Monday, May 20, 2024
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Jamal Murray ends Lakers’ season; Thunder sweep Pelicans; concern for Celtics

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🏀 Good morning to everyone, but especially …

JAMAL MURRAY AND THE DENVER NUGGETS … 

Jamal Murray is a stone-cold killer, and his latest victim is the Lakers‘ entire season. Murray nailed a jumper with 3.6 seconds left as the final dagger in the Nuggets108-106 series-clinching Game 5 win.

  • Murray, who finished with 32 points, also hit the game-winner in Game 2. He joins LeBron James (2018), Hedo Turkoglu (2009) and Robert Horry (2002) as the only players with multiple go-ahead shots in the final five seconds in a single postseason in the play-by-play era (since 1997).
  • He is the only one to do it twice in the same series.
  • Nikola Jokic, meanwhile, had 25 points and 20 rebounds, and Michael Porter Jr. had 26 points. It’s the second time in the last 35 years three Nuggets scored at least 25 points in the same playoff game.

This is what the Nuggets do. They can dominate and they can produce huge comebacks, but they mainly keep things close and then take opponents’ hearts late. They had the best net efficiency in clutch games this season. Jokic and Murray are magnificent. Next, they get a great test against the Timberwolves.

… AND ALSO THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Forget the bright future. The Thunder have arrived now. Oklahoma City completed the sweep of the Pelicans with a 97-89 win in which all five starters scored in double figures.

  • Oklahoma City held New Orleans to 92 points or fewer in all four games, a stunning feat in today’s NBA, even given Zion Williamson‘s absence.
  • No Pelicans player had more than 21 points in any game all series. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, meanwhile, scored at least 24 in all four games.

This is a really good, fun team. Gilgeous-Alexander is a superstar. With Luguentz Dort and Jalen Williams as terrific perimeter defenders and Chet Holmgren protecting the paint, the defensive excellence is no accident. They’re young, but they looked like a veteran bunch, taking care of business in straightforward fashion. A meeting with the Mavericks or Clippers awaits.

👍 Honorable mentions

😞 And not such a good morning for …

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THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS

There’s no shame in losing to the reigning champs. The Lakers lost in five games, sure, but they were right there in three of the four losses. This was no blowout.

That still doesn’t change the other facts, though.

  • The Lakers have lost 12 of their last 13 to the Nuggets, who are the class of the West and a class (or two) above the Lakers.
  • In four seasons since winning the 2020 championship, Los Angeles: lost in the first round (2021), missed the playoffs (2022), were swept in conference finals (2023) and got bumped in the first round.
  • Anthony Davis played the most games in his career, and James played his most games as a Laker, and they only managed the No. 7 seed before seeing their season end in the first round.

So where do the Lakers go? Maybe it starts with letting Darvin Ham go, Sam Quinn writes.

  • Quinn: “Truthfully, the roster might have been too flawed to ever seriously compete for a championship. If nothing else, it’s hard to imagine any world in which this collection of players could ever beat the Nuggets in a seven-game series regardless of who was coaching them. But Ham didn’t exactly help matters with his rejection of what so often felt like common sense solutions to this team’s problems.”

And then there’s the LeBron issue. He’ll be 40 in December. He has a player option. If an incredibly healthy, productive season from both him and Davis results in this, could he look elsewhere? He sidestepped a question about his future postgame, but there’s reportedly a real possibility he doesn’t return, even if Ham doesn’t, either.

👎 Not so honorable mentions

😬 Celtics’ victory over Heat marred by Kristaps Porzingis’ calf injury

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The Celtics regained complete control of their first-round series with the Heat with a 102-88 win to take a 3-1 series lead but potentially suffered a major loss. Kristaps Porzingis picked up a non-contact injury in the second quarter and did not return with “calf tightness.” He’ll undergo imaging today, but the early good news is that it doesn’t appear to be an Achilles injury.

The long-term good news is that if the Celtics finish off the Heat in Game 5, they’d get a decent amount of time off in between rounds (though I will never count out the Heat). Boston would then face the winner of Cavaliers-Magic, a series that’s tied 2-2. Plus, as Brad Botkin writes: “Neither of those teams should be able to threaten Boston even without Porzingis, who becomes a major necessity starting in the conference finals …” Assuming it’s not too severe, Boston should be able to slow-play Porzingis’ return.

Still, it’s a reminder that health and luck are huge in the playoffs. Porzingis is the biggest reason the Celtics are so much better than they were last year. He’s a 3-point threat, a rim runner and a rim protector who can create his own offense, which is huge for a team that sometimes struggles in close games. We’ve already seen a calf issue derail Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s — and in turn the Bucks‘ — postseason. For now, Boston is hoping for the best.

⚽ UEFA Champions League semifinal preview

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The UEFA Champions League semifinals open today with Bayern Munich hosting Real Madrid. Here’s the TV schedule across CBS and Paramount+.

Let’s start with Tom Fornelli’s Corner Picks.

  • Fornelli: “Real Madrid [have] been a little leaky defensively lately. In three matches against Manchester City and Barcelona they allowed six goals on 4.9 xG. Despite the results, Real have also been weaker defensively away from home all year. Two months ago, there was no way I would’ve seen myself making this pick, but right now, there’s too much value available on Bayern. The Pick: Bayern Munich (+150)”

As for the rest of our expert picks, they’re all over the place.

Finally, I loved James Benge making the case for why each of the final four could lift the trophy.

🏈 NFL Draft wrap-up: Superlatives, rookie QB expectations, more

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The NFL Draft — and the immediate reactions — are in the rearview. We’ve given out grades (and more grades) and declared winners and losers and much more.

Now we can take a step back, let our initial thoughts breathe … and dive right back in. Will Brinson has draft superlatives, and my favorite is …

  • Brinson:Mostly Likely to Re-Ignite an Elite Offense En Route to a Three-Peat: Chiefs — The rich got richer over the weekend, with the Chiefs landing Texas wideout Xavier Worthy in the first round and BYU offensive lineman Kingsley Suamataia in the second round. Worthy set the all-time combine record for fastest 40-yard dash … Worthy and Marquise Brown (speedy free agent addition) give the Chiefs not just insurance for a Rashee Rice suspension, but an explosive downfield component the offense lacked last year.”

Worthy is already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame without having played a snap, by the way.

I also loved Doug Clawson’s look what we should expect from the historic quarterback class.

  • Clawson:How many will have a standout rookie season? Probably one. … There were 69 QBs drafted in the first round from 2000 to 2023. Ten or fewer did ANY of the following as rookies: – Make a Pro Bowl (10) – Average 20 fantasy points per game (nine) – Start a playoff game (nine) – Throw for 4,000 yards (five).”

Here’s more:

📺 What we’re watching Tuesday

Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich, 3 p.m. on CBS and Paramount+
🏀 Game 5: 76ers at Knicks, 7 p.m. on TNT
🏒 Game 5: Maple Leafs at Bruins, 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏒 Game 5: Islanders at Hurricanes, 7:30 p.m. on TBS
🏀 Game 5: Magic at Cavaliers, 8 p.m. on NBA TV
🏀 Game 5: Pacers at Bucks, 9:30 p.m. on TNT
🏒 Game 5: Avalanche at Jets, 9:30 p.m. on ESPN
🏒 Game 5: Predators at Canucks, 10 p.m. on TBS

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