Just goes to show that Yogi Berra was right: It ain’t over til it’s over. And that is music to the ears of the Sixers and Mavs, who are facing elimination tonight but will be playing at home.
You just cannot peg some of these playoff games, which we also saw in Boston as the Milwaukee Bucks came back from down 14 in the fourth quarter to defeat Boston and take a 3-2 lead in their series. Then came the second game, which was more or less over by halftime as Memphis showed that being young, energetic, fearless and deep can be enough to get past their far more experienced opponent.
Philadelphia and Dallas should be inspired. The Sixers have had two good games and three garbage games against the Heat, and the same can be said for the clearly overmatched Mavs who nonetheless have managed to take two games from Phoenix, which went to the NBA Finals last season. It is safe to say that Joel Embiid and Luka Doncic will be the two most talented players on the courts tonight.
But will they rise to the occasion a la the Grizz? And will they rule the fourth quarter just like the Bucks?
Doc Rivers gave his team the day off Wednesday to get them some rest ahead of their third game in the past four seasons in which they trailed 3-2 in a second-round series. Last season, they defeated the Atlanta Hawks 104-99 on the road in Game 6, and in 2019 they earned a 112-101 victory over Toronto at the Wells Fargo Center.
As for the Mavs, recent history is not promising. The last four times the Suns had a chance to close out a series on the road they have succeeded, a mindset that led Devin Booker to pronounce the team “road warriors” in a TNT interview following Game 5.
In their home games, the Suns have won by 15, 6 and 30 points. But in Dallas, they’ve lost by nine and 10 and shot less than 46 percent.
“I wish I had an answer for that. It’s just playoff basketball,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “You’re always going to have swings like that. We always talk about having the mental stamina to deal with whatever it is.”
So let’s have a closer look at each of these games, and what we should anticipate.
Miami at Philadelphia, 7 p.m. EDT, ESPN: Embiid was actually listed as questionable this morning because of his eye socket fracture and right thumb sprain, and the only thing that is questionable is how someone in the Sixers media relations office believed it was advisable to list Embiid that way less than a week after the team was fined $50,000 for listing Embiid as “doubtful” up until 30 minutes before tipoff of Game 3, which he played.
At a certain point, somebody – probably a gambler — is going to sue the NBA for not being forthright on injury reports, which is a major problem with sports gambling now legal in the United States. With Philly facing elimination, nothing short of an Act of God will keep Embiid out of this game. Matisse Thybulle also is questionable, but Danny Green has taken over his job, so that is unimportant.
As important as Embiid is, Philly’s guards are going to make or break their fortunes, it says here. Tyrese Maxey is too quick for the Heat to defend but had a blah Game 4 with 9 points and one assist, shooting 1-for-4 on 3s. His over/under for points has been set at 19 ½ because he has scored 38, 23, 12, 21 and 18 in Philly’s home games. James Harden’s point total over/under is a click higher at 20 ½, and he will need to recreate what he did in Game 4 when he had 31 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
Harden is a gamer, but his playoff performances have been miserable by his standards. Your author does not expect him to go down meekly. His +975 triple-double line is enticing. If one other player is an x-factor for Philly, it probably is Tobias Harris more than Green. Harris needs to score more than the 12 he had last game, and Embiid needs to improve on his Game 4 line of 27 points and 5 rebounds. With Kyle Lowry likely out again and Max Strus only a so-so defender, Philly’s guard have no excuse for having a bad game tonight with elimination at stake.
For Miami, P.J. Tucker and Jimmy Butler were their high assist men in Game 5, a testament to how well the Heat moved the ball so crisply on offense as their energy level killed Philly’s and was the best we had seen all week until we saw what Memphis did last night. Tyler Herro is coming off a double-double but has no individual lines posted, but he has pretty much been Miami’s second- or third-best offensive weapon depending on how Bam Adebayo has played. The Bamster is coming off a 12-point game in which he played only 26 minutes. He is overdue for his first double-double since Game 1, but if you think Butler is more likely to be the top rebounder you can get lines of +225 on a Butler double-double and +1100 on a triple-double against his most recent former team.
The line is Philly -2, and the over/under is only 207 because the under hit last game, although neither the over nor the under has hit in consecutive games in this series.
Phoenix at Dallas, 9:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN: After getting their doors blown off in Game 5, there is not a lot to feel positive about when it comes to the Mavs, aside from Luka Doncic being the best player on the court tonight, hands down. The Slovenia sensation has gone for 26, 26 and 28 the last three games, which is below the standard he set earlier with 45 points in Game 1, 35 in Game 2 and an average of 29.0 points in the first round against Utah.
He has taken between 22 and 30 shots in each of the five games and has flirted with three triple-doubles, but he has not had one since March 29 and is overdue … although the books still list him at less than +400 as they continue to try to collect money from those wagering on what has become increasingly unlikely.
It will be incumbent upon Doncic’s supporting cast to step up, and we are not just talking about one guy. In Game 3 it was Jalen Brunson with 28 points and Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock with four 3-pointers apiece, and in Game 4 it was Finney-Smith with eight 3s and 24 points and David Bertans with four 3s in just 12 minutes. Insert your own All Points Bulletin about Spencer Dinwiddie, who was not acquired from Washington in order to impersonate Houdini.
Of particular note to Suns fans is the fact that referee Scott Foster does not have the assignment for this game (James Capers in the lead official), which pre-emptively keeps quiet the conspiracy theorists who believe Foster has it in for Chris Paul, which we have seen in past postseasons. Paul is coming off a seven-point, 10-assist game that was a relative stinker by his standards, especially given his four turnovers. Paul has 17 miscues in this series after having just nine in the first round against New Orleans, and his turnover total over/under tonight is 2 ½ at a price of +115.
Perhaps the Suns’ best player is actually Devin Booker, who went for 28 in the Suns’ Game 4 30-point blowout, backup up by 20 points and nine rebounds from restricted free agent-to-be DeAndre Ayton, who double-doubled in his final five games of the regular season but has only three this postseason and is carrying a double-double price of only +120 tonight.
Because Paul has been way more hot and cold than what we saw in the first round, the Suns are not as strong of a commodity as some would have you believe. Against a vastly inferior New Orleans team they showed themselves to be beatable. This Dallas team is only a shade better roster-wise aside from Doncic, and tonight is the night Doncic needs to be the same leader he was back when he was a teenager in Euroleague winning the Final Four MVP award. He will have the backing of the Dallas crowd, and we saw last night how much that meant to Memphis. The Mavs and Grizzlies and apples and oranges, but the charge that a home crowd can give is not to be underestimated. This is the biggest night for the Mavs franchise in several years.
Dallas is a 2-point underdog, and the Mavs have an NBA-best against the spread record of 25-9-0 after a loss, while the Suns are 39-31-0 ATS after a win. The over/under has been lowered 4 ½ points after the over missed by 26 points last time out.