Post Up: On to the Next One
The Heat and Grizzlies advance to the Conference Finals.
Heat 94, Bulls 91 (Heat win series 4-1)
Wearing a brace to keep his right kneecap in place, Dwyane Wade couldn’t find a rhythm through the first three quarters Wednesday night. But Wade led the Miami comeback in the fourth quarter, as the Heat advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third straight season.
The Heat rallied from 11 points down in the second half and outscored Chicago 25-14 in the final quarter.
After going up by 18 early in the game, the Heat gave the home crowd a big scare as the visitors went on a 49-25 run heading into halftime. Carlos Boozer (26 points, 14 rebounds) and Nate Robinson (21 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists) went off, and Miami looked a lot like the Bulls of Game 4—when Chicago recorded a playoff franchise low in points and field-goal percentage.
Jimmy Butler (19 points, 5 rebounds) hit big shots and snagged key rebounds in the third, and Rip Hamilton (15 points) nailed a three-ball to put the visitors up 73-63.
But LeBron James (23 points) led the Heat’s fourth quarter charge with buckets in paint and and trips to the foul line. Norris Cole stepped up with a pair of fourth-quarter baskets, including a monstrous left-handed dunk past Joakim Noah that gave the Heat the lead for good with 5:50 remaining.
With a new pair of sneakers and his knee re-taped, Wade (18 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists) looked fantastic in the final five minutes. He blocked a Butler three with 3:21 remaining and slammed home an offensive outback on the next possession.
A Robinson three got the Bulls within three with 1:43 remaining, but both teams failed to score before time expired. Robinson and Butler got good looks on the final possession, yet their shots clanked off the rim and Miami’s gentleman’s sweep was complete.
The undermanned and valiant Bulls team finally fell for good. Passion finally gave way to pain. And the defending Champions will open the Eastern Conference Finals at home next week, as we all knew they would.—Ryne Nelson / @slaman10
Grizzlies 88, Thunder 84 (Grizzlies win series 4-1)
After a Reggie Jackson triple and some missed free throws by Zach Randolph, OKC was within two points with 10 seconds left last night. Kevin Durant got himself a great look for a game-tying jumper, but the shot was off the mark, ending Oklahoma City’s season in disappointing fashion.
The Grizzlies are a great team, and deserve a ton of credit for a masterfully played series. They were the better team in Games 2-5, and only lost Game 1 by two points. Marc Gasol struggled early on in Game 5, but was clutch in the fourth. He hit three jumpers in the final five minutes to hold off Oklahoma City’s comeback attempt. He blocked 3 shots while anchoring a stellar defense with a perfect game plan (stop Durant). Randolph missed a few big free throws, but was dominant for the first 45 minutes of the game. In all, he scored 28 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and got to the line 16 times. Serge Ibaka was no match for him all series.
Mike Conley continued to pick defenses apart, and finished with 11 assists, though he did need 18 shots to score 13 points. Conley committed just 2 turnovers, and his Playoff assist: turnover ratio is now a ridiculous 7.6: 1.9. After knocking off Chris Paul in the first round, Conley was great all series in Round 2.
Tony Allen scored 11, including a big and-one late. He was great defensively against Durant in the series, and will battle a very good shooting guard next round—either Klay Thompson or Manu Ginobili. We’ll probably see some of him on the opposing star point guard, too.
Kevin Durant missed his first six shots on Wednesday and never found his groove. He finished with 21 points and missed 16 of his 21 shots overall (0/4 from downtown). He got to the line 15 times and knocked down 11 free throws, but also committed 7 turnovers. The stat line is pretty bad, as is losing four straight games in the postseason as a No. 1 seed but neither is entirely Durant’s fault.
The Grizzlies constantly swarmed him with multiple defenders and made him give the ball up or take impossible shots. Derek Fisher hit a big three late in the game, but finished 3-of-11 overall. Kevin Martin likely ended his Thunder career with a 3-for-6 effort. Reggie Jackson (16, 7/15) and Serge Ibaka (17, 8/17) came on at the very end, but it was too late for OKC.
The Thunder found success by speeding up the pace and driving to the basket. They made a big comeback in the third quarter, closing on a 16-4 run, and in the final few minutes of the game they started finding easy buckets around the rim, especially when Durant drove to the hoop. The late spark makes Scott Brooks’ decision to slow down the offense and live off of Durant isolations all series look even worse than it already did (it already looked really bad).
It’s hard to believe how far the Thunder have fallen in a year. In June of 2012, they were up 1-0 in the NBA Finals with a core of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and James Harden. 11 months later, they’ve been bounced in the second round with a team featuring a frustrated Durant, a less fun version of Ibaka (who did not step up when the team needed him to), an injured Westbrook, Martin, who is about to become a free agent, and no Harden. Also Kendrick Perkins got even worse than he was a year ago.
Still, it’s not so bad. Westbrook will be back next season and Durant is still the best player in the Conference. Also, they have a few interesting prospects on the roster and own two first-round picks and an early second-rounder in the upcoming draft. They’ll be an elite team in the West again next season.
Meanwhile, Memphis will draw one of two tough teams in the Western Conference Finals. Z-Bo and Gasol created major mismatches in Round 2, and I don’t think Golden State or San Antonio has the personnel to handle them (imagine the Warriors’ small-ball 4, Harrison Barnes, trying to guard Randolph in the post). The Warriors and Spurs like to go small, but Memphis was dominant when the Thunder tried it. The Grizzlies have been the best team in the West in these Playoffs, and will advance having won eight of their last nine games.—Leo Sepkowitz