The first full play-in tournament is officially underway, and the Charlotte Hornets are its first casualty. Let’s see how Charlotte, Indiana, Boston and Washington each fared on Tuesday evening in the NBA’s new format.
Pacers 144, Hornets 117
Indiana basically dismantled the Hornets from the start, leading 40-24 after the first quarter and never looking back. The Pacers weren’t just good, the Hornets were also very bad, as they gave up multiple backdoor cuts and under-the-basket out-of-bounds buckets that helped in showing their playoff inexperience. Doug McDermott was the most unlikely of heroes with 21 points and four triples, with 14 of his points coming in the first five minutes of the game. He cooled off, as expected, but with Caris LeVert (protocol) sidelined, he got a few extra touches and single-handedly set the tone of the game. Domantas Sabonis had a beefed-up Draymond-esque line with 14 points, 21 boards, nine dimes, a steal and a block in 33 minutes. He was just 1-of-8 from the field in the first half and was frustrated by a lack of no-calls, but finished 7-of-15 and didn’t even have to go off on the offensive end for his team to win by 27.
The list just keeps going for Indiana, as Malcolm Brogdon played in his first game since April 29 and was a solid 6-of-10 from the field for 16 points, eight assists, three triples and two turnovers in just 21 minutes. He fed his teammates early and often and that’s obviously a plan that works out pretty well. 10-day contract phenomenon Oshae Brissett dropped 23 points with five boards, a pair of assists, three triples, no turnovers and a heap of trash talk, and he continues to make it very difficult for Indiana to consider keeping him out of the rotation next season, even when Myles Turner returns and eats into some big-man minutes. T.J. McConnell returned to his bench role and dropped a 17/5/3 line with four more steals, which isn’t a surprise in the slightest for the guy who led the regular season with 128 total steals and had 10 of them in a single game back on March 3. Even Goga Bitadze had some fun and played a ton of garbage-time minutes, notching his first double-double of the year with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks in just 19 minutes. Indiana’s work is not finished, however, as they’ll have to beat the loser of Boston vs. Washington (no spoilers here) on Thursday in order to grab the No. 8 seed in the East and get a first-round matchup with the 76ers.
Charlotte’s season is officially over after the brutal loss and, as one would expect, there wasn’t a lot going on for the Hornets’ box score. The one exception was Miles Bridges, who had 23 points, eight rebounds, four assists, a steal, a block and two triples on 10-of-16 shooting in a team-high 37 minutes. The inevitable return of Gordon Hayward may impact him a bit, but he has been remarkable lately and may have a legitimate chance at early-found fantasy value next season as long as he keeps getting minutes like he has. LaMelo Ball was very quiet with 14 points, four dimes and four turnovers, but like Bridges, he’ll also be a very popular early-mid round fantasy selection next season, loaded with a ton of fun and upside. Terry Rozier had a very inefficient 16/8/6 line and missed all nine of his triples, which sure didn’t help Charlotte’s cause, and Cody Zeller had a perfect night with 17 points (7-of-7 FG, 3-of-3 FT) off the bench. The young Hornets cannot wait to get Hayward healthy, and we’ll see if they add another piece to their squad by the time October comes around.
Celtics 118, Wizards 100
The Celtics are the first team to officially escape the drama of the play-in tournament, and will face the Nets in the first round of the playoffs starting this weekend. The victory came on the heels of a Jayson Tatum/Kemba Walker 22-4 run against the entire Washington team to start the third quarter, and they kept a decent cushion throughout the remainder of the game before pulling away in the final frame. Jayson Tatum had a 50-burger that was made up of 50 points (14-of-32 FG, 5-of-12 3PT FG, 17-of-17 FT), eight rebounds, four dimes, one steal, two blocks and two turnovers in a game-high 41 minutes. Make that a 12-1 record for the Celtics when wearing these white jerseys, with the last time wearing them being when Tatum dropped 60 - the Nets may need to invest in some lighter-colored uniforms to counteract. Tatum may have the task of guarding Kevin Durant in their first-round matchup, so he’ll have his work cut out for him, but he looks more than ready for it. Kemba Walker helped out with 29 points on 10-of-24 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals, a block and six triples, and is really showing up at the right time. Of course, it helps that he’s getting a ton of Jaylen Brown’s (torn ligament, out for season) touches, but the Cs aren’t complaining about Kemba’s production in the slightest.
Now the bad news for the Celtics (which there always seems to be): Robert Williams was able to return from his turf toe injury, but hyperextended the same toe with less than a minute left to go in the first half on an awkward fall. He started the third but played just 71 seconds before subbing out and being ruled out for the rest of the game, so we’ll see if he’s ready for the Nets by the weekend. This led Tristan Thompson to more minutes and a 12/12 double-double with two assists and a steal, and his playing time is pretty directly correlated with the status of the Time Lord. Marcus Smart (7/2/6) also appeared to hurt his ankle in the second quarter, but came right back in after subbing out to get it checked out for a few minutes.
Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 22 points, half of which came in the second quarter, but that left hamstring was very clearly bothering him at certain times and on certain movements. He added nine boards, six assists, two blocks and a triple, and he was probably hoping to win this one to allow him to rest until the weekend as opposed to playing in two nights on Thursday. Russell Westbrook did not look like himself in the slightest, going just 6-of-18 from the floor for a 20/14/5/3/2 line with four turnovers, which works fine for DFS, but did not do his team any justice with all the missed shots and giveaways. He was frustrated after the game and may be tired from triple-doubling basically every night in the condensed season, so he should bounce back. For what it’s worth, he’s sitting at around a 25/18/20 (not a typo) split vs. the Pacers this season, so he’s almost sure to regain his footing and attempt to get his team into the playoffs. Ish Smith surprised off the bench with 17 points, eight rebounds, three dimes, two swipes and a block in 26 minutes, and he may need to be the third guy if Davis Bertans (four points, 0-of-7 from three) decides to go ghost-mode again. Rui Hachimura was also quiet due to foul trouble, dropping in just eight points with not much else in 17 minutes, and accumulated five fouls in the span of 10 minutes. They planned on using him to (try to) guard Jayson Tatum, but that didn’t work out so well.
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Looking ahead: Wednesday evening we will shift over to the Western Conference and see the No. 9 Grizzlies face the No. 10 Spurs (7:30 PM ET), where the winner will face the loser of the No. 7 Lakers vs. the No. 8 Warriors (10:00 PM ET) to grab that final playoff spot. With all due respect to Memphis and San Antonio, it seems that the overwhelming majority of fans are most looking forward to Stephen Curry vs. LeBron James, and I truly don’t blame them. In three matchups this year, the Lakers have won two of them by an average of 28.5 points per game, with the Warriors winning the first contest in mid-January by just two. Keep in mind, however, that this is a different Warriors team than people were counting out in earlier this year, and no one should ever count out Steph given what he’s been doing lately. I’ll take the over on the amount of popcorn consumption for this one.