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Winners and Losers from Thursday's Wild NBA Playoff Action

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 17, 2013

Winners and Losers from Thursday's Wild NBA Playoff Action

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    Thursday's NBA playoff action saw Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks stave off elimination with an ugly 85-75 win over the Indiana Pacers. It also saw the San Antonio Spurs eliminate the Golden State Warriors by a final score of 94-82 at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

    Of course, if you scanned a box score, you'd know that.

    What you might not easily surmise is the way Indiana's bench and ball security allowed the Knicks to prolong their playoff lives. And let's not forget the Miami Heat, who probably spent Thursday night smiling contentedly to themselves, secure in the knowledge that they could wipe the floor with either of the bumbling Eastern Conference foes.

    Also lurking below the surface of the evening's results was the battle-tested truism that experience counts for an awful lot in the postseason. Just ask the Spurs, whose veterans dug deep to find a way to win.

    As for the Warriors, they'll go home having learned a hard lesson about experimenting with quirky lineups when the stakes are highest. Hint: It's not a good idea.

Loser: Indiana's Bench

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    It didn't take much to expose the Pacers' horrendous bench, did it?

    George Hill was held out because of a concussion he sustained in Game 4, which shifted Indiana's rotation around just enough to reveal the shoddy cast of reserves that the Pacers have been hiding all year long.

    In case you haven't figured it out yet, the Pacers' bench stinks. #KNICKSvPACERS

    — John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 17, 2013

    The Knicks annihilated D.J. Augustin in the pick-and-roll, a systematic attack that showed just how valuable Hill's defense has been in this series.

    Suddenly, those scoring opportunities that the Knicks just couldn't find in the first four games were available. Raymond Felton could get to the middle of the floor and the rest of the Pacers had to suck in to help, leaving open shooters beyond the arc.

    Augustin scored 12 points on 3-of-9 shooting. In addition to being a prime target for the Knicks' offense, he wasn't able to create scoring chances for his teammates.

    I'm pretty sure DJ Augustin couldn't run a fastbreak against my niece's basketball team.

    — Zach Harper (@talkhoops) May 17, 2013

    On the night, Augustin failed to register a single assist.

    Plus, the rest of the bench combined to score just 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting, which is an efficiency rate typically reserved for J.R. Smith.

    In other words, it wasn't pretty.

    If Hill can't return and Indy's bench continues to play a big role, this series might actually start to get interesting.

Winner: The Miami Heat

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    Because every NBA game technically has to have a winner, I guess it'd be fair to mention that the Knicks actually notched the victory on Thursday. But neither they nor the Pacers did much to make the Miami Heat sweat about their matchup in the next round.

    New York shot just 41 percent from the field, registered only 12 assists on 32 baskets and still didn't get anything close to an efficient performance from Carmelo Anthony (12-of-28) or the very thirsty J.R. Smith (4-of-11).

    Indiana, obviously, was even less impressive. No member of the starting five made half of his shots, the team made only 19 of its 33 free-throw attempts and the turnovers were a massive problem (more on that later).

    Put simply, this was a poorly played game from soup to nuts. In fact, it was so bad that some folks were looking for distractions long before the final buzzer.

    There's another quarter? Of this? So, how's "The Office" finale?

    — Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) May 17, 2013

    Meanwhile, the Heat are home resting, losers of just one playoff game this year and probably not remotely concerned about whether they'll face the Knicks or the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Loser: Ball Security

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    So, about those turnovers...

    Giveaways have been an issue for the Pacers all season long. During the year, they posted a turnover ratio of 16.2, which ranked 27th in the NBA. Unfortunately for Indiana, its postseason ball security has been even worse; in 11 playoff games they're averaged 17.9 turnovers.

    Game 5 was par for the course for the Pacers, as they gave up the rock 19 times.

    Hill's absence was a factor, but the turnovers were a problem for virtually every Pacer who saw the court. Paul George led the team with four, but David West and Roy Hibbert each had three as well.

    Incredibly, Indiana found a way to squander an opportunity to score when Tyson Chandler hit the deck, grasped for his lower back and stayed down. The Pacers took off the other way, but despite the advantage, they coughed up the rock.

    Pacers turned it over on a 5 on 4. Tough to do. Might just about do it.

    — Brian Mahoney (@briancmahoney) May 17, 2013

    And down the stretch, when the Pacers actually had a chance to steal a game they'd trailed since the early stages, the wheels came off.

    Three straight TOs for Indy. Not a great way to close the game. #AmexNBA

    — Lang Whitaker (@langwhitaker) May 17, 2013

    The Knicks haven't been scoring at a high enough rate to really make the Pacers pay for their wasted possessions, but if Indiana advances, you can bet that it'll be facing a far more opportunistic foe in Miami.

Winner: Old Dogs

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    Tim Duncan spent the last four minutes of the game on the bench, Tony Parker made three of his 16 shots and Manu Ginobili managed only a single field goal.

    But thanks to veteran guile and a remarkable adherence to Gregg Popovich's time-tested scheme, the ancient Spurs got the job done.

    Of course they did.

    The Spurs have been through enough playoff wars to know that there are plenty of ways to win games when the circumstances make victory seem impossible.

    Specifically, Popovich went with Tiago Splitter to close the game because the big man had been defending the Warriors' high pick-and-roll more effectively than Duncan. Plus, Ginobili found a way to generate offense despite making only one of his six shots: He started dishing.

    The crafty guard's 11 assists kept both Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard involved, and more importantly, they led to a handful of backbreaking corner threes in the fourth quarter.

    Parker never did find his range (except for a huge triple on a Ginobili assist with less than two minutes remaining), but he played inspired defense against every Warrior that Mark Jackson threw at him.

    The Spurs simply found ways to engineer a win—just like they always do.

Loser: New Tricks

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    When trying to isolate the reasons for the Warriors' postseason elimination against the Spurs on Thursday, it'd be easy to point to the missed open shots in the fourth quarter. Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry couldn't convert on a few looks they'd hit hundreds of times during the season.

    Not only that, but Harrison Barnes' early exit with a head injury deprived Golden State of its best athlete and most versatile wing defender.

    It'd also be easy to cite the Spurs' vast experience, which I just did on the last slide.

    But something else has to be addressed: Mark Jackson tried a few new tricks at a very strange time.

    There were long stretches during Game 6 in which the Warriors featured two centers on the court at the same time, one of whom was the seldom-used Andris Biedrins.

    Let's be clear on one thing: There is no circumstance in which Biedrins' presence on the court is excusable. He's afraid of the ball, actively clogs passing lanes and simply can't avoid fouls (he had five in 12 minutes).

    That'd be weird enough on its own, but what made Jackson's rotation moves even more puzzling was his decision to play without a big man for other lengthy stretches. Believe me, I'm aware that the Warriors played plenty of minutes this year with David Lee and Carl Landry as the only bigs on the floor.

    But where's the sense in using Landry and Draymond Green at the same time?

    Ultimately, Jackson's moves were strange and could have been born of a justifiable desperation. The Spurs had an answer for almost everything the Warriors did, so perhaps the young coach was hoping to find a mixture that would throw the unflappable Spurs off.

    The Warriors' season was a rousing success, and it's possible that this defeat was just the first step toward a future playoff progression that will see them advance further in the coming years. Still, it's hard to get past the feeling that a few bizarre lineup decisions caused this playoff run to end a little early.

Winner: Hometown Fans

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    I'll keep this one brief.

    On successive nights, we've seen some genuinely classy performances from fans of teams that were eliminated. And after watching some of the hijinks by fans in Boston and Miami during these playoffs, the positive side of fandom needs a little press, too.

    So to the loyalists who stayed until the final buzzer in Oklahoma City on Wednesday and in Oakland on Thursday, nicely done.

    Both of those fanbases hung around to chant in support of their Thunder and Warriors, respectively, sending them into the offseason with a final showing of vocal appreciation.

    Is it a little saccharine to congratulate fans for cheering, which is what they're supposed to do anyway? Maybe.

    But if you don't get at least a couple of goosebumps when 19,000 people channel their sadness into a chorus of thanks, maybe you're watching sports for the wrong reasons.

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