NBA takeaways: April madness! Don’t even try to predict what’s next
Go ahead and tell that friend of yours who keeps calling the NBA playoffs "way too predictable" that it’s time to pipe down. This opening round has been insane. The only shocking part of this postseason is when a game doesn’t end on a last-second shot or in overtime.
April Madness continued on Saturday, as the Mavericks won on a buzzer beater by the best dunker of the early 2000s, the Thunder survived in OT thanks to Mr. October and the Hawks lost when the NBA’s first Macedonian player missed a would-be game winner. Your friend does have you on one point though, the Heat are still the favorites after cruising to a 3-0 series lead.
OKLAHOMA CITY 92, GRIZZLIES 89 OT
Series tied 2-2
Takeaway: Mr. October meets the spring hardwood. Reggie Jackson outscored Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined, and the Thunder still won. Who had that Vegas prop? Without the OKC superstar pair producing â they combined for 11-of-45 shooting â Jackson tallied 32 points including a clutch three-pointer and mid-range jumper in the lane to erase Memphis’ five-point lead that sent it to overtime. The beauty of the postseason is that new heroes emerge on any given night (Mike Dunleavy, anyone?) and, of course, the Thunder will take a win any way they can. The Thunder will be happy to leave Memphis, where on Saturday they played just enough defense, outrebounded against the Grizzlies and got Jackson’s unexpected scoring to pull out a win.
Star review: The incredible has happened again, and Durant and Westbrook went cold in a second straight game. After combining for 19-of-53 (35.8 percent) and 4-of-21 (19 percent) from three-point range in Game 3, the duo was even worse in Game 4. On Saturday, they combined to shoot 11-of-45 (24.4 percent) from the field and 2-of-13 (15 percent) from three-point range. Give credit to Memphis â Tony Allen and the crew â but the superstars have also been missing good looks. It wasn’t all bad, Russell Rodman had impactful offensive boards late (five total) and 7 assists, and Durant had 13 rebounds.
Looking ahead: Game 5 at Oklahoma City, Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST
Durant and Westbrook must follow Jackson’s lead and get to the basket. Of Jackson’s 11-of-16 shooting, 6-of-8 came at the rim. Memphis is obviously suffocating inside, but the Thunder need to force the issue and get to the middle. Both Durant and Westbrook did a better job getting into the key, yet shot poorly there. If that happens again, the Thunder don’t deserve to win anyway. Attacking the basket needs to continue to be the game plan. For the Grizzlies, whatever poison they’re slipping into the water of the Thunder’s superstars is working.
PACERS 91, HAWKS 88
Series tied 2-2
Takeaway: The Pacers are being quite stubborn. While the rest of the East is awaiting what seems like an inevitable last breath early in the postseason, Indiana took another big gasp. This latest gulp of air was pumped in by Frank Vogel’s decision to go small. Rather than riding disappointing center Roy Hibbert in the fourth quarter, the Pacers utilized a lineup with David West and Luis Scola. It seemed to work, and now the Pacers have evidence to bench Hibbert more. With Hibbert on the floor, Atlanta has been able to take advantage with more versatile bigs, spread the floor and attack in transition. Indy’s best answer looks to be lessening Hibbert’s minutes. Also, credit goes to that famous Pacers defense that held the Hawks scoreless in the final 1:23 of the game.
Star review: Paul George stepped into his MVP-caliber shoes when he hit a clutch three-pointer with 2:11 left to give Indy an 86-85 lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish despite George missing two free throws with :07 left. He still finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds. George needs to continuing producing offensively like that if Indy has a shot of giving its defense enough help to win.
Looking ahead: Game 5 at Indiana, Monday at 8 p.m. EST
Vogel finally ditched loyalty and went with the hot hands when it mattered, and it’s the mindset he’ll need to bring home to Indiana. We’ve been tricked before that the Pacers have found their way, so it’s tough to gauge what team we’ll see in Game 5.
SPURS 109, MAVERICKS 108
Mavericks lead series 2-1
Takeaway: We’ve crossed far beyond the boundary of unbelief. And we may as well stay there, since that’s where this whole turn-back-the-clock series lives. In a highlight that could have been filmed a decade ago, Vince Carter hit a game winner over Manu Ginobili, and now the No. 8 seed has control of the No. 1 seed. The miracle shot came at the buzzer, and evokes Spurs fans’ memory of Sean Elliott’s Memorial Day Miracle shot in the ’99 Western Conference Finals, when he lifted his heels to just barely stay in bounds. And if you need evidence of just how long these heroes have been in the league, well: 1. Tim Duncan played in that game and 2. Carter won Rookie of the Year that season.
None of what Dallas is doing is luck right now, though. If they didn’t collapse in Game 1, the Mavericks could actually have a 3-0 series lead right now. Gregg Popovich hoisted a Coach of the Year trophy before the series began, but Rick Carlisle is no putz. He’s scheming from game to game and quarter to quarter, and he’s getting the most from his offense despite customarily poor defense.
Star review: "Monta have it all," including control of the retirement-home series. He has been all that Dallas could have hoped for when he signed this offseason. Dirk Nowitzki can still reach that superstar ceiling at times, but Ellis has been able to pick up the slack. His 29 points on Saturday set up that heroic moment for Carter.
Looking ahead: Game 4 at Dallas, Monday at 9:30 p.m. EST
Tony Parker and Tim Duncan poked holes in the Mavs’ defense, and the Spurs shot 54.3 percent from the field and 50 points in the paint. Offensively, the Spurs are fine if they can wipe away high turnovers. The Mavs may be up in the series, but they are still in a tough spot relying on big offensive games.
HEAT 98, BOBCATS 85
Heat lead series 3-0
Takeaway: The Miami Heat look like the best team in the playoffs. Maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s worthy of recognition following all the early talk about the Pacers and the loaded West. The Bobcats were more impressive in their Game 1 and 2 losses, but the talent of Miami is starting to click into championship form. The way Miami handled Game 3 doesn’t look good for the rest of the East.
Star review: LeBron James, a guy who may go down as one of the top three to ever play the game is in the prime of his career. Don’t miss it because you don’t like the guy for the way he left Cleveland years ago. He was incredible with 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. But the night’s highlight came when he got out on a fast break and, in his final two steps and the beginning of his takeoff for a dunk, locked eyes on Michael Jordan sitting on the sideline (talk about vision).
Looking ahead: Game 4 at Charlotte, Monday at 7 p.m. EST
The Heat shouldn’t let off the gas here. That means no resting stars or backing off the intensity that has them up 3-0. Momentum carries from series to series, but sweeping on Monday would result in plenty of rest for Miami’s veteran legs.