Nightly Grades: Thunder survive without Westbrook to go up 3-0


They're up 3-1. That's what matters.

It took three overtimes and an insane fourth-quarter performance from Nate Robinson (23 points!), but the Bulls have a 3-1 death grip on the series. 

It wasn't the classic grind-out style of the Bulls as the game had an oddly offensive edge to it. But behind excellent individual efforts from not just Robinson but Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah, the Bulls held on and accomplished the mission. Home court has been defended, and now they're one away. What a performance from one of the toughest, grittiest groups in the NBA.


Game 2 was must win. And so was Game 3. Check and check.

The Grizzlies handled their home-court business to even up at 2-2 behind a dominant fourth quarter that featured smothering defense and very effective offense. 

Mike Conley was terrific running the show, but it was Marc Gasol who owned the game. He let loose on his midrange jumper and made sure to remain extremely involved offensively. Gasol is the real X-factor in the series. The Clippers don't have an answer for his versatile passing skills and ability to post and score on the perimeter. 

But, as the saying goes, a series doesn't start until someone wins on the road. It hasn't happened yet, and that's what makes Game 5 so important.


Just what the doctor ordered. A complete scorching of the Pacers to install that hope again and make this a series. The Hawks looked strong on both ends, and more importantly, look like they're game. 


Nobody really knew how the Thunder would handle playing without Russell Westbrook. And aftr a 39-19 first quarter that featured Kevin Durant going off for 17, already some were asking the very dumb question of if they were better off without him.

The Thunder let a 26-point lead slip, and lost the last three quarters of the game reminding everyone that they do indeed need Westbrook. But behind Durant's 41, the Thunder found a way to 104-101 win, and a 3-0 series lead. 

Who knows what the future holds for the Thunder from here on out. It's obvious that Durant really has to carry them from here on out and it's a legit question to ask if he can produce this kind of performance over and over again. But they moved a step closer to getting through the opening round, and dodged a major bullet. 


Two games of major missed opportunities for the Rockets. Game 2, they led by four with three minutes left. Game 3, they led by one with 40 seconds left. 

Both times, Kevin Durant got them. 

The Rockets are now down 3-0 and missed a big chance to get back in the series and put a heap of pressure on the Thunder. Without Westbrook, the Thunder stormed to a 26-point first half lead, but let it slowly drip away as Durant's magic dried up. 

A Houston win makes the series 2-1 with another to come in their building, with the Thunder chewing on their loss of Westbrook and knowing how they let one slip in Game 3. Instead, OKC gutted it out and put the Rockets in that unenviable position of being mentioned in the "no team has ever come back from 0-3" sentence. 


Losing in triple overtime typically lends a "not a lot of shame in losing this game" kind of vibe. Except the Nets blew a 13-point lead with four minutes left and are now down 3-1. 

Deron Williams failed to come up big, missing nine of 10 shots at one point in the overtime sessions as Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez tried to carry the Nets. 

The Nets, who looked so dominant in Game 1, have lost their principles on both ends of the floor at different times. They can't put together a full 48 minutes. In the end, it's probably going to be their undoing. 


At the end of the third quarter, the Grizzlies led 71-67. It looked like we were headed for some kind of a tight, tense fourth quarter. 

But the Grizzlies started the quarter on a 19-5 run and won the fourth 33-16. The old problems for the Clippers reared their head as they couldn't find any kind of half-court rhythm or flow in crunch time. The "hope Chris Paul can handle it" approach wore out as the Grizzlies locked in and locked down.  

It's really not all that surprising that the Grizzlies took both games in Memphis. This series has had seven games written all over it since the beginning. But it's hard not to look at Game 4 as a major missed opportunity for the Clippers. They had the chance to take a 3-1 lead home but instead completely fell on their face when it mattered. 


With a chance to go up 3-0 and put things on ice, the Pacers dropped a major dud in Atlanta. No sense of urgency, no energy, no intensity. The Hawks threw the first punch, and kept throwing them.

The Pacers can bounce back and right the wrongs of Game 3 and still take a 3-1 lead back to Indiana, but this was a disconcerting 48 minutes of basketball.

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