Below are the winners and losers from Friday night’s action.
Gagnant: Jayson Tatum
Tatum scored 50 points as Boston kept their season alive with a 125-119 victory over Brooklyn, which now leads the series 2-1 going into Game 4 on Sunday. If the Celtics had lost Game 3, you could have pretty much turned the lights off, despite the history of 3-0 comebacks in this town. It was baseball. It never happened in the NBA. Not even once.
But the Celtics have a chance to tie the series on Sunday now, and they have Tatum, who struggled mightily in the first two games of the series (9 for 32 on the field; 14.5 PPG), to thank. Not really a bad company to join:
To go with his 50 plays, Tatum added seven assists, six rebounds, two steals and one block. He was 16 of 30 on the pitch, including 5 of 11 of 3. Perhaps most importantly, he reached the free throw line 15 times, scoring 13. His aggressiveness was there from the start.
As you can see from these highlights, the bulk of Tatum’s buckets have been pretty well contested. The guy is just a world class shooter. You worry about the sustainability of this kind of self-created isolation / offense for Boston as a whole, and Brooklyn surely is still in control of this series. But when Tatum does like that, the Celtics can beat anyone.
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard: the winners
The Clippers, like the Celtics, kept their season alive with a win in Game 3 on Friday – 118-108 over the Mavericks, who now lead the series 2-1. It looked risky at first. The Mavericks took a 30-11 lead.
“We had no choice but to stay strong, to stay together, to keep fighting,” said Paul George after the game.
For me, George is the biggest winner on Friday night, although Leonard – who finished with 36 points on 13 of 17 shots – actually played better. George has become the scapegoat for every Clippers collapse; facing their playoff failures. It’s not fair, clearly, but that’s where we’re at, and if the Clippers had lost 3-0 with their sixth straight playoff loss, man, it was going to get ugly for the P Playoffs.
But George caught fire when the Clippers were in that opening hole and finished with 29 of 11 of 18 points from the field. Kawhi was the man in the second half, but it was George who brought the Clippers back in this game with 22 points in the first half on 10 of 12 shots. He kept the wolves at bay for at least a few days.
If the Clippers continue to lose this streak, the ignition is still there if NBA Twitter wants to start a fire with George’s rep. They will ignore that he got 28 points and 12 assists in Game 2, and what he did in Game 3, and will go straight to the fact that he is only 5 for 21 of 3 in the game. series so far, and the defense of the Clippers, which is said to be an elite unit in the playoffs specifically due to the fact that star individual defenders like George were torched in Games 1, 2 and 3 by Luka Doncic .
In other words, PG’s narrative is still pending. We’ll see how the rest of the series unfolds. But for one night, George and Leonard were huge. The Clippers’ defensive strategy of mostly covering one and activating Doncic worked in that they were able to limit Dallas shooters and virtually stop their paint score. (While they don’t completely send two to Doncic, the Clippers do heavily shade the paint, gently surrounding him as he probes the descent so they can still, in theory, recover to shooters.) It’s hard to argue with keeping the Mavericks at 108 points when Luka gets 44 himself. We have a streak.
Perdant : Julius Randle
After a potential All-NBA regular season, Randle’s nightmarish playoffs continued on Friday with a 2-for-15 and 14-point performance in New York’s loss in Game 3 to Atlanta. The Knicks now lag 2-1 in the series, and if Randle – and RJ Barrett – do nothing, it’s hard to imagine how New York can build enough offense to keep up with the Hawks.
Through three games in this series, Randle is 13 for 54 on the field. It’s historically bad.
Sometimes the numbers don’t tell the whole story. These do. Randle has been awful after a season in which he has apparently established himself as a legitimate star in New York City.
Trae Young : Gagnant
Young stamps his superstar card in his first playoffs. The Hawks took a 2-1 lead over the Knicks on Friday, and Yuong finished with 21 points and 14 assists. He’s virtually unstoppable in the pick-and-roll. He doesn’t end well with his left at the edge, which would seem to encourage New York to push him in that direction, but he usually doesn’t make it all the way to the edge, and his float (first clip below) and whip s ‘faint. to shooters (second clip) are equally fatal in both directions.
Check out this group Young just entered:
It remains wild that Young and Luka Doncic were traded for each other. These two guys are so awesome. It’s crazy that Atlanta ended up with a player like Young and, in the eyes of most people, lost that profession. Luka is just so special. But Young isn’t that far, and Atlanta has put around him a team that can legitimately win and are on track for at least the second round if they keep going.
Luka Doncic: Winner
I don’t care if Dallas lost Game 3. Doncic is a winner. The man has scored 44 points on 54 percent of shots, including 7 of 13 of 3. This is Doncic’s third effort at 40 points in nine career playoff games. For the series, Doncic is averaging 38 points, 9 assists, and 8.6 rebounds on 46% 3-point shots (he’s made at least five 3s in each game). Add his performance in the bubble in previous playoffs, and here’s what you get:
The Clippers, as mentioned above, have taken the defensive approach that they’re going to switch pick and roll and keep Doncic one-on-one for the most part, and he’s duly dismantling them. The reason they are doing this is that they don’t want the other Dallas players to go for it.
It worked, to some extent, on Friday. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber combined to make 8 of their 13 3-pointers, and the Mavericks collectively outscored the Clippers by 21 from the 3-point line. But the Clippers absolutely shut down the paint and Kristaps Porzingis (who really should be listed as a loser here) couldn’t hit anything and has now been terrible in two of three games in this series.
The Clippers put pressure on Doncic in the second half. Kawhi Leonard worked to stay with him across screens or with quick returns. Rajon Rondo applied some heat. Terrence Mann did the same sometimes. We will see if this is sufficient as the series progresses. Something tells me the Clippers will have to start forcing the ball out of Luka’s hands at some point with traps and doubles teams, but Dallas is full of capable shooters / playmakers who can exploit effective 4v3 advantages.
This is the thing to watch out for moving forward. How long will the Clippers keep letting Doncic assassinate a defender? Also watch out for Luka’s free throw shot. It’s a mess right now. He is 13 years old for 27 in the series. It’s less than 50 percent. Towards the end of Game 3, he was clearly uncomfortable on the line, pulling the rope several times. You have to understand that these games will be closed for the rest of the way, and Luka will have to make his free throws at some point.
Kyrie Irving: Perdant
Irving made his return to the playoffs in Boston on Friday, and it didn’t go well for him. The Nets lost, and while Kevin Durant and James Harden combined 80 points on 13 of 21 3-pointers, Irving was able to score just 16 points and two assists of 6-for-17 from the field.
We know the story here. Irving was traded to Boston in 2017. He didn’t play in the playoffs his first year there, and Boston reached the conference finals without him. This offseason, at an even for season ticket holders, Irving made an announcement – unnecessary, by that – that he intended to re-sign as a free agent with Boston. That year he played in the playoffs and the Celtics lost in the second round with Irving visibly leaving his team in the last few games against the Bucks.
Then he left for Brooklyn.
That’s to say nothing of Irving’s comments about Celtics fans ahead of Game 3, when he said he hoped there wasn’t “subtle racism” coming from the Boston crowd. I do not go into all of this. I have no idea of Irving’s Boston experience. What I do know is that there are a lot of reasons basketball fans don’t like Irving, and he surely would have loved to come to town in Game 3 and put the Celtics to bed. He didn’t do that. Brooklyn, most likely, will win this series again, but it’s now at least a series.