Apr 22, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers bench reacts after Pacers made a three point shot against the Atlanta Hawks in game two during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Playoffs: Thursday Preview


Three more games in the NBA Playoffs on Thursday night. We have previews for all three match ups tonight. Check them all out below. Previews courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

Indiana Pacers @ Atlanta Hawks (SI Link)

Tip Off @ 5:00 p.m. MST

Series tied 1-1

The Indiana Pacers headed south Wednesday, finally carrying themselves with a swagger befitting the No. 1 seed.

Now, they need to prove they’re really back on track – at a place where they haven’t had much success over the years.

The Pacers evened the series against the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks with a dominating third-quarter performance in Game 2, stifling some of the incessant criticism the supposed best team in the East had endured after sleepwalking through the final seven weeks of the regular season and turning in a dismal performance in the playoff opener.

Of course, the condemnation will start up all over again if the Pacers falter in Game 3 on Thursday night.

They’ve got to keep their edge.

”That was my point to them,” coach Frank Vogel said after a practice in Indianapolis, before the team hopped on a 90-minute flight to Atlanta. ”We’ve got to maintain that.”

While a bit down about their most recent showing, the Hawks already accomplished their primary goal of the series – win a game on the road to steal away the home-court advantage.

Besides, this team has endured plenty of adversity in recent years, from a massive overhaul that left Atlanta with almost an entirely new roster to the loss of top player Al Horford with a season-ending injury back in December. The Hawks may have lucked into the playoffs with the worst record of any qualifier (38-44), but they’ve shown plenty of grit and teamwork to make up for their deficiencies.

”Our group has been very, very resilient all year, very tough-minded all year,” rookie coach Mike Budenholzer said after a film session with his players. ”I’ve felt good about this group all year, and I don’t feel any differently now.”

The Hawks did plenty of good things in the first two games, winning the opener rather easily, 101-93, and positioning themselves to pull off another shocker when they built an 11-point lead in the first half Tuesday night.

Suddenly, Indiana took control, outscoring the Hawks 52-27 through the rest of the half to the end of the third quarter, pretty much removing any doubt about the outcome when Paul George hit a long 3-pointer at the buzzer.

”We had to prove our point,” guard Lance Stephenson said.

The Pacers have won only twice at Philips Arena since December 2006, a drought that included a 13-game losing streak stretching for more than six years. But Vogel was quick to point out that Indiana has won two of its last three games in Atlanta, including a series-clinching victory in last year’s playoffs.

”We’ve won three of our last four if you’re counting the preseason,” he added.

Indiana struggled early on in Game 2, trying to get center Roy Hibbert more involved in the offense. When that didn’t work, the Pacers turned to more familiar weapons.

George scored 27 points, knocking down five 3-pointers. Point guard George Hill sparked the offense with his slashing drives into the lane, scoring 15 points over the final two quarters after going scoreless in the first half. Luis Scola provided a huge spark off the bench, scoring 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting, most of them jumpers in the 18- to 21-foot range.

”He hit a lot of shots,” Budenholzer said. ”Credit to him. Now the challenge for us is to make those shots harder and more difficult and more challenged.”

The Hawks also have to figure out a way to get their point guard, Jeff Teague, to play more like he did in Game 1 (a career playoff-high 28 points) than he did in Game 2 (14 points, just two coming in the second half). The 6-foot-9 George switched over to cover the quicker player and did a marvelous job, limiting the penetration that allows Teague to set up good looks from the outside.

Atlanta went 10 of 29 beyond the arc, missing 11 in a row in one stretch as the Pacers seized control.

”Paul George is a very good defender no matter who he guards,” Budenholzer said. ”He’s going to have an impact on the game.”

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Memphis Grizzlies (SI Link)

Tip Off @ 6:00 p.m. MST

Series tied 1-1

The Grizzlies are happy to be back in Memphis, where they finished the regular season by winning a franchise-record 14 straight games.

They brought home-court advantage with them.

To guard Mike Conley, that ratchets up the pressure even more. It’s time for the Grizzlies to protect the place they call the Grindhouse.

”It’s going to be tough against a team that’s played so well, especially on the road,” Conley said Wednesday of the Thunder. ”But we’re happy with our position, I can tell you that much.”

The Grizzlies evened this first-round Western Conference series by winning 111-105 in overtime at Oklahoma City on Monday. Being the visitor Thursday night in a hostile arena for Game 3 isn’t a concern for the Thunder, who went 25-16 away from Oklahoma City for the NBA’s second-best road record in the regular season.

”Everybody’s going to be there. They’re going to have T-shirts. They’re going to be swinging towels,” Kevin Durant said. ”It’s the playoffs. It’s going to be hostile, but we’ve been there before.”

Yes, the Thunder certainly have. But they have exactly one win in five previous postseason games in Memphis, and they needed three overtimes to pull that out in the 2011 conference semifinals. Memphis took both matchups in last year’s semifinals en route to winning the series in five.

Memphis went 5-2 at home in the 2013 playoffs, when San Antonio, in the conference finals, was the only visitor to win.

Tony Allen, who has made Durant work so much harder for his points in this series, said the Grizzlies can’t become complacent knowing they’ll have a loud crowd at the FedExForum.

”We got to understand it’s one game at a time,” Allen said. ”It’s the playoffs. Each game counts. Each possession counts. We can’t get caught up in that.”

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger also has cautioned his team not to simply assume being home will make everything work. That 14-game winning streak that helped them reach the playoffs as the seventh seed also is meaningless. Joerger said it’s time to start over now, and the team that sets the tone for its style quickest has won each of the first two games.

Oklahoma City ran all over Memphis in winning the opener 100-86 in a game that was only that close because the Grizzlies had a big third quarter. The Grizzlies slowed the Thunder down from the opening tip Monday night in leading by as many as 10, even if they needed overtime after Durant’s amazing four-point play off his 3 falling out of bounds.

”Our team is a team that can’t play too far from behind because we play a certain style of basketball, and it’s tough,” Grizzlies forward Mike Miller said. ”Our starts are big for us. They do have some pressure. They have some expectations.”

The Thunder practiced Wednesday in Oklahoma City before traveling to Memphis.

Coach Scott Brooks wants the Thunder to keep Conley and backup guard Beno Udrih in front of them. Udrih had 14 points in 14 minutes, giving Conley plenty of rest in his first extended action since being claimed off waivers in February.

Brooks also wants to make sure Memphis’ big men work for what they get. Zach Randolph scored 25 points Monday, hitting 10 of his 20 shots. Offensively, Oklahoma City wants to screen better to keep Allen away from Durant as much as possible.

”If we don’t have good setups and good screens, it’s going to bog down and it’s going to be tough shots at the end of the shot clock,” Brooks said.

Of course, that’s exactly what the Grizzlies want to slow down the Thunder.

”We just keep slogging along and we feel always that if we get you in a possession game, we feel like that over the course of 48 minutes that we can grind you down,” Joerger said.

Los Angeles Clippers @ Golden State Warriors (SI Link)

Tip Off @ 8:30 p.m. MST

Series tied 1-1

Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson sat on the scorer’s table at Oracle Arena on Wednesday morning. He gazed around the building and tried to envision what it will look and sound like when the Warriors host the Los Angeles Clippers for Game 3 of their first-round playoff series Thursday night.

A gold-shirt wearing sellout crowd of 19,596. Roars so loud that, at times, they drown out whistles. The sights and sounds all embodying the spirit of the team’s postseason motto: ”Loud. Proud. Warriors.”

”It’s going to be a great environment,” Jackson said. ”But with that being said, they won’t get a stop, they won’t get a score, they won’t make a free throw. We’ve got to do our part.”

The Warriors will indeed need to regain more than their homecourt prowess if they want to pull off another upset in the first round of the playoffs.

They need to rediscover their game.

Blake Griffin and the Clippers crushed Golden State 138-98 in Los Angeles on Monday night to even the best-of-seven series at a game apiece. The third-seeded Clippers showed just why most had picked them to beat the sixth-seeded Warriors, coming back from a foul-filled opener with an all-around game that would’ve worked in any venue.

In Game 1, Griffin had 16 points and three rebounds in 19 minutes before he fouled out. The All-Star forward regrouped to score a career playoff-high 35 points in Game 2. He shot 13 of 17 from the floor, made 9 of 10 free throws and grabbed six rebounds – doing it all in just 30 minutes.

The Clippers forced 26 turnovers, shutdown streaky shooting Stephen Curry most of the game and took advantage of the absence of Warriors center Andrew Bogut – who is out indefinitely with a fractured right rib.

”We realized that if we played our game and do the things that we worked on we’d be successful,” Griffin said. ”We play well when we’re just playing free, so we’re just going to try and achieve that.”

Whether the Clippers can duplicate that performance on the road is another matter.

For all the success Los Angeles has had in recent seasons, the twice-reigning Pacific Division champions have struggled at Oracle Arena. The Clippers have lost 15 of their last 17 games in Oakland, including the last five meetings. And they have never played at Golden State in the playoffs, when the crowd often reaches even higher decibels.

”It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be exciting. I think every basketball player loves playing in an environment like that,” Griffin said. ”We’ve played in places that are pretty loud before, especially in the playoffs. I’ve heard good things about the crowd and we’re looking forward to it. Absolutely.”

Of course, home court has not always been an advantage for the Warriors this season.

The Warriors went 27-14 at home, including 2-0 against the Clippers, but they had several head-scratching setbacks in Oakland. That included home losses to lesser teams such as Denver (twice), Cleveland, Minnesota, New York, Washington and Charlotte.

Golden State has taken advantage of its home court its last two trips to the playoffs. The Warriors are a combined 6-0 at Oracle Arena in the first round in 2007 against Dallas and last season against Denver.

”Hearing the roar of the crowd making a big play, it gets you hyped, it gets you feeling good,” Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson said. ”It definitely won’t hurt being home.”

Game 4 and Game 6, if necessary, also will be in Oakland – where the Warriors promise to make things tougher for the Clippers than they ever did in Game 2.

”We’re not going to quit. We’re not going to just lie down and allow a team to do what they want against us,” Curry said. ”We’re going to be physical, come back and it’s about that competitive fire for Game 3 that we’re going to need to get it done to protect our home court.”

Be sure to check back with Purple and Blues tomorrow as we recap tonight’s match ups in the NBA Playoffs, and we also preview Friday’s games. 

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