It was an entertaining evening in the Association, with four pivotal playoff games on the docket. Joel Embiid carried the Sixers to a thrilling victory in Brooklyn, Nikola Jokic dominated for Denver, the Bucks waxed the Pistons once again, and the Rockets took a commanding 3-0 lead despite James Harden missing his first 15 field goal attempts.
Philadelphia 76ers 112, Brooklyn Nets 108:
In what was one of the most exciting and interesting games of the postseason thus far, Joel Embiid was dominant and helped carry the Sixers to a victory, and a 3-1 series lead.
Embiid sat out Game 3 on Thursday due to nagging soreness in his left knee, and was listed as doubtful for Saturday afternoon, but felt good enough after pregame warmups to give it a go. By the time the final buzzer sounded, he had racked up an astonishing 31 points (12-of-22 FGs, 6-of-6 FTs), 16 rebounds, seven assists, two steals, six blocks and one 3-pointer in 33 minutes. According to Basketball-Reference, he joined Tim Duncan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as just the third player in NBA history with more than 30 points, 15 boards, five dimes and five blocks in a playoff game. Embiid will have two days to rest, but will most likely be a game-time decision again for Game 5 on Tuesday.
Embiid was also involved in Saturday’s most controversial play. In the third quarter, he was whistled for a flagrant foul on Jarrett Allen. As a result, Jared Dudley came running over and shoved Embiid. Jimmy Butler pushed Dudley in response, and the melee carried into the stands. Both Butler and Dudley were ejected. Butler had 11 points, four rebounds, four assists, two steals and one 3-pointer in 24 minutes when he was tossed.
Ben Simmons flirted with another triple-double on Saturday, tallying 15 points (on 7-of-12 shooting), eight rebounds, eight assists, one steal and four turnovers in 39 minutes. His field goal attempts were down with Embiid back in the mix, but Simmons still finds a way to rack up counting stats. Tobias Harris also had another excellent game, finishing with 24 points (10-of-20 FGs), eight rebounds, six assists, one block and one steal in a game-high 43 minutes. After a disappointing start to this series, Harris totaled 54 points, 24 boards and nine dimes over the two games played in Brooklyn. J.J. Redick struggled with his shot (3-of-11) but nailed a clutch 3-pointer in the final minute. After starting Game 3, Greg Monroe logged just one minute of action. Boban Marjanovic had four points and five boards in 11 minutes, but was abused defensively.
Caris LeVert was inserted into the starting lineup on Saturday and made coach Kenny Atkinson look clairvoyant. LeVert was simply awesome, scoring a team-high 25 points (9-of-18 FGs) to go along with five rebounds, six assists, one steal and three 3-pointers in a team-high 42 minutes against the 76ers. Considering how scary his leg injury looked back in November, it’s somewhat of a miracle that he was able even to suit up this postseason. The fact that he is averaging 21.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.8 treys over the first four games of this series is incredible.
Jarrett Allen had the best playoff game his young career on Saturday, pouring in 21 points (7-of-11 FGs, 7-of-7 FTs) and tacking on eight rebounds, four assists and two steals in 32 minutes. Allen has gotten progressively more productive as this series has dragged on, and he dunked everything in site in this contest. D'Angelo Russell was inefficient offensively, shooting just 6-of-19, but did stuff the stat sheet to the tune of 21 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and four 3-pointers in 37 minutes. Dudley had been playing well (eight points, five assists, one steal, two 3-pointers) before his ejection. You don’t think he’ll get booed a bit Philly on Tuesday night, do you? Spencer Dinwiddie did his thing off the bench: 18 points (7-of-12 FGs) four rebounds, one steal and three 3-pointers in 27 minutes.
On the flip side of the coin, Joe Harris remained ice cold. Harris was just 4-of-14 from the floor for his ten points, including 0-of-6 from the 3-point territory. Harris had never once in his entire career attempted more than five 3-pointers in a game without making a single triple - until Game 4 on Saturday. Incredibly, Harris, the NBA's leader in 3-point percentage, has missed each of his last 12 attempts from downtown. He never went two consecutive games without at least one 3-pointer during the regular season, but is now up to three straight games without a trey in the playoffs. The Nets need Harris to make shots if they hope to keep their season alive.
Denver Nuggets 117, San Antonio Spurs 103:
The Nuggets were able to even this first-round matchup at two games apiece with an impressive road victory in San Antonio.
Nikola Jokic led the way for Denver, dominating on both ends of the floor. He scored a team-high 29 points (10-of-22 FGs, 8-of-8 FTs), ripped down 12 rebounds, dished out eight assists, knocked down a 3-pointer and didn’t commit a single turnover in his 39 minutes of action. Per BBall-Reference, he is the first Nugget ever with at least 29/12/8 in the postseason, and just the second player in league history with those stats and zero turnovers. In the series, he’s averaging 20.5 points, 11.8 boards and 9.3 dimes.
Jamal Murray scored 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting (5-of-5 FTs) with two rebounds, six assists and three 3-pointers in 33 minutes. It was much needed after Murray scored just six points and got eaten up by Derrick White in Game 3. In Denver two wins in this series, Murray is averaging 24.0 points and 5.0 assists, while shooting 52 percent. In their two losses, he is averaging 11.5 points and 1.0 assists, while shooting 33.3 percent from the field. Do you think his play is essential to Denver’s success?
Will Barton was completely out of sync in the first three games of this series, so coach Mike Malone decided to start Torrey Craig in his stead on Saturday. The move paid off brilliantly. Not only did Craig do an excellent job slowing down Derrick White, but he also produced offensively. Craig totaled 18 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) with eight rebounds, two steals, one block and five 3-pointers in 37 minutes. Will Barton logged 15 minutes off the bench and made all three of his 3-point attempts, but missed all seven of his shots inside the arc, to finish with 12 points, four rebounds, two assists and three 3-pointers in 15 minutes. Paul Millsap was incredibly quiet, registering just two points and four boards in 27 minutes.
LaMarcus Aldridge paced the Spurs by scoring 24 points (10-of-18 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs) with nine rebounds, one assist, two steals, one block and one 3-pointer in 29 minutes. Unsurprisingly, he’s been consistent all series long. DeMar DeRozan tallied 19 points (7-of-13 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs) with five rebounds and five assists in 34 minutes, but was ejected with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter after tossing a ball in the direction of a referee after being whistled for an offensive foul. He may get popped for a fine, but it’s extremely unlikely DeRozan will get suspended for a game.
Derrick White came back down to earth on Saturday, finishing with eight points (on 3-of-8 shooting), four boards, five assists and four turnovers in 28 minutes. He came into this contest averaging 23.0 points per game in the playoffs on 69 percent shooting. As noted above, Denver switching Torrey Craig onto White seemed to have a significant impact.
Milwaukee Bucks 119, Detroit Pistons 103:
The Bucks once again easily beat the Pistons to take a commanding 3-0 lead over Detroit.
With Milwaukee jumping out to a big lead early on, they didn’t need a big effort from their stud. Giannis Antetokounmpo was in foul trouble for most of the night and logged just 28 minutes. He finished with 14 points (on 5-of-13 shooting), ten rebounds, three assists and four turnovers. Khris Middleton scored a team-high 20 points (7-of-14 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs) and tacked on nine rebounds, four assists, one steal and three 3-pointers in 30 minutes. Brook Lopez had 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting with seven rebounds, two assists, five blocks and three 3-pointers in 34 minutes. Eric Bledsoe also scored 19 points (8-of-19 FGs), to go along with six boards, five dimes and two steals and four turnovers. Tony Snell (ankle) was cleared to play on Saturday and made his 2019 postseason debut, logging one minute of garbage time.
Blake Griffin had missed the first two games of this series with a sore left knee but was able to suit up on Saturday night. Despite being clearly limited by a bum wheel that was heavily tapped and strapped into a bulky brace, Griffin still managed to put up impressive numbers. He scored a team-high 27 points (10-of-24 FGs, 5-of-5 FTs) and tacked on seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and two 3-pointers in 31 minutes. With the Pistons having almost no chance of getting back in this series, it would not be surprising if the Pistons decided to err on the side of caution and sit Griffin in Game 4, which will be played Monday night in Detroit. We should have an update on BG’s status after Sunday’s practice.
Andre Drummond contributed 12 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, four steals, three blocks and four turnovers in 30 minutes. However, he was largely inefficient, converting just five of his 14 field goal attempts and two of his eight free throws. Reggie Jackson was 6-of-15 from the floor en route to 15 points, six boards and eight helpers. Wayne Ellington knocked down three treys and finished with 13 points, five boards and two steals. Thon Maker, who was bumped to the bench with Griffin back in action, had six points and nothing else.
Houston Rockets 104, Utah Jazz 101:
The Rockets are up 3-0 and have Jazz on the brink of elimination after securing a tight victory in Utah.
One of Utah’s goal entering this series was obviously to contain the NBA’s leading scorer. They did just that in Game 3 on Saturday night, trapping and doubling James Harden constantly. Incredibly, The Beard missed each of his first 15 FG attempts, but the Rockets were able to stay within striking distance. Harden then did his thing in the final frame, finally making a shot from the floor and scoring 14 of his 22 total points. He ended his night just 3-of-20 from the field, but did knock down 14 of his 16 free throws. He also had four rebounds, ten assists, six steals, one block and two 3-pointers in 39 minutes.
Chris Paul helped keep Houston in the game in the first half and tallied a total of 18 points (7-of-15 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs) with four rebounds, four assists, three steals and two 3-pointers in 33 minutes. Clint Capela chipped in 11 points, 14 boards and two swats, but was 1-of-5 from the charity stripe. P.J. Tucker had 12 points (3-of-11 FGs, 4-of-6 FTs) with ten rebounds, three assists and two 3-pointers in 35 minutes. Tucker also sealed the victory by grabbing an offensive rebound in the closing moments and nailing two free throws.
The Jazz needed Donovan Mitchell to bounce back with a big game to have a chance in this one. The good news was he scored 34 points. The bad news was that he needed 27 shots to do so. Mitchell ended up 9-of-27 from the floor and 12-of-17 from the charity stripe. He missed 11 straight shots in the second half. He did chip in six rebounds, five assists, three steals, one block and four 3-pointers in 42 minutes.
Rudy Gobert was a demon defensively, especially early on. He had seven blocks on the night, to go along with 10 points and eight rebounds. Derrick Favors was bumped to the bench in favor of Jae Crowder but still made a solid impact. Favors scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting (3-of-6 FTs) with four rebounds and two blocks in just 15 minutes. Crowder had five points, five boards and two thefts in 24 minutes. Joe Ingles had eight rebounds and five dimes but was unable to get going offensively. He shot 3-of-9 overall (2-of-8 from deep) for his eight points. Game 4 is Monday night in Utah.
Boston at Indiana, 1:00 pm EST (ABC)
Golden State at L.A. Clippers, 3:30 pm EST (ABC)
Toronto at Orlando, 7:00 pm EST (TNT)
Portland at Oklahoma City, 9:30 EST (TNT)
Game of Thrones -- The Seven Kingdoms vs. White Walkers, 9:00 pm EST (HBO)