There are a trio of Game 3s to look forward to on Friday.
The day begins with a matchup between the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks. Having taken care of business in Game 2, the Knicks will be looking to regain homecourt advantage as the series shifts to Atlanta. The Brooklyn Nets will then be looking to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets while the LA Clippers face the Dallas Mavericks in a must-win contest.
Here's what to watch for in each of those games.
Game 3: New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks
Julius Randle getting back on track
It's been a quiet series so far for Randle.
In Game 1, the Hawks limited the one-time All-Star to 15 points on 6-for-23 shooting from the field. The Hawks held him to 15 points again in Game 2, this time on 5-for-16 shooting from the field. It's only the fourth time this season Randle has scored less than 20 points in back-to-back games.
Randle had a particularly rough first half in Game 2, but he came alive in the third quarter. He scored 11 of his 15 points in the frame, helping the Knicks take control of the game.
"Obviously, throughout the game there's going to be frustrations, but we know who we are as a team," Randle said afterwards. "We're never going to doubt whether we can win a game or not."
STRONG TAKE JU pic.twitter.com/16DDD8d8WV- NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) May 27, 2021
Randle dominated the Hawks in the regular season with averages of 37.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists on .581/.500/.818 shooting splits. The Knicks might not get that version of Randle in this series with the way the Hawks are defending him, but they can only hope his performance in the third quarter of Game 2 is a sign of him starting to figure it out.
Trae Young's minutes
Young's minutes was a topic of conversation following Game 2.
In 35 minutes of play, Young scored a game-high 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting from the field and 4-for-7 from 3-point range. He also dished out a game-high seven assists.
According to NBA.com, the Hawks scored at a rate of 102.7 points per 100 possessions when Young was on the court. In the 13 minutes he was on the bench, their offensive rating cratered to 59.3.
It was in those 13 minutes that the Knicks got themselves back in the game.
"Trae played 35 minutes, that's a lot of minutes," Hawks head coach Nate McMillan said. "That's our normal rotation."
Young played 35 minutes in Game 1 and the Hawks fared much better in the time he was on the bench. It'll be interesting to see how McMillan handles his rotations in Game 3 and whether or not the Hawks can keep their heads above water when their leading scorer isn't in the game.
Game 3: Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum's health
Tatum left Game 2 of Boston's first-round series with Brooklyn after getting poked in the eye.
His availability for Game 3? "I think he's going to be fine … he's doing much better," Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said of Tatum.
The Celtics are already down one All-Star in Jaylen Brown, who underwent season-ending surgery on his wrist before the playoffs. They can't afford for Tatum, who averaged a career-best 26.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in the regular season, to be limited in any way to have a chance of extending this series.
Through two games, Tatum is averaging 15.5 points on 28.1 percent shooting from the field.
Brooklyn's supporting cast
Joe Harris stole the show in Brooklyn's Game 2 victory.
In only 29 minutes of play, Harris exploded for 25 points on 9-for-14 shooting from the field and 7-for-10 from 3-point range.
Harris did the bulk of his damage in the first quarter, scoring 16 of Brooklyn's 40 points in the frame to help it get out to an early double-digit lead.
Joey- Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) May 26, 2021
📼 Highlights from Joe's 25-point, 7-three night 📼 pic.twitter.com/GTKfTwFvtG
Blake Griffin also provided a spark in Game 2 with 11 points, four assists and three rebounds in 20 minutes of play. He threw down three dunks, which is the most he's had in a playoff game since 2017.
.@blakegriffin23 got up with the left 🔨🔨- Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) May 26, 2021
🎥 @MaimonidesMC Play of the Game pic.twitter.com/tSedgqo0qs
The Nets will go as far as Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant will take them this postseason, but they'll need the likes of Harris and Griffin to step up along the way to reach their full potential.
Game 3: LA Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks
The Clippers have a Luka problem.
After lighting the Clippers up in the first-round series between the two teams last postseason, Doncic has been almost flawless through two games of this series.
In Game 1, Doncic recorded a 31-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound triple-double. He became only the ninth player in NBA history with multiple career 30-point triple-doubles in the playoffs in the process, joining the likes of James Harden (2), Oscar Robertson (8) and LeBron James (15). In Game 2, he finished with 39 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, a stat line only one other player in franchise history has ever posted in the playoffs.
The Clippers were one of the better defensive teams in the NBA this season and have a collection of strong perimeter defenders in Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Marcus Morris Sr., and yet they've had absolutely no answer for Doncic so far.
ONE-LEGGED FADEAWAY 3 #ALLIN pic.twitter.com/08vwERVCbl- Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) May 26, 2021
Led by Doncic, the Mavericks return to Dallas with a 2-0 series lead. Per ESPN Stats & Info, they're the 32nd team in NBA history to win the first two games of a best-of-seven series on the road. Of the previous 31 teams that did it, 27 advanced to the next round.
Doncic and the Mavericks will be hoping to continue that trend.
The Clippers rewriting history
The odds aren't great for the Clippers, but they're even worse if they drop Game 3.
According to Land of Basketball, there have been 140 instances of a team taking a 3-0 series lead in NBA history. Of those 140 instances, only three times has the opposing team been able to force a Game 7, the most recent of which came in a first-round series between the Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers in 2003. All three of those ended the same way, with the team that led 3-0 moving on to the next round.
All of this is to say: Game 3 is a must-win for the Clippers, who entered these playoffs with the third-best odds to win the title.
It adds even more intrigue to a series that has had no shortage of excitement so far.
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