NBA takeaways: Night of survival sets up dramatic trio of Game 7s
The opening act of these playoffs has been more engaging than the league has seen in years, and it's about to get even better with three Game 7s slated for Saturday.
The Pacers, Warriors and Thunder all survived elimination games on Thursday to set up a slate of Game 7 matchups on Saturday.
AP Photo/John Bazemore, Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports, AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
By Jimmy Spencer
If seven-game series could go to overtime, this first round might go on for another couple weeks. Each of the Game 6s on Thursday resulted in a Game 7 for Saturday, and only Clippers, Grizzlies and Hawks fans are complaining.
The opening to this postseason continues to be more engaging than anything the league has seen in years. Parity out west plays a heavy role in these incredible matchups and finishes, but even a disgusting series like the Pacers-Hawks is providing some dramatic entertainment.
Takeaway: The Warriors want it to be ugly. The talent gap in this series is as large as the size difference. The Warriors have generally relied on their 3-point shooting to offset the Clippers’ advantages, but it turns out Golden State can also win when both teams play poorly. Game 6 was played for hockey or soccer fans, with plenty of whistles and even more missed shots. But ugly was beautiful for a Warriors team fueled at home, one that won the battle of aggression and 50-50 balls. The Clippers lost points in the paint (42-24) and second-chance points (21-11).
Star review: Stephen Curry was absolutely more aggressive this time around. For the second straight home game, Curry found his shot early rather than waiting. Before the game, Mark Jackson clarified something obvious with the media: "Curry is not Michael Jordan."; His point was a response that Curry needed to force his offense more like other superstars do. Jackson’s point was taken; Curry is as good a facilitator as he is a shooter (well, nearly as good), and he’s not a freak athlete like other superstars. So while Curry was only 2 of 8 from behind the arc, he did score 24 points and tallied nine assists — and that was enough for the Warriors in the sloppy win.
While the Warriors fed off their star, the difference-maker was Draymond Green. The second-year utility guy was behind so many of the big plays late that he even received MVP chants from the crowd. He responded to that after the game: "Oh man, that was amazing. I felt like Stephen Curry up there," he told the media; The lineup that was on the floor at the final buzzer of Game 6 was a reminder how young these Warriors still are: Only Andre Iguodala (30) is in his 30s. Harrison Barnes (21), Green (24), Klay Thompson (24) and Curry (26) were the other four out there.
Looking ahead: Game 7 at Los Angeles, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Chris Paul is the biggest question mark heading back to Los Angeles for the series finale. He admitted to getting bumped and bruised, though he grinded through all of it. He hasn’t seemed fully healthy the entire series, but he said after the game that he has no plans to be slowed down for Game 7. If he is relegated — even to "OK" — for the series finale, that may be enough of a window for the Warriors to steal the series. Most of the Warriors have never played a Game 7, and that’s a disadvantage. It’s been 37 years since the Warriors franchise has played a Game 7.
Takeaway: Now that's the version of the Thunder that can win a championship. OKC superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook didn’t settle, the defense held Memphis to just 37.3-percent shooting — and, well that's really all that needs to happen for the Thunder to roll. Memphis didn’t receive enough attention for stopping the Thunder's superstar pair, so it’d probably be unfair to blame them for Game 6. But when Memphis can’t find its rhythm on offense, it allows the Thunder’s offense to get out and go. The Thunder shot 49.3 percent and got 17 fastbreak points.
Star review: Mr. Reliable delivered once again. Durant overcame another awful night from 3-point range (0 for 6) by going 11 of 17 from inside the arc. He finished with 36 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook was more efficient, practically eliminating 3-point shots from his game (1 of 2) en route to 25 points to go with nine rebounds and five assists.
Looking ahead: Game 7 at Oklahoma City, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
The sky was, and still is, about to collapse on this franchise if the Thunder lose this series. There will be heavy urgency in Game 7 from OKC coach Scott Brooks, Durant and Westbrook. We’ve already seen the added pressure on KD, but if the Thunder lose, Brooks and Westbrook could conceivably be gone before next season. Memphis has to get back to what it does best and control the pace in their grindy style. The Grizzlies’ defense responded a bit too late in Game 6.
Takeaway: If Frank Vogel is in fact fighting for his job, he finally began to act like it. The Pacers coach finally got proactive in making changes to go small, sitting Evan Turner for the entire game and sitting Luis Scola for all but 12 seconds. Vogel also held Roy Hibbert to just 12 minutes. It was a strategy based off desperation — and logic. It’s hard to swallow sitting your All-Star center (even though he’s been awful) in reaction to a matchup problem, but there had to be an answer for the Hawks’ ability to spread out the Pacers. It worked on this night, as the Hawks shot just 9 of 35 (25.7 percent) from 3-point range.
Star review: David West is one of the few guys Pacers fans aren't completely exasperated with at this point. He's shooting 51.4 percent in the series and he was 10 of 20 for 24 points and added 11 rebounds and six assists in Game 6.
Looking ahead: Game 7 at Indiana, Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET
Home court hasn’t meant much this series, as the road team has now won four times. And when it heads back to that yellow nest in Indiana, the Pacers could potentially be without Paul George. Just before halftime in Game 6, a scuffle on the court brought George off the bench, though just a footstep onto the floor. Vogel said postgame he doesn’t expect any discipline, since George didn’t involve himself in anything, but there is precedent in the league for a suspension in those circumstances.