Playoffs Roundup: Thursday, May 1 2014

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Photo: Yahoo Sports

Indiana Pacers 95 – Atlanta Hawks 88 (Series tied 3-3)
The Indiana Pacers have been in freefall since the All-Star break. Last night in Atlanta, however, with their backs against the proverbial wall, they showed some pride, gutting out a win that extended their season. In the process, they showed flashes of what made them look like a legitimate title contender early in the season: suffocating defense and timely offense from their starters.

David West was huge. The Pacers power-forward had 24 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. He was also the Pacers’ go-to option down the stretch. With just three minutes remaining and his team trailing the Hawks by five, 84-79, West bullied his way into the paint, getting to the line and draining two free throws. He brought calm amidst the chaos at a critical juncture in the game. A couple possessions later West called a clear out and scored off the dribble, giving the Pacers an 87-85 lead—a lead they would not relinquish.

Paul George and Lance Stephenson complemented West on the offence with 24 and 21 points, respectively. Both were solid defensively, although the Hawks were their own worst enemies offensively. They’ve built their offence in this series around Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap’s shot creation, as well as the ability of their role players to spread the floor and drain the three-ball. While Teague and Millsap were great, the Hawks just couldn’t score from beyond the arc—they hit just nine of their 35 attempts, fatal to their chances last night.

Heading into Game 7 in Indiana, it’s hard not to think that the Hawks missed their chance to win this series. Granted, the Pacers don’t exactly inspire confidence, despite last night’s win—and the Hawks have won two games in Indiana in this series—but all the momentum will be with the Pacers heading into the deciding game. Frank Vogel also seems to have finally adjusted to the Hawks’ super-mobile frontline by giving Chris Copeland minutes at power forward last night and going small for an extended period of time. Roy Hibbert’s exile continues, but it seems to be for the best as far as the Pacers are concerned.

 
Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

Oklahoma City Thunder 104 Memphis Grizzlies 84 (Series tied 3-3)
Mr. Unreliable? More like Mr. Unguardable.

The same day The Oklahoman, the largest newspaper in the state, published a Skip Bayless-esque headline questioning Kevin Durant’s reliability, the soon-to-be 2014 MVP who silenced his critics (or at least his one critic at that paper) by saving his team’s season. Durant poured in 36 points and 10 rebounds in the Thunder’s comfortable win, ensuring a winner-takes-all Game 7 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Durant, after having one of the greatest regular seasons in NBA history, has struggled in this series. In part that’s because the Grizzlies’ Tony Allen is the best perimeter defender in the league, but it’s also because Scott Brooks’ concept of an offensive set is to hand Durant the ball 35 feet out, with Allen draped all over him. But that’s a rant for another time.

After four straight overtime tilts—absolutely wild games—last night’s contest was the first legitimate blowout of the series. Brooks (give credit where it’s due) made some smart adjustments, inserting Caron Butler into the starting lineup to replace Thabo Sefolosha, a guy Memphis just hasn’t bothered to guard all series.

The Thunder started like a house on fire—Durant had 14 points in the first quarter—and the team never looked back. With Westbrook also on form (25 points and nine assists) and Steven Adams—Brooks finally gave him some burn—giving Zach Randolph fits on defense, the Thunder never seemed in danger.

The Thunder will be the favourite to clinch Game 7 at home, especially if Durant plays like he did last night. If any team can win a big game on the road, however, it’s the Grizzlies. They’re not your typical seventh seed, and they’ve displayed a remarkable ability to battle through adversity all season. However, Memphis will be sweating on the health of Mike Conley. Conley limped out of last night’s game with what looked like a strained hamstring, and if he’s unable to go in Game 7, the Grizzlies are in trouble.

 

Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP


Los Angeles Clippers 99 – Golden State Warriors 100 (Series tied 3-3)
The Clippers went on a furious 10-4 run in the final few minutes of last night’s Game 6 to try and finish off the resilient Warriors, but it wasn’t enough. The Dubs, led by Steph Curry’s 24 points and nine assists, tied the series, forcing a Game 7.

In contrast to the free-flowing, high-octane offence both these teams are capable of, last night was an ugly affair. Both sides shot poorly—the Warriors shot 39 per cent from the field, including 29 per cent from three-point range. Crucially, they managed to restrict the Clippers to 36 per cent shooting from the field. And despite the Warriors starting a super-small lineup, with Draymond Green at centre, the Clippers big men were kept relatively quiet.

Blake Griffin was held to just 17 points, going eight of 24 from the field, while DeAndre Jordan, still a beast on the glass, could only muster nine points. Chris Paul looked off his game for most of the night. A hand injury sustained in the first half—a first half that also saw the Warriors’ Jermaine O’Neal go down with a serious looking knee injury—appeared to slow him down. Paul will have to be better in Game 7.

But despite the Clippers’ offensive woes, they managed to stay within touching distance of the Warriors all night. After surviving a 14-point opening quarter barrage from Curry, Doc River’s team eased themselves back into the game and led by three points at the half. With the game still close in the fourth quarter, David Lee fouled out after a foul on Griffin. But that seemed to inspire the Warriors, and they began to pull away. A huge Andre Iguodala three-pointer, with two minutes left, put them up by seven, 96-89, and appeared to seal the deal.

But the Clippers rallied, and got to within two points. Harrison Barnes extended the Warriors lead to four, before a Matt Barnes three-pointer ended a run of four straight Clippers misses, cutting the lead to one point with two seconds left. At the other end, Curry went to the line, where he missed both free throws, but the game was already over. The Warriors survived, but only just.

Game 7 shifts back to Los Angeles on Saturday night, and all the pressure will be on the Clippers, a team many consider to be legitimate title contenders. A first-round exit, even if it comes at the hands of this extremely talented Warriors team, will be nothing short of a disaster for Chris Paul and company.

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