aby Jay Wallis | @JayWallis11
Pacers 102 (55-26), Thunder 97 (58-22)
This nationally-covered matchup between two of the best teams in the League gave NBA fans a quality matchup with huge implications. The Pacers might not have everything figured out after the win but they certainly got a confidence boost after taking down a Thunder team at close-to full force. Even though Kevin Durant (38 points, 10-10 on free throws) put on another dazzling performance, the Pacers balanced attack and defense earned them the victory. Lance Stephenson (17 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds) notched his League-best fifth triple-double, taking his game to another level. Stephenson has so much raw skill in almost all aspects of the game, so when he has the motivation to give his all, great things happen for the Pacers. Paul George (17 points, 12 rebounds) pounded the glass while David West (21 points, 6 rebounds) came up with big plays down the stretch. After Durant made a jumper to cut the deficit to 92-91 with 1:47 remaining, West calmly made a patented midrange jump shot to extend the lead back to three points. Then, with just under a minute to go, West came out of nowhere to block a 3-pointer attempted by Durant. With his Pacers leading 99-97 with 9.5 seconds left, West put in two free throws to make it a two-possession game and wrap this one up. C.J. Watson (20 points, 4-7 on 3-pointers) and Ian Mahinmi (11 points, 5 rebounds, 4-4 from the field) each finished with season-high in points, proving their value off the bench. Indiana will need this type of bench production if the team wants to make a legitimate run in the playoffs. Thanks to Roy Hibbert (0 points, 6 rebounds) at least being more engaged defensively, the Pacers outrebounded the Thunder 46-32. Russell Westbrook (21 points, 7 assists, 9 rebounds, 7-23 from the field) was a shot-happy force per usual, having the athleticism to seemingly be unguardable at times. He was also an idiot midway through the 4th quarter and could have injured himself yet again. Standing at 35-6 at home and 55-26 overall, Indiana is now a half game ahead of the Heat for the top spot in the East. The Pacers play the Magic (23-57) Wednesday while the Heat still have to play the Wizards (42-38) and 76ers (17-63).
Raptors 116 (47-33), Pistons 107 (29-52)
The Raptors continue to be neck-and-neck with the Bulls for the three seed in the East. With Chicago losing to the Knicks Sunday, Toronto took advantage of the opportunity by taking care of the ailing Pistons. They were able to do so thanks to a big 1st quarter from Kyle Lowry (28 points, 7 assists) as the Raptors outscored the Pistons 42-26 during these 12 minutes. Lowry already had 8 points and 5 assists by the end of the quarter. Coming out of halftime, though, Detroit used a quick 14-2 run to get back in this game. Kyle Singer (14 points, 6 rebounds) and Rodney Stuckey (18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) scored 11 of these 14 points. After Greg Monroe (23 points, 10 rebounds) made a driving layup toward the end of the 3rd quarter, the Pistons had climbed all the way back and taken an 86-85 lead. Behind strong play from All-Star DeMar DeRozan (30 points), the Raptors showed poise down the stretch and used a late 10-2 run to put this one away. The Raptors didn’t have a lot of defense overall on the night, allowing Andre Drummond (14 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks) and the Pistons to put up 58 points in the 2nd half. They did, though, have strong situational defense, holding their ground when they needed to get stops. This will be crucial come playoff time.
Nets 97 (44-36), Magic 88 (23-57)
With the fifth seed pretty much locked up at this point, the Nets got back to their winning ways Sunday after losing two straight. After Victor Oladipo (14 points, 5-8 from the field) had a strong help in the 1st half and was the force behind the Magic’s 49-46 halftime lead, the Nets took control in the 3rd quarter. After Oladipo flushed one home off a Arron Afflalo (5 points, 5 assists) dish, the Magic held a 59-55 lead midway through the 3rd quarter. However, this would be Oladipo’s only points in the 2nd half. Thanks to Mirza Teletovic (game-high 20 points, 6 rebounds) spreading the floor and knocking down some treys, Brooklyn went on a commanding 18-4 run to take control for good. Without Nikola Vucevic (achilles) down low, the Magic just didn’t have anyone that could consistently get boards, leading to the Bets outrebounding the Magic 43-31. Thanks to Teletovic, Deron Williams (16 points, 5 assists, 4 steals) and Joe Johnson (17 points), the Nets lit it up from outside, shooting 12-29 (41.4 percent). Tobias Harris (team-high 18 points, team-high 7 rebounds, 3 steals) led the way for the Magic, who just want this season to come to a close.
Knicks 100 (35-45), Bulls 89 (47-33)
With their playoff hopes being completed crushed, the Knicks seemed to play much more relaxed and actually had a balanced attack offensively with six player scoring in double-figures. Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. (20 points, 3 steals) was too much for Kirk Hinrich (11 points, 4-13 from the field), D.J. Augustin (12 points, 3-13 from the field) and the Bulls to handle on the night while Carmelo Anthony (17 points, 7-13 from the field) and J.R. Smith (17 points, 5-9 on 3-pointers) had some unexpectedly efficient games. Joakim Noah (13 points, 17 rebounds, 9 assists), though, can’t be blamed for the loss as he almost reached another triple-double. The Bulls outrebounded the Knicks 45-36, but New York shot 45.6 percent from the field while Chicago could only manage 39.2 percent. Even though playoff basketball is much different than regular season play, this is the main issue for the Bulls. Yes, Tom Thibodeau makes all his players play fantastic defense and has turned Jimmy Butler (team-high 17 points) into an elite wing defender. But they must become more potent offensively if they want to potentially have a chance getting past the Pacers or Heat in the 2nd round. The Knicks were able to pull away in this one over the course of the 2nd and 3rd quarter, during which they outscored the Bulls 58-42. Chicago will finish up the regular season playing the Magic and Bobcats.
Blazers 119 (53-28), Warriors 117 (49-31) OT
There couldn’t have been more of a playoff atmosphere in this game, especially begin at the Moda Center. (How good are those Portland fans?) Stephen Curry (season-high 47 points, 5 assists, 7-14 on 3-pointers) possibly had his best game of the season, knocking down big shot after big shot, while his right-hand man Klay Thompson (25 points, 6-10 on 3-pointers) made just as many. The Blazers didn’t have two lights-out shooters leading the way but they did have a strong, balanced attack doing so. LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points, 7 rebounds) was a force on the block while Wes Matthews (24 points, 4-10 on 3-pointers) had a lucky bounce late in the game. Portland may not have much of a bench outside of Mo Williams (18 points, 8-10 from the field), but they certainly have six guys that can all be forces on the court. With neither team leading by double-digits for an extended period of time, this game had nine ties and 16 lead changes while remaining close for the majority of the 53 minutes. Nicolas Batum (18 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists) described the game best afterwards–“That was a fun game, a crazy game.” These two teams kept firing away at each other, putting the pressure on the other team’s offense. After Andre Iguodala (15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) made a reverse layup with just under five minutes to go in regulation, the game was all tied up 95-95. Aldridge and Matthews would then score 10 points for the Blazers while Curry and Thompson would score the next seven points for the Warriors, as Portland held a 105-102 lead with 12.5 seconds remaining. So with one more shot to tie the game and send it into overtime, Curry decided to be the distributor and kick it to Draymond Green (3 points, 1-3 from the field), who had missed his only two field goal attempts up to that point in the game. But Green pulled up from deep and put in a clutch 3-pointer to give Moda Center five more minutes of basketball. During overtime, Portland used ball movement to work hard for every one of its baskets while the Warriors simply gave Curry or Thompson the ball up top, letting them go to work. Curry and Thompson each made a 3-pointer in overtime coming off an offensive rebound. The biggest shot of the night came from Matthews. With his team down 114-113 with a few minutes remaining, Matthews shot long while fading away to his right but got the shooters’ roll. After Thompson responded with a trey of his own, Aldridge calmly knocked down a midrange jumper from the top of the key to give his team the 118-117 lead. When he steps into that shot with rhythm, it’s almost automatic. After Damian Lillard (13 points, 5 assists) split a pair of free throws, the Warriors had once more chance to send this one to another overtime. And again, Curry was not the one to take the shot and was the distributor. After a beautifully drawn-up play from Mark Jackson, Iguodala had a wide-open look from deep for the win…but hit back rim. Batum had a big game on the boards as the Blazers outrebounded the Warriors 46-38. This was without a doubt one of the best finishes of the season as the Blazers have now guaranteed they will play the Rockets in the 1st round.
Kings 106 (28-53), Timberwolves 103 (40-40)
In a game with no significance to the postseason, this one had a close finish and a rookie center making his first 3-pointer of the year. The Kings found a way to overcome a strong game from Kevin Love (43 points, 11 rebounds) and match their win total from last season with one game remaining. DeMarcus Cousins (35 points, 15 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks) simply had a dominating performance as he put on a clinic down low. This kid has strength and finesse down low, knowing how to put the ball in the basket when he gets deep enough. He just doesn’t know how to control his emotions…Cousins picked up his 16th technical foul of the season, so unless the tech is rescinded by the officials, Boogie will have to miss his team’s final game against the Suns due to a suspension. I think the Kings-Cousins pairing is the epitome of a love-hate relationship. In Sunday’s game, Cousins received plenty of help from his teammates as rookies Ben McLemore (19 points) and Ray McCallum (11 points) had great performances. McCallum hit back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the 4th quarter to give the Kings an 88-82 lead. After Love scored 12 straight points for the Wolves, they only trailed 100-98 with 41.1 seconds remaining. Cousins would respond with a dunk that would put this one out of reach. Right before this game ended, though, Gorgui Dieng (21 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals) hoisted up his only 3-point attempt on the year…and nailed it. With the loss, Minnesota still has an average margin of victory of +2.9, which is statistically supped to give a team a 50-win season. The previous high for a non-playoff team in the 16-team format was the Rockets at +2.29 in the 2000-01 season. As long as they don’t get utterly blown out by the Warriors and Jazz, the poor Wolves will most likely break this depressing record.
Grizzlies 102 (48-32), Lakers 90 (25-55)
Mike Conley (24 points, 8 assists, 2 steals), Marc Gasol (18 points, 15 rebounds) and the Grizzlies overcame a sluggish start to move their magic number to one over the Suns for the final playoff spot in the West. With Nick Young (14 points, 4-8 on 3-pointers) and Wesley Johnson (15 points, 15 rebounds) combining for 16 early points, the Lakers held a 39-30 lead with 8:45 to go in the 2nd quarter. Memphis then did what they did best by locking down defensively and going on a 14-0 run to take the lead. For the rest of the half and the start of the 3rd quarter, the game remained very close and competitive thanks to Jodie Meeks (20 points, 7-12 from the field) scoring. However, toward the end of the 3rd quarter, the Grizzlies amped up their defense yet again and used a 13-0 run to take an 18-point lead into the final quarter. They went on to take the easy victory in the final 12 minutes. Jordan Hill (10 points, 10 rebounds) finished with a double-double. With Conley and Gasol back at full strength and the team’s defense looking much better than early in the year, the Spurs might be in for an interesting, grind-it-out 1st round series if they are yet again matched up with the pesky Grizzlies.