Breaking down Tuesday's Game 5s
Is this the night when Thunder forward Kevin Durant goes wild against the Clippers? Does Wizards guard John Wall look shaky in crunch time? Our 5-on-5 crew weighs in on Tuesday night's NBA playoff doubleheader.
1. Fact or Fiction: KD hasn't had his biggest game of this series yet.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Fact. There hasn't been a game that he and he alone won, the way LeBron James won Game 4 for the Heat in Brooklyn. It's coming, though. On the road in Game 6? In a deciding Game 7?
D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog: Fact. Maybe it's because Russell Westbrook has been hijacking the big moments (and that's OK), but Durant's performances have seemed a little underwhelming. He scored 40 points in Game 4 -- his biggest point output of the series -- but even that was overshadowed by Chris Paul's defense on him late. There's a monster game coming soon.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Fact. I don't know that he'll go over 40 points again, but Durant will likely dominate more down the stretch in one of the upcoming (hopefully three) games. Unbelievably, Chris Paul took Durant out of his comfort zone late in Game 4, and he has yet to really devastate from behind the arc in any game. It's crazy to say about a guy averaging 33.3 points per game this series, but I presume Durant's best is yet to come.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Fact. I would never answer fiction to this question. Durant has the ability to score 60 points on any night. He is the most dangerous player in the league, and he's been on a hot streak since Game 6 of the Memphis series.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Fact. He had 40 in Game 4, and was an assist shy of a triple-double in Game 2, but Durant has often gotten better the longer a series goes. It's pretty obvious the Clippers don't have an answer for him, scrambling with double-teams and desperation defensive maneuvers. Durant is too good for trickery, and he is seething from the idea that Chris Paul put locks on him. And when Durant is angry, he's often at his best.
2. Fact or Fiction: Chris Paul needs to shoot more.
Adande: Fiction. As he said in that animated halftime interview, he's a point guard. If the Thunder are so worried about lobs to Blake Griffin that they'll give Paul a free path to the hoop, fine. Otherwise, he needs to get J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes back on track.
Foster: Fiction, if only because it feels like nit-picking. The Clippers' 115.5 offensive rating this series has been better than their 112.1 mark that led the league during the regular season, and Paul has been close to perfect throughout. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Wade: Fiction. Paul is taking 16.5 shots per game in this series, which is more than he has attempted in a postseason overall since his rookie year. It is also a large jump from the 14.0 he took during the regular season this year in nearly identical minutes. Given how efficient he is shooting (54.5 percent overall and 50 percent from 3-point range), a few more attempts wouldn't hurt, but I trust the best point guard in the league to know when he should and shouldn't call his own number.
Windhorst: Fiction. I'm not really concerned about anything with the Clippers on offense. They're a juggernaut, and they can beat you 10 different ways. I will always focus on their defense as the most important factor.
Young: Fact. Things changed for the Clippers offensively when Paul started attacking downhill out of the high screen-and-roll, looking to score. The Thunder are scheming the Clippers' pick-and-roll by trailing Paul and having a weakside big man check the roll man to take away the lob. Which leaves the door open for Paul to be aggressive. By nature, he often resists calling his own number, but if the Thunder are inviting him to do it, he has to take advantage.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Pacers have found their groove vs. the Wizards.
Adande: Fact. More importantly, Paul George and Roy Hibbert have found their groove. You can't go anywhere in the playoffs if the All-Stars don't act accordingly. Notice how much simpler things have become now that those two are putting up numbers?
Foster: Fiction. Have we lowered the bar this much? Indiana's 101.6 offensive rating this series may be enough to squeak out wins against a team giving big minutes to Drew Gooden and Al Harrington, but a few good one-sided performances strung together doesn't qualify as a groove in my book.
Wade: Fact-ish. It remains impossible to trust the Pacers. They made some errors down the stretch in Game 4, for example, and they are liable to have a sub-15-point quarter at any time. But the defense has looked increasingly similar to how it performed during their best days, and that is what Indiana must lean on to keep winning. Saying "the Pacers are back" is premature, but for the first time in months fans have a reason for optimism.
Windhorst: Fiction. Their groove was when they were 33-6 at midseason. It appears that they're no longer violently ill, but they have not returned to top form. They're still touch-and-go, especially offensively.
Young: Fact. They look much more like the team that ripped apart the East for four months, rediscovering their defensive spirit, while Paul George has re-elevated himself to his early-season MVP level. And even better, they look like they kind of like each other again.
4. Fact or Fiction: John Wall looks tentative in big moments.
Adande: Fact. Far too much thought going into every play. He's guiding shots, not shooting them. Or he's not even starting the shooting motion, as when he passed up that open 3 in Game 4.
Foster: Fiction. Here's the deal -- John Wall is shooting 18.2 percent from behind the arc in the playoffs. Bradley Beal is shooting 42.9 percent. I'm not going to beat up a point guard for finding a higher-percentage look for a better shooter out of a designed set. Wall needs to be more aggressive throughout the game, but he's not the scapegoat for Washington's failings late.
Wade: Fiction. He went to the rim hard late in a close Game 4 (getting fouled by Roy Hibbert with no whistle) and took three shots in the final 2:25 of Game 2. He has been unsuccessful in big moments, that's for sure, but I would blame that -- and any apparent tentativeness -- on the Pacers' resurgent defense. George Hill has been covering Wall very well, and the Pacers' entire team is focused on limiting his penetration.
Windhorst: Fact. Which is to be expected. He's had a wonderful season of maturation, just what was hoped for when the Wizards signed him to that long-term deal. But that entire group is leaning into its learning curve, which will probably cost the Wizards this series. You can feel their inexperience.
Young: Fiction. I don't know if tentative is the right word. Because let's not forget, the Pacers were the best defensive team in basketball during the regular season. They make it hard on teams to score, and Wall is tasked with trying to solve and break down that imposing shell. He could be more aggressive, sure, but he also can't deviate too much from the style that got the Wizards here.
5. Fact or Fiction: The home teams win on Tuesday night.
Adande: Fact. The Thunder realize their losses in this series came when they didn't pay attention or execute the game plan. The Pacers can't afford to fall behind Miami in the rest department, assuming the Heat finish off Brooklyn in 5.
Foster: Fiction. It's hard to trust Indiana to play with any sense of urgency in this spot, and closeout games are always tough anyway. I think Washington lives to play another day, and Oklahoma City gets the unstoppable Durant performance sitting in the chamber and goes up 3-2.
Wade: Fiction. After seeing their comeback in Game 4, I can't predict the Clippers to lose tonight, no matter where the game is played. As for the East, I could easily see Indiana close out this series in a runaway -- or lose by 20. Because ... it's the Pacers.
Windhorst: Fact. They also happen to be the better teams in this series.
Young: Fact. The Thunder are ripe for a bounce-back game, and the Pacers clearly have the Wizards rocked. The Clippers seem more dangerous to pull the upset than the Wizards, but both teams will be battling different circumstances -- the Pacers have momentum, and the Thunder have anger. Both are difficult to combat, especially on the road.