The NBA playoffs are finally starting to warm up. The Spurs wasted no time, nor did the Cavaliers. Several matchups look primed to go the distance. And the fate of a dreamlike Warriors season could rest on the integrity of a knee ligament. Here is Jonathan Tjarks with five observations from the weekend.
1. We’re at risk of losing Steph Curry.
The basketball world is waiting with bated breath for the results of Curry’s MRI after an ugly slip left him clutching his right knee on Sunday. The Warriors still took a 3-1 series lead against the Rockets, but it’s hard to celebrate when the reigning MVP’s postseason health is up in the air. Maybe we’ll all be spared, but maybe not. Either way, it’s a reminder that tomorrow is never promised. You can be on top of the world, and it can all change in an instant. Just ask the Thunder. Just ask Derrick Rose.
2. Marcus Smart can take over a game.
Forget about the flopping and the borderline reckless style of play — Smart saved the day for the Celtics on Sunday, stuffing the stat sheet and galvanizing several runs that gave Boston a Game 4 victory after trailing by as many as 16. Smart’s physicality, athleticism, and fearlessness allow him to match up with just about anyone on defense. With Paul Millsap destroying the Celtics frontline to the tune of 45 points, Brad Stevens turned to Smart to guard him in the fourth quarter, and that was the difference.
3. All eyes on DeMar DeRozan.
On one hand, DeRozan is a two-time All-Star and has grown into a locker-room leader at only 26. On the other, the Raptors have been more productive with him off the court for years, and he has consistently come up short in the playoffs. With DeRozan headed into free agency, will Masai Ujiri really want to commit more than $100 million to a guy who can’t lead his team out of the first round? Game 5 on Tuesday will be as pivotal as it gets for DeRozan and his future with the franchise.
4. Frank the Tank is finally rolling.
With Nic Batum out indefinitely and the Hornets down 2-0 against the Heat, Charlotte coach Steve Clifford had to get creative. Kaminsky was named a starter before Game 3 on Saturday, as part of a supersize frontcourt alongside Al Jefferson and Marvin Williams. In the second half, the 7-foot rookie finally made the Heat pay for guarding him with wings all series, taking everyone from Dwyane Wade to Justise Winslow and Joe Johnson into the post. Without Chris Bosh, Miami doesn’t really have the option of playing two traditional big men together. That’s a mismatch that should be there all series for Kaminsky when he’s playing at the 4.
5. One key to the Blazers-Clippers series? C.J. vs. J.J.
In the Blazers’ two losses to the Clippers, C.J. McCollum averaged 12.5 points on 32 percent shooting and J.J. Redick poured in 17 points at a 57 percent clip. In Game 3, McCollum flipped the switch with 27 points on 50 percent shooting, dwarfing Redick’s nightmarish five-point, 20 percent shooting performance. They each have an advantage over the other on offense — Redick’s quick release and ability to play off screens allows him to shoot over a similarly sized McCollum, while McCollum can take the slower Redick off the dribble. While they don’t always guard each other, whichever one has the better game on both sides of the ball gives his team a huge edge.
This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on April 25, 2016.