Kenyon Rasheed hosts this week’s podcast, “Shooting the Hoops,” with Gary Payton, as the fellas took a deep dive into the NBA’s four conference semifinal playoff series, which is already guaranteed to leave us with an unfamiliar face lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy later this summer.
Nets vs. Bucks
Payton and Rasheed led off in the Eastern Conference, where the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Brooklyn Nets 86-83 Thursday to close the Nets’ series lead to 2-1 with Game 4 set for Sunday.
So far, the home team has won each game of the series, and according to Payton, that should come as no surprise, as he’s observed that the return of crowds has had a dramatic effect on the way players and teams perform.
“When you make three or four consecutive shots and start pumping your fist and the fans start going crazy, you start to feel a whole different way,” Payton said. “When you’re in a bubble and there’s nobody there, nobody hyping you up but the players, there’s no build. It’s like a pickup game, it’s not the same.”
And though Game 3 may not have gone Brooklyn’s way, Payton says it’s the Nets’ series to lose, with or without James Harden available as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
“They’ve got a player that I think is the best player in playoff basketball that you can go through in Kevin Durant,” Payton said. “He turns around and he’s too big, and he shoots the ball extremely well. And I think Harris is doing well, the whole Brooklyn team off the bench is coming through.”
Clippers vs. Jazz
On the West Coast, the Utah Jazz topped the Los Angeles Clippers 117-111 Thursday to take a 2-0 lead in their conference semifinals series.
Paul George had 27 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists in the loss, and prior to the game, Payton made an interesting comparison when describing the on-court roles of George and teammate Kawhi Leonard, who had 21 points in the loss.
“Let’s put Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen — Scottie Pippen did other things [than Jordan], and Paul George is the same type of player; it’s Batman and Robin,” Payton said. “He’s a Robin, and you guys are trying to tell him he’s supposed to score 30 and Kawhi scores 41.
“They’re focusing on Kawhi, he’s their focal point, and he just needs to give you 20 every night, no matter what.”
The bigger problem, according to GP, is the Clippers’ defense — or lack thereof.
“None of the Clippers are playing defense — not one of them,” Payton said. “They all suck.”
76ers vs. Hawks
Back in the East, the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers split the first two games of their series, Atlanta has been on a surprising run, hot on the heels of a 4-1 series win over the previously streaking New York Knicks, but Payton says the Hawks’ play of late hasn’t shocked him.
“Earlier in the year, before the coach got fired, they started off really well and then they slumped a little bit, guys were lagging and slacking,” Payton said. “Then all of a sudden Nate McMillan takes over, and Nate adjusted to this era, and a lot of the players liked it. In this era, you have to have these superstars want to play for you, or you’re going to get fired.”
Later in the segment, Rasheed asked a poignant question comparison the Hawks’ and Sixers’ respective styles of play, and put it on Gary: Whose will win out?
“When you let [Trae Young] control the game and he can shoot the way he shoots and get assists and do the things he wants to — they took that away in Game 2, and Philly has to do that on a consistent basis,” Payton said. “If [Atlanta] gets into the game and these young fellas start dunking and making shots, Philly is in trouble.”
Suns vs. Nuggets
Rasheed and Payton closed the show with a breakdown of the Suns-Nuggets series, where Phoenix leads the series 2-0 heading into Game 3 in Denver on Friday night.
“Chris Paul has changed this team around so much taking Booker off the ball and making Booker be the scorer as a two-guard, which he is, and you’ve got Ayton playing the way he’s supposed to, and all the other kids around him,” Payton said. “All these guys are playing really, really well as a young team. And I really see Phoenix playing Brooklyn in the Finals.”
Added Rasheed: It’s almost like a pick ‘em of who comes out of the West. I think everyone agrees Brooklyn is probably going to come out of the East if all goes well, but out West, you’re looking at a lot of parity and even teams.”