Last night, an offensive collapse from the Bucks opened the door for Jeff Green and Kevin Durant to spark a comeback and take Game 5 for the Nets. James Harden underwhelmed in his return, but he still played nearly the whole game. Now Brooklyn will look to finish things off in Milwaukee tomorrow. Tonight, there are two more crucial Game 5s. The Sixers host the Hawks while the Jazz host a Kawhi-less Clippers team. Who goes up 3-2? First, let’s talk 3 Things.
1. The Carousel Spins
Today was a wild day in the NBA. Part of that was the firing of two more coaches in Stan Van Gundy and Scott Brooks – former leaders of the Pelicans and Wizards, respectively. They join former Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren (a year one victim like SVG), former Magic coach Steve Clifford, and former Blazers coach Terry Stotts on the free agent market. There’s also an opening in Boston, where former coach Brad Stevens transitioned to a front office role that will allow him to search for his own replacement. That’s six openings with another one potentially brewing in Milwaukee should the Bucks fall in the second round. The competition for preferred candidates – Mike D’Antoni, Sam Cassell, Chauncey Billups, and more – will be fierce. A few takeaways –
- These changes all made some sense
Stotts and the Blazers were going nowhere, and he’d already been there nine years. A coaching change won’t make Portland automatic contenders without some roster improvements, but changing things up here is a defensible decision.
Van Gundy never made much sense in New Orleans, and they simply didn’t improve this year in the ways one would hope from a defensive-minded, veteran coach. There’s only so much time left to get things right before you start to hear the awkward questions. New Orleans needs to nail their second take at HC.
Brooks failed horrendously when it came to creating a competent defense in Washington. Is that all his fault? No. Are there better options out there? Yes. Like Portland, it’s not all on the coach here. That doesn’t mean the coach isn’t part of the problem or worth changing.
Bjorkgren clearly wasn’t ready to manage an NBA locker room with all of the stories and reports that have leaked out. As far as results go, I don’t think the Pacers could have expected a whole lot more with all of their injury issues. But if the inner chemistry is a mess, you need to make a change. There’s no room for that kind of mess in today’s league.
Clifford was brought in before a fire sale, and there’s no reason to expect him to want to stay around to lead what will end up being a massive rebuild effort. Orlando has a long ways to go, and someone else will attempt to soldier that storm.
Stevens is the one exception, but even that move makes some sense. The whispers have been there for a while, and he seems to want a different challenge after years on the bench. He had yet to crack the Finals code, so now someone else will try for Boston.
- Two year one fires is rather shocking
Both Bjorkgren and Van Gundy being fired less than twelve months after they were hired is telling. The balance of power is shifting rather dramatically for coaches, who are becoming increasingly expendable. It’s a players league, and the number of franchises that are willing to ride through some trouble with their head coach is dwindling. It will be interesting to see how this develops moving forward. One key question – will we see the same names rapidly shuffle around or will brand new candidates break in at a higher rate? The fate of guys like D’Antoni and Kenny Atkinson this summer will be a good sign of where we stand.
- Budenholzer coaching for his job this week?
With Luke Walton staying in Sacramento, there aren’t many other potential job opening. Rick Carlisle appears to be safe in Dallas too. Bud is the man to watch. What happens if the Bucks can’t get past the Nets? To put it differently – how many chances is Milwaukee willing to grant him?
2. Harden’s Long Night
After exiting 43 seconds into Game One, James Harden made his return last night. Though Steve Nash said that Kyrie Irving’s injury would not lead to Harden being rushed back, it’s difficult to not draw a connection between the two, especially given how he looked out there. It’s likely not much of a reach to say that Harden was in a place where he was not likely to be re-injured but far from 100% – and that he decided due Irving’s absence that playing despite the rust would be the best case scenario for the team.
From a production standpoint, Harden did very little outside of drawing a few fouls and swiping a ball or two from the books. However, it’s hard to believe the nurse would’ve had them out their head they truly believed that someone like Mike James would’ve been more beneficial for the team as a whole. It’s clear that Brooklyn at least believed that Harden’s presence was a huge lift for the team. Given that he deserves a whole Lotta respect. It was one heck of a gutsy performance to play 14+ minutes after coming back from injury hats off to harden
3. Two Key Absences Out West
Injuries have already played a key role on that half of the bracket. Jamal Murray’s earlier injury knocked the Nuggets from true title contention. Anthony Davis’s groin injury didn’t allow the Suns to win that first round series, but it did make it a lot easier. Now we have two more.
1. Chris Paul is in COVID protocol indefinitely
It’s unlikely, barring a severe case of COVID, that Paul is done for the playoffs. He may not even have the virus at all (though that appears to be wishful thinking based off of current reporting). The Suns are guaranteed a few more days off, and that becomes another week or so if the Jazz and Clippers extend their series to seven games. There’s time for him to come back early in the WCF or potentially even before it begins (this is assuming reports of Paul’s positive test are wrong). If he comes back in Game 3 or 4, the Suns are far from dead. With that said, it’s a brutal hit for a player and a team that could use the postseason glory as much as anyone. Paul already saw a promising postseason cut short by injury in 2018. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t happen again. In the meantime, Devin Booker and Cam Payne will need to step up in his absence.
2. Kawhi out indefinitely with a knee injury
The extent of the injury is not at all clear right now, but we do know Leonard is out tonight. It’s an awful break given that the injury occurred late in a blowout Game 4 win. Kawhi is the best player on the Clippers, and everything they do relies on his two-way ability. It’s really hard to see them doing much without him at this stage in the season. The Clippers WCF curse continues. They just can’t make it there.