Mother’s Day featured two deciding games, and neither matchup disappointed. Despite Damian Lillard struggling offensively for much of the afternoon Portland managed to come back and knock off Denver, with CJ McCollum being the star. Less than a year after he responded to a fan who demanded he win a playoff game before talking with the unforgettable words “I’m trying Jennifer,” McCollum’s mastery of the mid-range game led to his scoring a playoff career-high 37 points. Contributions off the bench from Zach Collins and Evan Turner were also key, as the Portland front court once again struggled and Rodney Hood left in the third after hyperextending his left knee.
In the nightcap Kawhi Leonard put the Raptors on his back, scoring 41 points and hitting the game-winning shot at time expired to push Toronto past Philadelphia. Leonard is the headliner, but Serge Ibaka’s contributions off the bench should not be overlooked, either. Below is a look at both of Sunday’s games, and the league will have a night off before Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals (and the NBA Draft lottery!) Tuesday night in Oakland.
Trail Blazers 100, Nuggets 96
Both teams stuck with the starting lineups they’ve used throughout the series, but Portland’s rotation extended due to the combination of forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless once again having quiet games and Rodney Hood hyperextending his left knee just past the midpoint of the third quarter. Following the game Hood said that team trainers found his knee to be "stable," and he's considered to be day-to-day. He expressed hope that he'd be ready to go Tuesday night against Golden State, but that's up in the air at this point.
Aminu played just seven minutes, none in the second half, finishing with three points (1-of-4 FGs, 1-of-1 FTs) and three rebounds. He didn’t shoot the ball well during the series, and defensively Aminu struggled mightily in his matchup with Paul Millsap. Harkless played 17 minutes, scoring six points (3-of-5 FGs) with five rebounds, three assists, one steal and one blocked shot. As was the case in Game 6, Hood and Zach Collins came off the bench to claim many of the available minutes at the two forward spots. And both were on the court to start the second half.
Collins played 23 minutes, scoring seven points (2-of-6 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs) with five rebounds, four blocks, one assist and one three-pointer. As for Hood, before his injury he wasn’t as impactful as he was in Game 6, shooting 2-of-6 from the field and accounting for six points and three rebounds. As a result of the injury and Collins’ struggles with foul trouble Evan Turner’s name was called, and the veteran forward played well in his 19 minutes on the court. Turner, who scored a total of four points (all in Game 2) in the six games prior, shot 3-of-7 from the field and 8-of-9 from the foul line, finishing with 14 points. He also tallied seven rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot, with the point total being his best since he scored 15 in an April 5 loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
Seth Curry played 16 minutes but was, outside of his running back to slow down Jamal Murray on a layup attempt that was ultimately blocked by McCollum with 4:44 remaining, ineffective. Curry, who along with older brother Stephen will become the first brothers to face each other in the conference finals in NBA playoff history, missed both of his shot attempts and finished the game with more fouls (five) than points (zero).
With Lillard (13 points, ten rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two 3-pointers) shooting 3-of-17 from the field Portland needed a transcendent performance from McCollum, and that’s exactly what the team got. In his 45 minutes McCollum shot 17-of-29 from the field, scoring 37 points (14 in the third) with nine rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block and one three-pointer. Just three of his 29 shot attempts were three-pointers, and McCollum only attempted two free throws (making both). Ten of his 17 made field goals were inside of the paint, with eight of those coming inside of the restricted area. Denver struggled to keep him from getting to his spots off the dribble, resulting in a plethora of layups with some pull-up mid-range jumpers mixed in for good measure.
Enes Kanter, who accounted for six points, 14 rebounds and one assist in Game 6, chipped in with 12 points (6-of-13 FGs), 13 rebounds and one assist in 40 minutes. Meyers Leonard played seven minutes off the bench, thanks in large part to Collins’ foul trouble, shooting 1-of-4 from the field and finishing with two points. With Collins playing as he did during this series he should figure prominently into Terry Stotts’ plans for the Western Conference Finals, but there are variables to consider when it comes to the Blazers’ rotation. Of course there’s the Hood injury, and whether or not he’ll have to miss any time with Game 1 scheduled for Tuesday. And there’s also the Warriors rotation, with DeMarcus Cousins (quad) and Kevin Durant (calf) looking to work their way back to full strength.
On the Denver side of things, Mike Malone used all five of his starters for at least 32 minutes. Nikola Jokic led the way with 42 minutes, finishing the game with a line of 29 points (11-of-26 FGs, 5-of-7 FTs), 13 rebounds, four blocks, two assists and two 3-pointers. The issue for the Nuggets on offense was the fact that Millsap and Jamal Murray, two players who were outstanding in the team’s three wins, both failed to establish a rhythm. Before fouling out Millsap scored ten points, shooting 3-of-13 from the field and 4-of-6 from the foul line, with seven rebounds, three blocks and one assist. Portland’s rotation change, with Collins getting more minutes at the expense of Aminu, really limited Millsap’s effectiveness in the final two games of the series.
Murray posted a line of 17 points, six rebounds and five assists in 38 minutes, but he shot just 4-of-18 from the field. That included an 0-of-4 afternoon from three, with his 9-of-9 from the foul line getting Murray safely into double figures. Gary Harris added 15 points (7-of-11 FGs, 1-of-2 FTs) six rebounds and three assists in 39 minutes and Torrey Craig accounted for eight points (2-of-5 FGs, 4-of-5 FTs), eight rebounds and two assists.
Craig’s defense on Damian Lillard was good throughout the series, especially in Game 7, and for much of the series the hope was that Denver’s bench would help account for their defensive stopper’s lack of consistent scoring. But that didn’t happen, as Will Barton, Malik Beasley and Monte Morris failed to produce on a consistent basis. As a result Morris and Beasley didn’t see as much playing time in Game 7, with Morris (five points, two rebounds, one assist and one steal) playing ten minutes and Beasley (0-of-1 FGs, zero points) seven. Barton played 20 minutes, scoring eight points with three rebounds and one assist, and Mason Plumlee accounted for four points, six rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes played.
Raptors 92, 76ers 90
Eighteen years ago in a matchup between Toronto and Philadelphia, it was Vince Carter who took the deciding shot. Kawhi Leonard was in a similar position Sunday, and while Carter’s shot missed the mark Leonard’s didn’t, with it taking four bounces on the rim before falling through the basket. The shot capped a 41-point night for Leonard, who shot 16-of-39 from the field and carried Toronto for much of the night. The 39 field goal attempts are the most in NBA playoff history for a game that did not require overtime, and he also accounted for eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and two three-pointers in 43 minutes played.
Leonard matched his career-high for field goal attempts in a game (30) before the end of the third quarter, and while he didn’t put up the best field goal percentage Toronto needed its All-Star to put up that many shots. Pascal Siakam finished with 11 points (4-of-11 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs), 11 rebounds, two assists and two steals, and for much of the game he was not as aggressive as he had been for the majority of the series. Kyle Lowry didn’t have his best game offensively, shooting 4-of-13 from the field (1-of-7 3-pointers) and scoring ten points with six rebounds, six assists and two steals, but he did provide the intangibles that can’t be found on the stat sheet. He also injured his left thumb during the third quarter, leaving briefly to get it taped up before returning to action.
Lowry, who said after the game that the thumb popped out of the socket on a fall and he popped it back in, finished with 39 minutes played, third on the team behind Marc Gasol (45) and Leonard. He’ll have a couple days of rest before the Eastern Conference Finals begin Wednesday night in Milwaukee.
Gasol (seven points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and one three-pointer) had a greater impact defensively, and Danny Green accounted for just two points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal and one blocks in 30 minutes played. On most nights the lack of production from players not named Kawhi Leonard would mean an automatic loss for Toronto. But that wasn’t the case in Game 7, thanks in large part to Serge Ibaka. In 29 minutes he tallied 17 points (6-of-10 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), eight rebounds, three assists and three 3-pointers, and his +22 was the best number for either team.
After struggling in the first three games of the series, totaling 13 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots, Ibaka averaged 12.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.0 blocks per game. The veteran center was Toronto’s most productive reserve in this series, and they’re going to need more from Fred VanVleet (four points, two steals and one rebound in 15 minutes) if they’re to beat Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The season comes to a heartbreaking end for Philadelphia, with Embiid being the final defender on Leonard during the game’s deciding play. While the All-Star center’s failed challenge will be the lasting image of the series, he was by far Philadelphia’s most impactful player whether he was scoring or not. Embiid played 45 minutes, shooting 6-of-18 from the field and 8-of-9 from the foul line and finishing with 21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and one three-pointer. And he once again led the 76ers with a plus-10, the only player to reach double digits in that statistical category.
Embiid led five 76ers starters in double figures, with JJ Redick scoring 17 (5-of-11 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs) with four rebounds, three assists, one steal, one blocked shot and four 3-pointers, and Jimmy Butler tallying 16 (5-of-14 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs) with four rebounds, one assist, one steal and one three-pointer. Tobias Harris shot 5-of-9 from the field and 3-of-4 from the foul line, playing 42 minutes and posting a line of 15 points, ten rebounds, three assists, one steal and two 3-pointers, and Ben Simmons added 13 points (4-of-5 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs), eight rebounds, five assists, three blocks and one steal. For the second straight game Simmons (30.9% usage) finished with a usage percentage of at least 30%, but it didn’t feel as if he was as impactful as he can be due in large part to the lack of shot attempts.
All five starters played at least 40 minutes, with Embiid leading the way. James Ennis was the most effective reserve, scoring six points with two rebounds in 14 minutes, with Mike Scott tallying two points and two rebounds in 11 minutes. By comparison, Scott put up 11 points, four rebounds, two assists and three 3-pointers in Philadelphia’s Game 6 victory. Greg Monroe played just two minutes, missing his lone shot attempt and accounting for one foul and one turnover before leaving the game for good.
This will be an interesting offseason for Philadelphia. Will GM Elton Brand entrust Brett Brown with leading the team moving forward? And what happens during free agency, with Butler, Harris and Redick all due to be unrestricted free agents. The 76ers need to strengthen the bench, but the priority is determining who starts alongside Embiid and Simmons.