Post Up: Setting the Tone
The Pacers and Thunder each win Game 1.
Thunder 93, Grizzlies 91 (Thunder lead series 1-0)
The Grizzlies squandered a real chance to steal Game 1 yesterday. After a pretty evenly played first 47 minutes, a Marc Gasol jumper put Memphis up three with 1:07 left. But a Durant jumper—Grizzlies turnover—Durant jumper—Grizzlies turnover—Reggie Jackson free throws sequence put OKC up three with a couple of seconds left. The Grizzlies had a pulse when Jackson accidentally fouled Quincy Pondexter on a three-point try, but Pondexter couldn’t convert at the line.
It’s a tough loss for Memphis, but, I think, a bigger win for the Thunder. They can’t afford to give up home-court advantage with Russell Westbrook out. Durant was huge with 35 points (13-26), 15 boards and 6 assists. He put the team on his back down the stretch and played a truly great overall game. It’s the type of effort I was hoping he was capable of without Westbrook.
Serge Ibaka really struggled (1-10, 5 boards), but Kevin Martin was sharp off the bench. He shot 8-14 with 3 treys and finished with 25. He needs to reliably knock down shots to prevent teams from solely focusing on Durant, and did just that on Sunday.
Kendrick Perkins saw 34 minutes, and scored 2 points with 7 boards. I haven’t liked Perkins’ on-court production at all since he came over to Oklahoma City, but the Thunder will need him in this series. Unlike first-round foe Houston, Memphis bangs in the paint and will happily destroy teams on the glass. Perkins needs to keep Gasol from dominating games, and, at the very least, make him work for everything he gets. Perkins is a terrible offensive player, but he should be capable of giving Gasol a hard time on the other end of the floor.
Speaking of the superior Gasol, Marc went for 20 and 10. He added 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in a team-high 40 minutes. Post-buddy Zach Randolph scored 18 points with 10 boards. Around the League, mean, slower-footed bigs who crash the glass and aren’t afraid to throw a few elbows are getting phased out for stretch-fours and -fives (Brook Lopez, Josh Smith, etc.). Teams frequently go small rather than big to create mismatches (Miami, New York, etc.). But the Grizzlies don’t give a shit. Gasol and Z-Bo might just ugly their way to the Conference Finals or further.
Mike Conley wasn’t at his best, finishing with 13 (5-15) and 5 dimes. He has a potentially favorable matchup against the second-year man Jackson, and I think he’ll take advantage of it going forward. Quincy Pondexter (13) and Jerryd Bayless (10) were solid off the bench. The Grizz have done a good job of rebuilding their bench despite losing OJ Mayo, Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington in the last year.
This was a close game throughout, even though Memphis led by as many as 11 in the third. The teams were nearly equal in field goals, threes, turnovers, offensive and defensive rebounds. Game 2 is always a game of adjustments, so it’ll be interesting to see what each team does to elevate its game on Tuesday night. —Leo Sepkowitz
Pacers 102, Knicks 95 (Pacers lead series 1-0)
Two days after finally getting out of the first round for the first time in over a decade by beating the Celtics, the Knicks got a wakeup call via a punch in the mouth from the Indiana Pacers. Using its hard-nosed style of play and size advantage, Indiana shut down the Knicks and stole a Game 1 victory on the road.
Relying on the finesse play that carried them all season, New York couldn’t match Indiana’s physicality and had problems with its opponent’s intensity and length all game. New York relied on small ball for much of the regular season, playing Melo at the four and putting three guards around him at a time. Though they found a lot of success with that lineup, that style of play doesn’t translate to the Playoffs, unless the Knicks hit their jumpers—which they haven’t over the last week. Coach Mike Woodson will absolutely have to make adjustments heading into Game 2 or this series could be a short one.
The Pacers, on the other hand, were fantastic on the defensive end all game. With the Knicks struggling to find any offensive rhythm, the Pacers forced New York into an uncomfortable game. Roy Hibbert, who has played poorly at the Garden during his career, completely owned the paint. Forcing the Knicks to adjust their shots at the rim, he finished with 5 blocks and completely shut down Tyson Chandler, who fouled out in 28 minutes with 4 points, 3 boards and 2 blocks. For the game, the Pacers outrebounded the Knicks 44-30.
With Carmelo Anthony on the bench due to foul trouble in the third quarter, the Pacers took full advantage and stretched a six-point lead to a 16-point edge behind DJ Augustin’s (16 points) hot hand. Melo was noticeably frustrated with both David West and the referees and shot just 10-28 for 27 points to go along with 11 rebounds. JR Smith had a chance to step up and fill the scoring void, but couldn’t get in rhythm and shot just 4-15 for 17 points. Raymond Felton continued his strong playoff performance by shooting 8-12 for 18 points and was the lone Knick who found success with penetration.
Brooklyn native Lance Stephenson wreaked havoc all over the Garden floor—the same court where he won four straight NYC PSAL Championships—and is a matchup nightmare for the Knicks. With a Knicks starting backcourt of Pablo Prigioni and Felton, Born Ready was able to feast on his outsized counterparts and put together a strong game with 11 points, 13 boards and 3 steals. Stephenson, New York’s All-Time leading scorer in H.S. basketball, is undoubtedly playing with a chip on his shoulder since the Knicks passed on him during in the 2010 Draft and will be a huge part of the Pacers gameplan going forward.
The Pacers came out strong and set the tone for the series with yesterday’s win. In the chess match that is the NBA Playoffs, coach Mike Woodson and the Knicks will have to make decisions on their off day and either go big and match Indiana’s size, or continue to go small and hope that Melo and Smith break out of their slumps. Game 2 is tomorrow night in New York. —Peter Walsh