LeBRON who? That’s the question no-one is bothering to ask during these NBA Playoffs, a post-season where the absence of basketball’s transcendent star was acknowledged, but then quickly buried amid a surfeit of intrigue and drama which has been as absorbing as billed.
You want the emergence of a bright new A-Lister? Try Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The theatrics of high-brow performances meshed with a few fluffed lines? Taste Warriors-Rockets.
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) May 9, 2019
The nerve-shredding angst that comes with the unknown and unexpected which accompanies two teams with much to prove and even more to lose? Tune in for Raptors-76ers.
Or maybe you’re all in for the fairy tales, the little guys playing big, the outsiders knocking on the door of the palace begging for an audience and for appreciation. Perhaps the Western Conference semi-final series between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers – which resumes in Thursday with the former 3-2 ahead – has the best narrative of them all.
Because, while neither began the campaign as presumed contenders, in this topsy-turvy den of inequality, who could wholly rule either out as the most left-field of champions in a generation?
Certainly, after Wednesday’s Game 5 between Golden State and Houston, which saw the Warriors take a 3-2 advantage heading into Friday’s Game 6 in Texas, it is still assumed that the victor there will be the big winner in June.
Yet for all the glitz and glamour that coats lead actors Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, James Harden and Chris Paul like tinsel, there is genuine thrills in watching the Best Supporting ensembles in Denver and Portland bestride this stage.
DAMIAN. LILLARD. pic.twitter.com/bsc5F8thNW
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) May 8, 2019
The Blazers should be no secret from the shadows but still Damian Lillard is under-appreciated and still his colleagues and coaches are under the radar. Lillard is averaging 21.3 points in this series, and if it were not for the shackles thrown on CJ McCollum, who has been held under 17 points in two of the three defeats so far, it could be their team looking to close out.
No-one expected the Nuggets to be this good, having missed out on last season’s playoffs completely (albeit with a winning record). Subtract the crazy 4OT Game 3, and each victory in this series has arrived in contests with over 122 total points.
Nikola Jokic has garnered plaudits, finally, but Jamal Murray has been equally potent. A core is there that can be good for years to come.
That is the strange twist of the NBA. Fans, and eyeballs, gravitate to stars. So many root for individuals, not teams. They move, their support travels too.
The Nuggets are 2.50 to prevail in six, on the road. Portland, with home advantage, are a tempting 2.02 to force a game 7 at a handicap of -4.5. Either way, applaud both, for they have given us a performance to remember.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS BASKETBALL. pic.twitter.com/f0gqegNqqn
— Matchup Brasil #NBAPLAYOFFS (@MatchupBR) May 3, 2019
The Philadelphia 76ers, in their words, “laid an egg” in crashing 125-89 in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semi series, handing the Raptors the opportunity to survive and advance in Thursday’s Game 6.
Joel Embiid is ailing but he is “only” averaging 17 points per game in this series. More problematically, in two of the Sixers’ reverses, he has shot under 29% from the field. And with Ben Simmons notching a mere 13.3 points per in these playoffs, a significant drop, Philly needs some help beyond their Big Four.
Friday Game 6 between the Warriors and Rockets could hinge on the availability of Kevin Durant who missed the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s 104-99 win which left Houston on the brink of elimination.
This is a series which has resolutely swung back and forth with no game so far decided by more than six points.