NBA Playoffs: Takeaways After 4 Days on Suns/Clippers, Lakers/Grizz, and Kings/Dubs

I was going to try to hit all the playoff series, but here’s the thing: most of them aren’t interesting.

So I’ll be focusing on the three most interesting series here.

But before I do, let me just give a quick rundown of the other five series:

  • Philly/Brooklyn: Yeah, Philly is sweeping this one. Harden, however, has zero free throw attempts through the first two games, so that’s not a good sign for Philly when they have to play real competition.
  • Boston/Atlanta: I literally fell asleep during Game 2. It was actually somewhat close (9 points I think) with just around 6 minutes to play, but then Boston pulled away. This is a sweep.
  • Milwaukee/Miami: All depends on Giannis’ health. Even still, I think Milwaukee wins this no matter what because Miami doesn’t have enough offense without Herro.
  • Cleveland/New York: This is actually one of the few East series that is interesting. Cavs evened it up in a Game 2 blowout. I think the Cavs looked a lot better with LeVert out there instead of Okoro. Evan Mobley is getting pushed around a bit and he really has to get used to playoff ball. But I think this series goes 6 or 7.
  • Nuggets/Timberwolves: I think Minnesota can make this is a series, but I also feel like I might be completely wrong about that. We’ll see.

Okay, now on to the interesting series.

Suns 1, Clippers 1

So the Suns evened up the series at 1. This was a game Phoenix absolutely had to have, as they could not go down 2-0 going back to LA.

Devin Booker went for 38 points on 14/22 shooting, KD had 25 on 10/19 shooting, and even Chris Paul had a decent game, going for 16 points on 8/14 shooting with 8 assists.

It’s exactly the type of game Kevin Durant dreamed of when he got traded to Phoenix: a teammate taking on the scoring burden and pressure, while KD gets to take 17-20 shots and score 25-30 points while playing within the flow of the offense.

In other words, KD got to be a second option, which is what he ultimately wants to be.

All five Phoenix starters were in double figures: Deandre Ayton had a pretty typical Ayton game. 14 points, 13 rebounds on 7/10 shooting. Torrey Craig had 17 points on 6/9 shooting, 5/8 from three.

However, the Suns got virtually nothing from their bench. Okogie, Biyombo and Landry Shamet combined for 13 points on 5/11 shooting in 44 combined minutes.

But that’s to be expected. Phoenix lives and dies by their main four guys.

The final score of the game: 123-109. The Clippers were down 7 with about 3:13 to play, so they were in this game for the majority of it.

What really broke the game open was the Suns going on a big run to tie it up at halftime. With 5:32 left in the second quarter, LAC was up 49-36, but the game went into halftime tied up at 59, equating to a 23-10 run by Phoenix to close out the first half.

Four minutes into the second half, Phoenix was up 73-63, so a 33-14 run to take the lead and never look back. LAC got it to 92-87 going into the 4th, but could never climb all the way back.

It was a big win for the Suns, but there is still nothing about this Suns team that scares me.

This is the only way they can win: if every one of their starters scores in double digits efficiently, Booker and/or KD goes off, and their midrange jumpers are falling.

Phoenix shot 58.8% from the floor in this game–50/85 from the floor overall and 10/24 from three (41.7%).

Phoenix only got to the free throw line 14 times, hitting 13, compared to 28/31 from the line for the Clippers. That’s not an unusual disparity, either. Phoenix is not a rim-pressuring team, they are a midrange jump shooting team. When their shots are falling, like they were in Game 2, they are going to be tough to beat.

But the shots are not always going to be falling.

They are not going to shoot 58.8% from the floor in every game.

Booker is not going to go 14/22 from the floor for 38 every night.

They still really had to fight in this game to get the win.

I don’t think this is a sustainable model. I don’t think Phoenix can win four playoff series with this being their path to victory.

What else do they have? Kevin Durant does not attack the rim anymore. Chris Paul cannot do it.

Ayton can’t get his own buckets.

Booker kind of can get to the rim, but he’s way more of a pull-up shooter.

If they’re not shooting 58.8% from the floor, how does Phoenix win?

I just don’t see it. I just don’t see a sustainable model for winning in the postseason.

And don’t even get me started on how this Phoenix team has zero grit at all, and zero bench to boot.

The Clippers can somewhat take advantage of Phoenix’s lack of rim protection, but without Paul George, it’s tough for the Clippers to defend the Suns’ jump shots. Phoenix is going to be able to win games like this when their shots are falling. Russell Westbrook is not able to consistently defend for a full game–he’s good in spots though. And Kawhi can’t defend two guys at once–nor can he defend both KD and Booker while also scoring 30+ on the other end for a full series. It’s just too much to ask of him–or anyone.

I think this series is going to go 6 or 7.

Phoenix is not going to hit 58.8% of their shot attempts in every game going forward, and so when they don’t, the Clippers will have a great chance to win.

Lakers 1, Grizzlies 0

What we saw out of Austin Reaves in Game 1 was truly special.

I did not know if he would be able to continue his regular season success into the playoffs. I didn’t know if he’d get the same whistle, the same shot quality–I thought he’d have to revert to more of a spot-up shooter come playoff time.

But he absolutely took over that game in Memphis. Look at this sequence in the final 4 minutes:

It started with that sweet behind the back assist to Rui on the three. Then he scored 9 straight points for the Lakers, and by that point they were up 8 points with a minute and a half left to play.

He closed the game out, wound up with 23 points, including 14 in the 4th quarter.

The best part is that LeBron trusts him. LeBron just let him do his thing. He knew Austin was feeling it, so he just got out of the way and let the man go to work.

When is the last time we saw LeBron trust a teammate to handle the ball in crunch time of a playoff game? 2017 when Kyrie was still on the Cavs?

I mean, yeah, he trusts AD a ton, but AD isn’t a primary ball-handler.

So that was pretty wild to see. LeBron trusts Austin Reaves enough to just get out of the way and let the man cook. LeBron only had one field goal attempt in the 4th quarter, a made three. And that was all they really needed out of him. It was a big shot, no doubt, but they didn’t need LeBron to take over.

See, the difference between LeBron and Kevin Durant is that KD always wants his teammates to take over, and will get out of the way even as the game is slipping away from his team. LeBron, on the other hand, will only get out of the way if it’s actually working and his teammate has the hot hand.

People are criticizing LeBron for getting “carried” (even though he still had 21 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks on 50% shooting). This is dumb for 2 reasons:

  1. He’s been waiting 20 years to get “carried” like this in the playoffs
  2. There was no reason for him to step in and take the ball out of Austin Reaves’ hand. Reaves was on fire in that 4th quarter. Nobody in their right mind could watch what he was doing and say, “Nah, it’s my turn now.”

The Jordan/Kobe Stans, who think greatness is about taking all the big shots no matter what and always having the ball in your hand, fail to understand the team aspect of this game.

That development is so huge for the Lakers because it makes them so much more difficult to defend. No longer is it just LeBron and AD and a bunch of guys who need to be set up. Now they have not only Austin Reaves who can get his own shot and create for himself, but they also have D’Angelo Russell as well, and you can’t ignore him.

D’Lo had a very nice bounce-back game going for 19 points on 7/17 shooting. It wasn’t super efficient, and he was just 3/9 from three, but he added 7 assists. The most important thing is that he did not let the fact that he had a bad game in the play-in against Minnesota tank his confidence. He came back in this game and kept shooting. That showed mental toughness and perseverance, and you need that in the playoffs. Because a lot of guys, if they go cold, they stay cold, they get in their own heads, and it’s over.

Oh, and the Lakers also have Dennis Schroder who can create for himself as well.

Rui Hachimura was 11/14 from the floor, hit 5/6 threes and scored 29 points. That’s not going to happen consistently, although Rui is really turning into a rock solid player. If Memphis is going to leave him open, though, then he should fire with no hesitation. I like his size and thickness, he’s a huge body to have out there on defense. He is a real legit playoff rotation guy.

Okay, as for Memphis…

I know you think you lost because of Ja’s injury. But you were down 4 when he went down.

And your team is usually just as good–if not better–without him. There’s a large sample size, too.

Ja is one of my least favorite players in the league, so maybe I’m being overly harsh on him, but I just don’t think he’s special. Take away the crazy dunks and he’s just really not like that. I would much rather have De’Aaron Fox over him, or even Darius Garland. Honestly, I would take Jalen Brunson over him–way less baggage, way more maturity.

But Ja’s hand is really messed up, I think the Grizzlies are cooked regardless, and Anthony Davis is about to just abuse Jaren Jackson after it was announced that Jackson won DPOTY.

Look, Memphis: you lost the freebie.

You’re supposed to win that Game 1. You were at home, LeBron usually keeps it in about third gear in Game 1s, and it’s very often a loss for a LeBron team.

And Memphis lost it anyway.

You fucked up, Memphis. You gave away home court, and now if you lose Game 2–which you probably will–you are done. Cooked.

Tomorrow night is for the series.

And Dillon Brooks… you shouldn’t have talked all that shit, talking about how you were going to knock LeBron out in round one. Don’t you know better than that?

Don’t you realize how long the guy has been around? He’s dealt with so many little agitators who have tried to get under his skin and take him out of his game, just like you. DeShawn Stevenson, Lance Stephenson, Joakim Noah, Paul Pierce, Draymond Green, Tayshaun Prince–and probably a bunch of other guys I’m forgetting.

LeBron has been around for 20 years. He’s seen all these would-be Kingslayers come and go, vanquished all of them.

Dillon Brooks is not the first, and he probably won’t be the last, either.

You think you, Dillon Brooks, are going to be the one who finally gets the best of him? No, you are just the latest in a long line of cocky punks who thinks to himself, “I can get in LeBron’s head.”

If he keeps talking shit, Dillon Brooks is about to see his entire NBA career become defined by being a eccentric but unserious adversary who got rolled by LeBron, in a documentary series about LeBron released 10 years from now. That’s all he’ll be–along with Lance Stephenson and the rest.

Is that what you want, Dillon Brooks? You want your face to appear in a montage of dudes who came at the king and got bounced, while a narrator says, “There where many who tried to challenge the King’s reign, but all were humbled.”

Lakers should win this series as quickly as possible to give themselves maximal rest.

Because while I originally thought their next opponent–the winner of the Kings/Warriors series–would be coming off a 7 game series, I don’t know if that’s going to be the case anymore…

Kings 2, Warriors 0

When you look at Golden State’s road record of 11-31, it should be expected that they lost the first two games of this series in Sacramento.

Sacramento’s home crowd is absolutely off the hook–one of the craziest playoff environments I’ve seen in a while, maybe since the KD/Westbrook OKC days or the Oracle Arena Warriors crowds, or the LeBron-era Cavs crowds.

But the Kings are just a legitimately good team, man.

I think Mike Brown, because he was on that Warriors coaching staff from 2016-2022, he knows what they’re all about. He knows all their tricks.

Mike Brown’s experience in Golden State is a hugely underrated reason why Sacramento is doing so well in this series. Whereas a lot teams melt down when the Warriors start getting hot from three, Mike Brown can call a timeout and say, “Hey, it’s okay. Don’t get rattled. This is just what they do. They are expecting you to lose your cool. They think they’re going to bury you here.”

Mike Brown knows how to attack them. He knows their weaknesses. And I think he had Domantas Sabonis prepared for all the nasty shit Draymond Green was going to throw at him this series. He told Sabonis exactly what the Warriors’ game plan was for dealing with him and how Draymond was going to try to get under his skin. Sabonis was prepared and actually beat Draymond at his own game. He got Draymond ejected from Game 2, and now Draymond is suspended with his team down 2-0. Draymond may have cost the Warriors this series, in all honesty. And that’s because Sabonis beat him at his own game. He withstood all the punishment, and got Draymond to lose his cool.

We’ll get back to this in a second.

Another real problem for the Warriors is that they are a small team that relies on outside shooting. The Kings don’t rank highly in defense, but that’s mainly at the rim. They’re actually pretty good at perimeter defense just because they have so many young, quick, twitchy, scrappy guys that can run around all the screens. They actually match up well defensively with Golden State. Offensively, Sacramento can get rim pressure, and throw the ball inside to Sabonis to exploit the Warriors’ lack of size.

Sacramento is a way more athletic team than Golden State. That’s a huge mismatch. Klay Thompson can’t move like he used to, Steph is 35, and when the Kings start picking up the Warriors’ ballhandlers and pressing them all the way down the court, it creates some issues for Golden State’s offense.

Now, with Draymond suspended for Game 3, it feels like this is curtains for the Warriors.

Golden State doesn’t really have anybody down low other than Kevon Looney, and the Kings are going to go at him and try to get him in foul trouble. If that happens, it’s a disaster for the Warriors. They will have no rim protection at all, and they’ll just have to jack up threes all game long.

The Kings may honestly be the nightmare opponent for the Warriors. That’s how it’s looking now. When you consider the athleticism and shot making of both DeAaron Fox and Malik Monk, Sabonis down low, Davion Mitchell on the perimeter, Harrison Barnes’ size and athleticism, Kevin Huerter’s shot-making–it just feels like the Kings have the better team. They have more ways to score the ball.

Jordan Poole has been atrocious in this series. Borderline unplayable. Klay Thompson said something about how Poole is playing on one foot, which would explain a lot. As much as I can’t stand Poole and would love to say he’s just getting exposed as a not very good basketball player (and I still think he’s not a very good basketball player overall), he’s not this bad.

The Kings in Game 2 had 9 turnovers and were 1/13 from three in the first quarter. They were only down 23-17 at the end of it.

Sacramento was just 3/14 from three in the second half of Game 2, and they still were able to keep the Warriors at arm’s length the whole time.

Normally the Warriors blow you out in the third quarter. In Game 2, Sacramento won the third quarter 25-23. The Kings went on a 41-19 run in the second quarter–they literally did what Golden State does to teams, where they just blow you away in one quarter of the game and take control.

Even in the third quarter of Game 1, the Kings outscored Golden State 36-29.

They are winning the third quarter against a Warriors team that always beats the brakes off of teams in the third quarter.

I think it goes without saying that if the Warriors lose Game 3, with Draymond out, and go down 3-0 in the series, it’s curtains for Golden State.

I’m liking the Kings’ chances in Game 3 regardless, though, because it just feels like what they have been doing in Games 1 and 2 isn’t a fluke. It’s not like they’re scorching hot from three–they’re only shooting 30% from three for the series. They just have more ways to score the ball than Golden State does, they’re more athletic than Golden State, and they have a coach that knows all of Golden State’s tricks.

We might be looking at the end of Draymond Green’s career as a Warrior.

If they go down 3-0, then get swept, or lose in 5, that could be it for Draymond in Golden State.

They will look at him and say, “Dude, we love you, you’ve done so much for us. But you’re a liability. You got thrown out of Game 2 in the 4th quarter. You got suspended for Game 3 and it killed us. You killed our chances in this series, singlehandedly. Don’t even get me started on the punch from before the season, either. And you want us to give you a big contract extension?”

Don’t get me wrong, Golden State would be in huge trouble without Draymond. He’s the heart and soul of their defense, their main rim protector, he’s a facilitator in the offense, and without him, they lose their edge and toughness and frankly a lot of leadership.

But I think they part ways with him if this series continues in the direction it’s going.

The Kings can smell blood in the water right now. They know they’re more athletic than Golden State, they know they can beat them, and now the Warriors are on the ropes with their best defensive player on suspension.

This is the moment to go for the kill if you’re Sacramento. Go right for the jugular.

It’s not going to be easy. I think Steph probably goes bonkers in Game 3. He might go for 40. The Warriors are not just going to roll over.

But it’s a very winnable game for Sacramento nonetheless. They should dominate the paint.

Things are not looking good for the Warriors.

However, never underestimate the heart of a Champion. They can definitely win these next two at home. Even though the Kings have the best road record in the Western Conference (25 of their 48 total wins this year were on the road), the Warriors are desperate and know that if they can win without Draymond they are back in the series with Draymond coming back for a home game to tie it up.

If Golden State wins Game 3, this series might go 7 games.

If Sacramento wins Game 3, I think it ends in a sweep.

This is the most interesting series happening right now. I can’t wait for Game 3.

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