Post Up: All Even

by April 27, 2014
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Pacers 91 – Hawks 88 (Series tied 2-2)

After a bevy of poor officiating, constant consultation from the video monitors and nearly three hours, the Indiana Pacers emerged victorious in Atlanta on Saturday to tie the series up at 2-2.

Before the game even began, Rachel Nichols reported that Indiana’s brain trust of Kevin Pritchard, Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird took Hibbert out to dinner on Friday night. They told Hibbert to relax, play his game and that they believed in him. But, the Pacers didn’t look to get Hibbert involved offensively at all in the first quarter. When Hibbert went to the bench during Indy’s timeout with6:50 left in the first quarter, he had yet to even touch the ball on offense.

The Pacers looked fine on that end without him, however. Indiana shot 12-18 from the field to take a 29-22 lead over the Hawks after the first frame, with 8 of those baskets being assisted. Evan Turner, who some say triggered all of Indy’s problems since he was brought in for Danny Granger at the trade deadline, carried the load offensively after Lance Stephenson picked up his second foul with 8:11 left in the quarter. Turner went 3-4 for 7 points and dished 3 dimes in the period.

But the second quarter belonged to Atlanta, as the Hawks outscored the Pacers 26-13 in the period to take a 48-42 lead into halftime. Paul Millsap scored 18 points in the opening half to pace the Hawks. He was too strong for Ian Mahinmi and too quick for Hibbert.

Atlanta started the second half by immediately pushing its lead to 10 points on back-to-back triples from Kyle Korver and DeMare Carroll. For the game, the Hawks were lethal from the outside yet again, draining 11 of their 31 attempts. But in the fourth quarter, after Indy used a little 8-4 run to take a 66-65 lead into the final stanza, the Pacers matched the Hawks from distance.

Indiana was able to reclaim the lead before the buzzer thanks to a four-minute 14-3 run after Millsap hit the pine with his fourth foul with 9:41 left in the third.

In the game’s final 12 minutes, the Hawks and Pacers battled back and forth. Millsap’s ridiculous fall-away three in the left corner as the shot clock expired gave the Hawks their first lead of the fourth, but Paul George responded with a swooping layup down the left baseline. Atlanta then used a 10-4 run to regain control, but C.J. Watson’s hounding defense on Jeff Teague allowed the Pacers to slowly chip away at the deficit.

Then, David West’s three-pointer with 1:32 left in the game after he stole a Teague pass capped off an 11-2 burst, erasing a 6-point Atlanta lead and giving a Indy 4-point edge at 89-85.

Phew.

From there, George Hill’s layup was enough to give the Pacers a three-point lead after three Korver free throws and force the Hawks into a desperation three-point heave at the buzzer from Pero Antic. Atlanta wasted a 29 and 7 performance from Millsap, but George’s 24-10-5 and West’s 18-5 and 2 blocks were too much.

The basketball might have actually swung back into Indiana’s court.—Jake Fischer

Heat 98 – Bobcats 85 (Miami leads 3-0)

It’s been 10 years since pro basketball returned to Charlotte, and 12 years since the hoops-crazy state of North Carolina has seen a Playoff win. And it’s starting to feel like an inevitability that Charlotte will have to wait for the Hornets reboot before they get that postseason W.

The Bobcats got off to a strong start against the Heat in their first home Playoff game since 2010, holding a lead in late in the second quarter. Things went downhill pretty quickly from there, as Miami coasted to a win that put them on the brink of finishing off their Southeast division rivals—if you can call them that. Saturday marked the 19th straight time, including the postseason, that the Heat have snuffed out the Bobcats. LeBron James ran things for Miami, putting up 30 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. The King was really feeling himself as he took it to the ‘Cats, even staring down Charlotte’s owner, some dude named Jordan, as he threw down a fastbreak dunk as Miami poured it on in the second half.

Al Jefferson, playing on one leg, carried the Bobcats early. He went on a personal 7-0 run in the first quarter and scored 15 in the opening frame, owning the defenders Miami sent to cover him on the left block. As you can imagine, Big Al’s torn plantar fascia caught up with him as the game wore on, and he scored just 5 points after the first quarter, finishing with 20 points and 5 rebounds.

Charlotte gave the Heat everything they had for the first 20 minutes of game time, trading the lead back and forth a few times in the second quarter. But when Professor Jefferson started to feel the effects of his foot injury, the rest of the squad fell hard around him. Charlotte took a 40-37 lead at the 6:16 mark of the second, but the Heat rolled off a 21-6 run to end the half, powered by James, and waltzed the the finish line from there.

Miami hardly needed anyone except James, but Dwyane Wade kicked in 16 points after missing his first four shots from the field, finishing with a 7-16 shooting night. Ray Allen started to get loose from deep, knocking down 2-4 triples while scoring 8 points. Naturally, this Heat team is going to be much better for it if they can get their veteran shooters hitting from deep, and Allen is the biggest piece there. Erik Spoelstra actually unchained Shane Battier from the bench for the first time this series, even if he only gave the cerebral swingman 2 minutes of playing time, but you can bet that Battier will play a role somewhere down the line before he retires at the end of the season. Chris Bosh scored 8 points while taking only 7 shots and Chris Andersen dunked and swooped his way to 12 points and 7 rebounds.

Charlotte got 17 points off the bench from Chris Douglas-Roberts and 13 points apiece from Kemba Walker and Josh McRoberts, but the Bobcats were nothing more than a speed bump as Miami tuned up its high-powered engine.

With the way this game went, the four-game sweep feels like a foregone conclusion. The Bobcats will try to extend their season on Monday night as the Heat will be looking to earn themselves some extra rest.—Brett Weisband

Mavs 109 – Spurs 108 (Dallas leads 2-1)

“May 20, Game 7.”­

Not even needing a second to collect his thoughts, Vince Carter (11 points) provided this response while interrupting a reporter who was wondering if Carter remembered a similar shot he took earlier in his career.

It was eerie just how similar it was.

As Monta Ellis (Playoff career-high 29 points) sprinted to the top of the floor in the manner he did before he hit a game-winner early in the season against the Blazers, Carter prepared himself to receive the ball. Why?

His coach told him as much.

Ellis said before the Mavs even left the huddle during the timeout, Carlisle told Carter they would play him too strong based on their defense up to that point, leaving the veteran open in the corner. Ellis also said Carlisle told Carter, “he would knock down the shot.”

With his heels up in the air, as if he somehow knew he would have been out of bounds with both feet flat on the floor, he gave one pump fake to let Manu Ginobili fly by and then calmly knocked down his first career go-ahead field goal in the final 1:00 of a Playoff game.

At 37, Carter becomes the oldest player to hit a game-winning buzzer-beater in the postseason since Eddie Johnson in 1997.  The Mavs sixth man has redefined himself in Dallas, something superstars often struggle to do late in their careers. But with the game on the line, he was prepared to face some painful déjà vu head on and change the script this time around.

Prior to Carter’s game-winner, though, he wasn’t the one that took over in the fourth quarter to keep San Antonio at bay. Ellis, who had a shaky first half, turned into a different player down the stretch. During the final twelve minutes, the shooting guard went 5-5 from the field and scored seven points in the final 1:37 of the game. Up to this point in the series, the Spurs don’t know how to handle Ellis coming off high pick-and-rolls, as his quick first step is too much for San Antonio’s guards to fight through.

Tony Parker (19 points, 6 assists, 2 steals) was one of those guards. As much of a positive impact Parker had on the offensive end of the floor, especially during the opening quarter in which he shot 6-8 from the field, he had just as much of a detrimental impact on the defensive end. Parker rarely pressured his man, allowing Ellis and Jose Calderon (16 points, 9 assists, 7-10 from the field) to orchestrate the offense how they want. Calderon especially took advantage of this, pulling up and hitting open midrange jumper after midrange jumper while still distributing the ball.

Tim Duncan (22 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks) had a solid game, especially during the opening quarter. The Spurs fed him the ball on the block early and he rewarded them for doing so.  He was, though, an uncharacteristic -16 during his time on the floor.

Being a problem in the first two games, the Spurs role players finally decided to come somewhat alive. Both Boris Diaw (7 points, 3 assists) and Marco Belinelli (7 points) hit 3-pointers early on while Kawhi Leonard (17 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 7-8 from the field) let his defense be the catalyst for his offense. After Tiago Splitter (14 points, 13 rebounds) made a reverse layup off a Diaw pass early in the second quarter, San Antonio led 40-31—their largest lead of the game. But with strong play from Ellis and back-to-back 3-pointers from Shawn Marion (9 points, 6 rebounds, 5 blocks), Dallas responded by going on a 28-14 run and taking a 59-54 lead into halftime.

Throughout the second half, both teams dished out and responded to several quick runs. While the Mavs had Dirk Nowitzki (18 points, 7 rebounds, 7-13 from the field) hitting timely jumpers, Ginobili continued to look like the best Spurs player in the series. He made late plays when the Mavs seemed to be on the doorstep of taking control. As the game was coming to a close, he scored or assisted on all three of San Antonio’s final buckets. If it weren’t for Carter’s heroics, Ginobili would be at the center of all Mavs-Spurs discussion.

Even though it ended up being a high-scoring game, it wasn’t necessarily due to bad defense from either team. This was simply a well-coached, well-fought game from two crafty coaches that seemed to be playing a chess match with each substitution and play call. To put it simply: this was a great Playoff game.

Samuel Dalembert (13 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks) was central to Carlisle’s gameplan in Game 3, as the big man played with a high level of energy and aggressiveness that the Mavs need down low. Rick Carlisle is the ultimate “in-game” coach as he hands out minutes based on who plays well in each respective game. Brandan Wright carried the load in Game 1. Then DeJuan Blair received extended minutes in Game 2. Saturday night, Dalembert kept playing hard and consequently kept getting minutes. Carlisle will need to prepare his team for Game 4 when the Spurs inevitably come out punching right away.

In the end, the Mavs and Spurs gave each of their fans another arduous battle to add to the collection of classic contests. This was a game that had 18 ties and 18 lead changes, making it seem as though the team that had the ball last would come out on top. Both teams executed down the stretch as the Spurs were 1.7 seconds away from taking back home-court advantage. But thanks to some Vinsanity, the I-35 rivalry just became that much richer.—Jay Wallis

Thunder 92 – Grizzlies 89 OT (Series tied 2-2)

Two words: Reggie Jackson.

While stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shot a collective 11 for 45 last night, point guard off the bench—Mr. Reggie Jackson—scored a career-high 32 points to elevate the Oklahoma City Thunder over the Memphis Grizzlies in the series’ third consecutive overtime game.

Yes, they went to overtime again. But really, is anyone complaining?

Despite a last-second blunder in the form of a heave from (pretty much) full court with a good 4.3 seconds left on the clock, Jackson scored his team’s final five points in regulation to tie the game at 80 and save the Thunder from that dreaded 3-1 disadvantage.

The appreciation and love from his teammates was apparent, as KD put his long arms around Jackson, and Westbrook gave him a couple hard pats on the back in the form of hits on the head. Jackson even got a little teary-eyed after the win.

His play took OKC’s bench game to the next level, an element missing in their previous performances of the series. Recording a mere 23 bench points in Games 2 and 3 combined, the Thunder reserves finished Game 4 with 42.

Jackson’s timing was near perfect, arriving exactly when the Thunder needed him most. Memphis’ tightened defense gave no room to the OKC stars to breathe. Tony Allen, who finished the night with a double-double of 14 points and 13 boards, seemed to shadow KD even during the breaks. He limited Durant to a mere 23.8 percent shooting night and only five successful field goals. Quite different from what we’ve come to expect, this year especially.

Honorable mention goes to Marc Gasol, who recorded a double-double with 23 points and 11 boards. His jumper with 1:20 left in regulation put the Grizzlies up by five, before Reggie sank a three and a runner to tie it up.

Last night’s Game 4 was a superb finish to Saturday’s playoff games, as detailed above. With at least Games 5 (Tuesday night, 9 EST) and 6 (Thursday night, TBD) necessary to determine a winner for OKC vs. MEM, there’s much more excitement coming our way in the second week of the postseason. In case anyone lost track—yes, it’s still Round 1. The 2014 NBA Playoffs are only getting started.

Two words: Let’s go.—Habeeba Husain