Pacers and Thunder join the conference finals parties after closing out their series
When did the NBA turn into the NFL? I only mean that in terms of this season and the fact that, much like the NFL, the NBA playoffs have taken a turn for some predictability. Before the season started, the Heat and Spurs were the clear favorites with the Thunder and Pacers closely behind them, all vying for title contention. And what do you know, that’s exactly where we are right now. After a chaotic first couple of rounds to get the playoffs going, order was restored as both the Thunder and Pacers join the Heat and Spurs to round out the four teams left in the NBA postseason. Indiana closed out the Wizards in a neat way, reverting back to their winning ways that we had expected from them. David West (29 pts, 6 reb, 4 ast) stood out on the individual stat sheets, but West’s performance wasn’t the most impressive aspect of Indian’s night. The Pacers’ ability to win big despite not having their best game (out-rebounded and inefficient from 3s) was what stood out for me. They didn’t need to be flashy or anything like that. Indiana just used their defense and experience to win the game. The Wizards rallied in the 4th quarter, leading by a point halfway through but the Pacers just settled down, didn’t panic, and took the lead back for good. What went wrong for Washington? I think most of the blame has to settle on their back court. John Wall and Bradley Beal have a strong future but last night their inexperience showed, never getting into rhythm and never being able to set their tone on offense. I like the Wizards’ future but they’re not quite ready to take down the big men from the conference. Now the Pacers have moved on to face their familiar foes. Can they do well against the Heat and put their underwhelming season behind them? We’ll just have to wait and see.
For a while during last night’s Clipper-Thunder game, it looked they were going to be settling things with a 7th game. Then things changed in the second half and the 4th quarter. Kevin Durant rallied the Thunder, looking every bit like the MVP down the stretch against the Clippers last night as the Thunder closed out the series and are back in the western conference finals. I was actually watching the game at a bar with brother and next to us were a couple of Clipper fans that were actually from Los Angeles, in town for a college graduation in their family. They, like most of the country, marveled at Durant’s performance (39 pts, 16 reb, 5 ast, 2 blk) down the stretch. Just as the Clippers were getting some sort of offensive rhythm, here comes #35 on the Thunder with a contested jumper or a quick-release 3 to put a dagger into the LA crowd. Shades of LeBron in 2012 or Dirk in 2011. When a player that great gets going, there’s nothing you can do but double-team him and hope that his next shot doesn’t go in. Unfortunately for the fans in LA, their attempts to slow down Durant and the rest of the Thunder team wasn’t enough to win them the game. Blake Griffin (lingering with foul trouble) and Chris Paul played well but the Clippers needed another member of their support staff to step it up just a little more. Don’t be down on yourselves people of LA. Your Clippers team is going to be back in contention next season for a spot in the conference championship and possible the finals. For Durant and co, it’s their third western conference finals in four seasons. They missed out last season but they’re back and, like the Pacers, they’re up against a familiar foe in the San Antonio Spurs. Can they stop the machine that is the Spurs?
I’ll preview the Spurs-Thunder with a bit more depth on Monday before they get going. But the Heat-Pacers starts on Sunday afternoon (3:30 ET on ABC) and i’m still confused about what will happen in this series. The Pacers have been hard to trust since the all-star break and Miami looked lethargic for stretches during their series against the Nets. If the Pacers can take down the beasts from the east, their bad season will be forgotten just like that. Will we see the same Paul George from last year’s eastern finals? Maybe. Despite all of the advantages that Indiana SHOULD have, I can’t trust them in any scenario. For that reason alone, I have a feeling that Miami wins the series and heads to finals for a fourth straight year. It’s the boring, but logical prediction: Miami over Indiana in 6.