EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
Brooklyn Nets vs. Miami Heat
The Heat, led by the All-Universe LeBron James, hold a solid 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinals series over the veteran-heavy Nets squad.
Even as Brooklyn swept the regular season series 4-0 against Miami, most hoops-heads predicted the Heat in 5 or 6 games. Miami took Game 1 by 21 points and a closer Game 2 by 12 points. In the opening 48, Kevin Garnett failed to score a single point, while in Game 2 heavily-scrutinized PG Deron Williams put up a glaring goose egg.
For Game 3 back in Brooklyn, the Nets splashed 15 three-bombs to hand Miami its first postseason L this year.
And then came LeBron in Game 4. Hard. Assassin-style. He poured in 49 points and essentially willed his side to a tough, 6-point victory. The Heatles could very well finish this series tonight in the Sunshine State.
Washington Wizards vs. Indiana Pacers
If ever a team in the 2014 postseason needed a psychiatrist or a detective, it is this Indiana roster. After securing the East’s number 1 seed, the up-and-down Pacers were forced to a Game 7 by the 38-44 Atlanta Hawks in Round 1. And now they find themselves in a battle with the hungry and young Wizards. Although they lead the series 3-2, they were embarrassed last night at home by 23 points, and it wasn’t even that close. As the Polish Hammer Marcin Gortat dominated inside with 31 points and 16 boards, Indiana grabbed a meager 23 rebounds, a playoff franchise low. After the Wiz took Game 1 in Indy, the Pacers rallied behind a rejuvenated Roy Hibbert (28 points, 9 rebounds) and won a close Game 2 to knot the series. In Game 3 Indiana crushed the Wizards 85-63 on their home court. And in a backbreaking loss, the Pacers came back from a 19-point deficit to take Game 4. Paul George exploded for 39 points and 12 boards in the demoralizing defeat. Indiana has two games to win one, but with a collective fragile psyche, who knows how this series plays out.
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
In what is undecidedly the most exciting series this round, the Thunder hold a 3-2 lead by the slimmest of margins over the Lob City Clips. After both teams were taken to the 7th game in the first round, few prognosticators knew what to expect from these superstar-laden sides. In Game 1, LA routed OKC 122-105, largely fueled by CP3’s 32 points and 8 three-pointers. Coach Doc Rivers’ guys led by 14 after one quarter and 26 at the end of three. In Game 2, on the night KD accepted his first NBA MVP award, the league’s top scorer went for 32, 12 boards and 9 dimes and the Thunder prevailed. Assisting the Slim Reaper was Russell Westbrook, who tallied a triple double with 31, 10 & 10. Back in SoCal for Game 3, OKC’s dynamic duo did it again in a 118-112 victory. Between the two of them they combined for 59 points, 16 rebounds and 19 dimes.
In Game 4, the Clippers rallied from a 15-point, 4th quarter hole and came out on top 101-99 to even the series. Reserve guard Darren Collison led LA’s improbable comeback, adding 8 points in the final 3 minutes. OKC was outscored 38-24 in the final frame. Which brings us to last evening’s Game 5 back in Oklahoma. In an even more outrageous finish than Game 4, the Thunder erased a 7-point deficit in the final 50 seconds to snatch a controversial 105-104 victory. Russell Westbrook scored a career playoff-high 38 points and hit 3 crucial free throws with just seconds remaining to eke out the W. After the game Doc Rivers and his players were furious over a late out-of-bounds call that gave possession to OKC. They believed the ball went out off of the Thunder. Either way, Game 5 will go down as a playoff classic. The Thunder can close out this grueling series on Thursday night in LA, but look for the Clippers to defend home court and send it to 7.
Portland Trailblazers vs. San Antonio Spurs
In Game 1 the NBA’s number one overall seed won by 24 points. In Game 2, the Spurs defeated the Blazers by 17. Back in Rip City for Game 3, the machine-like San Antonio team scored a 15-point W. Up an insurmountable 3-0 in this Western Conference semifinals, NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich’s guys were denied the sweep in Game 4, 102-93. As a team San Antonio shot 3-18 from deep ,and Manu Ginobili had just 2 points. Neither side performed particularly well. However, the proud Blazer squad played hard with the backing of one of the league’s most loyal fan bases. After a tough seven-game opening round against Dallas, look for the Spurs to end this series tonight at home where they were 32-9 in the regular 82.
With home-court advantage back in their hands, the Raptors return to Air Canada Centre to host pivotal Game 5 after tying up the series with a road win over the Nets on Sunday.
A number of interesting storylines have swirled above this Round 1 series. Did Brooklyn intentionally slip to the 6 seed in order to duck a first-round matchup with the Chicago Bulls?
How would the dynamic of a super-veteran team taking on a playoff-inexperienced bunch come into play?
Would Toronto’s Rodney Dangerfield act of ‘No Respect’ solidify their team’s psyche, or would their over-analysis and second guessing of the officiating backfire?
The series thus far has hinged on two important facets. First, PG Deron Williams averaged 23.5 ppg in Brooklyn’s two W’s and put up just 12.5 ppg in their two losses.
The Nets need their 9th-year, 3X All-Star PG to produce in order to win. When Williams is on at the offensive end, Brooklyn’s shooters get spacing, and their bigs and wings have more room to operate via cuts and post-ups.
Second, the Raptors’ propensity to turn the ball over combined with Brooklyn’s long-armed defense and ability to make steals has been a momentum killer for coach Dwane Casey’s squad.
However, in Sunday night’s 48 in Brooklyn, the Raptors took care of the rock, committing only 10 turnovers while totaling 9 steals in their 87-79 Game 4 victory. On the other hand, the Nets turned it over 16 times with only 6 total steals.
Since scoring only 14 points in Game 1, fifth-year 2-guard DeMar Derozan, a 2014 All-Star reserve, has gone for 30, 30 and 24 in the last three contests.
Look for coach Jason Kidd to stress getting the ball into Joe Johnson’s hands early in tonight’s game. On Sunday, the 7X All-Star was held to 7 points on 2-7 shooting. In Brooklyn’s Game 3 win, the thirteenth-year veteran had 29 points on an efficient 11-17 from the field including 3 of 4 from deep.
Tune in to YES this evening at 7:30 PM ET to see who will take control of this seesaw series with a critical Game 5 win!