Tonight's NBA Elimination Games: Who Survives to Play Another Day?
This Saturday, we’ll see history made when the NBA presents three consecutive Game 7s on the same day for the first time ever. The crazy thing is, we might not even have to wait that long before we see such a feat again. There are three Game 6s on the docket for Friday night and, depending on how they go, we could see anywhere from one to three Game 7s again on Sunday. While expecting all three to get pushed to the brink might be a bit of a stretch, our algorithms have the possibility of at least one of these series getting extended past tonight at 83.62%. In other words, don’t make Sunday plans just yet.
NBA pundits from far and wide are calling this the best first round they’ve ever seen (or at least the best in a long time) and there are plenty of ways to back that up. The possibility of six Game 7s in a single weekend would be an NBA fan’s dream come true and with all the crazy overtime and road win records being broken left and right, nothing seems out of the realm of possibility anymore. Let’s break down which of these tantalizing matchups could go the distance and which might come to a close tonight.
Toronto Raptors @ Brooklyn Nets
Series: Raptors lead 3-2
Game 6 Win Probability: Raptors at 51.80%
The Toronto Raptors have grown up quite a bit in the span of five games. A lot was made of the difference in playoff experience between the Raps and Nets coming into this series, but fast forward to tonight’s Game 6 and the inexperienced Raps hold a 3-2 edge. The extra 50 combined games of playoff experience that their roster has accumulated so far this year is starting to show.
They weathered the storm of an epic collapse in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s win in Toronto, when they gave up a 44-point frame to the Nets. This team has buckled under such momentum shifts before, but Kyle Lowry has made his mark on this team and his refusal to quit through bangs and bruises is being emulated by the team as a whole.
Lowry’s 21.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game show his impact, but his true shooting percentage of .616 and series-leading player efficiency rating of 20.2 make a strong case for him as the most valuable Raptor in this series. Of course, it certainly hasn’t hurt that his backcourt running mate, DeMar DeRozan, is scoring 24.2 points per contest and getting to the line more than any other playoff performer (12.2 attempts per game) while connecting at an excellent rate (.885). If those two continue to play well, the Raps might be on their way to South Beach after tonight.
Of course, the Nets won’t make it easy. They’ve gotten away from what was working early in the series, forcing the Raptors to only 10.5 turnovers per game over the last two losses, as compared to 19.7 over the first three. If they can get back to disrupting the flow of the Raptors offense, they could very well push this one to the brink. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett both sat the entirety of the fourth quarter in Wednesday’s game, but don’t count their combined 277 games of playoff experience out just yet. This should be a tight one (the Raptors have a +4 point differential for the whole series).
San Antonio Spurs @ Dallas Mavericks
Series: Spurs lead 3-2
Game 6 Win Probability: Spurs at 55.28%
The Spurs finished this season with the best record in the NBA at 62-20 and may have even had the best season in their franchise’s history. You’d think that would spell an easy first round in the 1-8 matchup, but the Western Conference is loaded with talented teams this season and the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks are certainly no strangers to post-season success.
This series has been a formidable coaching duel between Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich and Rick Carlisle. Pop’s careful handling of his vets throughout the season appears to have paid dividends as Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan are both playing heavy minutes (29.1 and 35.9 respectively) and leading the Spurs in scoring (19.6 and 18.0). Tony Parker has struggled at times, posting a net rating of -17, but is always capable of carrying his team to victory. If the Spurs can get all three rolling at once, we all know how hard they can be to beat.
The Mavericks are underdogs at home in this game, but if they want to see a Game 7, they’ll need Dirk Nowitzki to put up something close to the 26 points and 15 rebounds he had in the last one. He’s been averaging playoff career lows in points (18.0) and true shooting percentage (.471) and the Mavs don’t have much hope without him.
Dirk’s been known to will his team to a victory or two and it has yet to happen in this series. Yes, the Spurs are favored ever so slightly, but we might be due for Dirk’s takeover game. If not, who knows, maybe Vince Carter will continue to be an x-factor, knocking down ridiculous buzzer beaters like in Game 2 or nailing seven three-pointers as in Game 5.
Houston Rockets @ Portland Trail Blazers
Series:Blazers lead 3-2
Game 6 Win Probability: Blazers at 57.22%
While the Raptors and Spurs try to close out their opponents in Game 6 on the road, the Blazers will get that opportunity at home in front of one of the best crowds in the entire league. That home-court advantage gives them the best odds of shutting things down tonight, according to our algorithms.
With the Blazers, the Rockets will really have to pick their poison. Both LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard have been dominant in this series. LMA’s 28.6 player efficiency rating is the second best of any player in this year’s playoffs and Lillard’s 23.7 ranks seventh.
Aldridge’s 29.8 points (second), 10.8 rebounds (fourth), and 3.2 blocks (second) per game all rank among playoff leaders in those categories. Lillard, in his first playoff series, has been amazing as well, posting a gaudy line of 25.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game to go along with a blistering .459 from deep on 7.4 attempts per contest. With the two of those guys firing on all cylinders, it’s hard to imagine the Rockets can come back and take this series.
If the Rockets do fold, a big part of the blame is likely to fall on the shoulders of James Harden. Dwight Howard has done all he can to match Aldridge by averaging a ridiculous 26.0 points, 14.2 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks, while shooting .545 from the field and an excellent (for him) free-throw percentage of .642. Where the Rockets have fallen short is in their guard play, as Harden has not made up for the damage Lillard is doing and Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin have only been effective in small bursts.
Harden’s 25.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.6 steals look pretty, but the .347 shooting on 19.1 attempts per game (to go with .250 on 7.8 treys) is not likely enough from your All-Star to get things done. His decline in the playoffs over the last few years has been discouraging, but there’s no better time than the present to turn it around. He’ll get a chance to do that tonight, when the Rockets will need to win a potential elimination game if they want to force an all-bets-are-off Game 7 between two equally matched teams (on paper).