The NBA’s Grand Slam Weekend, with four games Saturday and four on Sunday had an entertaining start yesterday. Indiana and the LA Clippers won nailbiters, Oklahoma City moved on to the second round and San Antonio kept methodically moving forward. TheSportsNotebook looks back on Saturday and ahead to Sunday…
Indiana 101 Orlando 99 (OT): The Pacers are now officially forgiven for their blowing of Game 1 to the Dwight-less Magic. Indiana had already retaken control of the series with their Game 3 road win, but with this victory now they are not only in position to close the series out in Game 5—which was more or less the default prompt on this series anyway—but the past three games have seen them win in every possible way. In Game 2 they had a come-to-Jesus meeting at halftime and came out completely refocused. Game 3 was a lockdown blowout. And in Game 4 they showed they could win a dogfight on the road. Roy Hibbert, who’s been in my crosshairs, had 14 points/11 rebounds. That’s the kind of sustainable performance Indiana needs from him in the second round against Miami (yes, I’m making some assumptions on both ends there). David West was physical inside with 26/12, and Danny Granger knocked down 21 points in his role as the team’s go-to guy. Indiana was able to answer a good effort from the Orlando backcourt led by Jason Richardson and his 25 points. But forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Anderson have not answered the bell in this series and you have to wonder if it’s just bad play at a bad time or if they really are that dependent on Howard sucking defenders away from them.
LA Clippers 87 Memphis 86: Los Angeles holds homecourt advantage and takes a 2-1 series lead, but they really did all they could to give this one away. How does an NBA team miss of 17 of 30 free throws? I hit more than that when I’m shooting at the gym on my lunch hour (really, I do, take my word for it, there’s no one who can verify). Blake Griffin had 17 points and was 3-of-9 from the line, while power forward Reggie Evans was even more incompetent, going just 2-for-8. With regards to Griffin you have to wonder if Memphis goes to the Hack-A-Shaq strategy, the tactic teams used against Shaquille O’Neal to just make him hit free throws. What the Clips did do yesterday was play team defense, holding Memphis to 40 percent. That’s not something Los Angeles has done consistently this year and this, along with the big comeback in Game 1, make you wonder if this team is at least developing some championship toughness.
San Antonio 102 Utah 90: I’m going to go on a Musberger-esque gambling tangent here, and wonder why the linesmakers keep posting totals for this series in excess of 200. Utah isn’t going to score 100 in a game if these teams play a best-of-fifteen. Or unless the Spurs sit the vets down. Even the latter might not matter given San Antonio’s depth, which was again in evidence here. They won bench scoring 40-30, mostly accounting for the margin of victory. Utah gave a lot of effort, with their rebounding advantage being proof of that. But they couldn’t score enough. Paul Millsap was a microcosm of both the effort and the shortcomings, with a 9 points/11 rebound game.
Oklahoma City 103 Dallas 97: And we conclude with the one team that’s clinched a series. Dirk Nowitzki did what he could to avoid the brooms, scoring 34 points, but Oklahoma City won with a good team effort. Russell Westbrook didn’t have a big game and Serge Ibaka was kept off the boards. Normally those two factors combine with Kevin Durant to create the OkC winning combination. Durant still had 24 points and James Harden stepped it up with 29 to give the Thunder an impressive series sweep.
Sunday’s games ahead…
*First it was Derrick Rose, now it’s Joakim Noah, as the Bulls center is doubtful for today’s Game 4 in Philadelphia with an ankle injury. Philly’s dealing with nagging injuries themselves, although Andre Iguoadala and Lou Williams are expected to play. Sixers center Spencer Hawes came up big in the Game 3 win and with Noah out he’s got the opportunity to do so again here and put his team in command of the series.
*Atlanta visits Boston for Game 4. Josh Smith is expected to play for the Hawks, so with both him and Ray Allen now back, it looks like we’ve finally got full strength in this series. Boston’s in position to win this series by taking this game and a home date for Game 6, but they have to be a lot crisper offensively then they were yesterday…or for that matter, then at any point in the series. The C’s don’t rebound the ball, so good halfcourt excecution is paramount.
*Miami will look to close out New York, with Amare Stoudamire apparently planning to play after his ridiculous battle with the fire extinguisher glass down in South Beach. But this series continues to be about Miami’s focus more than anything. Their team defense is too good and the Knicks backcourt too poor for the underdog to win against a focused Heat team. Melo can get his points—and he probably will today. But since I just spent the morning reviewing the 1988 Atlanta-Boston playoff series for a Boston site I contribute to, I find myself comparing Melo to Dominique Wilkins, another player who electrified the league, but whose team dutifully fell short.
*And our one game in the West is the Lakers-Nuggets from Denver. This is the game where I want to see Denver do the things I thought they could do to win the series—use their depth and their superior pace to wear down a thin Laker bench, especially in the Rocky Mountain altitude. Ty Lawson, who scored 25 in the must-win Game 3, has to drive the pace and make Kobe play all 94 feet, a pace that has the further advantage of neutralizing LA’s size advantage with Bynum and Gasol.