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Before we dive into Tuesday night’s games, many congratulations are in order for Denver Nuggets’ center Nikola Jokic for taking home the Most Valuable Player Award in the 2020-2021 NBA season. He played in all 72 of his team’s games despite a tight and chaotic schedule, finishing with season averages of 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.3 triples, 1.3 steals and 0.7 blocks on 56.6% shooting. He ran away with the award by accumulating 91 of 101 possible first-place votes, with Stephen Curry’s five being the next highest. The 41st draft pick in 2014 became the lowest overall pick to go on and win MVP, and the first in Nuggets franchise history. While it’s hard to believe that he almost quit basketball to race horses, if that lines up with anyone’s goofiness and ambiguity, it’s The Joker himself. Full voting results can be found here.
Sixers 118, Hawks 102
The 76ers tied up the series with ease in Tuesday’s Game 2 and will head over to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Monday, respectively. Atlanta was hanging around for the first three quarters, but were on the donut side of an 11-0 run to help Philadelphia get the job done. Joel Embiid was phenomenal as usual and, possibly of more importance, his knee didn’t look to bother him once in his 35 minutes. He finished the contest with a second consecutive new playoff career-high 40 points (13-of-25 FG), adding 13 rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block, two triples and three turnovers, notching his seventh career playoff game with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds (just one behind Charles Barkley’s eight, with only Dolph Schayes’s 13 and Wilt Chamberlain’s 14 ahead of them). He’s also the first Sixers player with 40 in a playoff game since Allen Iverson in 2003, so he’s ready for his moment to say the least. It was just your typical “I didn’t win MVP, I must go off” performance, and he may have taken it home if not for missing 21 games in the regular season. Tobias Harris had 22 points (with his 16 points in the first quarter being his playoff-high in any quarter), six rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block on 11-of-19 from the floor, while Seth Curry also started hot to finish with 21 points and five triples. Shake Milton, who was in the biggest of slumps for much of the latter part of the year, came up huge to score 14 points in as many minutes with four 3-pointers and three boards. He was also a team-best +15 net rating, and it’s worth noting that this is a guy who had 17 points combined in his six playoff games before this (2.83 ppg). Atlanta actually had a ridiculous 32-0 halftime advantage in terms of bench scoring, but Shake had something to say about that. Ben Simmons was not very good with just four points and seven dimes, and of course he missed his only two free throws, while Danny Green had just five points but a new career-high eight assists in the dominant win.
The Hawks had three guys score 20+ but didn’t have much going on otherwise, and the 17-7 turnover discrepancy not in favor of Atlanta hurt them severely. Kevin Huerter (20 points, three triples) and Danilo Gallinari (21 points, nine rebounds, five triples) were the two best Hawks tonight, and their bench performance marked the first time since 1970-1971 that two Hawks subs have scored at least 20 in the same game. Trae Young struggled with his shot with a 6-of-16 mark, but made up for it slightly with his 8-of-9 clip from the line to finish with 21 points, 11 dimes, a steal and a triple in 38 minutes. John Collins had eight points, 10 boards and two blocks, but made just four of his 11 shot attempts and had a particularly awful foul against Embiid from over 30 feet from the hoop, not looking at all like the 21-point Game 1 John Collins. Clint Capela had 10 points and eight boards with no defensive stats, though his matchup isn’t necessarily ideal, while Bogdan Bogdanovic was quiet for his standards with 14 points and seven rebounds. It’s a small sample size, but the Hawks are 2-0 at home so far, but keep this bizarre stat in mind: The last four times the 76ers lost Game 1 at their home court, they have won Game 2 and gone on to win the series. Another fairly small sample size, but we’ll see which trend continues.
Jazz 112, Clippers 109
These two teams have a lot in common in the sense that they both led their 2019-2020 playoff series vs. Denver by a count of 3-1, with both ultimately losing three straight on their way to the offseason. So far, the Jazz are in the driver’s seat with a 1-0 series lead, and they’ll get a chance to double that in another home game on Thursday evening. You couldn’t tell if you watched any of the second half, but the Jazz got off to a miserable start, including a stretch of 21 missed field goals in the first quarter to become just the second team over the last 25 postseasons to miss at least 20 straight (first since Sacramento’s 22 straight in 2001). That was about it for the negatives for Utah, as who else but Donovan Mitchell put on a show in the victory, scoring 45 points (16-of-30 FG) to go with three rebounds, five assists, a steal, a block and six 3-pointers in 37 minutes. He scored 32 in the second half after taking blame for the team’s woes early on, which also marks the third time in his playoff career to get 30+ in a half. Tonight also marked his fourth 40-point game in his postseason career - for reference, he reached four 40-burgers in just 28 playoff games, while Karl Malone reached four of them in 193 games. Yes, it’s a different NBA than The Mailman played in, but Spida is still a stud no matter which way you look at it. Bojan Bogdanovic played fantastic defense and also came through on the other end with 18 points, five boards, an assist, a steal and three triples, while Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson had 18 of his own (on six makes from downtown) with two rebounds, one assist and one steal. Rudy Gobert had 10 points with 12 boards and three blocks, with his third being a game-clinching swat on a Marcus Morris three-pointer with just seconds remaining. He was the Defensive Player of the Year for a reason, and Utah had the best regular-season record in the NBA for a reason too. Be mindful that they did all of this without starting point guard Mike Conley, so the casual NBA fan finally gets to see how deep and talented this team is now that they’re on the big stage.
The Clippers stayed in it all night but didn’t have anything consistent going for the majority of it, and Tyronn Lue’s rotations being so funky probably had at least something to do with it. Kawhi Leonard led the team with 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists, one steal and one 3-pointer, but he was so good in the first round vs. Dallas (32.1 points per game on 61.8% shooting) that this represents a rather disappointing night for The Claw. Paul George hit a couple big shots late but was likewise underwhelming, knocking in only four of his 17 shots for 20 points, 10 rebounds, two dimes, three triples and two turnovers in 37 minutes. He was also great in the first round, but this series is (literally) a whole new ball game, so the Clippers’ studs need to be at their best every night against the tenacious Utah defense. The other three LA starters combined for just 24 points, including Reggie Jackson’s fouling issues, Marcus Morris’ inefficient night (4-of-14 FG) and Nicolas Batum just being Nicolas Batum. Luke Kennard led the way off the bench with 18 points and four triples in 29 minutes, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see that he’s finally waken up.
Up Next: Wednesday, June 9 will see just one Game 2 from Phoenix, as the Suns will look to take a 2-0 series lead on the Nuggets while fresh-off-the-press MVP Nikola Jokic will try to tie things up before heading back home.