The Thunder are down and out until next season, when we hope that the phoenix will once again be reborn and rise from the ashes. For me however, and hopefully for you, that doesn't mean that basketball stops. Basketball never stops.
In this space I plan to recount my impressions of the playoffs from here on out. I don't plan on doing any recapping or other such things, we have some amazing sites who are far greater experts on their teams than I will ever be. Rather, I want to continue to keep perspective on why the currently playing teams are in the positions they are, what we can learn about them, and what it tells us about basketball itself.
GRIZZLIES vs SPURS
The series currently stands at 2-0 in favor of the Spurs, just like the Grizzlies faced an 0-2 deficit in the 1st round against the Clippers.
I knew that Game 1 would be an anomaly. The Grizzlies' defense is too prideful and tenacious to give up that many open 3-pointers. However, midway through Game 2 the Spurs seemed to be doing it again, up 18 in the 3rd. However, one thing tilted in Memphis' favor - it was a low-scoring affair.
Even so, the game should not have been as close as it was in the end, given that the Grizzlies' power forward Zach Randolph was having a horrid game. Near the end though, an amazing 4 point sequence gave Memphis just enough juice to power it into OT, which led to this discussion between myself and Pounding the Rock's head honcho, J.R. Wilco:
J.R. Wilco: I need an independent fan's opinion: did you think Manu's foul was worth a flagrant?
Sherman: from here: http://www.nba.com/2010/news/features/04/18/flagrant.technical/, the operative word is 'unnecessary.' To me, you can't look at the fall, where Allen clearly overacted. So if the refs were playing by the letter, they only looked at the contact initiated by Manu
If that's the case, the only way I see them judging that the contact was 'unnecessary' was that they considered that Manu hung onto Allen's arm for too long, pulling him down. Otherwise, that's a foul we see a dozen times every single game.
It's kind of akin to the facemask penalty in football. If you grab it and let go it's 5 yards. If the refs deem that you held on too long, even for a second, it's 15 yards. So the difference in Manu's play is whether he held on too long. And after the refs reviewed it, I'm not really sure how they can make that call, given the momentum of both players. Manu didn't wind up and swing at Allen or anything. He just fouled and possibly grabbed to make sure the shot didn't go up.
J.R. Wilco: Which tells me that they were looking at the fall after all!
Sherman: Yep. and that's puzzling too, since if you watched Allen fall it's pretty obvious his reaction is not commensurate with the foul. So in a way I think they got it wrong twice. Even after review, they called something 'unnecessary' that wasn't by the letter of the law, and then they looked at the outcome of the foul when they should not have. At least that's what it seems like to me.
The only other thing I can think of is that the refs were not just making a call for this play, but for the series. Setting the standard for unnecessary fouls to prevent things from getting out of hand. Which I think is misguided because the best way to keep things from getting out of hand is to call plays accurately and consistently, not be overbearing on a marginal call.
PACERS vs HEAT
Game 1 was marvelous. I believe that in the Heat's current iteration, the only way that a team is going to have a shot to take them down is by muddying the waters. The Heat simply have too many high skill players on their team, and more importantly, they are working at a high level of synergy and competence. Even if Russell Westbrook hadn't gone down in these playoffs, I think OKC would have had a really hard time matching up against the Heat simply because Miami's collection of talent tends to play at a higher level of consistency than the Thunder's had this year. Likewise, I feel the same way about the Spurs. As great as their offense can look at times, the fact that Manu Ginobili still looks either hurt or just too far past his prime makes their bench too inconsistent.
The Pacers on the other hand (and by same virtue, the Grizzlies) understand that the Heat can be beaten up inside. To be sure, the Heat are no shrinking violets. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Shane Battier are tough guys who aren't afraid to play physical ball. It is not that they can't deal with the physicality; however, the difference is that if the game can be changed to that level of play instead of a focus on skill and shotmaking, the competitive balance can shift. In other words, the Pacers can't compete with the Heat playing Heat ball, but the Pacers can compete with the Heat if they play Pacers ball. In game 1, Indiana did a really good job making it a Pacers kind of game, and they had a shot to win in the end.
The problem of course is that Indiana's competitive advantage is so narrow that to not convert in a game like Game 1 means a huge opportunity is wasted. As Omar famously once said, "If you come at the king, you best not miss." It takes an incredible amount of energy and focus to stay in a game against a Heat team that can essentially put it away at virtually any point if they can string together defensive sequences and then hit some 3-pointers. Indiana did it once, but can they do it again?
Indy has the gravitas to do it, of course, but what worried me most about the way Game 1 ended was how in the biggest moments they didn't make the plays they needed to make, while LeBron has developed an amazing ability to convert almost EVERY play that needs to be made at the ending of games. LeBron's winning shot has been dissected ad nauseum so there is no need to rehash it here, but the other two plays that stuck out in my mind were two opportunities the Pacers had to really put the clamps on.
With about 2:30 left in OT, David West got free in the lane and had an open, point blank jumper that he left short. It was about as clean a look as he got all night, and he just came up short. This shot would have put the Pacers up by 2 possessions. Unfortunately for West, this miss was representative of his entire OT period, where he finished 0-2 from the floor and 0-2 from the free throw line. Huge, missed opportunities.
Secondly, Lance Stephenson missed a contested 3-pointer with 90 seconds remaining. Stephenson finished the game 2-10 from the floor and 0-5 from 3-point range. That shot would have put the Pacers up by 6 points, not an insurmountable lead, but one in which they could manage as the clock ran out. The thing is, I liked the shot. If you want to beat the better team, you can't be afraid to go for the kill shot. Unfortunately for Indiana, he missed. Like West, Stephenson just missed.
Those shots may not come around again. If you get a clear shot in a possession and a series, you best not miss.
To get the best possible coverage for the remaining playoff teams, be sure to visit these SB Nation sites:
Memphis Grizzlies: Grizzly Bear Blues
San Antonio Spurs: Pounding the Rock