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The Sixers went down at home in the exhausted flames of James Harden to be eliminated 4-2 by the Heat on Thursday night while Luka Doncic led the Mavericks to an easy win over the Suns to force a Game 7 on Sunday night. Here’s how it all went down.
Heat 99, Sixers 90 – Jimmy Butler led the way with 32 points and the Heat were up 49-48 at halftime before the Heat went on a 16-2 run in the third quarter to blow the game open with a 16-point lead. That was enough to send the Sixers packing for Cancun on their home floor and Butler had his fourth straight 30-point game on the road in the playoffs and added eight rebounds, four assists, a steal, two blocks and two 3-pointers on 13-of-29 shooting in the win. If we could get this uninjured, every-game version of Butler in the regular season I’d draft him every time. But this dude is simply built for the playoffs and will continue to miss regular season games with his main focus simply on being healthy for the playoffs going forward. I’m letting someone else draft him, as usual. Max Strus came through with 20 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four 3-pointers, P.J. Tucker added 12 points, nine boards and two blocks, and Bam Adebayo had 10 points, eight boards, two steals and a block in the win. The Heat will await the winner of the Celtics-Bucks series, where the Bucks hold a 3-2 lead with Game 6 in Milwaukee set for Friday night.
As for the Sixers… Hey, didn’t you used to be James Harden? Harden missed his only shot in the third quarter and then missed his only shot in the fourth quarter to finish the second half of the biggest game of his season with zero points and three turnovers in nearly 23 minutes. Harden appeared to be walking in quicksand when trying to make moves tonight and finished the game with just 11 first-half points, four rebounds, nine assists, a steal, three 3-pointers and four turnovers on 4-of-9 shooting. Outside of Game 4, when he had 31 points, seven rebounds and nine dimes, Harden was basically garbage in this series. And now he is eligible for a $47.4 million opt-in for next season as well as a five-year, $270 million extension. He not only doesn’t look like he’s worth any of that, but he also doesn’t appear to be fully vested in what the Sixers are trying to do. I almost wonder if he still even cares about basketball anymore.
Meanwhile, Joel Embiid fell into Danny Green’s left knee in the first quarter and likely caused major damage, pending an MRI. Green is getting ready to turn 35 years old and you have to think that this might have been the last game of his career. Yeah, I’ve been kind of hard on Danny over the last several seasons, but this is a sad story and no one wanted to see him go out like this. Get well soon. As for Embiid, he hit just 7-of-24 shots for 20 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and a block in 44 minutes. When you look at the difference between the effort Embiid gave and the effort that Harden gave in these playoffs, it’s really no comparison. Neither player’s body is in very good shape but Embiid has some serious health issues right now. He’s set for surgery on his right thumb, is coming off a concussion and is dealing with an orbital injury that doesn’t sound like it will need surgery, thankfully. Harden said after the game that he's been “trying to get his body right for two years,” and it shows. He looks like an old man out there. Maybe Harden will hit the gym this summer and come to camp looking more like the Harden we all remember, but if I’m a Philly fan, this was simply a depressing night.
At least we know that Embiid and Tyrese Maxey (20 points, four assists) will come in ready to play next season. Embiid may have summed it up best after the game. “Everybody expected the Houston James Harden, but that’s not who he is anymore. He’s more of a playmaker…at times he could have been more aggressive.” And it’s not even like Harden played poorly. It just looked like he didn’t have the gas in his tank that he needed to do the Harden-like things the Sixers needed him to do. Doc Rivers: “I don’t worry about my job. I know I do a terrific job… We weren’t good enough to beat Miami.” James Harden: “We ran our offense and the ball didn’t get back to me,” on his two shots and zero points in the second half. Doc Rivers is on the hot seat, whether he deserves to be or not, Darrell Morey has some big decisions to make regarding Harden, and Philly fans might be more distressed now than they were a year ago after being knocked out of the playoffs by the Hawks at the end of the Ben Simmons (playing) era. What a mess.
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Mavericks 113, Suns 86 – Luka Doncic had two dunks (that I saw before I took a nap) and finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds, eight dimes, four steals, two 3-pointers and just one turnover on 11-of-26 shooting in an easy win to force a Game 7 on Sunday. Luka was clearly on a mission tonight and became the third fastest player to reach 700 playoff points, trailing just Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. The Mavs went on a 19-4 run at the end of the second half until Cameron Johnson stopped the bleeding with a couple free throws to end the first half with the Mavs up 60-45, and they never looked back. Luka went to the locker room and had a compression wrap put on his left knee during the first half but clearly wasn’t bothered by it tonight. Luka had a franchise-record fifth playoff game with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Reggie Bullock’s three-and-D game was in effect with his 19 points, seven rebounds, two steals and five 3-pointers on 7-of-15 shooting, Jalen Brunson hit 6-of-14 shots and 6-of-6 free throws for 18 points, one rebound, two assists, three steals and zero turnovers, and Spencer Dinwiddie came off the bench to hit 5-of-7 shots (all 3-pointers) for 15 points, three assists and a steal. And that was all she wrote.
The Mavericks committed just six turnovers (Luka was the only starter with one) and had 16 steals while the Suns committed 22 turnovers and had just three steals in the game. And that was the game. It’s nice to know that Luka can rein his turnovers in if he really tries and he didn’t commit his lone turnover until the second half tonight. The Suns committed just nine turnovers in their entire Round-1 series of these playoffs.
The Suns were led by Deandre Ayton’s 21 points and 11 rebounds on 10-of-16 shooting but he didn’t have a steal or block. Devin Booker hit 6-of-17 shots and 7-of-7 free throws but didn’t hit a 3-pointer and committed eight turnovers, and Chris Paul hit 4-of-7 shots and three 3-pointers for 13 points, two rebounds, four assists, two steals and five turnovers in the loss. The Suns blew the Mavs out in Game 5, the Mavericks blew them out in Game 6 and Sunday’s Game 7 should be one for the ages, assuming the Mavericks don’t get run out of the gym in the first quarter of that one. The 22 turnovers were the most the Suns have had in any game this season and both teams are going to have to take care of the ball on Sunday.
Friday Night Lights
Boston @ Milwaukee – Milwaukee leads 3-2 – The Bucks will look to close out the Celtics at home tonight and Robert Williams remains questionable with his left knee issue. If he’s out, Al Horford will need to stay hot, while Grant Williams could get another start. Williams was invisible in Game 5. The Bucks will once again be without Khris Middleton but Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Williams, the hero of Game 5, will be bringing their A-games for a chance to advance to meet the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Memphis @ Golden State – Golden State leads 3-2 – The Warriors will try to overcome Wednesday’s embarrassing Game 5 loss in which they trailed by 55 points at one point in the game. Ja Morant (knee) won’t be around for the Grizzlies and the Warriors may or may not be without coach Steve Kerr (COVID-19) again. If Kerr’s out, Sacramento’s new coach, Mike Brown, will look to bounce back from Wednesday’s nightmare to advance for a Western Conference Finals date against the Suns or Mavs.
There are no NBA games on the docket for Saturday, but Game 7 will happen between the Suns and Mavs on Sunday (time not yet set), while the Bucks would visit Boston on Sunday at 3:30 for Game 7 if the Bucks don’t close out the series tonight.