The NBA Playoffs this year have been marvelous, as basketball fans have been treated to intense and exciting matchup's on a nightly basis. Whether it's the now casual four point play, or an exhausting overtime session, the postseason has provided spectators with a fantastic contests that has all of us itching for more.
The thought of this trend continuing on Thursday is incredibly feasible, as three teams face elimination and the possibility of their season concluding much earlier than they had hoped. The Indiana Pacers, Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder all could be forced to rest on their laurels for the remainder of the postseason, and ponder what necessary tweaks must be made to propel them to championship heights they dream of.
Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs Memphis Grizzlies (7) (Grizzlies lead 3-2)
The Memphis Grizzlies have wrestled away all hope and belief from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder, a unit driven by the star talent of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are vividly frustrated and baffled, as the Grizzlies have been able to dominate them through five games. Although many considered the Grizz to be a respectable foe, no one anticipated Memphis snatching the series away from OKC. Any spectacular OKC run, shot or moment, Memphis has countered with physicality and poise.
What's been most troubling for Kevin Durant and company is the uncharacteristic struggles he is enduring. Durant is averaging 28 points per game in the series, but is shooting 40% from the field and 35% from three. He's been bothered physically and psychologically by Tony Allen, and the possibility of elimination is beginning to rear it's ugly head.
For the Thunder to overcome this deficit, they must play smarter basketball. This close knit unit is proving to not trust each other, often taking turns on the offensive end. The two biggest culprits are Durant and Westbrook, who elect to attack individually opposed to together, which in turn makes it easier for the stifling Grizzlies defense to contain them.
When Westbrook and Durant bind their talents for good, OKC is seemingly unstoppable. The duo's scoring ability puts immense pressure on defenses, opening opportunities for others to contribute. This obviously has not been the case, as the Grizzlies defense has stopped OKC's high octane offense right in it's tracks.
The Thunder are being defeated by the talented and defensive savvy Grizzlies team, but are also hindering their chances to succeed with an abundance of turnovers, simplistic play design by the head coach and late game mistakes. The Thunder are defeating themselves at times, and if game six proves to be like the rest of the series, Kevin Durant will be the first MVP eliminated from the first round since Dirk in 2007.
No player on the Thunder with the exception of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are shooting over 41% in this series. Westbrook is shooting 34.4%, Reggie Jackson is shooting 38.1% and Derek Fisher is shooting 30%.
Somehow, in the midst of all these ugly figures, there has been four overtime contests in a row, with OKC having the opportunity to claim victory in all of them. Late game miscues has staved off victory for the Thunder, but with players like Durant and Westbrook, anything is possible.
Don't expect OKC to lay down in die yet. Tonight I expect an incredible output from OKC. They will come out controlled and focused, and will force a game seven. From there, it's anyone's series, which is fitting with the way these playoffs have unfolded.
Indiana Pacers (1) vs Atlanta Hawks (8) (Hawks lead 3-2)
Indiana has been faltering for a prolonged period of time. Many were under the assumption that the Pacers would awaken from their slumber when the playoffs commenced. This has not been the case, as the Hawks have put two drubbings on the Pacers in Indiana. Roy Hibbert's contributions have been minimal, as he's struggled to string together a dominant game offensively, and has been taken out of his domain by the three point shooting Pero Antic and Paul Millsap.
Atlanta's offense, has done a remarkable job of extracting Hibbert from the paint, making darts to the rim fairly easy for Jeff Teague and Lou Williams.
The glamor and hype that was latched to the Pacers name all season long has subsided, and their season may come to a screeching halt if they don't correct their many mistakes. Their offense at time's is plagued by indecisiveness. They aren't moving the ball or their bodies, as many just stand motionless waiting for Paul George or Lance Stephenson to make a remarkable play.
The swagger that this team possessed has vanished. Their confidence has been demolished. The restoration of this confidence and swagger may come via a matchup with the Miami Heat. I firmly believe that if Indiana meets Miami in the conference finals, we will see the Pacers team that many claimed had the ability to win a championship.
The issue is, Indiana's horrific play has them seemingly doomed. They may not even reach a matchup with Miami to wake them out of their slumber. The Hawks are playing loosely and free. All the pressure is on Indiana. The true mark of a champion is responding to pressure and controversy accordingly. Will tonight be the next chapter in Paul George's journey to superstardom? Or will tonight prove to be the beginning of a long and miserable offseason?
Tonight, I expect Indiana's season to conclude. I truly hope they prove me wrong, and it won't be surprising if they do, but how can they overcome to this pressure? They haven't responded well to pressure since the start of their downward spiral, and that won't change tonight.
Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs Golden State Warriors (6) (Clippers lead 3-2)
The controversy swirling around the Clippers has many ignoring the fact that we've been treated to an incredible series between Los Angeles and Golden State. After a strong effort Tuesday night, Chris Paul and company look to march into Oracle Arena and have this series conclude once and for all.
They could use rest, especially from a mental standpoint as things continue to settle between Los Angeles and disgraceful owner Donald Sterling. Eventually the vote will come that will purge the NBA of an ignorant and shameful figure, but for now, the Clips must continue to play ball.
This matchup tonight has me somewhat apprehensive. The depth, talent and coaching of the Clippers makes them an appealing pick to close out the series, but I originally picked this series to go the distance. We seem to be in a perfect position for this to occur, but I wouldn't be surprised if Los Angeles dashed out of Oracle with a victory.
Draymond Green has been the unsung hero in this series, as his high basketball IQ, defensive versatility and effort has helped Golden State who has elected to go "small" by inserting Green into the starting lineup.
For the Clippers, star point guard Chris Paul has to come to play tonight. On the road this postseason, Paul hasn't had his most promising play, only averaging 15 points and 8 assists on 45% shooting. Paul may need to register a virtuoso performance from a point guard's standpoint to provide the Clippers with a victory.
Tonight, the Warriors and their fans will be too much for the Clippers to conquer. The game will be hotly contested and intense, but GSW will force a game seven back in Los Angeles, where the Clippers will eventually prevail.
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