Post Up: Bulldog Courage

by May 01, 2014

Nets 113 – Raptors 115 (Raptors lead 3-2)

The Raptors took just over three quarters to build a 26-point lead and just eight minutes to see it all disappear.

Up 94-72 with 11:23 remaining, Toronto nearly allowed the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in Playoff history. Normally a very good team in the final period, the Raptors were outscored 44-24 in the final 12. Joe Johnson was eating them alive.

The lead was just six with 5:20 left, and with 3:18 left, it was gone—a Johnson triple tied the game at 101-101.

But then Kyle Lowry found a way. He got to the line for two free-throws, drew a charge, nailed a three and then a five-foot floater to put the Raptors up for good. Calling it an emotional roller coaster of a quarter is simply an understatement.

But a win is a win. Lowry had his biggest game of his career, and Toronto is now in the driver’s seat with a 3-2 series lead.—Ryne Nelson

Mavericks 103 – Spurs 109 (Spurs lead 3-2)

The Spurs—they are who we thought they were.

Thanks to balanced play and a big fourth quarter from Tiago Splitter (playoff career-high 17 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists), San Antonio finally looked like a team that finished with the NBA’s best regular season record. They had to hold off strong performances from Dirk Nowitzki (26 points, 15 rebounds), Vince Carter (28 points, 7-9 on 3-pointers) and Monta Ellis (21 points, 6 assists).

This is the first game this series in which the Spurs took control early on and didn’t let go. In fact, even though the Mavs wouldn’t go away and kept using small runs to get within striking distance, the No. 1 seeded Spurs stood their ground and never gave up the lead the entire night.

They had to deal with punch after punch from Dirk Nowitzki, who finally looked like Playoffs Dirk Nowitzki. He found his shooting touch and, in turn, Carlisle started to run the offense once again through the Big German. Dirk did everything he could to keep his team in the game during the final quarter, during which he scored 14 points on 7-10 shooting and grabbed 6 boards.

However, with his team trailing 98-94 and 2:58 remaining in the game, Dirk pumped faked a fairly open 3-pointer, stepped in for an entirely wide-open 17-foot jumper and missed what could have been a critical, momentum-swinging shot. After the miss, the Spurs had another inside-out play as Splitter kicked it out to Tony Parker (23 points, 5 assists) for a deep 3-pointer that he nailed. So instead of 98-96, Dirk and the Mavs were facing a 101-94 deficit. They would get no closer than five points in the rest of the way.

Even though Dirk seemed to be a man on a mission late in the game and wouldn’t accept anything short of a win, his sixth man’s sharp shooting got Dallas in a decent position going into the fourth quarter. San Antonio was playing better, crisper offensive basketball for the majority of the game but thanks to timely 3-pointers from Carter, the Mavs wouldn’t let the Spurs run away with this one. If the Mavs could have gotten a little bit more from Devin Harris (8 points, 4 assists, 3-11 from the field)—who the Spurs seemed to have figured out—Shawn Marion (6 points, 5 rebounds, 3-10 from the field) and Brandan Wright (4 points, 5 rebounds), Dallas might have had a better chance on the night. (After Harris shot 15-25 in the first two games, he’s since gone 6-23).

The Mavs also might have had a better chance if not for the emergence of a certain Spurs center. Splitter elevated his game to a place he hasn’t taken it to very often in his career. From the 9:14 mark to the 6:16 mark in the final quarter, Splitter scored or assisted on all of the Spurs’ 11 points. When Splitter puts himself in position to be such an offensive threat under the basket and his teammates are moving the ball, his team becomes very difficult to slow down. Thanks to Splitter’s elite level of play, the Spurs commanded the interior offensively, outscoring the Mavs 54-28 in the paint. While the Mavs were fighting to simply get open jump shots, the Spurs were swinging the ball and/or penetrating in order to get the right look from as close as possible. That’s also why the Spurs had a 24-18 assists advantage.

Tony Parker finally decided to come alive after halftime, scoring 13 points in the second half. Before Game 5, Parker only had 14 points in the second half of the first four games in the series. He made a concerted effort to get his midrange game going and it made the offense seem that much more well-oiled. And when Parker is active in the offense, everyone seems to pass the ball better. Along with Splitter, Boris Diaw (8 points, 6 assists) showed an array of big man-to-big man passes during some high-low action. And Manu Ginobili (19 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) continued to do what he’s been doing all series by using his craftiness and vision to be the ideal energy-driven, pace-changing player off the bench.

They might not have been doing much of the passing but Kawhi Leonard (15 points, 8 rebounds, 6-10 from the field) and Tim Duncan (16 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks) both impacted the game with their size and strength. With the double-double, Duncan picked up his 151st double-double, second only to Magic Johnson (157).

The Spurs might have finally regained the series lead, but this one is far from over. Each team has now bounced back from a loss to win two straight games. Both coaches are going to have their respective players ready to go by Friday with a specific game plan in mind. If Dirk has another performance like this one and gets more help from his teammates not named Vince Carter or Monta Ellis, this one might go the distance.—Jay Wallis

Blazers 98 – Rockets 108 (Blazers lead 3-2)

The first four playoff games between the Portland Trailblazers and the Houston Rockets were all about “overtime,” with three of the first four contests going to OT.

Game 5, though, was all “about time,” as in, it’s “about damn time” Jeremy Lin stopped effing up and took a ride into the way back machine to bring a little bit of Linsanity to these Western Conference quarterfinals.

Jeremy scored a career playoff high 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting to lead his team to a 108-98 win, sending the series back to Portland with the Blazers up 3-2.

Lin may not have been able to sleep after screwing the pooch in Game 4, but after engineering a lil remix of Linsanity at the Toyota Center, he’ll be able to sleep like a burped baby on a Sealy posturepedic mattress.

“Game 4 was definitely a rough one,” said Lin. “I didn’t really sleep much that night. Over the last couple days I just tried to keep reminding myself to stay faithful and trust in God’s perfect plan. It doesn’t always go your way, but tonight my mindset was I was going to go out there and play for Him and play as hard as I can. I had the same mindset in Game 4 but tonight was just a better result.”

Lin was the unsung hero of the game with his dribble penetration into the teeth of the defense, floaters in the lane and that Linsane in the membrane J over Wesley Matthews at the buzzer to end the third quarter.

“I just tried to be aggressive,” he continued. “I felt like I need to be more of a spark for the team. I hadn’t done a great job of that in this series so I just tried to come out as aggressive as I can be.”

And for whatever demons Dwight Howard has had in recent postseasons, he answered the bell on the defensive end, holding down the fort down the stretch on LaMarcus Aldridge while schooling Sideshow Bob on the block for a team-high 22 points and 14 rebounds.

“I don’t want to go on vacation,” said Howard. “I want to win. I want to give everything I’ve got. Every night, put my heart into it and sacrifice my body and do whatever I can to help this team win. It’s not going to be easy.”

As for LMA, it was bound to happen. His 8 points on 3-of-12 shooting was easily his worst performance in this year’s postseason. This comes after averaging 35.3 points per in the first four outings. Worse than that, though, is the fact that despite his 8 boards and 4 blocked shots, he really didn’t impact the game in any other way, either.

“No, that was just how the game went (only 12 field goal attempts),” said Aldridge. “The ball didn’t come to me as much tonight. Our guys were making shots and we were playing off them and that’s how the game went. It wasn’t about how Dwight (Howard) guarded me or anything like that.”

LMA wasn’t the only no-show. James Harden, who was able to turn it on late for 17 points, also was quiet as a church house mouse for most of the game.

Overheard on Twitter: James Harden is “The rootinest, tootinest, bad-shootinest, no defendingest, Beard birdnestingest cow poke west of the Mississippi!”

Thankfully, the Beard came through in the clutch on a night when everybody in the building, including the janitor, was wearing those nifty red “Clutch City” tees.

“Dwight carried us the entire game,” said Harden. “We ran him down a little bit and someone else had to make a play. Chandler was playing well. Jeremy made some big shots. I really hadn’t didn’t anything the first two quarters so it was time to step up and make plays.”

Chandler Parsons added a 20-piece for the Rockets. Matthews led the Blazers with 27 points and Damian “Never Let ‘Em See Me Sweat” Lillard pitched in 26.

Fitting tribute: in homage to Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay, who passed away on Monday at 89, Portland’s players wore plaid patches on their jerseys that had the words “Dr. Jack” and “77” on them to honor the year Ramsay coached the Blazers to an NBA title.

Both teams shuttle back to the land of Rip City for Game 6 on Friday.

Maurice Bobb