Raptors, Nuggets pull even on Saturday

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Toronto and Denver entered Saturday needing to pick up wins in their respective playoff series, with the former aiming to tie its series at two games apiece after falling into an 0-2 hole. Both teams accomplished their goal, with Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray among the standouts in the two games. And looking ahead to Sunday’s action there is a major injury to keep an eye on, as Giannis Antetokounmpo is dealing with a right ankle injury. Below is a look at Saturday’s happenings, beginning with Sunday’s injury report. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo listed as questionable for Game 4

Milwaukee is in a 3-0 hole, and the East’s top seed also has an injured MVP. Antetokounmpo injured his ankle during the first quarter of Friday’s loss but remained in the game, going on to play 35 minutes. It’s worth noting that the minutes weren’t impacted by the injury, as Mike Budenholzer planned to play Giannis and Khris Middleton about 36 minutes apiece. Meanwhile we’ve seen other teams in need of wins playing their best guys a minimum of 40 minutes. That approach has been puzzling to say the least, especially with the lack of production from Milwaukee’s bench. Antetokounmpo, who’s favored to win his second consecutive MVP award, is listed as questionable but I’m expecting him to give it a go. How effective he’ll be remains to be seen, and given how well the Heat have done in defending him having to deal with a balky ankle won’t help Giannis at all. 

On the Miami side of things Kelly Olynyk (right knee) is listed as questionable and Tyler Herro (right hip) is probable. Olynyk did not play in Game 3, which freed up a few minutes for Derrick Jones Jr. and even Meyers Leonard but neither was all that impactful. Olynyk missing another game would likely mean even more work for Bam Adebayo to do in the post and that’s fine, as he has largely outplayed Brook Lopez. And even if the Heat were to have their backup center available, it’s possible that Erik Spoelstra gives those minutes to Adebayo in an attempt to put the final nails in the coffin if presented the opportunity to do so. 

Anthony Davis (finger) and LeBron James (groin) are probable

Davis and James have been listed as probable for much of the Lakers’ time in the bubble, so their appearances on Saturday’s injury report doesn’t come as a surprise. They’ll take on their usual workloads as Los Angeles looks to rebound from its Game 1 loss to the Rockets, and the question is whether or not Frank Vogel will use Anthony Davis more at the center position. JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard played a total of 24 minutes Friday and neither was all that effective, so it isn’t as if the Lakers are taking advantage of a mismatch when pairing Davis with one of those two. Whether he’s in his usual power forward spot or moved over to the five Davis is going to have to deal with P.J. Tucker, who he did not score on in Game 1.

Raptors 100, Celtics 93 (series tied, 2-2)  

After essentially going with an eight-man rotation in Game 1 (11 players played, with eight hitting double digits in minutes), Nick Nurse has cut it down to seven with an eighth man getting a couple minutes when needed. In Saturday’s win three of the Raptors’ five starters played at least 44 minutes: Kyle Lowry (22/11/7/2/2 with four 3-pointers in 44 minutes), Fred VanVleet (17/6/6/1 with five 3-pointers in 45 minutes) and Pascal Siakam (23/11/2 with two 3-pointers in 46 minutes). A fourth starter, OG Anunoby (11/3/3/2 blocks and two 3-pointers), played 35 minutes and Marc Gasol (4/2/5) 26. Add in Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell, who played 22 and 19 minutes respectively, and that was about it for the Raptors with Matt Thomas getting three minutes. Look for more of the same moving forward. 

Going back to the center position, it was an even split for Gasol and Ibaka in minutes played during the second half. A lot of that had to do with how well the latter was playing, as he tallying 18 points, seven rebounds, one blocked shot and four 3-pointers. At this point Gasol’s value to the Raptors rotation, especially defensively, outweighs what he brings to the table fantasy-wise. For DFS I’m going with Ibaka, who’s averaging 13.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 blocks and 2.5 3-pointers per game in this series. By comparison, Gasol’s averaging 6.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per. 

Brad Stevens expanded his rotation by one, with Semi Ojeleye (seven points, three rebounds, one steal and one 3-pointers) playing 11 minutes after getting just six in Game 3. In the middle Daniel Theis (8/7/1/1/1) started and played 26 minutes, with Robert Williams (6/5/1/1) getting 15 minutes as the first big off the bench. However, the Time Lord only played two minutes after halftime with Grant Williams (four points, two rebounds in 13 minutes) spending some time in the pivot as Boston looked for a way to slow down Ibaka. None of those guys are worthwhile fantasy options right now, but Williams will be an interesting player to track ahead of next season. Enes Kanter was a DNP-CD, and to be frank this is a tough series for him matchup-wise given the struggles as a pick-and-roll defender. 

Overall Jayson Tatum (24/10/3 with one 3-pointer) had a decent night offensively, but the turnover count (five) was too high for him. If there’s anyone that Boston needs to get going ahead of Game 5 it’s Jaylen Brown, who shot 4-of-18 and finished with 14 points, six rebounds, one steal and two 3-pointers. Saturday’s game was the first this postseason in which he failed to record an assist, and since going 5-of-8 from three in Game 1 of the Celtics’ series against Philadelphia he is 13-of-51 on those shots. I’m not losing faith in Brown and no one else should either, but the shooting numbers aren’t trending in the right direction. Kemba Walker (15/2/8/1 with one 3-pointer) attempted just nine shots from the field, and that’s way too low for him given what he can bring to the table offensively. 

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Nuggets 111, Clippers 101 (series tied, 1-1) 

After looking fatigued and not fully prepared to deal with the Clippers in Game 1, which is understandable given how grueling their seven-game series with the Jazz was, Denver bounced back in a big way in Game 2. Mike Malone’s team never trailed, with Nikola Jokic (22/18/4/3 blocks and four 3-pointers) and Jamal Murray (27/3/6/2/1 with three 3-pointers) leading the way. Jokic took a hard fall late in the first quarter, but after limping for a brief period he was fine the rest of the way. He and Murray were two of the three Denver starters that played at least 37 minutes, with Jerami Grant (5/7/2/2/3) being the other. 

Grant and Gary Harris (13 points, two rebounds and four 3-pointers) played very well defensively, keeping Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in check for most of the night. Given the amount of time that Harris missed due to a hip injury, he wasn’t going to be asked to take on a full workload immediately. But he’s shown no ill effects from the injury since returning, and after playing no more than 26 minutes in any of the first three games that he appeared in Harris played 29 Saturday night. If he continues to hover around/exceed the 30-minute mark Harris has some value as a points/3-pointers option, especially if he can bring some defensive stats to the party. 

Paul Millsap (13/6/1 with two 3-pointers), Michael Porter Jr. (11/7/2 steals and one 3-pointer) and Monte Morris (10 points, two assists and one 3-pointer) all scored in double figures for the Nuggets, who went nine deep in Game 2. That’s as far as Malone appears willing to go with his rotation at this point. 

The Clippers also went nine deep, with Reggie Jackson (three points, one rebound, one assist, one steal and one 3-pointer) being the tenth man as he played nine minutes. Jackson’s defense makes him a tough play in this series, and the Nuggets found another “weak link” in Game 2. That was Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, who struggled defensively when Denver managed to involve him in their pick-and-roll game. Harrell, who accounted for 10 points, three rebounds and two steals in 18 minutes, still has value fantasy-wise but he’ll need to be better in those situations defensively. Starting center Ivica Zubac (15 points, nine rebounds in 20 minutes) is the Clippers’ best matchup for Jokic, and even he had trouble Saturday. I lean Harrell as the better fantasy option when looking at the Clippers’ two centers, but the gap has closed some. 

As noted above Leonard and George had their issues dealing with Grant and Harris, as they combined to shoot 11-of-36 from the floor. Leonard (13/10/8/3/1 in 39 minutes) shot 4-of-17 and George (22/8/3/2/2 with four 3-pointers) was slightly better as he finished 7-of-19. The good news for those who rostered Leonard and/or George for Saturday’s action is that both managed to fill their respective stat lines, so that helped limit the damage done by the field goal percentages. Lou Williams (13/4/7/1 steal), Marcus Morris (11 points, three rebounds and two 3-pointers) and JaMychal Green (10 points, 11 rebounds with two 3-pointers) also scored in double figures, and Green is a player to keep an eye on in Game 3. 

He played 26 minutes to Harrell’s 18, and while Green isn’t much of a center (neither is Harrell) using him may be a way for the Clippers to better defend Denver’s ball screen actions especially when Jokic is involved.