KAT bounces back, Tatum crushes Brooklyn

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To quote the incomparable Jim Mora, “PLAYOFFS? PLAYOFFS?” That's right, playoffs! This entire column will focus on Saturday’s four-game slate of fantastic first-round fun. There were some excellent games to kick off the postseason’s second weekend, so let’s dive right into them!

Raptors 110, 76ers 102: Siakam’s huge game keeps Raptors’ season alive

After hitting a game-winner in OT in Game 3, Joel Embiid played through a thumb injury in Game 4, but his team couldn’t complete the sweep. The Raptors lost Fred VanVleet on the same day they brought back Scottie Barnes, and the team will hobble back to Philadelphia for another must-win contest.

These teams have a storied playoff past, and the last two series between them were iconic. The 2001 Eastern Conference semis went seven games and featured an all-time duel between Allen Iverson and Vince Carter. In the 2019 Eastern Conference semis, Kawhi Leonard’s infamous bounce shot rattled in at the buzzer to give Toronto a 92-90 win and advance to the Conference Finals. The winner of both series advanced to that season’s Finals. Will the winner of this one keep the streak alive?

  • Joel Embiid came into this one with back-to-back 30-point double-doubles but finished this one with just 21/8/3 on 7-of-16 shooting with five turnovers. The longer this series goes on, the worse his thumb injury could get. He’ll go for an MRI this week when the team gets back to Philly, and we should know more about the severity of the injury ahead of Game 5.

  • Tyrese Maxey struggled too, going for 11/6/6/1 on 4-of-12 shooting after averaging 27/6/4 through the first three games of the series. Given his excellent play prior to Saturday’s loss, we can expect a bounce-back in Game 5.

  • Tobias Harris went for 15/11/2/1/2 in this one, and he’s been one of the most reliable consistent options for Philly in the series. Tobi averaged 19.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.4 stocks and 2.3 triples through Games 1-3.

  • Pascal Siakam went off with 34 points, eight boards, five dimes and three stocks while shooting 10-of-19 from the floor and 13-of-15 from the charity stripe. When he’s at his best, he can take over a game, and that’s exactly what we saw here. He’ll need to play at this level in Game 5 to send the series back to Toronto for Game 6.

  • Fred VanVleet left early with a knee injury and ripped his shirt in frustration on his way to the locker room. He’s dealt with lingering knee issues for months now, so his status for Game 5 should be considered highly questionable.

  • After an injury-plagued first two games, Gary Trent Jr. has now scored 24 points in back-to-back contests while stroking seven triples. The Raptors badly need his instant offense and sly defense moving forward.

  • It was quite a day for Scottie Barnes, who was named Rookie of the Year shortly before he made his return to this series after a two-game absence. Barnes finished with just six points, 11 boards and two dimes in 26 minutes of action. Expect him to play a bigger role in Game 5.

Jazz 110, Mavericks 109: Gobert’s go-ahead dunk spoils Luka’s return

After two straight losses, the Jazz evened this series up and beat the Mavericks in Luka Doncic’s first game back. It was another close one, as Luka and Donovan Mitchell traded buckets in the final minutes before Spida found Gobert for a go-ahead alley-oop slam. The series is now a best of three, with two games at Dallas and one at Utah. Things just got interesting!

  • Luka Doncic put up 30/10/4/2 with four triples in his 2022 playoff debut. Those numbers are very similar to the 30/11/8 line he averaged in three prior meetings with the Jazz this season. The Mavs are now 3-5 in playoff games where Luka scores at least 30 points. They’re 2-0 when Jalen Brunson does it.

  • Brunson went for 23/5/3 with two triples and understandably took a step back with Luka in the fold. Brunson averaged 32/5/5 through the first three games, and in that span, he became the first player in team history with a 40-point, 0 turnover game.

  • Maxi Kleber cooled off completely in this one. He finished with just three points and one triple after hitting 12-of-16 from beyond the arc for 42 total points across the last two games. Don’t expect many more big games with Doncic back.

  • Reggie Bullock went for 11/7/1 with a block and logged 46 minutes. He’s now played at least 44 minutes in all four games of this series.

  • Speaking of minutes, Spencer Dinwiddie saw just 24 of them off the bench and finished with a measly 5/2/3/1 line after averaging 20/4/7 and two steals through Games 1-3. It was nice while it lasted.

  • Donovan Mitchell finished with 23/6/7/2 on 7-of-21 shooting, finishing with fewer than 32 points for the first time in the series. He scored when it counted, however, putting up five points in the final 90 seconds of action, including a clutch And-1 with under 40 seconds to play. Expect him to come out firing in Game 5 on Monday.

  • Bojan Bogdanovic scored at least 24 points in each of the first three games but put up only 12 in this one with Jordan Clarkson rolling. Clarkson finished with 25 points, four rebounds and a steal and posted nine points in the fourth quarter.

  • Rudy Gobert was the hero of the night thanks to his go-ahead flush with 11 seconds remaining. He finished the game with his best stat line of the series: 17 points, 15 rebounds and an assist.

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Celtics 109, Nets 103: Tatum and Co. win third straight against reeling Nets

Boston won Game 1 on Easter with a Jayson Tatum buzzer-beater, and the Celtics stormed back in Game 2 after Brooklyn went ahead by as many as 17 in the second quarter. Game 3 was a fairly one-sided affair, though the Nets showed some signs of life late in the fourth quarter. Those Nets didn’t include Kevin Durant, whose body language and passive play over the last two games suggest he’s not engaged or even interested in winning this series.

These two teams will meet back at Barclays Center on Monday for Game 4, and Boston can complete the sweep with a win. Ben Simmons is expected to make his season debut in that one, but NBA teams are 0-143 all-time when trailing 3-0 in playoff series. This one’s a wrap.

Historically, this is the fourth playoff series between these teams, and Brooklyn won the first three pretty convincingly.

  • Kevin Durant shot a combined 13-of-42 in Games 1-2, including 0-of-7 when guarded by Jayson Tatum in Game 2. He got his teammates more involved in this one, handing out eight assists, but his lack of involvement on offense was astounding. Per StatMuse, he had zero makes in the second half of Game 2 and zero attempts in the last 11 minutes of Game 3.

  • Kyrie Irving finished with 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting, including 0-of-7 from downtown. He erupted for 39 points in Game 1 but has now combined for just 26 points on 10-of-30 shooting in Games 2-3.

  • Bruce Brown had himself a night with a career-high 26 points to go with eight boards, four dimes and three stocks. Over the last two games, he’s averaged 24.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.0 stocks. Brown has taken full advantage of Durant’s and Irving’s struggles, and if the pair come out flat in Game 4, expect another solid performance from Brown.

  • Jayson Tatum went ballistic with 39 points, five boards, six dimes and six swipes. The points are the third-most of his career, and the steals are a new career-high. He’s averaged 29.7 points and 3.3 stocks in the series.

  • Jaylen Brown (23/4/5/2) and Marcus Smart (14/3/6/2) provided a pair of quality performances in this one, and each has been phenomenal in the series thus far.

  • Robert Williams made his series debut and contributed just two points, two boards, a dime and a swat across 16 minutes. With Boston up 3-0, it’s unlikely the Celtics rush him back into huge minutes in Game 4. Expect his playing time to ramp up significantly in the Eastern Conference Semis when the Celtics will face the winner of the Bucks/Bulls series.

Timberwolves 119, Grizzlies 118: Towns’ huge double-double guides Wolves to victory in ugly game

Minnesota suffered an unbelievably ugly loss Thursday, blowing two 24-point leads and witnessing a horrendous performance from Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns bounced back, and the Wolves held on to even the series up at two games apiece, despite doing everything possible to give it away.

This game featured fouls galore, silly turnovers, poor shot selection, and some ugly basketball overall, but it was still quite entertaining down to the final seconds.

  • Karl-Anthony Towns scored 23 points on 11 shots over the last two games, but he came out on a mission in this one, going off for 33 points, 14 rebounds, three dimes and a swat, taking 17 shots and nailing 14 of his 17 attempts from the charity stripe. Towns’ intense emotions showed throughout the win.

  • After scoring 36 in Game 1, Anthony Edwards totaled just 39 over the last two games, but he put up 24 with a full line in this one, adding four boards, four dimes, three blocks and two steals. He’s been big on both ends of the court throughout this series.

  • Desmond Bane set the Grizzlies’ franchise record for most threes made in a playoff game with eight and became the sixth player in team history to score at least 30 in a postseason game. He finished with 34 points, four assists, two rebounds and a steal.

  • Ja Morant struggled on offense yet again, putting up 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting. He made up for the lack of scoring with 15 assists and eight rebounds, but Morant will need to be a more effective scorer if the Grizzlies hope to win this series.

  • Dillon Brooks finished with 24 points, two rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block and unsurprisingly led the team in field goal attempts with 20.

  • Memphis got strong contributions off the bench from Tyus Jones (13/4/3/1) and Brandon Clarke (15/5/4/1/1), but their quality play wasn’t enough to help Memphis earn the ‘W.’

  • Memphis committed 33 team fouls, and Jaren Jackson Jr. fouled out with just seven points, six boards and two blocks in 23 minutes.