Thursday, May 3, 2012
First Cup: Thursday
- Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: Sometimes, life — and basketball — imitates Saturday morning wrestling. The Memphis Grizzlies did a little pile driving of their own Wednesday night, coming off the ropes to defeat the Los Angeles Clippers, 105-98, and even their playoff series 1-1. And, no, I promise I’m not going to subject you to a whole column of wrestling puns. But the Clippers might as well have emerged from the locker room wearing a neck brace. That’s how physical this one was. That’s how brilliantly hard-fought. Three nights after blowing a 27-point lead in the face of Clippers pressure, the Grizzlies responded in the way you would have hoped. “We got punched in the mouth in the first game,” said coach Lionel Hollins, “but we came back tonight and withstood some blows.” Ever since Sunday, Hollins has been downplaying the significance of the fourth-quarter debacle. But it’s been eating at the players, just the same. “I heard about it everywhere,” said Mike Conley. “Restaurants, the gas station, the dry cleaner ... ” O.J. Mayo said he hasn’t slept since Sunday. Rudy Gay tried his best to avoid TVs. “To lose in the fashion we did and then to sit there and listen to ESPN,” he said, “there’s no denying, it was hard.”
- Jill Painter of the Los Angeles Daily News: The Chris Paul trade was made for moments like these. The Clippers hadn't been in the playoffs in six years, and Paul was willing them through Wednesday's Game 2 of the Western Conference playoffs. He was driving, dealing, advising and showing no signs of a groin injury that had Clipper Nation so concerned. Paul was everything he needed to be, scoring a game-high 29 points, but the Clippers needed more than an outstanding performance from him. Paul's 3-pointer with eight seconds left was errant, and it wouldn't have been enough anyway. The Grizzlies avenged one of the worst collapses in NBA playoff history and held off the Clippers 105-98 at sold out FedEx Forum. The series is tied at 1 as it heads back to Staples Center for Game 3 on Saturday. The Clippers had 20 turnovers - and Paul was the worst culprit with five - and were outrebounded 37-28. The Grizzlies inexplicably had 16 offensive rebounds. No night from Paul can overcome those kinds of numbers. ... During the game, Eric Bledsoe, Nick Young and Mo Williams all suffered injuries - the extent of which are unknown. Paul can't do this by himself. "That gets kind of scary, seeing guys at the end of the bench getting worked on," Paul said. "Bledsoe was hit in the arm and then Mo and hopefully everybody's going to be OK or nobody's going to be left."
- Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: I was expecting the Orlando Magic to make a run at some point on Wednesday and possibly briefly take the lead Game 3. They had to. They were playing at home for the first time in the playoffs and looking to avenge what happened in the second half of Game 2. The Magic had recovered from early double-digit deficits in each of the first two games. The Pacers had something else in the mind. The blue and gold had one of their best performances against a team with a winning record in quite some time. Not at one point did it seem like the Pacers were going to relinquish the lead. Not when the Magic got to within two late in the first half. The Pacers were on a mission to make sure they regained home court in the series. They led for all 48 minutes and were never really challenged in the second half when they led by as many as 29 minutes. “I thought we were aggressive from the beginning,” forward David West said. “They made some adjustments and we were able to deal with them on the move. I thought we took their air space and made them uncomfortable.”
- Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: The question was whether Ryan Anderson finally would show up against the Pacers, preferably on Wednesday night. The answer: Still missing. In mysterious disappearances, Ryan is now listed with Ameila Earhart, D.B. Cooper, Jimmy Hoffa and Charlie Sheen's career. Here's all you need to know about the Magic's Game 3 scoring plight: Their second-leading scorer — the league's 3-point champ — had zero points, one rebound and four fouls heading into the final period. He finished with seven points, all meaningless as the Pacers led by fill-in-the-blank. But Anderson did get to guard 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert, as if he wasn't feeling small enough. He's gone from a regular season break-out to a postseason black-out. Anderson could win the league's Most Improved Player award, and they might ask for it to be returned. "I'll take some of the blame," Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We haven't got him involved in the series." After averaging 16 points over 61 games and leading the NBA in 3-pointers made and taken, Anderson is scoring at a chilly 7.9 clip. His production from the 3-point line in the playoffs: 5-of-15. Worse, it's not only Anderson's frigid average; it's the frightening lack of attempts. His misery mirrors the team's.
- Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich intentionally has increased the pace of his team’s offense because he contends it can no longer play the stingy defense that characterized his four championship teams. The first half of Wednesday night’s Game 2 against the Utah Jazz was a throwback to the glory days of defense. A 114-83 victory included some noteworthy benchmarks. Not since the Western Conference finals in the first title season of 1999, when they held the Portland Trail Blazers to 25 points in the second half of an 85-63 victory, had the Spurs held a team to fewer points in a half than the 28 the Jazz scored in a the first half Wednesday. Utah made just 23.4 percent of its shots. The Spurs had not held a playoff opponent to fewer points than the 83 the Jazz scored in Game 2 since Game 6 of their Western Conference semifinals series against the New Orleans Hornets in 2008. “They shot bad,” Spurs guard Danny Green said of the Jazz, who missed 36 of 47 first-half shots, “but we did play some good defense.” Included in Utah’s first-half ineptitude was a stretch in the second period when the Jazz missed 10 straight shots during a 20-0 Spurs run to close the half. “We expected them to come out and really be aggressive and physical on both ends and really attack the glass,” Spurs captain Tim Duncan said. “We came out real focused and kind of did the same."
- Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: One word crossed Al Jefferson's lips in a muted tone when he was asked to describe what had just happened to him and the Utah Jazz on the AT&T center court. "Embarrassing." The night was inexplicable for Paul Millsap — the worst he'd ever been part of during his NBA career. "Tough" was the description Gordon Hayward uttered a few times. Devin Harris admitted it was "a little demoralizing." Game 2 was SOOOOO BAD for the Jazz, even Spurs coach Gregg Popovich kind of came to their defense. The Jazz were hounded, hammered and humiliated by San Antonio — and that was just the first half. When the final buzzer finally blared its merciful sound, the Jazz were on the extremely short end of a 114-83 rout Wednesday night. The Spurs — after beating the Jazz by an average of 23 points in their first two playoff games — will take a 2-0 series lead into Utah for Game 3 on Saturday night. "We had a good night. They had a poor night," Popovich, the 2012 NBA coach of the year, said. "This was just a matter of them having a bad, bad night. ... It happens to all of us." Almost amazingly, this wasn't a historically bad playoff showing by the Jazz. They've shot worse and put up fewer points than in this one.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant is just like most of you. He knows his shot's not falling. He figures it's bound to come around. Like you, the three-time scoring champ sees his shooting percentages in this opening round series with Dallas and believes he's due. “I do,” Durant said, “because I come in and I put in the work. It's not like I'm just sitting around and waiting for it to come to me. I try to force it a little bit with my work. So if it comes to me, I'll know that's because I worked hard. If it doesn't, then I know I got to keep working hard. It's just a matter of being mentally tough. I want to make shots. I want to be efficient. But I'm not right now. But I've got faith in myself and I'm positive that it'll turn around.” Durant has made just 15-of-44 shots entering Thursday's Game 3 inside American Airlines Center. He's made only 3-of-12 3-pointers and has looked totally mystified thanks to the Mavs. While Durant has struggled, it's been Russell Westbrook who has carried the Thunder to a 2-0 series lead. But if the Thunder has any plans of making quick work of the defending champs, Durant seemingly will have to find his stroke in Dallas. Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he will continue to run the offense through Durant.
- Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: OK, I am a betting man, but mainly four-legged as opposed to two-legged, although the temptation about Mavs minus-3 points on the Vegas line for this Game 3 could easily get the best of my bad habits. After the two losses to open the series in OKC, and the way those two losses went down, the gut is begging for a wager. The gut is saying the Mavericks blow 'em off the floor tonight. But my gut has also been foul since consuming some bad barbeque last weekend in Oklahoma City. Regardless, the Mavs are dead without a W in Game 3. In other non-breaking news, the timing element for the Mavs needs a complete one-eighty. These OKC people are new to the NBA playoff process, but it doesn't take a basketball doctorate to figure out what we've seen forever, one way or the other, around here. If you can't win consistently in crunch time then the necessary four wins aren't going to happen in a series.
- Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: LeBron James on Wednesday declined to fire back after Reggie Miller questioned him for reaching out to Hall of Fame players last summer, including Hakeem Olajuwon (who helped James with his post game), Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. “This is one of the most physically gifted guys in our league,” Miller said on TNT. “He left Cleveland, and he had every right to join one of the top five players in the league in Dwyane Wade along with Chris Bosh. “Now he’s reaching out to Hall of Famers to see what it takes to win? Enough is enough. Go out and actually do it on your own. What do you need more help for?” James said he wasn’t aware of Miller’s comment, but that “it’s good to have perspective from someone else’s point of view” about the playoffs, “their championship runs, their playing days in general.” Asked if he’s “good” with Miller — who will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in September — James said, “I’m good with my family and teammates. That’s all that matters to me.”
- Bill Pennington of The New York Times: With his left hand wrapped in a thick, soft bandage, Stoudemire seemed neither embarrassed nor distraught. He addressed reporters in a matter-of-fact tone that was a mix of unsupported hopefulness — he said he had a great chance to play in Sunday’s Game 4 — and detached bewilderment. It all happened, Stoudemire said, so fast. “I was walking down the corridor frustrated that we were down, 0-2, and I swung my arm at the wall,” Stoudemire said, describing the episode. “The fire extinguisher door was 85 percent metal and 2 percent glass, or whatever. I didn’t see the glass. I swung my arm backward. It wasn’t like I had a closed fist and punched the glass. I was letting off a little frustration — trying to make some noise, not injure myself. “When I saw that I my hand was cut, I was like, what? I was very upset and upset with myself. But never in a million years did I think I would cut my hand.” Stoudemire was disappointed that he would not be able to help his teammates Thursday — he said he had let them down — but added that he believed he could play in Sunday’s game. The Knicks list him as doubtful for Game 4. “I’m expecting to heal up fast,” Stoudemire said. “I think there’s a great chance I can play Sunday.” Knicks Coach Mike Woodson, however, was not planning on Stoudemire’s return.