Two series were played on Sunday, and in both instances the visiting team came out on top. In Philadelphia Kawhi Leonard continued to dominate, but unlike in Game 3 a few of his teammates managed to step up. Pascal Siakam started but was limited due to a right calf contusion, and this led to a rotation change that was a factor in the Raptors managing to even that series at two games apiece.
In the nightcap Denver held off Portland thanks in large part to the efforts of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, with the latter posting his fourth postseason triple-double in 11 games. Below is a look at Sunday’s games, followed by early injury notes for Monday’s doubleheader.
Raptors 101, 76ers 96
While some of the Raptors’ other starters have struggled to produce consistently during this series, that has not been the case for Kawhi Leonard. The All-Star forward has been everything that the team believed it was getting when the trade with San Antonio was made during the offseason, and it can be argued that he’s been even better than advertised during this series. In Sunday’s Game 4 victory, which evened the series at two games apiece, Leonard shot 13-of-20 from the field and 8-of-12 from the foul line, scoring a game-high 39 points with 14 rebounds, five assists and five 3-pointers in 43 minutes. About the only negative for Leonard was the turnover count, as he finished with seven, but the overall stat line was good enough to make up for that in nine-category leagues.
Leonard has scored 33 points or more in all four games in the series, and he’s done so while shooting 54.2% or better from the field in each. According to Basketball Reference (a tip of the cap to our own Tommy Beer for finding this), “The Klaw” is one of just five players in the last 30 years to have four straight playoff games with at least 30 points while shooting 50% or better from the field. The other four players: Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
The focus heading into Game 4 was the health of two key players, as Toronto’s Pascal Siakam (right calf contusion) was considered to be doubtful and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid (illness) was struggling with an issue unrelated to the sickness that limited him in Game 2. Siakam’s minutes were monitored, as he played 29, and he struggled to get much going offensively (2-of-10 FGs). The third-year forward finished with nine points, three rebounds, three steals and two assists, and his minutes limitation forced Nick Nurse to change up his rotation.
Serge Ibaka received an increase in minutes, playing 32, with 23 of those coming alongside fellow big man Marc Gasol. For the series the two have played alongside each other for an average of 5.9 minutes per game, which shows how rare it has been for Nurse to use this tandem. While the offensive rating of 94.0 is nothing to write home about, Ibaka and Gasol boast a defensive rating of 90.9 when played together. Both scored in double figures Sunday, with Ibaka tallying 12 points (6-of-12 FGs), nine rebounds and three blocks, and Gasol accounting for 16 points (7-of-13 FGs), five rebounds, three assists and two 3-pointers in 39 minutes.
Gasol and Kyle Lowry, who posted a line of 14 points (6-of-13 FGs), seven assists, six rebounds, and two 3-pointers, were both more aggressive and more effective offensively than they were in Game 3. And Lowry was involved in the other rotation change for the Raptors, as he and the struggling Fred VanVleet were not on the court together at all. VanVleet played just seven minutes, with two missed shots and one foul being his only contributions. Norman Powell (four minutes) and Patrick McCaw (five minutes) started the second quarter alongside Lowry, but this was essentially a six-man rotation for the Raptors in a game the team could not afford to lose.
On the Philadelphia side, as noted above Embiid was dealing with an illness that according to head coach Brett Brown kept him up throughout the night (and he also received an IV to get fluids into his body). And for the majority of his 35 minutes on the court the All-Star pivot looked a step slow, finishing with 11 points (2-of-7 FGs, 7-of-10 FTs), eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocked shots. Philadelphia was still better with Embiid on the floor (plus-17) than off, but more is to be expected of him from a production standpoint at this stage.
Embiid being limited meant more scoring opportunities for Tobias Harris, and he did not have his best day at the office. Harris played a team-high 41 minutes, shooting 7-of-23 from the field and finishing with 16 points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals and two 3-pointers (on 13 attempts). After being acquired from the Clippers, he averaged 18.2 points per game with shooting splits of 46.9/32.6/84.1. And Harris has really struggled to get going offensively against the Raptors. Through four games Harris is averaging 13.3 points per while shooting 33.9% from the field, 25.9% from three and 75.0% from the foul line. Jimmy Butler, Philadelphia’s other major in-season acquisition, was much better Sunday afternoon.
Butler shot 9-of-18 from the field, scoring a team-best 29 points while also accounting for 11 rebounds, four assists, one blocked shot and three 3-pointers. He and JJ Redick, who shot 4-of-7 from three and scored 19 points with three rebounds and two assists, were Philadelphia’s best performers in the loss. Ben Simmons was limited to ten points (5-of-10 FGs), five rebounds, four assists, two steals and one blocked shot in 38 minutes played. The 76ers went eight players deep, with James Ennis (nine points, five rebounds, one steal, one block and three 3-pointers) playing 26 minutes and Mike Scott (two rebounds, one assist) and Greg Monroe (two points, three rebounds and one block) getting 13 and 11 minutes, respectively. Matching Monroe with Gasol wasn’t as effective as it was in either of the prior two games, due in large part to the change Toronto made to its front court rotation with Siakam being limited.
Nuggets 116, Trail Blazers 112
Less than 48 hours after the Nuggets and Trail Blazers played a four-overtime classic, the two teams were back on the court for Game 4. With Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray leading the way Denver managed to pull even in the series, with the former posting his fourth postseason triple-double in 11 games and the latter scoring a game-high 34 points. Jokic played 39 minutes (after playing 65 out of a possible 68 on Friday), finishing with 21 points (8-of-15 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs), 12 rebounds, two assists, one steal and one three-pointer.
Jokic has put up triple-doubles in back-to-back games, something he last did just before the All-Star break. As for the four triple-doubles in his first 11 career playoff games, Jokic joins Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson as the only players in league history to accomplish this feat. Denver’s All-Star big man limped off the court late in the fourth quarter after banging knees with an opposing player but was able to return as the Nuggets went offense/defense with he and Mason Plumlee. After the game, Jokic said that he was “alright.”
Murray shot 10-of-20 from the field and 11-of-11 from the foul line, scoring 34 points with five rebounds, four assists and three 3-pointers in 38 minutes. He scored Denver’s final six points, all from the foul line, and is now the first Nugget to score 30 points or more in back-to-back playoff games since Carmelo Anthony in 2010. After scoring just 15 points in Denver’s Game 2 loss, Murray scored 34 points in games three and four while also averaging 7.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.5 three-pointers per in Portland. Paul Millsap added 21 points (6-of-10 FGs, 7-of-8 FTs), ten rebounds, two blocks, one steal and two 3-pointers in 41 minutes, and Gary Harris accounted for 14 points, five rebounds, one steal and one blocked shot.
Among the reserves it was Will Barton who played the most, as he accounted for 11 points (4-of-14 FGs), five rebounds, three assists, one steal and three 3-pointers in 30 minutes. Barton didn’t shoot the ball all that well, but it was enough to help account for starting forward Torrey Craig scoring three points on 1-of-4 shooting in 17 minutes. Malik Beasley (six points, two rebounds, one assist and one three-pointer) and Monte Morris (two points, one assist and one steal), who have both struggled for the majority of this series, played 14 and ten minutes, respectively, with Plumlee accounting for four points, five rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block in 16 minutes.
C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard led the way for Portland, scoring 29 and 28 points respectively. McCollum, who also tallied five rebounds, one assist, one steal and four 3-pointers in 39 minutes, shot 10-of-20 from the field and 5-of-6 from the foul line in his 39 minutes on the court. Denver changed up how it defended McCollum when Lillard wasn’t on the court, playing him more aggressively and sending more double-teams in ball-screen situations. He still managed to shoot 50% from the field and 4-of-8 from three, and that approach during the second quarter led to increased scoring opportunities for Seth Curry.
Curry, who scored a total of 12 points in the first three games of the series, racked up 16 in the first half on Sunday. Those would be all the points he would score however, with the backup guard supplementing his total with three rebounds, one assist and four 3-pointers.
Lillard scored his 28 points on 9-of-22 shooting from the field and 8-of-11 from the foul line, while also accounting for seven assists, three rebounds, two steals and two 3-pointers in 36 minutes. At this point “stopping” Lillard is a near-impossible task, but the Nuggets have managed to make him work. After the All-Star point guard shot 12-of-21 from the field in Game 1, he’s shot no better in 41.7% from the field (Game 3) in any of the three games since. Among the other starters Al-Farouq Aminu had the best night scoring-wise, tallying 19 points (6-of-10 FGs, 6-of-7 FTs) with eight rebounds, two blocks and one three-pointer in 35 minutes.
Moe Harkless (four points, five rebounds, two assists and one steal) and Enes Kanter (five points, ten rebounds and one block) combined to shoot 3-of-10 from the field, with Harkless playing just 17 minutes. Rodney Hood, who made some big shots in Game 3 including the game-winning three, scored seven points with four rebounds, three assists and one three-pointer in 24 minutes and Evan Turner accounted for four rebounds and two assists in 12 minutes. Zach Collins was the only reserve big to see any action, finishing with four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one rebound in 21 minutes. After playing 12 minutes in Game 1, Meyers Leonard has not been called upon at all.
Monday’s Schedule (all times Eastern)
Bucks @ Celtics, 7 PM (TNT)
Malcolm Brogdon (heel) has been ruled out for Game 4, while no decision has been made regarding Sterling Brown (back). As for Boston, Marcus Smart (oblique) has been cleared for contact. He took part in some 3-on-3 work Saturday and Sunday’s full practice, so now it’s all about how his body responds. He hasn’t ruled out a return to the lineup for Game 4, and the Celtics announced Sunday afternoon that he has been upgraded to “questionable.”
Warriors @ Rockets, 9:30 PM (TNT)
During his media availability Sunday, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said that center Damian Jones will be cleared for contact next week. Jones, who underwent surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle in early December, was originally thought to be finished for the season. But Kerr said that there’s a chance that the young big man returns at some point in the postseason. He said the same about DeMarcus Cousins, who has been out since he suffered a torn left quadriceps muscle during Game 2 of the Warriors’ first round series against the Clippers.