The NBA Playoffs are five days in and have provided plenty of highlights to dissect. From Utah splitting the series with Oklahoma City to Karl-Anthony Towns’ offensive woes, here are some takeaways from the playoffs’ fifth night.
Bully Ball Returns
On April 9, Utah Jazz Forward Derrick Favors had a tough question to answer. Speaking with The Salt Lake Tribune, Favors commented on his future with the organization. “I would love to come back and be a part of this team,” Favors told Tribune reporter Tony Jones. “Obviously a lot is going to happen between now and when I have to make a decision. But I love this team, and I love the fans. I definitely have an open mind.”
With the foresight of an eight-year veteran, Favors was on the money. A lot has happened for the Jazz. Currently locked in a playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah has turned a matchup favoring the Thunder’s star power into a dead heat. Rookie Donovan Mitchell has performed like anything but, and Rudy Gobert has played the All-NBA defense he’s touted for.
Toiling away in the series’ grit and grind however is Favors and his unabashedly old-school brand of ball. Throughout Game 2 Favors pushed, shoved and writhed his way through the paint en route to 20 points. More important though, was his persistence on the glass. Favors split 16 rebounds across the offensive and defensive boards, an effort that gave Utah a 56-46 rebounding edge. The stars aligned for Favors last night – the Thunder’s resident giant Steven Adams was hit with early foul trouble and left Carmelo Anthony the displeasure of staving off Favors. Using his six-foot-10 frame Favors also took advantage of the mismatch, playing mouse in the house whenever Russell Westbrook or Raymond Felton dared challenge.
Though the Jazz still lose in the raw talent race, and playoff Paul George is a frightening sight, Favors’ Game 2 renaissance is the exact boost Utah needs. His willingness to get physical is unmatched in an era when bully ball is reserved to the likes of Zach Randolph and Greg Monroe. Returning to Utah for Game 3 is a perfectly timed homecoming, hopefully one that continues to inspire Favors’ play while putting in a good note for his potential offseason return.
Even with a pair of substandard shooting games, the Houston Rockets are a perennial Finals force. The NBA Playoffs have marked the first time this season the Rockets are shooting under 31 percent from the 3-point land, yet the Minnesota Timberwolves are still getting outplayed. Clint Capella is playing like 2009 Dwight Howard without the pressure of team stardom and Houston has found solid contributions from role players on both sides of the ball.
Part of the problem is obvious. The Timberwolves are offensively outmatched. In Game 2 the Rockets hit on just 16-of-52 triples, good for 30.8 percent. Still, Minnesota, the leagues’ shyest 3-point shooting team managed just 5-of-18, meaning even on Houston’s worst days the Timberwolves can’t compare. Beyond pure shooting, the Timberwolves’ rotation heavily favors Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wigging to beef up the box score and one of the trio has been completely missing.
Towns is currently competing with the Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside for the “least likely to show up to a playoff game” award. Through the regular season Towns was held to single digit scoring just twice, both of which came before in 2017. Two games into the NBA Playoffs and Towns has hit that low mark twice, managing just five points in Houston’s Game 2 massacre.
One play aptly summarizes Towns’ struggles. A first quarter scramble in Game 2 began with Wiggins regathering the ball after a stifled drive attempt. Towns, trailing the play as per the series norm, gets a quick pitch from Wiggins and tries to muscle his way to the rim. After ducking past Capella, Towns is stripped not once, but twice by P.J. Tucker.
Unfortunately for Towns, coach Tom Thibodeau seems to have checked out, at least outwardly. “Houston’s being physical with him. He’ll figure it out,” Thibodeau remarked to the media. Figuring it out is easier said than done, not just for Towns, but for the Timberwolves as a whole. Thibodeau’s squad has yet to figure out which of their players can score twenty points, a mark that’s necessary to combat any of Houston’s hot hands. Despite saddling James Harden to 12 points on 2-of-18 from the field in Game 2, Chris Paul and Gerald Green woke up, combining for 48 of the Rockets’ 102 points.
For Minnesota, the responsibility falls on Towns, whose offensive machismo should outsmart Capella’s defensive wit. Through the season, Towns maintained his offensive game and even exploded for 35 against a fully stocked Houston team. The Rockets are supposed to win this series, but the burden falls on Towns to keep things competitive.