NBA Playoff Round 1 Series Updates: Clippers are Live, Knicks Drawing Dead?
Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Paul George.
A look at the playoff series in play Sunday in the NBA…
HAWKS-KNICKS: Series Arc is Bending
I’m desperately hoping for the Knicks to find a way to win Game 4. Then it will be a 2-2 series going back to New York, best of three. And at that point, the oddsmakers are likely to lower the price on the Hawks to the lowest point since pre-series, and that’s when I’m absolutely taking Atlanta.
The Hawks’ top five players in minutes all have an on-court net efficiency of +7.1 or better. They are dominating with their best players on the floor, and the best players play more as a series goes on. Even in the Hawks’ loss, four of the top five outscored the Knicks when they were on the floor.
A pressure point in the series is Taj Gibson. The soon-to-be-36-year-old forward has been pressed into playing center for the Knicks. With Nerlens Noel injured and Mitchell Robinson lost for the season, the Knicks are depending on Gibson to contain Clint Capela, and somehow, someway, the veteran is pulling it off.
The Hawks are -4 with Capela on-court facing Gibson, which is impressive given how much Gibson’s surrendering in height and athleticism. But Gibson continues to just muscle and battle while containing Trae Young. Young has a 50% eFG with Gibson on the floor, and a 58% eFG% with Gibson on the bench. Those minutes are all that are holding the Hawks back.
The question is whether that’s sustainable.
The Hawks have won two of the three first quarters, two of the three second quarters and two of the three third quarters.
The Knicks have relied on runs using the Knicks’ youngsters, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickly, to fuel runs.
The Knicks have had great moments, but the arc of this series is bending, without question, towards the Hawks. I’m still hopeful the Hawks’ inexperience will open the door for a Knicks win in Game 4 to allow for a better price, but at this point, there’s little reason to think New York advances.
SUNS-LAKERS: Closer Than it Feels
The weird thing about this series is that it’s much closer than it feels like. The Suns led after the first quarter of Game 3. They had a lead in the second. Phoenix was only outscored by one in the fourth, but they gave up a 16-6 run to start the third quarter. That was quite literally the ballgame.
However, the ability to dig out of the series may simply not be viable with Chris Paul injured. It’s brutal that this has happened to Paul again, for him to have been so good, for so long, for so many teams, and every time he looks like he might be able to climb the summit, some injury occurs.
But that’s the story, and with Paul such a negative, it’s hard to see a path for the Suns to climb out.
The Suns are winning the Deandre Ayton minutes. They are winning the Cameron Payne minutes. They are winning the Jae Crowder minutes with him shooting horribly. But they are losing the Devin Booker minutes, and that’s all that matters when he rightfully plays that much.
LeBron James doesn’t look like himself, but he has stretches where he dominates, and that’s all they need. The model for the Lakers is pretty obvious. Play great defense, keep the game a grind, and hit the opponent with small flurries from their two superstars.
There’s no value with the odds where they are. The Suns are playing better than the results show, but ultimately, the Lakers are doing what they always seem to do.
NETS-CELTICS: Don’t be Fooled by Game 3
Boston got a spectacular 50-piece from Jayson Tatum. In Tatum’s minutes, the Celtics outscored the Nets by a total of… one point.
The real work was done by the bench. Landry Shamet was a -27 for the Nets. In 39 minutes, the Nets were +13 with James Harden on the floor. So in the remaining 8 minutes, they were outscored by 19 points.
What Boston did was admirable, fighting back on their home court to keep their hopes alive. But when we look at this series, very little of Game 3 seems repeatable.
Nets in 5 is -167, which doesn’t have a lot of value but shows you where the market is.
Boston didn’t get lucky, their bench ran roughshod, Tatum was great, and Tristan Thompson had a terrific game. But trying to find a pattern that could open the door for a Celtics series win is trying to find a path in the dark.
CLIPPERS-MAVERICKS: LA is Live
I thought the Mavs were live when I looked at the series in detail before it began and bet Mavs +2.5 and +1.5 on the series spread.
Now, I think there’s value on the Clippers. The Mavericks not only shot extremely hot in Games 1 and 2, they did the same in Game 3.
List of teams in NBA postseason history to have at least 3 straight games of 45% shooting on three-pointers with at least 30 attempts in each game:
2021 Dallas Mavericks (G1 through G3 vs LAC)
2016 Cleveland Cavaliers (G1 through G3 vs ATL)
— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) May 29, 2021
Neither team can defend the other. The Clippers can’t keep their centers on the floor, the Mavericks are getting torched when Kristaps Porzingis is on-court. Luka Doncic is the best player in this series by a wide margin so far and yet, it’s taken outlier shooting by the supporting Mavericks to get a 2-1 lead.
The Clippers are absolutely live, which is why they’re still favored at most of the books for the series. We’ve talked above about the bench vs. the reserves, and the Mavericks are winning with the starters. But the Clippers seemed to find real adjustments in Game 3, and the Mavericks seemed frustrated when all the shots didn’t fall.
A bad shooting game from the Clippers will put them down 3-1 and that might be it. But the Clippers are the better team, despite how this series started. The Clippers are live, and I lean towards the idea their odds will get shorter, not longer as the series continues.