Winners and Losers from 4th Week of 2013 NBA Playoffs
It's only fitting that the 2013 NBA playoffs are primarily featured on a channel whose slogan is "We Know Drama."
Week 4 of the postseason featured enough twists and turns to rival an episode of Lost.
Momentum flip-flopped on a game-by-game basis between the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. The Indiana Pacers took a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 series lead over the New York Knicks, only to learn hours before Game 5 that their starting point guard had a concussion.
Meanwhile, in the Oklahoma City Thunder-Memphis Grizzlies series, all five games were decided by six points or fewer.
The only team that didn't experience much Week 4 drama was the Miami Heat, who handled the Chicago Bulls with relative ease after being upset in Game 1 at home. Heading into the conference finals, the health of Dwyane Wade's knee lingers as the most worrisome issue for Heat fans.
Before the conference semifinals reach their dramatic conclusion, let's look back at the winners and losers from the fourth week of the 2013 NBA playoffs.
Note: For the purposes of this slideshow, Week 4 spans from games played on Friday, May 10, through Thursday, May 16. All advanced statistics come from either Basketball-Reference or NBA.com/stats, unless otherwise noted.
Winner: Chris Bosh
After the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls split the first two games of their second-round series, Chris Bosh went to work.
In Game 3, Bosh posted one of the finest playoff games in his 10-year career, scoring 20 points and grabbing a playoff career-high 19 rebounds in Miami's 104-94 win. The oft-maligned big man picked the Bulls apart with mid- and long-range shots, draining six of his 11 attempts outside the paint.
Bosh's shooting ability is what makes him such a valuable asset for Miami, even on nights where he's not such a presence in the box score. As explained by Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry, "Bosh's size and shooting prowess create a gravity that pulls opposing bigs like [Joakim] Noah or Larry Sanders away from their native defensive habitat," which helps open driving lanes for his teammates.
He went right back to work from long range in Game 4, knocking down five of his eight attempts from 20 feet or further. Having Bosh positioned out on the perimeter like that drew Noah away from the rim more than he'd prefer, which allowed LeBron James to revert to basketball-cyborg mode.
Bosh also gets bonus points for reaming out Mario Chalmers in Game 3—that was one of the best highlights of the entire playoffs to date. As Bosh later explained to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, "Playoffs bring out the monster in you sometimes."
Loser: Dwyane Wade
The main obstacle between the Miami Heat and a second straight championship appears to be the health of Dwyane Wade's right knee.
Since March, Wade has been dealing with a bone bruise in the knee which caused him to miss seven of the Heat's final 10 regular-season games. He also sat out Game 4 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round of the playoffs to prevent further aggravation.
During Game 4 against the Chicago Bulls in the conference semifinals, Wade collided knees with Jimmy Butler and went limping to the bench. He finished the game with only six points on 3-of-10 shooting, thereby raising concerns about his lacking impact on the 2013 playoffs.
Wade alleviated those concerns by starting Game 5 and finishing with 18 points, six assists and five rebounds, by far his best game of the series. After heading back to the locker room during the third quarter to get his knee retaped, he helped anchor Miami's furious rally in the fourth quarter with two vintage floaters and a soaring putback jam.
As the Heat advance deeper into the postseason, they'll need more of those performances from Wade to achieve their ultimate goal. At this point, despite his Game 5 heroics against Chicago, Wade isn't even sure what he'll be able to contribute each night.
Winner: Mike Conley
Just as the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs served as Stephen Curry's coming-out party, Mike Conley used the conference semifinals as his own national wake-up call.
Conley averaged 18 points, 6.8 assists and 6.4 rebounds per game in the second round of the playoffs, fueling his Memphis Grizzlies to a series victory over the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.
Since he's not flashy like Curry or Kyrie Irving and doesn't play in a huge market like Los Angeles or New York, it's not a total surprise that Conley has been largely unheralded until now. His regular-season per-game averages of 14.6 points (on 44 percent shooting) and 6.1 assists don't exactly scream "superstar."
His defensive ability is what elevates him to the level of an elite point guard, though. Conley earned a spot on the 2012-13 NBA All-Defensive Second Team in recognition of his ability to lock down opponents, which Grantland's Zach Lowe attributes to a fantastic combination of quickness and balance.
Conley's performance during the conference semifinals has prompted basketball analysts to question not only if he's a top-10 point guard in the league, but a top-five one, even. He's been the biggest breakout star in the second round of the playoffs.
Loser: Russell Westbrook Detractors
Heading into the 2013 NBA playoffs, a chorus of critics—led by ESPN's Skip Bayless—weren't shy about saying that Russell Westbrook would ultimately doom the Oklahoma City Thunder's championship aspirations.
As it turns out, they were 100 percent right. Just not for the right reasons.
After Westbrook suffered a torn meniscus during Game 2 in the opening round of the playoffs, the Thunder never fully recovered. His absence forced them to rely too heavily on Kevin Durant, who started routinely facing double- and triple-teams in Westbrook's absence, especially come crunch time.
While Reggie Jackson stepped up admirably in Westbrook's place, Durant ended up playing the role of primary ball-handler too frequently for his own good. Without the threat of Westbrook's sometimes-reckless shooting, opponents could sell out defensively on Durant and make his teammates beat them.
Unfortunately for Thunder fans, Durant's teammates (Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin in particular) weren't up for the challenge. The Grizzlies KO'd the Thunder in the conference semifinals, leaving Thunder fans to wonder what could have been had Westbrook not been injured in the opening round of the playoffs.
Winner: Marc Gasol
Can a player be a "superstar" based largely on his work at the defensive end of the court?
That's a question Marc Gasol is prompting NBA fans to consider.
The big man has transformed himself from the other, lesser Gasol brother to the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year in five years flat. He anchored the league's second-most efficient defense during the 2012-13 regular season, and his Memphis Grizzlies haven't shown any signs of letting up throughout the 2013 playoffs.
Gasol and his teammates made life completely miserable for Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder offense in the Western Conference semifinals. If Durant or any of his teammates made it past Tony Allen or Tayshaun Prince on the wing, he'd have a seven-foot behemoth in Gasol waiting at the rim.
The center also made his impact felt offensively, scoring at least 20 points in the first four games of the series. His 23-point, 11-rebound, six-block performance in Game 4 stands out as the highlight, but his 20 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks from Game 3 make for a none-too-shabby runner-up.
Loser: Nate Robinson
Nate Robinson exceeded anyone's reasonable expectations in the 2013 postseason.
Let's establish that right off the bat.
He led his outmatched Chicago Bulls to a Game 1 victory over the defending champion Miami Heat in the conference semifinals, stunning the basketball world. The loss got Miami's attention in a hurry, too.
Before Game 2, reigning MVP LeBron James declared that "it wouldn't be a surprise" if he matched up with Robinson, according to ESPNChicago.com. From there, poor Nate Rob faced an onslaught of ball pressure every time he crossed the half-court line.
His 5-of-13 shooting performance in Game 3 doesn't look so bad next to his overall line of 17 points, seven assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block. But going 0-of-12 from the field and scoring a grand total of zero points in Game 4? Not so forgivable.
Winner: Roy Hibbert
Is anyone still questioning why the Indiana Pacers agreed to give Roy Hibbert a four-year maximum contract in the summer of 2012?
After a rough first half of the season (possibly attributable to a wrist injury), Hibbert came alive after the All-Star break and carried that momentum right into the postseason.
In the conference semifinals against the New York Knicks, Hibbert's defense helped fuel the Indiana Pacers to three wins in the the series' first four games. He blocked nine shots and grabbed 32 rebounds during the first three games of the series, thoroughly outplaying former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler in the process.
Standing at 7'2", his very presence in the paint has been enough to often deter the Knicks from driving to the rim. As a bonus, he asserted his will on both ends of the court in Game 3, finishing with 24 points and 12 rebounds in the Indiana Pacers' 82-71 victory.
The big man only earns bonus points for bringing a monocle to his Game 3 postgame interview. Better yet, until being advised against it in the locker room, he almost wore it, too.
Loser: J.R. Smith
For how terrible he's been throughout the conference semifinals, J.R. Smith earns the ignominious honor of being named as a playoff loser two weeks in a row.
The New York Knicks guard has yet to shoot above 40 percent in a game in the series against the Indiana Pacers. He went 7-of-30 in Games 1 and 2, then came down with a 102-degree fever before Game 3 (code for a hangover?) and finished with nine points on 4-of-12 shooting in the Knicks' 82-71 loss.
The 2013 Sixth Man of the Year tried to step up his offensive production in Game 4 but ended up finishing with an even more inefficient performance, scoring 19 points on 22 total shots.
After averaging 18.1 points per game on 42.2 percent shooting in the regular season, he's only chipping in 13.2 points per game on a ghastly 29.3 percent against Indiana. He's been no stranger to highly contested shots, which plays right into the Pacers' hands defensively.
Smith took the blame for the higher-seeded Knicks falling behind 3-1 in the series to the Pacers after Game 4, and rightfully so. His lack of offensive production certainly hasn't been doing the Knicks any favors in their hotly contested series against Indiana.
Winner: Harrison Barnes
Remember how Harrison Barnes was always supposed to break out as a superstar in college, but never quite managed to do so?
He may finally be emerging from that cocoon.
Barnes became a revelation for the Golden State Warriors once David Lee suffered a torn hip flexor in the opening game of the 2013 playoffs.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson had the gumption to use Barnes as Lee's replacement in the starting lineup, giving the team more of a four-out, one-in look. The former North Carolina Tar Heel rewarded his coach's faith by scoring 26 and 25 points, respectively, in Games 4 and 5 against the San Antonio Spurs during the conference semifinals.
Barnes took a horrific tumble to the floor during Game 6 against San Antonio, forcing him to receive six stitches to the head during halftime, but he came right back and played all 12 minutes in the third quarter. He eventually left the game for good after suffering headaches, a tell-tale symptom of a possible concussion.
Loser: The Golden State Warriors' Ankles
When healthy, the Golden State Warriors look like they'll be legitimate NBA championship contenders for years to come.
The 2013 conference semifinals demonstrated just how fragile those title aspirations can be, however.
Stephen Curry, no stranger to ankle injuries in the past, sprained his left ankle during Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs after already having sprained his right ankle in the opening round of the playoffs. He gutted out 22 points, six rebounds and four assists in a gritty 97-87 victory over the Spurs in Game 4, but he clearly looked a step slow in the Warriors' Game 5 109-91 loss to San Antonio.
Andrew Bogut, meanwhile, reportedly tweaked his ankle in Game 5 of the conference semifinals, according to CBSsports.com's Ken Berger. That injury, while not considered serious, would help explain why he only finished with two points and six rebounds that game and three points and seven rebounds in Game 6, the Warriors' final game of the season.
The Warriors don't need to make any dramatic adjustments to the roster in the summer of 2013 after giving the Spurs nearly all they could handle in the playoffs. Instead, Warriors fans simply need to pray that the ankle gods have mercy upon their team during the 2014 postseason.
Winner: San Antonio Spurs
Prior to the start of Week 4, the only talk about Texas hoops was of the San Antonio Spurs' incredible fortune to have salvaged a two-game split with the sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors.
Outside of Golden State's frustrating 14-and-a-half minute collapse to close out Game 1, the battle-tested Spurs had been dominated by the up-and-coming Warriors. San Antonio was slow to close out on shooters, and the Splash Brothers had courtside fans at the AT&T Center packing parkas just to stay dry.
But thanks to another masterful showing of mid-series tinkering by Gregg Popovich, Golden State's shooters went AWOL. After connecting on a combined 47.9 percent of their field goals and 48.5 percent of their long-range looks in the first two games of the series, both players were held to just 35.5 percent from the field and a 35.6 percent success rate from three.
Danny Green took a budding superstar, Curry, and transformed him into a volume scorer, while Kawhi Leonard clogged the gears of Thompson's mechanical shooting form.
The Spurs closed out their Western Conference Semifinals series with three double-digit wins over a four-game stretch. Their only blemish of the week, a 97-87 overtime loss in Game 4, was a contest in which they held an eight-point advantage with less than five minutes left in regulation.
By week's end, San Antonio had punched its second straight ticket to the Western Conference Finals and eighth in the last 15 seasons.
UPDATE: Friday, May 17, at 6 p.m. ET by Zach Buckley