Wednesday featured a pair of compelling battles in the NBA, pitting two Western Conference elites up against one another in the Oklahoma City Thunder against the LA Clippers, a game which was preceded by a fierce matchup down in Memphis as the Grizzlies fought for their playoff lives against the Miami Heat. The Clippers came back from a 15-point fourth quarter deficit to get within a point, but were ultimately stymied down the stretch to lose 107-101 on their home floor. Memphis used a spirited second-half run to take out the Heat 107-102 to keep their hopes of obtaining the eighth seed in the west alive.
OKC and the Clippers could very well find themselves pitted against one another in the second round of the postseason. They are respectively locked into the No. 2 and 3 seeds in the west and barring any upsets at the hands of possibly Golden State or Dallas, they will link up once again. Both teams are getting back to full health and boast two of the five highest scoring offenses in the NBA, with the Clippers ranking first at 107.7 points per game. The game provided a salivating preview of what might be in store. It was a physical battle that featured a number of jaw-dropping dunks on both sides. Doc Rivers and Scott Brooks’ clubs are peaking at the right time and both have their sights set on the NBA Finals. OKC and LA split their season series 2-2.
The Heat were coming off a painful loss at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets on their home floor courtesy of a game-saving block in the final seconds by rookie Mason Plumlee on a dunk attempt from LeBron James to sweep the season series from Miami 4-0. The Grizzlies find themselves in the No. 9 spot in the west, knowing every game from here on out is a playoff game. Memphis sits one game back of the Phoenix Suns for the final spot and is clawing and fighting to get back to the playoffs, where they made it to the Western Conference Finals a year ago.
LeBron’s 37 points were not enough against Memphis’ vaunted front line of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph who had their way with the short-handed Heat. Miami did not have Chris Andersen, Greg Oden or Udonis Haslem in the lineup which resulted in Randolph going 8-for-8 in the first quarter for 17 points. Memphis rode the momentum of a run late in the third quarter, which was capped off by a running three-pointer by Courtney Lee with 0.7 seconds on the clock, straight to the fourth. Miami had no answer for Tony Allen’s intensity which forced a number of transition buckets on the other end, as well as a couple of huge threes from Mike Conley.
Even though Memphis is fighting for its playoff lives, they return largely the same cast that got them so close to the NBA Finals last season. They along with OKC, the Clippers and the Heat remain amongst the biggest threats across the league to go all the way. Wednesday’s NBA action just provided a peek into the near future of what could be in store for this year’s installment of the NBA playoffs, and it should be a doozie.
Commentary by Justin Hussong