The Raptors fighting off total annihilation; the Thunder on the verge of dethroning the defending champs; two vicious groin shots; dynamic duos taking the spotlight; questionable NBA rulings; the blueprint on how to stop Stephen Curry. All that and more in this week’s edition of the NBA 2016 Playoffs Recap.
The Raptors’ Big 3
The Cavs blew out the Raps, 116-78, in Game 5 and are just a win away from making it to the NBA Finals for the second straight season. We’re not surprised at all. We’ve always thought that the Wine and Gold were too much for the Raps to handle. One thing you can’t deny, though, is how valiant the underdogs have fought against mighty LeBron and his men. Just by getting in position to head back home to try and force a seventh game, Toronto has already made skeptics, including us, eat our words.
But in case they finally succumb to the Cavs’ overwhelming firepower this weekend, let’s pay tribute to the three Raptors who have turned the ECF from a sleep-inducing mismatch to a legit battle.
The Defensive Anchor: Bismack Biyombo
The fifth year man out of the Democratic Republic of Congo has done a magnificent job taking care of the interior defense and rebounding for the Raptors. Take a look at his franchise record 26 boards from the third game and his monster block on Kevin Love in Game 4 and you’ll get the gist of what we’re saying.
His daunting inside presence was a major factor in Toronto’s two victories as it practically constrained the Cavs to live and die by the three-point line. If Bismack returns to playing like a cross between Dennis Rodman and Dikembe Mutombo in Game 5, it won’t be over for the Raps just yet.
The Stabilizers: Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan
As the Raptors hosted Games 3 and 4 versus the Cavaliers, nobody played better offensively than Toronto’s All-stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Double D dropped 32 markers in both outings while K-Low scored 20 and 35 points, respectively. In the fourth game, DeRozan and Lowry hit clutch basket after another to fend off the Cavs’ furious fourth quarter rally, convincing us that they are capable of reaching that superstar level of play.
The Cavs certainly can’t sleep on them in Game 6. Such a mistake will leave an opening for the Raptors ace point guard and DeMar the Midrange Master to lift T dot to a surprising victory.
Here come the Cavaliers!
There’s nothing wrong with giving Toronto credit for their gallant effort but it’s undeniable that the Cavs are still the crystal-clear frontrunners to make it out of the East. With their 38-point Game 5 massacre of the Raptors, it’s become extremely difficult to imagine King James and the Cleveland cavalry losing control of the series once again. If you enjoyed watching the Cavs execute to near-perfection as they pounded away on the Raptors, you’ll love watching it again in super slo-mo.
The debate in OKC has always been about whether Kevin Durant is Batman and Russell Westbrook is Robin or vice versa. Majority of the basketball public have long thought that KD was hands down the main guy and Russell was annoyingly trying too hard to take the lead role.
Well, this season along with their amazing showing against the Spurs and the Dubs in the playoffs, Durant and Westbrook made us realize that we’ve been wrong about them all along. Their partnership is not Batman and Robin, it’s Batman and Martian Manhunter. KD’s offense is still awesome and Russ’s game has become otherworldly. Unfortunately for the city of Oakland, the superb twosome is peaking against the Warriors.
In the Thunder’s wins in the WCF, Durant has been averaging 28.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest while Westbrook has been incredible across the board with his 31 ppg, 11.6 apg, 8.3 rpg, and 4.3 spg line. Surrounded by a cast consisting of tough, reliable role players, KD and Russell are almost impossible to beat. Go, ask Coach Steve Kerr.
Neutralizing Steph Curry
We’ve been scratching our heads, wondering how to defend Stephen Curry for the past couple of years. Now, Coach Billy Donovan and the Thunder may have finally found the answer. In Game 4, OKC imposed rough physical defense that the two-time MVP had never seen before. Every time Steph ran across the lane to find a sweet spot, the long, athletic Thunder players stifled him with forearms, shoulder blocks, bear hugs, and well-disguised clotheslines, disrupting the three-point specialist’s rhythm all night long. Reduced to a 33 percent shooter, Curry was successfully subdued, which was perhaps the most glaring reason Oklahoma was able to put the champs’ backs against the ropes.
The X-factor: Steven Adams
Teams have already got their hands full with KD and Westbrook wreaking havoc, now they’ve got more to worry about with Big Steve manning the paint. Adams was a thorn in Golden State’s side, specifically to Draymond Green. The monolithic Kiwi’s length, smarts, and heft have rendered Green almost ineffective in the WCF. His respectable D on Curry during switches also spelled trouble for the Warriors. Plus, he can make gorgeous passes like this:
If the Thunder would be the ones to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy, they won’t be doing it without the BIG help of Steven Adams.
The Heart of a Champion
After the Game 4 thrashing at the hands of OKC, the Warriors appeared to be down and out. But when the series went back to the Oracle Arena for Game 5, the Dubs bared their champion’s heart in front of their thousands of fans. Doubling the effort on defense and rebounding, the home team was able to withstand the relentless Thunder pressure on both ends of the floor until their shots started falling in.
Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut (15pts, 14 rebs, 2 blks) and Draymond Green (11pts, 13 rebs, 4 blks) woke up from their 3-game stupor and played tremendous D. On offense, the Splash brothers finally got back their touch as Steph fired 31 points and Klay got 27 buckets.
The bench also played their part, led by Maresse Speights who had 14 points. It was an outstanding collective effort by Golden State that ended up as a hotly contested victory. As nice as that win felt for the Warriors, though, they still have a lot on their plate come Game 6 on Sunday.
The Return of Dahntay Jones
In the waning moments of Game 3 between Toronto and Cleveland, the Cavs bench deployed rough and rugged veteran Dahntay Jones to the floor. Like a hitman getting a call for a “job,” Jones went right to work and punched Biyombo, who had 26 boards that night, square in the groin.
The balls-smack on Bismack can now be added to the Dahntay’s infamous collection of dirty plays. To give you a refresher on Jones’ shady exploits, this is what he used to do to the recently retired Black Mamba.
Dahntay Jones was slapped with a 1-game ban for his troubles. But how is putting Jones on a leash a real punishment for the Cavs? For all we know, all of Cleveland may have been smiling from ear to ear upon hearing news that a non-contributor like Jones won’t have to suit up.
If we were the NBA commissioner, the Cavaliers would’ve really felt the penalty we had in mind; we would’ve ordered Coach Lue to play Dahntay Jones the full 48 minutes in Game 4. The Cavs would’ve definitely taken a damaging hit with that one.
Draymond’s Crane Kick
Not to be outdone, Draymond Green delivered a low blow of his own with a kick to Steven Adam’s family jewels in Game 3. If you’re old enough to have heard of the original Karate Kid movie, you might notice that Draymond used Daniel LaRusso’s finishing move to take Adams down. The only difference is that the outspoken Warrior targeted his opponent’s testicles instead of his face. But if you’re too young to know anything about the '80s, you’ll find Lyoto Machida’s KO of Randy Couture from a 2011 UFC bout to be more reminiscent of Green’s debilitating strike.
Draymond’s mishap did the Dubs no good as the Thunder got all charged up after the incident, resulting in back to back routs of the visitors.
Further review of the play prompted the NBA officials to upgrade Draymond Green’s flagrant 1 foul to flagrant 2 plus a fine of $25,000. Still, many were left wondering why Green wasn’t suspended for Game 4 despite strong visual evidence indicating he had intentionally struck Adams in the nuts. The league decided that the highly excessive physical harm inflicted merited only a flagrant foul upgrade, and that it didn’t make much sense adding a one-game suspension. Suspending Green would’ve been just or if the NBA wanted to look consistent, they should’ve stuck with their original flagrant 1 call.
The way it appears now is that they admitted that Draymond went way over the line with his actions but at the same time turned a blind eye on what was the fair thing to do about it. Anyway, OKC fans are done sulking. Up 3-2, the Thunder remains on the driver’s seat poised to finish the job at the Chesapeake Arena in Game 6.