The week began with the title favorite (before the season began) getting swept and therefore eliminated, while two other series now sit at a 3-2 count. But first, another award was handed out:
Ja Morant wins Most Improved Player award
Before we get to the trio of games on Monday, Ja Morant gets a special shoutout for officially winning the 2021-2022 Most Improved Player award. He was the favorite to win the award for much of the season and it’s well deserved, as he jumped from 19.1 points last season to 27.4 points per game this season, which represents a 43.5% increase in that area alone. King Ja also posted career highs in field goal percentage, rebounds, three-point percentage, steals and blocks, all while keeping his playmaking steady with 6.7 dimes per game. Nobody has ever won the Rookie of the Year award and the MIP award in the history of the game, and you know what that means: nobody has ever won the ROY, MIP, and MVP award either, and with the 22-year-old becoming a superstar right before our eyes, you have to like the possibility of him completing the trifecta. Dejounte Murray finished second in MIP voting and would have won it any other year, but Ja’s emergence as a leader on a top-2 seed in the West, among plenty of other variables, likely helped him walk away with the hardware. Darius Garland, Jordan Poole and Desmond Bane finished third through fifth in voting, in that order, and it’s incredible how many guys made huge leaps this season. The league is in good hands, ladies and gents.
Nets 116, Celtics 112 (BOS wins series 4-0)
Bring out the brooms, folks. The No. 2 seed Celtics beat the No. 7 Nets four times in a row and will now face the winner of the Bucks/Bulls series, which the Bucks currently lead 3-1. Boston looked nothing short of fantastic throughout the whole series, and Jayson Tatum was a massive reason why. He finished the Game 4 win with a team-high 29 points (9-of-16 FGs, 7-of-8 FTs), three rebounds, five assists, four 3-pointers and six turnovers in 36 minutes before fouling out. His sixth and final foul was an atrocious offensive foul call with about 2:48 left in the game, but it ultimately didn’t matter as his team got the job done (said foul can be seen here if you missed it). Tatum not only averaged 29.5 points per game in this series, but he was arguably just as impressive on the defensive end, which has to make one wonder if he’ll be getting the Giannis task in the next round (assuming the Bucks don't blow it). Jaylen Brown mostly took a backseat to Tatum in this series but was still great on Monday with 22 points on 9-of-20 shooting to go with eight boards, three dimes, one steal and just one turnover in 28 minutes, and the consistency speaks for itself in the fact that he scored either 22 or 23 points in all four of these games. Marcus Smart tied his playoff career high in assists with 11 of them, but the fun didn’t end there as he also scored 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting and chipped in five boards, three treys and just one turnover in 37 minutes. His line was huge tonight but there were still things that the DPOY did that didn’t show up on the stat sheet, and he’s just as important as the next guy on this Boston roster. Al Horford was just fine with 13 efficient points, six boards, one assist and three 3-pointers in 26 minutes, while Grant Williams may have been a tad better with his 14 points, four 3-pointers, three boards and three blocks in 33 minutes off the pine. Williams also had some great defensive plays on Kevin Durant and the defense on this team, at both an individual and team level, is going to cause nightmares for whoever is unlucky enough to face them going forward. Robert Williams came off the bench again and scored just three points with five boards and a steal in 14 minutes, and he was supposed to play as many as 24 but foul trouble disallowed him from doing so. Derrick White (9/6/2) played well off the bench in 27 minutes, Daniel Theis started and posted a 6/8/1/1/1 line and Payton Pritchard went scoreless in only nine minutes after providing a big spark in Game 3.
The fact that a team that had both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving got swept in the first round of the postseason will always be bizarre, but that’s how good the Celtics are. Kevin Durant finally looked like the KD we know and love (at least at times) and ended his season with 39 points (13-of-31 FGs, 10-of-11 FTs), seven rebounds, nine assists, one steal, three 3-pointers and four turnovers in 47 minutes, and he’ll have plenty of time to rest on his way to Cancun after playing 44 minutes per game in this series. If you want to take some good out of it, he was aggressive with the number of shots he took after taking just 11 total in all of Game 3, but he passed on his lack of aggression to teammate Kyrie Irving on Monday. Kyrie took just 13 shots in 45 minutes of a must-win game, making six of them for a 20/5/5 line with two swats and two 3-pointers. It wasn’t a bad stat line, but someone of Kyrie’s caliber in a game that had to be won is just not a good look for him, and one of the strangest individual NBA seasons has officially come to an end. Seth Curry came alive with 23 points on a very efficient 9-of-13 shooting clip, adding four boards, two dimes, two blocks and five triples in 38 minutes, but he just didn’t have enough help. Nic Claxton had a full 13/6/2/2/3 line with no turnovers in 23 minutes, and he did so without missing a shot from the field, but here comes the kicker: Claxton went 1-of-11 from the free throw line. That’s not a typo, and to put it as clearly as possible, Clax shot 11 free throws and made one of them in Game 4. Oh, and his one make was his final free throw attempt, meaning he missed his first 10, which marks the most misses from the line to start a playoff game since Shaq missed his first eight back in 2006. Andre Drummond (scoreless in four minutes) disappearing is nothing new, but these days, Bruce Brown posting a 2/2/2 line with nothing else is definitely odd. Brown was coming off back-to-back games of reaching new playoff career highs, but he was nearly invisible and posted one of the worst plus/minuses on the team (which was only -7, to his credit). Finally, Goran Dragic played well, especially late, with a 10/8/4 effort with two treys and a steal, Blake Griffin played more minutes (18) in this one than Games 1-3 (8) but didn’t score and Patty Mills scored five points with a pair of boards in 19 reserve minutes. There’s simply no way this roster looks like this when we start next season, and Steve Nash could be in jeopardy of losing his head coaching job. It’s going to be a long summer for the Nets.
Raptors 103, 76ers 88 (PHI leads series 3-2)
Just like that, we have a series on our hands. Toronto has won the last two games of the series after losing the first three, and while they still have plenty of work to do, so does their opponent. Pascal Siakam was excellent yet again with a 23/10/7 line with two 3-pointers and two turnovers, and he got his points efficiently with a 10-of-17 shooting mark in his 44 minutes. Spicy P struggled a bit in Games 2 and 3 but has really taken over in both of the Raptors’ wins in this series, and if they can get a Game 6 win on Thursday, Game 7 (on Saturday) will be a ton of fun. As we all suspected, next up in scoring on Toronto’s side was Precious Achiuwa, who outscored the entire Philadelphia bench on his own with 17 points (7-of-11 FGs), seven rebounds, three blocks and one triple in 27 turnover-free minutes. He was better than usual on offense while providing his usual solid defense, and if they can get anywhere in this ballpark of production from Achiuwa while Fred VanVleet (left hip flexor strain) is out, it’ll do wonders for his team. Scottie Barnes didn’t score in the second half but still tallied a respectable 12/8/4 line with three steals in 41 minutes, while other forward starter OG Anunoby shot 7-of-15 from the field for a 16/5/4 line with two steals and two 3-pointers in 39 minutes. Khem Birch started this one for FVV and had seven early points, but he ended with that many in just 11 minutes, while Gary Trent Jr. scored 16 points but shot just 5-of-14 from the floor while adding three dimes, two steals and two triples in the process. Chris Boucher (six points, four boards, two swats) and Thaddeus Young (3/3/3 with a steal) both played much better in Game 4 but still provided decent minutes in the win. Wouldn’t it be the most comical thing in the world if the first 0-3 comeback ever came against a team coached by Doc Rivers? I’m just saying.
All five Philly starters scored in double figures, but as mentioned above, the bench was of virtually no help at all in the 15-point loss. Joel Embiid scored a team-high 20 points (7-of-15 FGs, 6-of-6 FTs) with 11 rebounds, four dimes, four turnovers and no triples or defensive stats, which is quiet for his standards, but we’re well aware by now that his thumb is bothering him and he's just going to tough it out until offseason surgery. Tobias Harris notched a 16/7/4 line with two triples (also no defensive stats), but he converted on just six of his 16 shot attempts and only scored three points in the entire second half of action. Danny Green continued to disprove Father Time with four more triples to go along with his 14 points, adding four rebounds and two steals in 25 minutes, and Tyrese Maxey was pretty underwhelming with a 12/2/4 line with a steal on 5-of-14 shooting. After scoring 61 total points in Games 1 and 2, Maxey has quieted down considerably with just 23 total points on 9-of-26 shooting in his most two recent games, both of which his team lost. James Harden added to the team’s inefficiency by going just 4-of-11 from the field for a 15/2/7/1/1 effort with two triples and five turnovers in 40 minutes, and he also hasn’t been himself over the last two with 37 total points on 9-of-28 shooting. Call me crazy, but it seems like when the Philly guards play well, the team fares better, so this pair will have to step it up on Thursday if they want to avoid a do-or-die Game 7 scenario.
Mavs 102, Jazz 77 (DAL leads series 3-2)
I’ll start with the Jazz even though they got blown out, because the biggest takeaway was the injury to Donovan Mitchell. He exited Monday’s Game 5 late in the fourth quarter with a left hamstring injury and didn’t return, and he was visibly gimpy on his way to the locker room. Seemingly everything went wrong for the Jazz, and the injury to Spida was just the cherry on top and he’s definitely in jeopardy of missing Game 6 on Thursday, and he’ll be evaluated in Salt Lake City on Tuesday to see what’s going on. Mitchell finished with just nine points on 4-of-15 shooting, and the rest of his numbers were nothing spectacular either as he added just two boards, one assist, one steal, four turnovers and no triples (0-of-7 from range) in 32 minutes. The only players worth mentioning at all on Utah’s side are Jordan Clarkson, who posted an efficient 20/4/3 line with two steals and one turnover in 32 minutes, and Rudy Gobert, who notched a 17-point, 11-board double-double with a steal in 27 minutes. If Mitchell has to miss any time, Clarkson could take a million shots, and Danuel House (8/4 with a block) could get into the mix more.
Luka Doncic was phenomenal in the easy win, shooting 11-of-22 from the field (8-of-12 FTs) for a 33/13/5 line with one steal, three triples and five turnovers in 33 minutes. He also scored 19 points in the third quarter, which is exactly as many as the Jazz scored in that frame, which really tells most of the story of this game. Jalen Brunson was at it again with 24 points (9-of-20 FGs, 5-of-5 FTs), five boards, four assists, one steal, one 3-pointer and one turnover in 37 minutes. Brunson has scored 20+ points in all five playoff games so far, and to add some context, he’s never had at least 20 points in two straight games in his regular-season career. To add to the excellent run he’s on, in the five games of this series, he’s scored at least 23 points in all of them and is averaging 28.6 points per game. He’s going to get paid the big bucks this summer and rightfully so. These two were the best Mavs by quite a bit, while starters Dorian Finney-Smith (13/5/4 with one steal and three treys) and Reggie Bullock (9/7/2 with three steals and three triples) were both solid, while Dwight Powell made all four of his shots but scored only eight points with four boards and nothing else. Besides Spencer Dinwiddie’s nine points and four boards off the bench, there was nothing all too exciting, but there didn’t need to be with how poorly the Jazz looked.
- Hawks @ Heat (MIA leads series 3-1) - Atlanta will look to keep their season alive against the top seed in the East, and a ton of eyes will be on Trae Young after scoring just nine points on 3-of-11 shooting in Game 4. Clint Capela (right knee hyperextension) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (right knee soreness) are both iffy to play, while Lou Williams (back) remains out on the Hawks’ side of the equation. For the Heat, Kyle Lowry (left hamstring strain) will miss his second straight game, while Caleb Martin, P.J. Tucker and Gabe Vincent are either questionable or probable -- expect all three of them to suit up.
- Timberwolves @ Grizzlies (series tied 2-2) - this one has been must-see basketball and it’s looking to be that way for however long the series lasts. The only injuries on both sides are Grizzlies Killian Tillie and Santi Aldama, who remain out, but they aren’t regular rotation players anyway.
- Pelicans @ Suns (series tied 2-2) - while plenty of people picked the Suns to win in four or five games, we’ll be getting at least six of them in what’s turned out to be a really fun series. The only notable injury is of utmost importance, and it’s Devin Booker who remains out with a right hamstring strain. He’s still probably a ways away with his initial 2-to-3 week timeline beginning on April 21, but they sure could use him. Don’t miss this one.