Congratulations to the Washington Wizards for winning their first playoff series since 2005, as the ousted the Chicago Bulls in five games, closing it out with 75-69 win at the United Center last night. It was an impressive win, even though the game itself was pretty ugly. The Wizards sprinted out to leads in both halves, and though the Bulls were able to get back to even in the first half, the Wizards made the plays they needed to make in the 2nd to hold them off. Several terrific defensive sequences late, as well as some big offensive rebounds as the Bulls looked old and tired were enough to send them through. They will now await the winner of the Pacers-Hawks series, meaning we could have a Wizards-Hawks 2nd round, meaning we could have the Wizards or Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Stay tuned.
Chicago, meanwhile...looked used up. They fought all season to grab a decent seed in the playoffs after Derrick Rose went down for the 2nd year in a row, and were able to get there with their ferocious defense. But they couldn't keep up with the younger, faster Wizards during this series, and had long stretches where they simply could not score. We'll see what's next for them. They are going to amnesty Carlos Boozer, who barely played this series while Taj Gibson was the team's best player, and rumor has it they will try to pry Carmelo Anthony away from the Knicks.
Four straight overtimes. The Grizzlies took a 3-2 lead over the Thunder with yet another overtime win, this one in Oklahoma City, as Serge Ibaka's miraculous tip-in of a Kevin Durant miss came just after the buzzer, leaving the Thunder just short in a 100-99 final.
This series is incredible. Once again, the Thunder were forced to rally from behind, this time from down 20 midway through the 3rd quarter. Their ability to make runs quickly is unmatched in the NBA, but their flaws--too much reliance on their two big stars, not enough movement on offense, are also apparent. They fell behind 20 because Durant was having (another) off night, and they just don't have a lot of alternatives, while the Grizzlies were getting a vintage Zach Randolph low-post display and spicing it with some perimeter shooting from Mike Miller.
You could feel the run coming: the Grizzlies pushed the lead to 20 with under 4:00 left in the third quarter on Beno Udrih pull up jumper. The next three possessions for the Thunder: Caron Butler three, Durant three, Ibaka three point play. By the end of the quarter it was a six point game. and midway through the 4th it was tied. A fierce back and forth ensued, and Tony Allen made a free throw to put the Grizzlies up 2 with 30 seconds left. Tayshaun Prince grabbed a huge offensive rebound off his missed second attempt to set up the final sequence in regulation. Strangely to me, despite only a 5 second differential, the Thunder chose not to foul. It worked out for them when, with the clock winding down and Mike Conley about to make his move, Russell Westbrook picked his pocket and streaked down court for a game tying dunk. Randolph's lay-in off a pass from Marc Gasol came after the buzzer, and we headed for yet another overtime.
Where a similar situation developed. With the Grizzlies up two, Kevin Durant was only able to make one of two free throws with 27 seconds remaining. Once again, and this time I fail to understand the tactics at all, the Thunder chose not to foul. Once again, things worked out for them as well as they could, as the Grizzlies missed and the ball went to the Thunder with three seconds left. Durant was "set-up" for a contested 30 footer, which he missed, and Ibaka's tip in was just too late, and the Grizzlies escaped.
It must be said: Kevin Durant is really struggling. He is shooting 40%/28%/72%(!) for the series, and while much credit must be given to Tayshaun Price and the spectacular Tony Allen for their defensive work, he also looks tired and frustrated. He isn't getting the ball where he needs it, and even when he does get looks, he's missing an unusual number of them. Including a relatively open three late in regulation (that led to the Tony Allen free throws) that was bizarrely disconcerting. When he shook free on the wing and went up for that shot, it was going in. A classic Durant shot, you've seen it a hundred times, your mind has already recalculated the score. It barely grazed the front iron.
The series heads back to Memphis for game six with the Grizzlies in a position to close it out at home. This one is an absolute classic.
Finally, the Clippers rebounded from their loss in Oakland and an incredibly emotional few days and won at home before a celebratory crowd at Staples Center. I found the atmosphere a little strange, but I guess I didn't know what to expect. Everyone was relieved that the situation was resolved, which is understandable, but it felt a little...giddy to me, which, I don't know. Strange. Should we have been patting ourselves on the back for the excision of a racist from our midst who we have been knowingly putting up with for decades?
At any rate, the Clippers were, as they have been in all of their wins, too strong inside, which led to 41 FTAs compared to 19 for the Warriors, and that was really the difference, especially in the 4th quarter when the Warriors went to a hack-a-Jordan strategy that did not work. Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison combined for 34 points off the bench, while the Warriors got 19 from their bench, and the Clippers now hold a 3-2 series lead.
Back to Oakland for game six, where you can bet the crowd will be at a fever pitch. It also might be Mark Jackson's final game as Warriors coach, as rumors abound that he is out barring a deep playoff run that is seeming less and less likely.
It was a fantastic night of basketball, and more tonight, with three big games:
Mavericks at Spurs
6:00 pm Central
Series tied 2-2, pivotal game five. The Spurs hung on in game four to get the series even, when at times it looked like they would cruise to a win. But the Mavs aren't giving in, and almost stole it late. The Spurs, who dominated the regular season, have had stretches in this series where they look like their uber-efficient selves, but there have also been stretches where they look old and slow.
Nets at Raptors
6:30 pm Central
Another 2-2 series after the Raps managed to win game four in Brooklyn. Similar to the Spurs, there are times when Brooklyn looks calm, experienced, and efficient, and times when they just look old. The Raps need to push the pace and force the Nets to look old. The Heat await the winner of this series.
Blazers at Rockets
8:30 pm Central
The Blazers are up 3-1 and look to close this one out on the road, where they won the first two games of the series behind LaMarcus Aldridge. This has been a nightmare for the Rockets, as their defense has crumbled and their shooting, headlined by James Harden's 35%/27% (from 3), has been a disaster. It might be too late, but things have to turn around for them tonight. Props also to Damian Lillard, who has looked fantastic in his first exposure to playoff basketball. 14-29 from three and only 8 turnovers in 4 games.
- We all know that Donald Sterling was banned for life by Adam Silver yesterday, and the owners will look to force a sale of the Clippers. I'm trying to gather my thoughts to write about this, but I'm not sure I have anything that hasn't already been written.
- Meanwhile, I will point you to a couple of interesting pieces: This back and forth on Grantland that raises some interesting points, and this Jason Whitlock article which touches on the ideas of white privilege and the extent to which excising Sterling is merely window dressing.
- Glen Taylor on the radio yesterday expressed his belief that the owners will vote to force Sterling out.
- He also said that he has told Flip Saunders that he doesn't want Saunders coaching the team, and that it is his job to find a head coach.
- In Champions League action, Real Madrid went to Munich and put a beating on Bayern. 4-0 in the away leg and Real moves on to the Final, where they will meet....
- Chelsea or Atletico Madrid, who are tied 0-0 after their rather dour first leg in Madrid last week. They play the 2nd leg today at 1:45 Central at Stamford Bridge.
Today in history
311: Christianity officially recognized in the Roman Empire
1492: SPain announces it will expel all Jews
1563: Jews are expelled from France (tough day in history for my people)
1789: George Washington inaugurated as first president
1803: Louisiana Purchase exectued
1871: Camp Grant massacre of Apaches leaves 144 dead
1939: New York World's Fair opens
1952" Mr. Potato Head becomes first toy advertised on television
1975: Last helicopter leaves U.S. embassy grounds as Saigon is captured
2004: Photos released of U.S. soldiers abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib
Today's musical birthday is Willie Neslon, born in 1933.
Have a great Wednesday.