Day 4 Recap
There has been no shortage of good games and storylines so far in these young 2011 NBA Playoffs, and I'm sure tonight will be no different. We've got two of the best teams in the league with their backs against the wall early, and a battle of up and coming teams that have found success in very different ways. Jump to recap last night's action and look ahead to tonight's matchups.
Knicks fans knew they would have to go without Chauncey Billups for this one after he went down with a knee injury late in game one (MRI scheduled for today), but what they didn't expect was for Amare Stoudemire to leave the game early with back spasms. It was time for Melo to step up, and he responded by putting that team on his back and giving them a chance to win. Carmelo Anthony finished the game with 42pts 17reb 6ast and 2blk, but unfortunately for Spike Lee that wasn't enough to take down the deeper and much more experienced Celtics. Rondo had a very nice game, but in the final moments it was KG who was the hero. First he called for the ball on the block against Jeffries for the final offensive possession (something he's been criticized for shying away from for much of his career) and pounded it in the paint, rising up and finishing with a hook shot over some very physical D. Then on the other end of the floor he trapped Jeffries with the ball on the baseline and was able to deflect an attempt to pass out of trouble, and dove to the floor to secure the ball and call for a timeout with only a few seconds left.
I think the tone was set for this game when Dwight Howard received the Defensive Player of the Year award before the game. This was was ugly offensively, and Dwight had to play all 48 minutes to help his team grind out the win and even the series. He finished with 33pts (including 15 0f 19 from the line) 19reb, but added to the overall offensive ugliness with seven turnovers. Our old friend Jamal Crawford led the Hawks in scoring with 25, but as usual didn't do much else to fill out the boxscore or make a positive impact on defense. He did hit some very impressive looking long threes to keep them in the game at key moments, but in the end the Magic outlasted the Hawks.
Trail Blazers 89 (0) @ Mavericks101 (2)
This was a close game for three quarters, but the Mavericks came out and shut the door in the fourth. A good game from Dirk, and some hot outside shooting from Peja proved to be too much for the Blazers to handle. It's not fun to see Brandon Roy like this, and I'm hoping he can get back to his old self next season.
DAY 5 PREVIEW
Denver Nuggets (0) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (1)
5:00pm PST | TNT
These are two of my favorite teams to watch right now. I'm a sucker for young, up and coming teams, but this series is making it abundantly clear how different these two up and comers really are. The Nuggets roll nine or ten deep every night, and since they swapped Carmelo for half of the Knicks roster they play like interchangeable pieces, with an absence of ego or hierarchy. Melo was a gravitational force on the court, drawing the ball and the attention of defenders, while leaving the four other Nuggets in orbit – their floor spacing more dependent on their Star (or is he more of a gas giant...) than the offense as a whole. Now they work more like worker ants with a common goal, and it doesn't much matter which of the ants are out on the floor. That's not to say that they don't have players with unique skills and talents, but they don't put those skills and talents above the team.
On the other hand the Thunder have a better collection of talent, but you can see that the team can still be too top heavy. Last game they got 41 and 31 points from Durant and Westbrook respectively, but they only had one other player break double digits in scoring. They definitely have players that can step up, but they will have to find a way to get guys like Harden and Ibaka involved in the offense effectively. I'd expect to see the Thunder try to get different guys some good looks early, then hand the keys to Westbrook and Durant in the fourth.
Memphis Grizzlies (1) @ San Antonio Spurs (0)
5:30 PST | NBATV
If anyone was uncertain about exactly how important Manu Ginobili has been to this team all season, then game one should have given them a pretty good idea. He's been the key to them pushing the ball in transition and getting into the paint on a consistent basis in the half court. I honestly don't know if they'll get out of the first round if he can't get healthy very soon. This is as small as the Spurs have been in recent memory, and the Grizz did a nice job of feeding Randolph and Gasol inside and putting constant pressure on the Spurs interior D. I do expect the Spurs to come out focused and ready to compete because, frankly, I can't imagine Coach Pop letting them get away with anything less, but I was surprised to hear some of the comments from Spurs players that made it sound like they themselves weren't sure if they could win without Manu. Sure, maybe they just understand how serious the situation is, but it almost sounded like they were ready to fold up shop if Manu can't play.
New Orleans Hornets (1) @ Los Angeles Lakers (0)
7:30 PST | TNT
I still expect the Lakers to recover and win the series, but Chris Paul definitely came out and made a statement in game one. About this time last year I was writing about how people were sleeping on CP3 when they were calling Deron Williams the best point guard in the NBA, and with Rose likely to receive the MVP soon this might be a good time for Chris Paul to remind the league just how good he is. Of course the Lakers are still a legit title contender, and have bigger things to worry about than who is better than who. They should come out tonight with their A game. If they were sleeping on the Hornets, game one certainly woke them up. Tonight we will see if Chris Paul will have what it takes to pull of David and Goliath part two.