Post Up: Forward March

Pacers 92 – Hawks 80 (Indiana wins series 4-3)

With the weight of the NBA world on their shoulders, the Indiana Pacers defeated the Atlanta Hawks, avoiding becoming the first 1-seed to ever lose to an 8-seed in a Game 7. Surprisingly, it was a previously dilapidated Roy Hibbert who set the tone early for Frank Vogel’s squad.

After contributing 0 points and 2 rebounds in Games 5 and 6 combined, Hibbert posted 8 points and grabbed 2 boards in the first nine minutes of the game. He looked spry, confident and overbearing in the post. But the teams essentially played to a draw as Atlanta took a 24-23 lead after the opening frame.

Both teams went cold offensively during the first 6 minutes of the second quarter. With the Pacers opening the period slow, the Hawks failed to capitalize and build momentum. Atlanta will likely look back on those minutes with regret, especially with the way the home team closed the half. After Jeff Teague knocked down an 18-footer with 6:11 left in the second to give ATL a 34-33 lead, the Pacers closed on an 18-4 run to take a 47-36 lead into halftime. While the 11-point lead seems big on paper, it felt twice as large with how the Fieldhouse was rocking.

Indy picked up in the third quarter where it left off in the second, opening the second half on a 9-4 run to claim a 16-point lead. A short Hibbert jumper with 4:11 left in the frame gave the Pacers a 17-point lead, but that’s when Atlanta responded.

Shelvin Mack immediately went down on the other end and drained a three. He then followed up the next possession with a bucket. Mike Scott then hit a three and made two free throws, before Mack drilled another triple. Mack closed the quarter by assisting on a Millsap layup and a Mike Scott three with 26 seconds left and all of a sudden Atlanta’s 18-9 run made it just an 8-point game entering the fourth.

In a game where Indiana reverted to their first-half-of-the-season form, it was only fitting Paul George put on the finishing touches. George scored 8 points in the final quarter, with 6 coming in the first two minutes. Those points were enough for a mini 6-2 run that put the kibosh on all the clawing Atlanta did at the end of the third to get back into the contest.

The Pacers’ defense shut the door on the Hawks as well, walling off the paint for much of the final 12 minutes. Atlanta’s first 11 possessions of the fourth ended in 7 missed threes and 4 turnovers. Overall, the Hawks set an NBA record for three-point attempts in a playoff game with 44 after setting a record for the most three-point attempts in a series too.

Lance Stephenson’s run-out dunk with 1:20 left was the exclamation point, and the Pacers escaped virtually unscathed. Even after all of the turmoil the club went through over the last few months, Indiana now has a clean slate matching up against the Wizards on Monday in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Pacers will entire that series following their best defensive effort of the first round and a rejuvenated Roy Hibbert, who finished with 13 points and 7 boards. George strung together a 30-point 11-rebound masterpiece while Lance added 19 points and 14 boards and 5 dimes.

Indiana also has another thing going for them:

The last time a 1-seed in the Eastern Conference beat the 8-seeded Atlanta Hawks in 7 games, it went on to win it all. A team by the name of the Boston Celtics did that in 2008.—Jake Fischer

Thunder 120 – Grizzlies 109 (OKC wins series 4-3)

All good things must come to an end. All bad things too, but let’s be real here, this series was good

In an evening full of back-to-back-to-back Game 7s, the Thunder advanced after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in Oklahoma City. 

Kevin “Mr. Reliable” Durant led all scorers with 33. He brought down eight boards and made it rain from the arc, going 5-for-5. That mended his 4-for-29 drought-like three-point shooting performance in the previous six games.

Teammate Russell Westbrook recorded his second triple double in a Game 7, with 27 points, 16 assists, and 10 boards. With sixth man Reggie Jackson’s 16 points, Caron Butler’s 15, and Serge Ibaka’s 12, the Thunder’s 60.9 percent shooting night was enough to seal the deal and move forward to the Conference Semifinals. 

Prior to the game, circumstances out of the Grizzlies’ control caused some to write them off before the game even tipped. A suspension to the powerful Zach Randolph for punching OKC rookie Steven Adams in the face, a strain to Mike Conley’s hamstring, and a road game in the Chesapeake Energy Arena…things weren’t looking up.

The first quarter told everyone otherwise. The Grizzlies opened the game with a growl, scoring 36 points—the most they put up in any quarter all season, regular or post. Marc Gasol led the pack with 13, and he finished the game with 24. 

Things took a turn in favor of the Thunder in the second quarter, who outscored the Grizz 34-22. OKC went back to the locker room with a three-point lead, and kept it up for the remainder of the game.

Conley’s 20 points and nine assists, and double figures from both Courtney Lee and Tony Allen didn’t hold up against the Thunder. Z-Bo’s scoring ability and on-court presence was sorely missed this game. 

The previous NBA Playoffs tagline still rings true. There can only be one. And after last night, the Oklahoma City Thunder are a step closer to becoming that one team that stands above the rest, with the Larry O’Brien trophy held high and the winning smile extending from ear to ear. 

We got a wonderful taste of the 2014 NBA Playoffs so far, and there is much, much more to come. Although this good series is now over, rest assured another is headed our way very soon.—Habeeba Husain

Clippers 126 – Warriors 121 (LA wins series 4-3)

Stephen Curry dribbled through a clear path in the key and headed for an easy layup that would have given the Warriors a lead with two minutes left, but Clippers center DeAndre Jordan extended his massive reach and pinned the ball against the backboard, his block starting a fast break. On the other end, Blake Griffin slammed home an alley-oop and LA extended to a 112-109 lead. Following a defensive stop, Jordan slammed home a tip dunk and the Clips had the upper hand at 114-109. The frenetic string of plays marked a critical moment in game 7 of the series—just when the Warriors were destined to take over, LA answered with a big bucket from its superstar Griffin and the MVP of this series, Jordan who finished with 15 points, 18 rebounds and 3 blocks in the 126-121 game seven clinching win. Golden State did what they could in the final minute to keep fighting, a Curry 3-pointer and scrappy play kept them in it, but LA converted their free throws down the stretch and didn’t let them back in. Chris Paul may have had his best game of the series despite ailing from several injuries, posting 22 points, 14 assists and 4 steals. “Coach Lue came to me before the game and told me he was going to give me some more breaks on Steph, so I could be a little more aggressive offensively, but I told him the hell with that,” Paul told David Aldridge immediately after the game. “This is game 7, you gotta play both ways.”

It looked to be the Warriors night throughout the contest, especially early on. Golden State dominated the first quarter and closed out the second stanza on a 15-7 run to give them a nice 64-56 lead at the half. Draymond Green continued to flourish for the Warriors, dropping 10 points in the second quarter and finishing the game with 24 points.

LA kept it close in the third, eventually taking their first lead of the game in the quarter. The two teams gave us an incredible fourth quarter to watch, filled with plenty of scoring and highlight reel plays. Curry tried to put Golden State on his back, going off for 33 points and 9 assists but Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson didn’t break out like they needed to, finishing with a combined 29 points. LA had much more balanced scoring, four players finished with over 20 points: Griffin (24 pts) CP3 (22) Jamal Crawford (22) and J.J. Redick (20). “This was a hard week–was it a week?” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers asked following the game. “It felt like two months. It’s been hard. I just needed to be able to smile and laugh and cheer and be proud. And I was very proud of my players.” The Clippers will fly to Oklahoma City on Sunday to prepare for their second round matchup against the Thunder which begins on Monday night. It will be a homecoming for Griffin who was asked if he may bring his teammates to his parents home for any home cooked meals. He wasn’t sure if he could fit everyone in the Griffin family home, but he definitely expects some comfort food from his mom. “Strawberry Cake,” Griffin said happily. “I hope she’s watching this.”—Nima Zarrabi