Miami and San Antonio have advanced in the NBA playoffs. New York, Oklahoma City and Chicago have all missed chances for a road clinch. With six first-round series still up for grabs, today’s NBA commentary will run through where we stand on all the matchups. All have completed four games, with Brooklyn-Chicago being five deep. We’ll start with a soundbite summary and then go into more detail.
- Defense and LeBron was more than enough for Miami to complete its workmanlike sweep of Milwaukee.
- Brooklyn got aggressive on the boards and it’s the reason they’re alive to see a Game 6 in Chicago.
- Indiana looks like what now retired team president Larry Bird said about them last year—S-O-F-T—as they let Atlanta tie up the series in decisive fashion.
- New York missed its chance to sweep, but there’s every reason for Knicks fans to continue feeling good about the way their team competed in Game 4 at Boston.
- Serge Ibaka should now be the focal point for analysis regarding Oklahoma City, and his coming up small is the reason Houston won Game 4.
- Memphis and the LA Clippers haven’t played since our last update and resume hostilities in Game 5 tonight.
- Is Denver head coach George Karl committed to the idea of letting Golden State run him out of the playoffs? If so, the strategy is working.
- I’ll break no new ground in saying this, but the Los Angeles Lakers should be ashamed of the series-long “effort” they put up in losing four straight to San Antonio.
INSIDE THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
(1)Miami vs (8)Milwaukee: There’s not much more to go on here than the soundbite. Milwaukee, to no one’s surprise, could not compete with Miami for four quarters. The Heat were so confident that they rested Dwayne Wade in Game 4, certain that they could win a road game and let their veteran star get some time off for his knee. When you play defense you can do that, and Miami does. They held the Bucks to 37 percent shooting, and LeBron carried the load with a 30 points/8 rebounds/7 assists game that keyed the 88-77 win. Wade will be rested and ready for the second round.
(4)Brooklyn vs. (5)Chicago: After their crushing triple-overtime loss in Game 4 and then seeing the Bulls come out and play feisty for three quarters in Game 5, I half-expected the Nets to roll over in the fourth quarter. They didn’t and it’s because they got on the boards. In a game where both teams executed well on the offensive side, the Nets enjoyed a 44-33 rebounding edge and pulled away late to win 110-91. Brook Lopez was the big hero with a 28 points/10 rebounds night, and don’t discount Reggie Evans, with his 12 boards.
Don’t discount Brooklyn at all. They just need one road win to get this series back to the Barclays Center for a deciding Game 7, a scenario that heavily favors the home team in the NBA more than other sports. Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich did not play in Game 5 and is still questionable for Game 6.
(3)Indiana vs. (6)Atlanta: My disgust level with the Pacers, the team I picked to reach the conference finals out of this half of the bracket, is peaking right now. And peaking is something the Indiana defense is decidedly not doing. Atlanta had its fourth consecutive good game on the offensive end, and their second straight blowout win, this one by a 102-91 count. Defense is supposed to keep you in it on the road, but the Pacers have been non-competitive in the two games in Atlanta.
The Hawks hit 11/24 from three-point range, with Kyle Korver and Anthony Tolliver doing the bulk of the damage of the bench, a combined 8-for-11 from behind the arc. Josh Smith had his best game of the playoffs with a 29 points/11 rebounds showing and Al Horford scored 18. We’re still waiting for Roy Hibbert to step up and assert himself in the low post for Indiana. We were waiting for the same thing last spring. I have a feeling we’ll still be waiting come summertime.
(2)New York vs. (7)Boston—The Celtics dug down and came up with a win to extend their season and ensure that if this is the end for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, their potential last game in the Garden was a win, 97-90 in overtime. But New York rallied for 22 down, and the Knicks owned the glass. In spite of a big day for Garnett (17 rebounds), New York’s balance and consistency created a 58-40 edge on the boards. You won’t lose too many when you rebound like that.
What New York did not do was shoot the ball well, going 34 percent from the floor and 7/30 from behind the arc. Carmelo Anthony was a big culprit here. The 36 points belie the fact he went a stone-cold 10-for-35 from the floor. Yeah, he took 35 shots. The Knicks were also hurt by the loss of J.R. Smith, their fine shooting guard who was suspended for a cheap shot he threw at Boston’s Jason Terry in Game 3.
INSIDE THE WESTERN CONFERENCE MATCHUPS
(1)Oklahoma City vs (8)Houston: With Russell Westbrook out and OkC looking for other contributors, I’ve felt that power forward Serge Ibaka is the one who has to step up. He did in Game 3 and the Thunder won their first game without Westbrook. Ibaka was a non-factor in Game 4 last night, and Houston was able to squeak out a 105-103 win and extend this series to a fifth game.
Ibaka’s non-showing wasn’t limited to the offensive end, nor was he the only inside player to let Oklahoma City down. Houston got a big night from center Omer Asik, with 17 points/14 rebounds and forward Chandler Parsons lit it up for 27/10. The fact Oklahoma City lost one game on the road should not bother them. But the fact they could lose to Houston on a night when James Harden had his worst game of the playoffs—15 points on 4-of-12 shooting—has to disturb the Thunder. And don’t pin it on Kevin Durant, who dropped in 38, and unlike Melo in New York, Durant did it with efficiency, hitting 12 of his 16 shots from the floor.
(4)LA Clippers vs (5)Memphis: This series resumes tonight out west, tied at two games apiece. So far the home team has not only won, but usually done it by controlling the glass. Both teams have their share of quality rebounders, so we’ll see if that continues to hold true.
(3)Denver vs. (6)Golden State: For the second straight game, Denver coach George Karl tried to match up with Golden State by going finesse on finesse and played a startling lineup of Kenneth Faried and four guards. Karl did not give any real minutes to Javale McGee or Kosta Koufus off the bench. Karl did not seek to exploit Golden State’s obvious vulnerability inside without the injured David Lee. Instead, the Nuggets coach played to the strength of the Warriors and unsurprisingly lost, 115-101.
Denver has done what seemed impossible, and lost all three games since Lee went down, giving Golden State three shots to clinch. Like Brooklyn, you don’t want to bury Denver too quickly. The Nuggets only need to win one road game to come from behind in this series. But unlike Brooklyn, Denver shows no signs of being competitive on the road. They can’t stop Steph Curry, who barbequed their defense for 31 points in Game 4 and unless Denver changes strategy I won’t be surprised if they lose it at home.
(2)San Antonio vs. (7)LA Lakers: I know the Lakers were not going to win this series, and that once it was apparent that Steve Nash couldn’t contribute and was eventually sidelined, that even an extended series was not in the cards. But the Lakers flat-out rolled over in both of their home games, culminating with Sunday’s 103-82 loss.
A team with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol should at least compete and the Lakers did not—and they fact they were an 11.5 point underdog on their home floor shows how little respect Howard has among those who bet these games seriously.
San Antonio is what Los Angeles is not, and that’s a complete team that does everything the right way. They beat the Lakers in transition, with Tony Parker leading the way with 23 points. The Spurs got up by 18 at the half, coasted home and got their veteran legs some rest while they wait for the second round.
THE VIEW FROM VEGAS
San Antonio and Golden State remain the gamblers’ favorites, each having delivered the goods all four times out. The Spurs kept matching beating lines that grew as the series went on and did it easily. The Warriors, after a loss-but-cover in Game 1, have won their next three games as an underdog, including on their home floor where they got between 1-2 points. My podcast colleague, Greg DePalma at Prime Sports Network, with whom I appear each Monday, had taken Golden State at 7-1 to win this series, a number that appeared after their Game 1 loss and Lee’s injury. That’s looking like the best bet of the playoffs already.
We’ve got five games over Tuesday and Wednesday that will complete the Game 5s and bring every series even by the time we get to Thursday morning. Here’s the lineup….
Golden State-Denver (8, TNT)
Memphis-LA Clippers (10:30 PM ET, TNT)
Boston-New York (7 PM ET, TNT)
Atlanta-Indiana (8 PM ET, NBA-TV)
Houston-Oklahoma City (9:30 PM ET, TNT)
TheSportsNotebook’s NBA commentary resumes Thursday morning, with the possibility that Golden State, New York and Oklahoma City could all be in the second round. The latter two have the chance to do it at home. Also, don’t forget to check out TheSportsNotebook’s NHL playoffs preview, as those games begin Tuesday night.