NBA playoffs: Thunder and Pacers win conf. semifinal opening games

The Indiana Pacers and the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated, respectively, the New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies in NBA conference semifinal playoff action Sunday. 

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    Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) goes to the basket in between Memphis Grizzlies Tayshaun Prince (21) and Marc Gasol (33) during the first quarter of Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinals NBA basketball playoff series in Oklahoma City, Sunday, May 5, 2013.
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Durant Heroics Captures Game 1 for Thunder

The Memphis Grizzlies have earned the reputation over the years as a “grind it out” club that may not win with razzle-dazzle, but can hold its opponents’ offense in check enough to consistently win games. But Sunday, in Game 1 of the NBA's Western Conference semi-finals, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant defied the conventional wisdom, by scoring 12 fourth quarter points – including a knockout jumper with 11.1 seconds remaining in the game – to defeat Memphis, 93-91, in Oklahoma City.

All told, Durant had an exceptional performance – scoring a total of 35 points to go with fifteen rebounds and five assists and by earning his fourth game-tying or -winning shot in playoff competition, demonstrating once again that he’s the man who deserves the ball when the game is on the line. Durant hit six of the Thunder’s last seven baskets for an Oklahoma City squad that connected on only 41% of its field goals for the afternoon (the Grizzlies besting them by one percent in that category), though Memphis only hit a third of its shots in the crucial fourth period. The Grizzlies were also stymied on the offensive boards, grabbing only eight of their own rebounds all afternoon which, for the game, resulted in only four second-chance Memphis points.

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For the Grizzlies, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph each had double-doubles – Gasol with 20 points, Randolph with 18, while pulling down ten rebounds apiece; but they got little help from the rest of their team, with former Ohio State star Mike Conley hitting only 5-15 from the floor for 13 total points.

Grizzlies’ forward Quincy Pondexter got his teammates pumped at the half by hitting a three-point, half-court shot with no time remaining. But that emotion eventually fizzled as Oklahoma City made the adjustment against Memphis’ Jerryd Bayless, who after hitting for ten points in the first half (including two three-point shots), was effectively shut out in the second half. And even though the Thunder were outscored 27-17 in the third quarter, they came charging back – largely due to Durant’s shotmaking – to outscore the Grizzlies, 29-18, in the fourth.

And after seeing how this thriller concluded, let there be no doubt that little things mean a lot. Oklahoma City was 22-25 (88%) from the free throw line, while Memphis tanked in that category, hitting only 58% on 14 of 24 attempts from the charity stripe. This, as much as K.D.’s heroics, won the game for the Thunder.

Knicks Outhustled at Home by a Balanced Pacers Team

After the New York Knicks outlasted an older, slower and injury-plagued Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs, it had been said that their Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Indiana Pacers would feature a younger version of that Boston team, with more possibilities to score. This proved painfully true for the Knicks as the Pacers got six players in double figures to defeat New York, 102-95 in Game 1 of the series at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon.

The Pacers presented a balanced attack, scoring effectively in the post, in pick-and-rolls, and from the perimeter, where three-point specialist and former Illinois star D.J. Augustin hit four of five trés – and 16 points total – off the Indiana bench. Veteran David West was the team’s steady hand, leading the team with 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting. West was followed by Paul George, who hit for 19 points, Augustin, who scored 16 and George Hill and Roy Hibbert, who contributed 14 each.

On defense, former Georgetown big man Hibbert blocked four shots for the Pacers, and the team as a whole grabbed a monster 44 rebounds to New York’s 30 – led by Indiana's Lance Stephenson’s 13 boards (11 of them defensive).

Carmelo Anthony, the inspirational leader of the Knicks’ first round, has gone cold as ice in shooting over his past four games, hitting only 27% from the floor and only 9% of threes (2 for 22). And on the other end of the floor, Knicks center Tyson Chandler was practically invisible, grabbing only three rebounds while scoring four points. Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith showed up well for New York, scoring a combined 29 points off the bench; but Jason Kidd was nowhere to be seen, scoring no points and only one assist in nearly 17 minutes on the floor.

Knicks coach Mike Woodson, reflecting after the game, said “I thought they played harder than our team tonight, that's the difference …We’ve got to play harder across the board for us to get out of this series.” It would seem that Indiana very successfully used a mixed-bag of offensive sets, together with superior defense inside the paint, in Game 1. They will be more than up to the challenge of countering any adjustments the Knicks make as the series progresses.

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