Three games in the NBA Playoffs on Monday night. We’ve got a quick preview for all three match ups. Check them all out below. Previews courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
Miami Heat @ Charlotte Bobcats (SI Link)
Tip Off @ 5:00 p.m. MST
Heat lead series 3-0
Coach Steve Clifford said if the Charlotte Bobcats hope to avoid a first-round sweep by the Miami Heat and earn their first postseason win in franchise history, they’re going to need someone other than Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker to come through on offense.
The Heat double-teamed Jefferson after he scored 15 points in the first quarter Saturday night and hounded Walker en route to a 98-85 victory in Game 3.
Game 4 is Monday night in Charlotte.
”After the first quarter they were very aggressive sending a second defender at Al and much more aggressive with Kemba,” Clifford said following Sunday’s practice. ”That means there are other opportunities with other guys and we have to take advantage of that.”
While Jefferson and Walker were 12 of 20 from the field, the rest of the Bobcats shot just 33 percent in Game 3.
Starting shooting guard Gerald Henderson and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist combined for just nine points on 3 of 12 shooting. Chris Douglas-Roberts provided a spark off the bench with 17 points, but Gary Neal – brought in for his outside shooting and playoff experience – has struggled with his 3-point shot throughout the postseason.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he viewed Chris Bosh‘s defense on Jefferson in Game 3 as key to the victory.
”In the third quarter, he was outstanding, covering a lot of ground, pick-and-rolls, and really putting a lot more pressure on Jefferson’s catches,” Spoelstra said. ”He either couldn’t catch it in the post, or he really had to work for it and catch it a little bit further out on the court where we could pack our defense and bring some more help.”
The two-time defending champion Heat are right where everyone expected them to be – on the verge of moving on to the second round for the fourth straight season behind LeBron James.
In James’ first two seasons, the Heat bolted to a 3-0 lead in the opening round series, lost Game 4 and then closed out the series in Game 5 at home.
Last year, the Heat wasted no time sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks.
”The closeout game is always the most challenging game, and we’ve been in a few of them,” James said after Sunday’s practice. ”But if we come in with the same mindset we did in Game 3 we will give ourselves a great chance to close out in Game 4.”
James will certainly be a huge part of that effort.
The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player has been nearly unstoppable against the Bobcats this season, averaging 37 points per game in seven meetings – about 10 points above his season average.
After two average performances in the first two games of the series, the Heat began looking like champions on Saturday night.
”We played our type of basketball,” James said.
Now James is looking forward to returning home to Miami to rest his legs.
”Any type of rest you can get in the playoffs is beneficial, but for us it is how we play,” James said. ”It is how we will play on Monday. If we come out with the same mindset or greater, we are going give ourselves a great chance to win.”
The Bobcats said they won’t go that quietly.
Henderson added he views it as ”very important” to not get swept after a year in which the Bobcats went 43-39 in the regular season – a 22-game improvement over the previous year under former coach Mike Dunlap.
”Coach Clifford came in and spoke to us and said, “What’s the rest of our season going to be like? Is it going to be over tomorrow?”’ Henderson said. ”We have had such a great year, more than anything about this team, we have always fought. We have had some amazing games. We’ve never given up on any game and that is the mindset we’re going to take into Monday night.”
Added Walker: ”We are desperate.”
Atlanta Hawks @ Indiana Pacers (SI Link)
Tip Off @ 6:00 p.m. MST
Series tied 2-2
Indiana coach Frank Vogel got tough on his players Saturday, and the Pacers responded with a gritty, series-tying win at Atlanta.
Now comes the hard part: Figuring out how to get this team to play with the same edge for a second straight game, something the Pacers haven’t done in almost two months.
So with the swing game in this best-of-seven series looming, Vogel made a clear effort to get his players’ attention with a short, simple, stark reminder about what the Hawks have already done this month.
”Look, this team won two of the last three games we’ve played in this building and they beat us pretty good,” Vogel said less than 24 hours after Indiana evened the first-round series at 2-2. ”So we have to stay hungry.”
That hasn’t been easy lately.
For months, all the Pacers could talk about was clinching home-court advantage in the playoffs. But after jumping to a 33-8 first-half record, they’ve only reverted to that first-half form when they’ve needed to win big games.
It’s been more than a month since the Pacers’ starters have strung together consecutive wins, a span in which they’ve had to contend with all sorts of questions, rumors and innuendo about what led to their freefall. Critics openly wondered whether this would go down as the worst collapse in NBA history and whether the Pacers would be remembered as the worst No. 1 seed ever.
Through it all, Vogel preached the power of positive thinking.
By Saturday morning’s shoot around, Vogel knew his team needed more than a pat on the back – they needed a jolt out of the blue.
”I was like what? He was barking at everybody, even if you had a decent game,” Lance Stephenson said of Vogel’s shockingly fiery critique. ”I think we needed that.”
But if the top seed in the East is going to chasing its ultimate goal, ending Miami’s three-year run as Eastern Conference champs, they need to do more than play well once in a while or only when their coach steps out of character.
The motivation to get this fixed is obvious. Win Monday night and the Pacers would lead 3-2 and have control of the series for the first time. Lose and they’ll go back to Atlanta, where the Pacers have won only three times since December 2006, facing elimination.
”We can’t be complacent just because we got home-court advantage back,” All-Star starter Paul George said, referring to the fact they gave it away with an embarrassing loss in Game 1. ”We’ve got to put this game and this series away.”
Atlanta, the No. 8 seed, has not allowed the Pacers to do anything of the sort.
Instead, the Hawks have challenged Indiana at every turn with a spread offense and an array of 3-point shooters that has essentially nullified Indiana’s biggest advantage – its size and proficiency in the paint. The mismatches have forced Vogel to go with smaller lineups and prompted the move of George, one of the league’s top wing defenders, to slow down Hawks point guard Jeff Teague.
Indiana has won two of three since making the changes, taking away a golden opportunity for Atlanta to take a 3-1 lead. But the Hawks are confident they can regain their mojo in Indy, where the Pacers have been virtually unbeatable to any team except the Hawks. Atlanta is 2-2 in Indy this season, the only team in the league to beat Indiana on its home court twice.
”We’d all feel better if it was 3-1 and we maintained home-court advantage,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said during a conference call Sunday. ”That’s what you’re playing for and when you go out to compete, that’s your ultimate goal.”
Atlanta did not make its players available Sunday, and Budenholzer did not discuss what changes, if any, he would make Monday night.
The Pacers, meanwhile, see this as an opportunity to reassert themselves and rediscover their winning formula.
”We did talk about how the first team to win two games in a row usually wins the series,” Vogel said. ”We’ve got an opportunity to do that tomorrow night.”
San Antonio Spurs @ Dallas Mavericks (SI Link)
Tip Off @ 7:30 p.m. MST
Mavericks lead series 2-1
It was the 7-foot sharpshooter’s third straight playoff game with less than 20 points, something that hasn’t happened since his first postseason in 2001, also against his rival from South Texas.
Yet, the Mavericks have consecutive wins over the top-seeded Spurs after losing 10 in a row to them, and a 2-1 first-round series lead heading into Game 4 on Monday night in Dallas.
”You take something away, you give something up,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. ”You can’t stop everything. You’ve just got to stop it more than the other team does.”
Popovich and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle are harping on defensive stops after the Mavericks’ 109-108 win Saturday. Carter’s improbable pump-fake 3 with just 1.7 seconds to get off a shot was the ninth straight possession to end with points in the final 1:37. Both teams shot better than 50 percent.
Dallas’ Monta Ellis had seven of his game-high 29 points in that closing stretch, including a floating jumper for a three-point play after he got fouled and a high-arching runner over the outstretched arm of Tim Duncan.
”We stole one,” Nowitzki said. ”We didn’t execute quite as well as we did in the first two, especially the defensive game plan. I think Monta and Vince bailed us out a little bit the last couple of minutes with some great plays.”
Carter’s shot came 10 years after Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Spurs by somehow swishing a desperation toss at the basket with even less time remaining, 0.4 seconds. That Game 5 win was the third of four straight for the Lakers in the second round when San Antonio was the defending NBA champion.
The Spurs are defending their Western Conference title this time, a year after Miami’s Ray Allen hit a tying 3-pointer when San Antonio was 5 seconds away from winning a fifth NBA crown in Game 6. The Heat eventually won that game in overtime before taking the series in Game 7.
”On a tough blow like this one, having been there, having suffered way worse than this, can help,” said Manu Ginobili, who hit a go-ahead layup and was defending Carter on the winning shot. ”Nothing is going to help if we don’t make it help. Things are not going to just change because we were one, they were eight or things like that. We’ve got to go for it and play better.”
Nowitzki isn’t playing poorly. He’s just deferring to teammates because the Spurs won’t leave him open on the 3-point line or give him much room to operate from inside the arc either.
As a result, guards Ellis, Jose Calderon and Devin Harris have taken turns with dominant stretches. And journeyman center Samuel Dalembert offset the first career playoff double-double from San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter with a bundle of energy, not to mention 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
After shooting 33 percent through the first two games, Nowitzki had his series high with 18 points in Game 3 on 7-of-13 shooting with seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
”I think him just being on the floor still makes us better, even when he’s not making shots,” Ellis said. ”Because teams still respect him, he’s still a threat on the floor, so it really still opens up a lot.”
Tony Parker and Duncan did their usual tag-team work to build an early San Antonio lead, combining for 20 of the team’s 34 first-quarter points. Parker had 17 at halftime and six assists, then just two points and no assists after that.
”He looked pretty tired in Game 3,” Harris said. ”Obviously he exerted himself pretty much in the first half but we’ve got to continue to try to make him grind for his points as well as guard us on the other end. And I think so far we’ve done a good job of that.”
Of course, the conversation would be entirely different without Carter’s unlikely 3.
”They’re going to come out and probably hit us with everything,” the 16-year veteran said. ”We can’t get comfortable.”
Be sure to check back with Purple and Blues tomorrow as we recap tonight’s games, and also preview tomorrow night’s match ups. Also, be sure to get your Utah Jazz fix with our “Morning Jazz” segment, where we bring you the best Jazz content from around the web.