Post Up: Blazing Forward

by April 28, 2014

Raptors 87 – Nets 78 (Series tied 2-2)

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan sat down at the podium after Game 4 and were asked if the Raptors have brought their ‘A’ game yet. The two laughed.

“Not at all.”

The Raptors, playing for their Playoffs lives, came out with the 87-79 victory, but it wasn’t pretty. After a 35-point first quarter in which they shot 62 percent, Toronto struggled their way through the ensuing three periods, shooting just over 33 percent for the rest of the game.

The Nets, though, played their worst game of the series. Brooklyn fell down by as much as 17 points with 5:39 in the second quarter, but rallied back to within seven points by halftime. They played a strong third quarter and took a 77-73 lead with 6:11 left in the fourth quarter.

Toronto owned the final five minutes of Game 3, and nothing changed on Sunday night. The Raptors outscored the Nets 14-2 in the final 6:11, emphatically evening up the series.

Brooklyn managed only three field goals in the fourth quarter and went scoreless in the final 4:58 (which hasn’t happened in the Playoffs since 1998).

With three minutes left in the game, the Nets still had a chance to win, down only 83-79. But over the next minute and a half, they committed 4 turnovers and 3 offensive fouls. DeRozan, who had gone ice cold on the offensive end (he missed his final nine shot attempts), surprisingly drew two of the charges.

“I knew they were going to change it up and start to get the ball out of my hands,” DeRozan said. “I didn’t let that take me out the game. I knew I could do some things on the defensive end.”

Then, with 1:13 remaining, Lowry sky-hooked a shot over Kevin Garnett to put the Raps up six. It was the biggest shot of the night, by a player who was experiencing considerable knee pain during the game.

“That was a momentum play for us,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “They did a good job of getting the ball out of [DeRozan’s] hands, but it opened up something else for us. Kyle took advantage of that.”

Lowry finished the game with 22 points, DeRozan with 24, and Greivis Vasquez once again came up big off the bench with 9 points and 9 dimes. Amir Johnson played well on both ends, especially in the first half, and finished with 17 points.

Most importantly, Toronto limited their turnovers to just 12. To illustrate how much of an accomplishment this was, the Raptors had averaged over 19 per in the first three games of the series.

Toronto played physical defense, limited Joe Johnson to just 7 points on seven shot attempts and rotated like madmen.

“One you go through a series, you get three or four games under you belt, hey, you’ve got experience,” Paul Pierce said. “We understand that this is a group that’s not going to back down, that’s not going to give up.”—Ryne Nelson

Warriors 118 – Clippers 97 (Series tied 2-2)

It took a few games but Stephen Curry finally caught his wave. The ball came out of his hand as we had all expected, with a fluid release arching toward all net. He started slow the first three games of the series but Sunday was completely different. Golden State jumped out to a decisive early lead thanks to the hot hand of Curry who tied a franchise record, making five 3-point buckets in the 1st quarter. He finished with 17 points in the stanza and the Clippers never fully responded, struggling all the way through in a 118-97loss. “Thirty-nine points in the first quarter was huge, “Warriors coach Mark Jackson said post game. “We played with a sense of urgency and our star basketball player was special.”

Curry finished with 33 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds. He shot 10-20 from the field (7-of-14 from 3-point range) and seemed much more comfortable coming off screens in this contest. Jackson inserted Draymond Green into the starting lineup for Jermaine O’Neil and he helped hold Blake Griffin in better check, limiting him to 21 points after huge performances in games 2 and 3.

The Clippers played this game under a cloud of controversy from the scandal involving their Owner Donald Sterling, whose purported racist comments have made worldwide news. Clippers coach Doc Rivers took the blame for not preparing his team for the Warriors in game 4, whether it was on the floor or simply dealing with the fallout from Sterling’s hurtful words. “I didn’t do my job tonight and I take that personally,” Rivers said. “We didn’t handle the competition right tonight.”

The Warriors enjoyed a much needed boost in Game 4 from forward Andre Iguodala who finally broke out, cruising to 22 points and 9 assists after struggling through the first three. David Lee, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes each added 15 points for the Warriors.

The Clipper players haven’t spoken publicly about Sterling’s comments but made a point to not wear their Clippers shooting shirts during warmups, opting for blank red shirts instead. LA seemed off their game all night–they didn’t have the same intensity on the floor that they displayed in game 3. Not having to face Golden State in Oracle should help, although Rivers wasn’t so sure. “We’re going home now and usually that means we’re going home to our safe haven and I don’t know if that’s true to be honest.”

Game 5 is Tuesday night at Staples Center.—Nima Zarrabi

Wizards 98 – Bulls 89 (Washington leads 3-1)

In a sign of solidarity with the suspended Nene, Washington owner Ted Leonsis slipped on the big man’s No. 42 jersey and took his courtside seat prior to the start of Game 4. But once it was time for tipoff, the Wizards showed they were more than capable of winning in the postseason with or without his presence on the floor.

Washington got off to a blistering start, scoring the first 14 points of the contest. Trevor Ariza had three triples and 11 first quarter points in total, pacing the Wizards as the Bulls eventually worked their way back. Washington’s lead evaporated at the start of the second quarter, and a Taj Gibson layup made it a 4-point margin. That was the closest Chicago got though, as Bradley Beal hit consecutive jumpers to help Washington regain control. Gibson was dominant with 12 points, but he got almost zero help from his teammates. Beal hit Ariza in the corner for a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Wizards a 55-40 halftime lead.

The third quarter started off as the first half had ended ­­with another Ariza trey. The Bulls were able to hang around thanks to some solid shooting from Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler and Game 3 hero Mike Dunleavy, but the Wizards consistently answered back, eventually pulling ahead by a game-high 23 points on a Bradley Beal three-point jumper to start the fourth quarter. Soon afterwards, Chicago mounted one last comeback attempt, going on a 10-0 run that put a hush in the Verizon Center crowd. Gibson got his team to as close as 8 points with a little more than 2 minutes to play, but Washington sealed things for good a minute later on an Ariza layup that made it a 12-point game.

Ariza was the MVP for the Wizards with 30 points (10-17 shooting) and 8 rebounds. He converted 6 of 10 shots from beyond the arc. Beal added 18, Marcin Gortat had 17, and John Wall finished with 15 points and 10 assists.

Gibson was a monster in the paint, scoring 32 points (13-16 from the field, 6-7 on free throw attempts). Joakim Noah had 10 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists, but no one else had an offensive day to be proud of. The Bulls return to Chicago on the brink of elimination for Game 5, which is set for Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST on TNT. —Alex Shultz

Trail Blazers 123 – Rockets 120 (Portland leads 3-1)

If you like free basketball, you’ve been enjoying the hell out of the matchup between the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trailblazers in these Western Conference quarterfinals.

In four games, there’s been three overtime games, three OT thrillers to deprive you of sleep on a school night, take you to the edge of your seats, make you lose your voice from cheering and, whoa Nelly, this was one for the books.

After the smoke cleared, it was Portland who emerged victorious, hanging on for a 123-120 win for a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.

The Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge had a game-high 29 points, Damian Lillard added 23, but it was Wesley Matthews who had the “podium game.” 

Matthews, who was all over the court, seemed to be in all the right spots and the right time. While James Harden was going ISO at the top of the key, Matthews was battling with Dwight Howard under the basket and drew a key foul on D12 with 11.7 seconds left. 

Then, after Game 3 hero Troy Daniels sinks three “clutch” free throws with 8 ticks left and Mo Williams sinks two freebies to put Portland up 123-120, Matthews gambled off Harden to poke the ball free from Patrick Beverley, sealing the deal for his team.

“It’s not about one or two people. It’s about our group,” said Lillard. “A lot of guys were able to come in and go above and beyond, sacrifice their bodies, diving on the floor. Our strength is in our unity, and it showed tonight.”

And what about Nicolas Batum?  He was money in the bank. That crossover three-ball in the fourth on Chandler Parsons? Nasty. Just nasty. Not only that, it was the Frenchman who put up a five-piece on the Rockets’ heads with 3:30 minutes left in OT that kicked off a 9-2 Blazers run. Portland took the lead and they never trailed again.

“We’re at our best when our backs are against the wall, have something to prove—whatever phrase you want to use,” said Portland head coach Terry Stotts. “We have a determination to us. We know what we have to do, and most times, we do it.”

Houston, of course, had their chances. But this time, it was its point guards that dropped the ball. First it was Jeremy Lin, who got caught with his head in the clouds by Mo Williams. Mo stripped Lin as he was “dribbling” (where exactly?) and after a huge pileup of players scrapped for the rock, Mo ended up with the ball on the wing and let Lin fly by before sinking a triple to put Portland up 105-104.

Then there was Beverley’s flub at the end, letting Matthews pick his pockets and stick a fork in his Rockets. Lin and Beverley combined to shoot a putrid 3-for-13 from the field, going 0-for-6 on 3-point attempts. Can’t win when your floor generals play like that.

The Beard led his team with 28 points, Parsons stepped up for 26 points and eight rebounds and D12 added 25 points and 14 boards.  Daniels came off the bench for 17. Seriously, this kid is gonna be special. Two playoff games under his belt and he’s shooting like he has ice water in his veins.  He’s gotta be at least a distant cousin of Golden State’s Splash Brothers.  

Overheard on Twitter: “Based on 2 games, Troy Daniels has earned himself a NBA check for next 8-9 years.”

Down 1-3, the series goes back to Space City.  Nothing’s ever over til it’s over, but it’s probably going to take a 30-piece by “Trey” Daniels for the Rox to pull out a Game 5 W.

“We feel like just as easily as it’s 1-3, we could be up 3-1,” said Parsons. “A couple of plays here and there, it can all change. We fully expect to come back here (for Game 6). This is it, win or go home. We’re not trying to go home.”

Game 5 is Wednesday in Houston.—Maurice Bobb