LeBron James reclaims his throne, Thunder beat Rockets in own game, NBA playoff best takeaway on Monday

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With Monday’s slate in the books, the NBA’s four-game-a-day marathon is officially over. The Miami Heat finished their sweep of the Indiana Pacers, and the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors both did their jobs on Sunday as the playoff field begins to shrink to just contenders.

In that sense, most of Monday’s games served as a preview, a chance to assess the top teams before their games really started to count. So, what did we learn from Day 8 of the NBA Playoffs? Here’s everything you need to know about Monday’s games.

Monday’s Game 4 results

1. Long live the king

Remember when LeBron James single-handedly beat the entire Eastern Conference in the 2018 playoffs? Well, take a look at these numbers:

Playoffs 2018 LeBron

Games 3-4 LeBron

Points per game

34

34

Assists per game

9

9

Rebounds Per Game

9,1

9

Minutes per game

41,9

31

Field goal percentage

53,9

70

Percentage of 3 points

34,2

61,5

The #WashedKing story has always been made up. No one honestly believed that something as common as a groin injury in a lost season had really brought LeBron down for good. But James averages 22 ineffective points in ranking matches. He went on to collect just 33 overall in the first two games of the Portland Series. The idea that James had dropped from the lofty heights of “Greatest Player on Earth” to being a top 10 or top 15 player was not entirely overstated. Despite everything LeBron was still doing on the pitch, it’s extremely difficult to lead a team to a championship without scoring.

And there are still qualifiers to consider here. The Blazers have one of the worst defenses in playoff history, lacking even someone of the right size to keep LeBron, and injuries have so decimated them that, despite winning in Game 1, they haven’t. anyway never really had a chance in this series.

But if the last two games have proven anything, it’s this: the boogeyman still lurks under each competitor’s bed, ready to strike the moment they let their guard down. He’s a little older, a little slower, and a little grayer. But even at 35, no basketball player should inspire more fear over a seven-game streak than LeBron. If he can do what he did against Portland four out of seven times against everyone, the Lakers are going to win the championship.

2. The Thunder beat the Rockets at their own game

The problem with showing your cards as openly as Houston is that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In trading for Robert Covington on the trade deadline, the Rockets submitted their thesis statement to the entire basketball world for review. Big men don’t matter. Bounces don’t matter. The only things that matter are 3 points and free throws, and the best way to get them is by circling one or two stars with an endless number of shooters.

Circumstance forced Oklahoma City’s hand in Game 3. Steven Adams left the game early with an injury, so in order to fight Houston’s (lack of) size, the Thunder attempted a bet they had. avoided all season. Their three-point guard rosters have decimated opponents all year round, but they never pushed those groups any further by removing a cross. In extra time for Game 3, they had no choice. They raced with Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schroder, Lu Dort and Danilo Gallinari. They beat Houston by 11.

Billy Donovan kept him in reserve until the last moments of Game 4, but behind one with around four minutes to go he played his trump card. That same five surpassed Houston by five if you rule out an insignificant Danuel House buzzer-drummer when the outcome had already been decided.

Houston has its own issues to contend with. James Harden is clearly struggling with the ball handling burden that Russell Westbrook’s absence has placed on him. The filming of the Rockets comes and goes. But a less-than-optimized Thunder team allowed them to win the first two games with relative ease. But now the children’s gloves are taken off. Oklahoma City can match Houston stylistically, and while his little ball produces different hits (Chris Paul has never seen a sharper midrange look), the Thunder have proven capable of matching the Rockets. blow for blow. Now it’s up to Mike D’Antoni to find an answer, but without playable great men on their roster, it won’t be as easy as tweaking the roster.

3. Don’t take Giannis for granted

Look, humans are just creatures. We love shiny and new things and we love the classics, but we ignore everything in between. Luka Doncic has been the most exciting player of the postseason and fans are already anointing him the new face of the league. The rebirth of LeBron James has been the most exciting overall storyline, and nothing could generate a more entertaining playoffs than the King claiming his throne. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo ravages poor Orlando Magic, and no one seems to have noticed.

Some of the game-to-game excitement makes people forget this, but the 31-16-7 playoff averages aren’t normal, even against an opponent as exhausted as the Magic. Surprisingly, the basketball world seems to have forgotten the 25-year-old mutant who is on the verge of winning his second MVP and first Defensive Player of the Year award.

The next two rounds will be an important reminder. The audience hit Milwaukee’s panic button after his loss in Game 1 to Orlando and seem to have stopped watching from there. It is fair to a certain extent. The Bucks have dominated the Magic ever since, and boring greatness is always boring. But don’t be surprised when the real games start and the MVP reminds you that he has the trophy for a reason. Luka can have the first round headlines. Giannis plays for the last round.

4. Heat has it all

The Pacers were swept away in the first round, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they played poorly. Their four healthy starters gave them over 75 points per game, so it wasn’t a star power issue. They exceeded their regular season averages in both 3-point percentages and attempts, so it wasn’t a bad shot at the shot, either. Allowing 112.7 points per 100 possessions isn’t great, but taking luck is the biggest culprit. The Heat have achieved 47.2% of their 3 open points, according to NBA.com. That’s an increase of almost 10 percentage points from their regular season average. Overall, the Pacers played the caliber of basketball they expected, needed to win. And they lost again.

The difference? Miami’s unmatched versatility. The Heat are not too heavy and the majority of their players fight on one side of the ball. But when you have multiple high-end 3-point shooters (Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, Kelly Olynyk), ball handlers (Herro, Goran Dragic, Jimmy Butler, Kendrick Nunn, even Bam Adebayo) and switchable defenders (Butler, Adebayo, Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala, Derrick Jones) you basically have the ability to mix and match as you like and fight any possible tactical decision of an opponent.

They closed the third game with a loaded group of veterans in defense. Erik Spoelstra was not yet ready to rely on children. But who lifted Miami in Game 4? Herro, a recruit. They got six points from Butler, their maximum contract superstar, and still beat the Pacers in double digits on Monday. It’s not a perfect team, but it’s a boring team. A lot of playoff basketball revolves around exploiting mismatches, but even on the rare occasions they do exist, players are so good on the other end that they can take more advantage of the situation.

The Bucks will be big favorites in their second-round streak, but Miami’s depth is going to give them a blow. Milwaukee’s defense is designed to take shots at the edge and corner of the 3 points. They beg the opponents to take 3 points over the break. Almost anyone in the Miami rotation can create them. The Heat had the league’s best 3-point percentage this season, and between Adebayo, Butler, Crowder, Jones and Iguodala, have as much body to throw at Giannis as anyone. It was no accident. It was not the result of injuries in Indiana. The Heat were just plain better, and there’s a good chance they’ll be better than the Bucks in the next round as well.

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