Two more conference semifinal games on tap during the NBA Playoffs on Wednesday night. We’ve got a quick preview for both games that you can catch below. Previews courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
Washington Wizards @ Indiana Pacers
Tip off @ 5:00 p.m. MST
Wizards lead series 1-0
Recap from last game
Roy Hibbert‘s disappearing act is wearing thin in Indianapolis.
Pacers fans are so angry, they want him benched or traded. Critics have made Hibbert the target of jokes. Teammates are desperately trying to coax their All-Star center out of his funk, and even ultra-positive coach Frank Vogel knows it’s time for Hibbert to start playing big.
The Pacers need it now, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, more than ever.
”We tell Roy all the time how much we’re going to need him in this series and this playoff run,” Paul George said Tuesday. ”You know it’s up to Roy to just come through and deliver for us.”
Lately, the 7-foot-2, 290-pound veteran hasn’t been able to do much.
In the seven-game series against Atlanta, Hibbert averaged 5.3 points and 3.7 rebounds and shot just 37.2 percent from the field. His minutes dwindled from 30 in Game 1 to 12 1/2 in Game 6. The runner-up for the league’s defensive player of the year award didn’t even have a block until Game 4. And for the first time in his playoff career, he finished Game 6 with no points and no rebounds.
Somehow, the Pacers still managed to tie the series, and in Game 7, the old Hibbert returned with 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks as the Pacers beat Atlanta 92-80. That performance brought back the cheers and rekindled hope that Hibbert had finally exorcised his demons.
Monday night’s poor performance against Washington showed everyone that Game 7 was merely an anomaly.
Again, Hibbert got into early foul trouble against the Wizards, missed his only two shots, and got pushed around by the smaller Marcin Gortat. He finished with no points and no rebounds in a 102-96 Game 1 loss and afterward was pulled aside by some of his teammates. On Tuesday, Hibbert promised to be more effective Wednesday night.
”I’ll just try to be a little more aggressive on both ends and just not be content with letting their guards and forwards get defensive rebounds,” Hibbert said. ”I’ve got to do a good job putting a body on Nene and Gortat, so I’m just going to go out there and pursue.”
Nobody, including Hibbert, has been able to pinpoint the problem, though it’s not the first time he has endured something like this.
After Indiana matched Portland’s four-year, $58 million offer in the summer of 2012, Hibbert had an abysmal first half of the season. As the struggles wore on, Pacers fans increasingly questioned whether the team made the right move. Some even linked the big contract to Hibbert’s struggles, suggesting Indiana’s biggest player cared more about getting his money than winning a title.
The truth was Hibbert cared too much about living up to the price tag and eventually got caught thinking too much on the court rather than just reacting to the game.
Now it seems to be happening all over again.
”Roy’s just got to clear his mind, demand the ball in the paint and get the ball where he wants it in the paint,” George said. ”You know when he gets to where he’s able to be a threat and he’s able to make a move without putting the ball on the ground, it’s going in almost every time.”
Of course, the Wizards figured out how to prevent that in Game 1.
Gortat finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds on a night the Wizards held a commanding 53-36 advantage on the glass and a 19-5 edge in second-chance points.
”We try to make sure none of their bigs are going to catch the ball in the paint easily, try to make their life a little bit harder and miserable,” Gortat said.
Hibbert’s job is to find a way to change that, and teammates and coaches are convinced he will.
”I think mentally he wants to do more,” Vogel said. ”He’s giving maximum effort, and he’s going to continue to study (film) to see how he can be more productive.
”If Roy Hibbert is on the court,” Vogel added, ”it’s because I think he can help us win the next possession in that stretch of that game and help us win that game.”
Los Angeles Clippers @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Tip off @ 7:30 p.m. MST
Clippers lead series 1-0
Recap from last game
Chris Paul is usually about assists – he led the league in that category this season, and his popular television commercials focus on them.
He helped his team in a surprisingly different way Monday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. The point guard made eight 3-pointers against the Oklahoma City Thunder – three more than he had ever made in an NBA game – to help the Clippers win 122-105.
Paul, who only missed one 3-pointer and finished with 32 points, said fans should not expect a similar explosion in Game 2 on Wednesday night.
”The next game, I might have 12 points, 10 points, maybe not even that many,” he said Tuesday. ”I think I’m one of those people – whatever it takes to win. I don’t care. I’m never going to lead the league in scoring or anything like that. It’s just whatever to try to win.”
Paul, who finished seventh in the MVP voting despite missing nearly one-quarter of the season with a shoulder injury, has been a capable scorer throughout his career. He averaged 19.1 points this season, and has averaged 18.6 points over his nine NBA seasons. Clippers forward Blake Griffin believes Paul could be even more of a scorer.
”A night like last night shows what he can do offensively,” Griffin said. ”There’s dialogue sometimes for him to get more aggressive like he was last night because he can do that almost every game. We tell him to be aggressive, but his whole thing is getting other guys the ball.”
Paul’s shooting leaves the Thunder with an unexpected problem. The Clippers have plenty of offensive weapons – Griffin, who finished third in the MVP balloting, and Jamal Crawford, the league’s Sixth Man of the Year, immediately come to mind. Add perimeter players Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick and Darren Collison, the inside game of DeAndre Jordan and Paul as a more assertive threat from the outside, and the Clippers might be more dangerous than the team that led the NBA in scoring during the regular season.
”When he’s hitting 3s like that, it’s tough,” Thunder forward Nick Collison said of Paul. ”We can definitely make it more difficult on him than we did (Monday). I think that’s where our focus is going to be, is how can we defend better?”
Paul scored 17 points and made five 3-pointers in the final 6:21 of the first quarter in Game 1, matching his career high for 3-pointers in a game in the first 12 minutes. By the end of the barrage, the Clippers had turned a 16-13 deficit into a 39-25 lead.
”When a guy hits five or six 3s in a row, you don’t want to give him some more, and that is when they started to get some stuff in the paint,” said Thunder forward Kevin Durant, who was named MVP on Tuesday.
Overall, the Clippers made 15 of 29 3-point attempts.
”The effort was there,” Durant said. ”We had good intentions, but they got hot. We have got to correct it. We have to make them miss next game and be a little bit more physical.”
Paul said his shots came from good ball movement and good screens.
”It wasn’t like I was making unbelievable shots, it was because the court was open,” he said. ”When I had two defenders I gave it to Blake, and that’s what put so much pressure on the defense because BG (Griffin) is such a great passer.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said teamwork was the key to the offense’s success Monday night. Los Angeles shot 55 percent and committed just nine turnovers.
”The ball didn’t stick,” he said. ”The ball moved. Everything was quick. Quick decisions, quick drives, quick shots. There was not a lot of hesitation. If we play like that, we’ll be good.”
Though it was a good start, the Clippers say there’s a long way to go if they are to reach the Western Conference finals for the first time.
”You don’t read too much into it because it’s still Game 1 of the series,” Rivers said. ”With us, I don’t think you can get too high or too low. You’ve just got to keep coming out and playing. You might get those same shots tomorrow and they not go in.”