All four second-round matchups in the NBA playoffs are knotted at a game apiece, and now it’s up to the underdogs (Golden State, Memphis, Indiana, Chicago) to prove they can defend their home floor as the venues shift for the middle games that start on Friday night. Other than the Bulls, the other three underdogs give the feel of being in control of their series none more so than Golden State.
GOLDEN STATE-SAN ANTONIO: In no series is the aura of control—for a favorite or a dog—coming off more strongly than with Golden State. The Warriors came back from a historic collapse in Game 1 (no team had ever blown a 16-point lead with less than four minutes to go in a playoff game) and decisively smacked down the veteran Spurs for 100-91 Game 2 win.
Golden State was in control from the outset, up nineteen points at the half and there would be no meltdown. What there would be was a whole lot of Klay Thompson. The running mate for Steph Curry hit eight of nine shots from three-point range and scored 34 on the night to lead what was an overall strong shooting night for the Warriors.
It’s easy to dismiss the result and say that Thompson can’t stay that insanely hot. That’s clearly true, but keep in mind that Curry did not have a vintage game. He only took six three-point attempts, only made two and his 22 points was pedestrian compared to his overall playoff run. He’s surely got some more big performances in him, and we can also look for Harrison Barnes to make up for any return to normalcy by Thompson. Furthermore, Andrew Bogut is finally doing what he gets paid to do and rebounding the basketball. Eleven boards in Game 2 keyed a Golden State edge on the glass.
San Antonio had an exceptionally poor night shooting the three-ball, at 5-for-21. That can turn around, but it does concern me that the Spurs are not able to dictate a more manageable pace and to get physical with Curry and Thompson on the perimeter. This isn’t a case of the team trying to go small and run with them, like Denver did in the first round. The Spurs are playing the correct personnel, but the pace of play continues to favor Golden State and if that doesn’t change, the Warriors are going to advance.
I’m not ready to predict that. Greg Popovich, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan have earned enormous benefit of the doubt, and as tough as it is to win in the Bay Area, I like them to figure it out and win one of the next two. I even think the Spurs could rally from 3-1 down, given that Games 5 & 7 will be in San Antonio. But we have to be honest enough to acknowledge that it’s past performance, and nothing that’s transpired the first two games, that provides a lifeline of hope to Spurs’ fans.
MEMPHIS-OKLAHOMA CITY: I’m extremely disappointed with the Thunder supporting cast. Kevin Durant was, once again, amazing, with 36 points/11 rebounds/9 assists and getting his points with just 21 shots. But Oklahoma City is looking like Cleveland in the LeBron era where it all fell on one player. And Memphis is too good to be beaten by one player, winning Game 2 99-93.
Mike Conley had a huge game in Game 2, with 26/10/9. Though Conley has been in the league since 2008, keep in mind that he came out after just one year at Ohio State, so it’s very possible he’s just hitting his stride in terms of physical and mental maturity. And he got help, with Pau Gasol scoring 24 and the Grizzlies just playing all-around better basketball.
Oklahoma City stayed on the perimeter and was a mediocre 9-for-24 from behind the arc. They also committed 19 turnovers and were outrebounded 43-35. That’s a lot of possessions to essentially give up against an opponent that’s tough defensively. And this time around, Memphis didn’t give the game away at the foul line. They made 23-of-32—not great, but thirteen percentage points higher than in Game 1, where their misses cost them the game.
Frankly, if Memphis hits at least 70-75 percent of their free throws, I’m not sure what other edges Oklahoma City has. We’ve seen that Durant alone is not enough to win. Here too, I’m not ready to back off my pre-series pick—it was Thunder in seven, and there’s nothing that’s taken place that would contradict such a pick. But they haven’t earned the same benefit of the doubt as San Antonio, especially given that there’s no reason to be confident in the supporting cast for OkC right now.
INDIANA-NEW YORK: It was a bounceback game for the Knicks, who delivered a 105-79 blowout in Game 2 to tie up the series. The big story was an astonishing 30-2 run for New York in the second half, part of their winning the fourth quarter 33-13. And Carmelo Anthony played his first good game since Game 3 of the Boston series. Melo hit 13-of-26 from the floor and scored 32 points.
So much of this series remains a testament to the notion of competitive mediocrity though. New York, with its season on the line, had only Melo step up. J.R. Smith continued to shoot poorly, going 3-for-15 and head coach Mike Woodson is talking about limiting his minutes. On Indiana’s side, David West and Roy Hibbert didn’t exploit their advantage inside the way they did in Game 1. And Paul George’s efficient shooting and 20 points obscure the fact he didn’t rebound and committed seven turnovers. In fact, the Pacers committed 21 turnovers and as the best defensive team in the league, only forced six.
Indiana got what it came for in Game 1, and as such, I’m happy to stay with pick of them to win this series in six. I’m also happy to stay with my contention that the NBA should just declare this whole series to be the equivalent of a college bowl game—we can enjoy it, bet it, debate who will win, but not go through the fraud of letting other team on the floor in the conference finals.
CHICAGO-MIAMI: To paraphrase a famous rant by ex-football coach Dennis Green, the Heat did what we thought they would do. They re-asserted themselves and blew out undermanned Chicago 115-78, gaining steam as the game went on. I’m most impressed—though not surprised—by the way LeBron James continues to share the ball. In a game where a lot of people waited for him to drop 35, he instead used his great passing skills and racked up nine assists, while scoring an efficient 19 points, most during a second quarter when Miami opened up some space. It’s a good blend of knowing when to take over and knowing how to get your teammates involved.
No serious observers think Chicago’s nominal homecourt advantage, thanks to their Game 1 win, is going to translate into a series upset. Most discussion surrounds whether the Bulls can win a game. At the start of the series I felt Chicago would play competitively in games individually, but lose in four. They proved that wrong with the Game 1 win, but I stick to the general gist. I suspect Miami wins both games in the Windy City and closes in Game 5. But at the very least, it’ll be fun to see if Chicago can fight and scratch their way to a home win and put the pressure back on the Heat when the series returns to South Beach.
The NBA takes Thursday night off, so the Game 3 action will go Friday and Saturday. Here’s the lineup….
Miami-Chicago (8 PM ET, ESPN)
San Antonio-Golden State (10:30 PM ET, ESPN)
Oklahoma City-Memphis (5 PM ET, ESPN)
New York-Indiana (8 PM ET, ABC)
TheSportsNotebook’s NBA commentary comes back Sunday morning, to again assess where each series stands.