One of the biggest knocks on the NBA is the lack of upsets in the postseason. It’s pretty common for Wild Card NFL and MLB teams to win it all (it helps when only 10 or 12 teams, respectfully, make the postseason, compared to 16 in the NBA.) The NHL constantly has upsets. In the NBA, however, it’s usually the top seed that wins each series. This weekend could change that. The top team in each conference (Indiana and San Antonio) face elimination games this weekend. This year’s MVP finds himself in a Game 7 against the always difficult Memphis Grizzlies. I wanted their to be six games this weekend, but I just watched Damian Lillard knock down an incredible game-winning triple to give Portland their first series win since 2000. The first team to clinch a West semifinals spot was the team who had the hottest start to the season. Lillard hit a number of clutch shots during the regular season, and he’s just adding to his legend in the postseason. To think, the Blazers gave up a washed-up Gerald Wallace for a first round pick that became Lillard. Wow.
Here are my breakdowns of each game Saturday, including a prediction.
Atlanta at Indiana
Indiana finally adapted to Atlanta’s up-tempo, small-ball style a couple games ago. Roy Hibbert has seen his minutes decrease, while his point and rebound output have basically become nonexistent. Paul George has been great this series. The Pacers have the upper hand since he won’t be suspended for Game 7. The line up of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, George, Chris Copeland and David West has been great the last two games. I’m sure they will continue to log minutes together as Hibbert becomes even more of a non factor. Fact is, Hibbert doesn’t fit in this series. It took some time for Frank Vogel to figure that out. Ian Mahinmi is a more serviceable player against Atlanta’s quicker bigs. Atlanta has done such a great job this series, and should be proud regardless of what happens Saturday. Mike Scott has been great, and Jeff Teague has solidified himself as a great point guard. He’s a borderline top-10 point guard. Paul Millsap gives the Hawks the best chance of winning Game 7 in Indiana. He’s averaging 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds, but Indiana’s forcing him to shoot 43 percent from two, which is five percentage points lower than the regular season. The series has been close, save for Game 2 and Game 3. Although there hasn’t been that end of the game excitement like every West series, the Pacers/Hawks have had their moments, especially when Teague takes over quarters with his ability to get in the lane. The Hawks have taken an abnormal amount of threes (30 a game), while making 11 of them. If they can make double-digit threes, they have more than a chance of upsetting a Pacer team. In the end, Paul George steps up and proves he’s an All-NBA guy.
Memphis at Oklahoma City
It’s going to be hard for the Grizzlies to win without Zach Randolph. It’s going to be very hard for the Grizzlies to win without Zach Randolph and Mike Conley. Conley will play through the pain, but he probably won’t be a 100 percent. Without Z-Bo, the Thunder can play small-ball easier. Durant doesn’t have to battle inside with Randolph. Ed Davis can play the four, but James Johnson will also play that position for Memphis. The Grizzlies are the only West playoff team not averaging 100 points a game in this playoffs. That’s a testament to how fantastic these West offenses are, but it’s also a credit to how great this Memphis team is. The Grizzlies won’t have a player on an All-NBA team. The Grizzlies won’t have a player win any award. They could have two guys (Tony Allen and Marc Gasol) on one of the All-NBA Defensive Teams. Other than that, they are just a well-coached, scrappy team. The Grizzlies proved last season a team without a star can make it to the conference finals. Granted, injuries impacted their run last season, but sometimes you have to get lucky. Anyway, back to the game. The NBA needs Kevin Durant to win. Kevin Durant needs Kevin Durant to win. An early playoff exit after winning a MVP will deeply hurt Durant. Grizzlies might be a tough team, but Durant’s the second best player in the game. He should be able to will his team past the Grizzlies. Caron Butler has played an important role in this series. Role players matter greatly in the postseason, especially when star players are struggling. Butler started last game for the offensively challenged Sefolosha. Sefolosha didn’t play in Game 6, while Reggie Jackson and Butler combined to play 58 minutes. Jackson provided 16 important points, while Butler poured in seven to go along with four rebounds, three assists and most importantly, zero turnovers. Oklahoma City figured out Memphis last game because of Scott Brooks’ line up changes. The Thunder had much better spacing. Russell Westbrook acted way less sporadic. Kevin Durant was efficient because Jackson and Butler took some pressure off of him. I don’t see the Thunder losing in this game, but if you’ve been watching this postseason would you be surprised if Memphis won?
Oklahoma City wins.
Golden State at Los Angeles
Each West series has been fantastic. It can’t be overstated. So many overtime thrillers. I don’t even know how to rank what series is best, so I’ll just say they are all tied for first. Golden State and Los Angeles had the most intrigue entering these playoffs. People figured Durant would takeover against Memphis, and that the Spurs would continue their dominance over Dallas. The Rockets/Blazers and Clippers/Warriors figured to both be ultra competitive series. Lucky for us, each West series has been must-see television. Without Andrew Bogut, the Warriors have been dominated inside by DeAndre Jordan. Jordan has a wonderful regular season. A big reason why Blake Griffin will receive some love in the MVP ballot has to do with Jordan’s improved play. Jordan led the NBA in rebounds and blocks. He had 25 and 18 in Game 5. It’s hard to believe this series featuring a 40-point victory for the Clippers in Game 2. It’s just the Warriors style of play presents a chance for a blowout either way. The Warriors could come out shooting hot to take control of the game, but there have been times where Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have difficult shooting games that give a big advantage to the opposing team. Chris Paul is battling an injury. He needs this win more than anyone. Chris Paul has never made it to the conference finals. He has all of this pressure to win now, especially since the Clippers organization has major problems. He has such a difficult responsibility in Curry. Curry has shown new signs of life. He’s made 11 threes in the last three games, compared to his six made in his first three games of the series. Seven of those threes, however, came in Curry’s 33-point outburst in the Game 4. David Lee has been awful against Blake Griffin, and the Clippers are killing the board. I’ll steal a stat provided by Zach Lowe that the Clippers are rebounding 29.2 percent of their own misses, which would trail only the Andre Drummond-led Pistons in the regular season. Clearly not having Bogut hurts the Warriors. Jermaine O’Neal might not play, which would be killer for Golden State’s chances. Home teams historically do well in Game 7’s (away teams have won 23 out of a possible 114 game 7s), and even though this postseason has been all kinds of crazy, I’m sticking with each home team to win on Saturday.
Los Angeles wins.
My cousin gets married at 2 p.m. (congrats to her!) The reception begins at 5, so I’ll have to sacrifice some portions of the games. My plan is to occasionally watch the Hawks and Thunder games, but then fully watch the night cap featuring Golden State and Los Angeles. Enjoy Game 7 Saturday.
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