The good, the bad, and the uncertain from Thursday’s slate of Game 6s.
Game 6: Blazers 119, Nuggets 108
Winner: The Blazers’ Big Man of the Future
A key difference between Portland in Game 5 and Game 6 is that in the latter game the team had extra Zach Collins. The sophomore not only got in the game more—a correction that Terry Stotts made after witnessing Al-Farouq Aminu get eaten alive in Game 5—but Collins, who finished with 14 points and four boards, seemed to spend his 29 minutes snarling, each interaction filled with tension and aggression and mean mugs. Collins is 7 feet tall and 235 pounds; next to Nikola Jokic, he’s thin. But he’s also the kind of player whose presence is always felt in the paint, in a hostile way. Collins is 21 and could afford to gain some weight, but he’s already acting like a new-age enforcer.
The clip of Collins that will live on past this game is him jumping into a fight to defend Seth Curry:
On this episode of Zach Collins standing up for his teammates: pic.twitter.com/gMME4Fr0Zd— Rip City’s #1 Chicago Fan Sarah (@luvthewayulie16) May 10, 2019
Collins has built a bit of a reputation during his short career. This season, he got in Klay Thompson’s face and screamed, “Fuck you, hoe”; in Game 5 against the Nuggets, he saw Jokic approaching teammate Meyers Leonard, inserted himself between the two, pushed Jokic, and yelled, “Back the fuck up.” I don’t know who the [enter Collins’s profanity of choice here] he thinks he is, but it sure is fun to watch.
It’s a shame the two-second scrum will be shared the most, because it’s probably the fifth-toughest thing Collins did all game. He rammed two-handed dunks and set wall-like screens. (And I mean wall; said Jamal Murray after Game 2, “Those screens hurt. … It hurt for the rest of the game. Couldn’t move, obviously.”) Collins was just as robust a defender on the ground as he was in the air, totaling five blocks.
1. On the ground:
2. In the air:
Collins could be a starter next season. Aminu will hit unrestricted free agency; Collins will keep hitting guys 20 pounds heavier than him.
Loser: Denver in the Third
As strange as it may sound, it’s been more crucial for Denver to capitalize in the third quarter than the fourth against Portland. In the first five games of the series, the Nuggets outscored the Blazers four times in the third quarter. Portland has been vulnerable in that frame all postseason: Before Game 6, their overall third-quarter net rating in the playoffs was minus-1.0 compared to a regular-season net rating of plus-6.3. Against the Nuggets, the Blazers’ third quarters in games 4 and 5 were alarming: In the former, they were outscored 27-14, and in the latter, 28-18. There’s a direct correlation between those 12 minutes and the fact that Portland lost both games: All momentum was lost, and against an offense like Denver’s—constantly doused in gasoline with a scorer like Murray and a playmaker like Jokic, just waiting for a match—playing catch-up can be impossible.
Denver still put up 26 points in the third on Thursday (compared to Portland’s 29), but missed multiple opportunities to climb ahead. Paul Millsap, who was spectacular less than 48 hours ago, went 1-for-4; Gary Harris couldn’t make his floaters and long 2s; and Murray and Jokic fumbled a couple of high-percentage shots in the paint.
Winner: Rodney Hood in the Fourth
Former LeBron James understudy Hood might’ve been an unlikely difference-maker at the beginning of the second round, but not by Thursday’s tip. He came into Thursday averaging 14.4 points for the Blazers off the bench in the series, shooting 53.3 percent from behind the arc and 58.5 percent overall. In Game 6’s win, Hood scored 25 points, a postseason career high, nearly doubling all Nuggets reserves combined. Ten of those came in the fourth to close out Denver.
Game 6: 76ers 112, Raptors 101
Loser: The Shortest Memory in the NBA, and Yes I Mean You, Philly Fans
How the mood has changed, Sixers nation, in the past 24 hours. How it fluctuated through Game 6, even. Three minutes into the second quarter, Philly was up 19 points; three minutes later, still up seven, Wells Fargo Center was booing; at the end of the fourth, the crowd gave the team a standing ovation. Entering the game, some of the fan base thought the franchise would be better off if it traded sooner rather than later. Cut their losses now before it’s too late; I mean he’s already 22 years old, and it’s been nearly an entire year since he was the Rookie of the Year. By the end of the game, Ben Simmons was again the Prince Who Was Promised, the first of his name, the one whom Philly should really build around.
Because Joel Embiid, really, will he ever be healthy? He hadn’t been through five games against Toronto. He’ll probably never be injury free, never mind that the health issue restricting him in Game 5 was a respiratory infection, probably the same respiratory infection your kid caught last month at school. You know what they say about respiratory infections and big men; it could be a career ender. Well, except, in Game 6 he looked quite good. Great, even. Could he be the best big man in history? Who’s to rule it out? Embiid finished with 17 points, 12 boards, and a plus-minus of plus-40. Plus-40! Did Wilt ever do that? Well, did he? (We don’t know; the stat doesn’t go back that far. But still: plus-40!)
I love you, Philadelphia. And I fear you, Philadelphia. But most of all, I admire you, Philadelphia, and your utter disregard for anything that happened more than six and a half minutes ago. Are you rash? You tell me. Would an impulsive fan base ink itself with Mike Scott tattoos three months into his Sixers tenure, knowing full well that he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer?
The past is the past, and the past is not part of the Process. Take it from Jimmy Butler, who also joined the organization this season, who also could leave this summer, who also is now Philly’s god, and who once took the rearview mirrors off his minivan as “as a symbolic reminder to never look back.”
Winner: Contract-Year Jimmy Buckets
Brett Brown has to be thrilled that Simmons and Embiid returned to form in Game 6. The duo is the Sixers’ future and will also determine Brown’s future; he’s reportedly coaching for his job this postseason. But more than Simmons and Embiid, Philadelphia’s coach has Jimmy Butler to thank for keeping the team in this Raptors series. Butler scored 25 points on Thursday, his third straight game leading all Sixers, and added six rebounds, eight assists (another team high), and two steals. He’s been the hero, even next to Embiid and Simmons in Game 6.
The end of the first half belonged to Jimmy Butler pic.twitter.com/bNT49zKkqP— ESPN (@espn) May 10, 2019
There’s no telling how long Butler will be a Sixer. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it’s very possible that he’ll leave. It’s a cute coincidence that Butler, who was the locker-room wrecker ambushing practices last fall, repaired his reputation in a place nicknamed the City of Brotherly Love. Battling Toronto, Butler has displayed all his strengths: veteran experience, competitiveness, elite two-way skills, and a desperate need to win. Brown is hoping that will carry over to Game 7. So far, there’s no evidence it won’t.
Loser: Raptors Bench
For a team often applauded for its depth, Toronto’s bench has been especially unproductive in the second round. Three games in, the Raptors reserves had played 163 total minutes and had combined for just 21 points, shooting 21 percent from the field. In Game 4, only Serge Ibaka scored from the second unit, adding 12 points. The bench nearly topped its point total from the first four contests in Game 5 alone, scoring 32 points in Philadelphia’s worst playoff loss since Dr. J was wearing the uniform (a 1982 40-point loss to Boston).
They regressed again in Game 6. At the end of the third quarter, only Ibaka was on the board (nine points). He led all relievers; Fred VanVleet, once hailed as the backup no one’s talking about, was a nonfactor again, yet Nick Nurse didn’t play Jeremy Lin at all while still briefly subbing in Pat McCaw. The bench managed to finish with 23 points, but most of that was acquired in garbage time.