NBA Playoffs: OKC Thunder 1-4 Memphis Grizzlies

Marc Gasol leads the Grizzlies to victory

Marc Gasol leads the Grizzlies to victory

Last season’s runners-up were dealt a big blow in Round 1 when Russell Westbrook suffered a knee injury which ruled him out of the Playoffs. OKC had enough depth to deal with the challenge of Houston but were up against it taking on Memphis and the Grizzlies progressed to the Conference Finals following up their 4-2 win over the Clippers in the first round.

GAME 1: Memphis 91-93 Oklahoma @ Chesapeake Energy Arena

Kevin Durant led his OKC side to a 1-0 series lead with an impressive performance consisting of 35 points, 15 rebounds, six assists and 2 blocks. Kevin Martin added a further 25 from the bench as the hosts battled back from as many as 12 down to take care of their home advantage. Marc Gasol had a 20-10 double-double for the visitors who came close to forcing overtime but Quincy Pondexter could only convert one of three FT attempts as the Grizzlies fell short. The teams were evenly matched in the first half before Memphis threatened to break clear in the third as they established a 12 point lead following a 14-5 run. Derek Fisher and Martin both netted from beyond the arc at the start of the fourth as OKC began to close the gap. Memphis still led at 90-87 with just over a minute left but two jumpers from Durant were followed by a pair of free throws from Reggie Jackson to effectively seal the win before Pondexter‘s misfortunes at the line.

OKC lead the best-of-7-series 1-0.

GAME 2: Memphis 99-93 Oklahoma @ Chesapeake Energy Arena

Durant (36-11-9) came even closer to a triple double with another leading performance for OKC but his efforts were matched by Mike Conley, who had a 26-10-9 game to inspire Memphis to a series levelling result. After the visitors edged the opening quarter, OKC moved ahead by half-time after a 13 point second quarter from Fisher which included a perfect 3 from 3 from downtown. KD then matched his team-mate’s efforts with 13 points of his own in the third and OKC took a five point lead into the final quarter. The teams were tied on five occasions before Kendrick Perkins’ free throws gave the hosts a slender 90-89 advantage with 2:41 to go. Conley then sparked a pivotal 10-0 run to seal the road win before Fisher ended the game with his fourth triple to stop the rot at the buzzer. The veteran rolled back the years with a 19 point haul off the bench but Conley was invaluable for the Grizzlies while Gasol contributed 24-5-5 as they stole the series initiative from the number 1 seeds.

The best-of-7-series tied at 1-1.

GAME 3: Oklahoma 81-87 Memphis @ FedEx Forum

Memphis made the most of home advantage to take a 2-1 series lead over Oklahoma after another tense encounter between the two sides. OKC shot a disappointing 36% from the field while both teams struggled from beyond the arc. The hosts made a bright start and were up by ten in the second quarter but OKC recovered with an 11-2 run which helped build a 45-44 lead at the half. Gasol had a strong third quarter with 12 points which saw Memphis move closer to another double figures advantage before Durant ended the third with a triple to make it a six point differential. Every time Memphis threatened to break clear, they were pegged back by the Thunder and Fisher‘s triple tied the game at 81 with just under two minutes to go. However, just as it seemed the momentum was with the visitors, they began missing and Memphis held their nerve at the line, to produce a strong finish as they did in game 2, making 6/6 to seal the win. Gasol was again a key contributor for the Grizzlies with a 20-9-4 stat-line while Durant‘s 25-11-5 was in vain once more.

Memphis lead the best-of-7-series 2-1.

GAME 4: Oklahoma 97-103 Memphis (OT) @ FedEx Forum

Memphis recovered from a slow start to move on the verge of a series victory after defeating Oklahoma in overtime. The visitors made a fast start with Serge Ibaka and Durant combining for 16 points in a 29-18 opening quarter. The lead peaked at 17 midway through the second on a KD triple before the Grizzlies managed to halve the deficit heading into the break courtesy of a couple of late 3-pointers from Jerryd Bayless. Down in double digits, the home side built some momentum with a 24-10 spell to take the lead for the first time at 76-74. The teams continued to trade leads throughout the fourth before a free throw each from Zach Randolph and Gasol made it 92-90 with 10.9 seconds on the clock. Up stepped Durant, with the finger roll lay-in to tie the game and extend the game beyond regulation. However, KD would then go 0-5 from the field in OT while OKC were kept scoreless in the final 1:55 and Tayshaun Prince and Gasol  capitalised to secure a huge victory for the Grizzlies. The DPOY led the way once again for the hosts with 23 points and 11 rebounds while Randolph produced a similar performance but managed to grab an extra rebound. Conley had a team-high 24 points while Durant took the overall scoring honours with 27 points as OKC fell short down the stretch when it matters most yet again.

Memphis lead the best-of-7-series 3-1.

GAME 5: Memphis 88-84 Oklahoma @ Chesapeake Energy Arena

Randolph delivered his best play-off performance to help close out the series after a relatively quiet first three games for the Grizzlies. The 31 year-old All-Star had a huge game with 28 points and 14 rebounds to help eliminate the top seeds of the West. Memphis were dominant in the second after an even start and compiled a 14-3 close to the half to lead 50-38. However, in the third it was the turn of OKC to produce a strong finish to a quarter and a 16-4 burst helped to close within two points as they headed into a must-win final quarter down 64-62. A solitary Durant basket was their only addition to the scoreboard in the opening six minutes of the fourth as Memphis steadily increased their advantage. An 11-3 run gave them hope and even more so when Reggie Jackson nailed a three in the final minute to make it a two-point game. Durant squandered the chance to tie it up and Tony Allen closed out the game and the series with a pair of free throws. Conley dished out 11 assists to compliment his 13 points to round-off an impressive series from the point guard while for the 5th game running, Durant led OKC with another 20+ point haul whilst coming close to a triple-double yet again. Westbrook is often criticized for being too selfish but there is no coincidence of OKC’s downfall since his injury.

Memphis win the best-of-7-series 4-1. 

                   Top 5 players

  1. Marc Gasol 19.4 ppg; 8.4 rpg; 2.8 bpg
  2. Mike Conley 18.0 ppg; 6.8 apg; 6.4 rpg
  3. Kevin Durant 28.8 ppg; 10.4 rpg; 6.6 apg
  4. Tony Allen 10.0 ppg; 5.0 rpg; 2.4 spg
  5. Reggie Jackson 13.8 ppg; 6.2 rpg; 50% FG; 92.3% FT

Pau Gasol praises brother Marc ahead of ‘tough challenge’

Brothers at war: Marc and Pau will go head-to-head

Brothers at war: Marc and Pau will go head-to-head

Pau Gasol admits that the Lakers are ‘fighting for their lives’ as they attempt to survive an enduring season and reach the end of season play-offs.

“Every game is a big deal and the next two will be very tough,” said the 32 year-old Spaniard.

The 16-time NBA champions take on Memphis and their rivals LA Clippers in their next two games as they look to hold on to 8th spot in the Western conference.

Memphis have already secured their place in the post-season and have already surpassed their previous season win total high with 51 victories so far. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have combined well for the Grizzlies and the duo received praise from (Pau) Gasol.

“They both are very physical players and are great rebounders. They have found a good combination that works well for them.”

“My brother is a great passer and is making plays for the team all the time. It will be a big challenge!”
Pau on Marc

It’s all love and respect between Pau and Marc Gasol off the court, but they will go head-to-head in battle at the Staples Centre in an important game for the Lakers. Here’s how the brothers compare so far this campaign:

PAU GASOL: 42 games; 35 starts; 13.0 ppg; 45.5% FG; 69.5% FT; 8.0 rpg; 3.6 apg; 11 double-doubles; Most points- 25.

MARC GASOL:  73 games (all starts); 14.4 ppg; 49.8% FG; 85.6% FT; 7.6 rpg; 3.9 apg; 15 double-doubles; Most points- 27

LA’s Gasol has only recently returned from a foot injury that sidelined him for around 7 weeks and during his absence, the Lakers compiled a 13-7 record to overtake Utah in the race for the final play-off spot. The Lakers positive run of results has coincided with the return of Dwight Howard’s form.

Howard has been revitalised since the All-Star break and joining in on the current NBA streak craze, ‘Superman’ has recorded 12 straight double-doubles and is confident the Lakers can overcome the challenge of Memphis.

“If we play like we have the last two games then I believe we can win. When me and Pau (Gasol) are active it makes things tougher for the other teams.”

Speaking about his own form, Howard said: “I’m getting better, I’m not where I want to be but I’m happy with my progress.”

The 6’11” centre sustained an injured shoulder in the last meeting between the two sides when the Lakers suffered their second defeat in Memphis this season.

The Lakers are currently half a game ahead of Utah while Dallas loiter further behind and Mike D’Antoni’s side can still improve on eighth position with Golden State and Houston still to play in their seven remaining games. The Warriors and Rockets are not too far ahead but a first round clash with San Antonio or Oklahoma looks the most likely scenario should LA make the play-offs.

Game Night! ft. Orlando @ Miami

NOT QUITE SWEET 16 FOR MIAMI BUT THEY GET THE WIN; LAKERS FIGHT BACK ON KOBE’S 42 WHILE THE KNICKS & SPURS SURVIVE WITHOUT LOSS OF KEY PLAYERS

Miami Heat (45-14) needed a late LeBron James basket to keep their win streak alive after scraping to a 97-96 victory at home to the Orlando Magic (17-45). James top scored with 26 points as a seemingly comfortable victory for Erik Spoelstra‘s side almost turned disastrous after a lax opening to the fourth quarter. Nikola Vucevic led the visitors with an incredible 25 points  and 21 rebounds in his second 20-20 game of the season (both against Miami) while Jameer Nelson added 14 assists to a 16 point haul.

Norris Cole nailed consecutive triples at the start of the second as Miami soon opened up a 55-40 advantage at half-time in complete control. The lead peaked at 19 points at the start of the third but Orlando rallied and hauled themselves to within three points heading into the fourth. Magic took the lead and held a 96-93 advantage with around 90 seconds remaining before Chris Bosh (17pts/10rbs) nailed a pair of free throws and Dwyane Wade (20pts) had a block to leave the game in the hands of the reigning MVP, who duly stepped up with the game winning drive to the hoop.

LA Lakers (31-31) battled back from 25 points down to defeat the New Orleans Hornets (21-41) 108-102 after a 42 point haul from Kobe Bryant. The visitors finished with a 20-0 run to bounce back from their defeat to the OKC Thunder the previous night despite finding themselves trailing 63-38 at one stage in the first half. Dwight Howard impressed with 20 points combined with 15 rebounds while Jodie Meeks stepped up off of the bench with 19 points. Meanwhile their rivals, the LA Clippers (44-19) enjoyed a 117-101 win at home to the Milwaukee Bucks (30-29) after Blake Griffin powered his way to a triple-double of 23 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high 11 assists.

STAT: Kobe tied his season-high points haul with his 5th 40+ performance of the campaign.

San Antonio (48-14) overturned a first half deficit to defeat the Chicago Bulls (34-27) 101-83 as the Spurs made it two wins out of two in the absence of Tony Parker.  Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with 18 points, a feat that was matched by Tim Duncan who added 10 rebounds and five blocked shots to his stat-line. Marco Belinelli led the Bulls with a game-high 21 points while Joakim Noah pulled down 13 rebounds. Chicago led by as many as 14 in the first half but the visitors were unable to keep up with the hosts in the second and San Antonio steadily began to pull away with Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills all contributing points in double figures.

New York (37-21) survived a third quarter blip to see off the Detroit Pistons (23-40) 87-77 as they coped without the missing Carmelo Anthony. Amar’e Stoudemire and JR Smith combined for 42 points off the bench while Ray Felton had a game-high 26 points. The hosts had led by ten points by the end of the third quarter with Jose Calderon the orchestrator before finishing with SIXTEEN assists. In another all-Eastern clash, Boston (23-27) used a strong fourth quarter to overcome the Indiana Pacers (38-23) 83-81 on the road. Kevin Garnett had an 18-10 double-double for the visitors whilst providing the game winning assist in the dying seconds for Jeff Green to clinch the victory.

Memphis (40-19) became the fifth team in the West to record 40 wins on the season after a hard-fought 91-85 success against the Portland Trail Blazers (28-32). Marc Gasol had a game-high 23 points along with 12 rebounds to lead the Grizzlies to their NINTH win in their last ten, in the absence of All-Star Zach RandolphDallas (27-33) kept their alive their previously fading play-off hopes with a 112-108 home win over the Houston Rockets (33-29) who will now be looking over their shoulder at the chasing pack. The Mavericks jumped out to an early advantage and survived a late surge from the Rockets, who were fueled by James Harden‘s 28 points and 9 assists.

STAT: League rookie, Damian Lillard scored 20+ points in a game for the 30th time this season.

Cleveland (21-40) were another team to fight back from a significant deficit as they defeated the Utah Jazz (32-29) 104-101 after Kyrie Irving led the way with 20 points and 10 assists. Toronto Raptors (24-38) enjoyed a comfortable 98-71 win against the Phoenix Suns (21-40) while the Brooklyn Nets (35-26) recovered from a slow start to impose a defensive stranglehold on the Charlotte Bobcats (13-48) to come away with a 98-78 win. Joe Johnson led the way with 22 points as the Nets outscored their opponents 56-25 in the second half.

STAT: It was only Irving‘s third double-double of the season for the Cavs.

Golden State (35-27) used a strong third quarter display as a platform for their 87-83 win against the Sacramento Kings (21-42) as Klay Thompson nailed a crucial 3-pointer late on to finish with 20 points.  Atlanta (34-26) survived a fourth quarter resistance from the Philadelphia 76ers (23-37) to win 107-96 after 27 points and 11 assists from Jeff Teague. Minnesota Timberwolves (21-37) were led by Derrick Williams (16pts/8rbs) and Ricky Rubio (15pts/11as/7rbs/6st) as they held on to an 87-82 home win against the Washington Wizards (19-40), who were led by John Wall‘s 19 points.

Check-out the amazing play of the day as Jamal Crawford provides the fancy alley-oop for Blake Griffin to jam home: (NBA)

Wade- “Winning streak is something special”

'WOW' Way of Wade in action

‘WOW’ Way of Wade in action

Dwyane Wade is expecting a tough challenge from Miami’s next two opponents as they look to continue their win streak.

Miami have won their last TWELVE games as they sit clear at the top of the Eastern Conference standings with a 41-14 and take on Memphis tonight before a game in New York on Sunday against the Knicks.

“Memphis are coming in very hot and an early game in New York, I’ll like to see how we respond,” the Heat guard admitted.

“Every game is different! We have confidence as a team but this is a different challenge for us now.”

The 31 year-old had a season-high 39 points in the win over Sacramento in double-OT as he combined with team-mate LeBron James for 79 in total. The dynamic duo were in top form throughout February as Miami began their winning streak with James averaging an incredible 29.7ppg and Wade contributing 23.9 a game.

Wade described Memphis as a ‘physical team’ and praised the partnership of All-Star Zach Randolph and Spanish international Marc Gasol. LeBron also paid tribute to the duo after alluding to the impressive EIGHT game win-streak for the Grizzlies.

“Marc Gasol has one of the biggest IQ’s in the game and Z-Bo is just a walking double-double, his nickname is 20-10,”

The reigning MVP has been thrilling the Miami crowd in recent weeks with some breathtaking pre-game dunks but LeBron insists he is not concerned about the criticism he has received for not participating in the annual Slam Dunk Contest.

“I don’t care. I get criticised for everything! I don’t need props and capes and cheerleaders,  I just do it!”

Another highlight dunk could be on the cards at the American Airlines Arena prior to the Grizzlies game in a battle of the win streaks in Miami. The last time the two sides met it was Memphis who got the W with a 104-86 home triumph back in November.