NBA Playoffs: Spurs In, Clips Close In & Four More Tonight

If you believe in the virtue of rebounding as a big key to winning playoff games in the NBA—and TheSportsNotebook does, as does another recommended blog over at Stat Intelligence—then last night was a challenge to the belief system. Because even though San Antonio and the LA Clippers were beaten on the boards—decisively in fact—it didn’t stop the Spurs from completing a four-game sweep of Utah and it didn’t stop the Clippers from taking a 3-1 lead in games against Memphis. TheSportsNotebook looks back on both games and ahead to potential Grand Slam Clinch Night on Tuesday…

San Antonio 87 Utah 81: Poor Utah did everything it could be reasonably expected to do to win this game, short of bringing back Karl Malone and John Stockton. They held both Tony Parker and Tim Duncan to 11 points each. They hammered the #1 seed Spurs on the boards to the tune of 57-43, with Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors being positively ferocious underneath, with 39 rebounds between them. They got some solid backcourt work from Devin Harris, who kicked in 19 points. But the mark of championship teams is they always have something to pull out of their posterior, and San Antonio decided to open up from three-point range last night in Salt Lake City, hitting 10/22 from behind the arc. The top gunner was Manu Ginobli who came off the bench to hit three treys. This tied into to the other big San Antonio edge, and one completely in character with the team. It’s called depth. While Utah’s bench combined for ten points total, Ginobli’s 17 made one of three Spur players who came off the pine to score double digits by themselves. And while Ginobli was hitting from downtown, Utah failed to hit a single trey all night. A tough way to go out for a gritty team that overachieved to get into the playoffs. And while sweeping the Jazz can’t get blown out of proportion, it’s fair to say the Spurs did everything they could possibly do to impress people as they await the Clips-Grizzlies survivor.


LA Clippers 101 Memphis 97 (OT): Memphis hit the glass with a 47-36 edge on rebounding. But even though Blake Griffin may not have hit the boards, he did do something that was missing in Game 3 and he hit some free throws. 10-for-17 isn’t going to remind anyone of Ray Allen, but it will stop teams from bringing back the Hack-A-Shaq for the Los Angeles big man. Griffin was the biggest contributor to a 28-21 scoring edge for the Clippers from the line and before anyone shouts home cookin’,  Memphis just didn’t go down low enough to get the same kind of foul situations. Point guard Mike Conley is an excellent playmaker, but when you leads your team in scoring at 25 for the night, you have to wonder where everyone else was. The amount of time Conley had to spend with the ball likely contributed to increased turnovers, an area Los Angeles won 16-9. It was enough to enable the Clips to survive in a game where they didn’t execute down the stretch in the fourth quarter when they had a chance to seal the win in regulation. Memphis has to win three straight now, but at least the next one, and a potential Game 7 are back at home.

Four Game 5s go tonight, and all offer the prospect of someone cutting down the nets (well, at least if they did that in the NBA).Two games have home teams poised to clinch and I think the world would be shocked if they didn’t…

*Indiana faces Orlando, and while there’s no reason to think the Magic will quit—once Dwight Howard got hurt at the end of the regular season, they had all the excuse they needed if they wanted to mail it in from the outset—but the Pacers seem to have found their defensive focus and center Roy Hibbert now looks fully engaged, along with power forward David West. Orlando’s got no answer. They need the backcourt trio of Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson and J.J. Redick to hit perfectly on all three cylinders to have a chance down the stretch. Is it possible? Sure, NBA players can get hot. But when everything has to go that well just to make it a coin flip game, that’s nice way of saying it’s a big upset if this series gets extended.

*The LA Lakers host Denver, and I’m just very dispirited with the way the Nuggets played in this series. I shared Charles Barkley’s view that this was a real upset possibility, and the combination of me and Sir Charles jinxing them has been too much for the Nuggets to overcome. They have not pushed the pace the way they’re capable of, and they way it was necessary to do against a team bigger in the post, but older and shorter on the bench. Now the Lakers are back at home, with veterans who understand how to close the series and the importance of getting some rest before dealing with Oklahoma City in the second round.

Then we have two cases of the home team being the one on the ropes…

*Chicago will again be without Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose. I was sure they’d still find a way to pick up a win in Philadelphia. I’m not sure of anything anymore, except that there’s no reason to think Jrue Holiday and Spencer Hawes can be contained on the point and in the post without the injured stars. What Chicago can do is play much better in the backcourt—C.J. Watson may not be Rose, but he can do a lot mo re than what he did in Philly, as can Rip Hamilton. And the Bulls can bring the defensive intensity. Remember, both games in Philly were close, so Chicago can certainly believe they could win a Game 6 there on Thursday, which then means they’d just need to defend the home floor tonight and potentially on Saturday.

*Boston’s down in Atlanta with a  chance to clinch. Before we call this series prematurely, remember that the Celtics shot out of their mind on Sunday and the Hawks looked disinterested. It’s not likely the latter happens again, not in front of a home crowd with the season in the line, and it’s even more unlikely the C’s can shoot upwards of 60 percent into the second half. If the game is tight, I still like the chances for the Boston vets to find a way, but it will be interesting to see how Doc Rivers plays this if Atlanta gets a lead by halftime, say 10-15 points. Does he go for the comeback or pull in his horns, rest the vets and try and clinch at home on Thursday? If he had two home games in his back pocket, I’d say it would be a no-brainer to play it safe, but with just one game in Boston, it makes the decision a little tougher.