needs to win is Jimmy Butler hitting a clutch three-pointer, Mike Dunleavy reincarnating Michael Jordan with a Steve Kerr touch and Nene getting booted for going WWE mode. It was a night of surprises in Game 3, which is exactly how these Bulls like it. Written off before, Chicago is trying to add to a list of just four teams that have won a series after going down 0-2. The Bulls have enough character to mix it up, and maybe this is the start of another new direction for the beat-down, still-moving franchise. Nene made it easier for the Bulls, when he met foreheads with Butler, grabbed him by the neck with two hands and, as a result, got booted.
Star review: Every player gets a career game eventually, and Mike Dunleavy just got his. No. 3 overall picks are expected to be superstars, and maybe some guys just take longer to develop than others. The Bulls needed to find offense from somewhere, so Dunleavy raised his hand and scored 35 points with eight three-pointers, a Chicago playoff record.
Looking ahead: Game 4 at Washington, Sunday at 1 p.m. ET
Chicago doesn’t win that game if they don’t get such a strong dose of hero ball from Dunleavy. The Bulls allowed 50 points in the paint, and they let John Wall (23 points, seven assists) and Bradley Beal (25 points, five assists) get loose. If the Chicago doesn’t get another surprise offensive performance or play defense more to its usual tone, Washington looks safe to win Game 4.
Takeaway: The thing about the playoffs is there’s none of that shoulda, coulda feel-good stuff. You win or you lose and eventually the series goes to the first team with four wins. So for the Raptors, nearly coming back from a 15-point, fourth-quarter lead ultimately means nothing. And come on, what do you want from these veteran Nets anyway? Playing all four quarters is hard work for old men. The veteran advantage of Brooklyn didn’t show in the fourth quarter, but the Nets did enough early to negate a lack of focus and fire late. That failure of execution could eventually haunt them, either in this series or later on.
Star review: Joe Johnson simply doesn’t get enough credit. Seen as a veteran retread with a bloated contract and an overconfidence in his shooting when he left the Hawks, Johnson has rewritten his narrative this season with the Nets. The hero here in Game 3, Johnson scored 29 points, including clinching free throws with 3.1 seconds left. He’s been fantastic all season, and he’s continuing that now in the postseason.
Looking ahead: Game 4 at Brooklyn, Sunday at 7 p.m. ET