MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Some of the new owners of this franchise now treading on historic playoff ground leaned up against the wall outside the Memphis Grizzlies’ locker room. Hair was frazzled, faces were flush and breaths were still coming heavy as if they had just outrun the Boogie Man.
In some respects they had.
Monday’s 103-97 overtime victory over the shorthanded and succumbing Oklahoma City Thunder turned scary from the jump. Kevin Durant set the early tone, animated, vocal and doing his thing. Serge Ibaka suddenly rediscovered his shooting touch, Kevin Martin was hitting and young Reggie Jackson was doing his best Russell Westbrook impression.
The visitors had the bounce and the confidence early. The Grindhouse crowd grew restless, boos came down when Durant buried a 3-pointer, his third without a miss, to put OKC ahead 46-29 with 4:26 until halftime. They’d since seen this horror flick before. Game 4 against these Thunder two years ago was a hot topic at practice the day before. OKC was then the team that trailed by 17 and came back all the way back to win it in triple-overtime to tie the series and eventually win it in Game 7.
Games 1 and 7 at home last season against the Clippers. Series over. Season wiped out.
To not take this Game 4 by the throat, to walk off the floor with tails tucked between their legs in front of a sellout crowd, to drag a 2-2 tie instead of riding a 3-1 lead back to Bricktown would have been a travesty.
“Our whole mindset was get it to 10 by halftime and we got it to eight,” Tony Allen said. “Coach [Lionel Hollins] came in the locker room. He’s good with those speeches. We wanted to respond.”
These Grizzlies, more mature, more clutch than any incarnation before, refused to let it happen. TayshaunPrince and Allen clamped down on Durant, who missed 17 of his 27 shots, missed all four in overtime and missed his third clutch free throw in the last two games. Mike Conley scored 24 points and for a time matched Durant 3-pointer for 3-pointer. He played 48 minutes, 40 seconds — 21 ticks more than Durant and turned the ball over exactly once.
Then it was big Marc Gasol, with 23 points and 11 boards, swishing the game-winning jumper from the foul line. Then it was Allen, the original grit-and-grinder who was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team earlier Monday, making the game-sealing steal. It was his 10th of the series, this one on Derek Fisher‘s crossed-up inbounds pass. (more…)
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Late in the first quarter Kevin Durant wanted a foul on emerging nemesis Tony Allen and put up an awkward shot that bounced off the backboard and triggered an Allen breakaway. To prevent a layup, the retreating Durant leaped and fouled Allen on the way to the rim, came down, punched the air in frustration and told referee Ken Mauer of his possession at the other end: “That was a foul, man.”
All the while Allen shot his free throws, Durant pleaded his case. On the ensuing inbounds pass, Allen blanketed Durant and he fell to the floor. During the quarter break, Durant, with a towel draped around his shoulders at mid-court, continued to address Mauer.
Durant pounded the chest of struggling forward Serge Ibaka after he missed a free throw. After a near-steal by Memphis’ aggressive team defense, Durant animatedly jabbed at the sky with his index finger and urged second-year guard Reggie Jackson to throw the ball higher when he’s backing down his man.
Durant, asked to bang with burly Grizzlies center Marc Gasol on the defensive end, took an inadvertent elbow from the big man square in the jaw, doubled-over and covered his face with his hands.
As Game 3 was ticking down Saturday evening to a Memphis Grizzlies 87-81 victory for a 2-1 series lead, Durant crouched down and planted both hands on the floor, tired and realizing that it is up to him to pick up this fight, to keep the season going, in 48 hours. With Allen now hounding him for chunks at a time, Durant finished with 25 points on 9-for-19 shooting after starting 6-for-8. He had 11 rebounds and five assists. He logged 45 minutes, 44 seconds, which might or might not have contributed to him going 2-for-5 from the free throw line in the second half.
He had two points in the fourth quarter. In the last two fourth quarters, starting with the final 3:18 of the Thunder’s Game 2 loss at home when the hard-edged guard Allen truly started to stick to Durant, the three-time scoring champ is 1-for-7 from the floor and 0-for-2 from the free throw line.
“Tony’s great man,” Grizzlies teammate Zach Randolph said. “Tony’s a dog, man. He’s in the mud.”
Welcome to KD’s world. The reality of All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook – Allen’s more natural counterpart –being shelved is in full effect and it’s not pretty. The Grizzlies are doing all they can to grit-and-grind their way to making life as uncomfortable as possible for Durant, forcing his teammates to step up, and especially late in these games, each of which have been up for grabs in the final three minutes.
“I’ve said it before, when a guy has the ball and has to score like that it takes energy, and the more you make him work, that’s the best you can do,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “You can’t stop Kevin Durant, he’s a great player, but he played 45, 46 minutes and he’s asked to carry a huge load for them. As the game goes on other people for them, they start taking the load away from him a little bit, but I don’t think that we can stop him. I’m not attributing it to us.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Durant’s heavy minutes were not a factor in going 3-for-11 after his great start and 1-for-4 in a second consecutive poorly executed final few minutes.
The 24-year-old Durant continues to say he can shoulder any load. But, he has to have help. Ibaka is a mess offensively, clanging 11 more shots in Game 3 — unfathomably including two dunks and a 1-foot hook, and running his series shooting percentage to 33.3 percent. This from a man who shot a career-best 57.3 percent in the regular season.
Since Ibaka missed that difficult put-back under the rim at the end of the Game 4 loss to Houston, his shooting has plummeted from 22-for-38 to 23-for-66. Durant acknowledged that Ibaka’s mind is a mine field.
“We have to get him confidence,” Durant said. “We have to get him some shots and get him going. We can’t let him put too much pressure on himself. It’s all in his mind. If he thinks he is going to make those shots, then he is going to make them. I have to pick him up and that is what I have been doing.”
Kevin Martin shouldn’t need picking up in his ninth season, although this is the first pressurized postseason of his career. No matter, he is nearing bust status when his team needs him most. He, too, missed 11 more shots as his 50-point, two-game breakout to close out Houston and to get OKC off to a 1-0 start against the Grizz appears more like a mirage. His shooting stats in the last two games: 8-for-28 from the floor and 1-for-5 from beyond the arc.
In this series, Durant is averaging 32.0 points on 33-for-66 shooting from the floor. The rest of the Thunder are 62-for-172 (36.0 percent). They’ve struggled to score against Memphis’ gritty defense, averaging 85.6 points — 20 below their season average. Yet they’ve been right there, in position to snag the last two games.
Game 3 was theirs to take. They outrebounded Memphis, limited their turnovers, held Randolph to eight points and one offensive board. OKC was unusually spotty from the foul line (12-for-19) and awful from beyond the arc (5-for-18), but Derek Fisher’s 3-ball tied it at 81-81 with 1:58 to go. Much like Game 2, they wouldn’t score again.
Durant and Brooks both reiterated that they won’t change their approach offensively. Durant won’t play hero ball. He’ll continue to look for teammates in the structure of the halfcourt offense, which Durant said is working fine. They just need to make shots, he said.
“We missed two dunks, we missed three or four layups in the paint, we missed some wide open 3s,” Durant said. “We’re getting the right shots. We’re getting shots that our offense gives to us. We just have to knock them down.”
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Still alive and rocking is Loud City, the Roaracle, a classic in the Garden and while it’s not old Chicago Stadium, the United Center crowd takes no prisoners.
Moving up the list of loudest NBA playoff arenas, if not yet documented as one of the toughest to snare a road win: The Grindhouse.
Otherwise known by its corporate moniker, the FedExForum, The Grindhouse is unlike the romper rooms of Chesapeake Arena, aka Loud City, in Oklahoma City, and Golden State’s Oracle Arena, redubbed Roaracle for its altered game-day state of delirium.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ home gym didn’t derive its horror-flick nickname from the deafening screams of a zealous fandom. The Grindhouse was born from the team’s sweat-and-blood, grit-n-grind style and bequeathed by Memphis guard Tony Allen, the ultimate grit-n-grind Grizzly.
Yet, with each passing playoff game and series — just ask the hated Los Angeles Clippers — The Grindhouse name has also become representative of the team’s fans and the atmosphere they create inside the joint. There was a time when crowds only packed the Forum for their beloved University of Memphis basketball.
Ever-so-slowly, that is changing. Memphis’ roster, with players like Allen, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, who attended high school in the city when his brother Pau Gasol led the first playoff Grizz teams, as well as coach Lionel Hollins are also emblematic of this Southern city and its citizens, making it an easy team for the people to identify with and appreciate as their own.
As a former Memphis Tigers assistant coach said this week of this town on the banks of the Mississippi: “Memphis is a grinding, gritty city of blue-collar people.”
When the Thunder enter The Grindhouse Saturday afternoon for Game 3 (5 p.m. ET, ESPN) of this semifinal series tied 1-1, they’ll face the Grizzlies and a sellout-crowd of 18,119, the 14th consecutive home playoff sellout going back to the 2010 season when Memphis upset top-seeded San Antonio and then lost to the Thunder in seven heart-stopping games.
Game 4 on Monday night is almost certain to make it 15 in a row. Only a few hundred tickets remain, a Grizzlies official said Friday night.
Grizzlies fans will be there in force and wildly waving yellow rally towels as they did for three games against the Clippers, the team that demoralized the city a year ago with a miraculous Game 1 comeback and then a Game 7 victory in The Grindhouse. It spawned an atmosphere of vengeance this time around with the feel of a WWE asylum on steroids.
Saturday’s Grindhouse crowd won’t have forgotten 2011′s seven-game semifinal loss to OKC and especially the Thunder’s triple-overtime Game 4 win on the Grizzlies’ floor.
“They came into our building and got a win,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of the Grizzlies’ Game 2 equalizer Tuesday that stunned and silenced Loud City. ”Now we have to go into their building and get a win. Is it impossible? Absolutely not.
“It is going to be tough.”
Around the Bay Area, the refrain reminds of the “We Believe” Warriors of 2007, the eighth-seeded squad that knocked off the Dallas Mavericks in six games. Oracle Arena was just as nuts then and is known for its lunacy even when the Warriors stink.
In Memphis, this certainly is no longer 2006. Pau might not recognize the place that little brother Marc has helped to cultivate. That was the year the Grizzlies suffered a third-consecutive first-round sweep. The Grizzlies’ Game 3 overtime loss against Dallas didn’t sell out and Game 4, a 102-76 thumping, officially drew 15,104, but that number most certainly was inflated as section after section of the upper bowl sat empty.
This season marked the best in franchise history with 56 wins despite Hollins working on the final year of his contract, plus the initially controversial trade of Rudy Gay and an earlier trade that shook up the Grizzlies’ bench. There are season-ticket holders that complain that these days Grizzlies fans don’t show up until the playoffs.
They have a point. Memphis ranked 19th of 30 teams this season in attendance, averaging 16,624 per home game. Of the eight teams remaining in the playoffs, only the Indiana Pacers drew fewer fans (15,269). The Grizzlies played to 91.8 percent capacity, 17th in the league. By comparison, the Thunder ranked 12th in the league in attendance (18,203), but were at 100 percent capacity.
Still, Memphis’ situation has improved drastically since the franchise moved to Memphis from Vancouver for the 2001-02 season. For most of the decade it ranked in the bottom five in attendance.
This is known: The Grindhouse will rock-n-roll on Saturday. But as Memphis fans know, they can only deliver the insanity. Remember at the start of the playoffs when all the talk was about the home teams winning? It didn’t last long. Three of the eight teams that advanced to the second round did not have homecourt advantage — Golden State, Chicago and, yes, Memphis.
After two games in each second-round series, all four were knotted up. If more proof is needed that the loudest, most fiendish home crowds can’t guarantee victory, then check out what happened Friday night at Roaracle. Or Tuesday inside the Thunder’s own bubble called Loud City.
OKLAHOMA CITY – The most intriguing chess match for the two coaches in this second-round series isn’t about big vs. small, but how to best utilize their defensive stopper. In Game 1, Oklahoma City’s Thabo Sefolosha and Memphis’ Tony Allen were like two fish out of water.
Normally charged with checking the opposition’s most dangerous scorer, Allen and Sefolosha are stuck guarding each other in this series, which resumes with tonight’s Game 2 at Chesapeake Arena (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Allen would typically be hounding Russell Westbrook, but he’s out of the playoffs following knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins has already said he will no longer play his 6-foot-4 grinder on Kevin Durant, whose long frame is stronger than a few years ago, allowing Durant to punish Allen on the post.
Durant is Tayshaun Prince‘s responsibility, and went mostly without the aid of a double-team in Game 1. So Allen, one of the top on-ball defenders in the league, is left to guard Sefolosha, a good corner and wing 3-point shooter, but easily the Thunder’s fourth or fifth option even with Westbrook out. Sefolosha played just 18 minutes in Game 1, scored four points and missed his lone 3-point attempt after averaging 4.6 attempts from beyond the arc in the first-round series against Houston.
“It is kind of odd because you know there’s not really a prolific scorer in my size range,” Allen said. “But it’s about the Grizzlies playing a better game than the Thunder. We’ve got to keep that mindset. But whatever he [Hollins] wants me to do on the defensive end, I’m willing to fill that void.”
The logical maneuver then is to put Allen on sixth man Kevin Martin, who scored 25 points on 8-for-14 shooting and got to the free-throw line seven times in OKC’s 93-91 Game 1 victory. But because Allen starts and Martin comes off the bench, pairing the two can be tricky. Hollins played Allen just 20 minutes in Game 1 and he was on the floor with Martin, who logged 32 minutes, for all of seven minutes.
“They are different without Russell Westbrook,” Allen said. “The last game I was trying to float because I didn’t really know who to key in and lock into. Kevin Martin comes off the bench and I’m starting; when I come out he’s coming in so that’s kind of tough. But we got our feet wet in Game 1. Now it’s Game 2, we know what to expect without Westbrook, we know who are their main characters now and we have to do a better job on Martin, obviously, and you know, not let [Derek] Fisher get so many big-time timely shots, and just try to do a better job on those other guys.”
It wasn’t too unlike Game 1 in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers for Allen. He played 17 minutes while Jerryd Bayless got bumped up for offensive purposes and had to guard Clippers sixth man Jamal Crawford. In Game 2, Allen logged 39 minutes and he averaged 30.5 mpg in the final four games.
So Allen figures to be on the court much more tonight and he must take advantage of the loose defense Sefolosha played on him in Game 1 to knock down open looks (Allen was 1-for-5 from the floor for three points) and use the open space to chase rebounds.
“He’s barely even sticking me,” Allen said.
That’s because Sefolosha is more concerned with dropping down and helping big men Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins defend Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Allen can alter that strategy by making baskets, which in turn helps to free up Memphis’ talented big men.
“My focus is to help the bigs,” Sefolosha said. “Help them rebound, help them get in a situation where Zach and Marc Gasol can’t get too deep in the paint, so basically helping off a little bit. But at the same time, Tony does a lot of good things without the ball and I have to be aware of where he is on the court.”
OKLAHOMA CITY –Kevin Martin was in a deep funk and the pressure, bearing down on him from multiple angles, was starting to crush him.
For one, Martin had sat on the postseason sidelines since 2006 when he was a 23-year-old, third-year scorer for the Sacramento Kings, so his adrenaline raced to overload levels as he started the 2013 playoffs for the title-contending Oklahoma City Thunder. Two games in and Russell Westbrook tears his meniscus and is declared out for the remainder of the playoffs, instantly and drastically altering Martin’s role from a sixth-man spot-up shooter.
His burden, though drove much deeper. He was matched up against his old team, the Houston Rockets, and the first-time All-Star he was traded for, James Harden, a beloved figure during his three seasons with Oklahoma City. Failure here would be personally damaging and very likely make for an abbreviated stay with OKC when he becomes a free agent this summer.
Martin is an unrecognizable 17-for-69 from the field through the first give games, 9-for-32 in the first three games without Westbrook and 1-for-10 in a Game 5 home loss that brought the Rockets from down 3-0 to 3-2 with Game 6 in Houston. Martin seemed zapped of confidence and to be losing the battle against himself.
“I think it was all the above,” Martin said. “I hadn’t been to the playoffs in a while. I didn’t know what to expect when I was 23, I was just a kid and I was out there running around as really the sixth or seventh option on that Sacramento team. And then being in the series with Houston, I got a lot of friends over there and had some good years there. It was just an emotional series all the way around.”
Then came Game 6 on his former home court and Martin sprung to life. He started becoming aggressive, becoming playmaker again, slashing, cutting, driving off the dribble, getting to the rim and the free throw line. He dropped 25 points on Houston as the Thunder surged ahead in the fourth quarter of Game 6 to move into the semifinals.
On Sunday, Martin did it again, scoring 25 points to help the Thunder to a 1-0 lead in their second-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Consider the difference: In the first five games against Houston, Martin made just five field goals and went to the free throw line 17 times. In the last two games, he has nine field goals (15-for-27 overall and 6-for-10 beyond the arc) plus 15 free throw attempts. He’s getting in the paint and making the opposition pay.
“Throughout the year I knew my role, I had to be that third-leading scorer beside K.D. [Kevin Durant] and Russ,” Martin said. “And now I need to be that second option. That’s just what the team needs out of me and that’s what I’ll do.”
Martin’s Game 1 production — 8-for-14 from the field, 3-for-5 from 3-point range and 6-for-7 from the free throw line — will force Memphis coach Lionel Hollins to reassess his decision to largely allow Martin to roam without defensive specialist Tony Allen guarding him.
Allen played less than 21 minutes in Game 1 and fewer than seven minutes came with Martin on the floor. And during a three-minute stint in the second quarter when Martin scored 15 of OKC’s 33 points, he burned Allen backdoor for an and-1 layup and then buried a 3-pointer.
During the season with Westbrook in the lineup, Martin’s shooting often told the story of OKC’s outcomes. When he scored in double-digits, the Thunder largely won. And when he didn’t, they struggled, particularly against playoff teams. Now it’s a question of consistency. Martin won’t average 25 points as he has in the last two games, but for OKC to beat Memphis — and beyond — he must continue to be a multidimensional playmaker and shoot at a high percentage.
“We want him to move. He’s our best mover,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said. “We don’t run an offense for him to stand around in the corner, but he has to do that at times because we have some other dynamic players. But I thought his effort, moving and cutting and allowing himself to get easy shots and get to the free throw line, that’s his game.”
LOS ANGELES – Opposing playoff coaches Vinny Del Negro and Lionel Hollins have a lot in common. Both men have improved their clubs’ winning percentage each season as coach. The last two soared over .600 for consecutive top-five finishes in the rugged Western Conference.
Both won 56 games this season to set each franchise’s record for most wins.
While both have produced excellent seasons by any measure, one will be going home earlier than hoped. And despite public stamps of approval this week from their superiors, neither coach’s future is certain, and prior to Monday’s Game 2, neither was pretending otherwise.
“Would I liked to have had a contract before this? Of course,” said Hollins, now in his fifth consecutive season and third stint as the Grizzlies coach, a relationship that dates back to the franchise’s roots in Vancouver. “But that’s a decision that’s made and you go and do the best job you can, and it’s not like it had to be done before the season is over. It’s just like players, you can extend players early or you can wait till later. Guys become free agents and they go out in free agency and sometimes it gives you leverage and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Del Negro, who guided the Clippers to the franchise’s first Pacific Division title and first 50-win campaign in his third season and second with All-Star point guard Chris Paul, has been one of the most scrutinized coaches since Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf hired him without any coaching experience five years ago. Del Negro lasted two .500 seasons there before being fired and then hired by the Clippers.
L.A. advanced to the West semifinals last season, but with Paul and Blake Griffin banged up, was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Del Negro said this season’s goal is to go deeper, which implies a goal of achieving another franchise milestone, a first conference final. It would take finishing off Memphis and then likely ousting the reigning West-champion Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I believe in what we’ve done here,” Del Negro said. “I think my assistant coaches have done a phenomenal job and I’ve had great support from ownership and the front office … and everybody to try and put the best team out there possible.
“Right now the focus should be on the playoffs, should be on the players and the commitment that they’re putting in to help us be successful. And all those things (contract situation) will get answered at the end.” (more…)
Who are the best sideline tacticians in the playoffs?
Steve Aschburner: Let’s do this countdown style, for some semblance of suspense. My No. 3 is Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau because he’s the league’s consensus defensive genius and defense looms larger at playoff time. The adjustments against Brooklyn’s Big 3 Monday produced 2013′s first road playoff victory. At No. 2, I’ve got Miami’s Erik Spoelstra because, even with a star-studded lineup, no one works harder. The refinements in the Heat’s offense around LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are impressive. And my No. 1, based on which coach I’d want working my sideline for one game or one series, remains San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. You’d think he had Manute Bol arms for the number of tricks he always has up his sleeves. Game plans, late in games, out of timeouts, there’s no one consistently better.
Fran Blinebury: Gregg Popovich. Watch the Spurs coming out any timeout. Pop excels at drawing up plays in the huddle that just plain work. And he’s transformed the core of a plodding, pound-it-inside power team into an up-tempo, highly efficient offense. Doc Rivers. He kept the Celtics thriving over the last two months of the season without a point guard, using all of his positions to start and run the offense at times. Lionel Hollins. The bite in that Grizzlies defense comes from the boss. And he knows what he wants in games. Down 91-89 with 21.6 seconds left in Game 2, he drew up play that got Marc Gasol wide open at the rim for a dunk.
Erik Spoelstra (by Issac Baldizon/NBAE)
Jeff Caplan: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau just keeps coming up with more reasons to tab him No. 1. Just look at Game 2. He wanted to play Joakim Noah between 20-25 minutes and Thibodeau got absolutely everything he could out of Noah in 25:29. And adjustments with Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler limited Deron Williams to 1-for-9 shooting and eight points in 38 minutes. The Godfather of the group remains Gregg Popovich. Look, this guy only changed the entire identity of the Spurs to keep up with the rest of the league as his Big Three got older. And finally, give me Erik Spoelstra. He’s managed to find the proper role for every player on the roster, and that includes the great LeBron James, whose position-less game has greatly expanded and flourished under Spo. Plus, look at all the games Miami won down the stretch when one, two or all three of the Big Three didn’t play. That’s coaching.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Gregg Popovich, George Karl, Tom Thibodeau. As if there was any doubt about the greatness of Pop, the move to the up-tempo game the last couple seasons shows he can make different systems work with the same roster core. It is impossible to overstate the difficulty of crossing that bridge.
John Schuhmann: No. 1: Gregg Popovich. You have to love the way that he’s opened up the Spurs’ offense over the last few years, how they’ve evolved from a post-up team to a pick-and-roll team, how he was one of the first coaches to embrace the corner three, and how he always seems to have something up his sleeve in late-game timeouts. Oh yeah, San Antonio ranked in the top three defensively in his first 11 full seasons on the bench and, after some adjustments to its approach, got back there this season. No. 2: Tom Thibodeau. He’s the architect of a couple of the best defensive teams of all-time, has basically changed the way most of the league defends now, and has managed to make this team with limited talent a group that no one wants to face in the postseason. No. 3: Erik Spoelstra. He’s made the most of the talent he’s been given by formulating an offense that spaces the floor and makes you pay for whatever defensive decision you happen to make and by formulating a defensive system that attacks the ball and utilizes his rosters’ length and athleticism.
Sekou Smith: From a purely tactical standpoint, it’s hard to go against the coaching holy trinity of Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau, three of the best coaches in the game in every facet of the job. But picking just three squeezes out the guy who has become what I would consider the ultimate tactician, and that’s Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. Being a great tactician is not just about in-game moves. It’s about preparation for all things that could be encountered against a particular opponent. Pop showed in Game 1 against the Lakers that he’s going to search throughout his roster for the right mismatch (Matt Bonner) and exploit it every time. Doc has his work cut out for him heading into Game 3 of that series and is sure to come up with the right moves. Thibs showed us in Game 2 that he can always get his team to rebound from adversity, as the Brooklyn Nets found out. Spoelstra’s use of Chris “Birdman” Andersen as his team’s instant energy booster remains one of the most surprising tactical moves any coach has made this season. So I’m going with all four of these guys instead of just three.
Lang Whitaker: I think it starts with Pop. His system is so versatile and applicable to so many different situations, and he’s able to swap in and out different pieces with remarkably similar results. I also always enjoy watching Tom Thibdoeau do work. He’s got a roster of guys that had trouble finding work elsewhere (Nate Robinson, anyone?), but he has them defending and covering for each other’s weaknesses. And I have been continually impressed with Mike Woodson this season, especially on the offensive end. Having watched him in Atlanta forever, it seems like a completely different person in NYC, as the Knicks use a motion offense and share the ball. That triple screen they run Kidd off of is the stuff of a kid doodling in class.
LOS ANGELES –Jamal Crawford spent the first few minutes after Monday morning’s shootaround being as affable as ever while answering questions about the physical nature of the series, adjustments to be made and the importance of protecting home court.
Then came the one topic that visibly soured his mood. His smile disappeared, his shoulders slumped, his voice lowered.
While the Clippers were reviewing Monday night’s Game 2 strategy against the Memphis Grizzlies, the league was announcing New York Knicks gunner J.R. Smith as the Kia Sixth Man of the Year. An award Crawford owned for the first half of the season was swiped by Smith’s late hot streak that corresponded with the Knicks’ late-season 13-game win streak.
“Congrats to J.R.,” Crawford said softly. “You can’t worry about stuff you can’t control.”
It’s uncertain if Crawford was already aware of his fate or was just learning of it. Clearly, though, when it hit his ears, his mind reeled back to late January when the All-Star reserves were announced. Crawford, the 2010 Sixth Man of the Year with Atlanta, had hoped he’d be selected for his first All-Star team in his 13th NBA season. He was not.
“Going back to the All-Star team, I guess twice in a season,” Crawford said of getting the snub. “But congrats to J.R.”
So when Crawford came out on fire in the Los Angeles Clippers’ 93-91 Game 2 win over the Memphis Grizzlies for a 2-0 first-round series lead, it sure seemed like he had come out with a Big Apple-sized chip on his shoulder.
He canned his first six shots and put together an 11-point second quarter that changed the flow of the game and a 13-point first half as the Clippers’ bench again caused all kinds of problems for the Grizzlies.
Crawford led L.A.’s bench with 15 points, plus three steals and a single turnover in 33:30. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, as expected, backed his first-year sixth man who averaged 16.5 points in the regular season, his high mark since taking the Sixth Man award three seasons ago, while shooting 37.6 percent from beyond the arc.
“He’s [third] in the league in fourth-quarter scoring, he’s had 29 20-point-plus games off the bench,” Del Negro said. “He set the franchise record for free throws (58 in a row), set the franchise record for 3-pointers made (149 in the regular season). He’s been a huge catalyst for us all season from Day 1, the whole season, so it’s hard for me to look at it and say that Jamal didn’t deserve that. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more deserving.”
With an All-Star snub in the rearview mirror and now the Sixth Man hardware in Smith’s hands, Crawford still has the biggest prize of all in his sights.
He’s the leader of easily the deepest (and arguably the most dangerous) bench in the league. During the regular season it was just one of four benches to average better than 40 ppg.
In the first two games of the first-round series against the Grizzlies, the Clippers’ bench has been superior and has forced the hand of Memphis coach Lionel Hollins.
In L.A.’s breathtaking 93-91 victory Monday in Game 2, the Clippers’ bench outscored their opponents’ reserves 30-11. In Game 1, Memphis got 19 points from Jerryd Bayless, who played 30 minutes because the Grizz were constantly playing catch-up, and that limited defensive-minded Tony Allen to just 17 minutes. In that game, L.A.’s Eric Bledsoe went off for 13 points, four assists and six rebounds in the decisive fourth quarter.
Del Negro has pushed all the right buttons so far. In Game 1, he went to little-used power forward Ronny Turiaf instead of Ryan Hollins and it paid off. In Game 2, Crawford accounted for half the scoring, but the Clippers got five assists and 15 rebounds from the bench.
“I have confidence in all of our guys,” Del Negro said. “I have no hesitation putting them in if I feel they can help us.”
And that’s included Lamar Odom throughout the season. Although Odom’s 3-point and free throw shooting has been abysmal, he’s rewarded Del Negro in other ways. He had seven rebounds in Game 1, more than burly big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined. There was his fourth-quarter sequence in Game 2 that included a defensive rebound and long outlet to Matt Barnes, a leaping swat of Randolph and a terrific bounce pass to the slashing Bledsoe for a dunk.
An all-reserve second unit changed the momentum of Game 2 in the second quarter and opened the fourth quarter on an 8-0 to build a double-digit lead.
“With the depth of the Clippers’ bench, we have to match them offensively as well as do a decent job on them defensively,” Hollins said. “But we can’t go out there and not score and give up eight, 10 points in a row. Then they can’t be out there for long as a group.”
And they weren’t. Hollins got all five starters back out there early in the fourth quarter to battle, in a rare occurrence, the Clippers’ five subs.
It’s a predicament the Grizzlies must solve in a hurry.
LOS ANGELES – How poor was the Memphis Grizzlies’ rebounding in Saturday night’s Game 1?
So poor that Lamar Odom’s seven boards in 18 minutes were one more than Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined to bring down in 66 total minutes.
“Very surprised,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said when asked about the Los Angeles Clippers’ 47-23 overall margin on the boards and 14-4 on the offensive glass. “But I’ve been saying when we played them before, they’ve gotten more boards than they should. Their wing people come in and get offensive rebounds.”
Hollins then noted after his team’s 112-91 loss the seemingly impossible with what can only be described as stunned exasperation: Randolph managed four rebounds in 25 foul-plagued minutes and Gasol got just two rebounds — one defensive board in the first quarter and another in the third — in 41 minutes.
And just look at those offensive rebounds that Hollins is talking about for the Clippers. Of their 14, the starters had five — center DeAndre Jordan (three), Caron Butler (one) and Blake Griffin (one), who, like Randolph, was taken out of the flow of the game by fouls — some seemingly very ticky-tack both ways — and played less than 26 minutes.
The bench, led by Odom’s three offensive rebounds, accounted for nine, and remarkably equaled Memphis’ overall 23 rebounds. Even little-used Ronny Turiaf, getting nine minutes of in place of Ryan Hollins late in the third and early in the fourth, outrebounded Gasol, 3-2, including an offensive board and a put-back.
Nothing in Saturday’s Game 1 held to form for either club other than the Clippers’ bench playing outstanding basketball. The rebounding aspect went haywire. During the regular saeason, Memphis ranked third in allowing the fewest offensive rebounds per game (10.3), was tied for third in accumulating offensive rebounds (12.9). It was also third in rebounding differential (plus-3.6).
The Clippers are big up front and are a good rebounding team, having finished sixth in differential (plus-2.5). But to have a plus-24 advantage in Game 1 and to be outscored 25-5 on second-chance points, it was all about outhustling the burly Grizzlies.
“We got beat at our game. We got to give them credit,” said Gasol, a top Defensive Player of the Year candidate. “Once we got a stop, they kept running and getting offensive rebounds and second-chance points. The way we played for 36-40 minutes, I think we played good basketball. Even though we weren’t fully feeling like ourselves, they were doing a good job of trying to get us away from what we’re trying to do.”
For Memphis fans who were screaming at Lionel Hollins through their television sets to see more of Ed Davis, who was first off the bench when Randolph got in foul trouble and started fast with six points and three rebounds in the first quarter (he finished with six and six in 12 minutes), the coach made it clear why he Davis saw just five minutes of action after the first quarter.
“We’ve got to stop people, too,” Hollins said. “That sounds good and I know that everyone’s chirping at that (playing Davis more), but there’s a lot more to this game than just one step.”
Had someone floated the idea of this 2012-13 NBA season to George Karl three years ago – the Denver Nuggets’ high-octane overachievement, the fun he would have orchestrating it, this talk of him as a leading candidate as NBA Coach of the Year – he’s not sure how he would have reacted to it.
There was so much uncertainty then. Peering three years into the future? Yeah right. Man plans, cancer wags a long, Dikembe Mutombo-like finger.
“That summer when I had to make a decision whether I was going to coach again, it was a hard summer,” said Karl, who already had deal with prostate cancer in 2005 when neck cancer grabbed him by the throat in February 2010. “I remember, at the end of July, I just wasn’t mentally ready to do it. I had to push myself to … whatever. Get over the depression. Get over feeling sorry for myself.
“I just knew, you have two families: You have your inner-core family that’s blood and people who have always been with you. And then you have your basketball family. I wasn’t ready to leave my basketball family. I wasn’t ready to leave the gym.”
So Karl, 61, returned. Through treatment, through occasional absences, through the Carmelo Anthony drama. He celebrated his 1,000th victory in 2010-11 and kept going, and he labored hard to build and heed new habits for himself, a working style that was sustainable. And survivable.
“I went back with different rules,” Karl said before Denver’s game in Milwaukee. “The rules were balance and ‘I’m not going to kill myself.’ And ‘If I’m stressed, I’m going to delegate. If I’m worried and to the point where I’m out of control, I’m going to walk away, I’m going to take a day off.’ I never would have thought of that when I was in Milwaukee.”
In Karl’s five seasons with the Bucks (1998-2003), same as in his seven seasons in Seattle (1991-1998), there was no minor problem, no niggling little annoyance too small for Karl to plunge headlong into a quest for a solution. He was wilder then both on and off the court, and he wasn’t healthy even before he got sick.
Then he had wisdom and perspective forced on him, the way so many of us do. Beyond his own illness, his son, Coby, faced and survived lymph node cancer. Change became the constant for Karl.
“I love basketball, I love the gym, I love the passion, I love the competition,” he said. “But I wasn’t going to deteriorate my health again.”
So he rants and rails and stays late less, yet enjoys it all more. Especially this year, the most successful regular-season in Denver’s NBA franchise history. The Nuggets’ previous best in victories was 54 and its top home record was 36-5, which was bested by this season’s 57-25 and 38-3 finishes, respectively.
“You’ve got to understand, he’s deal with a lot of stuff in his personal life,” guard Andre Miller said. “To be able to come back and be totally committed to this organization says a lot. … It’s only right for him to be considered for Coach of the Year. It’s a lot of hard work dealing with NBA players and he’s been doing it well for along time.”
The Nuggets play fast, they push into the paint to shoot a high percentage and dominate on the offensive boards, and they do it all without a legit all-NBA third-team prospect. The lack of a marquee star, a ready excuse for many franchises, has been embraced in the Mile High City. (more…)