At some point during the playoffs it’s likely San Antonio will lose a game. Sunday just wasn’t that day. In the East, LeBron James kick-started Dwyane Wade and led the Heat to a Game 4 victory. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Spurs dispose of Clippers
After withstanding the Clippers best effort and winning by single digits for the first time in the series, the San Antonio Spurs clinched their place in the Western Conference Finals. More importantly, they got vital crunch time minutes for their younger players.
In their various post game appearances, San Antonio’s brain trust (Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker) all spoke about how important playing in a tight game in the final minutes was to the Spurs. Of their eight postseason victories, their smallest margin of victory was six before Sunday’s three point victory in Game 4. Outside of the Big Three, Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw, the Spurs have little experience this deep in the postseason. In fact, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal are perhaps the Spurs most important players outside of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker. Neal’s gigantic buzzer beater in Game 5 in 2011 against the Grizzlies is pretty much the extent of the younger group’s playoff resume. Learning how to execute when the pressure is ratcheted up was a critical lesson and one the young Spurs passed with impressive results.
It was encouraging to see Green remain as effective late in the 4th quarter as he often is in the 1st. His three pointers consistently deflated the surging Clippers and his defense against Chris Paul in the closing seconds was especially brilliant. Neal was again a huge spark off the bench and kept the Spurs close while the Clippers made their run early in the 4th. Splitter played perhaps his best game of the postseason on both ends of the floor and Leonard was his usual reliable self. Winning was certainly the top priority, but getting valuable big game experience for the Spurs young players was nearly as important.
Moving forward, the Spurs should feel good about themselves. They’re winning despite Ginobili’s shooting woes and Stephen Jackson’s overall struggles. They’ve also gone undefeated in the postseason with Duncan playing close to his usual minutes. Combine that will the extended rest between series’ and Duncan should maintain this level of play throughout the remainder of the postseason. Speaking of Duncan, look at his stats compared to Blake Griffin’s in the series:
Duncan: 34 minutes, 21pts, 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 assts, 2 blocks, 59% from the field.
Griffin: 36 minutes, 21 pts, 7.7 rebounds, 2.2 assts, 2 blocks, 47% from the field.
Duncan played an All-Star starter 15 years his younger to a statistical draw. On the floor, though, Duncan outplayed Griffin. His defense was outstanding, he was lights out from the free throw line, and if the Spurs needed Duncan to carry them through a rough stretch, he stepped up to the challenge. Griffin does deserve plenty of credit for his performance, too. Despite a hobbled knee, he was the Clippers best player throughout the series. He gave them a chance in Games 3 and 4. It just wasn’t enough. Duncan may be old, but beating him is like trying to beat your old man in the driveway. For whatever reason, and despite his inability to jump over a phone book, he just continually finds a way to beat you.
Finally, can you remember another team that says all the right things like the Spurs? After their second sweep of the playoffs, the Spurs continually downplayed their playoff success. “We haven’t done anything,” was a common response. It’s genuine, too. The Clippers, while dejected from seeing their season end, were nearly as pleased with their Game 4 performance as the Spurs were with moving on to the conference finals. The Spurs are locked in. As they’ve all stated, they have only one goal and anything short of that goal equates to failure.
Miami’s stars shine
A few days ago I offered the Pacers would need to be up 3-1 heading back to Miami for Game 5 in order to win this series. For one half on Sunday, it looked as if Indiana would do just that… and then Dwyane Wade and LeBron James took over, scoring 28 of Miami’s 30 3rd quarter points and putting the Pacers on notice; you rattled the cages one too many times.
I’ve appreciated Indiana’s tough guy approach to battling the Miami Heat. Backing down to opposing superstars accomplishes nothing. However, I’m not a fan of the attempted bullying by the Pacers. This is Dwyane Wade and LeBron James we’re talking about. You can’t intimidate them. Opponents have been gunning for them for the better part of the past decade. Wade has proven he’s unflappable and fearless. Outside of big moments in big games, nothing has flustered LeBron. In fact, the Pacers arrogance has motivated the Heat. When you’re playing two of the greatest players on earth, just leave them alone. Don’t bark at them, don’t antagonize them, just play. You’re not going to intimidate them. You’re just not.
Also, big ups to Wade. His Game 3 effort was deplorable. His 2nd half in Game 4 was outstanding. However, Wade wasn’t even the best player on the floor Sunday. LeBron was. Unlike Kobe Bryant, LeBron makes those around him better. LeBron knows he can’t do this alone. He needs Wade to be at a high level, especially with Chris Bosh out. Instead of trying to dominate and take over the game on his own, LeBron continually created easy baskets for Wade with unbelievable passes and just overall brilliant basketball. Those easy buckets got Wade out of his funk and back to playing at his usual high level.
I understand nothing will fix LeBron’s reputation until he hits a huge game-winning basket or carriers a team to a title, but this guy is the premiere basketball player in the world. Game 4 was a must win for Miami and LeBron made sure they left Indiana with a victory. Danny Granger can continue his attempts to intimidate LeBron but asking for an autograph is more likely to throw LeBron off his game than Granger’s bullying antics.