The Golden State Warriors are going to the NBA Finals for the first time since their back-to-back championship years of 1974-75. A 104-90 win over the Houston Rockets last night sewed up the Western Conference Finals in five games. Here’s a look at how the Warriors did it…
*The stars were close to a wash with Steph Curry and James Harden each playing well. Curry knocked down 31 ppg for Golden State, while Harden went for 28 points/8 rebounds/6 assists per game.
But Curry, with six assists of his own per game, was still a little bit better. And the biggest difference between the two is one that doesn’t show up in the per-game averages. Harden was terrible in Game 3, the opportunity the Rockets had to make it a series again on their home floor, and he also mishandled the last possession of Game 2 when his team could have stolen one on the road.
This isn’t written as a “Bash James Harden” line, because he’s not the reason his team lost this series. But he was a little bit behind his star counterpart, just as he finished in the MVP voting.
*The real difference between the two teams was rebounding. Remember those unenlightened observers who said Golden State couldn’t win it all because they were a pure jump-shooting team? I was one of them, and am feeling foolish.
As a team, Golden State outrebounded a team with Dwight Howard in the middle by a 49-42 margin per game. And this is with Dwight getting 14 boards a night. But the Warriors countered with Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut who combined to average 21.
The Oklahoma City Thunder continued to exploit one persistent flaw of the San Antonio Spurs as they turned a 63-48 halftime deficit into a 107-99 win that wrapped up the Western Conference Finals in six games and completed a stunning turnabout where the Spurs went from coronated champs to losers of four straight.
While TheSportsNotebook pleads guilty with the rest of the sports media to the charge of picking the Spurs to win this series and the NBA title, I also plead for mercy on the grounds that this was one of the few outlets that at least noted the Spurs were having some issues with their defense that are not characteristic of great championship teams. Even in winning the first two games of the conference finals the problem nagged and finally a team as a talented as Oklahoma City just broke through and poured on the points.
OkC shot 50 percent from the floor in the Game 6 win and they also attacked the glass, winning that battle 42-34. Just as impressive was that they took away the Spurs’ depth edge, which is the biggest reason they were the #1 seed in the West to begin with. San Antonio’s offense was exclusively reliant on Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, who each played like veteran stars in a survival game, combining for 48 points, and Stephen Jackson with his 23. But without the customary scoring balance, San Antonio was in a 3-on-3 battle with Oklahoma City and that’s a battle the Thunder will win 11 times out of 10. Kevin Durant was at his best, knocking down 34 points and crashing for 14 rebounds, while Russell Westbrook had 25. Just as important, each star shot better than 50 percent from the floor so the points came efficiently and James Harden kicked in 16 off the bench.
What impresses me the most about this Oklahoma City team is their obvious hunger for a title, even though they’re young and presumably have more shots left. They play these games with the sustained intensity that people keep waiting to see from the Miami Heat. We’ll look more into the Thunder next Tuesday morning when TheSportsNotebook previews the NBA Finals, but for now let’s segueway into Miami and their survival battle in Boston tonight.
Miami has, quite frankly, embarrassed itself by being in this position. That’s not the cocksure comment of a Celtics fan like myself—to the contrary I’m a quivering ball of nerves this morning waiting for the game. I’m saying the Heat are an embarrassment if they win this series, since a seven-game win over Boston proves only that the Heat are marginally better than Philadelphia. Of course it gives LeBron, Dwayne Wade & Co., a chance for vindication, but the Celtics have a moral victory and a half just by getting to this point.
What I’m wondering about with the Heat is their mental stamina. We talk a great deal, as we should, about Boston’s physical stamina. But mental toughness and playing hard, cohesive basketball for four quarters at a time, an entire series at a time, takes conditioning as well. As any coach will tell you, you can’t turn it on and off. I watch Miami and wonder if they’ve developed the mental conditioning necessary to make it all the way to a championship. Because when this team is locked in, they are unstoppable, particularly at the defensive end where titles are won. If they’re locked in for four quarters tonight, they’re going to win. But right now the fact they only play 2.5 to 3 quarters of basketball at a high mental level has counterbalanced Boston’s physical shortcomings. Somewhere along the line the coach has to be held accountable. There’s no doubt Erik Spoelstra will be accountable if his team’s season ends tonight or Saturday night back home—or for that matter, anywhere short of a champagne celebration after the Finals. Maybe the real question is whether or not Miami team president Pat Riley should make history and fire his coach mid-series and come onto the bench himself. Because Riley knew as well as anyone that mental toughness is developed over a season, not flipped on with a switch. Miami now has to show it for two straight games just to avoid an embarrassing loss.
The Boston Celtics continue to follow in the path of the Oklahoma City Thunder, as each underdog in the conference finals has moved to take control of the series. Boston did its part last night with a 94-90 win in Miami to put them within one game of the NBA Finals, a development nothing short of stunning to anyone who followed the Celtics for the first half of the regular season or even the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Kevin Garnett was superb last night with 26 points and 11 rebounds. And while Paul Pierce’s overall numbers were not efficient—6-of-19 shooting, he hit several big shots in the second half including a three-pointer in the face of LeBron James that gave the C’s a 90-86 lead.
But it’s really Miami’s offense that I look at as far as an overall key to the game. The Heat are not going to beat the Celtics shooting over the top, yet they launched 26 treys, making only seven. Some of this bad luck—Mario Challmes, a genuinely good three-point shooter went 1-for-5. But LeBron James went 2-for-6. To give you the perspective of a Boston fan, when I see LeBron or Wade take a three, I immediately think “good defensive possession.”
That’s not to say they can’t hit the shot—James buried a big one in Game 4 and Wade came within one bounce of doing the same with one that could have won that game. But at the end of the day, if the Heat win this series, I want them to do it going over the top. If they shoot the ball and win, more power to them. Because, as ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy is correctly harping on, Wade and James are at their most effective going to the basket. With Avery Bradley injured, the Celtics have no real defensive stopper on the perimeter and if nothing else, drives to the basket can create foul trouble with Garnett.
So with help from a cooperative Miami offense, the Celtics won because the held the Heat just under 40 percent shooting and can now clinch the East on Thursday night in Game 6.
Before we get to Boston, we have to go to Oklahoma City tonight. The Thunder being one home win from the Finals isn’t as surprising as the Celtics, but the Thunder had a more respected and hotter opponent to go through in San Antonio. Tonight’s game is about Tony Parker. If the Spur guard can get back into the flow of the offense, hitting his shot and creating looks for Manu Ginobli from downtown and Tim Duncan in the blocks, San Antonio can certainly win. Head coach Gregg Popovich was correct to point out that if his team can’t win one game on the road they don’t deserve to be champions anyway. By this level of the postseason, no team should count on sweeping four at home, so while San Antonio would surely have preferred to avoid this do-or-die spot, they are still in the same position a realistic person would have placed them at the start of the series—needing to win one on the road.
San Antonio’s the opposite of Miami. We know the Heat can bring it and win because of their defensive ability, but they fade in and out and there’s questions about the intangibles. There’s no question marks about the effort and mental intensity the Spurs will bring tonight, but we’ve seen nothing in these playoffs and nothing in this series that suggest San Antonio can deliver a lockdown defensive effort—i.e., holding OkC to sub-40 percent shooting from the floor. That’s why Parker is going to have to play the game of his life tonight.
The San Antonio Spurs have gone from pre-ordained champions to on-the-verge-of-elimination because the bugaboos that were lurking in the background throughout the playoffs—mediocre defense and a lack of star power—came back to bite them again in a devastating 108-103 Game 5 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who now hold a 3-2 series lead and close it out at home on Wednesday night.
Oklahoma City shot 50 percent from the floor, something that should never happen to a championship team on its home floor, and that’s even with Russell Westbrook clanging up a 9-for-24 night as he got an inefficient 23 points. But say this for Westbrook—he didn’t retreat into a shell and he was still an effective passer, distributing 12 assists and helping Kevin Durant shoot 10-for-19 on his way to 27 and James Harden to knock down 20, including three of four from behind the arc.
While Tim Duncan was efficient at 18/12 and Manu Ginobli was spectacular, with a 34-point night that made it look like he’d visited the same Fountain of Youth that Boston’s Kevin Garnett stopped by, Tony Parker played his third straight subpar game—not coincidentally, all Spurs’ losses. Like Westbrook, Parker got his points with 20. But like Westbrook, it took a cold 5-of-14 shooting night to get there. And unlike Westbrook, Parker didn’t distribute the ball nearly as well. In fact, he went the other direction, with his five turnovers being the biggest culprit in San Antonio’s 21 miscues.
The Thunder got a second straight solid game from Kendrick Perkins at center. While he didn’t have the scoring outburst of Game 4, Perkins still grabbed 10 rebounds and provided a counterweight to the work of Duncan and Kawhi Leonard down low. Rebounding was still a San Antonio advantage, because OkC’s Serge Ibaka did nothing on the glass, but without Perkins’ work, the home team would have continued to hold serve.
Boston has matched Oklahoma City each step of the way through the conference finals, losing the first two at home and then turning the series around at home. The Thunder have set the bar high with a road Game 5 win and now the Celtics go into Miami tonight. The word is that Chris Bosh is going to play for the Heat. I’m not sold that this is a positive development for the Heat, at least not in the short term. Not because I buy into the notion that they’re a better team without him because it frees up LeBron and Dwayne Wade to have the ball more. A healthy Big Three makes for the best Miami team. But, for the first game back, there might well be adjustment problems.
Furthermore, I have to question how healthy Bosh really is. Prior to Game 4, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was saying there was no timetable on the power forward’s return. Now they lose the game and Bosh is suddenly back? I guess no timetable can mean anything you want, but it usually he doesn’t mean a guy is in the lineup tomorrow. This smacks of a panic move by Miami. And ultimately, when the Heat bring the defensive intensity, they are the better team in this series. They just haven’t brought it for four quarters. If holding serve at home and at least assuring yourselves a Game 7 at home isn’t motivation to bring the defensive focus, I don’t know what will be.
The Boston Celtics followed the same path in the Eastern Conference Finals that the Oklahoma City Thunder blazed through in the West, and it’s to announce “Game On” to sports fans, as the Celtics won their second consecutive home game. The 93-91 overtime thriller evened up the series 2-2.
Boston dominated the first period and Miami owned the third quarter, while the Celtics had a narrow edge in the second quarter, and the Heat did the same in the fourth. For the simple storyline its how Miami fell behind by 18, had it a game by the start of the final period and ultimately pushed it into overtime. Neither team shot well from three-point range, but the Celtics 9-of-27 gave them a critical edge over the Heat’s 6-of-19. It wasn’t huge, but in a game like this it’s all that was needed, which means that even though Ray Allen’s 16 points didn’t mark him one the game’s top scorers, his re-emergence as a threat from downtown has changed this series.
It’s also important to note the Celtics basically held even on the boards, with Miami only leading this category 40-39. Nor was this the result of Rajon Rondo chasing down long rebounds, as the little point guard had only five. When Boston holds even in an area that’s a huge weakness, it’s going to spell trouble for the Heat and even with Chris Bosh out, there’s no reason Miami’s underachieving tandem of Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony can’t get the job done in this matchup.
Finally, we come to the stars. Paul Pierce and LeBron James were both efficient, scoring 23 and 29 respectively and each just narrowly under 50 percent from the floor. James bagged a wide-open three-pointer to tie the game at the end of regulation. This is the second straight season he’s nailed a monumental trey in Game 4 of the Boston series with the Celtics trying to pull even. Last year James’ team won and this year his team lost, but can we please include these shots in the evaluation of whether King James is a clutch player? But both Pierce and LeBron fouled out down the stretch, the latter on a dubious call down low. As a Celtics fan, let’s just say it was the officiating break I’d been counting on getting at some point during the middle games in the Garden.
The last shot was taken by Dwayne Wade, a three-pointer that bounced off the rim and backboard before missing. Wade had 20 points, but at 7-of-22 shooting did not play well, and he was not effective in either game in Boston. Whether its defensive adjustments or being on the road, he’ll clearly have to step it up in Game 5.
Both East & West have their Games 5s the next two nights and in each case the winner here likely wins the series. Oklahoma City goes to San Antonio tonight. I had initially predicted this series to be won by the Spurs, but for things to be tied 2-2 (although I didn’t think home teams would be perfect). Therefore I’m not going to change my pick in spite of OkC’s recent form. But let’s say this—when Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are playing well, rebounding the ball and chipping in even a little offense, the Thunder are the best team in the NBA. As much as San Antonio needs Tony Parker—who went into a Wade-like funk on the road—to get back on his game, the Spurs need their depth on the frontcourt to neutralize Ibaka and Perkins. If they do that, they can survive the scoring from the Durant/Westbrook/Harden trio, particularly given Westbrook’s poor play in the conference finals for the second straight year.
It was the game that would all but settle the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season, as they tried to avoid falling behind 3-1 to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder needed their stars to come out—not just Kevin Durant, but surely, Russell Westbrook and James Harden had to have big games. The latter two combined to shoot 6-for-23 from the floor. And Oklahoma City…won? Yes, OkC overcame subpar nights from two of its three best players and beat the best team the NBA 109-103 and officially announced “Game On” in the West Finals.
TheSportsNotebook has called out Kendrick Perkins for his lack of performance at different points in these playoffs, including this series. But Perkins came up big last night, with 15 points/9 rebounds, helping his team establish a 41-31 rebounding advantage—and with the Spurs bagging 11 three-point shots, OkC needed every edge they could get inside. Serge Ibaka came up even bigger down low, scoring 26 points, leaving everyone to wonder when the defensive-minded power forward suddenly morphed into Kevin McHale, as he filled the offensive gaps left by Westbrook and Harden. And lest we forget, Kevin Durant poured in 36 points and shared the basketball well, with eight assists.
Westbrook and Harden weren’t the only big-name guards to struggle. The same held true for Tony Parker, who had just 12 points and was contained for the second straight game. Even though Tim Duncan got back on track, with a 21/9, and forward Kawhi Leonard posted a 17/9 night, San Antonio couldn’t get enough from the backcourt, in spite of the best efforts of Manu Ginobli and Stephen Jackson off the bench.
The Eastern Conference Finals have their own Game 4 tonight, with Boston looking to match Oklahoma City’s feat of winning two straight at home to tie up the series. Both the Celtics and Heat have an easy win at home (Games 1 & 3) and now the Celtics need to match the Heat’s ability to win a close game at home (the 115-111 overtime win in Game 2). Boston has reason to feel encouraged, with Ray Allen looking like he’s gaining strength as the series goes on. The flip side is that Miami’s Mario Challmes is playing some of his best basketball right now as well, and when the Heat get real support for LeBron and Dwayne Wade, they’re not going to be beaten. As a Celts fan, I’m keyed up for tonight’s game, but they have to deal with the reality that each game is Miami’s to lose, based on how well their supporting pieces play.
The Boston Celtics aren’t going to go quietly in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals. Following in the mold of Oklahoma City out West, the Celtics responded to the home crowd by delivering a strong effort in a must-win spot over Miami and took Game 3 101-91 and cut the Heat’s series lead to 2-1.
Boston’s not been known for it’s rebounding, but they beat Miami to the glass consistently on Friday night, with a 44-32 advantage. Kevin Garnett owned the paint with 24 points/11 rebounds, while Paul Pierce stepped up with 23 of this own. As far as the Heat were concerned, LeBron James might has well have made the trip himself. LeBron dropped 34 and grabbed eight rebounds, but Dwayne Wade had a pedestrian (for him) 18 points and Shane Battier, Rony Turiaf and Joel Anthony managed to get through the game without anyone noticing them. This game was, in essence, Miami’s give-back of Game 1, when a tired Celtics team played flat for every quarter but one and the Heat won easily. This is no small thing—if you believe that close games will mostly balance themselves out, to give back a blowout is a big concession in a short series.
Oklahoma City looks to go from “back on the radar” to “firmly in the hunt to win the series” when they host San Antonio in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals tonight. If the Spurs are going to bounce back they absolutely must get Tim Duncan back in the flow of the offense and Duncan must get himself back to controlling the glass. In an ideal world, San Antonio would also tighten up defensively, but that’s been a spotty area throughout the playoffs. For their part, OkC shouldn’t count on forcing 21 turnovers like they did in Game 3. The Thunder need a big game from Kevin Durant, who hasn’t gone off in this series the way he did at key points against Dallas and the LA Lakers in earlier rounds. And to continue the ideal world theme, they could use a big game offensively from Russell Westbrook, but what’s more important is they need Westbrook to focus on distribution and defense if his shot is not falling.
As I watched the perfect playoff run of the San Antonio Spurs come to an unceremonious ending last night in Oklahoma City, I thought of a line by former Laker coach and current Heat president Pat Riley. In his book Showtime, the story of the 1987 Lakers, Riley recalled when his team won the first two games of the Finals over the Celtics in decisive fashion and then lost Game 3. “Great, Riley, recalled thinking. “No more talk about sweeps.” I wonder if Gregg Popovich, similarly hard-nosed, although less adept at covering it up as the Spurs head man, is thinking the same thing the morning after Oklahoma City opened up a can in Game 3, to the tune of 102-82.
The Popovich-Riley analogy is the positive view for San Antonio fans to take, and indeed, continuing to keep winning like they were was completely unrealistic. As Riley pointed out in his book, when teams reach this level of the postseason, they’ve done so because of effort. Oklahoma City was going to bring everything they had with their season on the line, just like Boston did back in 1987 (and on Wednesday night in Miami for that matter).
But the flip side to that is this—the Spurs let OkC beat them by 20 points mostly by self-infliction. Oklahoma City played well to be sure, but it was not their best game. They shot 45 percent, they only hit 6-of-22 from three-point range, they only won rebounding 44-41 and the trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden only had 47 points. But San Antonio committed 21 turnovers and only forced 7. Tony Parker, after being a hero in Game 2, was responsible for five of those turnovers. Tim Duncan had just two rebounds. So if you’re San Antonio you have to feel like a chance to put the series away slipped through your fingers, while Oklahoma City can feel like they still have a better game in their back pocket when these teams return to the floor on Saturday night.
Boston now tries to do what OkC pulled off and that’s get a survival win in Game 3 in front of a raucous crowd when they host Miami tonight. There’s been plenty of discussion of officiating going against the Celts in the first two games. As a C’s fan, I’m not unbiased obviously, and consequently this is an area I tend to avoid when it comes to my favorite teams, because we all remember the calls that went against our teams and forget any breaks we got.
The spate of technical fouls called on Boston in Game 1 were absurd, but also inconsequential given how decisively Miami won. The free throw disparity on Wednesday was disturbing, given how frequently the Heat settled for three-point shots and the Celts went to the hoop with greater ferocity than normal. But unless I actually rewatched the game and evaluated the calls individually, that’s a tough decision to make. I do believe that the public controversy makes it more likely than what I was already expecting will come to pass—the league, wanting some drama for a Game 4, will get the C’s 40-50 free throws tonight. Now the officials have extra justification.
No one questioned the Boston Celtics’ heart coming into the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami, but plenty of people, TheSportsNotebook included, questioned their ability to even extend this series as far as six games. Both points of view were vindicated in an epic 115-111 overtime game won by the Heat to take a 2-0 series lead. Boston turned in an extraordinary effort, one that leads you to wonder if they couldn’t win playing like this, can they possibly make this series anything more interesting than whether they can cover pointspreads?
Rajon Rondo delivered a stunning 44-point night, even more unreal by the fact most his points came on perimeter jump-shooting. The Celtics, normally a poor rebounding team, were even with the Heat on the glass. Defensively, they forced Miami to settle for jump shots and Ray Allen showed some signs of life for the first time in this postseason. But if Miami is going to play like it did in Game 2, then we have to start thinking—again—that maybe can win the NBA title that they were suddenly written off from achieving (yes, including by me) after Chris Bosh got hurt and their wins seemed more about lackluster competition than real championship play.
LeBron James posted a 34 points/10 rebounds/7 assists line. He also missed the last shot of regulation, while it was Dwayne Wade who delivered the biggest Miami basket of overtime, something that will no doubt be endlessly rehashed. But the biggest Heat bucket down the stretch in the fourth quarter, when they trailed 94-91 was an open three-pointer by Shane Battier, a shot set up by good recognition from James when he was double-teamed and quickly reversed the ball. Sure, if LeBron was the next Jordan, he’d have hit the shot at the end of regulation. But he also compares favorably to Kobe, who would surely have forced up a bad shot rather than reverse it to a teammate. And trust in the teammates was what made Miami ultimately unbeatable last night. If Mario Challmes is going to knock down 22 points, if Udonis Haslem is going to hit 13, including several key baseline jumpers in the fourth quarter, if the Heat as a team are going to bag 10 three-pointers a night, then they aren’t going to lose this series, or even be extended past a Game 5 at home. And San Antonio should take notice.
Well, before San Antonio takes notice of anything going on the East, they do have some business to take care of in the West, as that series starts its middle two games in Oklahoma City, with the Thunder looking to show Games 1 & 2 were just about homecourt and not about a clear Spurs’ advantage. I would like to see some tighter defense from San Antonio tonight, even if they don’t win. Teams have shot for good field goal percentages against them, and while you won’t stop Durant from getting his points, you can force Russell Westbrook into a bad shooting night and there’s no reason James Harden should go off for 30, like he did in Game 2. If San Antonio loses playing tough defense, it’s still a good sign for their hopes of closing the series out in five. If they lose playing bad defense, then we could be in for a back-and-forth homecourt series that goes the distance.
If the San Antonio Spurs are going to play like they did last night, we might as well just call off the rest of the NBA playoffs right now. Even without a big offensive night from Tim Duncan, San Antonio shot 55 percent, buried 11 treys, built up a 16-point lead after three quarters and then turned back an Oklahoma City push to capture Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals by a 120-111 count.
Tony Parker was the star of the night with 34 points on a sizzling 16-for-21 shooting, but what’s really turning the Spurs up a notch is that Manu Ginobli is hitting his shot. With 26 points last night, the veteran shooting guard has gone 20-plus in each of the first two games of this series and he’s doing it with efficiency, hitting a little better than 50 percent from the floor.
And then we come to San Antonio’s depth—not necessarily bench players per se, but the fact someone outside the core players always seems to step up. Last night that would be Kawhi Leonard, who scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
From Oklahoma City’s perspective, the obvious corollary to all this would be the night to tighten up on the defensive end when they return home for Game 3 on Thursday. Their own lack of offensive depth showed again last night. Even in a game where they scored 111 points, they still needed Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden to produce 88 of them. There’s not a lot they’re going to do to fix that at this point in the season, but they do need to rebound the ball better. I have to pick on Kendrick Perkins for his lack of rebounding. I’m one of the Celtics fans who loved Perk when he was in the Garden and was devastated to see him go last year, so my focus in him is anything but personal. I am just completely mystified as his lack of rebounding. It’s not as though OkC is getting beaten on the boards—last night was basically a wash, but this is an area where they can get an edge if Perkins starts grabbing 10-12 a game.
The West was supposed to be the series that was exciting and it may still get there. We’ll see if Oklahoma City answers with their own coming two home games. The East finals resume tonight with Miami-Boston, as we look for reasons to think the Celtics can make a series of this. I do think Boston’s going to make a game of it tonight, with better defense. Whether they win it depends on if they can get any shooting from Ray Allen and/or Paul Pierce. And whether they win this game will tell us if we’ll get an interesting series.
The Miami Heat’s strength all year has been lockdown defense. The Boston Celtics’ bugaboo all year has been rebounding. A combination of the two delivered Miami a decisive 93-79 win Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals last night in South Beach.
LeBron James was outstanding with 32 points, but his 13 rebounds also led the Heat and helped key the win. Shane Battier was an unlikely stalwart on the boards, with 10, while Kevin Garnett was the only one able to do anything on the glass for the Celtics. And Miami was forcing plenty of misses to rebound, holding the Celts to 39.5% shooting from the floor. Paul Pierce was a non-factor at 12 points on 5-for-18 and Ray Allen might as well not even be on the floor right now.
Boston didn’t have its own tough defense in effect. Miami shot 50 percent, a figure that stayed stable through much of the game and the defensive breakdowns by the Celtics were uncharacteristic. It’s not as though the Heat were hitting tough shots, or even just open long jumpers. In fact, Miami’s offense jacked up way too many threes. For some reason Battier decided he was J.J. Redick and launched nine from behind the arc, only making two. As a team Miami shot 5-for-25 from trey range.
On the positive side for the Heat, this means they really didn’t play their best game on offense and still won by 14. On the negative side? It’s unlikely the Celtics are going to hand them as many breakdown layups in future games and Miami cannot settle for three-point shots when they’re so much better driving to the basket and using their superior athletic ability.
As to the Celtics, the fact they were tied at halftime may end up working against them. There’s no doubt this was a tired team after the seven-game series with Philadelphia that ended on Saturday. The C’s might have been better off getting smoked early, waving the white flag and started resting up the vets for Game 2 tomorrow.
The Western Conference Finals resume tonight when Oklahoma City tries to even up the series with Game 2 in San Antonio. In the recap of the Spurs’ 101-98 win on Sunday, TheSportsNotebook noted that Thunder center Kendrick Perkins has got to be more of a presence—or any kind of presence at all—on the glass. And whether Russell Westbrook shoots better or not is anyone’s guess, but if Westbrook is cold, he can’t keep firing. He instead needs to create shots for Kevin Durant and James Harden. In the big picture I think San Antonio’s going to win this game and ultimately the championship, but I like OkC to come out strong and win a good one tonight.
If Sunday night is any indication, we’re in for an exciting Western Conference Finals in the NBA playoffs, because top-seeded San Antonio was pushed to the wire and then some, before finally beating Oklahoma City 101-98 to grab a 1-0 lead in the series.
Rebounding was key to the Spurs’ efforts, as they held a 50-43 edge on the glass, the one key statistical difference on a team-wise basis. If we dig a little deeper, while Tim Duncan deserves the obligatory praise for his 16 points/11 rebounds night, it’s more noteworthy that Thunder center Kendrick Perkins had only two rebounds. In TheSportsNotebook’s series preview, the importance of Perkins and power forward Serge Ibaka doing the dirty work was identified as critical to the OkC’s chances Ibaka’s seven boards were acceptable, if not outstanding, but Perkins can’t continue to be absent from the glass if his team is going to win.
A similar story exists in the backcourt. Manu Ginobli is getting a lot of deserved praise for his 26 points in leading the Spurs’ fourth quarter rally, but it’s at least as important to point out that Russell Westbrook had a tough night shooting the ball, going 7-for-21 from the floor and his 17 points are a low number for the team’s #2 scorer. If we hearken back to last year’s conference finals, Westbrook struggled against Dallas and one thing Oklahoma City fans have to be worried about is that when Westbrook is cold, he doesn’t move to distributing the ball and creating shots—he keeps gunning. At this point, it’s just one off-night. If it repeats itself on Tuesday then the Thunder have a problem.
As long as we’re on the subject of problems, let’s shift to Boston’s opener against Miami tonight in the Eastern Conference Finals. TheSportsNotebook’s series preview took about as pessimistic a view of the Celtics’ chances in this series as the rest of the mainstream media and the Las Vegas sportsbooks did. And the odds in Game 1 are even worse, as a team that’s already the walking wounded is just 48 hours removed from an emotional Game 7 win over Philadelphia.
An underrated problem for Boston is that young guard Avery Bradley is out for the rest of the postseason. Bradley was not only young legs on an old team, but he was the one Boston guard who could at least slow down Dwayne Wade. Now that task likely falls to Ray Allen, who’s playing on sore ankles and has to have energy on the offensive side if the Celtics are going to win. That’s called a double-whammy. If you’re Memorial Day festivities go into the night, I can’t think of too many reasons you should go out of your way to watch what’s likely to be a complete carnage in Game 1.