Tuesday, April 26, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Night Ten

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)
4/23: Game Three--GRIZZLIES 91, Spurs 88 (2-1, Memphis)
4/25: Game Four--GRIZZLIES 104, Spurs 86 (3-1, Memphis)

Only three times before (1994 Denver Nuggets, 1999 New York Knicks, and 2007 Golden State Warriors) has an 8-seed won its first round series against the top-seed. With last night's win on their home floor, the Memphis Grizzlies are one win away from joining that group and upsetting the West-best San Antonio Spurs. They are not some upstart #1 seed, like the Chicago Bulls in the East. These are the Tim Duncan, Tony Parker (see right), and Manu Ginobili Spurs--the four-time NBA champion Spurs. Yet somehow the Grizzlies--who had never won a playoff game in franchise history before this postseason--are on the verge of sending them packing early. How did this happen. Though many factors enter into the collapse of such a heavy favorite, the primary cause of the Spurs' troubles this time around is the lackluster play of their future Hall of Famer, Tim Duncan. In his illustrious career before this postseason, Duncan averaged 23 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. In the 2011 playoffs, though, "The Big Fundamental" is being held to 12.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. The low scoring output is particularly troubling for the Spurs, as it has forced point guard Tony Parker to shoulder more of the scoring burden. As a result, his efficiency has plummeted, and Parker committed seven turnovers in Game Four alone. In the first two Grizzlies' victories, strong play from their front line was the key to victory. Perhaps the issue is not how well the Grizzlies big men are playing, but how poorly the Spurs' big star has performed.

Hit the jump for the rest of the night's action!

Portland Trailblazers (6) @ Dallas Mavericks (3)
4/16: Game One--MAVERICKS 89, Trailblazers 81 (1-0, Dallas)
4/19: Game Two--MAVERICKS 101, Trailblazers 89 (2-0, Dallas)
4/21: Game Three--TRAILBLAZERS 97, Mavericks 92 (2-1, Dallas)
4/23: Game Four--TRAILBLAZERS 84, Mavericks 82 (Tie, 2-2)
4/25: Game Five--MAVERICKS 92, Trailblazers 83 (3-1, Dallas)

For the fifth time in five games of this series so far, the home team has emerged victorious. That puts the Mavericks within a win of moving on to the Western Conference Semifinals--with one game still remaining on their home floor. The home court trend is a dangerous one for Portland because they cannot win this series without taking a game in Dallas. So far, they have seemed unable to even challenge the Mavericks at the American Airlines Center, losing by an average of 9.7 points in three games. Last night's contest saw major contributions from several Dallas players, suggesting they possess a depth and a balance that will be too much for Portland to overcome. Jason Kidd, for example, had 14 assists and seven rebounds despite a poor shooting night from the floor. Tyson Chandler also came up big for Dallas, scoring 14 points on only four field goal attempts, all while pulling down 20 rebounds--13 on the offensive end! He led the Mavericks to an offensive rebound advantage of 11 on the night, creating 11 more possessions for Dallas scorers like Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry. That pair took advantage, scoring 45 points while hitting 12 of 14 free throw attempts. On Portland's side, their Game Four hero, Brandon Roy, was once again limited to single digits in scoring, and he ended up with a -18 +/- rating. Though the Trailblazers still have a chance to pull out the upset, a repeat performance of last night--and it could all be over very quickly for Portland.

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)
4/23: Game Three--Thunder 97, NUGGETS 94 (3-0, Oklahoma City)
4/25: Game Four--NUGGETS 104, Thunder 101 (3-1, Oklahoma City)

Ty Lawson took it to the Thunder all night last
night for Denver's first win of the series
In Game Three, the Thunder's superstars were able to overcome a balanced scoring performance from the Nuggets because nobody stepped up to carry the load for Denver. In Game Four, the Nuggets had balanced scoring yet again, but Ty Lawson (see right) had a breakout performance to keep Denver alive in the series. George Karl's squad staved off elimination by getting six players in double-digits scoring. The most important player for them, though, was Lawson, who we said last month was the key to most of the Nuggets' post-Carmelo success. In Game Four, he poured in 27 points on 8-16 shooting from the floor and a perfect 9-9 from the line. In their three losses this series, the Nuggets never had a player score more than 22 points in a game--and no one scored more than 15 in the Game Three loss at home. Last night, Lawson become the first Nugget to have a truly superb scoring performance in this series, and his team won as a result. The Thunder got over 20 points from three players (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka), but only one other player had more than five (James Harden, with 10). This means that the six other players who saw action combined for only 16 points, placing the scoring burden for Oklahoma City on the backs of only a few. At home this could be a winning strategy (see Game One), and on the road this could be a good strategy if no opposing player has a fantastic game (see Game Three). But such unbalanced scoring is really untenable on the road in the playoffs. Luckily for the Thunder, they have two home games left, and the only need to win one of them.

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