Last round of the playoffs, we saw a historic moment in sports—an unplanned protest by the Milwaukee Bucks in light of the shooting of Jacob Blake that quickly spread across many of America’s major sports leagues. After three days of postponed games, the NBA is back with nail biting ends to the first round series and the first games of the conference semifinals. Nonetheless, as we analyze the performance of the Duke players still remaining in the playoffs, it’s important to remember the messages about social justice and racial equality that the players hope their platform will raise.
Jayson Tatum opens strong against the Raptors
The young small forward is arguably the centerpiece of a deadly offensive trio with Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker, but he has inarguably been crucial to the Celtics’ strong start in their series against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He posted 21 points, nine rebounds and two assists in the first game, and carried his team to a three point victory in Game 2 with 34 points and 6 assists, going 4-for-7 from downtown. The former Blue Devil—who played for Duke during the 2016-17 season—had a colder shooting night in a Game 3 loss to the Raptors, going just 5-18 on 15 points. Nonetheless, if Boston clinches the series against the defending champions, it will be Tatum’s impressive offensive abilities that propel them to the conference finals.
Austin Rivers gets a chance at redemption against the Lakers
Although Houston was ultimately able to close out against Oklahoma City in a tense two point win on Wednesday evening, Austin Rivers continued his cold streak, going a combined 0-for-7 and 0-for-5 from three point range in the last two games of the series. Nonetheless, Rivers got a chance to prove his worth on Mike D’Antoni’s small-ball lineup in the Rockets’ dominant Game 1 victory over the Lakers Friday night, where he garnered two three-pointers, three rebounds and one assist in 16 minutes for 10 points and a plus/minus of +11. Along with Russell Westbrook and P.J. Tucker, Rivers turned it on against the Lakers—and they’ll need to keep it up if they want to reach the finals.
Mason Plumlee helps keep Denver’s chances alive
Becoming just one of twelve teams in NBA history to return from a 3-1 deficit, the Denver Nuggets beat the Utah Jazz in Game 7 to face the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round. While big man Mason Plumlee—who played for Duke from 2009 to 2013—continued playing limited minutes and scored no points, he managed five rebounds, one steal and one assist in 11 minutes in Game 6. While the Nuggets might not have much of a fighting chance against the Kawhi Leonard-led Clippers in the semifinals, Plumlee’s supporting play has helped the Nuggets live to see another day.