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1 stat* explaining every second-round series so far
*Let's be honest, you know I can't restrain myself to 1 stat
Denver Nuggets are tied with Phoenix Suns, 2-2
Nikola Jokic has scored 146 points in the Nuggets’ 2-2 series with the Suns. Devin Booker has scored 145.
Usually, I like to find a more exciting talking point, and there are several. For example, Phoenix has been the worst offensive rebounding AND the worst defensive rebounding team of anyone in the second round, getting bludgeoned by Denver on both ends. That seems important! On the flip side, Phoenix has the most fast-break points, scoring nearly 20 per game (three more than second-place Boston). They’ve been putting the engine into overdrive since Chris Paul’s departure, and it’s made a huge difference.
In fact, Paul’s injury may have sneakily saved the series for Phoenix. In addition to speeding the Suns up, it has forced them to play a more willing shooter in his spot, such as Landry Shamet and Terrence Ross. It also turned Booker into the primary ballhandler. As surgical as CP3 is in the pick-and-roll, this team has been at its best letting Devin Booker (and Kevin Durant!) cook and surrounding him with shooting.
And that gets us back to the original point: Devin Booker has been hotter than his team’s logo. Get this: Nikola Jokic is averaging 36.5 points per game on eye-popping 57% shooting from the field and 43% from deep…and he’s not even close to the best scorer on the floor. Booker has one fewer point than Jokic but is shooting 64% from the floor and 57% from deep. As a result, Booker became the first player to score back-to-back 35-point games on at least 75% shooting from the field in Games 3 and 4.
If a guy wants to hit hanging pull-up jumper after hanging pull-up jumper, there’s not much a defense can do no matter who is guarding him:
Booker has been the best and most important player on a team featuring Kevin Durant. Think about that, and tremble.
This isn’t to diminish Jokic, who has decimated everyone and everything the Suns try to throw at him. Phoenix is clearly content letting Jokic do what he wants while trying to limit everyone else, but it’s a dangerous game to play.
Jokic has the most points, rebounds, and assists of any player on either side in the series. Per the AP, he became the first player in playoff history to post a 30, 17, 17 stat line in Game 3, and then the first to hit 53 points and 11 assists in Game 4.
It’s been an incredible second round of basketball across the board, but we haven’t seen anyone else hit the peaks that Jokic and Booker are climbing every night. Tune in and enjoy.
Los Angeles Lakers lead Golden State Warriors, 3-1
The Lakers and Warriors traded blowout victories in Games 2 and 3, but Games 1 and 4 were both tight LA wins.
Spoiler: it’s really hard to mount a comeback when you can’t get buckets.
In Game 1, Steph went 5-for-10 in the last 12 minutes while the rest of the team combined to go 4-for-13. In Game 4, Steph shot 4-for-11 in the final frame (everyone else combined for seven shot attempts) and was outdueled by Lonnie Walker IV, of all people, who went 6-for-9.
The key has been how the Warriors tried attacking Anthony Davis. In Game 1, the Warriors wanted to abuse the Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell, but that left Davis lurking in the paint:
So in Game 4, Golden State decided it was better to attack him head-on than let him lurk as a help defender. And that mostly worked! But attacking the Brow in motion on the pick-and-roll is different than trying to isolate against him as the shot clock winds down:
There’s no cutting analysis here. It’s a make-or-miss league, and the Warriors, throughout their storied career, have generally made the ones that counted most. Steph hits either of those two shots against AD, and it’s a whole new ballgame. But right now, they’re showing some uncharacteristic struggles down the stretch.
Golden State knows better than anyone that a 3-1 series isn’t over ‘till it’s over. For them to pull off a comeback, however, they’ll have to unglue their Steph-centric fourth-quarter offense, deal with Davis, and find a way to get buckets as the clock ticks down. Otherwise, time might run out on Golden State’s dynasty once and for all.
Miami Heat lead New York Knicks, 3-1
The Heat have 16 more assists this series than the Knicks, speaking to the differences in system and inclination between the two sides.
Interestingly, both squads have a similar statistical profile through four games in the aggregate. Neither has been able to hit water if they fell out of a boat (43.6% field goal percentage for New York, 43.2% for Miami). Cumulatively, New York has one more offensive rebound, and they have the same number of steals. Miami has made 149 field goals, New York 146.
But the Heat have 95 assists on those 149 buckets; New York has just 79. The gap could be even worse, as the Heat are averaging 49 potential assists per game to New York’s 38.3.
The Knicks were an isolation- and putback-heavy team in the regular season and remain so in the playoffs, so this shouldn’t be that surprising. But Miami has two of the best isolation defenders in the league in Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, and the Knicks have done a poor job of attacking Miami’s weaker links. Playing on a balky ankle, Julius Randle is averaging a ghastly .67 points per isolation in the postseason (Butler, by comparison, is averaging 1.25 points per isolation). Brunson’s fared better but still far worse than his regular season averages.
I’m not sure what question this is supposed to be answering:
New York has also been significantly worse at converting on their offensive rebounds. Although they’re still getting plenty of second chances, they’ve been the least-effective putback team in the second round on a per-rebound basis after being the second-best in the regular season.
Meanwhile, the Heat have kept up their ball movement and motion-heavy offensive system. They haven’t made many shots, either, but their offensive system has looked more fluid and sustainable. They’ve tried to make the Knicks pay for packing the paint and attacking the offensive glass with drive-and-kicks and aggressive outlet passing, respectively. While it hasn’t always had results, the process has generally been clean.
The Knicks’ massive, energetic frontline, which mercilessly curb-stomped the Cavs into an early Cancun trip (I wish someone would be that merciless to me), has been humbled by Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, zombie Kyle Lowry, and the Heat’s trademark scrappy try-hards. Down 3-1, it’s hard to see the Knicks staging a comeback at this point.
Boston Celtics are tied with Philadelphia 76ers, 2-2
Who would you guess has made the most three-pointers, 16, in the series so far?
James Harden? He’s had a pair of 40-point games, after all. Or the Celtics’ Jays, Tatum and Brown? They’re averaging 24 and 23 points per game; surely, it must be one of them?
Clearly, I’m setting you up for something. The answer is Boston reserve Malcolm Brogdon, the newly-proclaimed Sixth Man of the Year.
Brogdon (who also beat out Joel Embiid for Rookie of the Year way back when) has been incendiary from deep, nailing more than half of his 30 attempts from deep. The rest of the C’s are hitting just 34.5% from beyond the arc. He’s hit at least two triples and scored 15 points in all four games, providing crucial spacing and bench scoring.
Although Brogdon occasionally gets tunnel vision, he rarely makes mistakes — just four turnovers in four games (although one was absolutely horrific, to be fair). He’s a passable defender (although the 76ers are attacking him as much as possible, that’s more to avoid Boston’s bevy of All-Defensive-caliber players at other positions), a quick decision-maker, and an active mover off-ball. His ability to shapeshift from primary ballhandler to secondary playmaker to spot-up shooter allows him to play alongside any combination of Celtics.
If I’m being honest, I think that Brogdon’s three-point shooting and box-score numbers probably overstate his case; I still think Derrick White is a better player overall. Brogdon, while solid at most things, isn’t great at anything except shooting.
But putting the ball in the basket is the most important skill in the NBA, and coach Joe Mazzulla has prioritized the three-ball all season long. Brogdon has played the entire fourth quarter of all three non-blowout games after splitting those duties with White and Grant Williams in the regular season.
In a series that’s seen strangely inconsistent performances from James Harden, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum, among others, having a consistent, steadying presence off the bench could be the ace up Boston’s sleeve.