There is usually a hyperbolic response to great performances in sports. Immediately after a highly-contested game, or a dominant performance from a single athlete, the discourse is usually about how we just witnessed the greatest game of all-time. More often than not, we just get lost in the moment and overreact to what we just witnessed.
That is not the case when it comes to what Kevin Durant did on Tuesday night.
The Slim Reaper put together a playoff performance we have never seen before in the NBA, and did so with an ailing James Harden and without Kyrie Irving. Durant dropped 49 points on 16-of-23 shooting from the floor, grabbed 17 rebounds and dished 10 assists on Milwaukee, becoming the first player in NBA playoff history to post 45 or more points, 15 or more rebounds and 10 or more assists in a single game. To do this in a game that looked all but lost prior to tip-off is what makes the performance even more spectacular.
If Durant wanted Pat Connaughton on him he got him, going after the Bucks guard on what seemed to be 20 consecutive possessions. If Brook Lopez dropped in his pick-and-roll coverage -- as Mike Budenholzer usually has him do -- Durant would find his soft spot and drill a 15-foot jumper. How about the 3-point shot with less than minute left? Harden gets trapped 35 feet away from the basket, and in desperation finds Durant with 3 seconds left on the shot clock. Easy Money Sniper calmly catches the ball at the logo, takes a dribble and drains a 26-foot attempt with ease to give the Nets an insurmountable 109-105 lead.
It was incredible to watch Durant's performance on Tuesday night, and it is one that should not be lost in the noise of this morning’s news cycle. Yes, Chris Paul testing positive for COVID-19 is a massive story, and Kawhi Leonard being ruled out of (at least) Game 5 with a knee sprain is insane, but do not let it distract you from the greatness you witnessed on Tuesday night.
Updated odds for every game can be found here.
Updated injury reports for every game can be found here.
Atlanta Hawks at Philadelphia 76ers (-6.5, 224.5)
Is Joel Embiid going to go 0-of-12 from the floor in a half again? It sounds simplistic but the 76ers showed how dominant they could be from the second half of Game 1 to halftime of Game 4 on Monday. However, Embiid forcing shots and Ben Simmons offering nothing on offense allowed Atlanta to steal a win and avoid a nearly insurmountable 3-1 series deficit. I do not mean to sound dismissive of the Hawks’ chances in this series or this game, but what exactly have we seen from Atlanta to make us believe they actually have a schematic or personnel advantage in this series?
Despite the win, the Hawks have yet to crack the 76ers’ perimeter defense. Atlanta averaged just 1.04 points per possession in Game 4 and shot just 12-of-40 from the perimeter. Over the course of the last three games, they are shooting 31.2% on 31 attempts per game. In an attempt to improve their shooting woes, Nate McMillan started Kevin Huerter ... but it did nothing. Despite this series being tied 2-2, Atlanta still has a -7.4 net rating against Philadelphia with no real answer to Embiid on offense. When your game plan is just to hope that the opposing star has a bad shooting night, there is no reason to believe in your chances in a game or in the series.
The betting market got this one correct in my mind, pushing the line from Philadelphia -6 to -7 at most shops. There is something to monitor in the first half of this game tonight though. Through four games the 76ers have outscored the Hawks by just 0.6 points per 100 possessions; in the second half, that net rating improves to + 14.5 per 100 possessions. It might worth it to sit back and wait for a tightly contested first half before jumping in on Philadelphia.
Los Angeles Clippers at Utah Jazz (-2.5, 223.5)
One of the biggest bombshells from this morning’s salvo of news was the loss of Kawhi Leonard for at least a game in this semifinal series with the Jazz. Fresh off of two dominant victories in Los Angeles, the Clippers had control of this series despite heading out on the road for Game 5, but now that grip has loosened, and this series is back in lap of Donovan Mitchell and Utah. Is the market overreacting to the loss of Leonard for this game?
Los Angeles won those two games at home behind great performances from Paul George and Leonard, but also because of scheme and lineup adjustments that are replicable over the course of the next three games. Ty Lue’s dedication to a small-ball, switch-everything scheme worked wonders for the Clippers on defense, and that scheme all but eliminated Utah's presence in the paint. In two road games this series, Utah went a combined 22-of-40 (55.0%) within four feet of the hoop and scored 64 total points in the paint. Yes, the Jazz are very much a 3-point shooting team, but their offense is based off the pick-and-roll with Rudy Gobert and the drive-and-kick opportunities that come from those plays. If the dribble penetration is limited, you get the performances you did in Los Angeles. Why can’t the Clippers put forward the same defensive game plan without Leonard on the floor?
The betting market reacted strongly here, getting to as high as Utah -7.5 in some far away places, but that seems to be the peak for that line. Los Angeles did some good things at home, and the Clippers are perfectly sustainable for this game tonight. If George and the rest of the role players just do their jobs on offense, this is a number the Clippers are perfectly capable of covering.