This could very well be the last image fans have of Kyrie Irving on the court this season. With James Harden already fighting a re-aggravation to his hamstring 43 seconds into the Eastern Conference Semifinals that left him out of play for three games, the Nets were out two top tier players, leaving Kevin Durant to carry a heavy load on his shoulders. And he did so in Game 5 playing all 48 minutes. Meanwhile, Harden returned and played 46 minutes but was only able to contribute 5 points.
The Nets then got hit hard on the elimination game, facing Game 7 at home. They may not be in this situation but for the loss of Harden and Irving. The Bucks, only missing Donte DiVincenzo, have health on their side as they head back to Brooklyn for tonight’s decisive Game 7.
This second round also saw the Denver Nuggets swept out of the Western Conference Semifinals without the services of Jamal Murray. Even Will Barton III’s return couldn’t push the series into a fifth game.
The first round of the playoffs saw the exits of the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, as their key players (Jaylan Brown, Anthony Davis, and Victor Oladipo) were unavailable when they were needed the most. Some pundits point to Dallas’ elimination as to having one only bonafide star, but on the other hand, Luka Doncic was fighting nagging shoulder pain throughout the series.
It begs the question — is the rigor of the league’s schedule mixed with lingering coronavirus postponements catching up to players in the postseason? In the series against Milwaukee, Kevin Durant is playing over 40 minutes per game when the Nets aren’t blowing the Bucks out of the water.
If James Harden and Kyrie Irving do not return in time to save their season, the conversation will be about “what could have been” no matter who hoists the Larry O’Brien in the end.
But they are not the only team that will face a “what if.”
The Philadelphia 76ers faced elimination last night. They might not be in this situation if Joel Embiid was at 100%, but his knee injury has placed their title hopes in jeopardy. By contrast, Trae Young is also fighting shoulder pain. As the team’s best scorer and ball-handler, his threshold for pain factors heavily into the Hawks’ ability to continue. As it stands, the 76ers were able to hold on and Game 7 will take place tomorrow.
Kawhi Leonard went out in Game 4 leaving the Clippers season to look all but done. Fortunately for them, Paul George, with the aid of Marcus Morris, Sr., and Reggie Jackson, stepped up keeping their playoff hopes alive. Last night solidified their push as the Los Angeles Clippers have, for the first time, made the Western Conference Finals without Kawhi suiting up, but rather on the back of PG-13 and Terance Mann.
Donovan Mitchell had not looked himself since returning from injury. He’s slow a step and has driven less to the hole, opting for long-distance. His hit-or-miss ratio has opened the door to the Clippers’ success. And when he went down in the final minute, you could tell he knew it was over.
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