Another great round of Game 2 matchups wrapped up last night with some very interesting developments, especially out West. The early game was pretty much what I expected, with Brooklyn completely dominating Boston right from the start. The Nets’ big three all had solid games but when you’re also getting 25 points from Joe Harris on 9-14 shooting this Brooklyn team is tough to beat. Boston may still be able to win a game at home but it’s looking like Brooklyn has this series pretty handily.
Out west we had the two LA teams squaring off with the Suns and Mavericks. As I mentioned in my article yesterday, the Lakers are going to have their hands full with this Suns team and last night was no exception. Down as much as 15 in the early third quarter, this Suns team showed that no lead is safe as they were able to claw all the way back and take the lead with a little over five minutes left in the fourth. The Lakers ultimately went on to win but it took some incredible shots from LeBron and a superb game from AD to get there. I also mentioned yesterday that AD needed to be more aggressive and he must have listened because he managed to get to the line 21 times and make 18 of them.
Deandre Ayton still had a solid game offensively, going 11-13 from the field but it wasn’t enough to match Davis. Devin Booker once again led the Suns in scoring, doing all he could to will his team to the win. Cameron Payne stepped up big as well with 19 points off the bench. One thing to watch as this series unfolds is the health of Chris Paul. I knew he was a little banged up but it’s looking like this shoulder injury might be more serious than I thought. I predicted Phoenix to take this series from LA but if CP3 can’t get healthy enough to be a real factor then the 2-seed Suns could be looking at an early exit.
The final game of the night was the big one as the 5-seed Mavericks took a 2-0 series lead on the championship hopeful LA Clippers. It’s crazy to think that the Clippers actually tanked at the end of the regular season because they wanted this Mavs team. The Clippers actually had the lead at the half but watching this game it felt like the Mavericks were still always in control. In the third quarter, Dallas came out and dominated, taking a nine-point lead into the fourth. LA tried to make a run, cutting the lead to four with 1:46 left in the game, but the unsung hero, Tim Hardaway Jr., put the game out of reach for good with a dagger three.
In one of the wildest takes I’ve ever heard, Stephen A. Smith tried to blame the loss on Kawhi Leonard, saying he needs to do a better job defending Luke Doncic. While Luka’s 39 points were impressive, they came on 29 shots. Luka is one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA, he’s going to score, so to say that Kawhi was the issue after he scored 41 points of his own is ridiculous. The real difference in this game was the Clippers allowing Tim Hardaway Jr. to again make it rain from three. He, along with Porzingis combined for 48 points on 17-26 shooting and 9-12 from three. Kawhi and Luka are on an island battling each other, it’s the rest of the Clippers’ defense that needs to wake up fast if they want to get back in this series. Personally, I think we’re in store for an upset here but we’ll see how the Clippers respond in Game 3.
Moving to tonight’s games, we have the final three Game 2 NBA Playoff matchups. In the early slate, we’ve got the Philadelphia 76ers looking to go up 2-0 on the Washington Wizards at home while the New York Knicks look to even the series at home against the Atlanta Hawks. Then in the late game, we have the 1-seed Utah Jazz looking to bounce back after a surprising upset at home to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Washington Wizards at Philadelphia 76ers (Wednesday, May 26th, 7:00 PM EST)
In Game 1 of the Wizards and Sixers, we saw an energetic Wizards team give Philly a good run for most of the game. Washington actually led at the half but a solid second-half performance by Tobias Harris carried the Sixers to a seven-point victory.
Harris led all scorers in the game with 37 points but right behind him was MVP candidate, Joel Embiid with 30 of his own. It was also nice to see trade deadline acquisition, George Hill, give the Sixers some quality minutes off the bench. Honestly, the Sixers played just ok in Game 1 offensively, I expect a little more production out of Simmons and Curry tonight.
Kenny Smith on Ben Simmons guarding Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook:
"If a guy at 6-11 tried to guard me I'd have the advantage. I don’t care if Dennis Rodman switched out on me, I got him. He’s too big to move his feet.."https://t.co/lC7S3zwprG
— Wizards Nation (@WizardsNationCP) May 21, 2021
A lot of the talk coming into this series was Philly’s defense and if Ben Simmons was going to be able to slow down Russell Westbrook. Well, I’d say 16 points on 7-17 shooting is definitely slowing him down. I don’t know if Kenny Smith had watched any of the Sixers games this season, but Ben has been doing this all year. I usually have a lot of respect for Smith’s opinions but this sounds like he just looked at the rosters for the first time last week with no prior knowledge and pulled a take out of his ass.
Bradley Beal is still very dangerous for the Wizards though, so continuing to contain him will be a priority for the Sixers. He had 33 points in Game 1 and I expect he will probably be around that number again tonight. The issue for the Wizards is their supporting cast. The Wizards as a team actually outshot the Sixers, going 55.7% from the field, 40% from three, and still lost by seven points. Ultimately they have no answer for Joel Embiid inside and the Philly defense creates too many turnovers for Washington to have a shot in this series. The Wizards may be able to sneak a game at home if the Sixers have a poor shooting night but I really don’t see them making it any further than a potential Game 5.
Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks (Wednesday, May 26th, 7:30 PM EST)
Shortly after the Sixers and Wizards tip-off, we’ll see the Knicks and Hawks got to battle in Game 2 at Madison Square Garden. Atlanta squeaked out the Game 1 win on a final second shot by Trae Young. With their backs against the wall, the Knicks now look to tie the series at 1-1.
🧊 32 points for Trae Young
🧊 13 in the 4th Q
🧊 10 assists
🧊 Game-winning floater with 0.9 left
— NBA (@NBA) May 24, 2021
As I said, Trae Young was the hero in Game 1, leading all scorers with 32 points and hitting the game-winning shot with 0.9 seconds left on the clock. I’ll be the first to admit I have been a Trae Young “hater” ever since his college days. Coming out of Oklahoma everyone was calling him the next Steph Curry because of his highlight reel of deep threes, but all I saw was a volume scorer who just shot the ball way too much. 36% from three in college and now 34.3% for his career in the NBA is no Steph Curry.
That being said, the Trae Young I saw in Game 1 is the version of Trae Young that I believe could be an excellent player in this league. Although he scored 32 points, Young’s 10 assists and only three attempted three-pointers are what really caught my eye. Under Nate McMillan, Young has averaged over four fewer threes (5.9) per game compared to last season (9.5) and is averaging almost a full assist more per game. Bogdan Bogdanovich, Danillo Gallinari, Tony Snell, and Lou Williams all shot over 40% from three this season, if Young can continue to facilitate for them rather than chuck up threes of his own the Hawks are going to be a very tough out this year and years to come.
For New York, Alec Burks stepped up and led the charge with 27 points while the Knicks regular-season MVP, Julius Randle really struggled. Some credit has to go to the Hawks team defense but Randle missed a lot of good looks in this one. After going only 6-23 from the field I expect him to bounce back and have a better performance in Game 2. As with Anthony Davis last night I expect him to be more aggressive around the rim and try to get to the line more than just the two attempts he had in Game 1. The Knicks defense also needs to step up tonight and force some more turnovers as they only had six on Sunday.
Coming into the series I thought Julius Randle was playing at such a high level that they would be able to take down the Hawks. After seeing the play of Trae Young in Game 1 though, I think I am switching my pick to the Hawks. Top to bottom I think the Hawks have the better roster and if Trae Young can continue this unselfish play we’re looking at a team that finished the season 27-11 under coach Nate McMillan. The Hawks might still be slight underdogs but as of now, I like them to win this series in six.
Memphis Grizzlies at Utah Jazz (Wednesday, May 26th, 10:00 PM EST)
The final game of the night is 8-seed Memphis back at top-seeded Utah. Utah surprisingly dropped Game 1 at home but kept the game close even without their leading scorer, Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell is expected back tonight so Utah is hoping to even the series and avoid falling behind 2-0 to the underdog Grizzlies.
It's been quite the few days for Donovan Mitchell. Vince Carter and Jackie MacMullan weigh in on the weird way Mitchell (ankle) was held out in Game 1 and what to expect in Game 2 tonight: pic.twitter.com/pLw7XaF7Zb
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) May 26, 2021
Without Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz relied heavily on the scoring of Bojan Bogdanovic and sixth-man of the year Mike Conley. They combined for 51 points but were relatively inefficient, together only shooting 41.1% from the field. The Jazz as a team struggled all around, going 25.5% from the three-point line and only 42% from the field. Utah was fourth in the NBA in three-point percentage during the regular season and led the NBA in three-pointers made so I expect them to come out hot in Game 2 tonight.
For the Grizzlies, Dillon Brooks carried the load with 31 points and Ja Morant followed with 26 of his own. Memphis didn’t really do anything else too crazy in this game, they just got a lot of efficient scoring from their role players. Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valaciunas, Desmond Bane, and Grayson Allen all shot 50% or better from the field so it really was a full team effort to take down the Jazz. They’ll need to repeat that performance if they want to be competitive the rest of the series.
I think it was nice to see the Grizzlies take Game 1 because it does give a little more intrigue to the matchup. Unfortunately for them, Donovan Mitchell’s return tonight should ignite the NBA’s best regular-season team and fuel them the rest of the way. Ja Morant is definitely exciting and I could see this Memphis team making some noise in a few years. But, as long as the Jazz stay healthy the rest of the series they should be able to handle the Grizzlies with relative ease. I expect a blowout win tonight from the Jazz and for them to pull off the gentleman’s sweep in 5 games.