Two more conference semifinal games in the NBA Playoffs on Tuesday night. After an exciting night on Monday night, and seeing one team save it’s self from elimination, will we see the same thing happen again tonight? We’ve got a preview for both match ups here. You can check them out below. Previews courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
Washington Wizards @ Indiana Pacers
Tip off @ 5:00 p.m. MST
Pacers lead series 3-1
Suddenly, Indiana has regained its swagger.
Roy Hibbert is smiling and confident. Paul George is posting double-doubles and confounding Washington’s guards. The defense is contesting shots and forcing the Wizards into mistakes, and even when things don’t go right, the Pacers still find ways to win.
They haven’t played like this in months, but the timing couldn’t be better. Win Tuesday against Washington and the rejuvenated Pacers will make a second straight trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
”It has been a while,” coach Frank Vogel said of his team’s surge. ”We’ve had a lot of guys, and it’s been well documented, down the stretch they’ve had individual struggles that have impacted the team, the team was in a little bit of a rut.”
Less than two weeks ago, Indiana’s second-half struggles seemed to be headed toward a full-on collapse. As a No. 1 seed, the Pacers trailed the eighth-seeded Atlanta 3-2 in the first-round.
When the Pacers won those last two games to get the past Atlanta, there was no respite. Indiana gave away home-court advantage with an inexplicably poor Game 1 loss. There was speculation about Vogel’s job security, talk of the necessity of benching Hibbert and perhaps trading the All-Star center in the offseason, and why Larry Bird‘s midseason moves messed up the team chemistry.
Indiana has responded over the past week by playing its best basketball in at least two months.
The Pacers have won six of eight, three straight in this series, three straight on the road and with a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven series find themselves right where everyone expected at the start of the season on the verge of reaching the conference finals.
”We’ve got to respond. We’ve got to step up now,” said Wizards coach and Indy native Randy Wittman. ”All of us got to come out with the mindset that this is going to be, not only from an individual standpoint but from a team standpoint, this is going to be our best game that we’re going to play in this series.”
That’s not going to be easy.
On Sunday night, the Wizards blew a 19-point second-half lead, missed their final eight shots and wound up losing by three. The Wizards best player, John Wall, is shooting 31.4 percent from the field and is 1 of 11 on 3-pointers in this series. He’s had 12 turnovers in the last two losses, too.
”He’s just got to keep on fighting through it and the main thing is keeping his confidence and staying aggressive in what he’s doing out on the floor. That’s who he is,” Wittman said. ”You can’t all of a sudden become someone else.”
Hibbert sure has.
After starting the series with a zero-point, zero-rebound game, he’s rebounded with 19.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in the last three games, which has made a huge difference.
Teammates are getting better looks because of Hibbert’s post presence on offense, and the rim protecting Hibbert has helped the Pacers defense limit Washington to a 79-point average over the last three games. He knows the Pacers can’t afford to stop now.
”We can’t relax. I don’t know what the statistics are, but we don’t want to be one of those (teams that blows a 3-1 lead),” he said. ”So we’ve got to go out there and play our best game back home. They’re going to give it their all again and hopefully we’ll be ready.”
Indiana’s biggest question might be fatigue. Four of their five starters played at least 39 minutes in Game 4 including George, who logged 46 minutes.
That’s one reason Vogel gave his players Monday off – even with a potentially deciding game looming Tuesday. But after all they’ve been through, Vogel figures his players have earned it.
”It’s been in the back of my mind, but these guys have played in the high 30’s and in the 40’s before,” Vogel said. ”I think they’ll be OK. I think if our guys were all playing 28 or 30 minutes we could probably work in some more practice.”
Los Angeles Clippers @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Tip off @ 7:30 p.m. MST
Series tied 2-2
Kevin Durant says the Clippers are hanging all over him.
Russell Westbrook says they are flopping.
Indeed, Game 5 of a Western Conference semifinal series that already has included 15 individual technical fouls ought to be interesting.
Oklahoma City appeared ready to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series on Sunday, but instead the Thunder squandered a 16-point lead in the final 10 minutes of a 101-99 loss that evened things up at 2-2. Control will be at stake on Tuesday, and the team that keeps its emotions in check could come out with the advantage.
Durant is frustrated with the way the Clippers are defending him. The Clippers had success with the 6-foot point guard Chris Paul guarding the 6-foot-9 Durant at times in the second half on Sunday. Though Durant made 7 of 10 field goals after the break, he also committed seven turnovers. Durant said Paul played him well, but he had a lot of help, some from 6-foot Darren Collison.
”Little guys get up under you, but they’re not just going to play me one-on-one,” Durant said. ”Basically, they’ve got three guys watching me. They’ve got one behind me, so when I caught it, they double-teamed as soon as I caught it. And when they didn’t double team, I scored. People always have something to say about the 1-on-1 matchup, which never happens in this league, especially with me.”
Durant said there’s more than good defense going on.
”Every time I pass the ball, there’s a guy on my arm,” the league MVP said. ”I’m 6-9. There’s no way two six-footers are going to get the ball. You do the math.”
When asked about the chippiness between the teams, Westbrook said the Clippers were creating some of it with their actions.
”There’s a lot of flopping going on, I can tell you that much,” Westbrook said.
The Clippers are not thrilled with some of Oklahoma City’s tactics, either. Thunder forward Serge Ibaka caught Blake Griffin with a shot to the groin in Game 4.
A league spokesman confirmed Monday that Ibaka will not be punished, and a Thunder spokesman said both teams were informed Monday the contact was deemed inadvertent. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who said the league should review Ibaka’s punch, is unhappy with the way Griffin has been treated all season and in this series. The Thunder have left the star forward bloodied more than once.
”It is hard to keep your cool,” Rivers said. ”You’re getting hit – I think at times, illegal hits. I think he’s been taking them all year and he’s been doing a great job of (dealing with) it. I don’t know if anyone has taken more punishment this year than Blake. In my opinion, some of them have been aboveboard and some of them have not been. People keep getting away with it.”
The Thunder need to stay focused and deal with those issues while moving on from the disappointment of Game 4.
”We’ve got to turn the page,” Durant said. ”We gave it away. It’s unfortunate, but we come back home 2-2, and we’re looking forward to playing another game.”
If the Clippers win Tuesday, they will host Game 6 on Thursday with a chance to close out the series.
”At the end of the day, we’re going to start that game (Game 5) off 0-0,” Paul said. ”We’re going into their place. I think we’ve got to bring that same energy and mindset – not the one we started off with – but just understanding that sometimes, you’ve just got to impose your will. Just play hard.”
Durant and Westbrook have been outstanding in the series, but the Thunder have lost when others haven’t produced. In Sunday’s game, Durant scored 40 points and Westbrook added 27, but no other player scored more than 10 points. It was a similar story in the Game 1 loss.
Durant said he needs to keep the ball moving so his teammates can be in better position to be involved.
”They can’t do it on their own, I’ve got to help them,” Durant said. ”I’ve got to do a better job of catching the balls and passing the ball out of double teams better and being stronger with the ball. So it’s not on them.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he is confident that Durant and his teammates will make the right decisions in Game 5.
”They did some double teams that we were out of position on looking back,” Brooks said. ”We have to be able to react quickly off of those double teams, and we will tomorrow night.”
The Clippers’ small lineup helped them outscore the Thunder 38-24 in the fourth quarter Sunday. Rivers isn’t sure how much he’ll use that lineup going forward.
”It’s not something you can bank on, it’s not something you’re going to do full-time or anything like that,” he said. ”They’ve gone small at times as well and been successful. It really is going to be a game time and game situational thing for us. Having those three guards on the floor makes it very difficult to guard us. We know that. But it also puts us in a bind defensively.”