NBA Playoffs: The Grizzlies win Game 1

8 Comments

The legend of the 2011 Memphis Grizzlies continues to grow. Days after shocking the Spurs at home in Game 1 of the first round, the 8-seeded Grizzlies started their conference semifinal series off on a high note by taking it to the Oklahoma City Thunder, winning by a final score of 114-101.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may be the two best offensive players in this series on paper, but it was Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph who ended up stealing the show on Sunday afternoon. Memphis’ towering big men absolutely dominated the Thunder inside; Randolph was deadly around the basket and from the baseline on his way to 34 points and 10 rebounds, and Marc Gasol managed to score 20 points on only 11 shots thanks to some hard-nosed baskets inside and a handful of jumpers from the top of the key. The Kendrick Perkins trade was supposed to keep Oklahoma City’s interior defense from getting abused like it was on Sunday, but nobody told the Grizzlies. Memphis outscored the Thunder 52-38 in the painted area, and managed to pull down 17 offensive rebounds as well.

On defense, the Grizzlies weren’t really able to slow down Kevin Durant (who is?), but they did manage to turn Russell Westbrook into a volume shooter. Westbrook finished the game with 29 points and 6 assists, but he needed 23 shots and 12 free throws to get his points, and committed seven turnovers over the course of the game. Westbrook’s shaky jump shot actually wasn’t the main reason for his struggles on Sunday — he was 4-8 on shots from outside the paint, but just 5-15 on forays to the basket.

That kind of shooting performance from Westbrook actually isn’t that shocking –During his rookie season, Westbrook was a terrible finisher at the rim, and last year he made barely over half of his shots from inside the immediate basket area. Westbrook seemed to have turned things around this season, and made 60% of his shots at the rim during the regular season, but the Grizzlies were able to get Westbrook’s old demons to re-emerge. With Westbrook playing a high-usage, low-efficiency game, the rest of the Thunder weren’t able to step up offensively. Serge Ibaka was the only other Thunder player to score in double digits, and key 6th man James Harden only managed to put in five points off the bench.

The Thunder have the talent and chemistry to recover from this, but they now find themselves in a 0-1 hole thanks to their two Achilles heels: poor interior defense and Westbrook’s tendency to dominate the ball and waste possessions. Perkins was brought in to solve the former problem, and Westbrook’s maturation has made the latter somewhat less of an issue, but both problems were clearly evident in Game 1. If Oklahoma City can slow down Memphis’ twin towers and get Westbrook running the offense more smoothly, they should be able to get back on track in a hurry. If they can’t, the Grizzlies’ improbable playoff run may not be ending anytime soon.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

Leave a comment

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

Leave a comment

Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

Leave a comment

There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.