HOOP HANGOUT • NBA PLAYOFFS • GAMEDAY POST • May 7th 2019

SportsLine

Nuggets rout Portland 124-98, a win away from West final

Associated Press

DENVER — Nikola Jokic scored 25 points and tied a team playoff high with 19 rebounds, and Paul Millsap injected some experience into a series dominated by youth, sparking the Nuggets’ 124-98 blowout of the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night that gave Denver a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The Nuggets can secure their first trip to the Western Conference Finals in a decade with a win in Game 6 on Thursday night in Portland.

Millsap scored 19 of his 24 points in the first half of the first lopsided game in a series that was so evenly matched coming in that Denver held a cumulative scoring advantage of 464-462.

The Nuggets never trailed and stretched a six-point lead after one quarter to 18 at the half and 28 heading into the fourth quarter. They led by as many as 31 before a parade of backups gave the starters some much-needed breathers.

Damian Lillard led Portland with 22 points but again struggled from the arc, going 2 of 9 on 3-pointers.

RAPTORS 125, 76ERS 89

TORONTO — Kawhi Leonard had 21 points and 13 rebounds, Pascal Siakam scored 25 points and the Toronto Raptors used a huge second quarter to rout the Philadelphia 76ers 125-89 Tuesday night and take a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Toronto can advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the second time in four seasons with a victory in Game 6 at Philadelphia on Thursday night. The Raptors lost in six games to Cleveland in the East finals in 2016.

Leonard, who had scored 33 or more points in each of the first four games of the series, shot 7 for 16 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line before checking out with 7:22 to play and Toronto up 103-73.

Kyle Lowry scored 19 points, while Danny Green shot 5 for 7 from 3-point range and finished with 17 points. Marc Gasol scored 11 points and Serge Ibaka had 10.

Up by one after the first, the Raptors outscored the 76ers 37-17 in the second quarter to take a 21-point lead, 64-43,at halftime.

Jimmy Butler scored 22 points and Tobias Harris had 15 for the 76ers, who have lost two straight after winning the previous two. Joel Embiid scored 13 points and had eight turnovers.

Steph Curry’s dislocated finger still looks pretty jacked up

(Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Andy Nesbitt | USA TODAY SPORTS

Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors will try to take a 3-1 series lead tonight in Houston after dropping Game 3 in overtime on Saturday.

Curry, of course, is coming off a miserable Game 3 in which he capped things off by missing a dunk and getting ridiculed on Twitter.

Then he had to watch yesterday as his brother Seth Curry had a big second quarter with the Trail Blazers and people started joking about my he was the better playoff Curry.

Steph Curry, however, has been dealing with a dislocated middle finger on his left hand that he suffered in Game 2. And this photo from Monday’s shoot around makes it look like the finger is still pretty jacked up.

Check this out:

Still looks pretty swollen and discolored, which is expected and has to be uncomfortable to play with.

(Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
(Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Here’s an update on it:

Here’s what it looked right right after it happened:

We’ll see if Curry can bounce back…

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is ridiculous and the Bucks look absolutely unbeatable; Barkley predicts Milwaukee will be 2019 NBA champs

Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) reacts after making a basket and drawing a foul as Boston Celtics’ Marcus Morris (13) turns away during the second half of Game 4 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series in Boston, Monday, May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Andy Nesbitt | USA TODAY SPORTS

Forget about the Golden State Warriors and their back-to-back NBA championships.

And forget about all of their star players.

Because there is a new favorite in the NBA to win it all. And that favorite is a team powered by a player that is playing at an absolutely ridiculous level right now. A level where he can’t be touched. A level where his team can’t be stopped.

That player is Giannis Antetokounmpo and that team is the Milwaukee Bucks.

You know, the team that had the NBA’s best record in the regular season. A team that is so much more than the “Greek Freak”, who is so much more than everybody else who has tried to stop him.

Because man does that ugly Game 1 loss to the Boston Celtics feel like it happened months ago. The Bucks won Game 4 in Boston on Monday, running away from the Celtics for a third straight win and 3-1 series lead.

That Game 1 hiccup, their only blemish in the postseason, is long gone. Thrown away and never to be thought of again.

This series will last one more game, which is impressive because the Celtics are a really good team with lots of talent. The Bucks will happily sit back and wait to see what happens with the Raptors and Sixers.

And then they will be the favorite in either series, though a battle between a healthy Joel Embiid and Giannis would be fun, the Bucks will beat either team.

And then they will win it all.

Even Charles Barkley thinks so, too, though he has them beating the Trail Blazers:

The Warriors, meanwhile, have the history and Kevin Durant and Steph Curry and Draymond Green and Play Thompson.

But they also have to get through the Rockets. And then either the Nuggets and Trail Blazers, which could both be serious tests.

They have injury concerns. And drama.

And if they face they Bucks in the Finals, they’ll have to figure out a way to stop a player that looks unstoppable right now. And that shouldn’t change for some time to come.

Because Giannis is like nothing we’ve seen before.

And it feels like he’s only just begun.

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Kyrie mired in career-worst 3-game playoff slump; declares definantly: “Who cares?”

Tim Bontemps | ESPN

BOSTON — As the final seconds ticked off the clock at TD Garden on Monday night, Kyrie Irving marched off the court well ahead of his Celtics teammates. He got off the court and down the long hallway outside of Boston’s home locker room so fast that by the time he ducked in the door and disappeared from view, none of his teammates had even reached it.

It’s understandable why Irving would want to leave the court so quickly. The past three games of this Eastern Conference semifinal — including Games 3 and 4 at home — have been ones for him to forget.

And after his latest dud Monday night — going 7-for-22 while scoring 23 points in Boston’s 113-101 Game 4 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks — the Celtics find themselves on the brink of going home for the summer.

“I missed shots,” Irving said. “Shots just didn’t go in. You go out and prepare, like I said. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t.

“They do a great job of loading, too. They’re making the paint look crowded whenever I’m driving or wherever I’m going on the court, seeing two or three bodies, sometimes four.

“Now it’s time to get ready for Game 5.”

Over the past three games, Irving has gone 19-for-62 (31 percent) from the field. Those 43 missed field goal attempts are the most Irving has ever missed over a three-game stretch in the playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Not surprisingly, Boston’s fortunes have cratered along with Irving’s faulty jumper. The Celtics went from winning Game 1 in convincing fashion to take home court in this series — and, in doing so, seemingly exposed every Bucks flaw observers around the league had been wondering if someone would exploit in the playoffs all season — to dropping the past three in a row to find themselves, shockingly, on the brink of elimination.

Irving, though, remained defiant afterward that his shot, eventually, would start falling.

“Who cares?” Irving said in response to a question about his shooting woes. “I’m a basketball player. Prepare the right way. Like I said, it’s a little different when your rhythm is challenged every play down. You’re being picked up full court. They’re doing things to test you.

“The expectations on me are going to be sky-high. I try to utilize their aggression against them and still put my teammates in great position while still being aggressive. I’m trying to do it all.

“For me, the 22 shots? I should have shot 30. I’m that great of a shooter.”

He certainly wasn’t Monday. Then again, neither were his teammates. The Celtics combined to shoot 37.8 percent from the floor and 9-for-41 (22 percent) from 3-point range. On uncontested jumpers, the Celtics were 14-for-39 overall, and they were 6-for-26 from 3-point range — while Irving himself was 1-for-7 and 0-for-4, respectively.

The Celtics were aggressive early in the game attacking the basket — getting away from the steady diet of jump shots that doomed them in Game 3 and scoring 44 points in the paint after putting up just 24 in Game 3. They even managed to get both Giannis Antetokounmpoand Khris Middleton — Milwaukee’s two All-Stars — to pick up their fourth fouls midway through the third quarter, seemingly giving Boston a chance to take control of the game.

Instead, the Celtics allowed the Bucks to outscore them 22-13 over the final 8:18 of the third while Antetokounmpo watched from the bench with four fouls to all but put the game away. Although Boston made a couple of runs in the fourth to make things interesting, at one point pulling back within five, the Celtics never seriously threatened again.

“I’m sorry to say it, but our offense is dictating our defense,” Marcus Morris said. “We’re not making shots. We’re not getting back.

“I feel like we’ve been pretty soft a little bit.”

The Celtics will be hoping that changes Wednesday, when they return to Milwaukee with a daunting task in front of them: having to win three straight games against a team that has yet to lose three games in a row all season.

It is a scenario Irving has been in before — when he was playing alongside LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, and he and the Cavaliers came back from down 3-1 against the defending champion Golden State Warriors to win the NBA title.

Irving, of course, hit the game-winning shot in Game 7 of that series. And, despite his own play, and that of his teammates, being not nearly good enough through the past three games, he said he remains confident that the Celtics have what it takes to turn this series around.

“It’s unwavering,” he said, when asked where his confidence level in the Celtics stands at this point. “It’s the game of basketball. At this point, we obviously understand the X’s and O’s. It’s just going out and trying to manage the game better.”

If the Celtics fail to do so Wednesday, Boston’s season will end in Milwaukee — and, with it, so could Irving’s time with the Celtics. He is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and that long walk down the hallway Monday night could’ve been the final time Irving makes it as a Celtic if he chooses to head elsewhere come July.

Irving was asked, as he walked off the court and down that hallway, what was going through his mind.

“The game was over,” Irving said.

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