Post Up: Zero Quit

by April 21, 2014

Spurs 90, Mavs 85 (San Antonio leads 1-0)

The Spurs have been praised for their balance and teamwork, going into the postseason leading the League in bench points (44.8). They also became the first team in NBA history without a player averaging at least 30 minutes during the regular season. Sunday afternoon, though, it was all about the two superstars leading a fourth-quarter comeback.

Tim Duncan (27 points, 7 rebounds) and Tony Parker (21 points, 6 assists) closed this game out by doing exactly what they’ve doing the past decade. Parker lived in the paint while Duncan used his fundamentals on the block to control the interior. Whether it was Brandan Wright (11 points) or Samuel Dalembert (2 points, 8 rebounds) defending down low, the Mavs just had no answer late in the game for two players Rick Carlisle knows very well.

The Mavs did show much more fight than expected of a team with 13 less losses during the regular season and a team that hasn’t beaten their opponent since March 2012. They beat the Spurs with their own game, using a balanced attack to keep the defense stretched out. The Mavs bench outscored the Spurs bench, 46-23. With Dirk Nowitzki (11 points, 8 rebounds, 4-14 from the field) and Monta Ellis (11 points, 4-14 from the field) having off nights, Dallas stayed in this game thanks to a big night from Devin Harris (19 points, 5 assists).

When the Mavs point guard played the Spurs back in 2006, Harris averaged 19.3 ppg during games 2-5. If the eighth-seeded Mavs want to have a chance of extending this series to six or seven games, they need the quicker and more defensive Harris to take as many minutes away from the much slower Jose Calderon (7 points, 16 minutes).

Early on, Dallas had a distinct defensive plan that wasn’t working: switch on all screens. This cut down on the Spurs open looks from deep as they ended the game shooting only 3-17 (17.6 percent) from three-point range. The side-effect of this defense came in the form of Parker getting what he wanted driving to the hole. While all of this was happening for the Spurs offensively, the Mavs couldn’t buy a bucket. They only had two field goals eight minutes into the game, shooting 2-13 from the field. Thanks to a late trey from Harris, though, Dallas trailed 21-12 after one quarter.

During the second quarter, Harris came alive and started knocking down long-range shots and tossing lobs to Wright. He led a 15-0 run that gave the Mavs a 24-21 lead about three minutes into the second quarter. After this run, both offenses really seemed to settle in and find their groove. The Spurs found their rhythm with Parker sticking to what he had been doing and Manu Ginobili (17 points, 6 rebounds) finding his touch. The Spurs sixth man knocked down a three-pointer in the closing seconds of the first half before Harris muscled in a tough layup to give his team the one-point halftime lead.

After scoring no points in the first half, Calderon finally came alive just a bit in the third quarter, making some pull-up jumpers. If he expects to get any playing time in this series, he has to be a threat offensively. Bench players Harris and Wright continued to show great chemistry while on the floor together. Late in the third quarter, Duncan, who was already wearing a knee brace, banged knees with Ellis on a pick, sending him to the bench. He stayed seated during timeouts.

With Duncan off the court, the Mavs took advantage and started really swinging the momentum. About four minutes into the final quarter, the Mavs had built up a comfortable double-digit lead. With Duncan eventually back in the game at full force, though, he and Parker chipped away at this deficit. And just like that, the Spurs used their own 15-0 run to take control of the game. Only for the Spurs, it came at the end of the game—when it matters most. Duncan and Parker scored or assisted on all but two of the 15 points during the run.

The Mavs had serious defensive issues down the stretch, as has been the case all year. And on the offensive end, they missed a lot of close ones right at the rim. They went scoreless for five and a half straight minutes, before a final field goal with less than a second remaining.

Even though the Mavs played well and know they can keep up with the Spurs (especially if Dirk and Ellis play like themselves), certain underdogs need to win Game 1. In the 2012 playoffs, the seventh-seeded Mavs played a fantastic first game against the heavily-favored Thunder, only losing 99-98. But by passing up the chance to steal Game 1, Dallas couldn’t overcome OKC the rest of the series and eventually was swept. Unless the Mavs suddenly find a way to close out games with their defense, this one might be over sooner than later.—Jay Wallis

Heat 99, Bobcats 88 (Miami leads 1-0)

The Miami Heat’s back-to-back title defense didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts, as not much for the champs has gone smoothly over the last month. At the end of the day, though, the Heat took home a win in Game 1 against the Bobcats, notching their first W as they march on a Three-Heat. LeBron James went for 27 points and 9 rebounds and Dwyane Wade dropped in 23 points, as the two stars combined to shoot 18-32 from the floor in an efficient game for the Heat.

The Bobcats were overmatched coming into the series, but suffered a potentially devastating blow early on when Al Jefferson (18 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks) injured the plantar fascia in his left foot. It was revealed post-game that Big Al took an injection in the foot to continue playing, but the injury clearly limited Charlotte’s best and most important player. Jefferson hit his first four shots before the injury, but went just 5-13 after the injury to finish 9-17 from the field.

In both halves, Charlotte jumped out on a not-totally-checked-in Heat team. The Bobcats went up by 9 points in the first quarter, with Gary Neal (17 points off the bench) pushing the offense,  and they started the third quarter on a 10-run to charge back into the lead. In both instances, Miami responded quickly. The Big Three rallied the Heat to a double-digit lead late in the second quarter before Kemba Walker (20 points, 6 assists) splashed home a buzzer-beating triple. The Heat finally shifted into gear late in the third, with LeBron finding his stroke from the perimeter. The defense Miami became known for in their title runs also began forcing turnovers and getting out in transition against the most careful team in the League, coming up with 15 turnovers from the ‘Cats, 6 alone by Walker. Miami put an end to the day’s festivities by uncorking an 18-4 run to open the fourth quarter, with the majority of the damage being inflicted while James got a longer-than-normal rest at the start of the quarter.

Erik Spolestra, as he seems to do every postseason, found a spark for the Heat off the bench in James Jones, the seldom-used veteran shooter. In his 14 minutes off the bench, JJ knocked down two triples and was plus-18, providing Miami with spacing that has been at times lacking as Ray Allen (0 points, 0-4 shooting) and Shane Battier (DNP-CD) have had down shooting seasons. Chris Andersen was just as vital with 8 points and 10 rebounds, creating second-chance opportunities for the Heat with 3 offensive boards.

With Game 2 being played on Wednesday, Big Al will have some time to get treatment on his bum wheel, giving Charlotte a chance to steal a game or two along the way. If he can’t get close to 100 percent, this could be a quick series if Game 1 is any indication.—Brett Weisband

Wizards 102, Bulls 93 (Washington leads 1-0)

On April 5, the Bulls blew out the Wizards in the nation’s capital by a score of 96-78. Nene missed his 21st consecutive game with a sprained MCL, and Washington was in danger of falling to the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.

What a difference two weeks makes.

In Game 1 of the East’s four versus five matchup, Nene showed no signs of rust or fatigue in his return to the starting lineup, putting up 24 points (11-17 shooting) and 8 rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Eight of the big man’s buckets were mid-range jumpers, taking advantage of Chicago’s defensive strategy that forced Washington to connect on long two-point shots.

The Wizards held a narrow 24-22 first quarter advantage, but the Bulls pulled ahead for the first time with 4:24 remaining in the second quarter. A DJ Augustin and-one layup extended Chicago’s lead to 54-48, the margin heading into the half. Taj Gibson’s aggressiveness on the offensive glass helped spur Chicago’s early comeback, which was aided by Washington’s poor free throw shooting—the Wizards were just 12-21 from the charity stripe in the first two quarters.

The second half started out as more of the same for the Bulls, who went up by a game-high 13 points thanks to a Kirk Hinrich reverse layup. But John Wall helped get the Wizards back on track with a steal against an unsuspecting Joakim Noah, throwing down a two-handed jam on the other end. The Bulls upped the offensive tempo, playing outside their comfort zone as Washington slowly chipped away. By the end of the third quarter, the Wizards trailed by just three points.

With Wall getting an early fourth quarter breather, 38-year-old Andre Miller teamed up with Nene to keep his squad afloat. Washington’s first 12 points of the quarter were scored by the two savvy veterans, and Miller in particular had his way with the smaller Augustin. The Wizards went ahead for good with 3:43 remaining, and Marcin Gortat delivered the dagger to go up 96-90 with 34 seconds left. Chicago was outscored 30-18 in the fourth quarter and had just 6 points in the final four minutes of regulation.

Washington’s youthful backcourt struggled offensively, as Wall (16-6-6) and Beal (13 points, 7 assists) shot a combined 7-25 from the field. But they got plenty of help from the aforementioned Nene along with Gortat (15 points, 13 rebounds) and Trevor Ariza (18 points, 7 rebounds). Joakim Noah (10 points, 10 rebounds) was uncharacteristically off his game, allowing Nene and Gortat to dominate for most of the afternoon. Hinrich had 16 points, which tied for a team-high with Augustin, who was a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line but just 3-15 shooting. Washington had 21 assists compared to 13 for Chicago, and the Bulls couldn’t connect from deep (5-20 on three-point attempts).

Game 2 in Chicago is Tuesday night at 9:30 EST on TNT.—Alex Shultz

Blazers 122, Rockets 120 (Portland leads 1-0)

Ain’t no place like home.  LaMarcus Aldridge, a Dallas, Texas native, came back to his home state on Easter Sunday after a two-year playoff drought and showed the hell out.  46 points?  Yeah, that’s how you make a statement on the road in Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs.
Aldridge’s 46 was a career-high and franchise playoff-record for the Blazers and even though he fouled out late in overtime, it was more than enough to seal the deal for a 122-120 victory over the Houston Rockets last night in what had to be one of the most thrilling series openers of the first round.
If Aldridge was the Blazers’ captain, Damian Lillard was the first mate, dropping an impressive 31 points on the Rockets’ heads in his playoff debut.  When he wasn’t taking it into the teeth of the Rockets’ defense, he was hitting big-time threes to keep his team in it.  If your big two is playing like this, your chances of getting the W is certified platinum.
Houston, of course, had its chances.  With just 10 seconds left in OT and the Rockets down 122-120, James Harden, who finished with 27 points, got the ball in his hands to either tie the game or sink a three pointer or engineer a whirling dervish of a three point play FTW.  But as he made his move to the right wing, he was met by a smothering Blazers double-team and cut-off passing lanes.  Befuddled, Harden somehow was still able to take a step-back jumper that looked good coming off his hands but missed the mark after an unlucky bounce.
The Blazers besting the Rockets isn’t as much of an upset as the Atlanta Hawks felling the Indiana Pacers (Seriously, what the eft is wrong with the Pacers?) but it’s going to turn a few talking heads.  But after Aldridge told Lillard to “take it over,” it’s pretty clear that the young PG ain’t scared of the moment.
“When you’ve got your best player playing like that, it fires you up,” Lillard said. “When he went out of the game, I felt like our team … had to have L.A.’s back and come through for him.”
Dwight Howard, who also fouled out, finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds.  Chandler Parsons added 24. Aldridge, who was a dynamo down low, added 18 boards and two blocks to his potent scoring performance.
As for Harden, who was billed as the X-Factor for the Rockets, he knows he has to pull some better tricks out of that beard if his team plans on getting back on track.
“I’ve got to play better,” Harden said. “I didn’t shoot the ball well … I’ve got to shake it off, but it will be better in Game 2.”
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Houston.—Maurice Bobb