For the second straight night in the NBA’s Western Conference playoffs, the story was about a late comeback and a 99-98 final. But the Los Angeles Clippers came from a lot further back last night then Oklahoma City did on Saturday. The Clips were on the road, 27 points in the hole and in the fourth quarter, turned it around and won. TheSportsNotebook recaps this, along with Saturday’s other four games and looks ahead to Monday night’s playoff trio…
LA Clippers 99 Memphis 98: Beyond the blown lead, when Memphis looks at the overarching performance, what’s going to stand out is the failure to rebound. The Clips won the battle of the boards 47-41 and that’s thanks to Zach Randolph not being a factor for Memphis. Meanwhile, LA got a huge contribution off the bench from Reggie Evans, with the power forward collecting 13 boards. This kind of game was the exact opposite of what was expected as far as intangibles—the Clips had the feel of a talented team that couldn’t close, while the Grizzlies were the young up –and-comer who’d been battle tested by a surprising playoff run in 2011. But that didn’t translate into the ability to finish this game off and whatever happens the rest of the way here, it certainly doesn’t bode well for Memphis’s ability to reach the Finals. And defensively, neither team was stellar—which makes for an interesting series, but doesn’t lend confidence to either team’s ability to sustain a run. The broken hand to LA forward Caron Butler only adds to the doubts.
Okay, enough naysaying—I just bring these points up because both teams are seen as real threats in the 4-5 spot on the bracket. This was a historic comeback by any standard and we’ll see if it becomes a turning point for a long-suffering organization in the Clippers, whether the promise is fulfilled this season or in years to come.
San Antonio 106 Utah 91: The Spurs followed their core pattern of getting great performance from Tony Parker and Tim Duncan and then filling in the gaps. Parker had 28 points and 8 assists. Duncan had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Then add up the bench scoring and it was 44-31 for the Spurs. Utah got strong efforts from its talented interior pair in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. What has to disappoint the Jazz is that even with 20 points from the outside thanks to Gordon Heyward, they didn’t get in position to win a road game. Devin Harris at the point just looks overmatched for Utah.
LA Lakers 103 Denver 88: Kobe came out with 31 points, Andrew Bynum had 10 points/13 rebounds/10 blocks in a dominating performance and the Lakers—like the Spurs—showed they know how to close when it comes to playoff basketball. They also know how to play team defense. With Bynum on hand to erase any mistakes on the perimeter, Los Angeles stepped it up and held Denver to 35% shooting and kept a good offensive team under 90. One sentence sums this up—the Lakers played championship basketball on Sunday.
Atlanta 83 Boston 74: With Ray Allen in a suit and tie, the Celtics did not convert a single three-point shot. It took them too long to get started—while Kevin Garnett’s 20/12 line was a solid night, his first half was awful. Between digging a hole and being unable to hit a trey, that’s a bad combination for trying to come back. Josh Smith answered the bell for Atlanta, doing what stars do—he had a big stat line, at 22/18 and it seemed he was making a key shot every time the Celtics threatened to make a run. Allen’s status remains uncertain, and with Derrick Rose also out, this makes the entire top half of the Eastern Conference draw uncertain. We’re two days into the postseason, but is it too much to say that between the injuries to Rose and Allen and the Game 1 loss by Indiana, that the path to the Finals is opening up for Miami?
THREE MORE GAMES MONDAY
Speaking of the Heat, LeBron and Dwayne Wade are back in action tonight against New York. I didn’t like the Knicks chances to win a single game in this series because of their poor backcourt. A 33-point loss in Game 1 and then seeing guard Iman Shumpert gone for the postseason, doesn’t exactly make me optimistic. New York needs Melo to put the team on his back and carry them, but even if that happens, the best they can hope for is a wash with him and LeBron—and the Heat have the better supporting cast. Short of a complete no-show for Miami, I just don’t see how New York can chart a reasonable path to winning a basketball game.
Indiana desperately needs to win Game 2 against Orlando at home tonight, having already coughed up homecourt advantage. And somewhere—whether it’s tonight or down the line, they need to do more than win and again establish themselves as a real threat. We can take it a step further and narrow it down to Roy Hibbert, the 7’2” center who failed to take advantage of Dwight Howard’s absence in the opener. I want to see a 20/10 from the big man tonight and reassert some Pacer mojo.
And in the Western Conference, it’s Dallas-Oklahoma City, where the Mavericks have to regroup after letting a late lead slip in Game 1. I wrote yesterday that I felt like the Thunder’s narrow escape, while not an ideal basketball performance, and was what they needed as far as an intangible win. Now I’d like to see OkC use their youth and momentum to run the veteran Mavs out of the gym before the series reverts to Dallas.