Sports Minute: With offenses blowing up in bubble, defenses try to catch up
By BRIAN MAHONEYAP Basketball Writer
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The kids are having all kinds of fun at Walt Disney World.
Donovan Mitchell, just 23 years old, opened the NBA playoffs with 57 points, third-most in history.
Luka Doncic, only 21, scored 42, the best postseason debut the league had ever seen.
They did everything but win.
Numbers have been eye-popping all over the bubble, with individual players and sometimes entire teams pouring it on like never before. There’s no indication so far that’s going to change in the postseason.
“In some ways I don’t know if it’s more competitive, but it’s competitive out there,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, whose team withstood Doncic’s debut to beat Dallas in Game 1.
“I think because everyone in the bubble has confidence right now because they put the work in, so that’s what’s going to make it hard.”
The thought was always that defenses tightened up come playoff time, with the pace of the game slowing down and more adjustments being made as teams familiarize themselves with an opponent they could play seven times.
That hasn’t happened yet.
Denver overcame Mitchell’s performance by scoring 135 points to beat Utah by 10 in overtime. Toronto hung a franchise playoff-record 134 on Brooklyn in the only rout on Monday, behind a career playoff-best 30 points from Fred VanVleet.
In the other game, Jayson Tatum had career playoff highs of 32 points and 13 rebounds to get Boston past Philadelphia 109-101.
Rivers thinks players are sharper than they usually would be when the postseason arrives because of all the extra practice time they had, and it’s clear that it’s been paying off.
But he's not expecting it to stay this way. The defenses will start catching up eventually, maybe even as soon as some of the Game 2s scheduled for Wednesday.
So don't give up on the idea of defenses winning championships just yet.
“It's not gone,” he said. “It’s just gone right now.”
A look at Wednesday's games:
NETS VS. RAPTORS
Raptors lead 1-0. Game 2, 1:30 p.m. EDT, NBA TV
— NEED TO KNOW: The defending champions keep on looking as good as anyone at Disney, improving to 8-1 with their Game 1 victory. Now they will try to take a 2-0 series for only the second time. They dropped Game 2 in each of the final three rounds last year.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Kyle Lowry. He shot just 3 for 14 in the opener but count on him to keep on shooting.
— INJURY WATCH: Jamal Crawford remains out with a hamstring injury.
— PRESSURE IS ON: The Nets' perimeter defense. Brooklyn is already overmatched inside against Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. So the Nets have little chance if they're letting the Raptors also fire in 22 3-pointers, including eight by VanVleet.
JAZZ VS. NUGGETS
Denver leads 1-0. Game 2, 4 p.m. EDT, TNT
— NEED TO KNOW: The matchup remains as about as close as imaginable. Though Denver has won all four meetings, counting the regular season, the total margin is just 21 points. Both games in the bubble have gone to overtime.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Nikola Jokic's passing. The Nuggets' All-Star center had just three assists in the opener, taking a team-high 21 shots. If Rudy Gobert and the Jazz try to make him give the ball up more, he's perhaps the best passing big man in the game.
— INJURY WATCH: Utah's Mike Conley has returned to the bubble after returning to Columbus, Ohio for the birth of his son. The Jazz will have to wait until he clears quarantine until he can rejoin their lineup.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Joe Ingles. Utah's swingman has a tough two-part assignment, needing to provide extra offense without Conley while also trying to stop Denver guard Jamal Murray, who scored 36 in the opener.
76ERS VS. CELTICS
Boston leads 1-0. Game 2, 6:30 p.m. EDT, TNT
— NEED TO KNOW: Game 1 played out the way it was largely predicted. Boston has plenty of firepower with Tatum, Jaylen Brown (29) and Kemba Walker (19), while Philadelphia's costly dry spell in the fourth quarter showed it can lack enough scoring beyond Joel Embiid at times.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Boston's bench. The Celtics got just eight points from their reserves in Game 1 but might need more contributions now with Gordon Hayward out of the lineup.
— INJURY WATCH: Hayward is expected to miss about four weeks after spraining his right ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 1. He was on crutches Tuesday.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Embiid. He put it on himself, despite having 26 points and 16 rebounds in the opener. “I’ve got to do more,” he said. “Whatever the stats are, I’ve got to do more. I’ve got one job to do — carry us. I’m going to need my teammates to help me.”
MAVERICKS VS. CLIPPERS
Los Angeles leads 1-0. Game 2, 9 p.m. EDT, TNT
— NEED TO KNOW: The Clippers have defeated the Mavericks in all four meetings this season, two since arriving at Disney.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: The Mavericks’ mood. They grew frustrated with some calls in the opener and Kristaps Porzingis picked up the first of his two technical fouls reacting to one of them. Rivers acknowledged his team has some “agitators” and the Mavericks need to avoid overreacting if provoked by them.
— INJURY WATCH: Rivers said Montrezl Harrell needed to get a lot of running in to rebuild his conditioning. He missed the entire seeding round because of the death of his grandmother and played only 15 minutes in Game 1 after being cleared following quarantine to rejoin the team.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Doncic. The Clippers banged the All-Star guard and forced him into 11 turnovers. The Mavericks probably can't ask him to score any more but they need him to turn it over less.
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