Los Angeles Clippers 82, Memphis Grizzles 72 (Los Angeles wins series, 4-3)
Fatigue was obvious from the outset in this game. Fans are correct to eagerly look forward to Game 7s, because the possibility of a winner take all 48-minute term between two evenly matched teams will always be enticing, but familiarity can breed something more than contempt in these types of battles. It can breed tired legs, lack of innovation, and obscure game-changers.
The Clippers and Grizzlies have played each other 10 times since Jan. 26, and as a result of that (and both teams' aggressive, bruising play) this game was hardly a beauty to behold. Toss in the fact that the squads had finished play just about 36 hours ago in Friday night's Game 6, and the various important parts that were playing through injury, and the whole thing was kind of a letdown.
There were encouraging signs on Los Angeles' end, and not just because the team survives to live another day. The Clippers will be locked into an every-other-day schedule until the space between Games 3 and 4 of their impending series with the San Antonio Spurs gives the Clips' two days "off." Because of this, the group is not going to get much time off to rest Chris Paul's various midsection injuries and Blake Griffin's recovering knee, and the team is going to need the bench to step up.
And, as you and your brood likely saw in Sunday's nationally televised Clippers win, that bench stepped up.
A double-double, leadership and two blocks from Kenyon Martin in about 25 minutes. Nine points on nine shots for Mo Williams, and while that might not seem like much, it's quite the improvement for a player that had missed 31 of 46 shots in the four games leading up to Game 7. Nick Young hit five free throws off the bench and made 2 of 3 3-point attempts. Eric Bledsoe continues to be a stud in limited minutes, and boy howdy is that Reggie Evans irascible.
We'll have more on the Grizzlies on Monday, but it's pretty obvious where this team went wrong — the game wasn't played in the first week of the season. Zach Randolph tried, but he's clearly a shadow of his former self as he still rehabs from a New Year's Day knee injury that more or less ruined his season. Grizzlies fans are probably ruing the deal that sent Greivis Vasquez away to New Orleans earlier this year, especially with his replacement (Gilbert Arenas, 2-8 shooting on the series with one assist) obviously out of the loop and O.J. Mayo struggling to find open looks and connect on bad looks (he missed 10 of 11 shots in this contest) off the pine.
And though the Clippers are banged up, this is probably the best move for those of us wanting to see competitive teams moving forward. This is probably a year in waiting for Memphis, and the Clippers (full of younger players but featuring contributors like Martin and Evans and especially Paul, despite his age, that have to win now) are on the make. Judged by your tweets, you don't enjoy the team's propensity to flop like mad, but the Grizzlies team that beat the Spurs last year doesn't exist, right now. And the Spurs, fully healthy, aren't the same.
It was a fine showing by a crew that knew what it had to do — with Kenyon Martin taking the lead. To show up and battle for a game that started at 10 in the morning, local time, just a day and a half following a tough Game 6? This is impressive stuff.
There are a lot of showy elements to these Clippers, but this was some out and out game. Good to see, ugly though it may have been.
Miami Heat 95, Indiana Pacers 86 (Miami lead series 1-0)
Roy Hibbert stands 7-2, and he was an All-Star this year. He was matched up against a Miami Heat front line that lost Chris Bosh to injury (a possibly severe injury, because abdominal strains take ages to both heal from and overcome), and he managed to contribute 17 points and 11 rebounds in under 29 minutes on Sunday, without turning the ball over.
So why couldn't the Indiana Pacers go to their big man more often, especially in the deciding fourth quarter? Probably because the Miami Heat are really, really good.
The Pacers can adjust, and free one of their clear matchup advantages up for more looks in the low post, but the Heat's brand of sticky defense and aggressive fronting turned Game 1 into a shrug-your-shoulders situation. Not every loss depends on the losing team declining to embrace the obvious, and what clearly works. Sometimes, shock horror, really great teams force really good teams out of their position atop the catbird seat.
Indiana has to play better. We're not excusing them in the slightest, because the group's perimeter-happy approach and refusal to match Miami's intensity in that fourth quarter decided this game. Danny Granger and Paul George were not happy with their offensive contributions (a combined 2-15 from the floor, wow), it tempered their defensive instincts, and in the fourth quarter (when it came time out race out with the stampeding Heat in transition) both players' inaction made those open lanes all the more penetrable for the Heat dashers.
It seems like nitpicking, in the face of the class of the East taking down a third seed in a relatively competitive game, but the Pacers are good. The Pacers are good enough to steal a win or two in Miami at some point in this series, just as much as the Heat are great enough to dismantle Indiana in four straight.
And little bits of let-ups hurt. Indiana, just a little, let up.
Miami? Not so much. LeBron James was an absolute killer, finishing with 32 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, just one turnover and two steals. Also was so dominant defensively that I actually spent dead ball timeouts wondering what he would look like going up against some of the NBA's all-time greats in their respective primes, and how in the hell they would even get a shot off. Yes, James is a prat who has failed two of his teams in the clutch before. But holy cow is this guy great at basketball.
Dwyane Wade (29 points, four assists, ho-hum) is as well, and the Heat's moving parts did well to collapse when they had to. More reps, more familiarity, more frightening things for the NBA — even if this game entered the fourth quarter knotted at 70-70.
The Bosh injury looms large. Your best follows on Twitter are right to point out that, crazily, LeBron James is a better power forward than Chris Bosh is at this point. That's no knock on Bosh, a true All-Star, because James is just that freakish. But as is always the case, it's not about who replaces Bosh, it's about who replaces the replacement for Bosh. So while James might see 32 minutes at the power forward spot for the rest of this series after replacing the starting lineup's ostensible replacement, it's the Mike Millers and Shane Battiers of the Heat's world that have to step up in James' wing absence, and nail shots.
A good luxury to have, either way. Stupid Heat.
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