Tag: NBA Playoffs

Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs - Game Two

NBA Playoffs: Thunder play well, but Spurs win while still seeming unstoppable


The San Antonio Spurs have now played an even ten games in the NBA Playoffs and, amazingly, have won every one of them. The wins haven’t all been dominant — Tuesday night’s 120-111 victory ended up being one of their more difficult challenges this season — but it’s been astounding to watch the old, formerly boring ball players simply click on all cylinders for majority of the past few months.

While we all marvel at what the Spurs have been able to do en route to staying undefeated for 48 consecutive days, the most impressive thing is that the Spurs haven’t been playing any sort of “hero” ball … they’re just playing basketball the way it was meant to be played and, surprise(!), it works. Gregg Popovich has found out a way to put a fine-tuned machine out on the court, allowing the basketball purists among us 48 awesome minutes of watching wings cut to the bucket, guards move the ball around, slashers slash, passers pass and the big men doing what big men have been taught to do since the first time they picked up a basketball and their coach realized they were bigger than anyone else.

The Spurs are winning simply by playing fundamentally-sound basketball, really, so it shouldn’t be any sort of surprise that Mr. Fundamental himself — the ageless Tim Duncan — helped San Antonio earn a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals following Tuesday night’s victory. Duncan wasn’t the most efficient player from the floor as the Thunder got a bit more physical with him than he would have liked, but his double-double while chasing down loose balls and picking up four big blocks were key for the Spurs as Oklahoma City employed the “Hack-A-Player” defense on backup Tiago Splitter (oh, and in case anyone missed it, he also did this to Serge Ibaka).

Most frustrating for the Thunder, though, is likely the fact that San Antonio was able to find another answer on the offensive end. Manu Ginobili was the star in Game 1, but Argentina’s favorite sixth man was bottled up early on Tuesday night and never really found his rhythm … at least not until hitting what might have been a dagger three-pointer late in the fourth quarter. No worries for the Spurs, though — Tony Parker simply decided to show once again why he belongs in the conversation as one of the top point guards in the league by accumulating 32 points, seven assists and turning the ball over a mere two times — all while hitting 15 of his 20 shot attempts in part of a near-perfect performance. The scariest part is that Thursday night’s Game 3 will likely end up belonging to someone entirely different if the Thunder are able to figure out  how to stop both of the Spurs perimeter playmakers (here’s hoping for Gary Neal and Matt Bonner three-pointers early and often).

If the fact that San Antonio continues to find contributors on the other end no matter what the Thunder do on defense — Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green combined for 25 points — it probably isn’t making Oklahoma City happy on offense that the Spurs are also quite adept at keeping them from getting into any sort of rhythm. Tuesday night’s game got grimy in the second half when a plethora of free-throws were shot and, even though the Thunder shot more from the charity stripe, it kept them trailing as they were unable to get into a rhythm and barely picked up even a modicum of momentum before San Antonio eventually elicited an answer for each run.

The worst part about Tuesday night’s game might have been that Oklahoma City’s stars all ended up having excellent games. Kevin Durant scored 31 points on 17 shots (though he was limited quite a bit in the fourth quarter), James Harden came off the bench to hit 10 of his 13 shot attempts and free-throw attempts to score an even 30 points while Russell Westbrook scored 27 points and dished eight assists and nary a turnover. Typically when one team’s top three players are able to score 88 points against an opponent that hadn’t given up triple-digit points in their previous nine outings, it’ll lead to a victory. That surprisingly wasn’t the case on Tuesday night, however, because San Antonio held the remaining six Thunder players to a total of just 23 points despite attempting 35 shots.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Thunder decide to change for Game 3 considering they did almost all they can be expected to do on Tuesday night before falling into a two-game deficit in the seven-game series. If they’re unable to win when their top three players combing for nearly 30 points apiece while shutting down the star from their series-opening loss, can there really be much hope left in the Oklahoma City locker room?

NBA Playoffs: Heat advance to the Eastern Conference Finals behind Wade’s 41 points

Heat Pacers Game 6

Exactly one week ago, Dwyane Wade was held to five points on 2-13 shooting as the Pacers mauled the at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse to take a 2-1 series lead. Tonight, Wade flipped script on the Pacers, and ended their season in the process as the Heat won game 6 by a final score of 105-93.

Wade was absolutely electric in Game 6 in a way that only Wade can be. When Wade’s mid-range jumper is working, he’s almost completely impossible to stop, and his jumper was working like gangbusters. Wade went glass from mid-range time and time again, and the results were positive, to say the least — Wade made all 8 of his mid-range jumpers from the left side of the court, which allowed him to get into the paint with impunity and completely pick apart the Pacers’ defense. Wade finished with 41 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 17-25 from the floor, and his offensive onslaught is the primary reason why the Heat won Game 6.

LeBron James didn’t match Wade’s output, but he had an excellent game as well, recording 28 points, 6 rebounds, and a game-high 7 assists for the Heat. It’s not often that you’ll see a 3-time MVP put up that kind of a statline in a close-out playoff game and be a complete non-story after the game, but that’s what makes this Heat team so unique.

With LeBron and especially Wade both having great games, the Heat didn’t need much out of their supporting cast, and they got what they needed from the three-point shooting of Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers. Chalmers has been inconsistent throughout the playoffs, and the perpetually banged-up Mike Miller has been a massive disappointment throughout his time with the Heat, but the two combined to make all seven of Miami’s three-pointers on just 11 attempts between them. Miller’s shooting in particular was a pleasant surprise — Miller shot 4-7 from beyond the arc, which is just the third time Miller has made four or more threes in a game since signing with the Heat.

Shane Battier came back to earth in a major way in Game 6 — he was forced to play 40 minutes thanks to Udonis Haslem and only shot 1-7 from the field while allowing David West to score 24 points on 10-16 shooting, but Chalmers and Miller were able to pick up the slack for him and give LeBron and Wade enough support to close out the series.

Outside of strong performances from West and George Hill, who finished the game with 18 points, the Pacers didn’t have much going for them. Roy Hibbert had just 12 points on 8 field goal attempts. Danny Granger shot 6-14. The Pacer bench was outscored by Miami’s. The Pacers are a young, deep, good team that had a serious chance in this series, especially after Bosh went down, but they ultimately simply didn’t have the firepower to keep up with what James and Wade were able to do. This is a very, very, good basketball team, but they might need a lot of things to go their way if they ever want to seriously contend for a championship with their relative lack of star power.

Miami will now move onto the Eastern Conference Finals against either the Celtics or the 76ers, and will almost certainly be sizable favorites against either team, even though early reports indicate that Chris Bosh will not be back for either of the first two games of the series. Miami should feel good about this series victory, and neither Boston or Philadelphia looks all that menacing right now, but this is no time for the Heat to rest on their laurels. They’re still missing the 3rd member of their “big three,” they’re about to go up against one of the 3 best defensive teams in the league this season, and they’re only one home loss in the first two games away from finding themselves on the back foot in the series. And the Heat know better than anyone that any finish other than a championship will be a complete failure for them.

NBA Playoffs: Heat destroy Pacers, take 3-2 series lead

Heat Pacers Game 5

The Miami Heat are just one road loss away from facing a Game 7 in the 2nd round of the NBA Playoffs, but they sure did look like a championship team on Tuesday night, when they absolutely dominated the Indiana Pacers en route to a 115-83 win.

There’s really only one way to describe this game: everything went exactly right for the Heat. The Heat haven’t been getting much help from their supporting cast or been able to implement their “Pace and Space” offense throughout this series, but they got contributions from all of their rotation players, made their threes, got out on the break, played great defense, and got great performances from both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade while playing suffocating defense. This is the Miami Heat team that we all imagined when LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade announced that they were joining forces. This is the team that looked like an absolute juggernaut. Even though the Heat have a long way to go before they get out of this series, let alone get to the Finals, but on Tuesday night the Heat looked like they can beat either the Spurs or the Thunder.

Let’s go through it: The game started off with the slumping Shane Battier hitting a few wide-open threes, which was the best possible thing that could have happened for them. Battier was in full “No-Stats All-Star” mode on Tuesday, making 4 of his 5 three-point attempts and playing great defense on David West, which allowed the Heat to effectively mitigate the loss of Chris Bosh for at least one night.

LeBron James was in MVP mode once again — he had every aspect of his game working, and finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists on 12-19 shooting from the field. He made outside shots, he worked in the post, he punished the Pacers on the fast-break, he made pinpoint passes, and he crashed the boards hard on both ends. He also made what could be the best pass of the playoffs when he grabbed an outlet pass one-handed, and, while falling out of bounds, hit Wade with an absolute laser beam pass right on the numbers for an easy fast-break dunk.

Dwyane Wade was in rare form as well — he slithered to the basket at will, made some impossible shots around the basket, and even mixed in some outside shots.

There are times when it looks like the offensively challenged Joel Anthony looks like a waste of a roster spot for the Heat, let alone deserving of the 5-year contract they gave him, and there are times when Anthony looks like one of the best bargains in basketball. Tuesday night was an instance of the latter. Anthony showed and recovered brilliantly on pick-and-rolls, kept the Pacers from getting the ball to their bigs in good positions, got 4 blocks, and even made 3 of his 4 shots from the field.

Udonis Haslem has his mid-range shot working again, and gave the Heat great energy, but was a source of controversy after the game. In the 1st half, Haslem delivered an extremely hard foul on Tyler Hansborough shortly after “Psycho T” was called for a Flagrant-1 foul on Dwyane Wade. Haslem was called for a Flagrant-1 foul and was not ejected, but if his foul on Hansborough wasn’t a Flagrant-2, then I’ve frankly never seen a Flagrant-2 foul in my life, and there may be a possibility that Haslem will be suspended for Game 6.

It was a physical game all-around — Dexter Pittman will almost certainly be suspended for a brutal elbow on the Pacers’ Lance Stephenson in the waning moments of the game, and Danny Granger missed most of the 2nd half after he twisted his ankle after landing on LeBron James’ foot after launching a jump shot. (Some Pacer fans may say that LeBron pulled a “Bowen” on Granger to cause the injury, but it certainly looked unintentional to me — if LeBron slipped his foot under Granger’s foot intentionally, he’s the league’s best actor as well as its best player.)

The Heat shot 61% while holding the Pacers to 34% shooting from the field — the Pacers kept themselves in the game early by making some long jumpers, but they were never able to establish their big men against the Heat’s swarming defense, and the offense fell apart completely after Granger had to go to the trainer’s room.

One game can change everything in the playoffs, and the Heat aren’t done with the Pacers yet, and there are no such thing as “statement games” in the playoffs. Still, this was a darn impressive performance from the Heat, and the Pacers definitely need to find some answers before Game 6.

NBA Playoffs: James, Wade carry Heat, even up series with Pacers

Heat Pacers Game 4

The Heat were able to get a 101-93 win over the Pacers to even up the series at 2 on Sunday, but it certainly didn’t come easy for them.

The Miami Heat absolutely needed a win in Indiana on Sunday afternoon, and for the first part of the game, it didn’t look like the Pacers were going to give it to them. Indiana came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, and started the game off on a 9-0 run.

Consequently, the Heat were forced to play catch-up for the entirety of the first half, and if Indiana had made some wide-open looks in transition or Shane Battier or Mario Chalmers had missed some early threes, Indiana could easily have broken the game wide open early. LeBron James came to play, but just about no other Heat player showed up in the first half — Dwyane Wade in particular looked like a zombie wearing a #3 jersey, as he made just 1 of his first 8 field goal attempts and got burned on defense numerous times.

Then, with 1:46 remaining in the first half, Wade was forced into a contested, off-the-dribble, end-of-shot clock three by the 6-8 Paul George — and he made it. After that, everything changed. The Pacers went into halftime with an 8-point lead thanks to a beautiful buzzer-beating scoop shot by Leandro Barbosa, but James and Wade were starting to get it going.

The second half was, quite simply, the James and Wade show. James played like a 3-time MVP, attacking the Pacers in the post, picking apart their defense with beautiful passes that led to dunks or layups, and driving right to the rack time after time for finish after finish. Oh, and he grabbed 18 rebounds, with 6 of those rebounds coming on the offensive glass. LeBron finished with 40 points, 18 rebounds, and 9 assists, which hasn’t been done in the playoffs in the last 25 years, and had 2 steals and 2 blocks to boot.

I know we’re supposed to put an asterisk on everything LeBron does until he wins a ring, but this was an absolutely unreal all-around performance from LeBron in what was essentially a must-win game for the Heat, and it should be appreciated.

That said, the Heat would be in a 3-1 hole right now if Dwyane Wade hadn’t snapped out of his funk with a vengeance. Wade hit 11 straight shots at one point, both from the inside and the outside, and James and Wade played off of each other beautifully for the entire second half. They weren’t just both playing great — they were elevating each other’s level of play, and that’s when the Heat get almost impossible to beat.

On the Pacers’ side of things, a few guys had nice games, but foul trouble kept Roy Hibbert and David West from playing major minutes, which made a huge difference in the game, as Hibbert’s ability to defend the rim and crash the boards and West’s ability to score down low gives Miami fits. With Hibbert and West on the bench for long stretches, the Pacers were forced to rely on a lot of long jumpers, and it wasn’t all that effective for them.

Even with James and Wade at the absolute top of their games, this wasn’t a blowout win for Miami, and that should be a cause for concern for the team that came into the playoffs as the Vegas favorites to win the championship. The Heat may have lost Game 4 if Udonis Haslem didn’t make four mid-range jumpers in the final six minutes of the game, which was notable since Haslem has struggled mightily from mid-range all season long.

Of course, the bigger concern is this: Can the Heat win this series, let alone a championship, if James and Wade have to do this much just to get Miami a win? If the Heat can make it into the Conference Finals, they will probably get Bosh back, which will help a lot, but this team is still wafer-thin offensively right now, and they need to get back to the principles of “pace and space” that made them so tough offensively early in the year, especially the latter. Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, and James Jones need to start hitting their threes, Chalmers, Cole, and Miller need to provide some playmaking, and Haslem, Anthony, and Turiaf have to force defenses to at least guard them.

Still, this was a good win for the Heat, and the road to the Conference Finals now goes through the American Airlines Arena again. The Heat should take a deep breath, and then realize they have to get right back to work if they don’t want to face an elimination game in Game 6.

Lakers-Thunder Game 2: A Thunder magic trick, a Lakers disappearing act, and a change of the guard

Los Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game One

In Game 1, everything went wrong for the Lakers, everything went right for the Thunder. Thunder won. In Game 2, for 46 minutes, at least some things went right for the Lakers, everything went wrong for the Thunder. The pace was slow. The defense was incredible for the Lakers. The Thunder weren’t hitting jumpers. A seven-point lead with two minutes. Hold onto the ball, hold onto the lead, gain control of the series, go back to L.A. having rattled the kids in blue.

And then.


77-75 OKC over L.A.

As the Thunder closed on a 9-0 run, you couldn’t help but think of how often the Lakers had done this exact thing to so many teams. They were the ones who made the key steals late. They were the ones who waited for the opponent to crack. They were the ones who made clutch plays. But now? Now it’s OKC. They won when they played flawless, they won when they played terribly. And now it’s 2-0 OKC.

For Oklahoma City, there are reasons to be concerned but a ton of reasons for confidence. When the shots didn’t fall, they won. They had just a 92 offensive efficiency Wednesday night, and yet got the win. They had an off night offensively for the second-best scoring machine in the league, and they walk away with a 2-0 lead. Defensively, they stepped up to the challenge. Had they bent more inside, the game could have broken open. Had Thabo Sefolosha not done such a marvelous job on Kobe Bryant, helping him to a 9-25 night, they may not have sustained. The Thunder defense kept them in it, the Thunder’s athletes took the momentum, the Lakers’ ineptitude opened the door, and Kevin Durant slammed it shut.

And for a fun twist on a narrative, instead of LeBron James failing in the clutch, it was Kobe Bryant with this line: 0-2, zero points, 1 turnover, one bad pass knocked out off of him, one bad miss, one airball, no final shot, and a whole lot of frustration.  Bryant was clearly livid both after Kevin Durant’s game winner and upon turning around to see Steve Blake taking a three-pointer for the win instead of, you know, him.

It’s not wise to get riled up about Blake, however. This is a shooter who hit five threes against the Denver Nuggets in Game 7. He was wide open. I mean, wide open. The pass had to be made, the shot had to be taken. It just didn’t fall. This is life in the NBA, the reality of clutch vs. the myth. Bryant, though, certainly struggled and his play down the stretch may have thrown a little dirt on the Lakers.

But this series is far from over. The Lakers proved Wednesday that they can throw some kinks in the chain of OKC’s mighty system, and headed back to L.A. they have to be hopeful a few more things will go their way. The question is whether they can force OKC into the same halfcourt troubles it had Wednesday night, or if they get busted open by the same team that torched them in Game 1.

The Lakers can get right back into this thing with a win on Friday. But it’s a back to back set against a younger, fresher, hungrier team that seems to have all the answers, that can cross the finish line even when they stumble. The Lakers? They’re just trying to get the dust out of their mouth.

The Lakers had answers for the Thunder until the end. Then the ghosts that the Lakers usually wreak on their opponents grabbed hold of L.A.. By the throat.

Closing note: Andrew Bynum laughed as he left the floor.