Last night was such a treat. Sunday and Monday night provided us with two of the better games of the playoffs. For all the talk about how the Eastern Conference was better than the Western Conference, I don’t think I’m out of line to use the trash, disguised as playoff basketball, as a counter to those claims.
Eastern Conference basketball has been awful to watch, and this has been no aberration. It has been this way for years. Just rip the damn thing up and start over. Send Memphis to the east, realign the conferences, and have the playoff seeding 1-16. If it weren’t for the Spurs-Thunder and Blazers-Warriors series, this year’s playoffs would be a bigger flop than the most recent Fantastic Four movie.
A few quick thoughts before tonight’s game 5:
- Game 4 was just as intense as I was hoping it would be. I’ve been to a couple of elimination games, both in the Oracle, and at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and Sunday’s game between Oklahoma City and San Antonio might have been the most intense basketball game I’ve attended in person. The folks in OKC finally understand how to be a fan base. For years they needed the P.A. announcer’s assistance to know when to get loud, when to cheer, and when to chant. I wasn’t even on the court and I was affected at how loud it was in the arena. The only time it got quiet was when Kawhi dunked on Steven Adams, and I may have been the only screaming at that point–that shit had me juiced. I will say this though, YMCA strikes me as a song you would play in the arena, when the game is secured, in the regular season—not in the 3rd quarter of a hotly contested playoff game.
- The refs from Sunday should never be allowed to work a playoff game together again. They were horrible. If players can get their pay docked for conduct detrimental to the league, then the same should apply to referees. Danny Crawford (go figure) and his crew could not figure out how they wanted to call the game. They would let one thing go–like Kanter throwing elbows as he bullied his way into the paint, and then call a touch foul against the defender guarding him. It seemed like every other foul was a make up call, and it marred what otherwise was a beautiful game to watch in person. At least we can say it wasn’t one-sided; they were at least consistently bad for both teams. We’d have been better off if the refs were sent home, and the players called their own fouls.
- Minus a couple of lulls, Game 4 was the best game I’ve seen Thunder play. They were great on defense–especially down the stretch of that game. The Spurs were making tough shots, while the Thunder were consistently finding ways to get easy buckets. They had 23 assists compared to San Antonio’s 12. Both teams had 12 turnovers, and the Spurs were only outrebounded by 6 boards, but it felt like OKC was killing them on the glass. Stephen Adams has been the biggest X factor among the Thunder role players, notching a double-double in each of their wins, while only getting single digit field goal attempts in their losses. Every time the Thunder went to the Westbrook and Adams, good things happened.
- Gregg Popovich will have some tinkering to do to counter the Thunder’s game 4 adjustments. The Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters, Russ Westbrook, Kevin Durant line provided the most challenges for the Spurs, and makes me wonder why it took Billy Donovan so long to try this out. While I wouldn’t call for him to make this his starting lineup, there seems to be merit for using this crunch time lineup for what is now a 3 game series. There are scoring options at every position, and OKC’s height gives each Spurs defender something to worry about. For as skilled as the Spurs are, their front line is a little too small vs.teams like Cleveland and OKC;who pound them into submission on the glass, and their backcourt is too small when facing teams like Golden State and Oklahoma City (who also happen to be bigger than them in the paint as well). It just goes to show well how the Spurs execute on both ends of the floor. Even with the size mismatches (and disparity in quickness), it still takes playing a perfect game to beat them.
- As much shit as I’ve talked about Durant trying to play the villain, and the depths of busterdom befallen the Thunder, you have to be a real hater not to dig what happened Sunday night. KD put up 41 on the NBA’s best defense while his moms (the real MVP) danced in her courtside seats. When he got hot in that 4th quarter (scoring 17 points and having some timely assists to boot) it was eerily similar to the game 4 of the 2012 series where no one could guard him, scoring 18 points in the 4th quarter. With the ascent of Russell Westbrook and his scoring histrionics, it can be easy to forget the former Longhorn is still capable of outbursts like these.
- Game 5 will be just as much of a dogfight as the past 4 games, if not more. Neither team wants to be one game away from elimination. The Spurs bench and role players output has been matched, (if not surpassed) by the Thunder supporting cast. Oklahoma City is outrebounding San Antonio, and they are getting way more easy buckets than the Spurs. I’m not sure if the Spurs can recover from losing two games at home in a series. Tonight’s tickets will read game 5, but it may as well read game 7. History has shown that most teams that win game 5 of the best of 7 series (when tied 2-2) end up winning the series.
I may have already said this before, but I think the Curry injury has been one of the best subplots of the playoffs. His injury had many ramifications for not only the Warriors, but for everyone who, up until the injury, were playing for second place. Cleveland has been feasting on bad teams during the first two rounds, and they’ll probably sweep the winner of the Toronto-Miami series (especially if the Heat don’t have Whiteside). I can only hope that Miami will at least make the Cavs work for those 4 W’s.
Last night’s heroics by Curry ( 40 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists–17 points in OT) only proved why he is the unanimous MVP. But did anyone else see the game Draymond Green had? Not only did he fill the stat sheet, (21 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 7 blocks) but he also set the tone for the Warriors second half comeback.
The consecutive defensive sequences where he blocked first Plumlee, and then McCollum energized the team, and that was the point when I knew we were in for a #goodassgame. Make no mistake about it, last night’s game was the game of the year. With Curry’s status in limbo, Livingston getting ejected, and Portland having a chance to tie the series at home, those things only served to make things more lit.
Lastly, how beautiful was that inbounds play that Kerr and co. designed—the one to get the game tied at 3? Curry threw the pass before Harrison Barnes (maybe their 3rd best option to shoot a 3 pointer) had come off of screening Klay Thompson’s man. The Warriors’ floor spacing on that play was almost as gorgeous as the pass.
Though this series is pretty much over, I do not expect the Blazers to fold up like lawn furniture. They’ll take an L, but the Warriors are going to have to work for it. There is nothing to hang your head about Blazers fans. Everyone (including me and other contributors for this site) picked this year’s team to SUUUUUUUUCCCCKKKKK, and they didn’t. That is a win in itself.
Last night’s game proves why it is always more important to make the playoffs (with the possibility of getting bounced) than to tank and hope for lottery ping pong balls. You can’t put a price on experience. The guys in that Trailblazer locker room will never forget the growth they experienced this year–from making the playoffs, to bouncing the Clippers, to giving the Warriors all they can handle in the semi-finals, and this can only help them in aligning next season’s goals.
If you are a free agent frontcourt player looking to play a prominent role for a contender, you have to at least take a meeting with Portland right? The draft is always a crapshoot. You never know what the ping pong balls will reveal, and not all top 3 picks are can’t miss franchise players (Portlanders certainly knows this is true). The Blazers run this year proves that if you put in the work and try your best, you never know what can happen. Sure the Blazer improbable run was helped by collective slides by Houston, New Orleans, and Utah, and then again by the Clippers suffering major injuries to key players, but their hard work, focus, and belief in each other put them in a position to succeed. Blazers fans should be greeting them at the airport when they get back from Oakland after Wednesday’s game.
Enjoy tonight’s game.