SH Blog: Knicks, Pacers Look To Game 6; Phil Jackson Won’t Return For Sacramento; The Bynum Dilemma

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Teague v George HillOn one of the rare off nights in the NBA playoffs, we have a few precious hours to catch our breaths and take care of everything we’ve neglected — our friends, families and most importantly, errands — for the last six weeks, and reflect.

While a handful of teams focus on the NBA draft combine, the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies are gearing up for the conference finals, which the Spurs and Grizzlies will kick off in San Antonio on Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile, there is still one series left to be determined – Indiana leads New York, 3-2, and the teams return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday night for Game 6. 

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Sheridan: Harden Trade Will Haunt OKC For a Long Time

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PrestiWords to live by: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Surely Sam Presti and Clay Bennett of the Oklahoma City Thunder have heard that expression, as both are smart, successful businessmen with good educational backgrounds, although they are a generation apart in age.

Presti is the wise child who built the Oklahoma City Thunder from scratch, taking over at age 30 on June 7, 2007, prior to the team’s final season in Seattle, renting a small apartment with his then-girlfriend near the team’s downtown training facility, then proceeding to dismantle the Sonics.

Tweet of the Night: Matt Barnes, Patrick Patterson and Jalen Rose share thoughts on Durant

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KD has to completely take over or Memphis is moving on. I think Memphis is to strong, Z-Bo is a killa
@Matt_Barnes22
Matt Barnes
Batman can't do it without Robin..
@pdpatt
Patrick Patterson
So many folks will be back peddling after slandering Westbrook these past few seasons. #NBAPlayoffs
@JalenRose
JALEN ROSE

Kevin DurantLove him or hate him, but the absence of Russell Westbrook – or “Robin” as Patrick Patterson put it - proved to be the demise of Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Memphis Grizzlies in the Conference semifinals.

Without the dominant but sometimes frustrating point guard, too much was asked of Durant, who was asked to create for himself and his teammates practically every time down the floor. The pressure seemed to finally weigh down on the forward, who was uncharacteristically bad in the elimination game on Wednesday: he shot 5-of-21 from the field, 11-of-15 from the stripe and turned the ball over seven times.

StatBox Playoff Breakdown- Grit & grind Grizzlies begin with defense and end with victories

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It’s no fun to talk about the struggled of the hurting, reeling, futile Chicago Bulls. They shot roughly 25 percent and scored 65 points without three leading players (if you include Derrick Rose). It almost seems like the Heat feel bad for the Bulls. A more interesting story is of a long-overlooked franchise seizing its window of opportunity to advance further than it ever has before: the hard-nosed Memphis Grizzlies.

Marc GasolWith Russell Westbrook out for Oklahoma City, Memphis knows it can move on to the conference finals for the first time if it defends Kevin Durant decently and plays solid all-around defense. And that’s what they’re doing. Memphis is also the only team to not lose on its home floor this postseason, a streak now up to seven after its 103-97 overtime win over OKC in Monday night’s Game 4. The Grizzlies now lead the series 3-1 and are in great shape to make the NBA’s semifinal round.

Memphis allowed just three points in OT on Monday, and came back from a 17-point deficit early to force the extra session. One huge reason why the Grizzlies are in this advantageous position is its defense of Durant. ESPN Stats & Info pointed out that Durant was 2-for-13 shooting in the fourth quarter and OT and 0-for 7 when Tayshaun Prince guarded him. Prince’s acquisition is one of the several reasons why the Rudy Gay trade was such a success, as outlined in a previous StatBox column.

I wrote before the series that Durant would have to have an other-worldly performance for Oklahoma City to defeat Memphis, and he delivered that over the first two games of the series. But Lionel Hollins and Memphis set its sights on curtailing Durant, and that effort has been undeniably successful. Look at these averages:

Durant Minutes Shots FG % Points Reb Assists FTA
Games 1-2 43.5 23.5 51.1 35.5 13 7.5 11
Games 3-4 47 23 41.3 26 9 6 6
KD hasn't been the same in games 3 and 4.

KD hasn’t been the same in games 3 and 4.

Despite playing for virtually the same amount of time and putting up basically the same amount of field goals, there’s no doubt that Durant has been less affective these past few games as opposed to the pair of games in Oklahoma City. His field goal percentage is a full 10 points lower, and his scoring average has dipped nearly 10 points as well. The rebounds, assists and trips to the free throw line have gone down as well, which can only be attributed to strong defense.

Memphis was able to come back to force overtime in Game 4 by allowing just 38 points in the second half, and a lot of that had to do with Marc Gasol’s exceptional defensive play. The Defensive Player of the Year probably didn’t care about only being named to the All-NBA Defensive Second Team, but he played like one pretty angry grizzly bear on Monday night, pulling down 11 rebounds, blocking six shots and altering several others (not to mention deterring OKC from driving to the hoop, which shows in Durant’s decrease in free throw attempts per game as shown above).

With Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins in the frontcourt, Oklahoma City isn’t used to being at a disadvantage inside. But not only did Memphis outscore OKC 44-30 in the paint in Game 4, the Grizzlies were plus-seven in the turnover battle (15 to just eight for Memphis) and plus-eight (18-10) in points off those turnovers.

Mike Conley (this week’s regional Sports Illustrated cover boy) only shot 7-for-21 from the field, but was 4-for-10 from three and only committed one turnovers to four by his OKC counterpart Reggie Jackson.

“We are a team that just plays hard and doesn’t quit,” Memphis Coach Lionel Hollins said after the game. “We scratch. We claw. They said grit and grind. I don’t know what the heck that means, but we go out and we just battle. We compete. We’re not the most talented team that’s in the playoffs when we started out. We’re not the most talented team that’s left in the playoffs. But we go and compete.”

Prince and Tony Allen have played standout defense and Zach Randolph has been his usual force inside. Memphis may not have the most talent in the Western Conference, but they’re playing the best defense and aren’t really turning the ball over. Those are two traits that winners possess. so it should come as no surprise that the “Grit & Grind” Grizzlies are currently winning more than ever before.

 Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

SH Blog: Chandler calls out Knicks style of play, Metta says D’Antoni wasn’t respected enough

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Tyson ChandlerAre the New York Knicks suffering from a selfish brand of basketball?

When you think of this team, you primarily think of Carmelo Anthony as the team’s offense. That has always been the case (save for a brief period of Linsanity) for any team that ‘Melo has been a part of. And then, of course, you have J.R. Smith, who is known as volume-shooter number two on the team. So you have to figure that when Tyson Chandler is calling out the team’s lack of ball movement, there can only be so many that he may be referring to. Frank Isola of Daily News has details:

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