[caption id="attachment_313208" align="aligncenter" width="1516"] (NBAE via Getty Images)
Good afternoon, folks. We're discussing Jimmy Butler and Chris Paul today. Let's talk NBA Bubble.
Heat shock Bucks in Game 1 of ECSF
There were many a expert who said the Miami Heat could give the Milwaukee Bucks some serious issues in the second round of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And while I was not personally one of those individuals at the time, I might be slowly coming around. After watching Jimmy Butler explode for a playoff career-high 40 points--14 of them coming in the fourth quarter alone--it looks like we're going to be in for a long and eventful series.
Miami stole Game 1 against the Bucks by a final score of 115-104 thanks to the efforts of Butler, Goran Dragic, and former Wildcat Bam Adebayo
. Butler's 40 points were understandably the talk of the night, but Dragic's 27 points and Adebayo's remarkable stat line of 12 points, 17 rebounds, and six assists
helped thrust the Heat to a huge early-series victory. Tyler Herro
added 11 points for the Heat but shot just 3-11 from the floor overall. He did, however, hit arguably the most important shot of the game, a 3-pointer that put Miami up 109-101 with about 90 seconds left.
Coming into the series, Miami was the only Eastern Conference team to beat Milwaukee twice during the regular season. After one playoff game, those regular-season outcomes don't appear to be a fluke.
But as impressive as Miami's performance was, Milwaukee shot themself in the foot over and over again, particularly at the free-throw line. Reigning MVP and recently crowned Defensive Player of the Year, Giannis Antetokounmpo, was miserable at the charity stripe, shooting just 4-12 from the line while the Bucks as a team shot a mere 14-26 (53.8 percent).
After the game, a reporter asked Antetokounmpo why he didn't guard Butler down the stretch, to which he retorted by saying "why would you ask that?"
, acting as though he didn't LITERALLY
just win DPOY a couple of days ago. This isn't like asking some center such as Rudy Gobert to guard Damian Lillard. Antetokounmpo is only four inches taller than Butler and long enough to stay in front of him. There is little excuse for the team's premier defender to get switched off the opposing team's best player through pick-and-rolls on a possession-by-possession basis.
Antetokounmpo still finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists, but much was to be made about his lack of playing time. Bucks head coach Mike Budenzholer has been criticized heavily over the last two seasons for his willingness to dig deeper into his bench than most, electing to run with playoff rosters that go nine or 10 players deep as opposed to a strict seven or eight. Antetokounmpo appeared in 36 minutes on Monday, albeit while dealing with some first-half foul trouble. Among all qualified players in the postseason, the Greek Freak ranks 50th in minutes per game (32.5). During the 2018-19 playoffs, he averaged just 34.3 minutes per game. I should note that Game 1 is still Game 1 and this series could easily flip in favor of Milwaukee starting on Wednesday, but Miami has proven that they have the pieces to take out the Bucks.
That is especially true if Eric Bledsoe
isn't ready to play. The former Wildcat sat out Game 1 with a strained hamstring after he was ruled inactive roughly an hour before tipoff. Dragic, who poured in 27 for Miami, would have likely been guarded primarily by Bledsoe. Bled is expected to make another All-Defensive Team once that award is announced and his presence breaking up pick-and-rolls and swiping at loose balls was sorely missed in Game 1.
CP3 and OKC force Game 7 against Houston
Normally, the Oklahoma City Thunder need at least two of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
, Dennis Schröder, and Chris Paul to shine in order to play winnable basketball. But what the Houston Rockets didn't take into account was Paul turning back the clock five years and showcasing his Point Gawd skills. Paul was masterful in Game 6 of the Western Conference first-round against Houston, dropping 15 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter while staring down James Harden the entire time.
The best part about this apparent "rivalry" between the Rockets and Thunder is that it all seemingly stems from Paul's ability to be pettier than any other human in history. Keep in mind, Houston traded the now 35-year-old Paul last summer to OKC, sending franchise legend Russell Westbrook to Texas in return. The Thunder were blown out in Game 5 by 34 points and Paul was on a mission to make sure that wasn't how this team would be remembered.
Neither team led by double-digits throughout the entire affair, which ultimately favored OKC down the stretch, who are statistically the most clutch team in the NBA this season. Paul led the entire league in clutch-time points during the regular season and came through once again on the brightest stage.
SGA closed the night with 10 points and six assists while shooting 4-11 from the field for the Thunder. Over his last two outings, the one-time 'Cat has combined to drop just 16 points on 6-19 shooting with eight turnovers. The Thunder will surely need him to turn it around for a series-deciding Game 7. Nerlens Noel
was his usual energetic-self during his 16 minutes, although his contributions didn't exactly show up in the box score as he recorded two points, two rebounds, and two blocks for OKC. Second-year wing Hamidou Diallo
was a DNP-Coaches Decision for the third time in six games during this series. With Luguentz Dort playing excellent overall defense on Rockets star James Harden, it's hard to justify any minutes for Diallo right now.
Other notes from the Bubble
- Voting for the 2019-20 Most Improved Player award was released on Monday with New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram taking home the honors. I'll be honest, I picked Ingram to win the award for a few different reasons that I'll explain in a second, but we have to mention Adebayo finishing in a close second while Gilgeous-Alexander came in sixth. Here's a breakdown of the voting results.
- I have a personal way that I interpret how I go about voting for these awards (even though my "vote" is meaningless in this situation) and it's how I came to choose Ingram as MIP over Adebayo. Personally, I take the title of the award more literally than some. So for an award such as Most Valuable Player, I typically choose the player who meant more to their respective team than any other player in the league, not necessarily if they were the best overall player or not. For Most Improved Player, I take it even more literally: which player improved at a rate that was mostly unexpected by the outside world?
- Adebayo's improvement in year three was something that some of us on this fine website had been touting since the preseason. You could see the development coming along. It wasn't a matter of when, but how soon he would jump into All-Star status. Ingram, on the other hand, was traded to New Orleans with the hope that he would reinvent his career. Many were ready to peg Ingram as a "bust" following his three subpar seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. Some of that probably had to do with the media influence of playing in a market that size. But then he went from a below-average shooter to a damn-near elite on in just one offseason and became an All-Star along the way. While both Adebayo and Ingram were prior lottery picks, Adebayo was expected to see significant growth this season while Ingram was a question mark. Miami traded away Hassan Whiteside so they could make Adebayo the star in the post ahead of time.
- This is the same logic I use when looking at other young players such as Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum. These guys were borderline stars before the season began and most expected that to continue into the 2019-20 season, which it clearly did. The same can't necessarily be said about Ingram. Most Improved Player should be given to players with a significant sample size who made an unprecedented leap.
- Did that make any sense? Probably not... But oh well!
- One final note: clear your schedule for this evening so you can be locked into Game 7 between the Utah Jazz and Jamal Murray's Denver Nuggets. The Murray and Mitchell Show is bound to make another appearance.
Series standings from Monday
(5) Heat lead (1) Bucks 1-0
(5) Thunder tied with (4) Rockets 3-3
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TONIGHT IN THE BUBBLE
5:30 (ESPN): Celtics (Kanter)
@ Raptors [BOS leads 1-0]
8:30 (ABC): Jazz @ Nuggets (Murray) [Series tied 3-3]