(1) Indiana Pacers vs (2) Miami Heat


It is a well advertised stat that the winner of Game 1 wins the series 77 percent of the time. However, Miami has lost Game 1 four times in the last three playoffs and has gone on to win the series each time. The closest they came to losing was in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers, which they won in seven games.

The Pacers were the league’s best team at home in the regular season, but had their run of dominance tainted by losing three times at home in their first two playoff series. Still, Indiana had fought all season for home-court advantage in this series and now they have the Heat right where they wanted them: at home.

Game 1 opened with the Heat looking discombobulated on offense. Miami had four turnovers—three from LeBron James—in the opening six minutes of the game while the Pacers opened up a 17-10 lead. George Hill and Paul George each hit two threes in a row, helping Indiana on its way to a 30-24 lead after the first quarter.

Miami seemed content to stick with a smaller lineup in hopes of running the Indiana bigs out of the game. But Indiana’s team defense slowed the Heat and virtually eliminated their transition game.

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James shared the scoring load for the Heat, with each scoring 13 in the first half. Despite their effort, the balanced scoring of the Pacers gave them the edge in the first half. Indiana had five players in double-figures by halftime as they took a 55-45 lead to the break.

Indiana maintained a double-digit lead early in the third quarter before going on an 11-2 run to take 72-54 midway through the period. The Pacers led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before a Miami run tightened things up.

Miami went on a 12-2 run form the 1:40 mark in the third quarter to the 10:32 mark of the fourth to trim the Indiana lead to nine. Miami seemed to be back in the game. That is when a flagrant foul by Mario Chalmers allowed C.J. Wason to hit three consecutive free throws to stem the Miami rush.

From there, Indiana had an answer for everything Miami threw at them. Paul George scored eight points in the final quarter and ended the game with 24 as Indiana drew first blood, winning Game 1, 107-96.

Miami shot over 50 percent for the game, but scoring was not their problem in this game. Indiana finally had the type of offensive game that had not been seen by Pacer fans since February. Everything fell for Indiana on this night as the Pacers shot 51 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

The Pacers had a huge advantage at the line as well, attempting 22 more free throws than Miami while connecting on 78 percent of them. In Game 2, Lance Stephenson once again came out of the gate hot for Indiana. Stephenson scored nine points in the opening quarter, but impacted the game most by creating havoc with his drives and cuts to the lane.

The Heat were able to pull within one by closing the quarter on a 8-1 run. The Heat bench provided the scoring punch, with Norris Cole draining a jumper before Battier nailed a three. In the second period, Rasual Butler had his number called for the first time this series and he responded, draining two threes in the opening minute of the quarter to put Indiana up by four.

The Heat then turned the screws on the Pacers on the defensive end. The Pacers missed six straight shots and committed three turnovers over a five-minute stretch as Miami went on a 9-0 run. A beautiful fall-away jumper by Lance Stephenson brought Indiana back within one with 4:16 left in the half.

The Pacer comeback was cut short when David West went to the bench with his third foul. With West out, LeBron was fed in the post and used his supreme passing ability to find open shots for his teammates when the double-team collapsed on him.

The Heat went on a 9-0 run with West out, but the Pacers closed the gap late thanks to a pair of free throws from Roy Hibbert and an improbable buzzer-beating tip in by Lance Stephenson. The Heat retained a 41-37 lead at the half.

Stephenson continued his hot shooting into the third quarter. A Stephenson three with 2:57 remaining in the quarter extended the Pacer lead to six. With the Pacers up seven, LeBron drove hard and dished to Bosh for a big three. After a big Miami stop, LeBron had another dive and dish, this time connecting with Norris Cole for a three.

Suddenly, the Pacers led only by one headed into the final period. But in the fourth quarter, LeBron and Wade took over. Wade had 10 points while LeBron put in 12. The duo scored or assisted on every Heat point in the final period.

Chris Anderson was key in this game not only because of his defense on the Indiana bigs, but his presence on the boards. Anderson finished with 12 rebounds while limiting both David West and Roy Hibbert. Overall, the Heat showed a commitment to interior defense by playing Bosh alongside Anderson for significant stretches.

Paul George spent a lot of energy defending LeBron and doing it well for three quarters, but he paid the price on the offensive end. George only hit on four of his 16 attempts from the field.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (2) Oklahoma City Thunder

 tim duncan kevin durant thunder spurs may 2014

With Tony Parker nursing a strained hamstring and Serge Ibaka ruled out for the playoffs with a calf injury, the talk heading into this series centered on health.

As it turned out, Tony Parker was just fine, leaving the Thunder as the only team that needed to worry about the absence of a vital piece of their team. With Ibaka out, the Thunder were not only missing their third leading scorer but also the anchor of their defense.

Of all people on the OKC squad who could have jumped off the bench and filled the role of third option for the Thunder against the Spurs; at once, the most likely and most unlikely was Derek Fisher.

Don’t get me wrong, the gentleman has been a solid rotation player for 18 years. But the guy who has been rumored to be the next player to jump straight into a head coaching position should not be the most likely candidate to be the third leading scorer in a conference finals game.

At the same time, Derek Fisher absolutely shows up against the Spurs—always has and, apparently, always will. Fisher had 16 points in the game and was 4-of-6 from beyond the arc in Game 1. Despite the heroics of Derek Fisher, the Spurs jumped out to lead 20-9 thanks to 10 quick points by Tim Duncan.

The Thunder then went on a 15-7 run to pull within three at the end of the period. A Durant and-one and a pair of Fisher free throws brought the Thunder a point back of the Spurs.

That is when Danny Green popped off for seven points, including two threes, in less than a minute. Duncan closed the half with 21 points and Parker added 12 as the Spurs took a 59-67 lead into halftime.

Thunder climbed back into the game in third quarter thanks mostly to an offensive explosion from Russell Westbrook. Westbrook had 12 points in the quarter including nine straight. OKC took the lead on a Westbrook jumper at 76-75 with 5:13 left in the third quarter that capped a 12-3 run by the Thunder.

The Spurs answer with 12-2 run of their own, led by none other than Manu Ginobili. The second-half effort from Ginobili was the difference in this one. Ginobili netted 18 points, all in the second half and a Ginobili three with 2:13 remaining effectively sealed things for the Spurs at 118-97. Reserves closed out the 122-105 win.

San Antonio took full advantage of the absence of Serge Ibaka by getting into the lane and scoring with ease. The Spurs had an astounding 40 points in the paint at halftime followed 14 more in the third quarter. San Antonio finished game shooting 25-of-29 in the paint on their way to outscoring OKC, 66-32, in the restricted area.

Parker was limited in getting to the basket due to his hamstring, but was still effective recording 12 assists to only one turnover. The commitment to passing up good shots for great shots ensured the Spurs open looks, and it contributed to the team shooting 70 percent from the field in the final quarter.

In the first quarter of Game 2 San Antonio picked up right where they left off, attacking the lane. The Spurs had 14 points in the lane in the opening period while the Thunder settled for jump shots.

Durant and Westbrook were the only Thunder players to score through the first eight minutes of the game, before Steven Adams hit a free throw. The Thunder reserves kept them in the game in the opening period as Adams and Caron Butler each had five points while Reggie Jackson contributed a pair of buckets.

Both Durant and Westbrook started slow. The duo combined to make just 5-of-18 field goal attempts through the midway point of the second quarter. The Thunder were held scoreless for four minutes in the middle of the quarter while the Spurs went on a 10-0 run to take a 43-36 lead with 4:11 remaining in the half.

Back-to-back threes from Danny Green gave the Spurs an 11-point lead and the crowd erupted causing a bit of a panic in the Thunder. An errant pass turned the ball back to the Spurs and after two offensive rebounds kept the possession alive, Manu Ginobili drained a deep three. The shot capped a 24-8 Spurs run and gave the Spurs a 14 point lead at the half.

The Spurs just poured it on to start the second half. With San Antonio up 16, Danny Green hit his fifth three-pointer of the game to virtually break OKC’s back. The Thunder then had consecutive turnovers while Duncan followed with a layup and Green hit his sixth three with 7:15 remaining in the quarter to put the Spurs up by 24.

San Antonio finished the period with their reserves and were still able to head into the fourth quarter with a 91-62 lead. With the exception of Danny Green, neither team’s starters accrued a single minute of game time in the final period as the outcome was well in hand. San Antonio absolutely laid the wood on the Thunder, winning 112-77.

Usually in a one-sided game such as this one, effort is pointed to as the element that one team had and the other did not. That was not the case in this blowout. This one came down to execution. The Spurs ran their offense and defensive rotations to perfection while the Thunder relied on their usually dynamic duo to do it all for them offensively.

On this night, Westbrook and Durant were only able to combine for 30 points on 13-of-40 shooting. Their inefficiency coupled with the extreme efficiency of the Spurs was the difference here. The Thunder superstars must regain their shooting touch and quick if this series is going to make it back to San Antonio.


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