Thursday, April 21, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Night Five

Western Conference

Memphis Grizzles (8) @ San Antonio Spurs (1)
4/17: Game One--Grizzlies 101, SPURS 98 (1-0, Memphis)
4/20: Game Two--SPURS 93, Grizzlies 87 (Tie, 1-1)

This was another close game in what should not have been a close series. Fortunately for the Spurs faithful, San Antonio came out on top in this one. Though we earlier noted that the Grizzlies won Game One because of their superior front line play, that was not the difference in Game Two. Instead, the X-Factor in last night's game was the man who was absent from Game One entirely: Manu Ginobili (right). San Antonio's shooting guard sat out Sunday afternoon's Game One with an elbow sprain, but he was back in full force last night.  Ginobili had a surprisingly inefficient game last night--5-13 FG, 7-13 FT, and five turnovers. Despite the inefficiency, Manu filled up the stat sheet with seven rebounds, four assists, four steals, and a block. Most impressively, in 34 minutes played Ginobili had a +16 +/- rating, meaning the Spurs outscored the Grizzlies by 16 points while Manu was on the floor. The fact that he could be such a positive force for San Antonio even when shooting poorly suggests that Ginobili could be the key to a Spurs victory in round one.

New Orleans Hornets (7) @ Los Angeles Lakers (2)
4/17: Game One--Hornets 109, LAKERS 100 (1-0, New Orleans)
4/20: Game Two--LAKERS 87, Hornets 78 (Tie, 1-1)
In Game One, Kobe went off for 34 points (13-26 FG), four rebounds, and five assists all by himself. Last night, though, he and Pau Gasol couldn't even combine for those numbers. In the second consecutive subpar game for Gasol, the Lakers ground out a nine-point victory largely without help from their superstars. The pair shot only 25% from the floor, grabbed only one defensive rebound on 42 New Orleans misses, and turned the ball over as many times as they hit field goals (five).  The Lakers only won by controlling the ball--four more offensive rebounds and three fewer turnovers--and forcing the Hornets to shoot 39.1% from the floor. Though Kobe and Pau combined to score 43.5% of the Lakers' points during the regular season, they scored only 21.8% of all Laker points last night. In addition, they barely reached half of their season-average 15.3 rebounds/game (eight last night) and couldn't even reach half of their 8.0 assists/game (three last night). Given Chris Paul's dominance in Game One and the Lakers' lackluster offense in Game Two, Phil Jackson's squad is lucky to be heading to New Orleans tied. Had the Hornets been able to get more than three players in double-figures scoring last night (last game they had five), they might have been able to take advantage of a rare off night for the number six scorer in NBA history--Kobe Bryant.

Denver Nuggets (5) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (4)
4/17: Game One--THUNDER 107, Nuggets 103 (1-0, Oklahoma City)
4/20: Game Two--THUNDER 106, Nuggets 89 (2-0 Oklahoma City)
 Harden had seven points in the final three minutes 
of the first quarter, helping set the tone for OKC
If you had tuned in late and missed the first quarter of last night's game in Oklahoma City, you might have thought it was a pretty close affair. In fact, in no quarter did either team outscore the other by more than two points--after the first period, that is. In quarters two through four, the Thunder scored one more point than the Nuggets. In the first period, though, the Thunder outscored Denver by 16; they even led by as much as 22 early in the second, until a 12-2 Nuggets run made it a 12-point game. From then on, the teams stayed between 10 and 19 points apart; the Thunder never truly put the Nuggets away but Denver never really threatened either. The real difference in the game was the first quarter, after which Oklahoma City had a 31-15 lead. What happened in the first quarter that enabled the Thunder to take such a commanding lead? In short, they shot the ball a heckuva lot better than the Nuggets. While Oklahoma City shot 50% from the floor in the first (10-20), the Nuggets could only manage a 5-16 (31.3%) clip. At the same time, Denver shot 4-6 from the line in the opening period while the Thunder went 9-9. Denver just missed too many shots and gave the Thunder too many free throws to keep the game competitive early. Though the Nuggets got strong play from Ty Lawson most of the night (20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists), the Thunder's scoring was too balanced: they had five players in double-figures and two over the twenty-point mark. Who led the way for Oklahoma City? Why, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, of course. Same old, same old.

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