George W. Bush was early in his first term as president. Seattle was years away from losing the SuperSonics. ”Arrested Development” hadn’t even started airing yet.
That’s how long ago Utah’s Joe Johnson and Houston’s Nene made their NBA debuts.
So-called old guys like them are delivering all across these playoffs thus far. And many of those elder statesmen will be back at work Tuesday as the Western Conference playoffs continue with a trio of Game 5s – Houston will be home with a chance to eliminate Oklahoma City, Memphis goes back to San Antonio and Utah visits the Los Angeles Clippers.
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Among those expected to be in action: 40-year-old Vince Carter, 39-year-olds Manu Ginobili and Paul Pierce, 37-year-old Jamal Crawford, 36-year-old Pau Gasol, 35-year-olds like Johnson, Zach Randolph and Boris Diaw, and 34-year-olds in Tony Parker and Nene.
”As you get older, as you get more experienced, you understand what `Winning Time’ means,” said Chicago’s Dwyane Wade, another non-whippersnapper of 35 who’ll play in a Game 5 of the Bulls-Boston series on Wednesday night.
Johnson is 6 for 7 on what the NBA calls clutch shots so far in these playoffs. (To put that in some perspective, LeBron James – for as great as he was in the sweep of Indiana – was 5 for 15 in clutch situations during that series.) Johnson shot 12 for 17 overall in Utah’s win Sunday over the Clippers, helping the Jazz knot that series on a night when Gordon Hayward was felled by food poisoning.
Former teammate and longtime NBA star Kevin Garnett says Johnson has ”superstar poise,” and it showed Sunday.
”He’s one of those guys that we’re quick to forget because of the regular season games and what it takes out of you,” Garnett said. ”This is the time where the cream is going to rise to the top for you.”
Nene was 12 for 12 in Houston’s road win Sunday over Oklahoma City. In a series where all the talk seems to be on MVP frontrunners Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Nene is shooting an astounding 92 percent (23 for 25) from the floor.
”Kind of a man’s game,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. ”And he’s a man. … That’s Nene. Doesn’t surprise me.”
Here’s what to know going into Tuesday night:
Thunder at Rockets, Houston leads 3-1. Game 5, 8 p.m., TNT.
NEED TO KNOW: The Rockets are one win from just their fourth series victory in the last 20 years. And D’Antoni could be heading to the second round for the first time since 2007. Westbrook is likely to finish this series averaging a triple-double, just as he did in the regular season, yet the Thunder are in huge trouble regardless.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Thunder wing Andre Roberson. He’s shooting 12 percent from the foul line in this series. Yes, 12 percent, 2 for 17, which is about as mathematically improbable as Nene shooting 92 percent from the field.
INJURY UPDATE: Rockets F Sam Dekker (left hand) is out.
PRESSURE IS ON: Both sides. The Thunder are a loss from elimination, yet the Rockets will surely feel a sense of urgency to get this done and enjoy some time off before Round 2.
Grizzlies at Spurs, series tied 2-2. Game 5, 9 p.m., NBA TV.
NEED TO KNOW: Memphis is 2-0 since coach David Fizdale’s already-infamous ”Take that for data” rant, and now the Grizzlies head back to San Antonio with momentum. The Spurs were in this spot last year – 2-2 series, home for Game 5 – in the second round last season, and wound up losing to the Thunder in six games. But the Spurs also are 19-1 in their last 20 home games against the Grizzlies.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs’ star is a perfect 40 for 40 from the foul line in this series, and not much worse (58 percent) from the floor.
INJURY UPDATE: Grizzlies F Tony Allen (right leg) is out.
PRESSURE IS ON: The Spurs. Add the three-game losing streak that ended the regular season to the mix, and the Spurs are 2-5 in their last seven contests. And they weren’t exactly resting people at the end, either.
Jazz at Clippers, series tied 2-2. Game 5, 10:30 p.m., TNT.
NEED TO KNOW: Gordon Hayward (food poisoning) is expected back for Game 5, Rudy Gobert (left knee) played Game 4 looking back to normal and Utah has made this series a best-of-three. The Clippers had a chance to take command in Game 4, succumbed late and now find themselves in a real fight. They do get Austin Rivers (strained left hamstring) back. The guard has been sidelined since March 30. ”At least we have another warm body,” coach Doc Rivers quipped.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Chris Paul. The Clippers’ point guard has been brilliant, averaging 26.8 points and 10.8 assists in the series. He’ll probably need to stay that good if the Clippers are to advance.
INJURY UPDATE: Clippers F Blake Griffin (right toe) is out for the rest of the playoffs.
PRESSURE IS ON: Doc Rivers. He understands the big-picture stakes, and even with Griffin’s season done another quick playoff exit would likely mean sweeping offseason changes in L.A.
AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis and AP Sports Writer Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.