Post Up: Playoffs Tip Off

Nets 94, Raptors 87 (Brooklyn leads 1-0)

As much as the Raptors downplayed their postseason inexperience, it showed in the first game of the 2014 NBA Playoffs. Leading scorer DeMar DeRozan had a dreadful game shooting the rock, connecting on just 3-13 from the field. Terrence Ross got into early foul trouble and managed to play only 16 minutes. Amir Johnson was non-existent in his 21 ticks. DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas committed 14 turnovers combined, and the team as a whole shot only 39.4 percent from the field. 

That’s not a winning equation, but the Raptors managed to stay in the game until the end because of their strong play in other areas. As has been the case all season, they got to the line with ease (during the first half at least), and connected on 92 percent of their foul shots. Lowry looked unstoppable at times, despite being the Nets’ top defensive priority. Grievis Vasquez played a phenomenal game off the bench, knocking down clutch treys and finishing with 18 points and 8 dimes. Valanciunas, in his Playoff debut no less, collected a franchise record 18 boards and scored an efficient 17 points.

But the Nets, to their credit, turned in an excellent team performance and a suffocating defensive effort. Aside from shutting down DeRozan, the Nets protected the defensive glass (usually a huge weakness of theirs) and played help defense as a cohesive unit. They moved the ball intelligently on offense, committing just 8 turnovers. And despite an off night from three—missing 19 in a row at one point—the Nets came up with huge buckets down the stretch. Their togetherness and chemistry may have taken a while to develop, but their trust made all the difference.

Deron Williams got the team off to a quick start with 11 points in the first quarter and 18 points in the first half. Joe Johnson (24 points, 8 boards, 4 assists) was a consistent offensive force throughout the game and made DeRozan’s life difficult. Shaun Livingston, whenever the momentum was headed in Toronto’s favor, seemingly came up with timely, poised plays to get the Nets back on track.

But the story of the game was Brooklyn’s hired guns: Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. After entering the game together with 6:24 seconds left to play, the score tied at 73-73, the Hall of Fame duo dominated. Garnett gobbled up crucial rebounds and made his first basket of the game to put the Nets up 79-76. After that, it was all Pierce, who scored nine straight points for Brooklyn and put them in the driver’s seat with a seven-point lead and just 51 seconds remaining.

A malfunctioning shot clock (which did not work after 6:16 in the third quarter) made the game more interesting, but Brooklyn’s close-out will be remembered as the game’s defining moment. As virtual non-factors for the first three and a half quarters, “Dinosaurs” Pierce and Garnett carried the Nets to a crucial Game 1 victory in enemy territory. If Brooklyn’s vets come to play like this every game, the Raptors stand no chance of winning the series.—Ryne Nelson

Hawks 101, Pacers 93 (Atlanta leads 1-0)

The Indiana Pacers’ demise was well documented over the last few weeks, but Frank Vogel’s team’s two-game winning streak at the end of the regular season looked promising for the playoffs. Indy outlasted the Thunder in a tough battle and then dismantled the Magic.

But even though Vogel’s defensive scheme was working in those two games, Paul George, David West and Lance Stephenson weren’t playing and Roy Hibbert shot 3-23 over his last four regular season contests. Could the Pacers right the ship against a Hawks team that collapsed just as much as they did during the second half of the regular season?


It’s officially time to panic in Naptown. Rookie head coach Mike Budenholzer brought Atlanta team into Bankerslife Fieldhouse, played guys named Shelvin Mack, DeMare Carroll, Cartier Martin and Pero Antic and had them looking like his former team, the San Antonio Spurs.

With Antic’s shooting ability allowing the Hawks to play a five-out spread offense, Jeff Teague attacked the teeth of Indy’s defense and simply just made reads based off of the Pacers’ rotation. If Hibbert or West or Luis Scola were too slow to slide and help, Teague swooped all the way to the rim — many times virtually untouched. If the Pacers cut off his drive, Teague would dish it out to one of his four shooters on the perimeter. Atlanta used a big 14-2 run to take their first lead of the game in the first quarter, a period in which the Hawks shot 4 of 11 from three-point land.

The Pacers made it a game in the second quarter, as Stephenson and George attacked the rim at will on every possession. The two wings combined to score 20 of Indiana’s 28 points to bring the Pacers back into the game. Indy even reclaimed the lead at6:16 on a beautiful George layup after he sent Carroll spinning with a wicked behind-the-back crossover and the two teams entered the half deadlocked at 50.

Unfortunately for the home fans, that’s was the last time the momentum went Indiana’s way. Atlanta emerged from the locker room the same way it started the first stanza. The Hawks opened up the period on an 8-0 run, forcing the Pacers to call time at 9:35. Atlanta’s free-flowing fun offense started finishing possessions in the paint more often than beyond the three-point land and the Pacers grew visibly frustrated. West overreacted to a subtle Antic push on a screen and the two big men got nose to nose to scream at each other, resulting in a double tech. And whether it was Paul Millsap going to work on Roy Hibbert or Teague continuing to embarrass Indy’s perimeter defenders, Atlanta’s lead ballooned to double digits.

This nasty Teague step-back pretty much sums up the Hawks’ third-quarter burst.

Jeff Got 'Em.  on Twitpic

The fourth quarter was more of the same. Atlanta’s lead was as many as 20 points as the arena went silent. Fans started heading to the exits with more than 6 minutes remaining in the contest.

Teague had 28 points and 5 assists. Millsap had 25 points and 8 boards. As a team, Atlanta shot 82.8 percent from the stripe.

The Pacers made one last comeback attempt, but it was ultimately too little, too late. The Hawks came in and made the Fieldhouse their house.—Jake Fischer

Warriors 109, Clippers 105 (Golden State leads 1-0)

Just minutes after powerfully spiking the basketball following Golden State’s Game 1 victory over the Clippers, Klay Thompson was happily explaining that very moment in the visitors locker room at Staples Center. “That was the best feeling, I wish I could do it again,” Thompson said with a smile. “After a hard fought win like that, I wish I could have kicked the ball to get my emotions out.”

Thompson was solid on both ends of the floor in the hard fought 109-105 win over LA, finishing with 22 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and three steals while harassing Clippers point guard Chris Paul on the defensive end. “I’m just trying to use my length, and contest all his shots, not make it easy for him to get in the paint–make him take long twos,” Thompson said of defending Paul. “He hit some big threes tonight. You’ve got to trust your guys behind you and get into the ball too. He’s the head of the monster, the way he goes is how their team goes.”

The Clippers came out of the tunnel on fire, pushing out to a quick 12-1 lead over GS to begin the game with all the momentum in their favor. But Blake Griffin picked up his second foul within the first five minutes and the Warriors closed the gap while he was on the bench. Griffin returned to start the second quarter but picked up a foul on a charging call in the first minute, leading coach Doc Rivers to sit him for the rest of the half. Griffin was on the floor for under four minutes the entire first half.

Even stranger was the fate of Golden State’s Andre Iguodala, picking up two quick fouls to start the game and earning his third in the 1st quarter with about three minutes left in the opening stanza. Instead of sitting him for the rest of the half, Warriors coach Mark Jackson put Iggy back in the game during the second quarter and he earned his fourth foul with about six minutes left in the half. And three minutes into the second half, he had five fouls, and he eventually fouled out of the game with 8 points in just under 21 minutes of action.

The third quarter was extremely entertaining, with some quality scoring from both sides. With the game tied at 79 with under three minutes left, the Warriors put together an impressive 8-0 run to head into the fourth with a nice cushion.

Golden State held their lead for most of the 4rth quarter until CP3 hit two threes late to tie the game at 102 with a little over 2 minutes remaining. But Paul would unravel a bit with seconds remaining, turning the ball over with 19 seconds left in the game, down two points. With the Clippers down 108-105 with 12 seconds left, Golden State fouled Paul and put him on the line where he uncharacteristically missed two free throws and ended all hope in a comeback. “Man, it caught me off guard first and foremost, I had no clue they were going to foul and I missed em,” Paul said of the free throws. On the turnover, Paul had this to say: “Draymond Green jumped out and I was going to try to turn the corner, he might of bumped me or something like that, it’s tough.”

Paul finished with a game high 28 points on 10-of-23 shooting from the field. He also added 8 assists, 7 rebounds and four steals. Griffin managed only 19 minutes due to foul trouble, registering 16 points and only 3 boards. When he fouled out of the game, Griffin stood on the sideline and watched the replay of his foul on the Jumbotron. While doing so, he raised his hands in disgust and discarded a dixie cup full of water behind him, landing in the lap of a Warriors fan in the front row. At the post game presser, he was asked if he was aware of what he did. “I heard him say something but I didn’t know exactly what I did,” Griffin said. “It wasn’t full though. I took my mouthpiece out and picked up the cup. If I did, I apologize. It’s water…you know?”

While that controversy plays out, the Clippers must find a way to keep Griffin on the floor for 40 minutes in game 2. “Blake is our go-to guy, contrary to what people may think,” Paul said. “We play through BG, as you can see he’s tough to guard and our guy only played 19 minutes. It’s tough, I kept telling him ‘I need you’. You know, I’m running around with Steph out there and he’s resting on the other end, so we need to play through B like that.”

Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick agreed. “He’s one of the best players in the NBA and for us to not have him for half the game…we need him to stay on the court,” said Redick, who finished with 22 points.

For the Warriors, David Lee also had a nice night, adding 20 points and 13 rebounds while Steph Curry and Harrison Barnes both scored 14 points. Game 2 is Monday night at Staples Center.—Nima Zarrabi

Thunder 100, Grizzlies 86 (OKC leads 1-0)

The man who made 40-point nights seem like just another day in the office showed no signs of slowing down during the regular season—or last night. The L’s leader in scoring, Kevin Durant, opened up the 2014 Playoffs right on the mark. With 33 points, 13 of which he delivered in the fourth, KD led his OKC squad to victory in Game 1 against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Playing all but five minutes, he and a healthy Russell Westbrook combined for 56 of the Thunder’s 100 points. The dynamic duo’s Playoffs adventure was cut short last season, with Westbrook going down in Game 2 of the first round series between the Thunder and Rockets. When the semifinals rolled around, these same Memphis Grizzlies eliminated the Thunder in just five games. But this year—this year is different.

For one, these two teams are meeting in the first round. More importantly, Westbrook is here and healthy, and Kevin Durant is hungrier than ever. With his favorite point guard back on the court to spread the opponents’ defense, score and assist, Durant won’t need to prematurely dwindle his gas tank to E. He can save that fuel for when he and his team need it most, as he did last night.

The Grizzlies’ growls had nothing on the Thunder’s roars in the first half. OKC claimed a 14-2 lead early and maintained that fast-paced momentum, feeding off the blue-shirted fans in the Chesapeake Energy Arena until the halftime buzzer sounded. The teams walked to their locker rooms, and guess which one had a 22-point lead over the other.

After the break, the Grizz stormed the floor in the third quarter, outscoring the nearly silent Thunder 31-13. They cut the lead to two points with 8:45 left in the fourth, but never managed to get over the hump.

The Thunder built upon what remained of their little lead as Zach Randolph got caught up in foul trouble. Kevin Durant accessed his not-so-empty fuel tank to propel his team to a 100-86 victory at home.

Game 2 of this Thunder-Grizzlies series is set for tomorrow night at 8 EST in Oklahoma City, and we all best believe the fans and both teams will bring fresh energy to the very appropriately named arena.—Habeeba Husain