2019 NBA Playoffs: Russ versus Dame is the Playoff duel we need

NBA Playoff results: April 20, 2019

2. Toronto Raptors (98) – 7. Orlando Magic (93)

4. Boston Celtics (104) – 5. Indiana Pacers (96)

3. Portland Trail Blazers (108) – 6. OKC Thunder (120)

What happened in the Playoffs today:

1. Russ tops Dame in their Game 3 duel

In Game 2, Damian Lillard made sure the whole world saw him dominate Russell Westbrook. In the third quarter of that game, Westbrook missed a three-pointer and Lillard clapped hard as his team corralled the rebound. Lillard then casually pulled up for a thirty-foot three-pointer right in front of Westbrook, screaming “Bombs away!”

You could have bet an entire month’s salary that Westbrook would not forget that show by Lillard. That’s why in Game 3, Westbrook looked hyped, raring to go right at Lillard as soon as the buzzer sounded.

Westbrook tore up the Blazer defense. He attacked any defender who was in front of him with raging drives to the hoop and pinpoint passes to his teammates. Westbrook led the Thunder to a 10-point halftime lead.

He continued to stay aggressive in the third period. Early in the second half, he stalked a Lillard layup and swatted it to the ground with ferocity.

A possession later he went right at Lillard, scoring on a midrange jumper, getting a foul in the process. Westbrook rocked the baby and said Lillard was “too small.”

That taunt from Westbrook lit a fire in Lillard. The Blazers’ leader proceeded to torch the Thunder for 23 points after that play. He finished with 25 points in the third period alone, pulling Portland back into the game.

Unfortunately, Westbrook was feeling it in Game 3. He led the Thunder in the fourth quarter. His midrange game was at its best as he knocked down jumper after jumper. OKC secured the win with time to spare.

That meant OKC still had time to send the Blazers a message.

Late in the game, when Lillard missed a free throw, Dennis Schroder could be seen tapping his wrists saying, “It’s time,” obviously in reference to Lillard’s signature celebration.

Then with the game wrapped up, OKC forced a turnover. But instead of dribbling out the clock, Paul George swooped in for a show time dunk… that didn’t even count.

In terms of pettiness, that definitely takes the cake. Bum shoulder and all, George still took time and effort to show up the opposing team. That was a clear message to Portland.

The Playoffs so far have been meh. It’s been blowout after blowout. But after today, the game everyone is now waiting for is Game 4 of Portland-OKC. The Thunder have declared war on the Blazers. They now have a chance to tie the series up in their next home game. The Blazers? well, they’re now out to return the message that was sent today.

2. The Celtics have figured things out

Longtime Celtics fan, Bill Simmons tweeted out something interesting after Boston’s Game 3 win.

The Celtics are the deepest team in the league on paper. They have several All-Star level players and talented role players who are starters if placed on other teams (The Magic would kill to have Terry Rozier start for them in the Playoffs.). \

But that depth has been a problem for Boston all season long. Unlike last season when Brad Stevens had to make do with eight guys for most of the season, this year, he had too much options. Because of that he tried too many things, sometimes to try to win, other times to make everyone happy. Unfortunately, the Celtics never really gained any sort of traction and was a middling Playoff team for most of the season.

Before the Playoffs began, Marcus Smart got injured, opening up nearly 30 minutes of playing time. Instead of playing more guys, Steven instead redistributed those minutes to his best players. That meant Boston already shortened their rotation even before the Playoffs began.

That’s why Simmons’ tweet is eye opening. The minutes distribution shows that the Celtics are figuring things out this deep into the Playoffs. They’ve found the right allocation of minutes and combinations of guys to get even more important wins.

The balanced Celtics attack was evident in Game 3. Kyrie Irving didn’t have to go to takeover mode today. He was facilitated the offense with 10 assists and still contributed 19 points. Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 23 points while Jayson Tatum had 18 and Al Horford had 11.

The Celtics will continue to run with this formula and go for the sweep in Game 4.

3. Siakam gives Toronto another All-Star

Pascal Siakam continues to rise for the Raptors. In the regular season, he proved to be the glue guy that would do all the little things really well. He isn’t a superstar like Kawhi Leonard, but he saved Toronto several times with his all-around game.

Game 3 was one of those games where Siakam stepped up to save the Raptors. The Magic were extra plucky today, playing a Playoff game in front of their home crowd for the first time in a long time. It also didn’t help that Kawhi Leonard was having an off game. He scored only 16 points on 26% shooting.

That’s why Siakam’s big game, lifted the Raptors to a big win. He finished with 30 points, 11 rebounds and four assists to lead Toronto to a close win. If he didn’t show up in today’s game, the second-seeded Raptors would be down 1-2 against the Magic.

The Raptors have now regained home court advantage with this Game 3 win.

Photo from Getty Images