Winners and Losers from 5th Week of 2013 NBA Playoffs
With the 2013 NBA playoffs down to its final four teams, the action only promises to heat up from here.
Home teams have held court through the first three games of the conference finals, but it hasn't been easy, to say the least.
In the Western Conference finals, the San Antonio Spurs know their 2-0 series lead over the Memphis Grizzlies still doesn't give them much room for comfort. It was only a year ago that the Spurs blew a 2-0 series lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference finals, after all.
Meanwhile, if Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals is any indication, we're in for a good old-fashioned slobberknocker—in the words of WWE's Jim Ross. The Indiana Pacers won't be shying away from the Miami Heat, especially after jumping out to a 2-1 series lead over the soon-to-be champions during the 2012 playoffs.
Before we get too deep into the conference finals, let's take a look back at who emerged as a clear winner and loser from the fifth week of the postseason.
Note: For the purposes of this slideshow, Week 5 spans from games played on Friday, May 17, through Wednesday, May 22. All advanced statistics come from either Basketball-Reference or NBA.com/stats, unless otherwise noted.
Winner: Tony Parker
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Tony Parker may not be the flashiest point guard in the NBA, but he's one of the most lethal.
Through the first two games of the 2013 Western Conference finals, he's proven why it's a mistake to take him and the San Antonio Spurs lightly in their quest for a fifth NBA championship since 1999.
In Game 1, Parker orchestrated a complete dissection of the Memphis Grizzlies' vaunted defense. He finished with 20 points and nine assists, with his damage only limited by him sitting out the final half of the fourth quarter.
The Frenchman encored by dishing a career-playoff high 18 assists in the Spurs' Game 2 overtime win over the Grizzlies. He did begin struggling from the field late in the game, however, scoring only five points on 2-of-9 shooting in the fourth quarter and overtime.
I'll admit it: I'm just as guilty as anyone of underrating the San Antonio floor general. When ranking the NBA's top 10 point guards last December, I slotted Parker seventh behind the likes of Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Kyrie Irving.
Allow this to be my five-months-too-late mea culpa. Parker's phenomenal caliber of play is a huge reason the Spurs have opened up a 2-0 series lead over the Grizzlies in the conference finals.
Loser: Zach Randolph
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There's no sugarcoating how poorly Zach Randolph played in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
Z-Bo finished with two points on 1-of-8 shooting and seven rebounds—far below his typical double-double production in the Memphis Grizzlies' 22-point loss. The San Antonio Spurs flummoxed Randolph by sending a variety of defenders his way, fronting and double-teaming him to prevent easy catches in the post.
Given the stakes of the game and his importance to the Grizzlies, it was the worst playoff performance of Randolph's entire 12-year NBA career.
The going didn't get much easier during Game 2, at least in the first half. He finished the half shooting 1-of-10 from the field, with frustration visibly mounting on his face as he missed a handful of shots that he'd normally make.
The inevitable Z-Bo breakout finally occurred during the second half of Game 2, as he scored 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting and helped rally the Grizzlies from a double-digit deficit.
If the Grizzlies have any hope of moving onto the NBA Finals, they'll need Randolph's second-half Game 2 breakout to carry over throughout the rest of the conference finals.
Winner: The San Antonio Spurs System
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In case you weren't aware before the 2013 conference finals, the San Antonio Spurs go far deeper than their Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili these days.
While the three future Hall of Famers still attract most of the national attention, the Spurs' under-30 players—Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, most notably—have been helping fuel San Antonio's latest playoff run.
In the first two games of the Western Conference finals against the Memphis Grizzlies, Green and Leonard each went 6-of-10 from three-point range. Both particularly did their damage on the right corner, with Leonard knocking down all four of his right-corner three-point attempts and Green going 2-of-3 from there.
Splitter, meanwhile, has helped frustrate Zach Randolph into long bouts of ineffectiveness. After playing a total of only 53 minutes in six games during the 2012 Western Conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Brazilian big man has already appeared in 51 minutes through two games of the 2013 conference finals.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn't necessarily buy into the theory that the 2012 trip to the Conference finals helped prepare his young pups for this year:
"How do you gauge that?" Pop asked reporters, according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. "You don't put a needle in them like a turkey. Yep, you're more ready."
Whether Pop admits it or not, the Spurs' under-30 players appear far more confident in this year's playoffs. As the series shifts to Memphis, they'll need to keep up their strong play for San Antonio to make it back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007.
Loser: The Memphis Grizzlies' Jump Shooting
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If the Memphis Grizzlies hope to make the 2013 Western Conference finals competitive, they need to start knocking down some jump shots.
The Grizzlies entered the postseason attempting only 13.5 three-point shots per game—by far the lowest mark in the league. True to form, they also rank dead last in three-point attempts during the playoffs, averaging only 14.5 per game.
As noted by Bleacher Report's Jared Wade, no NBA team has ever won a championship while finishing last (during the regular season) in three-point shot attempts. The Grizzlies already defied the odds by making the conference finals, as the team with the fewest three-point shot attempts in the league hadn't done so since 1999, according to Wade.
During Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals, the Grizzlies starters didn't attempt a single three-point shot. In Game 2, Mike Conley was the only Memphis starter to knock down a three-pointer (He went 2-of-5 from downtown).
Through the first two games of the conference finals, the Grizzlies only converted 34.7 percent of their jump shots (33-of-95), and they particularly struggled from the left side of the court. San Antonio's defense will happily concede mid- and long-range jump shots to the Grizzlies if they're only going to convert at that rate.
Winner: Roy Hibbert
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Roy Hibbert makes his second straight appearance here as a playoff "winner" after single-handedly crushing the spirit of the New York Knicks.
Roughly halfway through the fourth quarter of Game 6 during the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Knicks held a two-point lead over Hibbert's Indiana Pacers in Indiana. While the series looked to be headed toward a decisive Game 7 back in New York, Hibbert had other ideas.
After Paul George overplayed a Carmelo Anthony catch in the post, Anthony spun and drove straight toward the basket for a potentially thunderous dunk. Instead, as Anthony put the ball over the rim, Hibbert went straight up and rejected the shot with a vicious block—all the while avoiding a foul.
The big man's unforgettable block appeared to fuel the Pacers' fourth-quarter rally, as they finished the game on a 13-4 run from that point onward. It's since been immortalized via a massive poster in The Indianapolis Star and a phenomenal painting by @BeyondTheBuzzer.
Hibbert also found himself at the source of controversy during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, when Pacers coach Frank Vogel benched him twice at the end of overtime. As a result, LeBron James drove to the rim for two uncontested layups, giving the Miami Heat a one-point overtime win.
After the game, Hibbert told Yahoo! Sports that he needed to speak up the next time Vogel tried to bench him in a late-game situation like that. He gets bonus points in the "winners" column this week for his ongoing maturation both on and off the court.
Loser: The New York Knicks as Championship Contenders
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For a franchise that hadn't won a playoff series since the 1999-2000 season, it feels wrong to call a 54-win season and a second-round playoff appearance a failure.
For the New York Knicks—who made no bones about having their sights set on meeting the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals—it's fair to label their second-round knockout as a major disappointment.
Knicks swingman Iman Shumpert wasn't afraid to call it such, saying, "We failed to do what we were supposed to do," according to the New York Post. "We know we were supposed to go farther and we didn't. So it's a fail."
That assessment may sound harsh, but the Knicks entered the playoffs with the No. 2 seed in the East and had the league's scoring leader, Carmelo Anthony, on their side. The Indiana Pacers posed a host of matchup problems for New York, but that didn't stop most experts from predicting that the Knicks would advance.
Now, reality sinks in for Knicks. They're already well over the projected salary cap for the 2013-14 season, which restricts their free-agency options and leaves them with an aging, injury-prone core.
It's one thing to expect a young team like the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Houston Rockets to substantially improve internally from one season to the next. But when Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald preaches about the Knicks' internal-improvement prospects, it largely rings hollow.
Winner: LeBron James' Clutch Gene
Remember when LeBron James had to battle the perception that he wasn't clutch?
I now submit Game 1 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals as evidence against that claim.
James converted not one but two massive layups in the final 15 seconds of the Miami Heat's 103-102 overtime win over the Indiana Pacers. Granted, Pacers coach Frank Vogel deserves some credit for making LeBron's life easier by keeping 7'2" rim protector Roy Hibbert on the bench for both plays.
With 15 seconds left in OT, the game tied at 99 and Hibbert nowhere in sight, James drove right past George Hill, cut through a David West double-team and finished at the rim with a righty layup—giving the Heat a two-point lead.
An errant Dwyane Wade foul on a Paul George three-pointer on the ensuing possession set James up for his final heroics. With 2.2 seconds remaining, Shane Battier inbounded the ball to LeBron, who immediately exploded past George and met no resistance en route to the rim.
His game-winning lefty layup with less than a second remaining made him the first player in NBA postseason history to finish with both a triple-double and a buzzer-beater game-winner in the same game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Not clutch? Not a chance.
Loser: Frank Vogel's Game 1 Snafu
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Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel likely won't be sleeping well after his late-game decision-making in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
In 7'2" Roy Hibbert, the Pacers have one of the best rim protectors in the game. After throwing a four-year, $58 million contract his way in the summer of 2012, one would presume that Indiana would want him playing during crunch-time situations in close games.
Instead, Vogel decided to bench his 2012 All-Star for the Miami Heat's final two possessions of overtime in Game 1, fearing that Hibbert's lack of quickness could lead to an easy mid-range jumper for Chris Bosh. Suffice it to say, that decision came back to haunt him immediately.
Without Hibbert's massive frame guarding the paint, LeBron James drove straight to the basket both times and converted uncontested layups. The big man was visibly disgusted after seeing James lay in the game-winner with less than a second remaining in overtime.
It's been said ad nauseam, but it's worth repeating: You can live with a mid-range Bosh jumper for the win. But under no circumstance can you allow the league's best player to drive uncontested to the rim twice during the waning seconds of such a critical game.
Here's guessing we'll be seeing a lot more of Hibbert in clutch time moving forward during the conference finals.
Winner: Kevin Durant
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How can Kevin Durant be considered a Week 5 playoff winner when his team got knocked out of the playoffs?
Well, for one, he donated $1 million to the Red Cross a day after a tornado ravaged a town located only miles from Oklahoma City. A sports business expert told BuzzFeed that Durant's donation is roughly the equivalent of someone who makes $50,000 per year donating $2,000.
Point is, that's a lot of money. And K.D. didn't just stop there.
Two days after the tornado struck, Durant traveled to Moore, Okla., doing "anything and everything he could to bring a smile to as many faces as possible," according to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman. "Not once did Durant turn down a request, graciously scribbling his signature on anything he was handed," Mayberry reported.
In short, despite his team's disappointing finish in the playoffs, Durant may just be the NBA's biggest winner from Week 5. He transcended his role as a star athlete to genuinely help people in need, and who can find fault with that?
Loser: George Hill
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Week 5 of the 2013 playoffs wasn't one to remember for George Hill.
After being a surprise scratch from Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals due to a concussion, Hill remarkably returned in Game 6 after passing the league-mandated concussion tests. His Indiana Pacers emerged victorious over the New York Knicks, but Hill only finished with 12 points on 2-of-10 shooting that night.
Against the Miami Heat in Game 1 in the Eastern Conference finals, the Pacers point guard's struggles continued. He shot 2-of-9 from the floor and scored only five points in 45 minutes of play, along with seven assists, five steals, four rebounds and three turnovers.
As suggested by ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh (subscription required), just because Hill passed the league's concussion tests doesn't mean that he's back to being 100 percent healthy. Concussion symptoms and the brain changes that result from a concussion can linger far longer than a few days, according to researchers.
Of course, Hill could have also simply hit a two-game rough patch. Either way, the Pacers will need more from George as the conference finals progress if they hope to halt the defending champions' march to the NBA Finals.