A couple of great games highlighted today’s events, namely the Orlando Magic/Indiana Pacer OT thriller (a blowout that suddenly turned into a tense competition); and the Clips/Grizzlies game later on. The less said about the Jazz/San Antonio and Dallas/OKC games the better, but here we go …
Indiana vs. Orlando
Final Score: 101-99 (Indiana)
Series: 3-1 Indiana
Orlando outscored the Pacers 28-16 and came within inches of claiming a victory over their foes, but, with the score tied at 89-89, Jameer Nelson’s last second fade away jumper clanked off the iron and sent the game into OT. The Magic still put up a ferocious battle. Trailing 95-89, Jason Richardson hit one of his patented long bombs and then Nelson converted an AND-1 that tied the game with 1:35 left on the clock.
But then George Hill took over.
With the game on the line, Hill made a nice jumper to give Indiana a 99-97 edge with only 35 seconds to go. Glen Davis hit a running layup on the other end that again tied the game (and sent Orlando fans into a frenzy), but then Nelson committed a horrible foul on Hill with just two seconds remaining in the game that sent the four year veteran to the free throw line. Hill converted both shots, and then Davis missed the go-ahead bucket as time expired (along with Orlando’s playoff hopes). Magic fans immediately began tweeting how much they looooove Dwight Howard (i don’t care if he’s a preeemaddona – i luv hims, one reportedly said).
This was one of those heart wrenching games in which the underdog tries really, really hard but can’t quite best a much better opponent. The next game should go as follows: Orlando will come out strong, trying to prove they’re still very much trying to win, but then thoughts of big budget vacations will enter their minds and the game will end on a 20-0 Pacers run. (Then we get to watch Chuck and the boys send them fishing! Oh the laughs!)
I’m already looking ahead to Indiana’s match-up against Miami (I’ve been looking since the series started) and wondering whether or not the Pacers’ BIGS can thwart Miami’s. Obviously Granger and Hill wont stand a chance against LBJ (yeah, we use the initials of a former President of the United States to talk about LeBron) and Wade; although I think the Pacers offer more firepower all around in the form of Collison, West, and Hibbert (even Captain Barbosa provides potent offense every now and again). I think Hibbert can dispatch Bosh, so that at least dispatches one of Miami’s weapons; but Indiana’s supporting staff must step up. No one will stop James and Wade from posting 60-70 combined points, but you can stop Battier, Chalmers, and those other OTHER guys.
In truth, the Pacers stand a mighty good chance against Miami provided they win the battle in the paint and keep Hibbert out of foul trouble. Forcing the Heat to take jumpers seems to work … or at least that’s how I beat them in 2K12.
Memphis vs. Clippers
Final Score: 87-86 (Clippers)
Series: 2-1 Clippers
Man o’ man. I expected Memphis to punish Chris Paul and co. this afternoon as payback for the Game 1 fiasco. As such I learned two things: 1) to stop underestimating Chris Paul and 2) how to actually keep stats at a soccer game (where I was for most of the Memphis/Clips contest – did you know stat keepers actually record how long each team holds possession of the ball? And here I thought nobody paid attention to anything happening on a soccer field!) … I still like the Grizz in this series, if only by a narrow margin. The Clips carry a physical edge over their foes, allowing them to score easy buckets in the paint (which LA won 34-20), even if said physical edge gives way to atrocious free throw shooting (just 13-of-30 … is OP on their team).
I think the Grizz are a slower, more organized team that occasionally plays out of its element. They can’t run the fast break against the Clips, nor can they attempt to outscore them – the key for Memphis, methinks, is to slow the game down and force LA’s big guys to go toe to toe with Gasol and Randolph. Organized basketball will help Memphis win this thing – a run n’ gun style of play will have them packing with Orlando.
Dallas vs. OKC
Final Score: 103-97 (OKC)
Series: 4-0 SWEEP! OKC
Wow. Here I thought this series would go the distance. Not a chance as Dirk and co. continued struggling from outside and had no answer for James Harden’s smoldering play (29 points, including three 3-pointers, and five assists). With 10 seconds to go, and Dallas hanging by a 102-97 thread, Harden blew right around Jason Kidd and more or less sealed the deal with an easy layup. Just like that, Dirk’s playoffs were over. In the first round. Less than a year after winning the championship. Seriously, how good would Dallas have been had they kept Barrea, Chandler, and Stevenson? Add a few more guys to the pot and BAM! Dynasty. At least that’s what I thought last year while cheering on the Mavs against Miami.
I guess we’ll find out here shortly whether or not Cuban was off his rocker (we all know he IS off his rocker, but I meant about the whole trading/letting players-from-a-juggernaut-championship-squad walk away thing).
OKC will next meet up with the Lakers (sorry Denver, it’s not happening) in what will likely end up serving as the best match-up this year. Both teams are athletic, both hungry and eager to prove themselves. OKC looked quite grown-up against the thrifty Mavs; and since inexperience was all they lacked the last time they faced LA in the playoffs, perhaps the outcome will shift in a new direction this time.
Utah vs. San Antonio
Final Score: 102-90 (San Antonio)
Series: 3-0 San Antonio
The difference between tonight’s loss vs. Wednesday’s loss was this: the Jazz actually tried tonight. The entire roster played hard, from Harris to Burks, but they lost to a better team. Getting blown-out just means you didn’t show up to play. Taking the lead throughout the contest means you tried, but don’t have what it takes. I’ll take the latter, no matter how frustrating the outcome.
A few notes: Gordy underwhelmed during this series. Even if he bounces back in the Jazz’s final game of the season Monday, it’ll be too little too late. He routinely clanked threes off the rim; missed layups; turned the ball over, etc. That’s cool – he’s still a rookie. I’m curious to see how he would fare in an offense designed more specifically to accommodate an outside shooter; or at the very least an offense that gave him more control of the ball … Harris was sensational tonight. He drove to the bucket like Tony Parker on roids and didn’t hesitate to pull up for the three. The game didn’t fall in his favor, but that’s the way he needs to play each and every night: like a wild beast with no limitations. Hopefully he expands on that skill set next season … Big Al looked a lot more like Lazy Malone tonight: frustrated, tired, bored. At one point it looked like he said, “Screw it. I’m taking 18-foot jump shots from here on out” and put it upon himself to put the Jazz out of their misery. “Hey Big Al, how does it feel to be Utah’s biggest defensive liability?” “Ah man, I just wanna go home and sleep.” I thought Al was terrific this year, and played a pivotal part in securing Utah’s playoff berth, for better or worse. I’m still not sure if he works as a long term commitment. As a player, he provides solid scoring provided the challenge isn’t too tough – the man refuses to play physical ball, and spends far too much time wandering about the floor slowly. I’m not saying dump him entirely, but maybe look for an alternative number-one go-to guy next time … The Spurs are a well-oiled machine. I’m not sure how they’re able to transform mediocre players into bonefide threats so quickly, but they do a bang up job on all parts of the floor. They simply do not miss. At times it felt like they let their guard down a little just to see what Utah would do, but when things got too hot they’d quickly push the lead back up to 10 and then eat up the clock …
What does Utah need to become a legit contender? Our BIGs are good, yes, but none carries the physical presence necessary to contend with the likes of Bynum or Howard; and they’re not quick enough to defend the numerous Chris Boshes and Dirk Nowitzkis currently populating the league. Our outside shooters suck (due I believe to Utah’s offense more than anything), while our PGs provide adequate, but not mind boggling play. Those two first round picks might’ve been just what the doctor ordered (and now we get to watch the T-Wolves and Golden State exploit them this off season), or maybe I’m thinking too simply. Maybe all Utah needs are a few more decent shooters to spread the floor, thus allowing all four of our big guys to SMASH it up down low. We’ll have plenty of time to worry about that, I guess. Man, October sure looks like a looooong ways away.