The NBA playoffs have been everything we’ve expected, and more – with plenty of feisty on-court drama in the first round.
In this edition of the Showstopper, we’re slamming down some stats and analysis for Heat vs. Hawks, 76ers vs. Raptors, and Celtics vs. Nets. Will KD and Kyrie deliver the goods in Brooklyn?
Miami Heat vs. Atlanta Hawks
Friday, April 22 | TV: ESPN
After winning Games 1 and 2 handily, the Heat head to Atlanta as they try to extend their series lead. The Hawks haven’t found an answer yet for Jimmy Butler, who followed up a 21-point game with a monster 45-point showing. Meanwhile, Trae Young has gone 2-of-17 from three-point range and turned the ball over 16 times in two games. Beyond Butler’s play, though, the real difference-maker has been Miami’s long-distance shooting. With 32 made three-pointers over a 40% clip, the Heat just have more options and better accuracy from beyond the arc. Atlanta did get a big lift from Bogdan Bogdanovic’s 29 points in Game 2, and they’ll need more from both him and Kevin Huerter to combat Miami’s scoring arsenal.
The Hawks posted a 27-14 record at home during the regular season, so they should fare better in Atlanta, but they’re going to find themselves in a hole again if they can’t start hitting their three-pointers at a more frequent rate. It also won’t help that Clint Capela has already been ruled out for Game 3 due to his hyperextended right knee, leaving John Collins to handle most of the minutes at center. Butler, who’s averaging 24.1 points over his last 10 games, will likely continue to drive to the basket, given Atlanta’s lack of rim protection. Bam Adebayo and P.J. Tucker are questionable to play for the Heat, but they’ve been able to tough it out through their respective leg injuries thus far. Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on the pre-game report.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Toronto Raptors
Saturday, April 23 | TV: TNT
The 76ers have the Raptors firmly on the ropes after Joel Embiid’s MVP-like heroics extended Philly’s lead in the series to 3-0. Embiid has averaged 27.6 points and 13 rebounds over his three games in the series. And while James Harden’s adept passing has powered Philly’s offense, it’s been the high-energy attack from Tyrese Maxey that has opened eyes. The second-year guard has logged heavy minutes and is averaging 26.6 points with a 44.2% mark from beyond the arc this series. The 76ers have confidence and momentum riding on its side, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise if they closed it out with a sweep on Saturday.
Raptors rookie star Scottie Barnes has been sporting a walking boot as he attempts to bounce back from a left ankle sprain. Toronto would get a big lift offensively if Barnes, who missed Game 3, manages to make it back for Saturday’s action. If Barnes can’t suit up, OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. would have to play expanded roles on offense once again. Scoring help aside, Toronto’s defense will have to find a way to stop the 76ers on the perimeter. Philly has managed to shoot just over 45% from three-point range in the series.
Boston Celtics vs. Brooklyn Nets
Saturday, April 23 | TV: ESPN
The first-round series that packed the most potential has turned into a powerhouse 2-0 lead for Boston. The Celtics used their defensive muscle to shut down the Nets’ biggest stars in Game 2, holding Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to only one made shot in the second half. KD actually wound up going 0-for-10 after the break. The Nets posted a mere 20-21 record at home during the regular season, so the home-court advantage may not be a sure thing. Still, the Nets have kept this series incredibly competitive and would have won Game 2 without their disastrous second half.
With Boston’s defense stacked to stop Durant whenever he touches the ball, the Nets might have to turn to secondary scorers like Seth Curry and Goran Dragic, who’s averaging 16 points per game against the Celts. Jaylen Brown has been the Celtics’ most consistent performer in the series, topping 20 points in both games while racking up a total of seven steals. If the Nets can avoid a 3-0 hole, they’ll at least get some help on the defensive end from Ben Simmons, who will be targeting Game 4 instead for his long-awaited debut.