Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:58 AM

Sunday's Playoff Essentials

Game 7 Trends | Playoff Results

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Western Conference Semifinals – Game 7 -- Series tied 3-3
No. 3 Portland at No. 2 Denver (-4/212.5), ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET
May 9 – Blazers (-4) 119 vs. Nuggets 108 (Over 213.5)
May 7 – Nuggets (-5) 124 vs. Blazers 98 (Over 213)
May 5 – Nuggets (+3) 116 at Blazers 112 (Over 211)
May 3 – Blazers (-5) 140 vs. Nuggets 137 (Over 215)
May 1 – Blazers (+4) 97 at Nuggets 90 (Under 219.5)
April 29 – Nuggets (-4) 121 vs. Blazers 113 (Over 215.5)

April 7 – Blazers (-8.5) 115 vs. Nuggets 108 (Under 219.5)
April 5 – Nuggets (-6) 119 vs. Blazers 110 (Over 216)
Jan. 13 – Nuggets (-4.5) 116 vs. Blazers 113 (Over 217)
Nov. 30 – Nuggets (+1.5) 113 at Blazers 112 (Over 214)

Members of the Nuggets and Trail Blazers watched the Warriors eliminate the Rockets on Friday night with great interest that had little to do with the Western Conference finals.

Had Golden State not pulled off a Game 6 upset to avoid a deciding game back in Oakland, it would be hosting the early game on Sunday and these two would be playing late at night, as has been customary in this series.

Instead, the game will tip at 1:30 local time, which will make it just after noon as far as the body clocks of the Blazers are concerned.

Denver has only played a handful of matinee tips and enters this one with wins in three of five, most recently defeating the Spurs in San Antonio in Game 4 of its first-round series, evening it up at 2-2. The Blazers have only lost one of their five early starts and defeated the Thunder on a Sunday afternoon to open these playoffs.

The Nuggets have been excellent at Pepsi Center, winning five of seven during the postseason after posting an NBA-best 34-7 home record.

The home team has won 78 percent of Game 7s throughout NBA playoff history, prevailing in 105 of 133 series-deciders, so considering the altitude and a homecourt advantage that has been the league’s best, the Blazers have their work cut out for them as they attempt to advance to their first conference finals since 2000. Denver is looking for its first appearance in a decade. Including this playoff run, Portland is just 23-23 on the road this season and comes in under .500 during the postseason.

So how can they win, or at least cover for those brave enough to get the points?

It’s going to have to start with slowing down the production of Nikola Jokic, who is averaging 26.8 points, 14 rebounds and 8.7 assists and has shot under .500 just once in the series. Enes Kanter has done his best and Zach Collins has performed better than anyone could’ve imagined entering this series, but neither can contain Jokic or throw him off his game. On the road, it’s going to be for Portland difficult to rattle the Serbian who has grown into a top-three NBA center.

We might see the Blazers pull a page from the Warriors’ plan of dealing with Jokic, which consisted of speeding up the pace to make him uncomfortable in addition trapping in order to get him to give the ball up. Paul Millsap has been a terrific weapon alongside Jokic who can take pressure off him and serve as a small-ball five if need be, while Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton and Torrey Craig have all excelled in their roles to put the Nuggets in position to advance despite failing in their first chance to take down the Blazers, who scored their second-highest total of the postseason when facing elimination on Thursday.

This will be Denver’s second elimination game too, having defeated San Antonio to survive on Game 7 already. The Nuggets are favored by more than the 4-to-5 points they’ve been tasked with laying in every home game in the series and continue to get most of the action from the betting public.

Damian Lillard is a dangerous guy to fade, especially coming off his highest scoring output of this series, shooting 6-for-13 from 3-point range to finish with 32 points in helping keep the Blazers alive in Game 6. He’s averaged 27.2 points thus far in the series, but is still just shooting 27.8 from beyond the arc after hitting 47 percent of his attempts against OKC in the first round.

The total for Game 7 opened 212 ½ and that number has held solid as of Sunday morning. NBA expert Chris David offered up his thoughts and lean for the finale.

“My initial thoughts on this game is that I feel bad for both clubs because they should be playing later instead of in the early afternoon slot at 1:30 p.m. MDT. I’m not sure if it will matter but neither of these teams are used to playing this early and while they’re professionals, routines certainly are a factor,” he said.

“I also respect the oddsmakers and their numbers and after watching the ‘over’ go 5-1 in the first six games, they now post a total that’s the second lowest in this series. Not to mention, the high side went 4-0 in the four regular season meetings between the pair. Should we believe that the Game 7 nerves will take over? A tight affair will shorten any game and possession basketball usually favors the ‘under’ but you could also get the 3-point-free-throw game at the end and those meaningless points always help ‘over’ wagers. I think Portland comes to play on Sunday and when the Trail Blazers have won on the road in this year’s playoffs, it’s because of their defense. Denver looked tight in its Game 7 win (90-86) over San Antonio in the first round and I’m expecting a similar outcome here. I would lean to the ‘under’ in the game and the Nuggets Team Total Under (109 ½) as well.”

While the ‘over’ is 5-1 in the series and is 9-3 in the last 10 playoff games involving Denver. The high side is on a 6-1 run in Blazers’ games. The Blazers are just 3-18 on the road in the playoffs dating back to 2014, so they’ll have to overcome a poor history as a visitor in order to advance to the conference finals.

The Nuggets opened the series as a slight favorite (-145) over the Trail Blazers (+125) according to Westgate, which is where the current odds also reside.

Lillard played in all four regular-season meetings against Denver, averaging 21.3 points but shooting just 37 percent from the field and 28.6 from 3-point range. Expect CJ McCollum and Rodney Hood to continue to play large roles alongside him since Blazers figure to go small and ride out shooting come fourth quarter.

Eastern Conference Semifinals – Game 7 -- Series tied 3-3
No. 3 Philadelphia at No. 2 Toronto (-4/219) ,TNT, 7:00 p.m. ET
May 9 – 76ers (+1.5) 112 vs. Raptors 101 (Over 211.5)
May 7 – Raptors (-6) 125 vs. 76ers 89 (Over 212.5)
May 5 – Raptors (+2) 101 at 76ers 96 (Under 216)
May 2 – 76ers (+1.5) 116 vs. Raptors 95 (Under 216.5)
April 29 – 76ers (+7.5) 97 at Raptors 89 (Under 220)
April 27 – Raptors (-6.5) 108 vs. 76ers 95 (Under 223)

Feb. 5 - Raptors (+2.5) 119 at 76ers 107 (Under 231)
Dec. 22 – 76ers (-7.5) 126 vs. Raptors 101 (Over 222.5)
Dec. 5 - Raptors (-6.5) 113 vs. 76ers 102 (Under 229)
Oct. 30 - Raptors (-6) 129 vs. 76ers 112 (Over 227.5)

Last Saturday, 76ers center Joel Embiid spent the night wishing for the sweet release of sleep, which is the only temporary way to relieve the torture of the type of flu he’s been dealing with. Embiid ultimately required an IV to get him ready to play in Game 4, which was effective enough only to help him float out there like a zombie for 35 minutes in a 101-96 home loss.

If nothing else, Embiid will walk out on the Scotiabank Arena floor for this Game 7 feeling much better than he has in a week. Considering his effectiveness has been tied to his health in this series and he’s thoroughly dominated some games simply through his presence at both ends, the 76ers have to like their chances of battling back from a 3-2 deficit by pulling off a second upset of the Raptors in Toronto.

The Raptors dropped Game 3 at home, looking like the inferior team in the series in falling behind by 19 points in front of their home to squander the 1-0 lead they built in blowout fashion. This series has been filled with twists and turns as Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Embiid have all taken turns dominating, so we’re about to see which coaching staff can most effectively neutralize what they know is coming in sets they’ve seen and plays they’ve defended against over the past few weeks.

Head coaches Brett Brown and Nick Nurse have each seen their teams impose their will over lengthy stretches in this one, which is why many will be on the 76ers given the point spread and the star power they bring to the table. Toronto’s biggest advantage in this series was expected to be its depth, but the quality bench play it expected from backup point guard Fred VanVleet and wing scorer Norman Powell hasn’t materialized.

The home team is 4-2 in this series, while the 'under' is also 4-2 despite losing last time out on the game's final basket inside the final minute after some questionable fouling. It took the number coming down to its lowest figure of the series for the 'over' to prevail, so it's no surprise that this decisive Game 7 sees the total down to 209. Philadelphia has been in the plus-six range through in all of its road games against the Raps. Tobias Harris has averaged 15 points over his last four games and has shot 50 percent only one in the six contests. He’s 10-for-38 from 3-point range in the series while J.J. Redick is on a 5-for-17 run over the last two contests. If either of them finds the range in Toronto, the 76ers have a great chance to advance.

Embiid was the third-leading scorer on his own team in Game 6 but managed to finish an astonishing plus-40 in his time on the floor. The Raptors would love to see him land in early foul trouble and will likely attack the paint early to target him in the first few minutes before he goes to the bench. Since the Raptors have proven they can victimize Boban Marjanovic and Greg Monroe when they enter to give Embiid his break, look for Brown to limit his rotation to forward Mike Scott, wing James Ennis III and perhaps a more mobile big like Jonah Bolden or Amir Johnson.

Serge Ibaka has been the lone consistent contributor off the Raps’ bench, Patrick McCaw and Jodie Meeks have barely played and Jeremy Lin can’t get off the bench before garbage time, so it’s essential that Leonard’s co-starters handle business to fill out some form of supporting cast for the player who has performed like the top weapon in this year’s Eastern Conference playoffs.

Leonard is averaging 33.7 points in the series, increasing his playoff average to 31.0 entering what might wind up being his final game in a Toronto uniform. He’s missed his last eight 3-pointers over the last two games but is still shooting over 56 percent from the field in the series despite having to deal with Butler as a primary defender in addition to the length and athleticism of Embiid and Ben Simmons.

Simmons has been criticized often throughout this series for coming up small and being scared to shoot, but he got off to a strong start in Toronto back in Game 1 by making seven of eight shots and comes off his most productive game of the series. After responding with a series-high 21 points in addition to eight boards and six assists to help the 76ers stave off elimination, Simmons will look to reverse his fortunes in Toronto, where he’s played really poorly the last two times he’s taken the floor in the series, committing as many turnovers as he has assists (9) while providing no threat outside the paint.

Take your pick as to who the Raptors’ x-factor will be. Pascal Siakam has recovered from the calf contusion that nearly knocked him out of Game 4 but has lacked the explosiveness that made him such a force throughout most of the season, settling for 3-pointers in an effort to compensate. The 76ers have set the trap to leave him open from beyond the arc and he’s obliged by shooting 4-for-20 from 3-point range. The likely Most Improved Player award winner looked more like his normal self in Game 6, putting together his fifth 20-point output of the series. If he can come through more efficiently, Toronto should hold serve if the others in the starting five pull their weight.

Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Danny Green will all get plenty of opportunities to swing Game 7 and all three have variables in play that will dictate the Raps’ success and ultimately determine whether they’ll be able to cover this spread. Lowry must play a great floor game, Gasol has shot 30 percent in Toronto’s losses and nearly 52 percent in the wins and Green has connected on half of his 14 3-pointers in the wins and just 30 percent from beyond the arc in the losses.

Even though Toronto dropped Game 2 and Game 3 in back-to-back fashion to Philadelphia, VI’s David believes that bettors should have confidence in the host on Sunday.

“The Raptors were solid off a loss in the regular season, going 19-8 and that includes a 12-4 mark (80%) at home. More importantly, head coach Nick Nurse has really had his team ready after a bad loss. When losing by double digits this season, the club has responded with a 9-1 record and that includes their Game 4 road win in this series after everybody jumped on the Philadelphia bandwagon with its 2-1 series lead,” said David. “Winning Game 7’s on the road in the NBA don’t happen often and while Philadelphia has the talent to do so, it’s hard to back them based on their tendencies as a visitor. They had a losing road record (20-21) this season and when catching points, they went 11-13 both straight up and against the spread.

“In the playoffs, they’re 1-2, with all situations coming in this series. The Game 2 outcome was Philadelphia’s only win. I mention those records because they never covered in any of those 15 losses as an underdog, losing by an eye-opening 17.3 PPG. It’s been more than apparent that when the going gets tough for Philly, they turtle up and hide. Based on that angle, a lean to the 76ers on Sunday would be better justified on the money-line at +220 instead of taking the points.”

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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