2012 nba playoff recaps

10

Game 1: Dallas at Oklahoma City

Unlike the first two games, the last two came down to the wire. Never more-so than the inaugural rematch from last year’s Western Conference Finals. Dirk Nowitzki showed why he is the top dog, until his team loses; except for Ian Mahinmi’s two free throws, Dirk scored Dallas’ last 10 points in the last 4:30 of play to give the Mavericks a 98-97 lead with 9 seconds remaining. 

On the ensuing inbounds, Kevin Durant collected the pass and made a move right, only to spin left to get to around the free-throw line. Durant launched a soft floater over the outstreched arms of Shawn Marion, one of the premier defenders in the league, and it bounced on the rim, hit the backboard and…

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It’s as early as it can be in the playoffs, but Durant’s game-winner may be the start of something special in Oklahoma City this year. It’s too soon to proclaim it the first in the trek to their 1st NBA title, but it’s a damn fine start against the defending champions.

Final: OKLAHOMA CITY 98 - Dallas Mavericks 97

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2

Game 1: Philadelphia at Chicago

With a little over a minute left to play yesterday, Derrick Rose (who had played a stellar game so far with 23 points, 9 assists and 9 rebounds) went up in the air on a drive in the lane, and when he came down, the Chicago Bulls’ season was all but over. The Bulls will trudge on, but regardless of your allegiance or whatever, you have to mourn the loss of such a talent. Rose tore his ACL and is done. You can blame Stern and the hectic schedule or fate or whichever component may have facilitated Rose’s injury, but right now the Bulls must struggle on without their MVP. 

Win it for Derrick Chicago. Win it for Rose and all your faithful that have mourned him.

Final: CHICAGO BULLS 103 - Philadelphia 76ers 91

AP PHOTOS/Daily Herald, John Starks & Nam Y. Huh

5

Game 1: Denver at Los Angeles

Most of the people who make a legitimate argument for the Lakers’ NBA title hopes this season, pin a large part of their fortunes on the play of the Laker bigs: Pau and Bynum. Pau has been here before, and he’s won two titles as the second best player on the team. Bynum has a history of injuries and hasn’t shown us anything other than a stubborn refusal to pass up a 3-pointer and a bizarre personality; he’s equal parts confounding talent and irreplaceable big man; he’s  the Lakers' owner owner’s son, Jim Buss,’ meal ticket for his father’s love; he’ll also turn 25 on October 27th. Now we can add unkempt grey hair to the list of Bynum’s peccadilloes; that and he got a triple-double in the playoffs without an assist. He had 10 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks today. The 10 blocks ties an all-time NBA playoff high. 

Kobe poured in 31 points and every Laker starter cracked double digits as the Lakers blocked the Nuggets right off the Staples Center court. Danilo Gallinari scored 19 points to pace the Nuggets, but the Lakers opened the game with a 27-14 1st quarter lead and never looked back. It was an easy victory in a month where there will be very few easy victories. 

Final: LOS ANGELES LAKERS 103 - Denver Nuggets 88

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5

Game 2:  New York at Miami

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Things got feisty during game 2 in Miami and–if you haven’t heard already–after. So feisty, Amar'e Stoudemire put his hand through the glass protecting a locker-room fire extinguisher. No word on how serious the injury to his left hand may be, but he was in a sling on the way to the team bus and there were probably stitches (it was glass). It was dumb of him to hit glass (Emmy-Winning Charles Barkley brought up a good point: you could hit an artery and bleed out), so why don’t locker rooms for every major league sport feature heavy bags? A lot of anger could be taken out on the heavy bag rather than towards the media with an angry quote or on a teammate in a fight or the glass shell protecting fire extinguishers, as in this most recent case. I don’t blame Amar'e (yes I do), I blame Knicks Heat management for the lack of a punching bag. In fact, line the whole tunnel system to the Knicks locker-room with heavy bags. This way they can hit the heavy bags after their next two losses at home.

That’s right, they’re done. I don’t think these Knicks can “get that home-cooking” as MJ used to say. Part of the problem is Carmelo’s hero-complex and smug, stubborn refusal to acknowledge Amar'e Stoudemire as a legitimate offensive threat in the post. Part is their point guard issue with Lin out (some are hopeful he can come back for game 4–just in time for elimination). The reins of this isolation-heavy offense now rest with Baron Davis (who was actually pretty good tonight), and the occasional Mike Bibby duty, that is, if he can find his shoe. That’s not all.

Quick tangent here, but Tyson Chandler is amazing. Even my girlfriend, who never watches basketball but agreed to watch some of today’s game as we ate dinner together, commented “He looks like he’s got the perfect basketball body.” So my gf has a crush on Tyson Chandler’s basketball body. I hope that’s good news for Chandler who has been battling the flu (especially in game 1), but he was again solid today, and continues to impress me. 

But even if the Knicks had Lin out there, Amar'e at full strength (something he hasn’t been since the opening months of the 2010-11 season) and Melo sharing the ball and creating shots for open teammates, the Knicks probably wouldn’t be good enough to beat this Heat team.

That’s what’s been so disillusioning about this series. Melo might think he’s as good as Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, but he’s not, and not even Wade is in LeBron’s class of play *at this particular juncture of the season.*

The Knicks were OK today, and so were the Miami Heat. The Heat won by 10, and it was never really in doubt; although, the Knicks played better defense, turned the ball over less and generally gave a crap more than they did Saturday. Game 3 will be huge, but if they lose that one it’ll be another year without a playoff win, and you just know James Dolan will throw oodles of money at Phil Jackson and yadda yadda yadda–I’m already sick of the story-lines and the season isn’t even over yet. Blame my Buffalo Bills fandom or those crushing 90’s losses to MJ’s Bulls, but I’m never a glass half-full guy. Right now there’s barely a drop of water in the Knicks glass. 

Oh and I just read Amare wil certainly miss game 3 and might miss the rest of the series with a lacerated left hand. Typical. Ughh.

Final: MIAMI HEAT 104 - New York Knicks 94

*The LeBron Caveat will henceforth appear in any and all allusions to his greatness. The caveat states: he is an incredible player, but not a transcendent one until he wins an NBA title and dominates in the process.

4

Game 2: Los Angeles at San Antonio

The only thing boring about the Spurs is the inability of NBA playoff teams to give them a game. Why do we insist on even pretending the Clippers have a chance against these mighty (and mechanical) Spurs? Voltron has formed perfectly in 16 straight games (a new record when including the playoffs) with the Clippers merely providing a backdrop of tomfoolery highlighted by their Vinny Del Negro defense.

By way of Baller Shots, comes this quote from Popovich:

Some of the stuff we do on defense, we actually have one thing we call on the pin downs, we say we’re going to ‘Del Negro it’ and that’s in his honor and we’ve done that for 15 years,” Popovich said. “We have a Del Negro defense out there because he couldn’t play a lick of D. At times we had to invent something just to hide him, so we call it ‘Del Negro’ and you do certain things on the court and everybody has to make up for that guy who’s the ‘Del Negro.’”

Popovich isn’t just psyching out the Clippers, he’s demoralizing them; like if your girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend was a porn star, and when he met you he just flashed a devilish grin your way as all your self-confidence crumbled. The Clippers are you, and the ex-boyfriend porn star is Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. 

About this lopsided game 2, what is there really to say? The Spurs only lost 1 quarter all game (they were out-scored 21-17 in the 2nd), but even the 4th, when they emptied their bench, they won easily 27-21. That’s because the Spurs bench plays better than 80% of the starting units in the league. 

I’m sure LA writers and Clippers fans will note Chris Paul’s aggravated groin/hip-flexer (well, which is it?!) and Blake’s knee. Paul’s hip doesn’t get loose until late, and by that time Blake’s knee has locked up, so that’s an understandable argument to be made about their inability to even compete right now. But even with the Clippers stars at 100%, would it really matter?

Last night, Griffin finished with 20 to lead the Clippers, and the only other LA players in double figures were Paul (again struggling with only 10 points to go with 5 assists and 8 turnovers) and Randy Foye with 11. That’s a pathetic set of numbers, but they just can’t get going in San Antonio. Hopefully it will be better back at Staples for them.

The Voltron robots were led by Tony Parker who rebounded from a poor-shooting game 1, to drop 22 points with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Duncan had 18 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in 33 minutes. Boris Diaw had 16 points on perfect 7 for 7 shooting (if you want a good piece of evidence that Popovich is the Bill Belichek of the NBA–and no other coach is even close to him–then fatty-boom-batty Boris Diaw going perfect from the field in a playoff game is exhibit C). Manu shot poorly but still scored 10 and Danny Green, their young off-guard, had 13 on 4-6 from long range. 

They formed like Voltron and got the win, easily.

I love the Spurs, especially Popovich (so does your girlfriend, Clippers fans :), but I just wish someone would stand up to their well-oiled machine and disrupt the mechanical flow of their brilliance. If robots are so predictable, and the synthetic nature of the analogy makes it so, why can’t anyone stop them? 

Aren’t you pissed Memphis didn’t advance? At least with Memphis we’d have Z-Bo and Gasol battling Duncan on the block. Andre Jordan/Reggie Evans/Kenyon Martin are all in Tim Duncan’s back pocket. He’s just smiling and playing with them, like Popovich is playing head games with Vinny and your girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend porn star is playing head games with you.

If the Spurs jump out to a lead in game 3 on Saturday, that’s it; it’s over. This over-achieving Clippers team will fold faster than an off-suite 2-7 deal. I don’t blame them; these Spurs are on a historic mission to remind NBA fans they dominated a large portion of the aughts. Actually no, they’re a robot programmed for a single goal: an NBA title. They could care less what you think of them or whether you consider them sexy or if there’s a cool nickname we can attach to them (I already did with Voltron).  They just win, that’s it. They’re a team composed entirely in the image of Popovich and Duncan. A team without ego or the personality that makes us human. They are Voltron, and the rest of the NBA will quiver at their emotion-less power.

The nice thing for me–and possibly me alone–is I actually watched every game of the 2005 NBA Finals between Detroit and San Antonio. It went 7 hard-fought, low-scoring games. Both teams were TEAMS, which is why no one watched. I had a theory that summer that Tim Duncan couldn’t hit big free throws at the end of tight games. I was wrong of course, and even if I was right, Popovich would have come up with some system that meant Timmy didn’t have to shoot free throws at the end of tight games. But both squads played hard defense and pased the ball tro try and overcome that defense. It was basketball, not a seemingly endless stream of pick and rolls at the top of the key. 

Keep that 2005 series in mind if you see a Boston-San Antonio finals or an Indiana-San Antonio finals. All the bloggers will be distraught, but I’ll be loving it. 

The Spurs form like Voltron and Popovich happens to be the head. They’ve been fully-formed for the last 16 games, 6 of them in the playoffs. Who is gonna break them apart?

Final: SAN ANTONIO SPURS 105 - Los Angeles Clippers 88

The Spurs lead the series 2-0

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7

Game 4: San Antonio at Utah

That was predictable. The Spurs cruised through 3 quarters tonight behind Manu Ginobili’s just-discovered jump shot, some hard-nosed defense and Utah’s awful shooting (save Jefferson). After not hitting a single 3-pointer all series (this is how deep and good the Spurs are), Ginobili hit 3 in the the second half. The last of his 3’s, at around 9 minutes left in the 4th, pushed the Spurs lead to 14 and it jumped to 18 with 7 minutes remaining. Game over.

Except not quite. I’ll hand the Jazz this, they fought back and didn’t let the Spurs get another easy win; although, it was probably pretty easy–all things considered. An Al Jefferson layup with 46 seconds left cut the Spurs lead to 4. After a Parker miss, the Jazz squandered their last chance when Tony Parker intercepted the ball from Paul Millsap and hit Ginobili for the series-clinching lay-in with 18 seconds left. It was free throws from then on and the Spurs are back in Western Conference Semifinals after last year’s sabbatical.

This game was ugly. Ugly if you enjoy top-notch offensive basketball; my father probably loved it. Neither team really found their rhythm offensively, and Manu didn’t come on for San Antonio until the second half. Al Jefferson actually shot an incredible 13/19 to lead the Jazz with 26 points (I’m telling you, Jefferson can handle Duncan no problem, so look for this in the later rounds–particularly if Memphis advances past LA and Duncan has to match up against Z-Bo).

Unfortunately, the Jazz didn’t get the ball to Jefferson enough, and the rest of their team struggled. I’m pretty sure Gordon Haywood was ill-prepared for the NBA’s playoff intensity. He was 0 for 7 from the field and scored 0 points in 25 minutes tonight. This after going 1 for 10 in game 3.

Since there was little offense for either team, and because Utah failed to win a single game in the series, here’s a couple blocks from the Jazz. Including an impressive block from Devin Harris as he swooped in behind Tony Parker to swipe the ball just before it hit the backboard.

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The Spurs are avancing and there will be the requisite nobody believed in the Spurs set of stories until they face the Clippers or Grizzlies. They’re title contenders for sure (and have been since the season started) and I doubt any team–except a firing on all cylinders Oklahoma City group–will slow them down. Winning this series in 4 games just means more rest for the already fresh group of veterans (Pop has been a master at controlling the substitutions to get his big three lots of rest). 

In the last two months, going back until March 6th, the Spurs have lost only 4 games. That’s more than 2 months with only 4 losses. The Western Conference better be ready for this methodical team that forms like Voltron and dealt with the Jazz in robotic fashion.Dan Antonio’s playing at an incredible level right now, and they have been for quite some time.

Popovich might need to practice his “You did the best you could” speech and pat on the arm, like the one he had with Tyrone Corbin after the game.

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Final: San Antonio Spurs 87 - UTAH JAZZ 81

The Spurs win the series 4-0

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10

Game 6: San Antonio at Oklahoma City

I’ve been up all night digesting this game 6 in Oklahoma City. It had all the usual narrative plot points of your favorite summer movies: the “passing of the guard,” I’ve mentioned before; the use of the superstars to sell tickets as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Stephen Jackson, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all brought their A game; a come-from-behind story in the climactic final scene; a teary-eyed mother hugging her son and just beaming with so much pride the whole court lit up and it got a little dusty at Groove bar where I was watching the latter stages of the game. Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals is the reason you watch basketball, to be a part of history.  Last night the Oklahoma City Thunder became just the third team in history to win 4-straight after going down 0-2 and advanced to their first ever NBA Finals. It was quite a road that got them there, and the final game was just as rocky.

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First, San Antonio, the four-time former champions and never one to back down from a fight, came out smoking. Duncan and Parker were equally impressive and Captain Jack was unconscious from the field. They quickly built a 14-point 1st quarter lead, which took the amped up crowd out of it.

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Even though Russell Westbrook threw down one of the nastier dunks of the postseason, the Thunder were flat and many thought they were wilting in an elimination game because they weren’t used to their new position as frontrunners.

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Jackson’s 3’s continued as he hit two more in the second quarter, and the Thunder took a 15 point lead into the second half.

Popovich finally had some positive things to say to his team:

That’s how we played all year. That right there. That’s how we played at both ends of the court. Active on D; helping, aware; good pace; moving the basketball; hitting the open man; attacking them. Great job.”

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In the second half, the young Thunder came alive like Victor Frankenstein had breathed life into their clunky and inert parts. The Thunder started passing the ball more and settling for fewer jumpers; they were getting active on defense, which has the nice side-effect of arousing their offense and getting easier buckets.

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In the 3rd quarter, the Thunder made up 14 points and only trailed the Spurs by 1 heading into the decisive 4th.

The 3rd quarter was Scott Brooks’ time to give a little speech. It wasn’t exactly Popovichian in drive and second-listen hilarity, but it stoked the Thunder flames just enough:

This is where we need to be right? It’s because of the body language; the spirit of competition. You guys are competing, right? That’s why we play. We play like that all the time.”

Yes they do.

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But the Spurs don’t lie down, they never have; Popovich and Duncan and Parker and Manu and Captain Jack wouldn’t allow it. Jackson hit another big 3 in the 3rd and Duncan threw down a dunk like the last decade hadn’t sapped him of some of his strength. They weren’t letting the Thunder get past them just yet.

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There were a lot of free throws in the 4th quarter and the Thunder made most of them. Derek Fisher hit a big three, and Russell Westbrook had a big 3-point play off a beautiful feed from Harden on the wing. Durant didn’t get a field goal in the 4th, but he hit hit 5 of 7 free throws and spotted Harden for a big 3 late. The Thunder took the lead and it vacillated for a couple minutes before a Harden lay-in with 9:32 left gave the Thunder the lead for good.

Despite not getting a field goal in the 4th, Kevin Durant had the cherry on top of the night.

After a Parker lay-in with 1:15 remaining cut the Thunder lead to 4, both teams traded misses. For the Spurs, they got three chances: a Duncan dunk that was blocked, a Stephen Jackson 3 that came up short, and a Tony Parker 3 that missed right; all of this happened with under minute remaining. The Spurs just couldn’t get a shot to fall when they desperately needed it. Finally, after Parker’s missed 3, Harden pulled down the rebound and gave the ball to Durant at the top of the key on the other end of the court. The Spurs made a move to foul him and stop the clock, which had ticked under 30 seconds at this point, but rather than take the foul, Durant curled a bounce pass around the advancing Spurs to a cutting Kendrick Perkins. An enthusiastic dunk followed, and it was all but over with 24 seconds remaining.

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Durant found his mom at court-side and gave her the most emotional hug I’ve ever seen as a game was still going on.

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Less than a couple minutes later and it was over for real. The Oklahoma City Thunder had advanced to the 2012 NBA Finals. Durant raised the Western Conference Championship trophy as his other family–his teammates–and the Oklahoma City crowd cheered with delirious delight.

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For the night, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were both 9 for 17 from the field. Russ had 25 and Durant had 34 on the strength of 4/8 3-point shooting and 12 of 15 free throws. James Harden out-played Manu Ginobili again, scoring 16 points on an efficient 9 shots (including another big 3 late). Derek Fisher was the strong veteran presence they brought him over for, scoring 5 points in the last 5 minutes to help preserve the Thunder lead.

The Spurs are warriors, and refused to go quietly even on the road in front of a crazy crowd and after having lost 3 straight when they had control of the series less than a week ago. Tony Parker had an incredible game in the loss, scoring 29 points and dishing out 12 assists. A lot of those assists went to Tim Duncan, who–when on the verge of defeat in the series–responded with one of his best performances of the playoffs: scoring 25 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking 2 shots. Champions always bring it when it matters and despite the loss, the Spurs are still champions for the last decade and a half of top-tier play and multiple rings to show for it. I will miss them in the Finals (I am probably the only one). 

But tonight was about Kevin Durant and the Thunder family Sam Presti and Scott Brook has brought to small-market Oklahoma City. They’re going on to the NBA Finals and a date with immortality.

Final: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER 107 - San Antonio Spurs 99

The Thunder win the series 4-2

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10

Game 5: Indiana at Miami

Only Marv Albert says it with the proper amount of smirking gravitas, but things continued to be “chippy” between the Pacers and Heat in this one. So much so that Udonis Haslem finally had enough and initiated a grown man foul on Psycho T, who will now just be referred to as T.  Dexter Pittman made a WWF move on Lance Stephenson–who has been talking and making Reggie signs–that seemed jarring but was par for the course in the playoffs. In fact, the foul on Wade that prompted the retaliatory Haslem hit was just as hard and not as big a deal as everyone will make it seem Wednesday. 

A 9-2 run to end the second quarter put the Heat up by 9 and more (many more) would follow. The Heat finally started running up and down the court to break the Pacers’ back in the second half. Their stretch of dominance to close out the first half continued in the 3rd as the Heat added 10 more to their lead, and by the end it was the blow-out Heat fans probably expected when this series started.

Wade and LeBron were as magnificent as they had been in the second half of game 4. A series of steals and fast break points broke the game wide-open in the 3rd and merely got worse for the Pacers in the 4th.

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Wade finished with 28 points on 10 for 17 shooting, 2 steals and a block. LeBron continued to assault the box score (and you can be sure his PER and other statistical fluff will get trotted out before the Celtics face the Heat). James would finish with 30 points on a Dirkian 12 for 17 shooting, 10 rebounds, 8 assists and a steal. 

On the opposite side of the court, the leading scorer for the Pacers was Paul George with 11. Granger went down in the first half when he tried to rope LeBron before he went in for a dunk, and sprained his ankle. The Pacers could have used Granger to spread the defense more and get the ball to West and Hibbert down low, but they couldn’t get through the Heat’s suddenly enlivened defense. Granger had 10 points before leaving with the sprain and West also had 10, but they were the only Pacers, besides George, to reach double figures.

Game 6 is on Thursday at 8 PM EST on ESPN. We’ll see how much swagger the Pacers can muster in Indiana to force a game 7 in Miami. Don’t worry Pacers fans, if you can force a game 7, it’s anybody’s ball game. You aren’t done yet, and neither are Heat.

Final: MIAMI HEAT 115 - Indiana Pacers 83

The Heat lead the series 3-2

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9

Game 5: Philadelphia at Boston

The stars were out in Boston, and the Celtics didn’t disappoint. Boston’s primary offensive production during a 3rd quarter that saw them out-score the Sixers 26-17, wasn’t from among their traditional stars; although, KG had 20 and 6, Rondo had 13 points and 14 assists and Pierce had 16 points on only 7 shots. Ray Allen, who started in place of injured guard Avery Bradley, was quiet with just 5 points in 33 minutes. Nope, the big producer for Boston was Brandon Bass. 

Brandon Bass looks too big to have such a soft touch. He’s basically automatic from 13-19 feet. Automatic in the way most Americans enjoy their cars. Automatic like a player’s suspension if they chest bump the ref; as automatic as Larry Bird at the free throw line, down 1, with no time remaining. He is automatic. He shot 9 for 13 on the game with 27 points, 18 of which game during that big run by the Celtics in the 3rd quarter.

Rather than rest on their laurels in the 4th, like they did in game 4, the Celtics kept up the defensive intensity and Philadelphia didn’t score in the 4th quarter until Levoy Allen’s lay-up with 7:52 remaining. At that point it was a 13 point lead for Boston and it didn’t dip below 10 for the rest of the game.

Elton Brand had his best game of the series in the defeat, scoring 19 points on 8 for 13 shooting. Rookie, Levoy Allen, poured in 12 off the bench while Evan Turner had a double-double, but the Sixers just couldn’t score in the second half. Boston’s suffocating defense is as good as it’s ever been. Lets see if Boston can go on the road and close this surprising Sixers team down. If Philly survives elimination, it’s game 7 back in Boston and anything can happen in a game 7.  

The Celtics face the Sixers again on Wesdnesday night in Philly for chance to advance. I’m sure they could use the rest. 

Final: BOSTON CELTICS 101 - Philadelphia 76ers 85

The Celtics lead the series 3-2

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Game 3: Oklahoma City at Dallas

No NBA team has ever come back after getting down 3-0. Ever. It’s like the 16 seed beating the 1 seed in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It’s never, ever happened, and because of that, it might not ever happen. How do we know? There’s something about being down 3-0 that pyschologically destroys a team. It’s a tall order in the first place, but add history to the equation and it’s almost inconveivable that it will happen in my lifetime.

Almost.

I write this recap with a full understanding that I’m basically putting all my chips on black 8 at the roulette table, but I think this Dallas team might be able to come back. Before I get into why, lets go over game 3’s disappointment at home for the defending champs.

The Thunder were like a pulsating globe of energy and anticipation before the game started. Oklahoma’s perimeter big three of Durant, Westbrook and Harden were ready. That much was sure just by watching them gently rock during the national anthem; their bodies were like contained energy waiting to get out.

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Unfortunately for Dallas, Kevin Durant is too talented to shoot poorly in 3-straight games. After he shot a combined 15 for 44 in the first two games in Oklahoma City (and it’s important to note the Thunder are so good, they won both of those games against the defending champs), Durant rebounded last night to shoot a Dirkian 11 for 15 from the field (4/6 from 3) on his way to 31 points in 40 minutes. He also had 6 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. It was his, we’re not losing this fuckin’ game, game. I loved it.

Rick Carlisle’s exasperated shrug away from an assistant after a bad call in the first quarter, symbolized the growing frustration of the defending champs in this opening round series.

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The Thunder took a 9-point lead into half. Then they came out in the 3rd quarter and stepped on the Mavericks’ necks in the 3rd, doubling their 9-point lead and out-scoring them 25-16. Dallas played better in the 4th, but it was over. 

All Mark Cuban could do was stoically look on, barely blinking, wondering what had happened in a year’s time since they first achieved the glory of the Larry O'Brien trophy.

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Back to my original point at the onset of this recap. The Dallas Mavericks are in a 3-0 hole heading into game 4 in Dallas on Saturday night. But, unlike most NBA teams, this Dallas squad is a former NBA champion. They’re just one year removed from reaching the top of the mountain. If there’s any pride or fight in this year’s group, they still have a chance. It’s never been done before in NBA history, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. 

The 2007 Miami Heat that beat Dallas for the 2006 title, were in a similar predicament against a Chicago team up on them 3-0. They lost their 4th game in Chicago and got swept out of the playoffs in the first round. 

I think Dallas has more fight than that lethargic Heat team with a beat-up Wade and an old and unmotivated Shaq. I think Dallas can steal game 4 in Dallas on Saturday with their back’s against the wall, game 5 in Oklahoma City on Monday, and all-of-a-sudden they’re only 2 games away from the most improbable comeback in NBA history. At that point,  the pressure would be on Oklahoma City, and it’s anybody’s series. I think it can happen, moreso than I’ve ever thought a team could come back from 3 down (the Knicks certainly can’t). But, and it’s a huge BUT, the Mavericks probably won’t. It’s Oklahoma City’s year, and I doubt Durant, Westbrook and Harden will allow my fictional future to come true. 

If they do come back and shock everyone, you read it here first ;)

Final: Oklahoma City Thunder 95 - DALLAS MAVERICKS 79

The Thunder lead the series 3-0

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10

Game 2: Los Angeles at Oklahoma City

There are a lot of people that want the Oklahoma City Thunder to win the 2012 NBA title. I don’t blame these people and I might even be one of them. Kevin Durant is a gracious and humble guy that kisses his mother after big victories and laughs during the post-game press conference when people ask him why he doesn’t shoot more.

He only shot the ball 15 times last night in game 2. Some are going to point to that and say he wasn’t offensively aggresive enough. Others will say Metta W____ P____’s defense was the culprit. I think Durant just wanted the game to come to him (LeBron does this too when Bosh isn’t hurt). Durant facilitated the offense more than he dominated it, and let Harden and Westbrook get their shots. At one point in the 4th quarter, Durant and Ibaka both had shot the ball 11 times. Lets not over-think this though; Durant is as unselfish a superstar as the league has. It’s that simple. He’s about W’s, not points.

On to the game. I turned it on mid-way through the 3rd quarter and it had all the makings of a Lakers upset and two days of “What’s wrong with the Thunder” stories. Instead, a series of defensive stops, a couple brain farts from Kobe (I know!?) and a missed game-tying 3 at the end by Steve Blake (I KNOW!?) mean the Thunder are traveling to LA today up 2-0. So what happened?

With 2 minutes left in the game, Andrew Bynum made a dinky 7-footer to give the Lakers a 75-68 lead. I’m not sure if the announcers mentioned this, but it was at that point where I rubbed my hands together like some sort of Bond villain, and thought to myself, “how real are the Thunder?”

Real in the sense of, can they overcome adversity. So far they’ve dominated the defending champs in the 1st round, and the Lakers in game 1. This was the first instance (besides a tight game 4 where they had to come back against Dallas) where their backs were against the wall, and they had to figure out how to score some points (not something they usually struggle with). Scott Brooks, bless his widdle Caucasian heart, reiterated defense, and that’s exactly what OKC did.

After a driving Harden lay-in gave the ball back to the Lakers up 5, the Thunder hunkered down to get a stop and chip away at the Lakers’ lead. At this point there were under 2 minutes left, and the Thunder needed to step it up defensively if they were going to have any chance at coming back. In the words of Kobe Bryant at the post-game presser,

They just made gambles; they just jumped in the passing lanes, and it was not something we were accustomed to seeing. It was flat out risk, defensively.”  

Kevin Durant jumped the passing lane and grabbed a Kobe pass into the post then beat him down the court for the slam.

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Now the Lakers were only up 3. On the ensuing Lakers possession, a Steve Blake pass was challenged by Russ and it deflected off Kobe’s hands. Thunder ball, but Durant missed a lazy 3, and it was back to the Lakers. That’s when Harden slightly blocked Kobe’s shot (who struggled late in the shot clock to get the ball up from 27 feet) and Perkins picked up the board. Now it was Harden time as he sliced through the Lakers defense on a mini-break to cut the Lakers lead to 1 with only 56 seconds left.

Again the Lakers came down and tried to dump the ball down low for Pau or Bynum (who both played much better than game 1: Pau had 14 & 11 and Bynum 20 & 9). And again the Thunder held and Kobe was forced into a rushed 3 he missed while Russ collected the rebound. There were 34 seconds left and I had no idea who was going to step up for the Thunder.

Harden had been instrumental in getting the Thunder to this point where they could take the lead. Kobe was having all sorts of trouble keeping him out of the lane, and he was finishing pretty well at the rim even with Bynum and Pau lurking. But no matter what reporters say or write or what people on the Internet think, this is Kevin Durant’s team. This would be Kevin Durant’s team even if he didn’t step up. But he did, and in a big way.

With the ball in Durant’s hands at the top of the key, Ibaka came out to set a high screen beyond the 3-point line. This put his defender, Bynum, out of position far from the basket. Up until that point, Durant had lived beyond the 3-point line sending up few shots in the paint, where he would have to contest with Metta’s physical battering; Durant’s svelte build is not an ideal fit when going against Metta’s stocky strength. This isn’t what happened in this possession though.

Durant turned the corner around Ibaka’s pick and he said after the game he was trying to get a closer look to either get fouled or take a high percentage shot. When he turned the corner he easily got by Bynum on the wing, and Pau’s defensive rotation was a little too late for the long Durant. He flipped a soft shot over Pau from about 7 feet out on the right side. It looped around the rim and fell through. Thunder lead!

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Kobe was noticeably upset by the score; he knew it was big.

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But the game wasn’t over. It was still Lakers ball, down 1, with 18 seconds to play. The Lakers took a timeout to advance the ball. Everyone in Chesapeake Energy Arena knew who was taking the Lakers’ last shot. Bryant is most well-known for his back-breaking game-winners; especially, when it’s the freakin’ playoffs.

Since OKC had a foul to give, they waited until there was 5 seconds left, then Thabo Sefolosha fouled Kobe to give the Lakers only 5 seconds to get something up to win the game. On the ensuing out-of-bounds play, Metta W____ P____ didn’t throw the ball to Kobe, but instead threw it to a wide open Steve Blake in the right corner.

Blake had tricked Russell Westbrook by faking inside then popping out in that corner. Russ was more concerned about Kobe (can you blame him?) and missed his assignment. Blake broke free in the short corner, Metta found him, and…he missed. 

Sefolosha grabbed the rebound and Pau Gasol immediately fouled him. The Lakers also had a foul to give, so the Thunder and Lakers made their substitutions to get the best players on the floor for free throws, and after Durant caught the ball, he was fouled by Metta with less than a second to play. Durant made the first free throw. Then, while trying to purposely miss the second, he tossed an airball. It was dumb because that meant the Lakers could toss the ball in and possibly do a touch-oop to tie the score. Harden interrupted the pass and it was over. 

The Thunder had their first big scare of the 2012 NBA playoffs. They answered the call. Now it’s back to LA for two straight games Friday and Saturday. If they keep this up, they might be looking towards the Western Conference Finals by next week.

I’m pretty sure Kobe Bryant will have something to say about that first. I can’t wait.

Final: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER 77 - Los Angeles Lakers 75

The Thunder lead the series 2-0

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6

Game 1: Los Angeles Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for the Memphis Grizzlies during their game 1 match-up against the Los Angeles Clippers. They dominated the Los Angeles Clippers for 40 straight minutes, but over the last 8, they lost their huge lead, and may have given the psychological advantage to the Clippers heading into game 2 in Memphis on Wednesday. So what happened?

To start the 4th quarter, Rudy Gay hit a leaner in the lane, and after Mo Williams picked up a technical, Gay hit a free throw to give the Grizzlies a 88-64 lead with 11:37 left in the game. With 9:12 left in the game, OJ Mayo hit a 3-pointer to again give the Clippers a 24-point lead 95-71. Another minute went by without a score, until Chris Paul fed Reggie Evans (MVP of the game) for a lay-up with 7:54 left, to get the score to 95-73. 

After Mayo’s 3 with 9:12 left to give them a 24 point lead, the Grizzlies didn’t score–except for a lone free throw by Mike Conley–until there was 28 seconds left in the game. By that point, the Clippers had completed the greatest comeback of the last decade in the NBA playoffs. It was a  26-1 run by the Clippers over the last 7:30 of the game. But it wasn’t really a comeback unless the Clippers got the win.

Their historic night was temporarily set back by a Rudy Gay 10 foot jumper over a mismatched Chris Paul with 28 seconds left to give the Grizz a 97-96 lead. It gave the Grizzlies the lead, but also stopped the bleeding. Sure, they had just given up a 24 point 4th quarter lead, but now they had the lead back, and they only needed to stop the Clippers.

Tony Allen, who had not really matched up on Chris Paul until then, took the assignment and made a stupid reach-in foul on Paul with 23.7 seconds left. The Grizzlies were in the penalty, and Chris Paul calmly sank both free throws to give the Clippers a 99-98 advantage with 23.7 seconds left.

The Clippers still had a foul to give, so Kenyon Martin fouled Rudy Gay with 9 seconds left, and the Grizzlies took the ball out. Gay made a move around the elbow–protecting the ball from the reaching Chris Paul. Gay took to the air for the game-winner over Kenyon Martin, but it fell short, Griffin rebounded and the Clippers jumped into each other’s arms in disbelief. 

The Clippers had just done it. They had come back from 24 down in the 4th quarter of a playoff game, and gotten the victory. As my old man exclaimed this morning, “They fuckin’ won it?!? I turned it off in the first half thinking they were done.” They were not, and I’m sure there were a bevy of NBA writers that did the same thing. 

As Charles Barkley alluded to after the game, it’s a playoff series and there’s usually not that much carry-over from game to game. But if the Grizz let this game get to them, the bad vibes will carry over to Wednesday. More to come on this historic game later. 

Final: Los Angeles Clippers 99 - MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES 98 

PHOTOS VIA 

[UPDATE: Reader, Dopaesthetics, thought my write-up had some errors. I can assure dopeaesthetics I watched the game. Twice, in fact. I did mix up OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay in the intial posting, but that’s been fixed. Thanks for keeping me on my toes. If I make an empirical mistake in a recap, please let me know. Or, you know, reblog it and call me an asshole. Whichever works best for you.]

10

Game 3: Oklahoma City at Miami

Game 3 finally changed the narrative arc from the first two games. OKC again started slow, going down 10-4 to start the game, but they were only down 1 at half and mid-way through the 3rd period they were up by 10. 

Miami broke out to a 10-4 lead through the first 5 minutes, but OKC quickly came back and didn’t fall into the deficit’s that highlighted the first two games in Oklahoma City. That being said, the officiating was difficult to overcome, and it ended up costing Kevin Durant a stretch in the 3rd after the Thunder had built up a 10-point lead and appeared poised to steal the first game in Miami.

By the time Durant came back in the 4th, the Heat held a 2-point lead and the natural rhythm of Durant’s offensive game was gone. Before going to the bench in the 3rd he had abused the Heat almost every time he touched the ball. At one point, according to Marc J. Spears at Y! Sports, he yelled at Wade “you’re too short.” He was right. Durant’s long-limbed game and Gumby/Mister Fantastic length allowed him to abuse Wade in the post and get basically any shot he wanted. He was 3 for 3 in the quarter before Wade had his own brand of rebuttal to get the last laugh–at least for game 3.

Wade knew Durant had 3 fouls, and when he drove baseline with 5:41 left in the 3rd, his up-fake caught Durant enough (he only jumped a couple inches) to draw Durant’s 4th foul and a spot on the bench for the remainder of the quarter. The Thunder’s other star, Russell Westbrook, followed Durant to the bench because of some erratic play. With Durant and Westbrook on the bench, the Heat went on a 16-7 run punctuated by a late corner 3 from LeBron, and closed out the 3rd quarter with a 69-67 lead and a disgusted Durant on the bench.

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The 4th seemed to be the time for fireworks. Durant had scored a combined 33 points in the 4th quarter in games 1 and 2, and he and Westbrook came off the bench to start the final 12 minutes with fire streaming from their corneas. After a James Jones 3 extended the Heat lead to 5, the Thunder came back. Westbrook and Durant scored with Harden getting the assist for both. But Durant missed a couple free throws (the league’s best free throw shooting team would shoot just 15/24 from the charity stripe on the night, and it’s possible if they had shot as well as they normally do, they would have won the game). However, even shooting poorly from the line, didn’t mean the Thunder were out of it. Harden scored with 7:31 remaining to give the Thunder a 77-76 lead, but LeBron came right back and drew the foul; he hit both free throws to give Miami the lead right back.

After LeBron’s free throws with 7:11 remaining, the offense’s turned sloppy as the defensive intensity was ratcheted up. Everyone was striving to put the other team away for a 2-1 series lead and that meant some truly intense defense. No one scored until there was 4:50 left. Wade made his long-stepping move in the lane where he brings the ball up high to avoid the initial defensive poke, then up again to take a leaner in the lane. Perkins fouled him on the shot and it swished through. He made the free throw for a 3-point play and a 4-point lead with under 5 to play.

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After a James Harden turnover, and Chris Bosh was blocked, Shane Battier (quiet in game 3 with only 9 points, after scoring 17 points in each of the first two games) poked the ball away from Harden and Mario Chalmers picked up the loose ball and passed it ahead to James. James said he saw Durant moving into position for the charging call as he swooped in for the basket; he claimed he changed his angle just enough to get the blocking foul (see the last picture above). Replays showed that Durant appeared to have set his feet on the play, but he may have leaned into LeBron, which facilitated the blocking call. LeBron, of course, made the lay-in, and Durant had picked up his 5th foul for the second game in a row. LeBron made the free throw for a 7-point Miami lead. There was still 3:47 remaining, and Durant–who has never backed down from a challenge this postseason–came right back and drilled a 19-footer off a Westbrook pass. Miami’s lead was again cut to 5. Durant and LeBron were battling.

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A stretch of missed shots in the lane for Miami on the ensuing possession gave OKC another chance to cut into Miami’s lead, but Durant, still out of rhythm slightly from his time on the bench in the 3rd, missed a 10 footer he normally makes in his sleep. LeBron came right back and drove to the hole for another lay-up and another 7-point lead. 2:18 remained. 

This is when Dwyane Wade would have been the goat if Miami had failed to hold on at the end. First, Wade fouled Kendrick Perkins on a shot and Perkins hit both free throws. As Wade was bringing the ball up the court, Thabo Sefolosha started hounding him. He stripped him briefly in the back-court before Wade recovered and accelerated to get across the half-court line before 8 seconds expired. As he was making a final cross-over to pass the mid line, Thabo again stripped Wade and they were both off the other way. Wade timed one of his blocks from behind, but Thabo withstood the pressure (which could have been a foul in it’s own right) and got the lay-in to fall. The Thunder were only down 3. Wade promptly exacerbated this tough stretch in the game by missing a mid-range jumper and giving the ball right back to OKC again with 1:36 remaining, only down 3. Russell Westbrook pulled up in the lane (there is no one who jumps higher and more straight on a pull-up than Russell Westbrook) and he hit the jumper to cut the Heat lead to 1 with 1:30 in the game.

Wade would have been the goat if the Heat lose, but they held on.

This was a huge possession for Miami, and as LeBron made a cut around the 3-point line to head south for the bucket, Perkins immediately came over to help as LeBron took to the air. ‘Bron had enough height and vision to loft a pass over Perkins to a waiting Chris Bosh. Bosh–rather than rushing a shot–settled himself with a head fake and when he got Thabo (helping off of LeBron) in the air, and drew the foul. He made both foul shots to give the Heat a tenuous 3-point lead.

At this point, with a little over a minute remaining, I was almost positive Kevin Durant would win the game. But again I come back to his stretch on the bench in the 3rd quarter as a rhythm-breaking lapse. At this point he missed a 9-foot jumper that collided awkwardly off the backboard, and LeBron gathered the rebound (he would have 14 on the night). LeBron missed his own mid-range jumper, as Westbrook gathered the rebound with 45 seconds remaining.

The Thunder passed the ball around, and the Heat’s collapsing lane defense gave Russ a wide-open 3-pointer to tie. The shot–without a defender within 5 feet of him–clanged off the back of the iron. Shane Battier gathered the rebound before passing to LeBron who the Thunder immediately fouled. LeBron missed his first free throw, but made the second–a big one as the Heat now had a 4-point lead with 16 seconds remaining. The Thunder called time to advance the ball, but when Thabo Sefolosha passed the ball in there was a miscommunication with Westbrook, who was breaking towards mid-court as Thabo sent a pass to the corner. Turnover. Heat ball with 13 seconds left. Wade is fouled, and he hits both free throws. Game over.

There are some who would blame this loss on the referees. It was they who assessed Durant his 4th foul in the 3rd and broke up what could have been another epic 2nd half from the league’s leading scorer, but Durant has had a tendency in the last two games to make silly fouls. While I think his blocking foul on LeBron in the 4th could have gone both ways, his supposedly “ticky-tack” foul on Wade in the 3rd was legit, and he has to do a better job just ignoring the pump-fakes and staying on his feet and out of foul trouble. It was a tough lose, but you can be sure Durant will learn from it.

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If Durant had remained in the game for the 3rd period, I have little doubt he would have been a lot more accurate in the 4th quarter (where he was just 2/6), and the Heat–who struggled to win anyway–would have been at a loss trying to defend him. The Plastic Man needs to stay on the court because he’s been impossible for the Heat to stop late in games. The Finals are a time where he has to be on the floor, even if that means giving up an occasional easy lay-up.

The Heat got lucky in game 3, but LeBron was again filling up the box score with 29 points, 14 rebounds and 3 assists. That’s actually a ho-hum performance for him, and Wade had that awful stretch in the 4th where he almost cost the Heat the game, so both superstars–even with the victory–can do more.

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There is plenty for both teams to work on as this was the sloppiest game of their series so far. A series–I might add–that’s shaping up to be one of the best we’ve seen in this millennium. 

I can’t wait for Tuesday.

Final: MIAMI HEAT 91 - Oklahoma City Thunder 85

The Heat lead the series 2-1

PHOTOS VIA

Game 1: New York at Miami

I’m too upset about this game to really write about it. I traveled up to Harlem to watch with my buddy from high school, Vlad, a die-hard Knicks fan that never misses a game. If you stick with the video above, you can track my odyssey.

We watched what unfolded at Harlem Tavern with a live Jazz band flinting into our eardrums as the drone of the faithful’s groans echoed in our ears. LeBron oversold some fouls, and went on a run in the 2nd quarter that put the game away. I…I just can’t talk anymore about this game. It was awful.

Final: MIAMI HEAT 100 - New York Knicks 67

Fuck.