SAN FRANCISCO — It was an eventful weekend for the NBA playoffs. As the Warriors took a 2-1 lead on Saturday over the Grizzlies, the 76ers and Mavericks both dug themselves out of 0-2 holes with back-to-back wins at home in their perspective series'.
On Monday's Locked On Sports Today podcast, we talked all three of those series, how they got here and where they're headed after the weekend.
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Grizzlies in trouble without Ja Morant?
Ja Morant is unlikely to go in Game 4 of Memphis’ series against the Warriors due to a knee injury suffered in Game 3.
Memphis is contending it was a dirty play from Golden State’s Jordan Poole, but there’s plenty of discourse acknowledging it wasn’t an intentional play from Poole.
"It was a basketball play when we doubled him," Poole said after the game. "And I hit the ball, and I was going for the ball. I mean, obviously, you don't want to see anybody get hurt. I'm not even that type of player. I respect everybody…Hopefully he gets better and, you know, we can see him out there next game. I don't even play like that for real. That's not my type game."
“I don’t think it was a dirty play by Jordan Poole, I don’t think the intent was there. But certainly, this is a series where everything is under a microscope. It was unfortunate. It likely has cost the Grizzlies their one true go-to offensive player for Game 4. The players have the right to view it the way they want to, the coaches have the right to protect their players, but for the Grizzlies, they need to focus on correcting what they did in Game 3.”
Games 1 and 2 were nip and tuck the entire way as the Warriors ran away with Game 3. What do the Grizzlies need to do to get back in this for Game 4?
“They’re going to have to make it to where the Warriors are going to have to work for every shot. Defensively, especially in Game 2, the Grizzlies did a great job. They’re going to have to go back to it, that’s where the focus is going to have to start. On offense, without Ja, the Grizzlies are going to have to put the emphasis on finding smart looks and rebounding. Get back to defense.”
The Grizzlies went 20-5 without Ja Morant in the regular season. What’s their key to success?
“In those 25 games without Ja, the level of competition they faced, probably 80% of it wasn’t to the caliber of a playoff team. Now, it’s Game 4 against the Warriors in Golden State, where if you lose, you’re going to be down two and have to win three straight. Limit possessions for Golden State, make them work hard to find shots, and the Grizzlies are going to have to use ball movement to find their best shots.”
Embiid proves to be the difference maker
The Miami Heat were up 2-0, they were cruising and then Joel Embiid came back and the series changed. The 76ers got a 116-108 win on Sunday night and all of a sudden we have a series tied at 2-2.
It feels like a lot has changed over the weekend in this series. What about Embiid’s return flipped this series?
“It’s changed everything and mainly it’s changed things defensively,” Locked On Heat podcast host Wes Goldberg said on Locked On Today. “Defensively, he’s such a presence in the middle. He’s clearly limited, he starts these games out hot and he cools off by the second half. The conditioning isn’t there. But he’s just a huge body in the middle. The Heat’s offense is predicated on driving, posting and kicking to shooters. They’ve missed 51 of their last 65 three point attempts.”
Goldberg said the Heat aren’t getting as good of looks from three as they were in Games 1 and 2 because of Embiid’s presence in the paint is negatively affecting their offensive penetration.
Has Embiid’s return also helped propel James Harden? The star Sixers guard put up 31 points in Game 4, shooting 60% from three and adding seven rebounds and nine assists.
“Now you have Miami’s defense instead of locking in on Harden, now they’ve got to look in two different directions. Basically they’re fronting Embiid at all times, denying him the ball. When you’re trying to multi-task defensively, that’s so much more difficult than just dealing with James Harden. That’s what the Heat are dealing with now.”
This series heads back to Miami for Game 5 on Tuesday, tied at 2-2.
Mavs stun Suns in back-to-back games in Dallas
The Suns looked like an unstoppable force through two games in their series against the Mavericks. Then, they went to Dallas, where the Mavericks absolutely dominated both sides of the floor.
In Game 4, Dallas had 17 threes in the first half and Phoenix could never get it back after the Mavs put up 37 points in the first quarter.
“I go back to the thing we said before this series, this Suns team is really, really good. We said any success the Mavericks have against the Suns should be celebrated,” Locked On Mavericks podcast host Nick Angstadt said. “It is incredible to see the Mavs not panic, not try to do something crazy. They didn’t make a crazy adjustment, they didn’t panic.”
The Suns offense, after putting up 121 and 129 in Games 1 and 2 was held under 100 in Game 3 and scored 101 in Game 4.
Chris Paul went for 28 and 19 in Games 1 and 2, but struggled mightily in Dallas. He committed seven turnovers in Game 3 and fouled out in the third quarter of Game 4 after just five points.
Meanwhile, Luka Doncic has been nothing short of incredible for Dallas. He went for 26 points in each of Games 3 and 4, while averaging 10 rebounds and 10 assists in those games. In his 20 career playoff games, he's averaging 33 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists per game.
The series heads back to Phoenix for Game 5 on Tuesday.