Grizzlies advance to Conference finals for first time in team history after Game 5 win over Thunder

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The Memphis Grizzlies have punched a ticket to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, thanks to closing out the Thunder 88-84 with a Game 5 victory in Oklahoma City.

The Thunder were going to need a superstar performance out of Kevin Durant in order to extend this series, and just as has been the case over the past few games, it simply didn’t come to pass.

Durant started this elimination game by missing his first seven shots, perhaps due to the fact that he was trying to do too much in the early part of things to keep his team within reach. He finished shooting just 5-of-21 from the field, with 21 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and seven turnovers.

With Durant unable to carry his undermanned team, the Grizzlies were able to lead by double digits for most of the game. They got a huge performance out of Zach Randolph, who contributed 28 points and 14 rebounds, and everyone else did just enough for Memphis to come out on top.

Oklahoma City made a late run to make a game of it, and legitimately had a chance to steal this one in the final minutes to extend the series.

After the Grizzlies had re-established a double digit lead with under three minutes to play, the Thunder went on a furious run to get back into it, and cut the lead to just two on a three-pointer from Reggie Jackson with 14 seconds remaining. An intentional foul by the Thunder sent Randolph to the free throw line, but he missed both of his attempts, giving the Thunder one final chance.

Somewhat miraculously, Durant was able to free himself from Tony Allen, and received the ball with a wide-open look from not much more than 15 feet out. Durant makes that shot in his sleep, yet couldn’t get it to go on this night, and the Grizzlies sealed the game at the free throw line following the rebound of the missed shot.

Once Russell Westbrook was lost for the remainder of the postseason due to injury, few expected the Thunder to advance beyond the second round. The fact that they were able to stay close with the Grizzlies until the final moments of every game in this series is a testament to their collective will, as well as to Durant’s ability to singlehandedly be great for extended stretches.

The Grizzlies were by no means dominant in this series, and those who are penciling them into an NBA Finals matchup with the Heat should be cautious in remembering just how efficient the Spurs can be on both ends of the floor before sliding Memphis past them into the championship round.

But regardless of how much you may choose to overvalue this Memphis team, this is a massive accomplishment for the Grizzlies, especially given how inconsistent they were during the regular season. The confidence they’ve gained to this point in the playoffs will serve them well in the Conference finals, though they’ll have to be much more efficient offensively to take down the likes of the Spurs in a seven game series in the next round.

Carmelo Anthony on shrinking role with Knicks: ‘I see the writing on the wall… I’m at peace with that’

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Carmelo Anthony scored just nine points on 12 shots in the Knicks loss to the Heat last night — well below his season averages of 22 points on 19 shots per game.

Anthony, via Ian Begley of ESPN:

“I see the writing on the wall. I see what it is,” Anthony said late Wednesday night. “I see what they’re trying to do, and it’s just me accepting that. That’s what puts me at peace. Just knowing and understanding how things work. I’m at peace with that.”

Is Anthony talking about just the Knicks’ final dozen games of this season, when they’re clearly interesting in testing less-proven players? Or is he referring to his entire tenure in New York?

Anthony has said he’d consider waiving his no-trade clause if the Knicks want to rebuild, and they’ll reportedly try again to trade him this offseason. Perhaps, this is Anthony indicating he’s warming up to the idea of allowing a trade.

Anthony’s and Kristaps Porzingis‘ timelines are barely compatible, if at all. It’d make sense for the Knicks to go in a different direction.

Could Anthony be at peace with that?

Dwight Howard’s offensive rebounding defies convention

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Hawks president/coach Mike Budenholzer has the authority to set the Hawks’ priorities.

“Organizationally, fundamentally,” Budenholzer said, “transition D is more important than anything.”

Dwight Howard challenges that daily.

Howard has already built a Hall of Fame résumé:

  • Eight-time All-NBA center, including five-time first teamer
  • Three-time Defensive Player of the Year
  • Five-time rebounding champ

But the big man is doing something he’s never done before: Grab 15.2% of available offensive rebounds.

And he’s doing it at age 31 in a league that has increasingly deemphasized offensive rebounding. The NBA will set a record this season for lowest offensive-rebounding percentage for the fourth straight year.

Teams have just figured getting back on defense trumps crashing the offensive glass, the strategy emanating most prominently from the Spurs. Budenholzer, a former San Antonio assistant coach, brought the plan straight to Atlanta. The Hawks ranked 28th, last and last in offensive-rebounding in his first three seasons — in part for philosophical reasons, in part because they’ve lacked the personnel to do better. They’ve also been a below-average defensive-rebounding team each season under Budenholzer.

Then Howard signed and forced Budenholzer to adjust.

Atlanta has become an above-average offensive-rebounding team and far better with Howard on the court – a helpful crutch with ace 3-point shooters Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague traded. The Hawks are ceding more transition opportunities, though they remain very good at defending those.

It’s an obvious tradeoff, says Stan Van Gundy. The Pistons coach who coached Howard with the Magic sees the center in the rare class of players who deserve full autonomy to chase offensive rebounds.

“You don’t limit those guys,” Van Gundy said.

Howard has made the most of his freedom to chase rebounds. His 15.2 offensive-rebounding percentage ranks second to only Kenneth Faried among qualified players.

And, again, Howard is 31. Offensive rebounding tends to be a young man’s game.

Here’s top 10 in offensive rebounding this season, plotted by age:

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Player Team Age Offensive-rebounding percentage
Kenneth Faried DEN 27 16.1
Dwight Howard ATL 31 15.4
Andre Drummond DET 23 15.2
JaVale McGee GSW 29 15
Tarik Black LAL 25 14.8
Tristan Thompson CLE 25 14
Rudy Gobert UTA 24 13.9
Enes Kanter OKC 24 13.9
Kyle O'Quinn NYK 26 13.9
Willy Hernangomez NYK 22 13.8

Howard’s previous career-high offensive-rebounding percentage was 13.8.

The only other players to set career-high offensive-rebounding rates north of 15% after their age-30 season: Dennis Rodman (20.8% at age 33 with the 1994-95 Spurs) and Alan Henderson (15.6% at age 32 with the 2004-05 Mavericks). Both Rodman (Cooke County Junior College and Southeastern Oklahoma State) and Henderson (Indiana) played four years of college basketball, giving them less wear and tear on their bodies and fewer opportunities to post career highs at a young age.

Howard jumped to the NBA straight from high school.

Yet, he’s having a resurgent year in his 13th season. How is he doing it?

“One, I’m not super old,” Howard said earlier this season. “Two, my body feels great. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff to take care of my body.”

Known for eating legendary amounts of candy earlier in his career, perhaps Howard has made a breakthrough. His defensive-rebounding percentage (31.8) is the second-best of his career and ranks fourth in the NBA. That has helped him anchor the league’s fourth-best defense.

Howard has been subject to widespread criticism, and last season with the Rockets was a low point. This year, Howard has recommitted to the basics: Rebounding, defending, scoring inside.

“He’s got a big personality, but I think we all knew that,” Budenholzer said. “But it’s all in the right place. He wants good things, and I’ve really enjoyed coaching him.”

So much so that Budenholzer has compromised a core basketball tenet for Howard.

And it has proved a worthwhile decision.

JaVale McGee misses open dunk (video)

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Shaquille O’Neal said he’d stop talking about JaVale McGee, who has featured prominently on Shaqtin A Fool.

This missed dunk, a low point in the Warriors’ otherwise-impressive win over the Spurs, will test Shaq’s sincerity.

Grizzlies’ James Ennis fouls out then hits half-court shot (video)

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Against the Pacers last night, James Ennis missed all three of his 3-point attempts… that counted. And he makes this one after fouling out?

Mike Conley more than picked up the slack to lead the Grizzlies to victory.