The Playoffs took an interesting twist last night with the seemingly-dead Mavericks rising up off the mat to not only cover the massive 13.5 point spread in Oklahoma City but dealt the Thunder and embarrassing home loss. Kevin Durant awoke this morning to another interesting development; questioning and criticism from the national and local media that have been irrationally gentle on the likeable superstar. But the facts were pretty hard to escape last night; his performance was lousy and the Thunder’s inability to close out close games was again on full display. This is a talented team with the best one-two punch in the NBA. But the window is closing and the pressure is clearly ramping up. They’ll still win this series, but they now find themselves NEEDING a win in Dallas as opposed to heading out there for a casual split and a Game Five home clincher.
Elsewhere, the Warriors made a wise move is resting Steph Curry. Not only did he get an extra three days to rest the ankle and heal, the Warriors also got the win without him. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dubs rest Curry AGAIN on Thursday just to be safe. There is NO WAY they are losing this series, and Curry will be needed for the next month as things get more and more intense.
Let’s snap our two-game losing skid with a winner tonight.
Today’s Free Pick:
Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks -6.5
The Celtics have some legitimate beef after Game One’s one-point loss after the NBA admitted to four blown calls that went in Atlanta’s favor. However, all the “ooops, my bad” in the world doesn’t erase the 1-0 deficit they find themselves in, and it doesn’t fix Avery Bradley and get him back on the court.
So the Celtics are down a game, missing one of the leaders and best players and will need HUGE step-up performances from Marcus Smart and Evan Turner to fill the void. They may be able to bridge the gap offensively, replacing the team’s second leading scorer, but the defense and toughness will still be missed as the bench gets thinner. Add in the doubtful status of Kelly Olynk tonight, and the bench could be even MORE thin.
So are the C’s sunk? Perhaps not. Bradley is a good player, but there isn’t THAT big a drop off of going to Smart and Turner for extended minutes. Plus, this is a Celtics team that is built on balance and team-first identity. They are more well equipped to lose their second leading scorer than most other teams in the East. And this team DEFENDS. Bradley is a big component, but Smart is a physical, tough defender that can be trouble for Teague and Schroeder.
Call this pick the “Brad Stevens” pick. I think they will win a game this series solely on his shoulders. Maybe tonight isn’t the WIN, but I don’t think they roll over and get pummeled just because they are missing a key player. Look for him to circle the wagons and devise a new game plan to accentuate the different lineups and for Smart especially to accept the challenge of additional minutes.
Six and a half is a lot to lay in a pretty even series between two teams with identical records and similar team-focused rather than star-driven identities.
Free Pick: Boston Celtics +6.5