2014 NBA Playoffs: Recapping Thursday, April 24 1st-Round Action

Joe Flynn@@ChinaJoeFlynnContributor IApril 25, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs: Recapping Thursday, April 24 1st-Round Action

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    Now things start getting really interesting.

    The teams have switched venues for Game 3 of the first round of the NBA playoffs, and every one of Thursday's matchups are tied at a game apiece.

    Here's what Thursday's slate of games looks like:

    • Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks: 7 p.m. ET, NBA TV (Series tied, 1-1)
    • Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies: 8 p.m. ET, TNT (Series tied, 1-1)
    • Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors: 10:30 p.m. ET, TNT (Series tied, 1-1) 

    The No. 1 seed Pacers picked up the first game on Thursday where they left off during much of the past few months, struggling mightily in yet another embarrassing loss to the No. 8 seed Hawks.

    The Grizzlies took a 2-1 advantage in their series against the Thunder, notching the win in overtime despite a combined 60 points from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

    In the Thursday night finale, the Clippers survived a late-game barrage from Steph Curry to dispatch the Warriors in Oakland.

East: No. 1 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 8 Atlanta Hawks

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    Atlanta Hawks 98, Indiana Pacers 85Atlanta leads series, 2-1



    The Atlanta Hawks continue to shock the basketball world by beating the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers, 98-85, on Thursday night.

    The Pacers and Hawks came out with one of the worst halves of the entire playoffs, which ended in a 39-38 lead for Atlanta.

    Star Indiana forward Paul George picked up two quick fouls, sat early and struggled for the rest of the half, scoring zero points. His fellow 2014 All-Star, center Roy Hibbert, fared little better, with four points (on 2-of-9 shooting) and no rebounds.

    According to the Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner, Hibbert was getting outplayed by his backup, Ian Mahinmi: "Just mind-blowing that with heart and energy, Ian Mahinmi has thoroughly outplayed Roy Hibbert this series. Both are offensive wastelands, but one actually plays like he's trying."

    However, according to Buckner, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said he'd "probably" start Hibbert in Game 4. 

    "I have confidence in Roy Hibbert," Vogel said, according to the Pacers' official Twitter account. "He hasn't played well in this series to this point. But I do have great confidence in Roy."

    As for the Hawks, they fell prey to a horrific three-point shooting slump, hitting just two of their 16 attempts from beyond the arc.

    Fortunately, Atlanta immediately remedied that problem in the third quarter, splashing six threes. Reserve guard Lou Williams hit two, including a clutch bomb with 1.2 seconds left which staked the Hawks to a nine-point lead.

    Vogel was forced to go away from his conventional lineup in the fourth, benching Hibbert in favor of a more offense-heavy frontcourt of David West and Luis Scola. The move paid immediate dividends, as the Pacers went on an 11-4 run.

    Lance Stephenson and Scola were magnificent for Indiana in the final frame, scoring 12 points apiece.

    But the Hawks still had Jeff Teague, who buried the Pacers with 11 fourth-quarter points, including a back-breaking three that probably shouldn't have counted.

    With 2:49 remaining and the Hawks up six, Teague appeared to to be trapped in the corner with the shot clock running out. But the guard rose up and hit a miraculous three over a defender to put Atlanta up nine. 

    The referees went back to review the play, and Teague's foot appeared to land out of bounds before the shot. Unfortunately for the Pacers, league rules stipulate that they can't change an out-of-bounds call before the two-minute mark.


    Notable Performers

    • Paul George, Pacers: 12 PTS, 14 REB, 4 AST

    • Lance Stephenson, Pacers: 21 PTS, 13 REB, 4 AST, 3 STL

    • Roy Hibbert, Pacers: 4 PTS, 2 REB

    • Paul Millsap, Hawks: 14 PTS, 14 REB

    • Jeff Teague, Hawks: 22 PTS, 2 REB, 10 AST


    What's Next?

    The series will continue in Atlanta, with Game 4 taking place on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET. The game will be televised nationally on TNT.

    The Pacers are a team at a crossroads. They fully expected to compete for a title, and probably still do. But that doubt has the be creeping in on them.

    Frank Vogel will have to decide what to do with Hibbert, who was once again a non-factor. The Pacers had a brief flicker of success in the fourth quarter while riding the hot hand of Scola, who has been the Pacers' biggest offensive threat by far in this series.

    Will the Pacers continue cutting Hibbert's minutes in what will be a must-win Game 4?

West: No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies

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    Memphis Grizzlies 98, Oklahoma City Thunder 95 (OT)—Memphis leads series, 2-1



    The Grizzlies took advantage of the emotional boost provided by their home fans, completely outplaying the Thunder for the first three-and-a-half quarters of a pivotal Game 3. With less than eight minutes left in the contest, Memphis held a seemingly insurmountable 17-point edge.

    From there, OKC found its extra gear. Roaring back on the strength of eight points from Russell Westbrook and a surprising pair of buckets from Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder managed to tie the game at 81 with just under a minute remaining in the fourth quarter.

    Tony Allen nearly sealed the game with a driving dunk and a breakaway layup following a slick steal on Memphis' next two possessions. But for the second time in this series, the Thunder got a critical four-point play—this time from Russell Westbrook, who nailed an off-balance triple from the top of the key with 26.6 seconds remaining.

    He sold the contact, got the whistle and buried the foul shot to tie things up at 85 apiece.

    Mike Conley nearly ended things in regulation, but his driving layup somehow rattled out with just 2.4 ticks remaining. When Kevin Durant's attempt on the other end caught nothing but backboard, a pair of beleaguered teams knew they'd get another five minutes to decide the game.

    OKC, in particular, had to be surprised it survived regulation. Durant rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter and was clearly in pain in the ensuing minutes. Worse still, Westbrook spent plenty of anxious minutes on the bench with both of his knees heavily wrapped.

    For a while there, things looked positively dire for Oklahoma City.

    The Thunder's furious comeback clearly sapped their energy, as Memphis took control in overtime. Marc Gasol and Conley contributed a quick seven points to create a four-point cushion. On the other end, the Grizzlies swarmed both Durant and Westbrook with extra defenders, a strategy they were free to employ because Thunder head coach Scott Brooks insisted on keeping offensive non-factors Thabo Sefolosha and Perkins on the floor. 

    If OKC goes on to lose this series, expect decisions like that one to come up in the inevitable conversation about Brooks' job security.

    In the end, neither Durant nor Westbrook could produce enough offense to overcome a gritty, grinding Grizzlies attack. Each OKC star had 30 points, but they needed a combined 53 shots to get there.


    Notable Performers

    • Kevin Durant, Thunder: 30 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 blocks, 2 steals
    • Russell Westbrook, Thunder: 30 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists
    • Marc Gasol, Grizzlies: 14 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists
    • Zach Randolph, Grizzlies: 16 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists
    • Mike Conley, Grizzlies: 20 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals


    What's Next?

    The series will continue in Memphis, with Game 4 taking place on Saturday, April 26 at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

    The Thunder are suddenly the team facing all the pressure in this series. If they fall behind 3-1, questions about Brooks' fitness as coach will accompany the usual sidelong glances at Westbrook's shot-happy approach.

    The Grizzlies are hardly a typical No. 7 seed, and they've profiled as a legitimate contender whenever Gasol has been in the lineup. But you can bet there'll be changes in Oklahoma City if this series continues to go south.

    Expect Durant to take on a more active role in Game 4, handling the ball and initiating the offense a bit more often than the less-stable Westbrook. Rest assured, though; Memphis is confident, prepared and ready to brawl.

West: No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors

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    Los Angeles Clippers 98, Golden State Warriors 96—Los Angeles leads series, 2-1



    The Golden State Warriors rallied late against the Los Angeles Clippers, but Stephen Curry couldn't get a good shot off against Chris Paul in a controversial final possession, handing L.A. a 98-96 win.

    The first half turned into a relative brick-fest, with Los Angeles (40 percent from the field) and Golden State (37 percent) both struggling to find the mark early. Golden State's Splash Brothers, Curry (0-of-3 from three) and Klay Thompson (1-of-4 from three), couldn't buy a bucket from beyond the arc, though Curry made up for it somewhat with eight first-half assists.

    The Clippers, on the other hand, made good use of Golden State's poor ball-handling, turning 10 first-half turnovers into 12 fast-break points. Center DeAndre Jordan was a beast in the paint, grabbing 13 rebounds (four offensive), scoring 10 points and blocking three shots. 

    Given the Warriors offensive ineptitude, they were lucky to go into halftime only down three points.

    The third quarter quickly turned into the Blake Griffin Show, as the Clippers power forward chipped in a quick 10 points to extend the Clippers' lead to 18. But the Warriors went on a run near the end of the quarter to close the gap to nine.

    That deficit would shrink even further, as Thompson finally started to heat up in the fourth quarter. The Golden State shooting guard scored eight points in the span of four minutes, cutting the Clippers' lead to one point with 4:24 remaining.

    L.A. point guard Chris Paul headed off the Warriors' rally with seven quick points, but the Clippers still had to deal with the late-game magic of Curry. The All-Star point guard hit a three with 49 seconds remaining, followed by an even more ridiculous three at the 11-second mark. With the Warriors down one, they fouled Paul, who missed one of two free throws, setting the stage for an epic final-possession battle with Curry.

    After the game, Curry pulled aside the referee to complain about the lack of a call, per ESPN's J.A. Adande: "Curry had a long convo with official Ken Mauer afterward. CP3 got under Curry before the landing, a point of emphasis."


    Notable Performers

    • Blake Griffin, Clippers: 32 PTS, 8 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL

    • Chris Paul, Clippers: 15 PTS, 2 REB, 10 AST

    • DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: 14 PTS, 22 REB

    • Steph Curry, Warriors: 16 PTS, 2 REB, 15 AST

    • Klay Thompson, Warriors: 26 PTS, 6 REB, 1 AST

    • David Lee, Warriors: 12 PTS, 9 REB, 4 AST


    What's Next?

    The series will stay in the Bay Area for Game 4 on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET. The game will be televised nationally on ABC.

    The Warriors may have lost the game, but they should feel confident going into Game 4 knowing that they are not likely to repeat Thursday's 6-of-31 performance from behind the arc.

    As for the Clippers, they need to do a better job of closing out tight games. They looked surprisingly tight—especially from the free-throw line—down the stretch.