Sports Corner

By: Robert Bishop

Back again, and Milwaukee entered last night’s Game 5 showdown with the Brooklyn Nets in a prime position to control the series. During the first half, the Bucks looked to do exactly that, building a 16-point halftime lead. However, during the second half, everything fell apart for Milwaukee. Kevin Durant came out firing, and Brooklyn treated the game—and rightly so—as a must-win, letting Durant play all 48 minutes. James Harden, in his first game back from a nagging hamstring injury, played 46 minutes.

Durant finished the game with a full box score that somehow fails to capture the complete picture of his dominance. With f49 points, 17 rebounds, and ten dimes, Durant became the first player in NBA history to record 45+ points, 15+ boards, and 10+ assists in a playoff game. James Harden was hardly at his best (1-of-10 shooting), but his presence and playmaking opened up looks for Durant, who shot an incredible 16-of-23 from the field, including 4-of-9 from three.

Milwaukee heads into tomorrow night’s Game 6, staring at elimination, loaded with uncertainty. The team’s reluctance to push its starters once again proved costly, as in a game in which an injured Harden is playing 46 minutes, and Durant is never leaving the court, there are zero excuses for the Bucks only to play Jrue Holiday 34 minutes. Milwaukee built its first-half lead thanks to ball movement and player movement creating open looks beyond the arc and at the rim. However, during the second half, the Bucks reverted into an isolation-heavy offense, which doomed the team. Something has to change for the Bucks to avoid another disappointing playoff run.

Philadelphia dropped Game 4 to the Atlanta Hawks, thanks mainly to an awful second half from Joel Embiid. The 76ers boasted a lead that was as large as 18 points during the third quarter, but Philadelphia could not convert the lead into a win. Instead, behind Embiid going 0-of-12, the 76ers suffered a Game 4 defeat, falling into a 2-2 tie heading into tonight’s pivotal Game 5. Embiid finished the game with a solid box score, contributing 17 points and 21 rebounds, but his inability to turn attempts into buckets in the second half cost his team a victory.

As for the Hawks, Atlanta continues to reconfigure its lineup following the season-ending injury to DeAndre Hunter. Though Trae Young was far from efficient (25 points on 26 shots), the star proved to be a game-changing playmaker. Young routinely created open looks for himself and teammates, cementing his place among the NBA’s must-watch young talents. The Hawks heading back to Philadelphia for Game 5 with the series tied has to give Atlanta a jolt of confidence, as does the MVP runner-up’s struggles. A few months ago, the 76ers were sitting atop the East while the Hawks looked lottery-bound. Now, tonight, the two franchises are heading into a best-of-three series with a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals on the line.

Everything went according to plan for the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night. The Clippers won for the second consecutive game, moving to even its series with the top-seeded Utah Jazz at 2-2. Once again, it was the combined forces of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard propelling the Clippers to the win, though Leonard did sit out the final four-plus minutes of the game after twinging his knee. It’s unclear whether it was an actual injury or a precaution, but there seems to be a zero-percent chance Leonard misses tonight’s Game 5 in Utah.

For the Jazz, once again, the absence of point guard Mike Conley (hamstring) loomed large as All-Star Donovan Mitchell has little help spearheading the offense. Mitchell finished the game with an impressive 37 points, but as Utah’s lone reliable scorer, the Clippers could focus its defense on making his life difficult. As a result, those 37 points came on 9-of-26 shooting. During the regular season, the Jazz were among the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA, and in the second half, the rapid-ball-movement, knock-down-open-looks team came out of the locker room. However, it was too little, too late for the Jazz due to a 24-point halftime deficit. The Jazz have to get off to a better start tonight to avoid a trip back to L.A. on the brink of elimination.