Blake Griffin now has plenty of time to tell Hugo: “Play funk.”
About six weeks to be precise. That’s the next time Griffin will be back to work, when he and teammate Chris Paul arrive in Las Vegas for Team USA training camp. (And guess what: They have to get ready to play Tony Parker (France) and Manu Ginobili (Argentina) again, this time in the first round of the London Olympics.)
Griffin and Paul played well Sunday night in their last playoff game of this postseason, but the San Antonio Spurs got another 43 points from their reserves and made the stops they needed down the stretch to complete a 4-0 sweep of the Los Angeles Clippers and reach the Western Conference finals.
We could know as soon as tonight whether their opponent will be Oklahoma City. The Thunder lead the Lakers 3-1, with Game 5 tonight on their home floor at 9:30 p.m. EST.
In the East, it’s a much different story.
Dwyane Wade showed that Game 3 was an aberration and not the start of a trend that leads to the end, scoring 30 points to go along with LeBron James’ 40 as the Miami Heat evened their series with the Indiana Pacers at 2-2. (Boxscore here).
So that series, along with the Boston-Philadelphia series, are guaranteed to keep us entertained throughout this week. The Celtics and Sixers play Game 5 tonight in Boston, with Game 6 on Wednesday. The Heat and Pacers go on Tuesday and Thursday.
So before they fall off the radar for another week, let’s begin today by examining the Spurs and what they are accomplishing — plus issue a little warning: Since the first round switched from best-of-5 to best of-7 in 2003, three other teams have gone 8-0 in the first two rounds — and none of them made it to the NBA Finals. The other three were Orlando (2010), Cleveland (2009) and Miami (2004).
Of course, none of those three teams ended the regular season on a 10-game winning streak as these Spurs have.
In the fourth quarter, Eric Bledsoe scored 11 in a row to put Los Angeles ahead 90-85 with 5:38 remaining, but Parker scored consecutive baskets and the Spurs regained the lead, 100-97, with 1:47 left. Paul’s two free throws drew the Clippers within one. After a timeout, Paul drove the basket and lost the ball. He fouled Green, who made one of two. Paul then missed another shot, and Mo Williams fouled Parker, who missed the first and made the second with a second left. (Boxscore here).
“I messed up, bad decisions,” Paul said, “All on me.”
From Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: “The last time the Spurs played back-to-back playoff games was also in a lockout season. It was also in Los Angeles. It also completed a sweep, and the theme was the same then, too, after the Shaq-Kobe Lakers were eliminated. “Substance over style,” Sports Illustrated announced on its cover. But if so much seems the same, the one Spur who played in that game and played Sunday has changed. And that’s why the Spurs needed to sweep the Clippers as they did the Jazz. Tim Duncan’s knee needed that. Duncan’s knee was a young mix of tendons and ligaments in 1999. It hadn’t been cut on yet and was heading to its first title. After beating Minnesota in the first round — and Duncan’s buddy Kevin Garnett — the knee moved well with the rest of the body to sweep the Lakers in the next round. The Spur on the cover of SI then? Duncan. Some Spurs sniffed at the accomplishment, since those Lakers weren’t much of a test. Sean Elliott, for one, looked ahead at what was to come. For him, Memorial Day that year would be special. But that day in Los Angeles wasn’t just another day. It was the last time the Lakers would play in the Forum. So afterward Mario Elie celebrated by bellowing, “We shut down the Forum, baby!” Elie wanted a piece of the floor as a memento, and he continued with this: “We’re the answer to the trivia question. I want to turn on ‘SportsCenter’ and hear Dan Patrick ask, ‘Who’s the last team to beat the Lakers in the Forum?’ The Spurs, that’s who.” All of that outlines how long ago 1999 was. Dan Patrick was on ESPN? And the Lakers were in another building?”
From Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: “Chris Paul’s son, little Chris, was waiting for him at his locker when dad arrived after the game. There’s nothing like the smiling innocence of a toddler to lighten the mood after a playoff loss — another playoff loss to the Spurs for Paul. The father had turned the ball over and missed an off-balance shot in the final 30 seconds Sunday night, sealing the Clippers‘ fate in a 102-99 loss to the Spurs, who remained undefeated in the playoffs — and 18-0 since April 11 — while advancing to the Western Conference finals with a 4-0 sweep. The son was sitting quietly and sucking his thumb when dad arrived. Then, he proved that there’s also nothing like the unfiltered honesty of a toddler to put things in perspective. “Daddy, you made a bad shot,” little Chris said in his adorable little-boy voice. “I tried, buddy,” Paul said. “I tried.” Paul tried. He lifted the Clippers up and carried them on his back this season, all 34 years of futility in Southern California no match for his incredible basketball gifts and ruthless competitive fire. But there was only so much he could do. The Clippers’ fifth playoff appearance since the team moved to San Diego in 1978 ended with a sweep, but not without the promise of a bright future. “I want to win, so this is not a great feeling sitting here,” Paul said. “I think this is just going to make us hungrier. I tip my hat to the Clippers fans, to the Clippers faithful that came out and supported us. And I want them to know that this isn’t it.”
From T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: “Who had a better time this season, Clippers or Lakers fans? How does anyone root for the Lakers? I understand history, tradition and all those trophies, but right now how does anyone invest everything they have in these players? What is it like to expend so much energy loving the Lakers and getting Andrew Bynum in return? Do you think that for one second of his life he gives a rip about any of you? The Clippers are not the Lakers, and probably never will be as long as most of us live. But name the last time fun and Lakers were mentioned in the same sentence? Anything but winning seems to result in anger, fans wanting Coach Mike Brown fired and the players now pointing fingers at each other. Chris Paul is every bit as competitive as Kobe Bryant. But I can’t imagine Paul throwing blame Blake Griffin’s way as Bryant has done with Pau Gasol. If Griffin turned the ball over, somehow got it back and missed the shot, or stepped out of bounds or forgot to shoot and the clock ran out, Paul would say it was all his fault.
But when Gasol made an errant pass, according to Plaschke’s online column, Bryant told reporters: “It was a bad read. It was a bad read on Pau’s part.” A kid does that in high school and he gets reprimanded by his coach, his parents and his teammates for singling out a teammate. Yet Bryant goes on. “Pau has to be more assertive; he’s got to be more aggressive. He’s looking to swing the ball too much. He just has to shoot it.” All that’s true, and add in the frustration that comes with cheering for Gasol while he whines about every foul called and plays so soft at times. But after a stinging defeat, to get stung again by a teammate — and a teammate of Bryant’s caliber — is too much. It’s not the first time. This is the same guy who looked as if he would need to be taken him off the court in a straitjacket after Metta World Peace passed the ball to Steve Blake for a last-second three-point attempt earlier in the series. The pass went to the wide-open player, but the problem is it didn’t go to Bryant, who let his anger show while tugging at his jersey.”
Yes, Simers was assigned a Clippers column, had his fun poking fun at Harvey during the series, then prepared for his Monday tee time at Riviera by segueing into a Lakers column.
If Indiana somehow manages to pull this thing off and win two of the next three, there is going to be a dearth of widely-held knowledge on what exactly it is that makes the Pacers go.
But that is getting waaaaaay ahead of ourselves.
The Heat won Sunday in what was the highest-scoring game (70 combined points) for Wade and James since they joined up as teammates.
Indiana had a 10-point lead in the third quarter before James and Wade took over. They scored 38 consecutive points in one stretch bridging the second and third quarters, and combined to score 28 of Miami’s 30 in the third. Coach Erik Spoelstra turned to Udonis Haslem in the fourth quarter, as some had been imporing him, and sank four jumpers to help keep the Pacers at bay.
From Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, who also went historical: “Let me take you back to May 7, 1989, the day Chicago’s Michael Jordan lifted skyward for The Shot over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo, the shot that catapulted his career into the next stratosphere. After the game, Cleveland center Brad Daugherty sat in the Cavs’ funereal locker room and shook his head. All he could say was this: “We got beat by greatness.” Today, it can be said again after the Miami Heat’s 101-93 Game 4 victory over the Indiana Pacers, a game that tied this heated Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games apiece. They got beat by greatness. What else can you say? How else do you deconstruct a game the Miami Heat absolutely had to win, lest they spend the next few months contemplating coach Erik Spoelstra’s future and the possible dissolution of the Big Three? LeBron James: 40 points, 18 rebounds (six offensive) and nine assists. Dwyane Wade: After a tepid first half, he finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Sometimes, there’s not much an opponent can do. Just bear witness. “It comes down to this: Yes, you can try to take the ball out of their hands and make their other guys make plays, but you get the ball out of one of their hands, the ball finds its way to the other guy,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “So it’s not just one superhero and a bunch of role players. And they really hurt us not just when they were initiating offense but once they gave the ball up — back cuts, movement and on the glass. So yes, there’s more we can do to guard that action, but they won the toughness battle.”
From Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports: “Out of the rubble of a lost Game 3 and opening half of Game 4, Wade left devastation in his wake: 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists. “I didn’t say a word to him,” James insisted. No rah-rah speeches. Wade had the worst game of his playoff career on Thursday. His knees were aching, his shots off, his lost leaping reflected it. He didn’t bother to rush back on defense. He even tossed a tantrum on the bench, barking at coach Erik Spoelstra. Deep down, Wade knows better. That’s why he needed to take the ride up to Bloomington, Ind., to see his old coach Tom Crean on Saturday. They talked for hours, watched game tape and talked and talked and talked. “Some time with a mentor, a father figure,” Wade said. “It was great to get that energy that I needed from him.” There was always a belief that Wade could ride the wave of that 2006 NBA championship forever and hold himself in reverence for recruiting James and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010. Well, Wade was getting hit hard, and deserved it. This is why it was so important for him to silence it all before the Heat returned to Miami for Game 5 on Tuesday, to bathe himself in the ultimate sports cleanser: victory. Everything changed for the Heat when Wade started to make his bid for dominance beside James on Sunday. “When LeBron has that look – and Dwyane has that look – it does so much for everybody else,” Battier said. “They can raise everybody else’s level significantly. Just that look. You want to run through a wall. You want to get every loose ball. You want to grab every rebound. That’s what makes them special; their ability to unite and inspire the group.” These are the days that James is a force of nature, and Wade climbed alongside of him. These were extraordinary performances, but the way that the Pacers hung tough, the way they wouldn’t go away, you wonder if Miami can win without a galaxial performance out of James. He needed everything with him to deliver on Sunday, and rest assured, the Pacers will return to pounding the Heat inside.