There’s probably a harsh life lesson in going unbeaten in a rearranged season and becoming one of the biggest stories in the NBA and still not even making the play-in round. This is the Phoenix Suns’ lot in life at the moment. Sometimes you can do everything perfectly and it still won’t matter and other people will get what you want. Aren’t we all learning this right now?
Anyway, the NBA’s last remaining question was who would be in the play-in round for the 8th seed in the West. Everyone did their part. The Suns won again, with Devin Booker continuing to be defiance personified by putting up 27 points with a +30 while on the court.
Memphis’ win followed the usual script, with both Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunus going for triple-doubles against a Bucks team that didn’t have Giannis and rested most of its starters. Memphis’ win meant that Phoenix was waiting on Portland’s game. A Blazers win would see them be the 8-seed, needing only one win to make the playoffs, while a loss would have them on the next plane from Florida to Oregon.
Damian Lillard, who has ascended to a form most cult leaders claim they can reach but can’t, put up 42, but it might be his 12 assists that are the reason the Blazers still get to play. Midway through the third quarter the Nets started picking up and doubling Lillard well beyond the three-point line and even sometimes before halfcourt. Of course, the one time they were slightly slow in picking him up, Lillard came up with this slice of sheer antisocial behavior …
In the fourth, Lillard found Gary Trent Jr., Carmelo Anthony, Jusuf Nurkic, and C.J. McCollum for huge buckets as they were left open with the double-teams Brooklyn was initiating somewhere around the hotel and taking his COVID tests for him by the end of the fourth. McCollum would actually hit the Blazers’ last bucket of the game to put them up four. Caris LeVert tried to run Dame-time even all game with 37 on his own and brought the Nets within one with an And-1, but missed his step-back with time expiring.
So the Blazers and Grizzlies will partake in the NBA’s first ever play-in series, with the Grizz needing to pull the double to move on and the Blazers only needing to bat .500 over the weekend.
Today also signaled the end of the San Antonio Spurs’ simply incomprehensible 22-year playoff run. It’s really impossible to state just how long or impressive that is. There are NHL streaks longer than that, but all of them at least encompass an era when 16 of 21 teams made the playoffs, or eight of 12, or some other formation where you’d have to literally be turned into smurfs to miss the playoffs. The Braves and Yankees in baseball got into the teens, but never even came close to the 20s.
Gregg Popovich has negotiated this streak through several eras of the Spurs, from David Robinson and Tim Duncan through Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli to Kawhi and now DeRozan and Aldridge. It is unlikely you’ll ever see anything like this again, because no one is bullish and unhinged enough like Pop to keep doing this for so long. A true national treasure.
NHL playoff goals are rarely art. Given the very tight margins and a lot of teams’ directives to block anything in sight with whatever limb you can get out there, most goals take place from about 18 inches out and from a scrum of no less than six guys humping each other.
So when someone gets to beat a goalie clean with a bomb from range, no screen in front, there is a base joy to it. Visceral, in the same way as hearing the opening note to your favorite Tool song live, or whatever band you regard in the same way who aren’t nearly as good. You feel it within you and you’re not totally comfortable talking about it.
Step up, Dougie Hamilton…
You know it’s a tracer when the goalie merely puts up a hand like he’s waving to a co-worker he doesn’t like as he drives by. It’s out of duty than any real hope or emotion of accomplishing anything. The win tied the series for the Canes with the Bruins at 1.