The first round of the 2014 NBA playoffs is finally winding down, but there are still plenty of games left on tap. Many of these heated series appear to be going the distance and Thursday's results will likely have a big impact on how the postseason shakes out.
Each of the night’s games is an elimination matchup, making it one of the most thrilling evenings of what has been an incredibly exciting opening round.
To start things off, the top-seeded Indiana Pacers hope to win on the road in order to avoid an early exit via the Atlanta Hawks. That will be followed by the Oklahoma City Thunder trying to dig deep to come up with a victory in Memphis against the Grizzlies.
The rejuvenated Los Angeles Clippers will look to parlay their momentum-shifting win on Tuesday night into a series-clinching performance against the Golden State Warriors to wrap up this triple-header.
Keep reading to check out the complete schedule for this amazing slate of Thursday night games, plus take a peek at the latest odds for each contest and more.
|Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks||7 p.m.||NBATV||IND -1||Hawks|
|Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies||8 p.m.||TNT||OKC -3||Grizzlies|
|Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors||10:30 p.m.||TNT||PK||Clippers|
Matchup to Watch: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Any NBA fan worth their salt wishes they could be glued to the couch Thursday night in order to watch three awesome elimination games in a row. However, not everyone has the time to do that and instead may only be able to enjoy one complete contest.
If that describes your predicament, tuning in to the Thunder’s showdown with the Grizzlies appears to be the best bet. The series has been incredibly enjoyable, complete with back-and-forth battles (including four decided in overtime), clutch performances, unlikely heroes and everything else that makes a basketball game memorable.
While the Hawks are looking to become just the fourth team in history to oust a No. 1 seed in a best-of-seven first-round series, their matchups with the Pacers have been relatively lopsided—easily evidenced by the series’ average margin of victory of 10 points.
The Clippers are also an immensely intriguing story to follow, but they appear to be playing their best basketball in the wake of Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban from the NBA and poised to advance.
That leaves us with the Thunder’s battle with the tenacious Griz, a team that knows plenty about upsets in the playoffs. This squad has been slaying giants for years now and has underdog triumphs over the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs (2011) and Thunder (2013) under its belt.
While only a No. 7 seed, Memphis is a real contender this spring. The team is a defensive juggernaut capable of locking down the game’s greatest players and grinding out tough wins in a playoff atmosphere.
Memphis’ relentless defense deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the club’s successes against OKC this postseason. The team is working together to limit Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook offensively and shutting down the opponent’s predictable set plays, daring the Thunder’s little-used role players to step up and win the game.
So far, it’s worked like a charm—and the stats prove it.
John Schuhmann of NBA.com noted that 51.4 percent of Oklahoma City’s jumpers had been contested over the first four games, a number that was nearly 20 percent higher than the league average:
According to #SportVU, MEM has contested 51.4% of OKC's jumpers in playoffs. Other 15 teams have contested 32.1% of opponent jumpers.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 28, 2014
Durant, likely to be crowned the MVP in the very near future, shot just 16 percent on jumpers outside of 10 feet in Games 4 and 5, per Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders:
How good has Tony Allen been defensively against Kevin Durant? KD is shooting 16% on shots at least 10 feet from basket in last two games.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 27, 2014
The superstar swingman is openly admitting that Tony Allen and the Grizzlies’ swarming defense has put him off his game, telling Brian Windhorst of ESPN:
Which team will win Game 6?
"I'm worrying about a guy coming from behind trying to block the shot," Durant said. "I've just got to focus in on the rim and my shot. I can't go out there and think too much, I have to let my instincts take over."
The Griz have their familiar foe on the ropes and are hoping to parlay a 3-2 series lead and home-court advantage in Game 6 into a second-round berth. Don’t bet against them, as they appear to be destined to make some noise as a Cinderella squad.
Prediction: Grizzlies by one in overtime.