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Ball Don't Lie

Behind the Box Score, where the playoffs have begun and the Clippers are up one

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Chris Paul, deservedly smug (Getty Images)

Los Angeles Clippers 112, Memphis 91; Los Angeles leads the series, 1-0

It didn’t quite vault them back to the top-ten level we were used to seeing from Los Angeles when they raced out to that stellar first half of the season, and the presence of the offensively-lacking Memphis Grizzlies admittedly did play a part, but it was fun to see the Clippers ramp up their activity and pressure on the defensive end in the second half of this solid Game 1 win.

This attention to detail on that end, mixed with a surprisingly poor defensive first half from Memphis and plenty of run out and delayed transition opportunities for the Clippers in the second half, led to a final 21-point deficit in a game that didn’t really feel like a blowout until late. Blake Griffin (3-9 shooting, six fouls in an injury-plagued performance) continued his dodgy play against the Grizzlies, but Los Angeles’ backcourt dominated Memphis’ Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless even at their most spirited.

In about 50 minutes of combined action, Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe put up 38 points on 14-18 shooting, with eight rebounds, 11 assists, and just two turnovers against the West’s best defensive team. Jamal Crawford nailed a four-point play in the first half (the 38th of his career), Caron Butler hit some opportunistic jumpers, and the Grizzlies just couldn’t score enough points to keep up.

[Related: Nuggets find last-shot hero in win over Warriors]

Clearly familiar with Memphis’s offensive plan, the Clippers appeared to try and initiate mostly isolation play from a team they’ve now beaten five out of the last six times (including playoffs). Sadly, Memphis seemed to have no counter, no plans for when the offense broke down – and while raw rebound totals are often misleading, it should be pointed out that Los Angeles more than doubled-up the Grizzlies on the glass, 47-23. The Clippers put up 112 points, and only dunked once.

Memphis can pass the ball, cause turnovers, and dominate defensively; you know this team isn’t out of anything yet. Still, unless Lionel Hollins can steady his team’s talking on the defensive end (some of the team’s miscues in the first half were just criminal) and find some new wrinkles offensively, the Clippers may have turned a corner in their rivalry with the Grizzlies.

***

Brooklyn 106, Chicago 89; Brooklyn leads the series, 1-0

In their first playoff game in Brooklyn, the Nets shared the ball, made quick decisions offensively, and didn’t overplay on defense against a Chicago Bulls team that would have a tough time scoring 100 points in an empty gym. Deron Williams continued his brilliant post-All-Star break play, looking healthy and spry on his way to 22 points (on 60 percent shooting) and seven assists. Brook Lopez cut and moved his way early in the contest as the Nets built a quick lead, ending his night with 22 in the win. And from the outset reserve guard C.J. Watson (even before lifting a shot) appeared to want to go out of his way to do damage to his former team. The onetime Bull finished with 14 points on 6-8 shooting.

Prior to the game Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau gave lip service to the idea that he wouldn’t want Bulls center Joakim Noah “out there if he's injured,” but this was a typically misleading statement from the Bulls boss. An obviously injured Noah was allowed to start both the first and second halves of the game despite clearly suffering from a plantar fasciitis injury that he shouldn’t have been playing through. Noah “only” played 13 minutes in the loss, but he could barely get up and down the court, and the Bulls organization should be embarrassed for not acting as the bigger, smarter voice in situations like these, once again clearing injured players for action merely because the players want to give it a go. All players want to give it a go. It’s up to the professionals in an organization to say “no.”

Just a dominant performance from Brooklyn in this win, as the Bulls’ awful offensive tendencies (limited ball movement with Noah ineffective, poor skip passing from Nate Robinson, and an inability to get to the free throw line despite constant complaining) allowed the Nets to take advantage on the other end. It’s true that Chicago played defense that wasn’t representative of the team that clawed its way to 45 regular season wins, but it seemed as if the combination of Noah’s frustrated attempts, the presence of a still-out Derrick Rose on the bench, and all those tough misses (against an often porous Nets’ defense) dispirited the squad.

***

New York 85, Boston 78; New York leads the series, 1-0

Nobody does “regression to the mean” like the Boston Celtics, and New York Knicks. Whether it means returning to championship glory (your C’s, Boston) or doing us a favor and making the back page interesting again (dem Knicks), neither team can stray too far from what it was put on earth to do.

[Related: Carmelo Anthony gets help from old friends as Knicks top Celtics]

This is why the 53-49 first half score, in favor of Boston, seemed like something that could barely sustain through 48 minutes. Yes, the Knicks are not all that proficient defensively, and the Celtics fell out of the top five defensively this season for the first time since Kevin Garnett Badfinger’d his way to Boston, but 102 combined first half points just ain’t a Boston/New York game. And because this was a Boston/New York game, both teams regressed in a way that would make Helena Blavatsky proud.

Just 26 second half points for the Boston Celtics, who mixed poor decision-making with tough misses and its typical disinterest and/or inability to pull in offensive rebounds (just four all afternoon). New York was pretty putrid offensively as well, with 36 second half points, but the team took advantage of offensive rebounds, broken plays, and delayed transition attempts to worm its way to the somewhat comfortable win. New York did well to keep the C’s at arm’s length in that second half, and Boston just looked incapable of relying on anything on the offensive end.

A surprising turn, considering how ineffective (and obviously pained) Knicks center Tyson Chandler looked. Not only did Chandler look ill at ease contesting shots in the paint or scrambling from side to side to cover penetrators, but he looked gimpy just running up and down the floor, finishing with zero points and five rebounds (and three fouls) in 20 minutes of action. Every pundit’s go-to talking point, reserve veteran Kenyon Martin, deserved the plaudits. The top overall pick in the 2000 draft came through with 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in just 24 minutes, and figures to only improve as the playoffs drone on and he finds his sea legs.

Boston’s issues run much deeper, which is ironic because their lack of depth destroyed the team’s chances on Saturday.

The Celtic bench, consisting of three guards in Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and Jordan Crawford, failed to make a single field goal. Jeff Green went off for 20 points in the first half on a series of smart drives and opportunistic pull-ups from behind the arc, but Green is a helper, and helpers can’t be counted on to carry a team offensively throughout a game. If you don’t believe me, witness Jeff’s six second half points and Boston’s 26 total second half digits.

Toss in 20 turnovers in a low-possession game, and you have a Boston team that was probably lucky to be even in this one.

This is what the Celtics have to look forward to, though. Carmelo Anthony finished with 36 points and he certainly had his moments, but both Green and Brandon Bass made the man work while inside the arc (both failed to pay attention to him as he roamed for threes, though). Chandler is obviously not himself right now, and the Knicks could watch as their own helpers fade as this series goes on.

None of this is going to matter unless the Celtics find a way to put points on the board consistently, though. Nearly six months and 83 games into their season, though, you wonder if the answer might not be readily available.

***

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"Andre Miller? I played against that guy." (Getty Images)

Denver 97, Golden State 95; Denver leads the series, 1-0

If you only skimmed past the box score on this one, you missed out.

The Warriors and Nuggets weren’t supposed to both finish with fewer than 100 points. The teams weren’t both supposed to shoot under 45 percent, or both shoot under the league average in three-point percentage. Both Golden State and Denver were supposed to top 130 points. A red, white and blue ball was supposed to be used. Jackie Moon was supposed to throw the game-deciding alley-oop to David Thompson. Glen Campbell and Charlie Rich were supposed to sing at halftime.

Those who stood a foot away from their screen were treated to something special. Despite obvious fatigue, some major talkety-talk issues in transition defense, and a batch of missed shots that both teams would like to have back, the Nuggets and Warriors put together a wildly entertaining 48 minutes of play that felt like a stunner of a game even before Andre Miller stunned us all with his game-deciding lay-in with just a second to go in the contest.

It seems like a too-obvious talking point, but Dre Miller really was the story of this game. He managed one airball and at one point decided that his talents were best served posting up Golden State power forward Carl Landry (one of many times Miller decided to hijack one of Denver’s plays), but he also seemed to delight in messing with people (even teammates, as Kosta Koufos found out prior to one first half jump ball) on his way to 28 points in 27 minutes off of the Denver bench.

Good thing, too, because while Wilson Chandler (especially) and Andre Iguodala (typically) played very good half-court defense, scoring was at a premium for the Nuggets. Both Iguodala and Chandler combined to make just 7-20 shots, the former only shot four times in the contest, while Ty Lawson found it hard to worm his way toward daylight against a Golden State interior that impressed defensively.

Andrew Bogut was a revelation in this game. He still could be seen uneasily making his way up and down the court in the contest, but he still managed four blocks, 14 rebounds, three assists and nine points in just 31 minutes of play. Plenty of half-court contests, as well, on the defensive end. Weirdly, both teams seemed ill-prepared for the transition attack from either side on offense, and Denver’s Koufos was particularly bad in the half-court defensively, but that hardly took away from the fun.

David Lee’s injury will take away from the fun. At this early stage we don’t know if he suffered a groin, hip, or quadriceps injury – much less if the malady is a “mere” strain or pull or something more serious. X-Rays were negative following the game, and he’ll have an MRI on Sunday.

What is certain is that Warriors coach Mark Jackson made a point to go to Lee offensively in the second half, and though the All-Star was game, he was forced to leave the contest in the third quarter and did not return. The Warriors are a deep enough team and they can compete without Lee’s production, but the misstep adds to the litany of frustrating and crucial injuries that just seem to be piling up by the dozen in the time since the 2011 NBA lockout.

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