8 Takeaways from Sunday's NBA Playoff Action
Sunday's NBA playoff action was all about heart.
Some teams, like the Boston Celtics, proved they had something beating in their collective chests and put forth season-saving performances (Well, season-prolonging ones, anyway.)
The Golden State Warriors also fall into this category, as a still-hobbled Stephen Curry dug deep to lead his Dubs to a thrilling 3-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets in front of a crowd that was at deafening levels hours before tipoff. Sometimes, the heart of a fanbase counts, too.
On the flip side, the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks pulled a double "Tin Man," showing a complete lack of heart as they were each unceremoniously swept out of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, respectively.
Sunday's games featured plenty of skill and smarts. But heart mattered most.
The Celtics Will Bow Out When They're Good and Ready
Very little changed for the Boston Celtics as they narrowly avoided a four-game sweep at the hands of their division rivals.
The Celtics still struggled to generate easy baskets, still inexplicably turned the ball over on the simplest plays, and still relied on their defense to keep them in the game. Yet despite scoring only 30 points in the second half and looking like a team on its last legs, Boston managed to prolong its postseason against the New York Knicks.
Clearly, the Celtics weren't ready to roll over just yet.
Make no mistake, Boston is going to lose this series, but there's something noble about the way Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and even Jason Terry seemed to tell the Knicks, "Not yet, boys. Not yet."
Thanks to a 50-minute effort from Pierce, 17 boards from Garnett, and a surprising scoring barrage from Terry in overtime, Boston will live to fight another day. If the Knicks simply get back to doing what they've done throughout the series, they shouldn't have much trouble taking care of the Celtics in Game 5 Wednesday.
Still, it was nice to see Boston refuse to lose on its home court.
The Knicks Have Nothing to Worry About
You got your touchy-feely analysis in the last slide, so here's one that provides something a little more concrete. New York needn't worry about what happened in Game 4 because, strategically, the game went pretty much its preferred route.
Boston still had to take a ton of tough, contested jumpers. Those shots somehow managed to fall at a higher rate Sunday, but they're still extremely difficult looks.
Chances are, the Celtics won't have another nearly 45 percent shooting night under the same conditions and same shots.
In addition, the Knicks finally went cold, which combined with Boston's uncharacteristically solid shooting performance to lead to the 97-90 OT loss. If Carmelo Anthony could have made just a couple of his open three-point attempts (0-of-7), the Knicks might very well have won this game.
New York gets to go home now, and as long as it stays the course, it'll be advancing in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.
The Heat Are Still Coasting
It shouldn't be surprising that the Heat are playing on cruise control. After all, they've been doing it all season long.
In Game 4, Miami not only rested Dwyane Wade, but it also took it easy on the overmatched Bucks for all but the final 10 minutes of the contest. But as has so often been the case this year, the Heat flipped the switch when they needed to, turning a five-point lead into a 14-point advantage with a 14-5 run in the fourth quarter.
James finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals, but his assumption of ball-handling duties during the late-game run was the real pivot point in the contest.
Starting at the 9:33 mark in the fourth, James grabbed a rebound, assisted on back-to-back threes from Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers, made a layup, assisted on two more threes from Shane Battier and Allen, and then hit a jumper, a free throw and a layup.
It might have been easier to say that LBJ either scored or assisted on the final 19 Heat points, but seeing it in list form really drives home just how thorough James' dominance really was, don't you think?
Anyhow, the Heat ultimately sashayed to a comfy 88-77 win.
Eventually, there'll come a time when James is going to have to bring his A-game for more than a few minutes. Clearly, that time hasn't come yet.
Brandon Jennings Didn't Do Himself Any Favors
It's been a rough year for Brandon Jennings.
And his three points on 1-of-7 shooting in an elimination game sure didn't help.
Whether or not any team is willing to pay Jennings the max dollars he seems to think he deserves is debatable. What we know, though, is that he hasn't earned anything close to that kind of money.
Locker room distractions are fine if there's outsized production to match. But Jennings seems to only provide the former without much of the latter. The result of that combination has been an occasionally productive, consistently infuriating player that has appeared more concerned with himself than his team.
Jennings will have plenty to think about this summer, and those thoughts won't simply be confined to figuring out his next team.
He'll have to decide if he's ready to grow up.
The Lakers Finished How They Started
Let's see, the Lakers' season-ending 103-82 loss to the thoroughly superior Spurs featured disappointing play, an injury-riddled lineup, and a couple of overshadowing sideshows.
Yeah, that sounds about right.
L.A. went out with a whimper against the Spurs, failing to threaten victory after a brief flirtation with it in the first quarter. Outgunned, out-coached and outclassed, the Lakers had the look of a team that was ready to tie a bow on one of the most embarrassing seasons by any team in recent memory.
But before that could happen, Dwight Howard had to get himself tossed out of the game, much to the obvious disgust of GM Mitch Kupchak, and Kobe Bryant had to join his team on the bench during the third quarter.
Both incidents distracted from the quietly complete beating that was taking place on the floor, which was both a good and bad thing.
On the one hand, the extracurriculars took the focus off the fact that the Lakers clearly lacked the talent and organization to put up much of a fight against a quality opponent.
On the other, they served as the latest examples of a team comprised of individuals with their own agendas.
Howard might be on the way out, and if his final act as a Laker was a selfish, disappointing one, well...let's just say it was appropriate.
Goodnight, Lakers. It's been no fun at all.
The Spurs Are the Best Team in the West Right Now
Admittedly, it's hard to draw many strong conclusions from a four-game series against a team with as many injuries and systemic flaws as the Lakers, but can't we all just agree that the Spurs look like the most dangerous team in the West?
Tony Parker is back to his typical waterbug ways, darting all over the floor and finding space in the lane whenever he wants. He scored 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting in just 26 minutes against L.A.
Tim Duncan is still his normal, robotic self, controlling the lane and scoring when needed. And Manu Ginobili is healthy enough to throw down the occasional vintage lefty jam.
What else do we need to know?
The Spurs won all four games against the Lakers by an average margin of 18.75 points and hardly broke a sweat doing so. With Kevin Durant now flying solo in Oklahoma City and the Nuggets and Warriors lacking the defensive chops to match up against a precise Gregg Popovich offense, it really feels like the Spurs are a cut above the rest in the West.
There's plenty of time for another team to join the conversation, but San Antonio has made the loudest statement so far.
Stephen Curry Can Do Some Damage in a Minute
At the 2:08 mark in the third quarter, the Warriors had a tenuous 79-71 lead on the Nuggets and the game was very much available for the taking by either side.
In the next 57 seconds, Curry buried a three from about four feet beyond the arc, dropped in a lefty floater (plus the foul), stole the ball from Ty Lawson and hit another three from 28 feet.
And during the ensuring timeout, as the fans in Oakland erupted, he got a high-five from owner Joe Lacob, who was sitting courtside.
The Warriors' lead ballooned to 88-71 as they finally took control of the game. After Curry—clearly in some kind of fugue state at that point—buried yet another three from the corner with 23 seconds left in the period, the Dubs owned a 91-72 lead heading into the fourth.
Curry scored 22 points in the quarter after coach Mark Jackson very nearly held him out at halftime because of his sprained left ankle. It was a remarkable performance by a player that has been using this season and postseason to declare his arrival as a superstar.
The Warriors may not match up as well as Denver for their potential opponents next round, but right now, everyone should just be sitting back and enjoying Curry's utterly brilliant offensive performance.
Curry did some serious damage in a minute, but with 31 points in a massive 115-101 win and a playoff average that now sits at 27 points per game (on a ridiculous 17-of-38 from long range), the Warriors' best player looks primed to do a whole lot more before he's through.
Ty Lawson Needs a Little Help
No, I'm not just referring to his highly suspect one-on-one defense. I'm talking about the fact that Ty Lawson has been on an offensive island this entire series, zipping past every defender the Warriors have thrown at him and finishing with pull-up jumpers and lay-ins.
The 25-year-old point guard scored 26 points, and while three other Nuggets put up double figures, only Andre Iguodala did so efficiently, on 7-of-11 shooting.
Denver's got plenty of problems, chief among them being its inability to stop the Warriors from scoring more than 110 points in each of the past three games. But one of the biggest issues the team is facing is the total lack of scoring support behind Lawson.
There are no reliable shooters for him to kick the ball out to when he makes his forays into the lane, which allows Golden State to collapse and at least make it difficult for him to finish. Plus, nobody in Denver's frontcourt seems capable of serving as a decent pick-and-roll option.
That leaves Lawson on an island, putting up big scoring totals in what looks like it's going to be a disappointing series for Denver.