Six teams in three games created the most bizarre day ever in NBA Playoffs history — and it was fantastic.
Typically, NBA Playoff games are hard-fought contests. Blowouts happen from time to time, but, being it’s an aggregate of the league’s best teams, the games are close because the stars come out to play.
On Thursday, Apr. 20, we experienced three games with three incredibly unexpected outcomes. And I can’t remember anything like it.
It started in Indiana. The Pacers, who entered the action trailing two games to none, badly needed a win on their homecourt to stave off elimination. In the first half, they whooped the Cleveland Cavaliers like Ronda Rousey in her prime. On the shoulders of Paul George, Indiana scored 72 first half points and held the Cavaliers to just 49 — the Pacers had stretched their lead out to 26 at one point.
LeBron James was having none of that. Nope. Not a bit.
After Twitter collectively thought the sky was falling, Cleveland seemingly flipped the switch and James put together a second-half performance that reminded us still the best player on the planet despite not being heavily considered as the NBA MVP. Their defense limited the Pacers to just 40 points on 25.5 percent shooting, and LeBron had the game in the palm of his hand.
With Kyrie Irving (7:43) and Kevin Love (9:31) playing less than 10 minutes a piece, James scored 28 points while going 9-of-16 from the floor. Additionally, he handed out seven dimes, grabbed six rebounds and was plus-30 for the half. In the fourth quarter alone he dropped 15, and the Cavs played their best basketball with Irving and Love on the bench.
While this was going on, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks were on NBA TV, and they clearly weren’t happy about it. The Raptors were getting waxed even harder than the Cavaliers were, and it was more shocking because Toronto played exceptionally well on defense all year. As they locked opponents down, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka lit up the scoreboards. Neither of those happened on Thursday.
Through three quarters, Toronto put up 46 points. They allowed 78 to a Bucks team that was without Jabari Parker. Lowry and Delon Wright were the Raptors’ leading scorers with 13 each; Serge Ibaka had six on 3-of-8 shooting and DeRozan had just eight points and didn’t make a field goal. That’s right: you and I made as many field goals as an NBA All-Star last night. Hi-five!
The final count was 104-77 Milwaukee and, being frank, no one on their roster blew the roof off the Bradley Center with their production. Khris Middleton led everyone with 20 points, and Giannis had a modest evening with 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists. They got a nice lift from Greg Monroe who scored 16 in 23 minutes before fouling out, and Michael Beasley was impressive with his 13 points. Toronto is now trailing the Bucks 2-1, and losing this series wouldn’t bode well for Lowry or DeRozan.
San Antonio and Memphis was the night cap. And boy oh boy was it an interesting one. It was the Grizzlies first game since David Fizdale had his incredible rant about poor officiating, and his team looked rejuvenated because of it. Memphis got smacked in Game 1 and had victory ripped from their grasp in the second game, so this contest was a test of their mettle.
The Grizz always fight, and Mike Conley was playing like the $150 million man that we hoped he’d be. With 24 points and eight dimes, he was the best player on the court last night. And that’s saying something when there’s an MVP candidate across the way. Memphis got a boost from Zach Randolph, who made just his sixth start of the season and Z-Bo came in and gave the Spurs fits down low. He built on his 18-point performance in Game 2 and hung a 21-piece on San Antonio while also pulling down eight boards. Fellow big Marc Gasol was huge as well, and he matched Randolph’s 21 with 21 of his own.
Kawhi Leonard had the most intriguing stat line by far. He totaled 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting, but Basketball Reference estimates his usage rate was just 22.7 percent, significantly lower than the first two games. Furthermore, he didn’t have as much luck getting to the line. I don’t know if the officials swallowed their whistles on purpose, but Leonard shot just four free throws after having 19 attempts on Monday.
Not getting a huge night from Leonard directly contributed to the Spurs losing. Not only did Memphis walk away with a victory, but they also did so by double digits, 105-94. It was the second time this year the Grizzlies beat the Spurs by at least 10, and they have to feel good heading into Game 4.
With the way the games were yesterday, I wish more had been scheduled. It was utterly wild and astounding, and everything the NBA Playoffs stand for.
Start a conversation with me on Twitter