What looked to be a fast ending to the first round of the playoffs took a turn for the competitive good on Tuesday night when three of the four teams that faced elimination – the Hawks, Bulls and Nuggets – all survived to play a Game 6.
The New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies are in the same boat – down 3-1 in their respective series – and they will try to avoid elimination on Wednesday night rather than go fishing, as they say on TNT (By the way, classic line from Charles Barkley last night on the Hawks: “We’ve been watching this same movie every year for the past five years now. The ending stays the same. It never changes. The boat goes down. Everybody drowns.”
Here is what to look for in the two games slated for tonight.
The Knicks looked like a team that were meant to be swept out of the first round as they got hit with one disaster after another, and in Game 4 Baron Davis suffered a dislocated kneecap and multiple ligament tears in his knee, likely ending his career.
Yet, they never gave up.
Carmelo Anthony, after struggling for much of the series, found his rhythm just in the nick of time and scored 41 points while Amare Stoudemire – deemed questionable to play due to hand laceration – stepped up with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Thanks to their efforts, New York won the nailbiter 89-87 and head down to Miami for Game 5.
They will have to continue to fight short-handed, and Jeremy Lin has been all but ruled out for the remainder of this series.
From Howard Beck of The New York Times: “It is fair to wonder how different the ledger might look if not for the Knicks’ freakish string of misfortune over the last two weeks. Chandler was struck with flu symptoms just before the playoffs began and played, in his words, like a “zombie” in the series opener. Shumpert, the prized rookie, blew out his knee in the third quarter of Game 1 (a 100-67 loss). Then came Stoudemire’s moment of madness after Game 2 (a 104-94 loss), which caused him to miss Game 3 (an 87-70 loss). When the Knicks finally celebrated a victory at Madison Square Garden on Sunday (89-87), even that moment of joy was tempered — by Baron Davis’s career-threatening knee injury. They will open Game 5 with Mike Bibby, formerly their third-string point guard, and with pestering thoughts of what might have been. What the Knicks have needed most — other than a karmic cleansing — is a point guard to straighten out the offense and create easier scoring chances. Davis and Bibby, for all of their experience, are well past their prime. Jeremy Lin, the 23-year-old point-guard sensation, has not played since having knee surgery five weeks ago. He had held out some hope of returning in the first round, but Coach Mike Woodson ruled it out Tuesday. “He’s out,” Woodson said. “Speaking with medical and Jeremy, he will not play in this series.”
With Davis out, Mike Bibby will start at the point, with Toney Douglas expected to see the backup minutes.
Dwyane Wade, who has picked on his former teammate at times during the series, had this quote to offer on Bibby:
The Heat, who looked lackluster for long stretches in Game 4, may simply have to show a little more emotion to finish off the series at home. And if it is close at the end, there’s always the question of who takes the last shot.
From Joseph Goodman of Miami Herald: “It’s not about whether LeBron James or Shane Battier guards Carmelo Anthony. It’s not about who takes the last shot. Here’s what the Heat lacked in Game 4 and what it’ll need in Game 5 on Wednesday to close out the Knicks: more passion. The Heat couldn’t match New York’s desire in Game 4. Simple as that. Sometimes that’s all the playoffs are about. And, so, the Knicks took a game back in this best-of-7 series with a power forward playing with one good hand, a Heat castoff at point guard, an interim coach managing a depleted roster and one legitimate superstar trying to save a little face before bowing out of the postseason. “We just have to be more aggressive and stay poised,” Heat center Chris Bosh said. “It’s really not about being concerned about the offense or anything like that. They’re going to go down swinging. We have to stay tough mentally.” Will the Heat make any strategic changes for Game 5? Not likely. The only significant adjustment will be that of attitude, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.”
Still, the team made sure to go over last-second plays in practice to ensure that execution would not become an issue, as it clearly was in the previous game.
From Barry Jackson of Miami Herald: “Two days after squandering a last-second chance to tie or win Game 4, the Heat spent part of Tuesday’s practice working on late-game situations “so we’ll be more comfortable in our package,” Dwyane Wade said. To refresh: With his team down two, Wade received the inbound pass with 13.2 seconds left, dribbled, fumbled the ball briefly, recovered, and missed a difficult 24-foot three-pointer with 2.4 seconds left. “Look, guys,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “If you get Dwyane Wade going down the lane with an open lane, and you’re down by two, I think you take that. It was a pretty good opportunity to attack the rim. It was a broken play, and we know what happened from there. … “We had an open trigger for LeBron James. We had an open window on the second one with Chris Bosh. Just made the wrong read, and it ended up being a miscommunication between him and Dwyane. Otherwise, that would have been a pretty good opportunity.” The Heat is now 6-for-16 this season — and 9-for-36 since the Big 3 was assembled — on shots to tie the game or go ahead in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime. Wade is 3-for-7 on those shots this season, James 1-for-2.
From Nikki Boertman of The Commercial Appeal: “Paul has been a key for the Clippers in this series. He nearly amassed a triple double in Game 4 and his scoring in pick-and-rolls dominated the overtime period. Paul scored eight of his 27 points in the extra session. He also got to the free-throw line where he hit all six of his free throws in the game. “I used the wrong word (Monday) night,” Hollins said. “Chris Paul is very good at creating fouls and I shouldn’t have used the word ‘flop.’ That’s the wrong word to use but he’s good at putting you in position where you have to foul him; where he creates a foul.” Expect the Griz to continue to use Allen’s size and strength to defend Paul. Several Grizzlies will also have their shot at giving Paul a different defensive look. Memphis will likely send another defender to crowd the crafty floor general. One of the best and clutch defensive moments on Paul Monday night happened at the end of regulation when Rudy Gay converged on Paul with Allen guarding him. The result was a trap that didn’t allow Paul to attempt a good shot or locate an easy passing lane.”
Rudy Gay - recipient of the Kia Community Assist Award for April – shot just 8-of-25 in Game 4 and will have to find a way to be more efficient.
The team will also have to get Marc Gasol more involved on the offensive end. He has taken nine combined shots over the last two games.
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. You can find him on twitter @nbatupark.