Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.
1) As Pelicans and Trail Blazers stumble, shorthanded Spurs win again to become nine seed in West.
You’d think we’d all have learned by now not to bet against the San Antonio Spurs?
The Spurs have made the playoffs for 22 straight seasons, a legendary run that was coming to an end this year (with Tim Duncan coaching from the bench rather than draining wing bank shots). The Spurs entered the bubble shorthanded and undersized. San Antonio was four games back of eighth-seed Memphis and having to leap both New Orleans and Portland, plus the Spurs were without LaMarcus Aldridge, their best big man.
Count them out at your own risk.
After beating Memphis Sunday behind 21 and 10 from Dejounte Murray, the Spurs are currently the ninth seed in the West — if the season ended today, San Antonio is in the playoffs and would face Memphis in a play-in series.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) August 2, 2020
The Spurs have gone to a four-guard starting lineup — Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, DeMar DeRozan, with Jakob Poeltl as the big — and that lineup is messing with teams. On defense, they switch everything 1-4 and bank on Poeltl to protect the rim. On offense they run and play at pace — they have moved away from leading scorer DeRozan for a more balanced, egalitarian offense.
“We need to play with pace. We don’t have one-on-one players,” coach Gregg Popovich said after a recent win. “We don’t give the ball to a player and say, ‘beat your guy and go score.’ That’s not the kind of players we have on the team. We’ve got to do it as a group. We’ve got to have movement and pace goes along with that.”
The bench behind that starting five — Patty Mills, Rudy Gay, and Drew Eubanks — follows the same premise.
It works — and it’s fun to watch.
The teams that were the favorites to earn the ninth seed are stumbling. New Orleans is 0-2 and has been a mess — Zion Williamson is playing 15 minutes a night, they struggle to defend the paint, and in the bubble their offense has been atrocious. Portland’s offense has been impressive with Jusuf Nurkic — even if Damian Lillard is passing up game-tying threes — but their defense has been as bad as the offense is good, and the result is a 1-1 record with a tough schedule ahead. (The Kings are 0-2 and shorthanded, and while the Suns are 2-0 they were so far back to start they were never in this race.)
Like every year, here come the Spurs, putting a makeshift lineup out there and looking like a team that has a shot at making the postseason. Again.
You’d think we’d all have learned by now not to bet against the Spurs…
2) Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac tears ACL
Jonathan Isaac had been having a breakout season — and looking like an All-Defensive Team player — until a left knee bone bruise sidelined him in January. The break in play caused by the coronavirus let him return for the restart, and now this?
Driving to the basket Sunday — late in a blowout game where he was still in to help build up his conditioning — Isaac tried to plant on that left knee and it buckled under him. It was a non-contact injury that looked bad when it happened. He was taken off the court in a wheelchair.
Later the word came from the Magic, Isaac had a torn left ACL. He’s obviously done for this restart and likely will miss all of next season as well.
Isaac had made more news in Orlando for his decision to stand for the national anthem, explaining his decision was based on religious grounds. On the court, he was seen as a cornerstone of what Orlando wants to build.
This is a punch to the gut for Orlando.
3) Giannis Antetokounmpo looks like MVP with 36 points, but Rockets’ former MVPs take the win
This game was the ultimate clash of styles: The big and long Milwaukee Bucks who dare teams to take above-the-break threes, against the small-ball Houston Rockets.
This game was a reminder why Houston is going to be so much trouble in a playoff series — teams have yet figured out how to play against them. For the first couple of games of a playoff series the Rockets could surprise teams, and that may be enough.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 36 points, had 18 rebounds and eight assists on the night, but it wasn’t enough. The Rockets took 61 threes (hitting 21, 34.4%), Russell Westbrook scored 31, and Houston got the win 120-116.
Milwaukee led by six in the final minutes and by one with 16.5 seconds left, but in the clutch all night Westbrook was able to drive and draw fouls. James Harden had 24 points, but it was Westbrook’s play at the end that was the difference. Well, that and some defense by Harden and P.J. Tucker that led to Danuel House stealing an Antetokounmpo and sealing the win with free throws.
The broadcast highlighted Harden’s defense but it was really PJ Tucker walling up in transition. Normally Giannis is able to skate by the first defender and when he tried here he saw Tucker there and was caught with no where to go. pic.twitter.com/lXr46qxJq2
— Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) August 3, 2020
The Rockets are rested and fresh, and the small-ball game is still finding teams not exactly sure how to deal with them. Will that work in a seven-game series remains to be seen, but this is such a fun experiment to watch.