Throughout the NBA play-offs, The National's resident NBA dudes Jonathan Raymond and Kevin Jeffers will be breaking down the key talking points of the night before, plus looking around the scope of the league. Here are our NBA Play-off takeaways.
Last night’s results
• Miami 106, Charlotte 73 | Heat win series in 7
• Golden State 118, Portland 106 | Warriors lead series 1-0
• Toronto 89, Indiana 84 | Raptors win series in 7
Wins from the 6
A 16-point fourth-quarter lead was disappearing in Game 7. The Raptors’ best player, Kyle Lowry, was barely making an impact. You could feel the Air Canada Centre crowd – Drake included – tightening up. Oh, no. It’s happening again.
But the Raptors were bailed out by, of all people, Paul George. With the clock in the final seconds and Toronto up only 3, the Pacers superstar, who had been brilliant all series while carrying the team on his back, turned the ball over for an astounding fourth time in the final quarter. Demar DeRozan – the once-second banana shooting guard who before this year was known mostly for his dunk-contest athletics – hit two subsequent free throws, his 29th and 30th points, and you could feel the Air Canada Centre collectively exhale.
Finally, the Raptors, who have been around since 1995, have won their first 7-game series. Finally, after three straight play-off berths, the Raptors are in the second round.
They have DeRozan to thank. While not all of his shots were falling – he took 32 of them – they needed pretty much all of those 30 points. He’ll be a free agent this summer, and you better believe Toronto is going to break the bank to keep him. He’s pretty much a national hero this morning.
Lowry (only 11 points) didn't deny the pressure in a post-game interview with ESPN: "There's no hiding it. It was one of those wins where, if we had lost this game, the season would've been a failure. It's kind of harsh to say that, but if we had lost this game, it would've been the end of the season. The pressure of the first round is off of us."
There’s still a lot of work to be done for a team that won a franchise-best 56 regular-season games. One series win was expected, even if it took 7 games. Another series win will take the team to their first ever conference finals. They’ll have to get past the much more experienced Miami Heat, who demolished the Charlotte Hornets in their own Game 7 on Sunday. Second-round berths are nothing to Dwyane Wade and his three NBA titles. Joe Johnson basically lives in the second round. Goran Dragic will run circles around Lowry if he continues to struggle. Miami should be a tougher test than Indiana.
But the Raptors can worry about that tomorrow. Today, they finally have life beyond the first round. Maybe now they can relax.
Few outside of Charlotte will remember this year’s Hornets, and few outside of Indiana will remember this year’s Pacers. But the NBA, more than any American league, is divided by the “haves” and “have-nots”, and smaller-market teams that out-perform expectations deserve any artificial moral victories attached to them.
The Hornets tied for the third best record in the conference and took the experienced Heat to the brink. Paul George is an absolute star, but he’s all that remains from a Pacers team that just a few years ago was among the conference elite. The Pacers pushed the Raptors to 7 games mostly thanks to him, and the team’s fans at least know they have a player to build around.
Neither franchise will be ever be a glamorous free-agent destination, but fans of both teams can rest assured they’re headed in the right direction right now. They aren’t advancing this year, but Charlotte and Indiana deserve a hand, and both teams could have even brighter days ahead.
Draymond the great
Meanwhile, the Western Conference’s top team handled the upstart Portland Trail Blazers thanks to another triple-double from Draymond Green, who in Stephen Curry’s absence is showing the world what a great all-around player he is.
It doesn’t look like Curry’s injury will deprive us of the Warriors-Spurs Western Conference Final we deserve, especially if Golden State continue to fire on all cylinders the way they have the past two games.
Green is the team’s catalyst. As long as he’s healthy, Curry can take his time recovering.
• Atlanta at Cleveland, Game 1, 3 a.m.
• Oklahoma City at San Antonio, Game 2, 5.30am | Spurs lead 1-0
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