The Memphis Grizzlies lost to the San Antonio Spurs 96-82 on Monday to fall into a 2-0 hole in their first-round series, which understandably puts pressure on them to perform well in Wednesday’s Game 3 at home. A quick look at the Game 2 box score shows one glaring culprit for the loss — a 32-15 free-throw disparity that afforded the Spurs a steady stream of points the Grizzlies simply could not match. San Antonio superstar Kawhi Leonard accounted for 19 of those 32 attempts by himself (and made all of them). By contrast, reserve wing James Ennis III led Memphis with six attempts.
Those numbers were enough to upset first-year Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale, who unloaded on referees in his post-game press conference. Fizdale can expect a fine from the league office before Wednesday, and one look at his comments is enough to know he got his money’s worth:
First, let’s give Fizdale his due. This rant is excellent, especially considering he had just finished only his second playoff game as an NBA head coach. It has everything — a casual reference to his anger early on, several references to players on his team who deserved more freebies, a statement that he’s “not a numbers guy” after listing many stats, a comparison with Mike Conley that implies Kawhi Leonard is an arrogant hothead, and two instant-classic catchphrases.I’ll be disappointed if I don’t see “They’re not gonna rook us” and “Take that for data” belong on t-shirts later this week.
Many coaches go decades without giving the public a rant of this quality. Let’s hope Fizdale coaches in the playoffs for years, because we need more moments like this one.
With that important aesthetic judgment out of the way, let’s move on to the substance of Fizdale’s statements. On a basic level, he’s right — the Spurs got lots of calls that the Grizzlies didn’t and benefited for it. Yet free-throw totals can’t be explained only by how many shots a team takes in the paint. Referees usually reward teams and players that dictate the physical terms of the game, and Leonard is exactly that kind of player. Only four other Spurs shot free throws, and just fellow star LaMarcus Aldridge (5-of-6 FT) went to the line via more than one whistle. If Fizdale wants his players to get more calls, he has a point. But the Spurs’ total was due to Kawhi, a unique player who often gives defenders little recourse but to make contact.
Of course, assessing Fizdale’s press conference as a logical argument misses the point. A good portion of a head coach’s job is to stand up for his team, and he fulfilled that duty as well as possible. The Grizzlies have lost two games by double digits and need all the help they can get — if his comments push referees to call even just a few more fouls on the Spurs, then his fine was totally worth it. At the same time, he has shown his players that he is willing to take a financial hit for their benefit. All of those positives are much more important than concerns over logic.
Plus, we neutrals just got the first great comedy moment of the 2017 postseason. We might as well band together and start a collection to pay Fizdale’s fine. He has given everyone a great gift.
On a night when no lead was safe, Bernier came on in relief for starter John Gibson, who gave up four goals. The Ducks goalie made 16 saves on 16 shots, and the Ducks eventually rallied for a 5-4 win. Corey Perry had the game-winner in OT.
No. 2 Star: Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators
Ryan had an assist and the game-winning goal in overtime in the Senators’ 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins. That OT goal arrived after a controversial play in which Ryan goaded Riley Nash into punching him, earning Ottawa a power play that they’d convert for the 2-1 series lead.
No. 3 Star: Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators
The Predators forward scored two goals in the third period to rally Nashville to a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Kevin Fiala has the OT winner.
Honorable Mention: Nazem Kadri had a goal and the perfect setup of Tyler Bozka’s game-winner in overtime, as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Washington Capitals, 4-3. … Auston Matthews scored his first playoff goal, as Toronto took a 2-1 series lead. … Shea Theodore had two goals, while Rickard Rakell, Hampus Lindholm and Kevin Bieksa had two assists. … What a save by Pekka Rinne:
Did You Know? Nashville had 49 shots on goal and 94 shot attempts.
Dishonorable Mention: The Capitals were 0-for-3 on the power play, including a blown 5-on-3. … Artemi Panarin was a minus-2, and doesn’t have a playoff point in three games. … Matt Bartkowski was a minus-3. … Tough break for Corey Crawford and the Blackhawks.
The netminder made 40 saves in the team’s 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. Through three playoff games, Allen has allowed 3 total goals on 117 shots against. That’s an incredible 0.91 goals-against average and .974 save-percentage.
No. 2 Star: Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins
For the first time in the franchise history of the Penguins, a rookie scored a hat trick in the playoffs. Guenztel’s third goal was the best of them all – it won the game in overtime for Pittsburgh.
No. 3 Star: Zack Kassian, Edmonton Oilers
Kassian picked up his second goal of the playoffs when he pounced on a turnover and beat Martin Jones. The goal came in a scoreless game midway through the third period. The Oilers held on to beat the San Jose Sharks, 1-0. The Oilers take a 2-1 series lead.
Honorable Mention: Joe Thornton returned to the lineup for the Sharks. He had four shot attempts in 16:27 TOI. San Jose out-hit the Oilers 58-37. Cam Talbot shut out San Jose with a 23 save performance … Ryan Suter recorded 10 shot attempts against St. Louis. Patrik Berglund and Alexander Steen each had two points in the win. Steen’s setup on Jaden Schwartz’s go-ahead goal was a beaut:
… Cam Atkinson scored 11 seconds into the game to give the Blue Jackets the lead. He picked up his second goal a few minutes later. Bryan Rust netted two goals in the second period for the Penguins … The Montreal Canadiens’ power play was 2-for-3 in the team’s 3-1 victory against the New York Rangers. The Habs take a 2-1 series lead. Alexander Radulov submits his nomination for ‘goal of the post-season’ with an insane one-armed tally.
Did You Know? The Rangers have last six straight playoff games on home ice.
Dishonorable Mention: The Wild are down 3-0 in the series. Game 4 is on Wednesday in St. Louis. Bruce Boudreau stormed out of his post-game press conference … Poor Zach Werenski. He took a puck to the face, bled profusely on the ice, the refs didn’t stop play and the Penguins scored. The Blue Jackets are on the brink of elimination against the Penguins … Kevin Klein introduced Torrey Mitchell to his Rangers teammates in the most awkward (and hilarious) way possible:
With all eyes on high-scoring, playmaking All-Stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook, it was the hard-as-nails Chicago-born guard who helped tilt the game. Beverley rebounded from a bone-crunching screen by Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams to ignite a monster third-quarter run that turned what had been a tight contest through two quarters into a blowout early in the fourth, as the Houston Rockets ran away with a 118-87 shellacking of the visiting Thunder to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven first-round series.
After getting planted by a pick with just over 8 1/2 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Beverley came back to drill a pair of 3-pointers off feeds from Harden to give the Rockets their first double-digit lead of the game and get the crowd at Toyota Center as fired up as they’d been all night:
The second 3 set a new playoff career-high scoring mark for Beverley, who would finish with 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting (4-for-6 from 3-point land) to go with 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals in 26 minutes of work.
“He’s been doing it since I’ve been here, five years,” Harden said when TNT’s David Aldridge asked him about his backcourt partner after the game. “He’s just this dog, man. He’s feisty. He’s going to play as hard as he can. That’s one of the reasons he’s in the position he’s in. Obviously, he knocked down some big shots, scored for us well, but he plays with a lot of energy, a lot of tenacity.”
He also had a hand in limiting Westbrook, the league’s leading scorer during the regular season, to 22 points on 6-for-23 shooting (3-for-11 from deep) and helping Russ undercut his seven assists with nine turnovers.
Russell Westbrook: 6-23 shooting including 3-9 with two turnovers when guarded by Patrick Beverley https://t.co/M7JrQgOdl1
After the game, though, Beverley was quick to deflect credit for dimming the Thunder’s leading light.
“I don’t think it was individual at all,” Beverley said during his postgame press conference. “I think it was a team effort. We just tried to show him a lot of bodies, try to make it as tough as possible on him. We understand that he’s one of the most explosive guards in this league, and can’t one person guard him. Of course we understand that. But, you know, just try to make it tough on him, try to make him shoot a lot of contested 3s, and tonight, I guess we got lucky.”
Westbrook didn’t use that same term when asked about Beverley’s surprising offensive performance. But he also didn’t seem especially concerned about the defensive-minded guard repeated that performance throughout the series.
“We don’t want to give up drive-and-kick 3s. That’s what they do,” Westbrook said during his postgame press conference. “He made some tough shots. We’re OK with that […] He made some shots. He made some shots. We’re OK with that. He made some shots. You live with it.”
They might have been lucky on that score, but after Oklahoma City took a 29-27 lead following the first quarter thanks to Westbrook’s attacking and some surprising shooting from defense-first wing Andre Roberson, the Rockets were also awfully good. That was especially true of Harden, who went 4-for-11 from the field in the first frame, missing all four of his 3-point tries, before cranking it up in a big way:
Harden scored or assisted on 26 of the Rockets’ 30 points in a third quarter that saw Houston extend its lead to 17 points. Thanks to the attacking of reserve guard Lou Williams and the playmaking of Beverley …
… the lead was up to 20 by the time Harden checked back in with just under 7 1/2 minutes to go in the fourth. A couple of Beard triples later, and the advantage was up to 30, allowing Harden to check out with 4:14 remaining and rest his laurels on a stellar stat line of 37 points (13-for-28 from the field, 8-for-11 at the foul line) with nine assists, seven rebounds, three steals and just two turnovers in 34 minutes.
After struggling early to find the range on his jumper en route to a 3-for-11 mark from 3-point range, and with Oklahoma City showing a different defensive wrinkle by switching screens up top and trusting their big men to guard Harden in space rather in hopes of taking away his passes out to 3-point shooters, Harden dedicated himself to attacking the basket.
“No doubt about it,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game when asked if the Thunder had shifted defensive tactics. “We talk about it all year, how smart [Harden] is and how he figures it out, and it just takes him a little bit to know that he can get to the rim. And they were switching everything, and he was just exploiting what was there. That’s what he does. If he’s not the best, I don’t know.”
The result: nine makes in 11 tries within the restricted area for the Rockets superstar, part of a steady march to the lane that saw Houston score a whopping 62 points in the paint on Sunday, 24 more than the Thunder.
“We’ve been preaching that all year,” Harden told Aldridge after the game. “Obviously, we have a lot of 3-point shooters, but if we aren’t making shots, we’ve still got to find ways to win. We’ve done it during the regular season, and tonight was another example of it. They’re gonna hug up on our 3-point shooters? We’re gonna kill them in the paint.”
And so, despite a Rockets club that just set an NBA record for 3-pointers made in a season going just 10-for-33 from long range, Houston still feasted on the OKC defense. Centers Clint Capela and Nene combined for 29 points on 14-for-17 shooting, and with Oklahoma City’s bigs drawn away from the paint trying to corral Houston’s ball-handlers on switches, the Rockets absolutely crushed the Thunder after the 14 offensive rebounds they collected:
Rockets on 2nd-Chance Possessions – Game 1 Pts 31 (most this season) FG 12-14 3-pt FG 4-5
“Our turnovers and offensive rebounds, the second-chance points, that’s what really killed us,” said Oklahoma City center Adams after the game. “Second half was, it just came down to […] just the reads. The bigs, and especially me, were just, like, trash on the reads on the pick-and-rolls. We were absolute garbage. So, got to go back to the drawing board and have a look at how we can better that for Game 2.
“[…] They were just finding the big man [rolling to the rim after the screen] or they were just finding floaters. That’s just two things. I mean, you have to take away at least one, right? Just got to go back and look at video, see where our positioning is, see where we can get better in terms of footwork and communication, where the guards are, where the help side can come from. All that stuff.”
After a 31-point drubbing that’s tied for the fifth-most-lopsided loss in Thunder/Sonics franchise history, there’s plenty for Oklahoma City to review and try to correct before tipoff of Game 2 at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday night. The bad news for the Thunder: teams that have gotten blown out like this in the opening game of a playoff series haven’t fared too well over the rest of the series.
Teams to lose the 1st game of an NBA playoff series by at least 30 have lost 22 of the last 23 series
Last year’s Thunder team was able to pull off that massive turnaround thanks in part to a certain former MVP. (And Dion Waiters!) This year’s model will have to find other answers, starting with getting Westbrook unlocked and, ideally, finding some supplementary sources of points.
Shooting guard Victor Oladipo shot just 1-for-12 from the field in a nightmarish postseason debut. Enes Kanter scored eight points in 16 1/2 minutes, but gave away many more than that as the Rockets repeatedly torched him in the pick-and-roll. Roberson chipped in 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting, making four of his six 3-point tries, but it’s unlikely that OKC can count on getting that kind of injection of offense from a 26 percent career 3-point shooter who averaged 6.6 points per game this season.
Despite all that went wrong on Sunday, though, Westbrook sounded unsurprisingly unconcerned.
“Regardless of whether you win by 20, two or 40, it doesn’t matter,” he said during his postgame press conference. “It’s still one-zero, and we’ve got to be ready to come back and play for the next one.”
WASHINGTON – Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock doesn’t often get through a media availability without making mention of the “right way” of doing things.
There’s no manual to detail this ambiguous standard that he’s working tirelessly to drill home (though we’re not privy to what might be under the players’ stalls), but if you watched the Leafs’ double-overtime triumph over the Washington Capitals in Game 2 of their opening-round series on Saturday night, you might have an idea.
There were hard lines, heavy shifts, back pressures, and bodies behind pucks. There was attention to detail, responsibility and support in all three zones.
It was the sort of complete buy-in that allowed the eighth-seeded Maple Leafs to even the playing field in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and limit the NHL’s third highest scoring five-on-five team to just a single goal in over 72 minutes under that condition on Saturday night.
What it didn’t allow for was a whole lot of creativity.
That was, until the fourth line produced an unlikely moment of first-line artistry – but not without a careful peek over the shoulder first.
Perhaps prompted by the shouts of Kasperi Kapanen, Brian Boyle checked his blindspot (to make sure that it was, in fact, the “higher percentage play”) and swung a feathered backhand drop pass to the cutting rookie, who popped the overtime winner inside the post Braden Holtby vacated to track Boyle.
The goal, scored near the 12-minute mark of the second overtime period, sent the Maple Leafs home with a deserved split against the juggernaut Capitals.
It was Kapanen’s second goal of the game, and his biggest since scoring the overtime winner in the gold-medal final of the World Junior Championship for his native Finland.
And it was the contribution Boyle, still without a goal since being traded to the Maple Leafs six weeks ago, had been dying to deliver.
“That was a pretty good feeling,” he said.
Just moments earlier, Boyle received a firm handshake and slap on the back in the hallway from the passing Lou Lamoriello, who acquired him from the Tampa Bay Lightning for his leadership qualities, versatility in a fourth-line centre role, and ability to kill penalties.
There would have been no such greeting, however, if his teammates didn’t pick him up twenty minutes earlier. Boyle took a sloppy enough penalty in the first bonus period that it had to have been called, even in overtime, leading the Capitals, who had already scored twice with the man advantage, to their seventh power play of the game.
Boyle shattered his stick over the crossbar on his path to the penalty box in a moment of frustration, knowing that his mistake could potentially undo the progress that his rookie-laden club made in just their second postseason game. It would have haunted him.
Even long after the successful kill and overtime winner he set up, that mistake still seemed to be gnawing at him.
He said with great sincerity he just didn’t want to be the headline.