Last night in the NBA Playoffs, we seen one game that was really closely contested and came down to the final possession. The other game, however, wasn’t nearly as competitive. After it was all said and done, we wrapped up two more series and the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs return to their respective conference finals. The team that they will face in those conference finals is yet to be determined.
Those two teams that are trying to meet the Heat and Spurs could be decided after tonight. The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Indiana Pacers both look to try and close out their series tonight. The Pacers had a chance to close it out last game at home, but the Wizards came out with a big win to send the series back to the nation’s capital.
As mentioned, the NBA Playoffs are back in action tonight, and we have a Game Preview for both match ups here. Get ready for tonight’s games below. Previews courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
Indiana Pacers @ Washington Wizards
Tip off @ 6:00 p.m. MST
Pacers lead series 3-2
It’s unclear exactly when John Wall got his mojo back. Maybe it started on the plane ride to Indianapolis, when he watched movies and remained unusually quiet while thinking to himself: ”If we lost this series, I’d put it all on my shoulders.”
Maybe it was before the game, when he confessed his frustration to Randy Wittman and was promptly admonished by the coach: ”He was like, “I never want to hear you say that ever again, because I know how confident you are in yourself and I know how competitive you are.”’
Maybe it was when teammate Marcin Gortat, who had also been struggling in the series, pounded Wall on the chest after the starting lineups were announced and offered support ”no matter what.”
One thing is clear: If the Washington Wizards manage the improbable and overcome a 3-1 series deficit against the Indiana Pacers, the turning point will be the moment their All-Star point guard stopped playing like a playoff novice.
”You can get down on yourself pretty easy,” Wall said.
Unable to hit a shot or come through in clutch late-game situations in the first four games, Wall was all over the stat sheet in Tuesday’s Game 5 rout: 27 points, five rebounds, five assists, five turnovers. He and the Wizards stayed alive, but only one-third of the would-be comeback is complete as they return home for Thursday’s Game 6, trailing 3-2 in the series.
To get it done, they’ll need similar efforts from Wall, whom teammates have dubbed the Wizards’ ”head of the snake.”
”For the first time in 102, 103 games that we had this season, I seen this guy that didn’t want to talk to anybody,” Gortat said. ”He didn’t want to interact with anybody. He didn’t rap before the game. He didn’t laugh before the game. I guess it’s just a lot of things around basketball that has influence on him. … But at the end of the day, I’m with him. End of the day, I’m going to jump in the fire behind this guy.”
Wall was 16 for 51 from the field, including 1 for 11 from 3-point range, in the first four games. The pressure of the postseason seemed to get the better of him when he unwisely rushed a shot or two and got stripped late in Game 2, then passed up a wide-open 3-pointer that would have tied Game 4.
Still to be determined is whether he has solved his late-game jitters – Tuesday was a 23-point win, so he sat almost the entire fourth quarter – but he finished 11 for 20 from the field in Game 5, including 3 for 6 behind the arc, and he ran the floor with authority.
Wittman said he told Wall before the game: ”You go out there and play as aggressive as you can at both ends of the floor and don’t worry about mistakes, and don’t worry about made or missed shots. You’ve got to be aggressive.”
”When he’s tentative,” Wittman added, ”that’s not John.”
Game 5 was a change of pace on many fronts. For one, the Wizards realized that halftime is only 15 minutes long. After losing the third quarter by an average 10 1/2 points through the first four games, Washington pulled away with a 31-14 third period.
Gortat, barely a presence in Games 3 and 4, again proved worthy of his ”Polish Hammer” nickname with 31 points and 16 rebounds. The Wizards’ rebounding margin of plus-39 (62-23) tied for third highest in NBA playoff history.
”We should never get outrebounded by 40,” Indiana’s Paul George said. ”It was like their life was dependent on those rebounds.”
Now the Wizards have to figure out how to bring the road show home. They are 5-1 away in this year’s playoffs and just 1-3 at the Verizon Center.
”Everybody knows how we play at home. Quite honestly, we struggle at home,” Gortat said. ”It’s going to be huge pressure.”
Much of the pressure will again be on Wall, with the Pacers attempting to stop the mojo revival and avoid a Game 7.
”John actually hit some shots and things like that,” Indiana’s George Hill said. ”As a guard I’ve got to get better and try to make it tough on him again, and not let him get off like that.”
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Los Angeles Clippers
Tip off @ 8:30 p.m. MST
Thunder lead series 3-2
Chris Paul‘s teammates figure he might need more time to fully recover from his role in one of the ugliest playoff collapses in NBA history.
With the Los Angeles Clippers’ season riding on Game 6, Paul knows he doesn’t have that luxury.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are back at Staples Center on Thursday night, and the Clippers must shelve their memories of the mistakes late in Game 5 that cost them a chance to close out the series at home.
Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford went to work on Paul’s mind on the bus ride to their flight home from Oklahoma City after the Clippers blew a 13-point lead in just over four minutes. The fiasco culminated in the All-Star point guard’s touch foul on Russell Westbrook to set up the winning free throws, sandwiched between two brutal turnovers by Paul – all in the final 14 seconds.
”He was visibly upset, and I told him that game is not on one guy,” Griffin said Wednesday at the Clippers’ training complex. ”It’s not on him. We made plenty of mistakes down the stretch, plenty of mistakes throughout the game that could ultimately change the outcome. That idea that the game is on him, you understand what he’s saying, but it’s not on him by any means. We still have two games left to play.”
The Clippers’ roller coaster of a postseason has careened into another valley after the Thunder stormed back from near-certain defeat with the help of Paul’s mistakes and a much-debated out-of-bounds call with 11.3 seconds left.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers hadn’t changed his opinion one day after declaring the Clippers ”were robbed” on that call, although he said he won’t file any formal protest. The NBA issued a statement Wednesday night saying the call was made correctly in the absence of clear evidence to change it on replay review.
Paul still appeared glum, giving short, clipped answers to questions about his turnovers and the Clippers’ ability to bounce back in Game 6.
”I woke up this morning with a beautiful wife and two beautiful kids,” Paul said. ”At the end of the day, it is basketball, but there’s a lot of guys’ livelihoods who depend on it, so I’ve got to do my part.”
After three weeks of a circus atmosphere around the Clippers, Rivers still believes his young team has gathered enough resilience to force the series back to Oklahoma City for a deciding game. The Clippers played 43 outstanding minutes in Game 5 to reach the brink of what could have been a benchmark victory in a shift of the Western Conference hierarchy, only to let it slip away.
Rivers thinks it’s a lesson the Clippers needed.
”You don’t win it easy,” Rivers said. ”We’re trying to do something special here and be something special. And if you’re trying to stand out in any job, it’s going to be hard. You’re going to face adversity, and you’ve just got to accept that that’s part of the process. Yeah, this is hard. It’s supposed to be. And that’s the only thing I told our guys. What’s going on right now is exactly what should happen to win. You have to go through stuff to win, and you’ve just got to deal with it.”
The Thunder traveled to the West Coast on Wednesday with a bit of house money after the comeback by Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who combined for 17 of Oklahoma City’s 19 points in the final 9 1/2 minutes while Los Angeles fumbled, stumbled and finally crashed. Oklahoma City could advance to its third Western Conference final in four years with a victory in Game 6.
But the Thunder also recall their own collapse in Game 4 at Staples Center, where they blew a 16-point lead with nine minutes left last weekend. Game 5 told coach Scott Brooks plenty about his team’s tenacity.
”I like the fact that we did that after the game before,” Brooks said. ”We had a lot of opportunities to win that game.”
Neither team has been significantly better in this series: Los Angeles has cumulatively outscored the Thunder 540-539 through five games, with Oklahoma City’s two-man offensive game countering the Clippers’ more balanced attack.
But even after the exhaustion of a seven-game first-round series with Golden State and the continuing drama surrounding owner Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban, the Clippers’ leaders think they’ve still got more fight.
”I think we’ve done a pretty good job this season and in the postseason of putting things in the past and just moving forward,” said Griffin, who leads the Clippers with 24.2 points per game in the series.