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The NBA news cycle was out of control on Wednesday and it was mostly bad news with Chris Paul testing positive for COVID and Kawhi Leonard suffering a serious knee injury. As for the games, the Hawks had an epic comeback vs. the 76ers and the Clippers stunned the Jazz. Let’s Dose!
76ers collapse to Hawks
In what was possibly the biggest throw since, well, yesterday’s Milwaukee game, the 76ers blew a 26-point lead vs. the Hawks in Game 5. They were outscored 40-19 in the fourth quarter, and the only thing worse than their half-court offense down the stretch was their free throw shooting — Ben Simmons was 4-of-14 and Joel Embiid missed a pair of free throws in the final minute with his team down three points.
The only positive to take from this game is that Joel looked much more spry than Game 4, racking up 37 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals, four blocks and two triples. The issue is that he was barely used in the clutch, an inexcusable move from Doc Rivers who has gotten pretty good at blowing leads in the playoffs. Seth Curry added a playoff career-high 36 points, but no other starter scored more than eight points, including Simmons. And no other starter besides Embiid and Curry registered a bucket in the entire second half. Think about that.
The media is particularly brutal towards Simmons, but come on, a lot of it is warranted. The 76ers are essentially playing 4 vs. 5 on offense with Simmons refusing to shoot outside of three feet, and he single handedly destroyed his team at the line. In fact, his 32% shooting from the line is the second worst mark of all time for a single playoff run (h/t Statmuse).
But credit to the Hawks, especially Trae Young. He finished with a whopping 39 points and seven assists, hitting 10-of-23 from the field and 17-of-19 from the line with Simmons looking at him with jealousy.
Lou Williams gave the Hawks a spark off the bench too, as he entered in the third quarter and played the rest of the way — the Hawks went on a 55-31 run after he checked in. Look for Lou to play a much bigger role than what he’s been used to in Game 6. And hopefully they get a better effort from Clint Capela, because you can’t trash talk Embiid and then go out there and play like Alex Len.
Chris Paul tests positive
The Suns announced on Wednesday morning that Chris Paul was entering the league’s health and safety protocols with reporter John Gambadoro confirming that he had a positive test for COVID. Paul was vaccinated back in February, but he isn’t the first player to have the vaccine yet still test positive — it also happened to Damion Lee. What we don’t know is whether or not Paul has any symptoms, and coach Monty Williams wasn’t willing to shed any additional light on the situation.
Instead, Monty said the Suns will have an update for us on Saturday and that his team will prepare for the next round and have a backup plan ready if CP3 is forced to miss time. Shams Charania reported that the isolation period for being in health and safety protocols could be shorter for vaccinated individuals, so that may be something Phoenix fans could hold on to hope for.
“Thankfully, we put ourselves in a position where we have time,” Williams said in regards to any potential adjustments. “But at the same time, as the coach, I have to think through those scenarios enough. I’ve thought a lot about it. And we haven’t made a decision just yet because we don’t have to.” For what it’s worth, the Western Conference Finals would begin on Sunday if the UTA vs. LAC series ends in six games, but if it goes all seven games then the WCF wouldn’t start until Tuesday.
Paul has never been sharper on the court, leading the Suns to a 4-0 sweep with 37 points in Game 4 vs. Denver, so here’s hoping he gets clearance from the NBA and the medical staff ASAP. But if he does miss time, look for Devin Booker to see more playmaking responsibilities and for Cameron Payne to get an extended look in the rotation. Payne has been one of the best backup PGs in the NBA this season, shooting 48% with 8.4 points, 3.6 dimes and 1.2 triples in 18.0 minutes per game.
Kawhi goes down, but Clippers stun Jazz
The biggest gut punch of the day happened to the Clippers though, as Shams broke the story about the team fearing a potential ACL injury for Kawhi — he was previously diagnosed with a right knee sprain. We still don’t have much information to go on, but Leonard is considered “out indefinitely” and is expected to miss the rest of this series, at minimum. Sure the Clippers will be happy that they stunned Utah in Game 5, but the fan base has to be a little stressed out that this could potentially be another lost season if Kawhi’s knee injury is as bad as it sounds.
Paul George, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris, Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo, Luke Kennard, Terance Mann and Daniel Oturu are the only Clippers under contract for next season, and it’s crazy to think that they attached five first round picks to a rising star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with nothing to show for it so far in terms of hardware.
But as for the short term, the Clippers are going to need more herculean efforts from George if they are to put away the Jazz. According to Law Murray of The Athletic, George entered Wednesday having played 40 minutes with Kawhi off the court this series and feasted in that span with 38 points, nine rebounds, six assists, one steal and seven triples. The Clippers also outscored the Jazz by 15 points in that span. So watching him step up Wednesday night was no surprise, as he had 37 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, three triples, two blocks and a steal.
Terance Mann, who got the start in Kawhi’s place, added a 13/2/2 line with two steals and a triple and is likely to be a key player for the remainder of the series. As for Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson, they really stepped up as well and combined for 47 points and six triples. The Clippers will have a chance to put this series away on Thursday in L.A.
The latest on Mike Conley
Mike Conley, who has been sidelined since June 2nd with a hamstring issue, said he had a “slight setback” on June 10th but that he’s trending up again. In fact, he wouldn’t rule out a return this series and said he “feels close” to a return. With the Jazz on the ropes, my money is on Conley making an appearance in Game 6.
LaMelo Ball Wins Rookie of the Year
While Tyrese Haliburton had a phenomenal season, the Rookie of the Year race came down to LaMelo and Anthony Edwards and it was the Hornet who prevailed. I would’ve been fine if either player won, though I was expecting the voting to be a little closer — Ball had 84 first place votes compared to 15 for Edwards.
Though he did miss 21 games with a fractured wrist, Ball’s season was a tremendous success as he made some passes that only a handful of superstars in the NBA would even dream of attempting, but the biggest surprise was how well he held up as a scorer — he averaged 15.7 points and hit a respectful 35% from beyond the arc, a glaring weakness on his scouting report entering the draft. And to put his season in perspective, let’s compare him to a future GOAT in Luka Doncic:
LaMelo Ball per-36: 19.7 PPG, 7.7 dimes, 7.4 boards, 2.0 steals and 2.3 triples
Luka’s rookie per-36: 23.7 PPG, 6.7 dimes, 8.7 boards, 1.2 steals and 2.6 triples
A lot of my readers/followers have told me that they are considering LaMelo as a second round fantasy pick next season and it’s certainly something that I could get on board with.
The latest on the coaching carousel
Two more NBA teams are in need of a new head coach with the Wizards and Pelicans joining the fray. The Wizards and Scott Brooks couldn’t come to terms on a new deal and ended up parting ways, a welcome sight for fantasy managers. His most recent gaffe was refusing to play Daniel Gafford big minutes, instead using Alex Len and Robin Lopez who resembled 7-foot traffic cones for most of the season.
As for New Orleans, Stan Van Gundy is out after only one season at the helm, a pretty big surprise since he was hand-picked by David Griffin. Speaking of Griffin, he was talked about like he was royalty for the better part of the last few years, but what has he actually accomplished? That rebuild has been very underwhelming so far so let’s hope they can bring in some real help for Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.
Kyrie out, Harden in
Kyrie Irving (ankle) will remain on the shelf for Game 6 and won’t travel with the Nets as he gets round-the-clock treatment in Brooklyn. Steve Nash didn’t have an update on his timetable, but I doubt we’d see him in Game 7 (if there even is one). As for Harden, he came out of Game 5 without any setbacks, a huge relief after logging 46 minutes. Sure he wasn’t close to 100 percent and shot 1-of-10 from the field, but provided a boost in the playmaking department and had a clutch defensive possession vs. Giannis in the fourth.