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Tag:2011 WC First-Round
Posted on: April 30, 2011 3:12 am
 

San Antonio Spurs: The end of an empire

The Spurs were ousted in the first round and everyone's begun the funeral song. But why does this feel so different than previous Spurs failures? 
Posted by Matt Moore




Maybe they'll come back. After all, they did win the most games in the West this season. They still feature three Hall of Famer players and a Hall of Fame coach. Maybe it was just lightning striking four times out of six in the same place. Maybe it was just Manu's elbow, or Duncan's knee, or fate or the Basketball Gods, or whatever. 

But it doesn't feel like it. 

There will be many, many eulogies for the Duncan-era Spurs in light of the Grizzlies' stunning first-round series win over San Antonio. Spurs fans will balk and guffaw at these claims, because heroes never die to their fans, or because they've already accepted that the championship-era Spurs are over. They'll point to the fact that the Spurs haven't won a title since 2007 as reasons why all this talk of the end of an empire is silly and overdramatic. But that's because they're in it. They're living it, every day, reliving series against the Lakers and Mavericks and Suns while approaching each season with faith. It's different for those of us outside of the palace walls, because this series respresented something different. It wasn't that the Spurs lost. Most expected that in these playoffs. It was the realization they couldn't win. 

The Spurs have lost in previous years but because the other teams had matchup advantages or a few things fell their way or the Spurs couldn't make the necessary adjustments. The losses didn't serve as judgment on the identity of the Spurs. To put it simply, the Spurs failed to win a championship because of other teams' ability to beat them, not fundamental flaws in the city walls that held the kingdom.  This loss?  To an upstart eighth seed without its highest paid player who tanked to play them, then took them out in the first game on their home floor and closed at every opportunity? Yes, the Grizzlies were better, and yes, they had matchup advantages. But there were moments where you expected the Spurs to do what the Spurs do and for that to be the difference. It wasn't. 

Tony Parker struggled with Mike Conley attaching his dribble. Manu Ginobili suffered when the Grizzlies responded to Ginobili's quickness by backing him down in the post. And Tim Duncan just plain struggled. The greatest power forward of all time found himself overwhelmed by a 26-year-old quick-footed center who is most commonly known as "Pau's little brother." Marc Gasol is a really great player, a future star in this league, maybe one now, after this series. But the Duncan that defined those teams would have tore him to pieces from mid-range with the bank-shot-straight-up. The Manu Ginobili who defined the mid-oo's run for the Spurs would have called timeout to reset the offense with the final possession of Game 3. The Tony Parker who won Finals MVP would not have had his play so thoroughly undercut by an attack on his handle. 

But beyond the Big 3? The Spurs of old would never have relied on the 3-pointer this way, would never have had to cover for a gigantic flaming neon defensive red target like Matt Bonner just to space the floor, would never have had to rely on Gary Neal and George Hill's mid-range jumpers to fall. They would have fallen back on clutch plays and defense, always defense. The Spurs' empire isn't over because their players got old, that's been happening for a long time and in reality, the team is pretty young. The Spurs' empire is crumbling because what made them the team you couldn't count out, now has become the very thing that makes you not that shocked at this shocker. A mediocre defensive club falls to a better one, a team that relies on an aging Tim Duncan is toppled by younger, more spritely bigs, the squad that allows Matt Bonner on the floor defensively is beset by easy scores and foul trouble when Matt Bonner can't contain his man in the post. There's nothing shocking here, not if you've been paying attention.

Afterwards, Gregg Popovich was his usual self. Congratulatory to Memphis, classy in defeat, dismissive of dramatics like the question of the end of the Spurs' run. If they go out, they go out on their own terms. The franchise that defined class, humilty, and above all, excellence, would not go out in a pitiful blow-up of egos or blame. They simply hugged their worthy opponent, packed their things, and headed home. 

Spurs fans may have already come to terms with the end of an era, or rationalized that there will be no end, only a transition. But for the rest of us, the Grizzlies' shock of the world serves as a reminder of the mortality of dynasties. It's not just that the Spurs lost a first-round series to an 8th seed. They lost to a team more willing to grind, more willing to defend, more able to close. What is it about these Spurs that make them seem so far removed from what defined those great, inevitable Spurs teams? Just think back to what we saw from the upstarts, the team that simply wanted it more. That's what means the empire has reached its end. 
Posted on: April 30, 2011 2:22 am
 

Grizzlies defeat Spurs: Grading the series

Memphis Grizzlies do the unbelievable, knock off the 1 Seed Spurs in Game 6. Here are grades for the series. 
Posted by Matt Moore




Memphis Grizzlies:
Zach Randolph: Sometimes your guy is just better than the other guys' guy. Zach Randolph has been the model of consistency his entire career in terms of statistical production. But never has the change he underwent when he became part of Memphis been on showcase like it was in Game 6. 17 fourth-quarter points, and clutch basket after clutch basket. His decision making has been phenomenally better in terms of understanding when to take his man off the dribble or in the post and when to reset or repost. He was simply unstoppable when the Grizzlies needed him most. The toughest shots in the biggest moments. That's what you rely on your guy for. And when Memphis needed a hero, it was Zach Randolph who stepped up. 

Grade: A+

Lionel Hollins: Hollins is the ultimate players' coach. He's a guy who's been there, who's tried to get that contract you need so badly, who's tried to fight through adversity in the face of perception, who's dealt with the media's criticism. When he says he knows what they're going through, they can believe him. But Hollins showed in the first-round a stunning understanding of adjustments, counter-adjustments, and rotations. He managed to play Tony Allen in spots and lineups where he could be effective without trying to do too much. He consistently relied on post-play from his two strongest players. He helped turn Mike Conley into a wash vs. Parker. He did things like say "Okay, Manu Ginobili, you're going to do your crazy Euro-step stuff and blow past Shane Battier? That's fine. We're going to post you and see how you like life in the block." He also constantly attacked Matt Bonner as the defensive weakpoint, exposing the soft underbelly of the team's inside play. Hollins out-coached Gregg Popovich. Who saw that coming? Oh, yeah, and a game after they fell in the most gut-wrenching way possible, his team responded in the biggest game in franchise history with confidence and swagger. 

Grade: A+

Mike Conley: Conley was limited by foul trouble in Game 6 and never got in a rhythm. That does not take away from the unbelievable work he did on Parker throughout this series. Conley, who couldn't hang with Parker's penetration, instead attacked his dribble, forcing turnovers. Conley rarely forced his offense too much and trusted his teammates. He was the perfect cog and showed why Chris Wallace looks like a genius all of a sudden for giving him that extension.

Grade: B

Tony Allen: The "Tony Allen ISO Project" is a house band that starts to play when Allen gets the ball on the perimeter, as Allen believes he can create off the dribble. And it often results in terrible shots and wasted possessions. But without that desperate hero-play, you wouldn't get what makes it all worth it, his stellar defense. Allen is the most active defender in the league, and the pressure he applied on the Spurs' passing lanes was a huge part in creating the turnovers the Grizzlies capitalized on in this series. He fell for Manu's pump-fake time and time again, and still made his presence felt.

Grade: B

Bench: Darrell Arthur, Greivis Vasquez, Shane Battier, O.J. Mayo. Where did these guys come from? The bench stepped up in a big way for Memphis and what was their weakest element has become strong. Arthur in particular made a huge difference in this series. 

Grade: A-

Memphis, TN: Once again showing that if you give small-market fans a chance, they'll respond like nothing in sports. 

Grade: A

San Antonio Spurs

Gregg Popovich: Relying on Matt Bonner. Trusting Richard Jefferson early. Not bringing enough help on Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph. Failing to attack players in foul trouble. Seriously, letting Matt Bonner on the floor actually happened a lot. Gregg Poppovich is one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. But he was out-coached in this series. He was partially unable to adjust because of the roster he and R.C. Buford helped put together, but he also couldn't get back to the kind of defense that won them four championships. He was just another coach with a great offense undone by better defense. 

Grade: D

Manu Ginobili: Ginobili hit some good luck shots. He made some big plays. But he didn't have the extra gear he needed, and when it came down to it, twice in four games he made crucial poor decisions which ended his team's comeback chances. His lack of poise in calling a timeout in Game 3 and a panicked cross-court jump-pass turnover in Game 6 sealed Memphis' fate. Whether his elbow injury was legitimate or not, Ginobili was not the Manu of old. Had he been, the Spurs may not be headed home.

Grade: C+

Matt Bonner:  If you have a player on the floor who the offense specifically attacks on nearly every possession and nearly every possession results in either points or a desperation foul to avoid points? Maybe, just maybe, that guy's offense isn't worth keeping him on the floor. Matt Bonner is used to wide-open catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Instead the Grizzlies constantly ran him off and disrupted the passing lanes to interupt the pass and catch. Then on defense, the Grizzlies posted Bonner every time. Bonner is too much of a defensive liability to remain on the floor. Darrel Arthur's athletic plays? Bonner'd. Arthur's mid-range jumpers? Bonner'd. Randolph with easy slip-ins? Bonner'd. Marc Gasol drawing foul after foul to put Memphis in the bonus early? Bonner'd. The Spurs Bonner'd themselves. The Spurs used to rely on veteran tough guys like Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, and Robert Horry. Now they rely on Matt Bonner. 

Grade: D

Gary Neal: Showed a lot of promise and huge onions as a rookie, including a game-saving 3 to force it to a sixth game. Neal showed an impressive poise and clutch shooting the Spurs lacked. 

Grade: B

Antonio McDyess: Injured. Overmatched. Desperate. Antonio McDyess kept fighting. The saddest part of the fall of the Spurs is this classy, reliable veteran won't get the ring he's worked so hard for. He did everything he could against Randolph. There wasn't anything anyone could do. 

Grade: A-

Tim Duncan: Let's just ignore what happened so we don't have to deal with our own mortality, shall we?

Grade: Incomplete
Posted on: April 29, 2011 2:54 am
Edited on: April 29, 2011 3:13 am
 

Playoff Fix: Spurs and Grizzlies, do-or-die

Where the series stands before Spurs and Grizzlies Game 6. 
Posted by Matt Moore




One Big Thing: How do you respond after a game like that? How does Memphis possibly pick themselves up off the floor after being a blown goaltending call, a Manu desperation step-back off a broken play, and a Gary Neal leaning, game-tying three away from winning their first playoff series in franchise history? The Grizzlies have handled every charge the Spurs have thrown at them and responded. Their mental toughness, as an 8th seed, has impressed everyone. But how they respond to the suckerpunch they suffered in Game 5 may determine whether the Grizzlies' season ends in a heroic upset or an unbelievable collapse. 

The X-Factor: Sam Young is turning into a pretty good player. When Young is rebounding, attacking the rim, and playing off the catch-and-shoot, he's a major asset. When he's trying to create off the dribble, turning the ball over, and committing unnecessary fouls, he's a considerable liability. So, the question is, which Sam Young will show up?  Young wasn't expected to be a factor this season, or in this series. But, with his size and speed on the wing, he's become a problem for the Spurs. A strong performance from young could turn a close game into a big Grizzlies' lead, as was the case in Game 4. 

The Adjustment: The Spurs are used to having the big advantage with Manu Ginobili and George Hill's speed on the wing. The Grizzlies have flipped that advantage on its head by posting both players when matched up against Shane Battier. Battier's not known for his post-work, but then he's usually not matched up against players as soft as those two. Battier's ability to punish both of the shifty wings physically has worn on the Spurs. Both players have the speed to get around Battier into the soft underbelly of the Grizzlies' help defense. But Battier's post defense forces the double, creates passing lanes and opens the offense for Memphis. It's a rather genius move from Lionel Hollins who continues to look one step ahead of Gregg Popovich. 

The Sticking Point: There have been 20 quarters played in this series. The Spurs have won more in the box score, the Grizzlies have won more in the quality-of-play department. This has been an exceptionally close series, despite the Grizzlies' control in the wins column. The Grizzlies have never won an elimination game. The Spurs haven't won a game in Memphis yet in this series. But a win on Friday puts an enormous amount of pressure on the Grizzlies to win a road Game 7. It's do or die for the Memphis Grizzlies Friday night. 
Posted on: April 28, 2011 12:59 am
Edited on: April 28, 2011 1:38 am
 

Grizzlies-Spurs: A question of luck or fate.

There are times in sports when you wonder what the line is between fate and luck. Manu Ginobili's improbable step-back and Gary Neal's desperation 3-pointer make up one of those times. 
Posted by Matt Moore




O-Ren Ishii: "You didn't think it was going to be that easy, did you?"

Beatrix Kiddo: "You know, for a second there, I kinda did." 

- "Kill Bill"



"I don't think we showed the heart of a champion. We got lucky."

-Manu Ginobili via Chris Vernon on Twitter



What's the difference between luck and fate? What separates grit, will, determination, and the ability to make the biggest plays from abject desperation and the right bounce at the right time? How do you define what's true greatness and what's the unpredictable flow of random events? The lens of sports is such an infinitely trivial window trough which to view such things, but after Grizzlies-Spurs 5, the most wild game of the most unpredictable series in the 2011 NBA playoffs, those are questions that have to be running through the mind of everyone who has borne witness to what happened in San Antonio, Texas. 
The scene:

The 4-time champions were up against the ropes, and up against an upstart 8th seed who has dominated what feels like at least 16 of the 20 quarters played. Down three points after a flurry of clutch free throws from Zach Randolph; the redeemed All-Star for a small-market franchise. A tipped ball. Another tipped ball. And then, of course, Ginobili. 




There was an inbounds pass. It was tipped up in the air. It was tipped again. It landed in Ginobili's hands. A desperation heave, good. The tip goes any other direction, the game is over. The ball isn't tipped, the Grizzlies may be in position to defend the shot, and the game may be over. But it winds up there. And Ginobili hits it. Afterwards, after what happened later, he's the deferential. He admits it was luck. But was it? How many times have we seen him hit that kind of shot? I've kept track in this series. Ginobili has hit four 3-pointers off of broken plays. Does that invalidate them? The opposite. How big is it when you can make a non-possession into a 3-pointer? How much can that change a series that has seen three of the five games decided by five points or less (not including the overtime period in Game 5)? You have to believe that, if that shot wasn't due to Ginobili's undeniable focus and concentration, there was some sort of intervention by whatever you choose to reference as the "Basketball Gods". Random chance? Perhaps. But, if so, then the Spurs have a keen way of turning those instances of random chance into points. Maybe that's just "valuing each possession." 

But even then, his foot was on the line. It's just a two. Are you kidding me? The Grizzlies have avoided the dagger? All they have to do is hit free throws, deny the 3-pointer, and it's done? How kind can those Basketball Gods be to a franchise that drafted Hasheem Thabeet? Z-Bo sinks two free throws. Clutch, from the player so often derided for not being "a winner." Just deny the 3-pointer. That's all that separates Memphis and the proverbial "Shock of the World." 

The inbounds, you can deny it to Manu, you can deny it to Parker. But you're going to have to let one of the others get free. Gary Neal? Sure. The undrafted rookie the Spurs picked up in Europe and really decided to keep in Summer League? Sure. He can have it. O.J. Mayo will contest, but from that distance, with the series on the line? There's no way. There's just no way. 


Buckets. Onions. Glory. Pain. The whole thing. Sports. 

In overtime, and the Grizzlies had no legs. There's nothing left. Parker does his damage. The Grizzlies fight back, but not enough defense. The shots fell, and that's what happens. Spurs win. 3-2, going back to Memphis, and all the pressure is on the Grizzlies now. Lose in Game 6, and that feeling, the one where it was so close they could taste it when the ball was tipped on the Ginobili possession? It's going to be the opposite. The knowledge that it's all slipping away. The Grizzlies have fought through being the underdog. They've fought through being without homecourt advantage. They've fought through being down 16 in a desperation elimination game for the opponent, on that team's home floor. 

But can they fight the Basketball Gods? 

At some point you recognize that things fall into place for teams, in part because of those random chances, and in part because of that team's determination to seize the moment provided. It wasn't that Memphis didn't seize them. It's simply that the Spurs were granted them. 

In the larger scheme of things, this was simply a Game 5 between a perennial power and an upstart trying to establish some sense of legitimacy. The veteran team executed down the stretch, by hook or by crook. But you still have to wonder, where is that line between fate and luck, and how, in the name of Naishmith's Nets, did that just happen? 

Game 6 is Friday, in Memphis. 
Posted on: April 27, 2011 1:47 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Grizzlies-Spurs: Desperate measures

How can the Spurs survive versus the Grizzlies in an elimination game down 3-1? Here's the plan.
Posted by Matt Moore




Well, this is just not what we expected at all. 

It would be one thing if it were just an 8 seed. It would be another if it were just your typical 1 seed.  But this is the Memphis Grizzlies usually deemed a punchline in and of themselves, with a 3-1 seed against the top team in the West, the top team in the league for most of the season, and the 4-time NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. If Game 1 was off-putting like a day where the sun just doesn't seem bright enough, and Game 3 felt like a rising surge of bile before you vomit, then Game 4 was seeing the meteor headed through earth's atmosphere. And now, before Game 5, there's a bizarre calm washing over San Antonio, as this simply cannot seem real. 

But it is.

The Spurs face an elimination game down 3-1 for the sixth time in the Duncan era. They are 0-5 in their previous attempts to come back. 

So how do the Spurs rally around the old Pop coach and push this thing back to Memphis with the pressure then on the Grizzlies? It's got to be a 3-part plan. 

I. Punish the jump: You may have noticed in this series that the Spurs are not shooting 3-pointers often, and not well when they do. You may also have noticed it seems like the Spurs can get layups when they really want. Both of these things are true. The Grizzlies are not playing position like most defenses; they're not trying to intercept Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, or Geroge Hill on the drive. They're playing to the ball. They're trying to force turnovers, disrupt passing lanes, force the Spurs' offense to consantly reset itself. It's a bold and unusual approach, which is partly why the Spurs have had such trouble with it. The layups are contested, sure. But it's not the same kind of wall they face when they play the Lakers, the Celtics, even the Mavericks. The Grizzlies' goal is to disrupt the corner-three kickout from San Antonio, and it's worked to perfection. If the Spurs want to gain control, they have to force that defense to collapse so far in, that the space on the perimeter opens. Which means Tony Parker has to be as aggressive as he was in Game 4, and Manu Ginobili as aggressive as he was in Game 3. They'll ratchet up fouls, those passing lanes will clear, and the 3-pointers will fall. It's odd to think of the Sprus that way, but without the 3-pointer, they're doomed. If the Grizzlies want to keep playing to that, the Spurs have to punish them at the rim.

II. Pick the perimeter poison.  On the flip side, the Grizzlies are not a good 3-point shooting team, but have been hitting in this series. So much so that the Spurs' defense has been sent scrambling to recover. In turn, that means more spacing in the lane. The Grizzlies are an exceptionally good interior passing team. In Game 2, the Spurs clamped down on the paint, forcing the Grizzlies to hit mid-range jumpers instead of punish them on the inside with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. In Games 3 and 4, the Spurs got caught up in the up and down style of the Grizzlies, and went back to guarding ther perimeter. The result is more points for the Grizzlies inside, and more opportunities for offensive rebounds, which the Grizzlies finally started to assert. Memphis is not a great jump-shooting team. The Spurs need to commit to containing Randolph, Gasol, and Arthur (who they may be doomed against as he has the most reliable 18-footer of any of the three, believe it or not), and if the Grizzlies beat them with outside shooting, so be it. You have to pick your poison down 3-1, and San Antonio should pick the unreliable perimeter shot. 

III. Hold on to the freaking ball. The Grizzlies are a great team at creating turnovers. That's their biggest defensive asset, in all reality. They are exceptional at wreaking havoc. So to say that the Spurs are beating themselves is an abject lie. The Grizzlies are beating the Spurs by creating loose balls and then getting to them first. But that's not to say that the Spurs haven't done their fair share of shooting themselves in the foot. Tony Parker, in particular, has struggled with passing and handle. He's missing passes high, wide, short, all-over. Mike Conley has managed to get the upper hand in a matchup he's at a severe disadvantage at in terms of ability due to his approach. Again, just like stated above, Conley's not playing position, he's playing the ball. He's attacking Parker's dribble instead of trying to stay in front of him. And Parker's obliging him. The Spurs cannot win this game without winning the turnover battle. 
Posted on: April 26, 2011 11:19 am
Edited on: April 26, 2011 11:40 am
 

O.J. Mayo's goggles and guns motion

Mayo makes goggles into guns as he shoots down Spurs in Game 4. 
Posted by Matt Moore

O.J. Mayo, after nailing a huge 3-pointer in the Grizzlies' huge Game 4 win Monday night, decided to have some fun with the "3 goggles" trend sweeping the league (started in Portland):



The question is if that constituted a "threatening gesture" or not.  If you'll remember, the NBA fined DeShawn Stevenson for making a "throat slash" gesture , and Paul Pierce was fined for something even more innocuous. Since Mayo's technically imitating guns, the NBA in its notorious sensitivity could wind up taking a glance at this. 

We hope not, since this was a pretty innovative approach to the "3-goggles" gesture started in Portland and sweeping the NBA. It's good to see Mayo with his swagger back after what has been a pretty disruptive season.

(Via John C. Townsend on Twitter .)
Posted on: April 26, 2011 3:11 am
Edited on: April 26, 2011 1:55 pm
 

So, what got into Russell Westbrook?

Posted by Royce Young



There were a lot of stories to come out of Monday night's 104-101 Denver win over Oklahoma City. The fact the Thunder didn't close the series. The fact the Nuggets snapped a five-game losing streak to OKC. The fact Denver finally found some of that scary scoring balance again.

But the angle that has a lot of people talking? Russell Westbrook.

The Thunder's All-Star point guard scored 30 points, had five assists and six rebounds against Denver Monday. If you changed his name to Derrick Rose, everyone would promptly freak out. The catch here is two-fold: Westbrook took 30 shots and he also has this dude named Kevin Durant on his team.

Two plays stick out to a lot of people from Monday's game. With 30 seconds left and OKC trailing 98-96, Westbrook wasn't able to get the ball to Durant on the wing so with the shot clock winding down, Westbrook fired a 3. It rimmed out. Then with the Thunder down 101-98 and needing a 3 to tie with 10 seconds left, Westbrook took the ball on his own and airballed a 3-pointer with six seconds left as Durant stood waiting by the arc.

Curious, indeed.

Westbrook was 12-30 from the field while Durant was 8-18. Russell Westbrook took 12 more shots than the two-time scoring champion.

Curious, indeed.

However, having watched Westbrook a lot of this season, I can't bag on him too much for it. That's the player he is. If you want the All-Star Good Russell Westbrook, sometimes you have to live with the do-it-myself Bad Russell Westbrook.

I think a big reason behind Westbrook's ball-hogging was he sensed what I was seeing. The Thunder didn’t look comfortable in their own offensive skin. They were throwing the ball away, taking dumb shots, forcing things and not moving off the ball. So he tried to take over a bit. A lot of the stagnant offense is probably the fault of the point guard, but Westbrook is the new hybrid point like Derrick Rose and Deron Williams. He looks for his own as much as he looks for others.

And it’s difficult for Westbrook to turn it on in spurts. That’s would be the ideal Westbrook. The guy that can sense that moment where his team needs his offensive spark and give it for a few minutes and then turn the game back over to the natural rhythm and flow. But he’s not there yet. He’s just 22 and he’s still figuring all that out.

Thing is, to get Good Russ, sometimes you live with Bad Russ. He’s not a perfect player. He’s still developing. This wasn’t his finest hour but he was trying to win the game. That’s what he had on his mind. Did Durant need a few more touches? Absolutely. Does Westbrook deserve a bit of guff for what went down in Game 4? Definitely. But this isn't something to really get too worked over about. Yeah he took some questionable shots but that's Westbrook. He desperately wants to be the guy taking those shots. He's hit a bunch of big ones for the Thunder this season and I can promise you, every Thunder fan thought his 3 with 30 seconds left was about to drop through the bottom of the net.

In the same ways you can say Westbrook lost Game 4 for the Thunder, he almost won it for them as well. That's life in the Russell Lane. There are things he definitely should've done different. If Scott Brooks could transfer five of those bad Westbrook shots to Durant, the Thunder probably win the game. Can't deny that.

Westbrook is the ultimate "No No No Yes Yes Yes!" player. He takes a bunch of shots that while in flight you're saying are horrible but then you're clapping as it swishes through. And in those big moments, he lives to take big shots. The problem with that is, he has Kevin Durant standing on the wing waiting for the ball as well.

With Westbrook, it's all about accepting what he is. It's like the scene in Band of Brothers when Speirs tells that one guy crying in the foxhole, "The only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll be able to function." Westbrook isn't a "true" point guard. He never will be. The sooner you accept that fact, the sooner you'll be able to appreciate what he is. A darn good basketball player that still has some room to grow.
Posted on: April 26, 2011 2:44 am
Edited on: April 26, 2011 3:00 am
 

Denver steps up and holds OKC off for a night

Posted by Royce Young



Closing, it's hard to do.

That's the lesson for the young Thunder. A lesson they get a day to think about while they get ready for Game 5 in Oklahoma City Wednesday.

Oklahoma City saved its most erratic, incomplete game for Monday night, which of course was the first opportunity to finish off the Nuggets and move on to the next challenge. That sounds like I'm taking something away from the Nuggets, which I don't intend to. But I think we've gotten to the point where it's understood that the Thunder are the better team. On Monday, Denver finally found a bit of a groove and the Thunder lost theirs.

The Nuggets got a bunch of big contributions from Danilo Gallinari, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Ty Lawson -- you know, that formula that worked so well after the Melo trade -- to take down OKC 104-101 and force a Game 5. They talked about not wanting to let OKC dance on their home court Monday night. And they played like it. 

The game was close throughout, and while the Thunder piled up stops, they never took advantage and stretched out to a lead of much more than four or five points. OKC played with fire the entire night, eventually letting the Nuggets turn on the propane with an 11-0 run to end the third and start the fourth quarter. Denver led through the fourth, with the difference swelling to as much as 10 with two minutes left. The Thunder wouldn’t die easily, though, with Kevin Durant dropping a couple 3s, Russell Westbrook scoring on a drive and Serge Ibaka hitting a late jumper. But the hole was too big for the Thunder to climb out of.

Westbrook had a chance to tie with 3.5 seconds left, but his desperation heave didn't fall. And finally, after five tries, the Nuggets beat the Thunder. Once again OKC's defense held Denver in check (the Nuggets shot just 38.6 percent) and the Nuggets struggled at the line. But between taking care of the ball and a couple big shots from Smith and Gallinari, Denver built up a lead in the fourth quarter for the first time in the series.

OKC almost looked like it was taking a win for granted early on. The intensity and razor sharp focus was missing in the first half, and the Thunder missed about 15 opportunities to stretch the game out to double-digits. They were getting the stops they needed, but just couldn't convert. Fifteen turnovers, bad shots and forced offense really ended up doing OKC in.

But again, this was new territory for them. That decisive closing game is the toughest to win because you're playing a desperate opponent. And OKC couldn't make enough plays to get it done. 

The Nuggets did just enough to hang on and get a little of their mojo back. Is it enough to bring the series back to the Rockies? Eh, probably not. But it's at least a start. You can't be the first team to ever come back from 3-0 if you don't win Game 4. That would be step one. And the Nuggets took it Monday.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com