Playoffs Day 5: Grizzlies get even; Spurs, Pacers romp

The Memphis Grizzlies are one of the less glamorous teams in the postseason party.

They shoot 3-pointers about as poorly as any team in the NBA. They don’t have many high flyers offering up highlight-reel dunks a la Blake Griffin. They have not one but two ground-bound post players in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

The Grizzlies simply defend like mad, play through their big men and try to make hay in transition and at the free-throw line. And for the last two seasons, that approach has worked very well.

Sometimes it breaks down, as it did in the fourth quarter of Game 1 vs. the Los Angeles Clippers, when the Grizzlies blew a 24-point lead on their home floor. Faced with a must-win game before heading to LA, memphis sustained its approach and execution for four quarters in a 105-98 victory that evened their series.

Coach Lionel Hollins was a little worried about how his team would react after its Game 1 collapse. After all, a devastating opening home loss was in stark contrast to what the Grizzlies did in the 2011 postseason, winning on the road in Game 1 of both their series.

So Hollins broke out the hardware.

From Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal: “For the past two days Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins just wanted his players to simply allow improved play to erase the memory of their epic collapse on Sunday. A little added motivation couldn’t hurt, either. With their leader wearing the championship ring he won as a member of the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers, the Grizzlies delivered an inspired performance — this time, over four quarters — and left with a 105-98 Game 2 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night in FedExForum. Hollins said he simply found the ring after misplacing it and wore the piece of jewelry with no intent to send a message. But players noticed. “He did it (won a title) in his second year,” Griz guard O.J. Mayo said. “Why can’t we?” Either way, Memphis evened its Western Conference first-round playoff matchup at 1-1. The best-of-seven series resumes Saturday for Game 3 in the Staples Center. “We had great focus from start to finish,” Griz guard Tony Allen said. “They (the Clippers) came in here and took care of business. We just need to have that same mentality on the road.” After blowing a 27-point lead in Game 1, the Griz knew they couldn’t afford to go down 0-2 with at least two road games in front of them. Instead of tightening up in the fourth quarter like they did Sunday, the Griz were the aggressors.”

Mayo scored 20 points to lead six players in double figures for Memphis, which opened a double-digit lead midway through the fourth quarter and held onto it this time by making gritty, hard-nosed plays.

Chris Paul had 29 points and six assists for the Clippers, who host Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday and look like they have played consecutive games against the Grizzlies, which is to say that they are beaten up.

From Baxter Holmes of the Los Angeles Times: “Midway through the second half Wednesday, the Clippers bench looked like a hospital waiting room. Mo Williams was dealing with a right forearm contusion. Eric Bledsoe had a left elbow contusion. And Nick Young’s right (shooting) thumb was sprained. The three of them sustained their bumps and bruises during the Clippers’ 105-98 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum on Wednesday night in Game 2 of a Western Conference first-round playoff series. The series is tied, 1-1. As they were being tended to on the bench, there sat, in fine suits, former starting small forward Caron Butler, who is out with a fractured left hand, and former starting shooting guard Chauncey Billups, who is out with a left torn Achilles’ tendon. Aside from Billups’, all of those injuries were sustained during the team’s two games here against the Grizzlies, known for their physical, grinding style. “That’s what they do,” Bledsoe said. “They’re real physical. We’ve just got to get used to it.” Williams, Bledsoe and Young are each considered day to day. Williams said an X-ray on his forearm came back negative. When asked if they’d be able to play in Game 3 on Saturday at Staples Center, each player said he expected to be healthy enough. “Hopefully everybody will be OK because there isn’t anybody left,” said Chris Paul, who has been dealing with a mild groin sprain. Said Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro: “We’ll tape them up and see who can go the next game. We’ve got a few days in between, so hopefully they can heal up fast. We’re going to need everybody.”

The winner of the Clippers-Grizzlies series almost certainly will be playing the San Antonio Spurs, who are a mere 23-2 since St. Patty’s Day.

Before Game 2 of the Jazz-Spurs series, Gregg Popovich was presented with the Red Auerbach Trophy for winning Coach of the Year honors.

Flanked by Tim Duncan and David Robinson, he was handed the award, waved to the crowd and said “Thank You,” then tried to hand the trophy to one of his assistants like it was a Christmas fruitcake.

From Steve Kragthorpe of the Salt Lake Tribune: “In his 16th season, Popovich has conceded that the Spurs were losing some of their defensive ability and he’s responded with more of an offensive approach. Popovich’s coaching plays to the strength of one of the NBA’s deepest teams. Some of general manager R.C. Buford’s acquisitions are “absolutely mind-boggling,” Popovich said. That’s a compliment. Yet the striking thing about the Spurs is their lack of overwhelming talent. Danny Green? Gary Neal? Matt Bonner? DeJuan Blair? Boris Diaw? Stephen Jackson? “Everybody’s a piece to the puzzle,” Green said. They’re all key contributors, finding their niches in the operation and conforming to the culture. That’s how the mercurial Jackson, a long-ago former Spur, could come back from Golden State via a trade in late March and blend in and how Diaw could be waived by Charlotte and end up starting for San Antonio in the playoffs.”

Popovich finally found a taker for the trophy in assistant Don Newman. Then the Spurs came out and showed why Popovich won the award, rolling to a 114-83 victory in which no player saw more than 28 minutes.

San Antonio opened with a 17-4 run fueled by seven points from rookie Kawhi Leonard and capped by a driving dunk by castoff Danny Green. The Jazz got within 31-26 in the second quarter before the Spurs rattled off 20 straight points – including 11 by Green and five by Leonard – while forcing the Jazz to miss 12 consecutive shots.

From Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: “Danny Green snatched a rebound late in the first half Wednesday. Then, he got excited. And went deep. Looking to hit a streaking Tony Parker on a fly pattern, Green miscalculated and sailed the ball into the Utah bench. After the turnover, still early in the Spurs’ 114-83 Game 2 romp at the AT&T Center, Green didn’t even bother to look at his coach. Just his point guard. “I was like, ‘Damn, Tony,’” Green recalled later, laughing. “You could have made me look a little better.” This was the Spurs’ evening in a nutshell. Their biggest failing was that their All-Star point guard wasn’t 8 feet tall. Everything else went their way, starting with a 20-0 run in the second quarter and ending with a 2-0 series lead that for the Jazz must only feel insurmountable. Seven players scored in double figures for the Spurs, who led 53-28 at half en route to the third-largest playoff victory in franchise history. It was their most lopsided win in the postseason win since a 34-point trouncing of Sacramento in 2006. “For whatever reason, we just let them do whatever they wanted to do,” Utah forward Gordon Hayward said. As is becoming clearer with each passing moment in the series, the Jazz might not have much of a say in the matter.”

It was the second-worst playoff loss in franchise history for the Jazz, topped only by their 96-54 debacle in Game 3 of the 1998 NBA Finals at Chicago. Utah vowed to be better than what it showed in a 106-91 Game 1 loss but instead was much worse, shooting 34 percent and collecting almost as many turnovers (15) as assists (16).

Al Jefferson and Josh Howard led the Jazz with 10 points each. The Spurs had seven players with at least 10. If this series was a fight, it would be stopped on cuts.

More from Kragthorpe: “Any chance the Jazz could replay April, lose a few more games and miss the playoffs? That way, everybody would be looking forward to the NBA draft in June, instead of just dreading what’s left of  this first-round series with the San Antonio Spurs. In the wake of Wednesday’s 114-83 debacle at the AT&T  Center, there’s not much merit in even staging Games 3 and 4 at EnergySolutions Arena, is there? Whether they’re overwhelmed by the Spurs or overly satisfied with just making the playoffs, the Jazz simply are not justifying their postseason participation. Amid the embarrassment of being outscored by 46 points through two games of this series, they’re mocking the efforts of an entire organization that battled just to advance to this point. “Getting here is one thing; trying to having some success is another,” said Jazz center Al Jefferson. It’s true that missing a bunch of makeable shots tends to make a team look worse than usual, but there’s more than poor shooting or tough luck involved here. The Jazz stood to gain so much from this playoff experience — and I still believe they will, if mainly via negative reinforcement. But these guys are looking so scared and defeated at the moment that even a temporary turnaround to extend this series beyond Monday would be stunning. “We’re making the game hard on ourselves,” said forward Paul Millsap. “We’re just not playing basketball out there, period.”

Another team having difficulty answering the bell is the Orlando Magic, who were run out of their own gym by the Indiana Pacers in a 97-74 mess that exposed all of their warts.

Undersized Orlando cannot score inside, managing just 22 points in the paint while having five shots blocked. The Magic are averaging 77.7 points per game, and Glen Davis has been their only consistent scorer. Starters Ryan Anderson (7-of-22), Hedo Turkoglu (9-of-25) and Jason Richardson (9-of-28) are shooting a combined 25 percent.

From Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “Indiana is following gameplan similar to the ones the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks used to eliminate the Magic from the 2010 and 2011 playoffs. Pacers defenders are hugging the 3-point line, contesting almost every long-range shot, and they can do it without fear, because Dwight Howard isn’t there to punish them in the low post. With the 3-pointer all but taken away, the Magic have almost no one who consistently can put the ball on the floor and create his own shot. And when the Magic do get into the lane, Hibbert and Indiana’s other bigs are there to wreak havoc. Howard’s absence has made life infinitely easier for Hibbert, a 7-foot-2 beanpole who historically has struggled against Howard. Indiana outscored Orlando 42-20 in the paint, and it’s difficult to envision that changing anytime soon. Magic fans started streaming toward the exits early in the fourth quarter. They had seen enough.”

If not for a choke by the Pacers in the last four minutes of Game 1, the Magic would be looking at a 3-0 deficit. Orlando already has gotten an extended look at life without Dwight Howard, and it is not pleasant.

From Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star: “The Orlando Magic warmed up for Game 3 Tuesday night wearing T- shirts reading, “We all we got.” Can I suggest new ones before Game 4? “That’s all we got.” Now, after the Pacers’ 97-74 Game 3 victory, this is the Pacers series to lose, simply because the depleted Magic have no ways left to match up at several spots on the floor. This should be a 3-0 series, except for an epic collapse in Game 1. But 2-1, and feeling good about the direction this series is headed now, will have to suffice. What do you do now if you’re Magic coach Stan Van Gundy? So they try to put Ryan Anderson on David West. West either eats him alive or the Magic is forced to double team, opening up the perimeter and allowing the Pacers to shoot 53 percent in the first half. Meanwhile, Anderson is reduced to a complete offensive cipher, worn down by West’s physicality, his game diminished by the lack of an Orlando low-post presence. “He wasn’t good again,” Van Gundy said simply. So they come out in the second half, put Glen “Big Baby” Davis on West and place Anderson on Roy Hibbert. That’s a signal to Hibbert to dominate, and he did that Tuesday against Anderson, forcing the Magic to put Anderson back on West.”

Just two games are slated Thursday night, with the seventh-seeded Knicks and Mavericks on their home courts facing 2-0 deficits and must-win games against the second-seeded Heat and Thunder, respectively. We will have previews later today.

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