The Raptors are advancing in the playoffs for the first time since 2001, the Warriors continue their steamrolling, and while the Thunder went down hard, they still aren’t out of it. Jonathan Tjarks has five takeaways from the weekend’s action.
Toronto’s unsung heroes save the day yet again.
As was the case all series, the Raptors bench unit of Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, and Bismack Biyombo came up huge in Game 7, fueling big runs in both halves against a depleted Pacers second unit. They each played their roles to perfection — Powell had 13 points, Joseph had four assists, and Biyombo had 11 rebounds. How they perform against the Heat’s rookie second unit of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson will go a long way toward determining the outcome of their second-round series.
… But Indiana’s got next.
While the Pacers came up short in Game 7, there’s a lot for their fans to be encouraged by. Paul George looked like a legitimate superstar in his return to the playoffs (averaging 27.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2 steals on 45.5 percent shooting), while Myles Turner has the look of a perennial All-Star. George is still only 25; Turner is 20. Indiana has two young cornerstones who can be elite players on both sides of the ball. There are cracks in the rotation that need to be filled with better, more complementary role players, but that’s relatively easy. For the Pacers, the hardest part of team building is done.
No Steph? No problem.
With Shaun Livingston in Golden State’s starting lineup, there is no obvious weakness to exploit on defense, no starter under 6-foot-6, and nowhere to hide a smaller defender. As is often the case in these situations, replacing the replacements is where it becomes difficult for the Warriors — their depth has been compromised and their second unit is far more vulnerable than before — but in their four games without the reigning MVP, they have looked more than capable of holding down the fort until Curry’s return.
Where will the Thunder go from here?
When you go down 23 points at the end of the first quarter and lose by 32 in a front-to-back blowout, the next game is a matter of holding on to your pride. Game 1 was an embarrassment full of slumped shoulders and noncommittal defense. But the past might hold a positive precedent: The Thunder have dug themselves out of holes in the playoffs before. They beat the Spurs after going down 2-0 in 2012 and advanced over the Clippers in 2014 after losing Game 1 in OKC by 17 points.
Goran Dragic comes alive.
After an underwhelming series against the Hornets up to Sunday, Dragic resurrected at the perfect time in Game 7, with 25 points on 11-for-17 shooting. He terrorized the Hornets in transition, where we’re accustomed to seeing his talent shine, but was also aggressive looking to score in the half court, where he was finally able to take advantage of his huge size edge on Kemba Walker. For the Heat to make a deep run, they’ll need to find a way to get Dragic and Dwyane Wade going at the same time.
This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on May 2, 2016.