April 26, 2011
It was the meme immediately following, the starter on everyone's breath on into the night, and the sting that hurt as morning revealed itself. Russell Westbrook(notes) just shot the Oklahoma City Thunder out of a first round sweep of the Nuggets. And we'd write that even if we hadn't seen the final two minutes of Westbrook chucking it up there as he, well, shot the Thunder out of a first round sweep of the Nuggets.
This was a game-long thing, for Westbrook, as he dominated the ball and made terrible decisions offensively. RW can put up 30 shots, I don't mind even if that means Kevin Durant(notes) takes half as many. His offensive potential is good enough to ignore Durant in that way.
But Westbrook has to manage it properly, and that just wasn't happening in Game 4. Too many bouncy-bouncy dribbles that allowed Denver to load up on his fakes and half-hearted attempts at driving. His pull-ups weren't working, his misses led to running and/or cross-matches for the Nuggets on the other end, and he's got a lot of making up to do after a regular season that routinely offered play along these lines.
Three cheers for the Nuggies, though, as they listened to their coach and took chances early in possessions. They weren't always the best decisions -- decisions will never go along those lines when you pile them up by the dozen and peel them off so quickly -- but Denver did make a point to get past whoever was directly in front of them with a drive or pass. And as the defense collapses and bodies start to move, good shots open up. Suddenly the corner three is open, Nene is getting to the line, or the front of the rim is ready to be terrorized by a tiny guard.
Like, say, Ty Lawson(notes). The Nuggets point man had 27 points and just one turnover despite going all-out for 36 minutes. Nobody had more than one turnover for Denver, who nearly halved Oklahoma City's miscue total (15) with eight turns in a fast, 94-possession contest. That was the killer. The Thunder could go on a mini-run, but Denver would hold its own on the offensive end, and OKC (usually led by Westbrook, who missed 18 of 30 shots) would fail to do so on their end.
At least one more game of THUNDERNUGGETS. I'm cool with that.
We know the Spurs have taken a step back on defense this season, but for the Grizzlies to put up nearly 120 points per 100 possessions in a crucial playoff game against San Antonio speaks loudly enough that you'd kindly ask the speaker in question to take it down a notch.
Memphis seemed to get whatever it wanted in the third quarter, starting most of its offense on defense but also showcasing good spacing as the Grizz took it to the team with the West's best record. Memphis doubled San Antonio up during that turn with a 30-15 advantage, and the Spurs just had no answer.
San Antonio could square itself for good looks at the rim, both inside and out, but no combination seemed to work for Gregg Popovich. The team's offensive futility (missing 13 of 18 three-pointers, getting to the line only 14 times) was led by a 19 percent turnover ratio, which meant that the Spurs turned the ball over nearly once for every five times they got the ball. In a crucial Game 4 against a team from Memphis, mind you.
Everyone contributed for the Grizzlies. Because the team was forcing so many turnovers and missed long jumpers, the Grizz worked well in transition, which allowed sparkplugs (to say the very least -- these guys are sparkplugs fitted around a V-12 engine) like Tony Allen(notes) and Darrell Arthur(notes) to lay-in their way to double-figure points. Somehow, Greivis Vasquez(notes) actually ran the show off the Grizzlies bench without hurting his team, Mike Conley(notes) scored 15 points on 15 shots but seemed to have an offensive answer whenever it was needed, and Marc Gasol's(notes) touch was put to good use on broken plays.
Lucky looks? The Grizzlies had a few. The team was playing careless basketball at times in a good way, inspired by that home crowd. Does that sustain in a desperate Game 5 that will take place in San Antonio, with all the pressure suddenly on the favored Grizzlies to close out? I don't think anyone should anticipate that, at this point, as we could see a blowout.
And we can't count the Spurs out , in spite of the rough odds. What we can do is praise Memphis' drive, and attention to detail in this win. It's easy to get lost while up in the air, when out of control and with no place to go outside of firing something at the rim. But this team, for all of its pell-mell plays, concentrated and earned that win. Not unlike the way the Spurs used to do it. Fancy that.
This series has been full of home wins, teams doing what they're supposed to do as they guard the familiar floor and hang on (or come back) for wins whilst wearing the whites. Sometimes that makes for a dull back-and-forth. How would you classify this one?
Because while Dallas had Portland at arm's length for most of the night (the Blazers staged a mini-rally in the final three minutes to make the score look closer than the game was), it's still fun to run your best George Peppard impersonation and watch a plan come together. It's nice to see Dallas play well, even if the results while at home are to be expected.
And, as the highlights and recaps have documented, Tyson Chandler(notes) was the driving force. He wasn't swatting a ton of shots (in what was a surprise to me, Chandler registered zero blocks) or dunking all over the place, but he was in his usual role of setting perfect and somewhat-legal screens on offense while chasing all manner of Blazer down from behind on defense. He was fantastic, with 20 rebounds overall, and his completely re-worked free throw stroke allowed him to hit 8-12 needed freebies from the stripe.
The Blazer bench was terrible. Brandon Roy(notes) looked to have good separation a few times on his jumpers, indicating that maybe this wasn't an off night for that knee, but he missed five of seven shots. Nic Batum's contributions all came in the form of long two-point jumpers, and Rudy Fernandez(notes) wasn't putting anyone over the top. Portland needed something on a night that saw LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) take 15 shots to score 12 points, and it just wasn't happening.
Also, because Dallas and Chandler did well to take Portland out of its initial sets, the Blazers badly need to go against type and start to initiate plays earlier in the shot clock.
Back to Portland, for Game 6. The Blazers will probably win, and we'll probably enjoy watching it.