NBA takeaways: Rip City shows it's for real in ousting Rockets
Until Damian Lilly
Damian Lillard's buzzer-beating 3-pointer lifts the Trail Blazers over the Rockets in Game 6, clinching the opening-round series for Portland.
Craig Mitchelldyer / USA TODAY Sports
By Jimmy Spencer
Don’t mess around this weekend. Shut your blinds, tell your friends and family to leave you alone and settle in for what could be one of the most memorable weekends of the NBA playoffs — ever. Seriously, it could be that good.
Between Saturday and Sunday, there will be an NBA-record five Game 7s. It would have been six if Damian Lillard didn’t have to go showing off. While the Trail Blazers closed out the Rockets to move on to the second round, the Nets and Mavericks each stood their ground to force one more game.
Takeaway: Lillard is king. The second-year sensation for Portland has captured national attention this postseason, proving he’s the most clutch young superstar in the league. Every contending team needs a closer, and Lillard certainly put his abilities on display when he hit a buzzer-beater three to knock the Rockets out of the postseason. Portland hadn’t won a first-round series since 2000. Rip City has never looked more dangerous, living up to the expectations built by a hot start to the regular season. Portland still is living by its offense (especially by huge performances from Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge), and that’s what has it in the next round. Portland can outscore anyone when its two superstars get going.
Star review: While Lillard will earn the headlines, it’s really Aldridge who propelled the Blazers this series. He averaged 29.8 points on 47.9 percent shooting, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. He’s been one of the league’s most valuable players, and now the nation finally knows it. In the loss, James Harden finally woke up with 34 points and Dwight Howard once again was fantastic with 26 points and 11 rebounds. It just wasn’t enough without team defense.
Looking ahead: Portland vs. the winner of Spurs-Mavericks
Though it was one of the few series not to go seven games, the close battles against the Rockets will only make the Blazers even more dangerous as they move into the second round. Of course, the Blazers will gather around the TV on Sunday and root to see the Mavericks knock out the Spurs. Portland thrives off home court. The Blazers just proved they can win an offensive showcase, and that’s what would happen again if they face the Mavericks. Battling the Spurs, though, that’s going to require an overall game that Portland may not have.
Takeaway: Of course this series was going seven games; Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is always up on the latest trends. The Mavericks are outmatched, yet their offense simply has been better than the all-around talent of the Spurs. Dallas scored 37 points in the fourth quarter to rally past San Antonio, getting another big night from Monta Ellis, who scored 29 points. Dallas is relying completely on its offense this series, as expected from the playoffs’ worst defensive team. A fitting symbol of that is Ellis, who’s headlining the scoring for Dallas ahead of Dirk Nowitzki (18.6 ppg).
Star review: DeJuan Blair wanted revenge. Cuban wanted it for him. When Blair became a new member of the Mavericks last offseason, after being unhappy with his role in San Antonio, Cuban said: “We already know what DeJuan is going to do to the Spurs. It’s going to be a beautiful thing.” Most of us laughed or scratched our head. But here we are, and Cuban was right: Blair continues to take a toll on San Antonio and tallied 10 points, 14 rebounds and 4 steals in Game 6.
Looking ahead: Game 7 at San Antonio, Sunday at 3:30 p.m. EST
It would be a shock if Gregg Popovich didn’t tighten the screws for Game 7. Offensively his team is fine, but the Spurs can’t win a championship unless they get a stronger showing defensively. The proof is in box scores: San Antonio hasn’t won when it’s shot more than 50 percent this entire season. If they slow Ellis, the Spurs should win at home.
Takeaway: Brooklyn wasn't going away so easily. The Nets pulled a veteran move, taking control early against the Raptors and keeping their heel down throughout. Brooklyn hammered Toronto by controlling the interior, getting to the rim and owning the boards. But Brooklyn’s defense was what did it. Only DeMar DeRozan showed up for the Raptors, scoring 28 points. Take his 8-of-18 shooting out of the equation and Toronto shot just 36.6 percent. Toronto relies on production from its backcourt, but Kyle Lowry shot just 4-of-16 from the field and 2-of-7 from three-point range.
Star review: Deron Williams shouldn’t be too worried about his legacy at this point. Save that talk for the elites or old guys. What is on the line, though, is whether or not Williams will be seen as the right point guard for the Nets moving forward or just an inflated salary. After Game 6, Williams’ rep is looking pretty good. He came through: 23 points on 50 percent shooting. Williams played through a left ankle sprain in the third quarter and outplayed Lowry, who was coming off a huge Game 5. Toughness is adored by New Yorkers, but winning is far more important. Williams delivered on that.
Looking ahead: Game 7 at Toronto, Sunday at 1 p.m. EST
The outlook entering this series was plagued with simplicity: The Nets have the experience and the Raptors do not. After a Game 1 in Toronto in which the Raptors failed to execute down the stretch, it appeared the predictions would become results. But Toronto showed resolve, and guys like DeRozan and Lowry stepped up. So here we are, with everything on the line, and it all may fall on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the two guys brought to Brooklyn for moments like this.