Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies took care of business against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in workmanlike fashion on Saturday afternoon, sharing the ball and hounding OKC's only offensive option to the point of exhaustion in a grueling 87-81 victory.
Not to be outdone, Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers employed an even more impressive game plan in their 82-71 dismantling of the New York Knicks.
Kendrick Perkins, Scott Brooks and Raymond Felton were exposed as weak links in a two-game slate that made fans of offense wish they'd spent Saturday reading a good book instead of watching four teams fail to break 90.
There were plenty of bright spots, though, as Hibbert and Gasol both dominated, proving that the traditional center was alive and well.
When the dust finally settled, the Grizzlies and Pacers had each taken 2-1 series leads on a day where defense ruled.
It's a little difficult to feel bad for Kendrick Perkins. The guy makes almost $8 million a year to play limited minutes, snarl once in a while and commit the occasional hard foul.
But after the way Perk played in Game 3 against the Grizzlies, it's getting easier.
Memphis features one of the bigger front lines in the league with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph up front. Neither of those players is particularly fleet of foot, but both bang on the boards and take up tons of space in the lane. Theoretically, a team with two big men like that would represent an ideal matchup for the similarly slow, similarly physical Perkins.
So even though he'd been playing so poorly during the playoffs, there actually was some justification for Perkins' optimism heading into Saturday's game.
We will be better next game. I will be better next game everybody need to relax the series is 1-1 and its the first to 4 wins. #thunderup— Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) May 8, 2013
Practically, it now appears that Perkins can't even find a way to be effective against matchups that seem ideally suited to his particular set of skills. He played only 17 minutes, missed all four shots he took and secured just three rebounds.
It got so bad at one point that his own teammates were deliberately ignoring him—and earning praise for doing so.
That last play was awesome, Jackson saw an open OKC player, went to pass, realized it was KP and did a double take. Poise.— Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) May 11, 2013
Because he can't even be a factor in the one series of this postseason in which his size, defense and toughness should matter, Perkins is one of Saturday's most unfortunate losers.
See? Don't you feel bad for him now?
Let's see, Game 3 between the Thunder and Grizzlies featured a fantastic defensive performance by Memphis, which held OKC to just 36 percent shooting, and what amounted to a man-on-an-island offensive showing by Kevin Durant (25 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, 9-of-19 shooting).
Gee, who could have seen those things coming?
Broken record alert: The Thunder have absolutely no offensive scheme, and now, without Russell Westbrook around, they don't even have the talent to overcome the lack of ingenuity coach Scott Brooks has been displaying all postseason.
They don't seem to run plays, and when Durant gets tired, the offense dies. It's really that simple.
Of course, that process gets exaggerated by the Grizzlies' staunch defense, which ranked second in the NBA in points allowed per possession during the regular season. Without any discernible schemes or adjustments to worry about, the Grizz simply get to dig in, help each other hassle Durant and wait for the missed isolation jumper.
If there was anything unpredictable about Saturday's game, it was Durant's failure to make a pair of foul shots with less than 30 seconds remaining that would have narrowed Memphis' lead to just two points. But the scoring dynamo was clearly exhausted and had hit just three of his 10 second-half field-goal attempts.
So even those two misses, while unlikely, weren't totally unforeseeable.
If, by some miracle, OKC finds some other way to play offensively, there might be a surprise ending to this series. But it's more likely that the Thunder's predictable offense will result in what everyone is now fully expecting: an early exit from the playoffs.
The results have been in for a while, folks: Statistically speaking, a good defense is more important to an NBA team's championship aspirations than a good offense.
Knowing that, it's hardly surprising that of the eight teams still technically alive in the postseason, only the New York Knicks ranked outside of the league's top half in terms of defensive efficiency during the 2012-13 campaign. In fact, each of the league's five best defenses (Indiana, Memphis, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Chicago) are still playing.
The presence of those teams is a great thing, as long as you're interested in "downing" sideline pick-and-rolls or overloading the strong side while spending 2.9 seconds in the paint as often as possible.
Maybe I'm alone there.
Anyway, none of the four teams that played on Saturday managed to score more than 87 points, largely because the defensively dominant outfits in Memphis and Indiana totally dictated the terms of their games.
Buckets were hard to come by, long-range attempts were always contested, and chances at the rim were met with heavy resistance.
And get this: Only one team shot better than 40 percent from the field on Saturday—the Grizzlies, who posted a robust 40.5 percent accuracy rate.
If you're into offense, Saturday wasn't the day to watch NBA basketball. In fact, barring any rule changes or an unlikely sea change in offensive strategy in the near future, Saturday's contests were a good representation of how most playoff games are going to look for a while.
There's no point in hiding it anymore: I love Roy Hibbert. There, I said it.
But the affection is justified, as he's been a complete beast during his Pacers' series against the Knicks. Game 3 was no different, as the hulking center finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds and totally dominated the lane.
Hibbert's the key to Indiana's defensive machine. Everything the Pacers do is designed to direct offensive players toward him, which is when he routinely swallows them up.
Van Gundy is 100% accurate and it's so simple.You don't get transition 3s. The Pacers don't double and they force the action to Hibbert— Tommy Dee (@TommyDeeTKB) May 12, 2013
Strangely, food metaphors seem to be the norm when it comes to describing the way Hibbert devours attackers.
Hibbert's eating Chandler's lunch.2nd time in 3 games....— Brian Geltzeiler (@hoopscritic) May 12, 2013
Roy Hibbert has become Ron Swanson at a steakhouse.— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) May 12, 2013
Here's the thing, though: Hibbert has the ability to be a darn good offensive player, too. With a stunning array of drop steps, hooks, tip-ins and turnarounds, Hibbert shone as Saturday's best two-way player. He even earned a new nickname because of his total dominance.
ka-roy abdul hibbert— Aaron McGuire (@docrostov) May 12, 2013
Individually, there was no bigger winner than Hibbert on Saturday, who is emerging alongside Stephen Curry as one of the players making "the leap" in these playoffs.
These two were all smiles during the regular season. That's changed lately.
These two Knicks role players share a slide because they were such big losers that neither deserved the attention of individual treatment.
Smith might have a built-in excuse for his horrible showing, but fever, hangover or whatever, his results really weren't all that different than they've been throughout the postseason. And that's a problem, because these 4-of-12 performances just aren't going to cut it.
Smith thrived after the All-Star break by taking the ball to the hole and drawing fouls, but it seems like he's forgotten what helped him win the Sixth Man of the Year award. Now, he's falling back into his gun-slinging ways, hoisting up contested jumpers and dribbling away entire possessions before firing off a low-percentage shot.
Felton finished with just six points on 1-of-8 shooting and simply couldn't provide the penetration and shot creation that the Knicks offense so desperately needed. Some of his struggles were attributable to the highly disciplined Pacers defense, which held its position and dared Felton to try to score over Hibbert when he managed to get into the lane.
But there was just something about the way Felton played, looking a step slow and somehow chubbier than he was to start the season. Has anyone checked his Gatorade bottle to make sure it's not actually a milkshake he's drinking?
Maybe his ankle was bothering him, but mentally, he seemed nearly as out of it as Smith did.
It was a rough night for a lot of Knicks, but because New York actually needs so much production from these two, they stood out as the biggest losers by a wide margin.
Amid the small-ball craze popularized by teams like the Knicks, Miami Heat and Houston Rockets this year, a few fans might have forgotten the value of traditional lineups that boast speed and size in equal measure.
Saturday was a pretty good blueprint of just how much value some of the league's older notions retain in postseason play.
Both the Grizzlies and Pacers notched wins by holding their opponents under 40 percent from the field and by administering a heavy dose of post play from their centers. It may not be in style anymore, but using players in regular, old-fashioned positions does tend to yield a balanced effort.
That's not to say that the Knicks or Heat should suddenly abandon their undersized approaches. Hybrid lineups can work when the personnel fits.
But both the Pacers and Grizzlies utilized lineups that featured nearly prototypical players at each position. Hibbert and Gasol manned the middle, David West and Zach Randolph scored and rebounded at the 4, Paul George and Tayshaun Prince provided the ranginess and defense that small forwards are supposed to have...and on down the line.
Sometimes, old ideas are the best ones.