Here are my musings on a wild Tuesday in the NBA Bubble…
Brooklyn Nets 119, Milwaukee Bucks 116
The already-decimated Brooklyn Nets roster added more names to their inactive list: Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, and Joe Harris were all scratched from the lineup for this game. So you would expect this to be an easy victory for the Bucks, right? Well, prepare to have your expectations subverted!
Brooklyn’s offensive performance was absolutely phenomenal. They blitzed Milwaukee with 73 points in the first half (40 of them in the first quarter), dropping 14 3-pointers in the process. The Nets even outmuscled the Bucks a bit, with Donta Hall getting into a dust-up with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Justin Anderson proceeding to posterize the reigning MVP shortly thereafter.
These Nets were obviously going to put in a full effort, considering the active roster consists solely of reserves and G-League Call-Ups looking to prove themselves. But it’s always awe-inspiring when that effort converts into real results. Today, they caught this Bucks team lacking, and were able to pull off the upset.
It was also good to see Jamal Crawford officially back on a NBA stat sheet. Sadly, his run was cut short by a left hamstring injury after just six minutes on the floor. Hopefully we’ll get more J. Crossover before the Nets’ season is complete.
As for the Bucks, they fall to 1-2 in the Bubble. It’s a little irritating that they couldn’t just blow out this Nets team in the first half and then coast to the final buzzer. However, Head Coach Mike Budenholzer seemed to treat this game like a glorified scrimmage, so he’s probably displeased with the loss, but not disturbed.
Look, it’s likely that Milwaukee will sweep Brooklyn if/when these two meet again for the First Round. It just makes me feel a lot better come Big Prediction Time if the top teams “handled their business” against the “easier” clubs on their schedule during the season. It shows me that the team truly wants to dominate regardless of the opponent, which bodes well when they do face someone their own size.
But the Bucks failed to do so this afternoon. As a result, the scrappy Nets took advantage and earned the win.
Phoenix Suns 117, Los Angeles Clippers 115
Another favorite goes down, but this one is more forgivable. The Clippers were outscored 63-56 in the first half, but attempted to rally back by winning the second half 59-54. In the end, however, there was just too much Devin Booker for the Clippers to handle.
Booker finished the afternoon with 35 points, eight assists, and six made three-pointers. He showed the uninitiated viewer how natural of a scorer he is, ringing up points from all three levels in a seemingly effortless fashion.
Then, there was The Shot. Booker fearlessly hit a buzzer-beating turnaround jumper over the outstretched hand of Paul George to secure the win for Phoenix and bring them to 3-0 in the Bubble. It was amazing to watch live, and it was the perfect exclamation point for what was already a big game for him.
While this is still a late regular season game, that buzzer-beater could be a defining moment, for the Suns and for viewers of this game. Booker and the Suns can remember this game and this ending as proof that they can run with the better teams in the league.
For fans, with this being a nationally televised game on NBA TV, they will have that image of Booker’s shot etched in their minds. That could help him be looked at more favorably in water cooler conversations about who’s better and who’s best in the Association. He may start to get the recognition he deserves.
As for the Clippers, it’s a tough loss for a team with high aspirations. Kawhi Leonard (Team-high 27 points) wowed me with how methodical his domination was. Ivica Zubac also felt like a difference maker (18 points, 12 rebounds, team-high +13 plus-minus) because his size seemed to match-up well with Phoenix’s bigs underneath. However, it was Zubac’s turnover that gave Booker getting the chance to score at the buzzer.
All the Clips can do after a game like this is dust themselves off and look to bring a full 48 minutes of energy to their next game.
Miami Heat 111, Boston Celtics 106
Apparently, Jimmy Butler was out for this game, but you could’ve fooled me. Miami was running so well I honestly couldn’t tell they were down a star. The Heat led the entire game, with the Celtics only getting close in the middle of the third quarter at 69-68. Other than that, Miami was pretty in control from start to finish.
With Butler out, the young duo of Duncan Robinson & Kendrick Nunn had the chance to redeem themselves after having rough games on Monday. Robinson certainly stepped up, finishing with 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting after going 1-of-5 against Toronto. Nunn, however, couldn’t pick things back up. He scored just four points on 2-of-6 shooting.
Meanwhile, as Nunn struggles, backup point guard Goran Dragic had 20 points today and 25 points on Monday. With the contrast in their performances, I wonder if Dragic can play his way back into a starter role? Dragic suffered a sprained ankle at the end of this game, but if it isn’t severe and The Dragon keeps producing, Nunn might want to watch his back.
For Boston, the starters all had solid games, but the bench just couldn’t deliver their end of the bargain. Marcus Smart went 0-of-5 and fouled out in the third quarter after playing only 16 minutes. Enes Kanter led the reserves with 10 points, but there wasn’t much else going on after that. If depth is a continued problem for Boston, they’re going to have a very disappointing playoff run.
Portland Trail Blazers 110, Houston Rockets 102
This was a huge win for Portland. Houston has proven to be an intimidating team due to their unique style of play. No matter how big your lead is, the Rockets are always in the game until three minutes after the end.
That almost happened again tonight, with the Blazers’ 13-point second quarter lead slowly evaporating until it was a 100-100 tie with 4:06 left in the fourth. But Portland found another gear and reeled off a 10-2 run to close out the game.
Carmelo Anthony continued his solid run in the Bubble with a 15-point, 11-rebound performance. In the fourth, he had a steal, a block, and essentially put the game away with a dagger three-pointer to make it 107-102 with 54.6 seconds left. It’s good to see him still deliver for a playoff-caliber team, especially against a former team that cast him aside just 10 games into his tenure there.
Damian Lillard had another rough first half, scoring four points on 1-of-6 shooting. But like the Boston game, Dame found his rhythm in the second half. This time, he reeled off 17 points in the latter two quarters.
So if Dame struggled in the first half but the Blazers led, who was holding down the fort? Well, CJ McCollum and Gary Trent Jr. tied for a game-high 13 points in the opening half. Jusuf Nurkic followed up with 10 points. It’s good to have other players that can keep things going when the star doesn’t spark things off right away. If Portland wants to make a decent postseason run, it will definitely be an “all hands on deck” situation.
Of course, the size difference also played a huge role in this win. Portland has three guys 6’11” or taller in rotation while Houston obviously doesn’t. As a result, the Blazers out-rebounded Houston 64-39 and beat them in the paint 44-28. They even won 16-9 on fastbreak points. Strong production inside and in transition can help ward off Houston’s three-point onslaught. For instance, they made 19 of them in this losing effort.
The Houston Rockets were a tough out in this game, and are still in position to close out this re-seeding round strong. However, on this night, the Portland Trail Blazers fought for their playoff lives and played to their strengths well enough to get the big win.