Can Ja Morant Make A Layup?

By John Gilpatrick   May 3, 2022 

Can Ja Morant Make A Layup?

OK, so Chris Paul has just three assists, his lowest total in 13 months, yet the Suns still win wire-to-wire? And the Miami Heat leave Duncan Robinson (a guy who knocked down 8 3-pointers in Game 1 of the first round) on the bench for the first time in 256 games and show that they really do not need him?

Well, it was an interesting Monday night in a lot of ways in the NBA playoffs for those who were not distracted by unprecedented SCOTUS leaks, which brings us to a Tuesday night in which we will learn whether the Boston Celtics can do much more than miss a bunch of 3s, and the Memphis Grizzlies will try to come back from a brutal home loss that would have been a win if Ja Morant had kissed his last- second layup off the glass just a bit more softly.

Oh, and we may get to see an encore of some sort from Draymond Green, who was unapologetic and kind of funny Monday night on TNT’s telecast in making light of his flagrant foul against Brandon Clarke that earned him an ejection from Game 1 of his team’s Western Conference semifinal.

The guy is a great villain, and tonight we will see what he can do if he has a chance to stay on the court through the fourth quarter. He is 12-1 to come up with his first triple-double since December, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

The pressure gets turned up tonight on the two home teams that failed to defend home court over the weekend, and make no mistake: It is imperative for the Celtics and Grizzlies to even their second-round series at one game apiece tonight so that they do not have to go to Milwaukee and San Francisco trying to prevent a sweep. There were two comebacks from 0-2 deficits in the second round a year ago (the Bucks against the Nets and the Clippers against the Jazz), but that is of little relevance this year. Prior to 2021, it had happened only seven times in the previous decade.

Marcus Smart is questionable tonight with a quad injury, and Jaylen Brown continues to deal with a sore hamstring. None of that is good news for a Celtics team that allowed a triple-double to Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 1 and launched an ungodly 50 3-pointers, making just 18, yet is listed as a 5-point favorite.

That line is a half-point higher than the Game 1 line when the Bucks were 4 ½-point dogs and watched the Celtics hoist up those 50 3-pointers and just 34 2-pointers. The Grizzlies also fell too much in love with the 3-point shot in Game 1, which was another thing Green commented on Monday as Charles Barkley pointed out that Memphis failed to use its size advantage in any discernable way in the opener. Green noted that coach Steve Kerr had told his team that every possession for Memphis effectively begins after the ball leaves someone’s hand for the first shot, but the Grizzlies were outrebounded 51-47, probably the one statistic that coach Taylor Jenkins needs his team to reverse above all else tonight in Game 2.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these two games with the idea that is we think all like head coaches so that we can make wagers that are likely to hit harder than Clarke hitting the hardwood.

Bucks at Celtics, 7 p.m. EDT, TNT: Your faithful correspondent took a flyer on both Bobby Portis and Jrue Holiday making three or more 3-pointers, and the big fella on Milwaukee came up one short by finishing 2-for-7 from distance. But Portis still had a very good game with 15 points and 11 rebounds for his fourth consecutive double-double, and Grayson Allen (who has been identified as the most hated player in the NBA), ended up being the second Bucks player who knocked down three 3-pointers. Despite that near-miss, we still have an affinity for Portis that aligns with our admiration of dudes with a screw loose, and we would counsel y’all to consider whether the big fella is worthy of a 300-1 flyer wager for NBA Finals MVP before BetMGM takes that option off the board.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) on the court in the second half during game one of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden.
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) on the court in the second half during game one of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It would be an upset of historic proportions if anyone other than Antetokounmpo won that honor for the Bucks (assuming they are successful in their defense of the championship), but remember that somebody is going to have to defend DeAndre Ayton or Draymond or Jaren Jackson Jr. in the finals, and if the Bucks come out (yes, we are getting too far ahead of ourselves) they will have three players who are Finals MVP-worthy: Antetokounmpo, Holiday and Portis.

Anyway, the guy on the Celtics who needs to step up the same way he did in the first round against Brooklyn is Jayson Tatum, who scored only 21 points on 6-for-18 shooting Sunday. Tatum’s point total over/under has been set at 28 ½, a number he has surpassed in three of five playoff games. With Smart and Brown gimpy, we should see Boston turn to its best player even more than usual.

For the Bucks, Antetokoumpo is +500 to have another triple-double. If it happens, it would be the first time since March of 2021 that he accomplished the feat in consecutive games. Nobody else in this game has a triple-double line, and those with enticing double-double lines include Holiday (+335), Tatum (+305) and Al Horford (+290). Holiday last had a double-double on April 5 but was just one rebound shy in Game 1; Tatum had one in the first round against Brooklyn and 21 during the regular season, and Horford notched one in Game 1 and had 17 in the regular season and the first round of the playoffs.

The over/under has been lowered from 218 to 215 ½ after the over missed by 28 points in Game 1, and this is probably a good time to remind everyone that the under is the only wager out there that is a winner when the game begins and remains that way until it is no longer a winner. Boston is 18-13-0 against the spread after a loss.

Golden State at Memphis, 9:30 p.m. EDT, TNT: The Grizzlies have more players capable of beating an opponent from 3-point range and more players capable of beating an opponent on the glass than any team remaining in the playoffs. They also have the youngest roster remaining, and at a certain point their lack of experience is either going to bite them (likely) or propel them (unlikely). The one thing they need to do above all else in Game 2 is put the Warriors on their heels in the first half. Memphis has already engineered three double-digit deficit comebacks in the fourth quarter, but all of those happened in the first round against a similarly inexperienced Minnesota team, and they are now playing a team loaded with veterans who laugh and prance and hug in the face of adversity, as we saw from Draymond two days ago.

“I am never going to change the way I play basketball,” Green said after practice Monday. “It’s gotten me this far. Gotten me three championships, four All-Stars, Defensive Player of the Year. I’m not going to change now.”

Memphis lost Game 1 against Minnesota and came back and took Game 2 by 28 points, a piece of recent history the Grizzlies are hoping to duplicate. There have been 32 instances of a team losing the first two games of a best-of-seven playoff series at home. From that list, only five teams have come back to win a series, most recently the Clippers last season against Dallas in the first round.

The most positive takeaways for the Grizzlies from Game 1 were Jaren Jackson Jr. knocking down six 3-pointers and scoring a season-high 33 points, which was especially endearing to teammate Ja Morant after he implored Jackson to step up his game during an up-and-down first round. Morant finished one rebound shy of a triple-double and scored 32, helping make up for sub-par games from Dillon Brooks (3-for-13) and Desmond Bane (3-for-10).

Morant is on the board at +450 to triple-double, and Jackson has a point total over/under of just 17 ½ and a made 3-pointers over/under of 1 ½. The last time Jackson went two games without getting at least two 3-pointers was Games 3, 4 and 5 of the first round, so the leaky faucet rule is in effect (he runs hot and cold). Bane made only one 3-pointer in Game 1, marking the first time since Game 2 of the first round that he had failed to make at least two. Prior to that, it was way back on February 28 that he last made just one 3-pointer, something to consider when looking at his 3-pointers made over/under for tonight of 3 ½.

For the Warriors, Jordan Poole was their second-best outside shooter despite losing his starting spot to Gary Payton II, making five of 10 3-pointers and scoring a team-high 31 points. He is on the board tonight with a point total over/under of 19 ½, a mark he has surpassed in four of his six playoff games. And let’s not forget, this is a guy who scored at least 20 points in all but one of Golden State’s 16 games during the month of March. His over under on 3s is just 2 ½, while Steph Curry’s is 3 ½, something he has gone over in half of the Dubs’ six playoff games. (He hit five in Game 1).

The over/under has been bumped up by 4 ½ points to 227 ½ after the over covered by 10 in Game 1.

Also, the Warriors are giving 2 points after winning by a single point in Game 1 and failing to cover the 2 ½-point spread. Memphis has gone 18-10-0 against the spread after a loss, third in the NBA behind Miami and Dallas. Golden State is 28-25-4 ATS after a win and 11-14-2 ATS as a road favorite.

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