Post Up: Spurs Take Control

by April 22, 2013

Pacers 107, Hawks 90 (Pacers lead series 1-0)

In last year’s Playoffs, Paul George averaged about 10 points (on 39 percent) shooting and 6.5 boards in 11 games—not terrible, but he didn’t exactly step up in the big moment, either. On Sunday afternoon, he looked like a bona fide All-Star leading his team to a Playoff win.

George was all over the place against the Hawks, getting to the line 18 times (a career-high) and finishing with a triple-double of 23 points, 12 assists and 11 boards. He also added a LeBron-esque chase down stuff off the backboard.

Indiana’s offense ran through the third-year man, who sat for just 4 minutes despite the Pacers leading comfortably for the majority of the game. His big day at the line led to a 30-7 advantaged in made free throws for the Pacers. His rebounding led to another huge advantage for Indiana, 48-32 on the glass. The Pacers secured 15 offensive rebounds compared to 6 for the Hawks.

Every other Pacers starter played well, too. David West (13 & 9), George Hill (18), Roy Hibbert (16 & 8) and Lance Stephenson (13) each scored double-figures, and Gerald Green scored 11 with three treys off the bench.

Indiana was clearly the better team, but all hope’s not lost for the Hawks moving forward. The game never really got out of hand despite the Pacers grabbing a 10-point lead early in the second quarter. Atlanta hit 50 percent of their shots—an incredible number considering the Pacers held their opponents to 42 percent shooting on the season (best in the League). The Hawks hit 7-of-17 threes, a solid mark despite an off night from Kyle Korver.

Jeff Teague (21 & 7), Al Horford (14 & 6) and Josh Smith (15, 8 & 5) all looked pretty good but they didn’t get enough help. Korver finished with only 5 points (he averaged 11 on the season) and Devin Harris scored only 8.

The Hawks made a decent push in the middle of the fourth quarter, but were never able to dig themselves out of the early hole. With a little more production from their wings, Atlanta has a chance to steal home court advantage on Wednesday night. —Leo Sepkowitz

Heat 110, Bucks 87 (Heat lead series 1-0)

The Miami Heat started off this year’s playoffs just as they left last season’s, on a roll. LeBron James couldn’t be stopped against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of their first-round matchup.

Though the Bucks stayed in the game going into the third quarter only down seven, LeBron and the Heat proved to be too much for Milwaukee to handle down the stretch. If analysts were seriously considering the possibilities of an upset going into this series, they got their answer with an all-around performance from the defending champions.

In anticipation of the series opener, Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings made the brash prediction that Milwaukee would upset Miami in six games. In response to the guarantee, Heat co-star Dwayne Wade said, “It’s good to sell papers, but we’re not worried about that. We’re worried about Game 1.”

With efficiency and plenty of flash–LeBron and Wade put on their usual in-game-dunk-contest-style of play–the Heat handled the Bucks easily in Miami on Sunday night, never falling behind on the scoreboard.

Miami shot 56 percent from the field and held Milwaukee to under 42 percent. Though LeBron was held to merely 11 field goal attempts, he tallied 27 points to go along with 10 rebounds and eight assists–all team-highs. He also dazzled the crowd in American Airlines Arena with brazen left handed slams and  bounce passes that threaded through the lanes untouched, startling the Bucks defense.

Jennings would go on to back up his hasty prediction, albeit individually, by putting up a team-high 26 points. Monta Ellis was the only other player to score in double figures with 22 points; he also added four rebounds and four steals, but it wasn’t enough for the Bucks as they fell behind the surging Heat.

To start the third quarter, Ellis nailed a 26-foot three-pointer to bring the Bucks within four at 48-52, but over the next four minutes, the Heat would outscore Milwaukee 13-3, prompting head coach Jim Boylan to quickly take a timeout and try to regroup. But the Heat didn’t let up, ending the quarter with two theatrical dunks and a sizable 15-point advantage.

Miami didn’t look back after that, sealing the game with a 30-point fourth quarter. Ray Allen and Chris Andersen both came up big off the bench, combining for 30 points in the game while also providing an invaluable momentum boost with their high energy play.

Looking forward in the series, the Bucks need more help from everyone if they’re going to have a chance to make good on Jennings’ prophecy. Forward Ersan Ilyasova is the team’s third leading scorer, putting up more than 13 points per game, but he only managed to score two in this one. Larry Sanders had six points and four rebounds, but he picked up five personal fouls as well. With Miami shooting over 80 percent from the charity stripe, Sanders will need to cut that number down for the Bucks to have any hope in this series.

Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday night at 7:30 EST in Miami, FL. —Daniel Friedman

Spurs 91, Lakers 79 (Spurs lead series 1-0)

This was a spectacularly uncomplicated basketball game where both teams executed until the Lakers couldn’t do it any longer. The Spurs, the better team, won 91-79 and led for 46 minutes.

But you won’t hear a peep about it today. Get ready to hear Mike D’Antoni’s thoughts on social media!

Please kill us all.

“(Kobe) is a fan right now. You guys put a little bit more importance on that kind of fan. And he’s excited. He wants to be a part of it and I don’t blame him,” says D’Antoni.

For some background, Kobe Bryant was sitting with his left achilles suspended on a couch somewhere in Los Angeles tweeting things like “Post. Post. Post.” and “Pau get ur ass on the block and don’t move till u get it” during the game.

He was absolutely right. Mike D’Antoni is under the impression that he did nothing but post Pau Gasol all game. He did not do that. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard took exactly as many shots as Steve Blake and Steve Nash.

Those bigs needed to take twice as many. Kobe was right, D’Antoni was wrong, and D’Antoni does not have the skillset to fix it by Game 2.

But, hey, let’s talk about social media!

This is how it’s going to go: Mike D’Antoni is going to come out today and opine about the state of things, about how Twitter is slowly nibbling away at society, and that this isn’t a thing between him and Kobe Bryant, but a thing between him and Twitter. He will mispronounce it and mangle the verb for comedic effect—”I don’t have time for the twuttering and twattering,” he’ll say, or something like it—and the conversation will shift to that.

“Should players be allowed to Tweet during the game?” That is going to be the narrative temporarily until everybody realizes what a tremendous deflection this is.

Here’s the problem: Mike D’Antoni has no idea how to get Pau Gasol the ball where he needs it, he hasn’t all season, he has refused to learn how, he has misdirected this as a fault in Pau’s game, and now he has a nice new mirror off of which he can reflect this shiny beam.

That mirror is called Twitter. That beam is his inability to use any post-up big man effectively within his system.

Pau Gasol was their best offensive weapon yesterday, even though he kept collecting the ball as it was deflected or dribbled off of Steve Blake’s leg. Gasol was largely covered by Matt Bonner, whose post defense looks like a slapstick comedy demo reel.

Gasol got three post touches against Bonner that resulted in shots in the second half. Three.

I think we all like Mike D’Antoni. It’s nice having him around. He’s the subject of one of the best, smartest basketball books ever written. There’s no doubt how brainy this dude is. He gets the psychology of how basketball players think like no other.

That’s a long qualifier to get back to the initial point: He has no idea how to get Pau Gasol the ball and that is their only chance. Kobe knows it, the Spurs know it, Lakers fans know it, and the Lakers probably know it, too, secretly.

Twitter is part of what we are now. Kobe has been a part of the Lakers for 15 years now. Mike D’Antoni has been here, generously, for five months. He can’t pretend like these people and things aren’t bigger part of the Lakers than he is. Because they are.

That said, the Lakers hung around longer than anticipated, anchored by Dwight’s staunch defense and useful minutes from Metta and Steve Nash. LA had cut it to five in the third, slowly gnawing into the lead by executing in the half court and forcing Gary Neal to take semi-contested threes due to good rotations.

But there was no real offensive momentum and the better team took over at the first available mistake.

The worst lapse came with 1:25 left in the third. Manu Ginobili had a pull-up transition 3, then a jumper, then another 3 to end the third. It was a loudly deflated balloon to a Lakers team who didn’t seem like they had any business hanging around to the extent that they did.

Ginobili wound up with 18 points in 19 minutes. He was brilliant, as always, and rested. He’ll be a humming, buzzing firebrand when more minutes require it. This game, again, did not require it. The system was self-sufficient. Lots of high-low stuff. Parker slipped through cracks to create open threes. Tiago Splitter, of all people, did some Arvydas Sabonis-ing in the high post. It was all there on the whiteboard before the game, and they did it all right.

It is what a competent team that believes in their coach and their system tends to do. Wink wink. Nudge Nudge.

Make that #WinkWink, #NudgeNudge, and know that this will all be over very soon. —Ben Collins

Thunder 120, Rockets 91 (Thunder lead series 1-0)

You knew James Harden would come out swinging against his former team in Game 1 and he did.  Seventeen points in the first half?  The Rockets will take that, gladly.  But even with that, they were down 60-47 at the half, which is quite a mountainous deficit on the road and one that proved too much to overcome.  In their house, OKC went for the jugular, riding Kevin Durant’s coattails on the way to a 120-91 victory.  KD finished with 24 points and a key charge against Harden, that pretty much summed up the night for the former Sixth Man of the Year.

“It was all about giving your all every possession,” Durant said.

Outside of Durant and Russell Westbrook–who nearly had a triple-dub with 19 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds–the man who did it all was Serge Ibaka. The center did his usual damage on defense while protecting the rim with three blocks, including a mean rejection of his former road dog, Harden.

Kevin Martin, who was also facing his former team for the first time in the postseason, came off the pine and chipped in with 16 points.

This game was over pretty much as soon as the ref threw up the first jump ball, with the raucous crowd getting behind their team with their usual aplomb.  The lone bright spot for Houston was Patrick Beverly, who came into the game and kept his team afloat with hustle plays and key rallies. The native Chicagoan tossed in 11 points, four dimes and two thefts for Houston, who will need to really regroup and find an answer for the Durant/Westbrook combo in Game 2 if they hope to have any chance of getting back in this series.

“We didn’t have a rhythm as a team. I felt like it was basically one on five every time,” Harden said.  “Believe it or not, I think this was good for us,” Harden said. “Losing like this was definitely good for us. Now we know how to play.”

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Oklahoma City. —Maurice Bobb