Post Up: On the Brink
The Bulls and Thunder are each one loss away from going home for good.
Heat 88, Bulls 65 (Heat lead series 3-1)
It was “just one game” when the Bulls lost by a franchise worst 37 points in Game 2. But it was “just about over” when the Bulls set new franchise Playoff records for fewest points, worst field-goal percentage and fewest points in a quarter Monday night.
The Bulls hit a brick wall in Game 4, scoring just 42 points through three quarters (including just 9 points in the third), and finishing with a 25.7 percent mark from the floor. Air-balling threes, missing pairs of free throws, chucking up ugly fadeaway bricks, the Bulls didn’t crack 50 points until 9:43 in the fourth quarter.
With their No. 1 offensive option Nate Robinson shooting a perfectly abysmal 0-12 from the field and no other Bull hitting more than four shots on the night, the Bulls simply couldn’t find a way to put points on the board.
LeBron James led the Heat with a typical MVP-esque performance of 27 points, 7 boards and 8 assists. His handful of turnovers kept him from completely dominating the game. After a career night in Game 3, Chris Bosh continued to control the paint, with 14 points on 7-10 shooting.
As was the case all series long, the Heat continued to face questions about Dwyane Wade (6 points) and his sore right knee. Wade re-aggravated his knee in the first half, and looked like a shell of himself the rest of the way. He finished with his fifth straight Playoff game of 15 or fewer points.
Lauded for their heart throughout the Playoffs, the Bulls played Game 4 seemingly without a pulse. After Carlos Boozer (14 and 12) scored the game’s first two points, Miami went on an 11-0 run to start the misery for the home team.
Marquis Teague put the Heat up 20 in the fourth quarter with an accidental tip-in. The two points for the visitors gave the Bulls’ point guards 2 points for the Heat and a combined 0 for Chicago.
The Heat owned the fast break (17-2 transition points) as well as the paint (18 field goals in the paint—the Bulls finished with 19 total).
The numbers don’t lie, and here’s the scariest of them all: The Heat are now 44-3 in their last 47 games. Miami will try to wrap the series up at home on Wednesday.—Ryne Nelson / @slaman10
Grizzlies 103, Thunder 97 F/OT (Grizzlies lead series 3-1)
Overtime in Memphis last night. The Thunder held a 17-point first-half lead, but the Grizz were within eight at halftime and went ahead late in the third quarter. They could have iced the game with solid free throw shooting at the end of regulation, but Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol each split a pair from the stripe. Kevin Durant tied the game with six seconds left, and Z-Bo couldn’t win it at the buzzer. (Side note: the final play of the fourth quarter was basically an iso for Randolph that failed and got criticized by Charles Barkley later. I actually liked the play call. Nobody on the Thunder can handle Randolph—I thought it was a pretty good bet that he’d draw a foul on that play.)
In the extra period, Memphis led by three with 22 seconds left after a sweet Gasol jumper. Derek Fisher then threw an inbounds pass away, effectively ending the game.
Randolph, Gasol and Mike Conley were the stars for Memphis once again. Randolph was nasty down low and finished with 23 points and 12 boards—six of them coming on the offensive glass. Serge Ibaka played pretty well, but couldn’t match Z-Bo’s intensity around the rim. Gasol dominated on both ends of the floor, finishing with 23 points, 11 rebounds and a playoff-career-high 6 rejections. His mid-range game was on display all night and he completely owned OKC’s centers (a group which included a 5-minute cameo from Hasheem Thabeet, that went exactly how you’d expect it to go). Conley stretched the floor and made some nice plays around the rim. He finished with 24 points (4 threes), 5 assists and 4 steals in a game-high 49 minutes.
Meanwhile, Tony Allen scored 10 with 3 steals while playing great defense as always. Jerryd Bayless scored 9 with a pair of triples. 2009 me would be stunned I’m saying this, but I love Bayless. I got Bayless fever. I need more of the bald head/headband/beard combo. What were the odds of him becoming a key instant offense guy on a title contender? He was a flop his first few years in the League before improving but battling injuries in Toronto between 2010-2012. Now he’s making a huge impact in his first year in Memphis. It’s awesome. He’s not afraid to shoot, is surprisingly good at creating his own look and takes pressure off of the Grizzlies’ stars for a handful of minutes per game. He comes off the bench with a ton of energy, reliably scores about 10 points in 20 minutes and never forces the issue when he doesn’t need to—a perfect fit on this team.
OKC opened strong and finished weak. Durant scored 27 (10/27) with 7 boards and 7 assists. Ibaka double-doubled with 17 and 14. Reggie Jackson added 15 and 8 and Kevin Martin scored 18 off the bench. Most of their damage came in the first half (the Thunder scored 41 points in 29 minutes after halftime).
I didn’t like the coaching job by Scott Brooks last night. Durant was far more effective when someone else brought the ball up, allowing KD to work away from the ball to try to get a decent look. However, Durant was the primary ball handler pretty frequently, allowing the Grizzlies to set their defense before he got down the floor. Either Allen or Tayshaun Prince would greet him initially, and soon a teammate (often Gasol) would help on a double-team. It forced Durant to either put up a contested shot or find a teammate (not a great option considering his supporting cast). As always, Memphis’s rotations were solid so it’s not as if the double-teams on Durant opened up a ton of great shots. The Grizzlies are way too good defensively to get beaten by such a one-dimensional offense. Durant is not a point-forward, and the decision to make him into one was especially weird considering that Jackson, the point guard, has been the only player stepping up in Russell Westbrook’s absence. Brooks didn’t seem to adjust to the problem, and also allowed Kendrick Perkins to log 24 awful minutes.
Going forward, Memphis is in great shape, but the series isn’t over. If the Thunder can squeak out Game 5 at home on Wednesday, they’ll go to Memphis for Game 6 knowing that the series’ seventh game would be in Oklahoma City. It’s a long shot, but Durant’s team still has a pulse.—Leo Sepkowitz