Best NBA Playoff Moments From April 19: Embiid, AD, & Dubs

Round 1, Game 3 action commenced on Thursday, April 19. The Sixers grabbed an important win, the Pelicans made mince meat of the Blazers, and to no one’s surprise, the Warriors took a 3-0 lead over the Spurs. Let’s recap:

The Phantom Returns

Joel Embiid’s first career playoff game was shrouded in drama. What else did you expect? The frustrated, antsy Processor, sidelined with an orbital fracture since March 28, had to sit and watch the first two installments of 76ers/Heat from the bench. Initially not expected to play in Game 3 of the most exciting first-round series in ages, Embiid was upgraded last-minute to “probable”, and soon enough was bickering with Hassan Whiteside and draining threes in Kelly Olynyk’s face. How much of his expedited return had to do with a certain Instagram story post is unclear, but we do know that after four years of processing, Jojo is sick and tired of riding the sideline.

Wednesday night presented itself as a trying moment to stage a comeback. Embiid, stepping back into Philly’s starting lineup for their first road game of the series, would rejoin the Sixers as they looked to avenge a Game 2 loss courtesy of a timeless Dwyane Wade. Reintegrating Embiid on short notice into a rotation that’s been winning without him for weeks would only complicate Philly’s mission to go up 2-1. A whiteout American Airlines Arena is already unfriendly enough territory; Embiid himself would face a loaded matchup with Whiteside, with whom he shares a history of pettiness. Something Embiid has that Whiteside doesn’t, though? A jump shot. Oh, and a state-of-the-art mask.

Much ado was made of the mask. While a fittingly theatrical accessory to the NBA’s most entertaining man, the mask didn’t look particularly comfortable, akin more to motorcyclist’s gear than to a basketball player’s protective wear. At the end of the day, it was his ticket to ride. The Sixers’ training staff and head coach Brett Brown weren’t taking any chances, and while Embiid tried to get rid of the mask more than once, he may as well have been sent home if he tried to play without it. So much for not being babied.

Joel’s hostility to the very thing protecting his face only made him play hungrier. After the game he noted, “it was annoying … [but] I was a better shooter with it.”

Indeed he was. Whiteside may as well have been Isaiah Thomas defending Embiid. Neither he, nor James Johnson, nor Bam Adebayo, nor Kelly Olynyk could shut Embiid down under the basket or out on the perimeter. Jojo shot 75% from three, and was sent to the foul line 15 times, where he scored 10 of his points and realistically could have earned 12 or 13 had the mask not distracted him. Whiteside picked up his third foul early in the second quarter, and Embiid was keeping a tally.

Whiteside finished the game with five points, two rebounds, and four fouls in just 13 minutes, bringing his series grand total to 11 points. So much for a classic big-man showdown. Embiid’s most fascinating matchup was with Justise Winslow, with whom he went toe-to-toe in the fourth on a fun few block-heavy possessions. Winslow had 19 first-half points but will instead be remembered for trying to take Embiid out of the game by destroying the mask. Good luck with that. Jojo revealed postgame, “little do they know is that I have about 50 of them.”

Honorable mention to the 76ers’ Justin Anderson, who took Wade’s game-winning performance from Monday night a little too personally. Problem is, you can’t pull this kind of stuff in Wade County.

Flash got him back. The Sixers won, by the way.

R.I.P. City

The Blazers’ 49-win season was apparently a mirage. The Western Conference 3-seed is dead in the waters of Lake Pontchartrain. We await a coroner’s official diagnosis of death, but early evidence shows choking.,

For New Orleans, Game 3 may as well have been another Game 1. Pregame, coach Alvin Gentry noted that after the Pelicans’ second win in Portland, Rajon Rondo reminded the locker room, “we haven’t accomplished anything … we have a lot of work that we have left to do.” Coming home to an electrified New Orleans, reuniting Mannie Fresh and Juvenile at halftime, and regaining DeMarcus Cousins as sideline support would just be perks. The Pels couldn’t get distracted, even if they absolutely deserved to feel a little lighter after stunning the Pacific Northwest. A 6-seed upsetting a 3-seed isn’t supposed to be easy, but man, have the Pelicans made it look easy.

Rondo is a man obsessed. He’s been studying game film into early morning hours, learning the ins and outs of the Blazers’ habits, storing and exploiting the information like a mad scientist. The Trail Blazers won the opening tip of Game 3, and immediately, Rondo was in their heads. He immediately recognized the play the Blazers were about to run, went for a steal, and picked up a foul. The Pelicans forced a turnover just seconds later. This unshakeable defensive focus would be mirroredApple-converted-space”> on nearly every Blazers possession until garbage time.

Of all Western Conference playoff teams, the Pelicans were fated to be the worst possible matchup for the Blazers. Getting them in the first round? Yuck. Between Rondo knowing your every move, Jrue Holiday absolutely ruining Damian Lillard‘s pick-and-roll-reliant offense, and Jusuf Nurkić playing like a tall linguistics major plucked from Reed College just to fill a roster spot, the Blazers are cooked. When Zach Collins is your x-factor, how much of a chance are you really giving yourselves? As promising as Ed Davis has looked in fleeting moments, Portland has no answer for the Davis on the other side. But on Thursday night, it wasn’t even Anthony who sent them soul-searching. It was Nikola Mirotić.

Mirotić, well-known for having his face obliterated by Bobby Portis back in Chicago, was acquired by the Pels just days after Boogie Cousins was torn so suddenly away from his first shot at the playoffs. Niko’s arrival coincided with a losing streak and his own difficulty adjusting to NOLA’s offense. For already devastated Pels fans, this new signee looked like a toddler walking around in Boogie’s size 16 Nike Zooms.

As the Pelicans readjusted through February and March behind Davis’s MVP-caliber eruption, Mirotić found his footing. He also shaved his face. But did anyone expect him to go off for 30 on 80% shooting in a Game 3 blowout of the bleeding Blazers?

On Thursday, AD scored 28, combining with Niko for 58 points on 23-for-33 shooting. Meanwhile, Rondo and Holiday, who have steadily outplayed Lillard and C.J. McCollum throughout the series, were outscored by the Blazers’ headliners but made the same amount of shots more efficiently. Davis and Lillard are two of the NBA’s leading MVP candidates, and Thursday’s numbers are a snapshot of the miles of distance between them: Lillard had two assists to eight turnovers, and was a -24; Davis had two assists to zero turnovers, and was a +17.

Turnovers were a story of their own. The Blazers finished with 24 of them, and to be honest it felt more like 74. They were absolutely suffocated defensively if not totally sonned. Postgame, Lillard made note of the impenetrable “two and three layers of defense” taking him out of his game, backhandedly complimenting the Pelicans for coming up with “different covers than I’ve seen at any point in my career”. The Pelicans stacked bodies in the paint, navigated lackadaisical screens, and simply had Portland completely figured out, leaving the Blazers with few options but to spiral. The Pels took care of that ball, coming up with 16 steals and just 12 total team turnovers.

The Pelicans played patiently and humbly, while the Blazers’ desperation was more frantic than it was ambitious. Al-Farouq Aminu was one of a select few who showed some heart, opening the game well and hitting three threes in the first half. The Chief’s scoring was the only help Dame & C.J. would get: at halftime, when the Pels had a commanding 19-point lead, Lillard and McCollum had 26, Aminu 15, and everyone else four. The Blazers managed a 10-0 run in the third, cutting a 25-point lead to 15, but the Pels caught them snoozing on defense and put them to bed for good. Somehow, the Blazers out-rebounded the Pels, who were pointedly more aggressive on the glass all night and sought out 50/50 balls like their very lives depended on it.

Portland showed no fight. The sellout Smoothie King Center gave the Pelicans so much life, acting as the ultimate sixth-man and basking in the flames of the Blazers’ self-destruction. After Portland’s starters were pulled with about seven minutes to go, AD bid them farewell with one of many demoralizing dunks, punctuating a 30-point lead. Coach Rondo himself pulled Davis out of the game, letting Davis sit comfortably with Cousins, whose prolonged absence has made his presence all the more lucky (including two Staples Center outings, the Pelicans now have a 3-0 record when the suited and booted Boogie is present on the sideline).

The Pels are up 3-0, and while they may not want to jinx themselves, you can bet they’re going for the sweep.


The Warriors Won a Basketball Game

Get ready for Pelicans/Warriors.
Not much about this game was great or memorable. The heartbreaking news surrounding Gregg Popovich and his family cast a shadow on the matchup, helmed on San Antonio’s side by Ettore Messina.

Tony Parker came out inspired, though. The 17-year Spur played with passion, scoring 16 off the bench, including two vintage three-point plays. His old head counterparts couldn’t match him, though; Pau Gasol scored an inconsequential six, while Manu Ginobili was scoreless. LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 18 in 37 minutes, while Patty Mills followed with 14.

Rudy Gay is just happy to be here.

Kevin Durant scored 26, while Klay Thompson had 19 and Draymond Green filled the box score with 10 points, six rebounds, seven assists, two steals, and four blocks. The Warriors, awaiting Steph Curry‘s clearance to play, don’t look nearly as vulnerable as they did two weeks ago. Joke’s on us!

JaVale McGee Euro stepped.
KD and Shaun Livingston sprained their ankles in the final few minutes, so if you’re a Spurs fan feeling hopeless, maybe that’s something to feel optimistic about. Maybe.

NFL Schedule 2018: Game Dates For All 32 Teams
NFL Schedule 2018: Game Dates For All 32 Teams
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