Three things about Game 2: Tony Parker is that good but Randolph, Grizzlies figuring it out

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That was more like what we expected out of this series — close, intense, physical. Well, it was close for the final 17 minutes (just ignore the first 36), but in the end the Spurs got the win and are up 2-0 in the series.

Here are three takeaways from this game.

• Yes, Tony Parker is that good. After Game 1 the Grizzlies wanted to slow down the Spurs pick-and-roll, they wanted to cut Tony Parker off at the point of attack. Well, they tried. But not much is going to was going to shut down Parker on a night he was playing like the mid-season guy everyone thought should be in the MVP conversation.

For a second game in a row he sliced and diced the Grizzlies defense, this time to the tune of 14 points and 18 assists — he seemed to sense guys open and hit them, whether they were cutting to the rim or hanging out at the arc. Memphis wanted to slow down the pace (so they can set their defense) and Tony Parker was at the heart of destroying that strategy.

Parker is going up against one of the best defensive point guards in the game in Mike Conley and besting him. In Game 2 Parker got Conley in foul trouble and what little the Grizzlies were able to muster went away.

It all went away in the fourth quarter, when Parker was 2-of-8 shooting with no assists — he looked exhausted. Everyone did, but it showed in his game. That also showed how key he is to the Spurs offense against a good Grizzlies defense. The Spurs need that Parker every game.

• Zach Randolph, welcome to the conference finals. The first half of this game looked like all of Game 1 for Zach Randolph — the Spurs fronted him in the post, didn’t let him easily establish position and brought help from the corners quickly (sometimes before the pass). It got in his head — he was rushing shots when he did get the ball and as a result was missing shots he normally hits. The result was a 1-for-10 shooting first 24 minutes. And that’s not mentioning how the Spurs continued to expose Z-Bo’s pick-and-roll defense (there’s a reason Parker has room at the point of attack).

But in the second half Randolph was 5-of-7 shooting for 13 points and he was key to the Memphis comeback. With guys making shots and cutting out of the corners, Randolph found himself in more on-on-one situations on the block, and he can exploit that. He was grabbing offensive rebounds. He had a much better energy.

It wasn’t enough, but it’s something to build on — the Grizzlies will need two games of the full Z-Bo at home to even this series.

• For Memphis this was something to build on. There are no moral playoff victories. But after seven ugly quarters of basketball from Memphis they fought back, tied the game up, made some plays down the stretch and could have stolen one.

In the fourth quarter they slowed the game down and took away the transition buckets of San Antonio. The Spurs missed shots but they also didn’t get as many good looks against a set defense. The Grizzlies got some shots from Randolph and others (Quincy Pondexter was 2-of-3).

Memphis also played better defense as San Antonio shot 4-of19 — the Grizzlies seemed to finally anticipate the ball rotation and they closed out on shooters much better. The Grizzlies shouldn’t have needed a 15-2 run, but they got one and tied it up on the road.

At home role players like Jerryd Bayless shoot better, the Grizzlies won’t miss seven shots in a row inside five feet, they will play better.

We’ll see if they can build on that good fourth quarter, Memphis needs to win both of the two games at home to have a real shot in this series. But they came back from down 0-2 against the Clippers (and the Spurs were up 2-0 in this spot last year against the Thunder and lost four straight.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.