Starting 5 Daily Newsletter

Starting 5, April 26: Embiid drops 1st 50-point game of playoffs

Joel Embiid dropped 50 for Philly's first win of the series, Denver took a 3-0 lead over L.A. & Orlando found their offense at home

Starting 5When you’re feeling it, and the crowd knows it too.


What’s inside today’s edition? 

Embiid drops 50: Joel Embiid’s playoff career-high leads Sixers to first win of the series

Nuggets go up 3-0: Denver extends its win streak over L.A. to 11 in a row

Magic find offense: After two games in the 80s in Cleveland, Orlando scores 121 in Game 3

Lockdown Luka: Already a wizard on offense, Luka Doncic’s defense has made major strides

Feeling it: Minnesota’s defense and Indy’s offense are in regular-season form entering tonight


Last night’s scores & what to watch today.

📝 Your Friday game plan: Turn on ESPN for a tripleheader of Game 3s: Bucks-Pacers (5:30 ET | Series Tied 1-1), Clippers-Mavs (8 ET | Series Tied-1-1) and Wolves-Suns (10:30 ET | Wolves Lead 2-0)

📊 The numbers say: For Bucks-Pacers and Clips-Mavs – the winner of Game 3 in a best-of-seven series tied at 1-1 goes on to win the series 73.7% of the time

🎤 On the mic: Luka Doncic and Terance Mann will be mic’d up during tonight’s Mavs-Clippers game, while Brook Lopez and Myles Turner will be for Bucks-Pacers


Joel Embiid reasserts his dominance with a playoff-high 50 points, boosting the 76ers over the Knicks in Game 3.

Embiid drops 50: After Philly’s Game 2 loss, Joel Embiid proclaimed the Sixers were “going to win this series.”

He responded with a playoff career-high 50 points while playing through Bell’s Palsy – including 18 in the game-turning 3rd quarter – to lead the Sixers to a 125-114 win and a 2-1 series deficit. | Recap | 5 Takeaways

  • Rare company: Embiid became only the 33rd player ever – and third Sixer, joining Allen Iverson and Billy Cunningham – to score 50+ in a playoff game
  • One of one: Embiid is the first player in playoff history to score 50+ points on fewer than 20 shots. His super-efficient stat line: 13-19 (68.4%) from the field, 5-7 (71.4%) from 3 and 19-21 (90.5%) from the line in 41 minutes

  • Helping hands: After receiving his Kia Most Improved Award pregame, Maxey dropped 25 points and seven assists, while Kelly Oubre Jr. added 15 points and seven boards to complement Embiid’s monster night
  • Brunson gets loose: Jalen Brunson scored a team-high 39 on 13-of-27 (48.1%) shooting and 3-of-7 (42.9%) from 3. He even got this shot to drop somehow
  • Another game, another highlight: After hitting the go-ahead 3 in New York’s epic Game 2 comeback, Donte DiVincenzo showed he can throw it down as well


The Lakers hold a double-dight lead for the 3rd consecutive game, only to have the battle-tested Nuggets storm back to win.

New venue, same result: The series may have shifted from Denver to Los Angeles, but the Nuggets’ run of success over the Lakers remained the same as they took Game 3, 112-105, to extend their win streak over the Lakers to 11 games. | Recap | 5 Takeaways

  • Familiar script: The Nuggets overcame a double-digit deficit for the third straight game: Game 3 (down by 12, won by 7), Game 2 (down by 20, won by 2) and Game 1 (down by 12, won by 11)
  • A balanced approach: Aaron Gordon posted playoff career-highs of 29 points and 15 boards to lead a quartet of Nuggets with 20+ points in the win: Nikola Jokic (24 pts, 15 reb, 9 ast), Jamal Murray (22 pts, 9 ast) and Michael Porter Jr. (20 pts, 10 reb)

  • AG-Joker connection: Gordon and Jokic became the first teammates to each post at least 20/15 in the same playoff game since Memphis’ Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in 2011 (in 3OT)
  • It hadn’t happened in regulation since Phoenix’s Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion in 2005
  • Nuggets 1 win away: Denver can sweep L.A. for the second straight playoffs – becoming the first team to do so since LeBron’s Cavaliers swept the Raptors in 2017 and 2018

  • Lakers duo: Anthony Davis (33 pts, 15 reb) posted his third-straight 30/10 game in the series, while LeBron James had 26 pts & 9 ast (1-for-6 from 3), on a night when the Lakers shot just 5-for-27 from deep
  • An attempt at history: The Lakers will attempt to become the first team (in the 152nd try) to overcome an 0-3 deficit to win a series. The first step is Game 4 on Saturday
  • 🗣️LeBron: “You come out with the mindset, ‘Let’s get one, force a Game 5, and then we go from there.’ As long as you still have life, then you obviously have belief. I just think you play ’til the wheels fall off.”


Paolo Banchero and other Magic players credit home-court advantage for their 1st home playoff victory since April 26, 2011.

Magic offense returns: After averaging just 84.5 ppg and shooting 34.3% in the first two games of the series, the Magic found their offense in their first playoff game in Orlando in five years.

The result: 121 points and a 38-point win (3rd largest in franchise history). | Recap

  • Paolo Banchero (31 pts, 14 reb, 5 ast) showcased his entire offensive bag – four 3s, five midrange jumpers and four paint buckets – as he became the 4th player with a 30/10/5 playoff game at age 21 or younger, joining LeBron, Luka and Magic
  • 🗣️ Banchero: “We know we have to do the same thing on Saturday. Obviously we’re proud of the win tonight. It is big for this group to get your first playoff win but we want the whole series.”

  • Jalen Suggs added 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting, while Franz Wagner added 16 points and eight assists in the win. Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert led the Cavs with 15 points each
  • Turning tables: As the series shifted to Orlando, the Magic’s defense took its turn to lock up the Cavs’ offense, holding Cleveland to a season-low 83 points. Said Paolo: “That’s what we do.”


Luka Doncic has a well-earned reputation as one of the NBA’s most gifted offensive players – an elite shotmaker, creator and playmaker who earned his first scoring title (33.9 ppg) this season.

Luka’s reputation on defense has grown steadily since March as the Mavs ranked second in defensive rating (107.3) among teams and Luka ranked first (102.5) among players (min. 750 possessions, 142 players) over the final month of the regular season.

Dallas’ Game 2 win on Tuesday gave us plenty of traditional Luka Magic – 32 points, nine dimes, five 3s, including a pair of momentum-swinging step-back 3s in the 4th quarter.

But there were a few new elements too, as he played tough on-the-ball defense against Paul George (0-for-1 shooting vs. Luka), Kawhi Leonard (1-4) and James Harden (2-6) – who combined to score just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting against Luka.

  • 🗣️ Mavs coach Jason Kidd: “When he’s playing at that level, [his teammates] have to step up too. They understand the responsibility of their leader. When he’s gonna play defense and participate, they have to be able to do the same thing.”

The play above shows Luka staying with PG step-for-step, but Derrick Jones Jr. comes over to help off Harden. That led to George getting the ball to Harden, forcing Dallas into rotation and leading to a Westbrook 3.

  • As the ball fell through the net, Luka waved his arms to indicate to his teammates and coaches not to send help his way – that he could handle the matchup on his own

On LA’s next possession, they got into the PG-Luka matchup again. This time the Mavs didn’t send help and Luka stayed locked on George, contesting his 3-point miss.

Luka finished Game 2 holding his matchups to 6-of-24 (25%) shooting (2-9 from 3). For the series, Luka’s defense has held up against Kawhi and George (1-of-4 each), Norman Powell (0-4) and Harden (4-11).

Can the Mavs maintain this level of defensive intensity in tonight’s pivotal Game 3 in Dallas?


Looking Familiar: The Timberwolves & Pacers may have started their playoffs in different spots. But heading into Friday’s Game 3s, they’re both coming off wins (two straight in the Wolves’ case) for a similar reason.

What Got Them There: The Wolves, who went 0-3 against the Suns during the season and faced doubts going into this series, have taken the air out of the Phoenix offense for 96 minutes. And after a Game 1 stumble, Indy looked every bit the team that led the league in assists.

  • Minnesota’s defense has held Phoenix’s offense to two of their three lowest-scoring games of the entire season
  • Indiana’s assists nearly doubled from Game 1 (20) to Game 2 (38), with their 38 dimes tied for the most in a playoff game since the 2020 Finals

Defense Since Day 1: Minnesota’s leap from 10th to 1st in DefRtg this year began with a question asked and answered during training camp.

  • 🗣️ Gobert: “What team do we want to be? We wanted to be a defensive-minded team and we want to be the best in the league.
  • “We can be unique, but it comes with a price. It comes with doing the dirty work, doing the things that you don’t see on the stats and doing it consistently.”
  • At Their Best vs. The Best: The top 10 teams in offensive efficiency had an average offensive rating of 118.2 during the regular season. Those top 10 teams had an offensive rating of just 110.3 against the Wolves, which equates to a 25th-ranked offense

Off To The Races: Indy’s offense shined under the lights of the NBA In-Season Tournament, then kept rolling as the Pacers recorded just the 7th season in NBA history (and first in 40 years!) with 10,000+ points in the regular season.

  • 2023-24 Pacers: 10,110 pts
  • 1983-84 Nuggets: 10,147 pts
  • 1982-83 Nuggets: 10,105 pts
  • 1981-82 Nuggets: 10,371 pts
  • 1967-68 76ers: 10,051 pts
  • 1966-67 76ers: 10,143 pts
  • 1961-62 Warriors: 10,035 pts

Tyrese Haliburton – the league leader in assists (10.9 per game) – was the driving force of the offense, setting up teammates with efficiency and flair, while also putting up 20+ points of his own each night.

  • 🗣️ Haliburton on Game 3: “You’ve got to bounce back after a win as well. When you’re riding that high — that was my first playoff win ever, a lot of us our first playoff win ever — in that moment, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you’re now in control.
  • “But it’s 1-1. It could swing any way at this point. As a group, we’ve got to just understand it’s just one game.”