August 17th 2020, a day which, in any normal year, sports fans would be surfing the channels, making a selection between the closing weeks of the MLB and some pre-season highlights from the NFL. NBA summer league would be in full effect, giving everyone a taste of the future, but not truly satisfying basketball fans’ withdrawal from the sport. 2020 hasn’t been like any other year; because of a world pandemic, sports fans were robbed of cheering for their favourite teams for months.
That seems like a life time ago now, as yesterday marked the start of the NBA playoffs, and with it, transported a late spring tradition to the dog days of summer. Personally, I couldn’t be happier. Adam Silver has one of the best run leagues in the world and it becomes apparent with every passing day as a growing number of fans are gluing themselves down at 1:30pm ET to watch the NBA. Yesterday’s slate of games showed what NBA fans have to look forward to in the coming months.
It couldn’t have been scripted any better for the league; with Lebron James in his 17th season and questions of the league’s future superstars being pushed around by the media, four players under the age of 25 scored 30+ points in a playoff game on the same night for the first time in NBA history. These young studs looked to show their team and fans that they will have superstars to watch for the next decade who are already installed in the lineup, showing that the league is in good hands for the future.
The four matches kicked-off with the third-seeded Nuggets against a crumbling six-seeded Jazz. This game featured two of the aforementioned players who scored 30+; with Jamal Murry’s 36/5/9 and Donavan Mitchell’s heroics at 57/9/7. The game was a back and forth tilt with Mitchell leading an undermanned Jazz squad with the game of his life. He became the first player 23 or younger to score 50+ points in a playoff game since Michael Jordan. Unfortunately for him, he suffered the same fate as Michael (who lost to Boston). Donavan would lose to the Nuggets 135-125 in overtime. Murry was helped by his superstar teammate Nicola Jokic who dropped 29/10/3 as the Nuggets outlasted the Jazz. This took us into our second game of the day: The Raptors vs The Nets.
The defending champions are massive favourites in this one as the Nets are without stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Raptors proved this early on, as they raced out to a 30-point lead midway through the second quarter. Caris LeVert would refuse to let the Brooklyn Nets quit and started a small comeback to end the quarter, cutting the deficit to 22. In the second half, Brooklyn continued to push, cutting the Raps lead down to 9 after being down as much as 33. The Raptors had built themselves a massive cushion which the Nets almost flattened; all it took was Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby coming back in to the game to stretch the lead back out to 20 and seal the victory for the defending champs.
The next game featured the shorthanded 76ers vs the Celtics and their budding superstars Jason Tatum and Jalen Brown. Joel Embid came to play last night, showing off with an emphatic dunk just 2 minutes into the game. He finished the game 26/16/1 on 8/15 shooting from the field, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the third player under 25 to score 30+ as Jason Tatum hit 32/13/1, and his teammate, Jalen Brown was one-point shy of becoming the 5th player under 25 to score 30+ with a line of 29/6/4. The two young teammates are looking to recapture the magic from a 2018 run to the Eastern Conference finals, where they first flashed their elite potential. Tatum came out in the first half with 21 points to help steal the lead from Philly in the first half while Brown had a solid, consistent game on his way to 29-points. Boston won a close game 109-101, setting up the late-night game between the Clippers and Mavericks.
The NBA analyst favourite LA Clippers, who are expected to win the Championship, were matched up against a future all-time great in Luka Doncic and the unicorn Kristaps Porzingis in the Mavericks. Luka was the fourth player of the night (and the youngest) to score 30+ points dropping 42/7/9 with over 50% from the field. The Mavericks came out strong and had a 69-66 lead at the half, but Porzingis’ emotions got the best of him, and just a few minutes into the second half, he came into a scuffle late and picked up his second technical foul of the game causing him to be ejected. Luka Doncic kept the game close with his heroics late in the game, but when the clock showed 5 mins left, Kawhi and PG showed why they are the favourites. They pulled out the 118-110 victory, surviving an unexpected scare. This capped off the first night of the NBA playoffs with a thriller.
With four captivating games and a handful of young players showing out, the league had a fantastic night to showcase their talent. A night that should have been anything but fantastic for sports fans in a regular year, ended up being one of, if not, the best nights of the year-to-date.