The Night of Game 7

In what could very well be the most exciting night for the NBA all year, the Pacers, Hawks, Thunder, Grizzlies, Clippers and Warriors all play to move on or go home.

Game 1 of the Game 7 Marathon: Hawks @ Pacers

george-hill-jeff-teague-nba-atlanta-hawks-indiana-pacers1

Nobody expected this to go this far. But with how the Pacers have finished the season and how discombobulated they are as a team, it wasn’t surprising. They finished the final two months of the season 12-13. They dealt with Paul George’s catfish experience, Roy Hibbert forgetting how to play basketball, Evan Turner and Lance Stephenson fighting in practice and much more.

Game 1 went to Atlanta and showed them they could actually beat the Pacers. Going in, they knew they had the match-up advantage and they knew they were dealing with a team with issues – A cranky group of girls on their periods at the same time. The Hawks also came into the series with 0 pressure. As the 8th seed, beating off a 1 seed has only happened 5 times in the history of the NBA. If they lose it’s expected. If they win, then they’ve made history.

In Game 2, Indiana remembered how to play winning basketball again and put a lot of Pacer doubters to sleep, claiming Game 1 was a simple fluke and they’d be on their way to the next round soon. The Hawks bench produced 39 points, but the key for the Pacers was they limited Jeff Teague to 14 points and that was the big difference between Game 1 and 2. Roy Hibbert had another shitty game but the need for a smaller lineup seemed less important now that they had won.

Game 3 went to Atlanta where Hawks fans were feeling pretty good about how they’d done so far. This was one of the worst games of the year for Indiana. They scored 85 points, got 12 from Paul George and a third consecutive no-show for the tallest man in the NBA who only grabbed 2 rebounds. The need for a smaller lineup was made clear. Hibbert could not continue playing his normal minutes in this series.

Game 4 was a must-win for Indiana and they barely got by. Sure it was a win, but there was absolutely nothing to be happy with from Indiana’s performance.

Game 5 was a big one for the Hawks’ bench. Shelvin Mack and Mike Scott took this one for Atlanta on an off-night Millsap and Teague. Roy Hibbert had an empty box score. An embarrassing performance for Hibbert who in 12 minutes couldn’t even grab 1 rebound. Indiana is probably the worst 1 seed in the past 10 years. At this point nobody except Indiana fans want them to win. Atlanta is America’s team.

In what could’ve been the end of the series, Jeff Teague stepped up big with 29 points but had nobody behind him to defeat the Pacers. Roy Hibbert got 2 rebounds but remained scoreless. Game 7 returns to Indiana where all the pressure lies on the Pacers.

Game 7 in Indiana, not the place anybody thought they would be. This game is up to Jeff Teague. When he’s penetrating and scoring they are a very tough team to beat, especially when Roy Hibbert isn’t the game to protect the rim. This should be a relaxed game for the Hawks. They need to take care of the ball and stretch out the defense meaning guys like Millsap, Korver and Scott all have to hit open shots when they get the opportunity to spread the floor and put pressure on the defense.

The Pacers are the ones with their backs on the walls. If they lose they will be butchered in the media, Roy Hibbert will be hailed as the most disappointing player in sports and Paul George might take step back in terms of how he’s perceived as a star. This will be a big game for Paul George who has played well this series (22 points and 10 rebounds) but hasn’t played like the superstar he was supposed to be. He needs to step up early and play like the Paul George who almost beat the Heat last year. Don’t expect anything from HIbbert as he’s proven absolutely irrelevant so far, but they need to keep Jeff Teague in check. He’s gotten into the paint way too easily this series and in Game 7 if he’s taken out of the equation, their offense is stunted. They have the home-court advantage and know what they need to do to win. I think although it was a nice series the Hawks won’t win. It’s sad, but I think it’s reality. The Pacers don’t deserve to go on, but they won’t lose. The Hawks were a nice story so far but with home-court and the pressure of needing a win, the team will step up and finish off the Hawks.

Game 2 of the Game 7 Marathon: Grizzlies @ Thunder

Memphis Grizzlies v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game One

So what’s happened so far? We had a relatively easy win for Kevin Durant and the Thunder in Game 1.

Then of course, according to chronological common sense, came Game 2,  the first overtime contest between the two teams. Kevin Durant had 36 and this generally physically impossible shot, Westbrook had 29 but the Grizzlies won behind a surprising breakout game from former Knicks benchwarmer and chronic winer; Beno Udrih.

We flew over to Memphis, where 48 minutes just wasn’t enough for anybody, and the 2nd overtime went 13-10 in favor of Memphis giving them a 2-1 lead over OKC. Kevin Durant had 30, but on 37% shooting, Westbrook had a 30 of his own including this Kevin Durant mimic play from the game prior. Whispers began to swirl that Tony Allen was in Durant’s head, and although they were quiet, the 2-1 deficit and the poor shooting performance was worrying. The Thunder produced 9 points off the bench, while Memphis scored a whopping 34 led by Tony Allen and once again, Beno Udrih.

Game 4 was a must win for the Thunder or else they’d be down 3-1 to the 7th seed and tortured by media everywhere. This game of course, had to go to overtime where the Thunder managed to squeeze out a win. The real hero? Reggie Jackson who carried the team with 32 points, while the usual suspects were quiet as an Oklahoman farm, both scoring 15 points a piece… Whispers about Durant’s struggles gained momentum.

Game 5, the series is tied 2-2 and we’re back in Oklahoma. What happens in this one? Another overtime! The Grizzlies come out with the 1 point win, thanks to 5-three pointers from Mike Miller and one momentum freeze from Joey Crawford, who stopped Kevin Durant’s 2nd free throw and I don’t know if we can completely place the blame upon his bald head, but Durant did inevitably miss, losing the game for the Thunder. A new criticism arose from this game, one that has been continually recycled throughout the Thunder years: Westbrook shoots too much… His 31 attempts to Durant’s 24 don’t help his case either.

Unlike the previous 4 games of overtime, the Thunder returned to their Game 1 dominance and in response to the Mr. Unreliable headline in the Tulsa newspapers, Durant awoke from his slump and scored 36 points on 11-23 shooting. The Thunder held Mike Conley to 5 points and the Grizzlies to 84, their lowest point total of the series.

Now in Game 7, with things back in Oklahoma, all the pressure is on the home-team. The Thunder weren’t supposed to have this much difficulty with the 7 seed, no matter how good they might be. Kevin Durant wasn’t supposed to be struggling, things weren’t supposed to be this way. With their rivals Miami sweeping the 7 seed in the East, the Thunder are facing doubts on whether they can even get out of the West.

Luckily for them, the NBA screwed Memphis and suspended Zach Randolph from Game 7 of this series and therefore, probably taking away their chances of winning this game. To add on to the misery, Mike Conley is suffering from a strained right hamstring and although he is playing, he says he will be sore.

Clearly this is a blow for Memphis and a big advantage for Oklahoma. But the Thunder have to be wary of not falling into the trap of taking things lightly now that Memphis is short handed. The Thunder have to step on the Grizzlies and not give them any room to hang around because if the Thunder don’t take care of the ball, or lollygag on defense, the Grizzlies will certainly catch up. They win on defense, and on hard-work, both things that don’t require talent so if the Thunder are not on top of their game the Grizzlies will take advantage regardless of who they have playing and how people are feeling.

Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis will be big for Memphis as they try to fill the void for Randolph inside. I think what the Grizzlies should do is counter Randolph’s suspension by attacking early and trying to get Ibaka in foul trouble. That evens the playing field and also helps the Grizzlies in being aggressive from the beginning. It’s also a big game for Beno Udrih and the entire Grizzlies role players who will all need to produce on the offensive end for the Grizzlies to win. They need to somehow produce 18 points and 9 rebounds communally and that means everybody doing a little extra. Mike Miller had a nice Game 5, James Johnson with 15 points in Game 6, Udrih had 14 points in Game 2 but tonight they all have to have a big game. The Grizzlies can upset the Thunder if they can score the ball. Defensively, they’re the same team, but offensively is where they suffer without Randolph.

All the pressure is on Oklahoma right now. Memphis is shorthanded, and a 7th seed who have not only proven they can win on the road but have carried this game to Game 7 and made the entire world doubt the Thunder. They have nothing to lose. Game 7 actually fits their playing style perfectly. Every possession is worth more and the game will likely slow down. The Grizzlies play like that every night, Game 7 or not.

For the Thunder to win I think it means less shots for Westbrook and more for Durant. They cannot afford to have Westbrook playing at his normal speed and playing reckless. With every possession worth so much more, they have to be careful with the ball, while also remaining aggressive and pushing the pace when they can. It’s an interesting oxymoron for the Thunder, play carefully fast. Usually those adjectives don’t go together but the Thunder need a perfect blend to win tonight. In their wins so far this series, the Thunder have scored an average of 22 fast break points per game. In their losses? Only 13. That could be the difference for them. If they push the pace and make Memphis uncomfortable with playing quickly it means easier opportunities for them. Durant needs to eclipse 30 points tonight for the Thunder to win and that means getting him going early, meaning Westbrook has to defer. If everything else follows and the Thunder can hold the Grizzlies down while they’ll inevitably find it harder to score they will win the Game. That with their ecstatic crowd should grant the Thunder entry to round 2.

Game 3 of the Game 7 Marathon: Warriors @ Clippers

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Game 1 we’ll dub the foul trouble game. 51 fouls were called in all. Andre Igoudala fouled out after 20 minutes, as did Blake Griffin after 19. Three more of the Warriors’ starters had 4 fouls a piece and CP3 had 5. However, ironically, a non-foul call lost the game for the Clippers when a Draymond Green foul on Chris Paul was missed and on the review the only thing they could do was say it had to be Warrior ball.  After this one, it was hard to judge what was going to happen going forward, with all the foul trouble and all. The game was certainly as fast-paced as predicted, and the Warriors won by 4, despite 23 turnovers.

Game 2 was probably the most inanely entertaining game of the playoffs. A 138-98 win for Los Angeles helped them re-claim a grip on the series. The decisive factor was that guy from the Kia commercials staying in the game and scoring 35 points. The Warriors turnover woes continued as they coughed it up almost willingly an astounding 26 times, doubling the turnover total for Los Angeles. 7 players scored in double figures for the Clippers and on the other end the entire Warriors team struggled. The Splash Brothers combined for 31 points, the starting lineup combined for 50 and the team shot an uncharacteristic 21% from deep, starting criticism that if they can’t hit threes, they won’t go anywhere.

Game 3 was held in the Bee’s Hive in Golden State, my nickname for Oracle Arena that has surprisingly not been taken or used anywhere despite how genius it is. The Warriors were led by a big game from Klay Thompson and despite shooting only 31% from deep, they outshot the Clippers who bricked threes 71 percent of the time. Blake Griffin had another 30+ game, while Stephen Curry continued to be quiet. During all of this and in the days following the whole Donald Sterling controversy arose. What happened? Well his girlfriend should really be sued or arrested for recording him without his knowledge. Sterling should be kicked out of the NBA for being a disgusting racist man stuck in the 1930’s. And the NBA should continue to stay together while they deal with him and his the lawsuit he’ll probably bring the NBA into, just for the hell of it.

Game 4 was drowned out by the waves of Sterling drama being repeated in the news. Maybe there is a correlation, maybe not, but in the Game following the introduction of the controversy, the Clippers were blown out in Golden State by 21 points – the Warriors’ turn to embarrass the opponent. DeAndre Jordan was virtually non-existent, while Curry seemed to have located his mojo and put it back on the court, scoring 33 points including 5 threes in the first quarter.

Sterling was banned from every aspect of the Clippers organization and was then fined 2.5 million. Then Game 5 happened. The Clippers won as a result of bench production. Their bench scored 36 to Golden State’s 19. In a game where both teams starting lineups  were scoring with ease, the bench was the deciding factor.

Game 6 was stolen by Golden State in a 100-99 victory. I didn’t watch it. I can’t make up stuff and write about it. However, nobody shined, offensively it was quieter than both of these teams probably expected and although Matt Barnes hit an exciting 3 with 1.1 seconds left, it was essentially too little too late.

Now Game 7 heads to Los Angeles where the pressure isn’t really on anybody. The series was very even going in and it’s unlike the Thunder series or the Pacers series where a Game 7 probably wasn’t expected, but neither of these teams is really on another level than the other. The key for the Clippers is getting Blake Griffin going early. In losses this series, he’s scored 18 points per game and in wins, he averaged 25. When he’s scoring and is a low post threat it opens things up for everyone else and gets people open shots as well as gets him in a rhythm. The Clippers need to keep the Warriors to under 30% from beyond the arc. In wins so far, the Warriors have shot 39% from deep. In losses, they’ve shot 26%. If the Clippers can do those things, and get Blake scoring 25+ and keep the Warriors to under 30% from deep they will take this game. They already have the home-court advantage on their side, so sticking to those guidelines will secure them a round 2 entry.

 

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