Czar’s Playoff Preview


Czar’s Playoff Review


Memphis Grizzlies v San Antonio Spurs - Game TwoThe Spurs are up 2-0 on the Grizzlies in the WCF. But nobody in Gregg Popovich’s locker room is breathing easy given that they got a 2-0 jump on the Thunder in last year’s WCF before losing 4 straight.

In Game 1 San Antonio destroyed the Griz 105-83 in Memphis’s first ever Conference Finals appearance. Though 4-time NBA champion Tim Duncan scored only 6 points, the Silver & Black shot 14 for 29 from 3-land (the most 3’s given up by Memphis this season) and held the monstrous Zach Randolph to a shocking 2 points.

What first appeared to be another runaway victory for San Antonio in Game 2 turned into an overtime nail-biter. Randolph bounced back with a big 15-points, 18-rebound performance. But the Spurs ultimately prevailed 93-89 in OT after blowing a 13-point, 4th quarter lead. Tony Parker (the MVP of this series so far) went for 15 points and a career playoff-high 18 dimes.

As the phenomenal Frenchman began to wear down late in the contest, Duncan, who missed most of the 2nd half after getting into foul trouble, began hitting crucial shots, including the Spurs’ first 6 points of OT. The 2013 First Team All-NBA veteran finished with 17 points, 9 boards and 4 blocks.

This series will really get going when Game 3 tips off in Tennessee on Saturday. After all, the Griz were down 0-2 to the caffeinated Clippers in the first round and stormed back to claim the series.  And they play outstanding ball at The Grindhouse.

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game OneIn a rematch of last year’s ECF, star-laden Miami took Game 1 103-102 in OT at home against the workman-like Pacers on a last-second LeBron drive to the hoop. This 53 minutes of roundball was nip and tuck the entire way with 18 ties and 17 lead changes.

23-year-old Paul George, the 2013 MIP and All-Star, saved the Pacers twice in the final minutes. He splashed a 32-foot bomb at the end of regulation to tie the game and then hit three straight free throws with 2.2 seconds left to give Indy a 1-point cushion in OT.

George matched up with LeBron most of the night and did a solid job overall, but it wasn’t enough to stop the 4-time league MVP. In the end King James was King James. He had a 30-10-10 triple-double and came through in the clutch again. Dwyane Wade, a game-time concern due to his bum knee, played 41 minutes and finished with 19 points on 9 for 15 from the field.

Coach Vogel sparked a lightening storm of controversy with his decision to take 7’2” C Roy Hibbert out at the very end of the game, leaving the rim unprotected for two LeBron layups. Using their length advantage, Indiana did win the battle of the boards 43-38. They’ll need to widen this disparity if they want to get back in the series. How the Pacers respond in Game 2 will show whether they have what it takes to compete with the formidable Miami squad and turn this into an epic series.

Czar’s Playoff Preview: Thunder vs. Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs welcome the Oklahoma City Thunder to the River City tonight for Game 1 of the 2012 Western Conference Finals. The Spurs are Texas-strength H-O-T right now. Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich’s veteran squad is on an 18-game winning streak and has won its eight playoff games by a remarkable 14-point average. On their home court the Black & Silver are an ironclad 32-5.

On the opposite bench, the Thunder return to the WCF to take on another Lone Star State team after losing to the 2011 Champion Mavs in this round last year. OKC finished three games behind the Spurs for the top spot in the West after leading the conference for most of this compacted season.

Led by 3X NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant, All-Star PG Russell Westbrook and 2012 6th Man of the Year James Harden, the explosive Thunder swept Dallas in Round 1 and then dispatched the Lakers in 5 games in the second round.

These two sides represented the cream of the crop in the West all year long. Whereas the Eastern Conference had injuries, upstarts and legitimate speculation follow their top teams into the postseason, the Spurs and Thunder seemed statistically destined to do battle in this round led by their respective Big 3’s – the abovementioned 23-and-under Thunder group and the Spurs’ All-Star 30-somethings PG Tony Parker (30), all-time great Tim Duncan (36) and Manu Ginobili (34), though the crafty, clutch Ginobili missed 32 games this year with a broken hand including all three contests with the Thunder.

The Thunder and Spurs faced off three times in the regular season. On January 8th, the Thunder won in OKC, 108-96. On February 4th in SA, Parker had 42 points and 9 dimes to lead his team in a 107-96 victory. In the rubber match on March 16th in the Sooner State, Tim Duncan pulled down 19 boards as the Spurs gave OKC a rare home loss, 114-105.

With apologies to the Miami Heat, the Spurs and Thunder have the most balance, depth and mettle of any teams in the league. They also have superstars, focus and great coaching. Look for an exciting, possibly historic WCF over the week as these two uber-talented franchises do battle to represent the West in the 2012 NBA Finals. Game 1 tips off of at 8:30 PM ET on TNT.

Czar’s Playoff Preview: Thunder vs. Mavericks Game 5

Led by the unstoppable Nowitzki, the Mavericks bounced back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals in overtime 112-105. It will be interesting to see how the very young Thunder team responds in Game 5 after that crushing defeat. Oklahoma City have to claw their way out of a daunting 3-1 hole against a veteran team that is playing outstanding ball. Will the deflated Thunder collapse, or do they still have the belief that they can take down Dallas on the road and get back into this series one win at a time?

Dallas only needs to grab one game at home to advance to the NBA Championships, and they will be very eager to get it in front of their faithful fans tonight. The Mavericks can use all the rest they can get before facing whichever formidable Eastern Conference opponent awaits the winner of this series. And more importantly, they know OKC is too dangerous to let them hang around. Dallas wants to put them away as soon as possible. After beating OKC twice in their own building, the Mavs will come out in Game 5 with tremendous confidence in their ability to best them again. It’s been a thrilling, hard-fought series so far and I expect another spectacular effort in this evening’s elimination match.

Czar’s Playoff Prevew: Thunder vs. Mavericks Game 4

The Oklahoma City Thunder stole Game 2 in Dallas only to give home court advantage right back to the Mavericks in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. I’m wondering if this young Thunder team is starting to collapse not only from the physical fatigue, but also the mental exhaustion of fighting through so many playoff games in a row.

In order for OKC to beat this experienced Dallas squad in Game 4 they must get all cylinders firing at once. Both All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook need to have a big night. And just as the reinforcements came through in Game 2, sixth man James Harden must deliver off the bench in conjunction with at least one of their other guys.

Dallas understands they have a huge opportunity to close out this series in five and get some rest while the Heat and Bulls battle back East. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mavs’ veteran mentality and all their years of playoff experience pay off in a great performance tonight that allows them to return home with a 3-1 lead in this series.