If Sunday night is any indication, we’re in for an exciting Western Conference Finals in the NBA playoffs, because top-seeded San Antonio was pushed to the wire and then some, before finally beating Oklahoma City 101-98 to grab a 1-0 lead in the series.
Rebounding was key to the Spurs’ efforts, as they held a 50-43 edge on the glass, the one key statistical difference on a team-wise basis. If we dig a little deeper, while Tim Duncan deserves the obligatory praise for his 16 points/11 rebounds night, it’s more noteworthy that Thunder center Kendrick Perkins had only two rebounds. In TheSportsNotebook’s series preview, the importance of Perkins and power forward Serge Ibaka doing the dirty work was identified as critical to the OkC’s chances Ibaka’s seven boards were acceptable, if not outstanding, but Perkins can’t continue to be absent from the glass if his team is going to win.
A similar story exists in the backcourt. Manu Ginobli is getting a lot of deserved praise for his 26 points in leading the Spurs’ fourth quarter rally, but it’s at least as important to point out that Russell Westbrook had a tough night shooting the ball, going 7-for-21 from the floor and his 17 points are a low number for the team’s #2 scorer. If we hearken back to last year’s conference finals, Westbrook struggled against Dallas and one thing Oklahoma City fans have to be worried about is that when Westbrook is cold, he doesn’t move to distributing the ball and creating shots—he keeps gunning. At this point, it’s just one off-night. If it repeats itself on Tuesday then the Thunder have a problem.
As long as we’re on the subject of problems, let’s shift to Boston’s opener against Miami tonight in the Eastern Conference Finals. TheSportsNotebook’s series preview took about as pessimistic a view of the Celtics’ chances in this series as the rest of the mainstream media and the Las Vegas sportsbooks did. And the odds in Game 1 are even worse, as a team that’s already the walking wounded is just 48 hours removed from an emotional Game 7 win over Philadelphia.
An underrated problem for Boston is that young guard Avery Bradley is out for the rest of the postseason. Bradley was not only young legs on an old team, but he was the one Boston guard who could at least slow down Dwayne Wade. Now that task likely falls to Ray Allen, who’s playing on sore ankles and has to have energy on the offensive side if the Celtics are going to win. That’s called a double-whammy. If you’re Memorial Day festivities go into the night, I can’t think of too many reasons you should go out of your way to watch what’s likely to be a complete carnage in Game 1.