The New York Knicks stayed alive in the NBA playoffs and their battle with the Indiana Pacers is the only second-round series still going, with Miami, San Antonio and Memphis all punching their tickets to the conference finals over the past two nights. TheSportsNotebook’s overview of each series will start with Knicks-Pacers, which resumes Saturday night (8 PM ET, ESPN) and then look at how the Heat, Spurs and Grizzlies closed things out.
It was turnovers that were the big factor here. Indiana simply did not take care of the basketball, turning it over nineteen times. It seems logical to say that when you’re a team built on defense and rebounding, you can’t turn it over, any more than a defensive-oriented team in football can get away with coughing it up. Furthermore, Indiana center Roy Hibbert might as well have stayed home in Indianapolis, as his 9 points/7 rebounds night were a negligible contribution.
Carmelo Anthony knocked down 28, and his shooting percentage nudged back closer to 50 percent from the floor. Now the Knicks get one more chance to steal a road win and force a Game 7. In any one-game shot, New York has to be respected because you never know when Melo is going to go off or when J.R. Smith might again find his shooting touch from the outside. Of course this isn’t a one-game shot per se, since the Knicks would still have to win Game 7, but I think most people—myself included—would expect the home team to win a decisive game.
So far this series has been a rarity in that it’s gone as I’ve predicted, with the Pacers having their chance to close at home. If it keeps going that way, Indiana will put the finishing touches on this series Saturday night. If not, the teams will be back in the Big Apple for a Monday night battle.
Miami owned the first quarter and fourth quarter in their 94-91 win over Chicago, with the Bulls giving the Heat all they could handle in between. Nate Robinson scored 21 and Carlos Boozer had 26 points/14 rebounds, as Chicago again earned the respect of any thinking basketball fan for their competitive drive in a situation when no one would have blamed them if they finally mailed it in.
The Heat, as usual, stayed on the perimeter. But in Game 5 they were cool, shooting 6-of-21. They were able to make up for it with a 24-17 scoring advantage on the free throw line. Normally, for reasons I would assume are obvious, the teams shooting the three-ball don’t get to the foul line. But LeBron got their 15 times himself and made 12. You can cue up the conspiracy theory here if you want and I won’t stop you—although I would say that longtime Bulls fans who were around during the Jordan era can’t complain too much if the league cuts LeBron extra slack today.
In the last installment of our NBA commentary, we looked at whether Miami can win if Dwayne Wade’s knee pushes him to the sidelines or to ineffectiveness. Wade kept that discussion purely on the theoretical level, as he scored 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting.
It was another defense-heavy game, as Memphis took Game 5 and the series by an 88-84 count. The free throw line was the difference here, with Memphis going 25/29 and OkC hitting 16/21. Specifically, Zach Randolph was the difference. He had a 28 points/14 rebounds night and he got 12 of his points at the foul line. From a conspiracy theorist standpoint, the league’s lack of interest in pushing Kevin Durant further through is a little mystifying. Or maybe these games are really just officiated on the merits.
That aside, Durant clearly wore down under the strain of having to not only carry the Thunder offense, but to do it against the West’s best defensive team. He shot 5-of-21 in Game 5, his second straight poor shooting game. Give Durant huge props for taking the burden on his shoulders and playing several games at an extraordinarily high level. Then acknowledge that in the end, this is still a team game.
In the meantime, Memphis is peaking and we’ll talk about them in more detail when we preview their Western Conference Finals matchup with San Antonio over the weekend.
SAN ANTONIO-GOLDEN STATE
Gregg Popovich can coach. We all knew it, but he put on a great display of defensive adjustments in this series, as his team got Golden State figured out and ultimately slowed down Steph Curry. The Warrior guard got his 22 points in Game 6, but the three-point stripe—where he does his greatest damage—saw Curry only hit 2-for-8. The absence of David Lee as an option down low finally caught up with the Warriors in last night’s 94-82 loss that moved San Antonio forward.
The Spurs got a good game from Kawhi Leonard, with 16 points/10 rebounds, which proved to be necessary to make up for a rough night from Tony Parker who only shot 3-for-16.
Not having Lee may have caught up to Golden State in the end, but this is another team deserving of a major salute. Their season itself was a surprise and I thought they were finished when Lee went down in Game 1 of the Denver series. Instead, the Warriors won that round, took two from the Spurs and put a huge scare into one of the West’s great powers. If Lee gets healthy and Curry’s ankles can hold up, this is a franchise with a bright future.
As mentioned, the Knicks-Pacers go Saturday, and would play again Monday if necessary. If Indiana wins tomorrow, I would assume they’d be in Miami for the Monday night TV spot. The Western Conference Finals will begin on Sunday at 3:30 PM ET on ABC. TheSportsNotebook’s NBA commentary will be back that morning to preview that series. If Miami-Indiana is set, we’ll also do the Eastern Conference preview. Otherwise, some Game 7 preview talk will be mixed in.
Either way, NBA commentary resumes Sunday morning and in the meantime, there’s updated NHL analysis as their second round is now underway, and MLB coverage focused in on the Yankees and Giants this past week.