Brooklyn Nets march on in NBA play-offs
...still the JustBet $2.14 favourites to win the titleFriday, June 11, 2021
BY MARCK ARCHER
The first round of the National Basketball Association (NBA) play-offs concluded last Sunday (June 6) when the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Dallas Mavericks after being pushed to the maximum (the only series in the first round to go seven games). The series marked the first time in NBA postseason history where the first six games were won by the visiting team — thankfully for the Clippers, they broke that streak in game 7.
Outside of the Milwaukee Bucks, who swept the Miami Heat (the only sweep in the first round), the other major highlight of the opening round was the Cinderella story of the Phoenix Suns who, after an eleven-year hiatus from the play-offs, dispatched the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
The Suns finished the regular season at number 2 in the Western Conference and went on to dispatch the Lakers who, incidentally, beat them in their last postseason appearance in 2010 (4-2 in the conference finals). Their fairy tale victory was only marred by the inglorious departure of LeBron James who, with just over 30 seconds left in the game (but the game already decided), left the court and did not return to congratulate any of the victors, unlike his teammates (including an injured Anthony Davis) who stayed to applaud the rising Suns.
The Lakers looked helpless in the game 5 blowout and, under the consistent pressure of Devin Booker, looked hapless in game 6. In fact, none of the last 3 games of the series were close and Booker played a significant role in all 3 games but, most importantly, in game 6.
The Suns got off to a blazing start, riding on Booker's amazing first quarter in which he dropped six buckets from outside the arc. The 24-year-old finished with 47 points on the night and was Phoenix's only dependable offensive weapon on a night when the Lakers made it tough for them to score in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. However, the Lakers couldn't muster a run in the fourth quarter, and they never got the deficit below 10 points. Now, the Suns have risen and have locked horns with last year's breakout team, the Denver Nuggets, in the Western Conference semi-final round.
The Suns, led by the experience of Chris Paul, pulled out a 122-105 win on Sunday (June 6) in game 1 of the series. The Nuggets are without Jamal Murray due to injury but have been playing great basketball behind the performances of newly crowned NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) Nikola Jokic. The first half was very close (a 1-point Nuggets lead at half-time), but the Phoenix defence finally found a way to shut down Denver's offence in the third quarter, while at the same time putting points on the board.
The Suns closed out the third quarter on an impressive 25-7 run to break the spirits of their opponents and take a slim nine-point lead headed into the final period. The Suns kept the pressure on and held the Nuggets scoreless into the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, steadily increased their lead and held on for a 122-105 win.
Prior to this season, Booker was regarded as a great scorer but was never seen as having the talent to positively impact a game, much less a series. A bit unfair to him, especially given how little ability surrounded the Suns for the early part of his career. Now, with the arrival of a strong supporting cast, Booker has been able to provide a glimpse of his potential capabilities. His numbers in the series against the Lakers were noteworthy (29.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5 assists per game) and his 42.9 per cent from 3-point range was especially good for the first play-off series of his career. He is now up against a 'soft' backcourt that was torched by Damian Lillard in the previous series and should have similar success. It is still early days in these semi-finals, but Booker may very well be the breakout star of these play-offs.
In the East, the Bucks rode into their semi-finals series on a high but were quickly brought back down by the JustBet favourites, the Brooklyn Nets. In game 1 last Saturday (June 5), the Nets lost Harden in the first minute due to a hamstring injury, but their 2021 signing, Blake Griffin, was there to pick up the slack. Griffin netted 18 points (plus 14 rebounds) to complement the 29 and 25 points scored by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, respectively. Two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points for the Bucks, but the Nets had a good enough second half to cement the 115-107 win.
Game 2, on Monday (June 7), took on a completely different complexion, and the Nets sent a clear message to the rest of the league. Still without Harden, the team from Brooklyn dominated every quarter en route to a 39-point, 125-86 trouncing of their visitors from Milwaukee.
The Nets jumped out to a 39-16 first-quarter lead and never looked back. The pair of Durant and Irving blitzed the Bucks and thoroughly outplayed Giannis and Khris Middleton. The Bucks and their highly touted defence had no answers for the Nets' offence as Brooklyn shot 52.1 per cent from the field, 50 per cent from 3-point range, and turned the ball over just eight times. The Brooklyn defence flexed as Milwaukee shot 44 per cent from the field, 29.6 per cent from 3-point distance, and committed 16 turnovers while falling well short of their regular season best 120.1 points per game.
These are early days in the second round of the play-offs, but the matchups are intriguing and there is no telling where the ball will bounce – stay tuned.
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Brooklyn Nets 2.14
Utah Jazz 3.95
Philadelphia 76ers 8.40
Los Angeles Clippers 8.60
Phoenix Suns 8.80
Milwaukee Bucks 16.00
Denver Nuggets 35.00
Atlanta Hawks 45.00
*Odds are subject to change