The first round of the NBA playoffs continues today with four pivotal games — two Game 4s and a pair of Game 3s. Follow along here for the latest analysis and commentary from The Post's NBA reporter Tim Bontemps, and ask him questions in the comments ...
Timberwolves’ Jimmy Butler is dealing with a rolled ankle in Game 3 against the Rockets. (Jim Mone/AP)
The first round of the NBA playoffs continues today with four pivotal games — two Game 4s and a pair of Game 3s. Follow along here for the latest analysis and commentary from The Post’s NBA reporter Tim Bontemps, and ask him questions in the comments section. Catch up on last night’s games here.
Schedule and results | Pregame reading | Comments section Q&A
• The Sixers didn’t take care of the ball and couldn’t hit a shot. They still beat the Heat.
• Fracas breaks out in Sixers-Heat after wild sequence.
• Derrick Favors vs. Carmelo Anthony could determine the Jazz-Thunder series. Yes, really.
Back-to-back threes by Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague pushed Minnesota’s lead to 108-90 with 5:37 remaining.
Five players have at least 14 points for the Timberwolves, who are 12-for-22 from three-point range. This series, at least for a couple days, just got interesting.
Welcome to the playoffs, Karl-Anthony Towns. After lackluster showings in Games 1 and 2, the Timberwolves center is finally into double figures for the first time in this series. Not coincidentally, Minnesota has a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.
That lead is 98-85, with Towns putting up 14 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, a steal and two blocks. Jimmy Butler, meanwhile, has 20 points to lead Minnesota despite spraining his ankle late in the first half.
Houston has missed seven free throws and 22 three-pointers in this game, and looks like it won’t be able to muster the run necessary to steal it.
The Timberwolves have a 52-51 halftime lead over the Rockets, but they’d probably give up a few points in exchange for a healthy Jimmy Butler.
As the second half gets set to begin, it’s unclear how healthy Butler actually is after he rolled his left ankle late in the first half. Butler stayed in the game for the final defensive possession, but was clearly laboring. He was then in to start the second half, but again looked like his mobility was compromised.
With Houston starting to get hot from three (9-for-22), and Minnesota predictably cooling off (5-for-13), the Timberwolves desperately need a healthy Butler to try to keep from falling behind 3-0.
An unlikely source is helping the Timberwolves maintain their lead over the Houston Rockets: Derrick Rose. Now plus-11 for the game, Rose is 4-for-6 for eight points, still showing a potent ability to get to the rim. He even knocked down a mid-range jumper.
That isn’t sustainable over 48 minutes, nor over multiple games. But if it’s enough for the Wolves to get a first win in this series, they’ll undoubtedly take it.
The Portland Trail Blazers did their best to avoid getting swept. But it wasn’t good enough to beat Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday.
Behind 47 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks from Davis and 41 points and eight assists from Holiday, the New Orleans Pelicans won, 131-123, to sweep Portland and advance to almost certainly face the Golden State Warriors. It is the first time New Orleans advanced past the first round in a decade.
It was fitting that Davis and Holiday played the way they did. They were clearly the two best players in this series from start to finish, outclassing Portland’s star backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in all four games.
There will be plenty of time to address New Orleans in the coming days, so let’s focus on Portland for a minute. Losers now of 10 straight playoff games, the question facing the Blazers is, what comes next?
Rumors have swirled in recent days that both Coach Terry Stotts and General Manager Neil Olshey could be in trouble. A potential trade of Lillard or McCollum could be explored. At this point, it feels like anything could be on the table.
In their first home playoff game in 14 years, the Minnesota Timberwolves are playing like a team that wants to avoid the same fate that just befell the Portland Trail Blazers.
Midway through the second quarter of Game 3 of their first round series with the Houston Rockets, the Timberwolves have a 38-32 lead, built on a strong offensive showing, in particular from Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins.
Butler is off to a nice start, scoring 13 points, while Wiggins has 10 points, three rebounds and two assists. Minnesota would be wise to get Karl-Anthony Towns going, but this is an encouraging start after the Timberwolves were demolished in Game 2.
It’s been another rough shooting game for Houston, which is 5-for-15 from three-point range. Minnesota, on the other hand, is already 5-for-11.
76ers Coach Brett Brown says greatness is possible for his two best players.
In the wake of the Philadelphia 76ers moving to within one win of advancing to the second round of the playoffs, 76ers Coach Brett Brown summed up why his team looks set to rule the NBA for the next decade.
“Those two players, and I don’t use the word lightly, have a chance to be great,” Brown said, referring to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. “And they are ours.”
If Simmons and Embiid are healthy, they have a chance to have a dynastic run in Philadelphia — one that looks like it could begin as soon as this year, given how the playoffs are breaking down in the Eastern Conference.
If one team has the two best players in a playoff series, it’s virtually impossible for them to lose.
Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday have earned that distinction so far in this series. And now, with the Pelicans on the verge of sweeping the Blazers, Davis and Holiday are trying to ensure it will happen after a dominant third quarter.
The duo combined for 32 of the 42 points the New Orleans Pelicans scored in the third (Davis scored 19, and Holiday added 13), outscoring Portland’s entire team 32-29. New Orleans has opened up a 100-86 lead after three, moving to within 12 minutes of advancing to almost certainly face the Golden State Warriors in the second round.
The Trail Blazers have clearly decided they aren’t going to go down without a fight. With that, there might be an actual fight in Game 4 of their first round series with the Pelicans.
The chippiness that was evident throughout the Sixers-Heat game earlier Saturday was equally on display in the first half of this Game 4, which saw the Pelicans and Trail Blazers enter the break tied at 57 aftert he teams combined for five technical fouls — three on New Orleans, two on Portland — and 25 regular fouls.
Several players thus find themselves in foul trouble, including Pelicans star Anthony Davis, who had 14 points and two blocks but has three fouls, as do Blazers guard C.J. McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkic.
Damian Lillard went just 2-for-7 in the first half and has eight points, once again not looking like the same player likely to finish in the top five in MVP voting. That’s largely been because of the play of Jrue Holiday, who has 14 points and four assists, but also has committed five turnovers.
Since coming back to the Miami Heat in a deadline day trade back in February, Dwyane Wade has dropped some hints that this could be his last year in the NBA.
After Miami lost Game 4, putting the Heat down 3-1 to the Philadelphia 76ers in their best-of-7 series, Wade was asked if there was any thought this could be his last game in Miami, and if that led him to have any different thoughts as he walked off the court.
Wade, who scored 25 points but missed a key free throw late, smiled and said after a long pause, “I don’t want to answer that. I’ve got another game to play. I’m focused on the next game, trying to win that one.”
The Portland Trail Blazers are not being boatraced in Game 4 by the New Orleans Pelicans after one quarter like they were in Game 3. But one thing hasn’t changed: Damian Lillard’s complete lack of an impact on the game.
In nine minutes so far, in a game that New Orleans leads 26-25 after one, Lillard has two points on 1-for-3 shooting and two fouls. It has truly been remarkable how Lillard has been erased from this series by Jrue Holiday, who has again gotten off to a good start offensively with seven points and three assists in the first, and this is the latest example.
Still, even with New Orleans winning by just one early on, there are further danger signs for Portland, which trails 3-0 in the series. The Pelicans turned the ball over six times, which only resulted in four Trail Blazers points. Portland, meanwhile, only has one turnover. And Nikola Mirotic, who has torched Portland in this series, went scoreless in 10 first quarter minutes.
So yes, Portland is in the game. But it needs Damian Lillard to get going to actually win it.
The Philadelphia 76ers were playing on the road, couldn’t hit a shot and didn’t take care of the ball.
None of it mattered.
Behind 24 points from J.J. Redick, a triple-double for Ben Simmons — the first by a rookie in the playoffs since Magic Johnson in 1980 — and a dominating defensive performance from Joel Embiid, the Sixers won, 106-102, over the Miami Heat to take a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.
In what was possibly Dwyane Wade’s final game in Miami, the future Hall of Famer did his best to will his team over the finish line. But despite scoring 25 points, he will be remembered in this game for missing the second of two free throws — his only miss in six attempts in the game — with 17.6 seconds remaining with a chance to move the Heat to within one.
Wade’s missed free throw was part of a theme for the Heat in Game 4: Miami finished the game 13 for 25 from the free throw line.
The Heat wouldn’t score again after his miss, and Redick buried two free throws to make it a four-point game with 16 seconds left and give Philadelphia a chance to advance with a win back home Tuesday night in Game 5.
Simmons had 17 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists and four steals in becoming just the fifth rookie to ever have a triple-double in a playoff game, while Embiid, in his second game back from suffering a facial fracture in late March, continued to threaten every Heat shot attempt in the paint.
That was enough for Philadelphia to win despite going 7 for 31 from three-point range and committing 27 turnovers that led to 30 Heat points.
“To me the thing that most stood out was we flipped our whole discipline in the 4th period,” Sixers Coach Brett Brown told reporters after the game. “We stayed way more in our rules and our game plan … the fact you can win a playoff game with  turnovers is mind boggling.”
The Philadelphia 76ers have gone 7 for 26 from three. They have committed 24 turnovers that have become 28 points for the Miami Heat.
And yet, after the third quarter, the Sixers are only trailing by four. That has to be seen as a win for Philadelphia.
Miami is at home and has played well — and hard — in this game. But the two best players on the court are in Sixers uniforms. That gives Philadelphia the upper hand as it tries to take a commanding 3-1 lead in this series.
The Philadelphia 76ers are throwing away Game 4. Literally.
Early in the third quarter, the Miami Heat have jumped out to a 72-62 lead and have done so thanks to the Sixers handing them the ball and points, time and time again.
Overall, the Sixers have 21 turnovers, including six each by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, that have led to 26 Heat points. If it wasn’t for Philadelphia doing unusually well converting turnovers to points themselves — scoring 19 off just nine Heat giveaways — this game would be a rout.
This is an instance where a young team, playing on the road, needs to get itself under control and play with composure. If it doesn’t, this game could get away from Philadelphia in a hurry.
Josh Richardson, who left the first half with a bruised left shoulder, is back to start the third quarter for Miami. So is Justise Winslow, who needed stitches to patch up a cut over his eye.
Miami needs both players, so that is welcome news for the Heat.
After a thrilling first half of Sixers-Heat, how the third quarter goes will likely determine the outcome.
This season, Philadelphia was one of the NBA’s best third-quarter teams, posting a plus-7.2 net rating — good for fifth in the league. Miami, on the other hand, was one of the worst; the Heat’s negative-5.9 rating was 25th in the NBA.
So far this series, Philadelphia is plus-24 in the third quarter, outscoring Miami by 18 in Game 1, and then three points each in Games 2 and 3. The Heat have to be better in Game 4 as they try to even this series at two games apiece.
What a first half in Miami.
Scuffles, fouls, big moments, big shots — Sixers-Heat has it all. And, at halftime, the Heat have a 61-56 lead.
Goran Dragic has 13 points at halftime to lead Miami, while Dwyane Wade has 11 and Wayne Ellington 10.
J.J. Redick has 12 points to lead Philadelphia, which has all five starters with at least two fouls — and, most importantly, Ben Simmons with three.
This Heat-Sixers series has everything — and it all was on display in the last sequence of play.
Goran Dragic was fouled at halfcourt, but kept going to the rim. Robert Covington then fouled him and gave a little push to send Dragic, who was trying to make a layup, tumbling to the floor.
That didn’t sit well with James Johnson, who gave Covington a shove as a way of expressing his displeasure. That led to Ben Simmons — who has been jawing with Johnson repeatedly throughout the series — getting into Johnson’s face. The fracas eventually earned double technical fouls for Johnson and Covington.
More importantly, though, Josh Richardson — Miami’s excellent wing defender and shooter — looked like he suffered a potentially serious left-shoulder injury when diving for a loose ball at the start of the play, only to have Joel Embiid fall on top him.
Richardson immediately went to the locker room, where he was joined by Justise Winslow, who caught an inadvertent elbow from Embiid in the same pile-up and required stitches.
Meanwhile, both Simmons and Hassan Whiteside picked up their third fouls in the moments after all this happened. So, in the span of about 90 seconds, a lot changed in Miami.
Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra has a difficult task on his hands.
His mercurial center, Hassan Whiteside, is visibly losing confidence as this first-round series progresses. He struggled to find anyone to guard in the first two games, when Joel Embiid was injured, and when Embiid returned he was still invisible in Game 3.
Spoelstra, whose relationship with Whiteside has waxed and waned, has been seen repeatedly trying to talk to his big man and encourage him, as he attempts to keep his head in the series and not lose him.
Whiteside has begun to have more of an impact in Game 4, though. He has four points and five rebounds — along with two fouls — in nine minutes. He’s the only player on Miami, and one of the few in the league, big enough to actually handle Embiid’s strength and physicality. Miami needs him to be engaged in this series. There are signs, at least, that he’s getting there.
Dwyane Wade spent a year and a half bouncing from the Chicago Bulls to the Cleveland Cavaliers, looking like he was on the downside of his career.
Then he returned to Miami at the trade deadline in February. And, as the playoffs have arrived, Wade has shown he still has the potential to become the player that dazzled for the first 13 years of his career on the shores of Biscayne Bay — at least in brief stretches.
A strong Game 2 was followed by a rough Game 3, but Wade already has a quick nine points and is a plus-six for the Heat in Game 4, helping the Heat stay with the Sixers as halftime approaches.
From Philadelphia’s side? A rough three-point shooting half so far (4 for 14), and it’s good to see Brett Brown going back to Joel Embiid with two fouls and not being afraid to play him.
An interesting first quarter ends in Miami with the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat tied at 26, Sixers star Joel Embiid picking up two fouls and no court time for Markelle Fultz.
Embiid had six points in seven minutes, but turned the ball over twice — two of Philadelphia’s eight first quarter turnovers that became nine Miami points — and picked up a second foul late in the quarter. Sixers Coach Brett Brown took him out right away, and we’ll see if he returns in the second quarter.
As expected, T.J. McConnell got the backup point guard minutes behind Ben Simmons over Fultz, who struggled in Game 3. McConnell didn’t do much — but, more importantly, didn’t screw anything up. That’s what Brown is looking for.
Miami, on the other hand, had five turnovers that turned into 10 points for the Sixers, and went 3-for-8 from the free throw line.
The matchup that will decide the first-round series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz won’t be Donovan Mitchell vs. Russell Westbrook. It won’t even be Rudy Gobert vs. Steven Adams.
Instead, it will be who wins the positional battle between Derrick Favors and Carmelo Anthony.
Really, one might ask? Yes. Really.
In winning Game 2, the Jazz looked good when they had Gobert and Favors on the court together, and they gambled that Anthony wouldn’t make enough shots to prevent them from playing that way.
It’s hard to believe that’s where we are these days with Carmelo Anthony, who has spent his career as one of the league’s preeminent scorers, is now in a position where he needs to prove he can hit shots against a power forward to win a first-round series for his team as a third option. Yet here we are — and that’s exactly what Utah is going to make him do.
It was clear watching Game 2 that the Jazz aren’t too concerned about Anthony making shots. And, given he is 11 for 31 overall and 4 for 16 from three through two games, it’s hard to argue against Utah’s strategy.
Favors, meanwhile, had 20 points and 16 rebounds — including eight offensive boards — in Game 2, showing the kind of impact he can have when guarded by the smaller Anthony for much of the game. Utah, which scored 50 points in the paint in Game 2, will be hoping for that kind of production as the series shifts to Salt Lake City for Game 3 Saturday night.
If the Jazz get it, they could take the upper hand in this series. Whether they are able to have Favors in there to provide it — as opposed to a smaller player like Jae Crowder — will likely come down to whether Anthony makes shots.
So if you’re looking to hone in on one specific matchup in Game 3, it’s Favors vs. Anthony. Determine the winner of that one, and you’ll likely determine the winner of the game — and, possibly, the series.
Saturday’s schedule and results:
Philadelphia 76ers 106, Miami Heat 102 (76ers lead 3-1)
New Orleans Pelicans 131, Portland Trail Blazers 123 (Pelicans win 4-0)
Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves (Rockets lead 2-0); 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz (series tied 1-1); 10 p.m., ESPN
Paul Pierce says it’s time for John Wall and Bradley Beal to step up or break up
‘All my best games I was medicated’: Matt Barnes on his game-day use of marijuana
76ers’ Joel Embiid returns to the court wearing a mask with goggles
Adam Silver: One of the WNBA’s problems is that not enough young women pay attention to it
‘Get off her back’: LeBron James defends TNT reporter who asked him about Erin Popovich’s death
Wizards defense isn’t close to being good enough to get them back in this series
NBA, Twitch reach deal on 2K League streaming rights
Hop into the comments section below to chat with The Post’s Tim Bontemps about all of your NBA questions.
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