So far, the conference semifinals have been interesting, but not nearly as exciting as the first round. On Monday night, two more games in the NBA Playoffs, and one of those games has the potential to be the final game of the series. We’ve got a preview for both games that you can find below. Previews courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
Miami Heat @ Brooklyn Nets
Tip off @ 6:00 p.m. MST
Heat lead series 2-1
Paul Pierce called the Miami Heat a juggernaut. He insisted they are still the team to beat.
So yes, the Brooklyn Nets have plenty of respect for the two-time defending NBA champions – and no fear.
Pierce made that clear again Sunday, a day after the Nets’ Game 3 rout that cut Miami’s lead to 2-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Brooklyn will try to even the series at home Monday night.
”You’ve got to have that type of mental ego against a juggernaut. You go against the best, a lot of series are won on fear factor, like, or non-belief. When you have that non-belief, then you have no chance,” Pierce said after practice.
”What I try to do in this locker room, or with my teammates, is just try to give them belief that we can beat this team. They’re not unbeatable.”
The Heat had been in these playoffs until the Nets’ 104-90 victory on Saturday night. Miami hadn’t even faced a fourth-quarter deficit, but was out of the game long before then after Brooklyn dominated the third quarter to build a huge lead.
”The defeat was complete,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”It was both sides of the basketball.
”It was like trying to plug in holes in a leaking dam. There was so many things that were not in our favor really on both ends of the court.”
The Nets made 15 of 25 3-point attempts, outrebounded Miami 43-27, and limited LeBron James to two baskets over the final three quarters after he had 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first.
Brooklyn swept the regular-season series, though none of the games was anywhere near as easy as Game 3. Yet the four victories gave the Nets a confidence against the Heat that some other opponents may not have.
”We just had a little success against them during the regular season. We played them well and we feel like we match up well with them,” Nets guard Deron Williams said. ”And if we’re on top of our game, we’re playing defense the way we’re capable of playing, like we did the last game, we put ourselves in a good position to win.”
Pierce did his part after the Nets were routed in Game 1, asking coach Jason Kidd to switch up the defense so he could guard James. And after he and the Nets did such a good job of it over the final three quarters of Game 3, Pierce said the Nets wanted to show the Heat that they weren’t scared of them.
”Why should it be a fear factor?” James said. ”It’s just basketball. We’re not trying to win a war here, it’s just basketball. That’s all it is. We’re all grown men, who cares about who’s fearing who?
”We’ve never been a team that talks. We don’t get into that, and we’ve never been a bulletin board team. We just want to play the game the right way and we give ourselves a good chance to win if we play our type of basketball and last night we didn’t do that.”
Miami had won its previous eight postseason games and followed every loss with a victory last year. To do that in this series, Spoelstra said the Heat would not only need better effort and urgency, but also more attention to the little details.
Pierce is expecting that, as well as in Game 5 back in Miami on Wednesday night. Even though the Heat didn’t look it Saturday, he believes they are just as good as the recent versions that ended his seasons in Boston.
”Definitely. They’re well-seasoned now. They know how to win,” Pierce said. ”They’ve won two championships, there’s nothing they haven’t been through. So the one thing you always hear, it’s kind of a cliche, is never underestimate the heart of a champion, and you know that’s what they have under their belts. So you know, they’re the team to beat.”
San Antonio Spurs @ Portland Trail Blazers
Tip off @ 8:30 p.m. MST
Spurs lead series 3-0
The intensity and focus that has the Spurs rolling 3-0 over Portland in the Western Conference semifinals can be traced to their Game 3 loss to Dallas in the first round.
Vince Carter hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer and the Mavericks went up 2-1. But San Antonio simply was not going to concede the opening round after last season’s disappointing Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat for the NBA title.
”Down 2-1, Dallas really made it a series. They played great basketball – everybody was playing very well on that team and they made it hard on us,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said. ”In Game 7 you have to show up because if you don’t the season’s over. I think we learned from it and so far, we’re playing good.”
Boris Diaw also pointed to the Dallas series, which San Antonio won with a 119-96 victory in the deciding Game 7.
”We had our back against the wall and we had to play good,” he said. ”We’ve been playing the same way since then – so probably a turning point for us.”
On Monday night the Spurs will try to dispatch the Trail Blazers in four games – and hopefully get some rest before the conference finals against the winner of the other semifinal between Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers.
”This is as well as I’ve seen them play all season,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. ”By Game 7 against Dallas, they came out of the gate and they haven’t stopped since then.”
No team has ever lost a seven-game NBA playoff series after going up 3-0.
The Blazers were the last team to take a series to seven games after dropping the first three. Portland rebounded in the first round against Dallas in 2003 but ultimately lost the first-round series’ deciding game.
Parker scored 29 points in San Antonio’s 118-103 Game 3 victory on Saturday night. The Spurs had routed the Blazers 116-92 in the series opener after their grueling series against the Mavericks, then built a 20-point lead and won Game 2, 114-97.
Parker has scored 29 or more points in three of his last four playoff games. He had 20 points in the first half alone in Game 3 against Portland. In the 119-96 Game 7 victory over the Mavericks, he poured in 32.
The Spurs have managed to slow down Portland All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, who averaged 29.8 points in the first round against the Houston Rockets.
His absence was noticeable in Saturday night’s loss, with Portland getting just six points from its bench.
”Monday is a new game, and we are confident we are capable of winning,” Lillard said. ”It is also about our pride. We do not want to come out here and get swept. We still believe we can win a game – we have to come out here and play like it.”
Portland advanced to the second round for the first time in 14 years by defeating the Rockets in six games, clinching the series with Lillard’s amazing 3-pointer at the buzzer at home for a 99-98 victory in the deciding game.
The Spurs have a 3-2 series advantage over Portland in the playoffs, sweeping the previous meeting in the 1999 conference finals. The teams split the regular-season series 2-2.
”We’d love to close this thing out,” San Antonio’s Tim Duncan said. ”We’ve had pretty decent control of it throughout and we want to finish it the right way and get some rest.”