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2012 NBA Playoffs Recap, Day 12

Carmelo Anthony racked up points in another Knicks playoff loss, the Grizzlies regained their old mojo before losing it again in the 2nd half, and the Clippers get dinged up. [Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images]

[Editor’s Note: As my three readers probably noticed, I didn’t post a Day 11 update. My apologies. I was too dejected from the Flyers choking their way out of the NHL Playoffs.]

Heat move to round two, Knicks in circles
The Miami Heat effortlessly removed the New York Knicks from the playoffs Wednesday night behind another impressive LeBron James performance. I’ve said all along this series wouldn’t be competitive, and aside from Miami sleep walking through Game 4, it wasn’t.

The Knicks just weren’t any good. Offensively, they were a one-man show. Carmelo Anthony is a fantastic scorer, but he’s not a great player. Great players make those around them better. As Charles Barkley said on TNT early Thursday morning, “Carmelo’s never made any of his teammates better.” You can put up gaudy stats, get a max contract and countless endorsement opportunities by being a star in the NBA, but none of those things translate to winning. Lifting up your team is how you win. Chris Paul single-handedly turned the Clippers into a playoff team. Tim Duncan built the Spurs into a perennial contender. Even LeBron James has unquestionably gotten the best from his teammates. Carmelo? He’s a one-trick pony. I’m not even sure he cares about winning.

Following New York’s Game 5 defeat, Carmelo was laughing and smiling during interviews. He talked about the Knicks competing next season. Really? Remember when Kevin Durant and the Thunder fell in a hard-fought six game series to the defending and eventual champion Lakers in 2010? Durant was devastated. “No moral victories. Losing is losing,” were Durant’s words. Carmelo was just eliminated in five games from a series that wasn’t even competitive. He doesn’t care, though. You know why? Because he got his. He proved he’s an elite scorer. He proved he’s all the Knicks have. Well, congratulations to you, Carmelo Anthony. You’ve never been, nor will you ever be, a true NBA superstar. You’re a rich man’s Monta Ellis. Nothing more.

(While I’m not going to get too carried away after a mightily impressive round one performance, I’m going to keep an eye on LeBron James. He looks different this year. He’s been more assertive and less submissive to Dwyane Wade (in a healthy way). As great as Wade is, the Heat can only win an NBA title with LeBron leading the way. Again, it’s only round one. He’s dominated early in the playoffs before. We’ll see if this is just another stellar performance when the stakes are low, or if this is the beginning of LeBron’s significantly delayed rise to legendary status.)

Grizzlies pound their way to Game 6
While it inexplicably took a few games, Memphis finally returned to its bread and butter for the 1st half of Game 5 against the Los Angeles Clippers. Zack Randolph was a beast in the 1st quarter, scoring 15 points while grabbing 5 rebounds. Marc Gasol was equally as effective in leading the Grizzlies with 23 points. Their efforts, combined with Chris Paul’s struggles, catapulted the Grizzlies to a 15 point halftime lead that would swell to 24 late in the 3rd quarter. Then it all nearly fell apart, again.

After combining for 14 field goals in the 1st half, Randolph and Gasol totaled zero in the 2nd half, scoring only from the free throw line (7 points combined). In related news, the Clippers once again eliminated a huge Memphis lead in the 4th quarter, this time cutting a 24 point lead down to six before the wheels fell off. Is it a coincidence the Grizzlies struggle when they ignore their physical duo inside? Not at all. When the Grizzlies fall in love with jump shots or dancing around the perimeter, they essentially neuter themselves. The Clippers are not a good defensive team. They can’t contain both Gasol and Randolph. Because both players were successful and efficient in the 1st half, the Clippers couldn’t establish their transition offense and struggled immensely to score. Does it make sense that Memphis too often ignores its greatest assets, especially since those assets expose Los Angeles’ weakness? Uh, no. To put it nicely, Lionel Hollins is making a fool of himself in this series.

After blowing a 27 point lead to lose Game 1, Hollins and the Grizzlies were on pace to do the same in Game 5. If it weren’t for a 1/10 4th quarter shooting stretch by the Clippers, this series would probably be over. (And please don’t credit the Grizzlies defense for that awful stretch. The Clippers continually got great looks and just couldn’t bury them.) I honestly don’t know if Hollins outsmarts himself, he mentally checks out in the 4th quarter, or if his team just blatantly ignores him. Regardless, it’s amazing how bad the Grizzlies have been in crunch time. Before four charity points from the free throw line, Memphis scored only 11 points in the 4th quarter Wednesday night. They looked panicked, taking poor shots early in the shot clock and not allowing the offense to run through their bigs as they successfully did in the 1st half. Perhaps it was fatigue or a sense of complacency due to a big lead, but Memphis lost its physical edge as the 2nd half wore on, too. The Grizzlies went from diving on the ground for loose balls to watching Chris Paul and Mo Williams run roughshod through the Memphis defense.

Speaking of Chris Paul, it’s become painfully obvious the Grizzlies can’t win when Chris Paul is at his best. Luckily for the Grizzlies, Paul had a miserable 1st half in Game 5. As the TNT crew pointed out, the Clippers offense is atrocious when Paul struggles. They can’t score without him. While that may be troubling for the Clippers heading to Los Angeles for Game 6, it bodes well for Memphis that Paul suffered a significant injury late in the 4th quarter that rendered him useless with the ball. Combine Paul’s injury (a hip flexor) with Blake Griffin’s hyper-extended knee, and it’s likely the already thin Clippers must find a way to eliminate the Grizzlies shorthanded or at the very least, not completely healthy.

If Memphis weren’t so inconsistent and Lionel Hollins so lost, I’d guarantee a Memphis Game 6 victory. Instead, I’ll go with the Spurs exploiting either team’s plethora of weaknesses in the next round.

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