The Spurs And Lakers Survive; The Thunder Show Everybody They Are Legit Title Threats

After the Lakers and Spurs each lost their first playoff games, the whole NBA world was put in a tizzy. Despite winning a combined 118 games in the regular season, the Lakers were suddenly soft, the Spurs, old. The sky was falling all over Los Angeles and San Antonio. We recommended taking cover. But last night the ships were righted, like that singles cruise you didn’t tell anyone you went on. Yesterday afternoon, if you would’ve told us that Kobe Bryant was going to look old and finish with just 11 points and that Pau Gasol (8 points, 5 rebounds) was going to play like a ballerina and have an even worse game than he did in Game 1, we would’ve told you it was danger time for the defending champs. But somehow, some way, they defended and rebounded just enough to beat the Hornets by nine and even up the series. The first half might’ve been bad, but the third quarter was just a straight-up slugfest. Bodies flying, elbows, ugly shots – the opening six minutes of the second half was hideous. Ironically, it was exactly the sort of game the Lakers needed. They had to use that type of style to win a game that realistically they didn’t exactly deserve to win. They rode their size and defense, wearing New Orleans down little by little. The Hornets actually had more turnovers (four) in the first three minutes of the second quarter than they had the entire Game 1 (three). And despite his numbers (20 points, 9 assists), Chris Paul didn’t have nearly the control that he did on Sunday … If Gasol doesn’t wake up soon, the Lakers will be going home earlier than expected. They can probably win this series with a non-aggressive Pau, especially if Andrew Bynum (17 points, 11 rebounds) keeps it up, but in round two, they could have some real problems. Gasol has always struggled against undersized, tough and athletic players, but these first two games have hit a new low for him. He hasn’t wanted the ball. He isn’t fighting for rebounds. L.A. has going to him, trying to establish something, but he doesn’t seem to want anything to do with it … After playing the most exciting Game 1 of the playoffs, the Thunder and Nuggets came out and produced a laugher with Oklahoma City pounding Denver into a 2-0 hole, 106-89. The TNT crew criticized the Thunder’s supporting cast during the pregame (They must’ve not watched too many Oklahoma City games this year). Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha all came out gunning and had the home crew up 10 early and ahead 31-15 at the end of the first quarter. Plus, while they don’t always contribute buckets, they can play defense. They showed it all night, holding the highest-scoring team in the league to just 89. And what’s got us all jazzed up is the emergence of James Harden as a legitimate scorer/6th man in this league. He had 18 on 6-of-9 shooting, showcasing the jumper, the drive, and the finish throughout. Dude can flat-out play. Still, Denver just didn’t show up to play early, and the Thunder were cooking. Their second unit brought the lead up above 20 in the second quarter. Once Denver fell behind, it was like the whole crowd was waiting for time to run out. The lead stayed right around 12-16 points for what seemed like forever. Even a crowd as great as OKC’s can get bored once in a while, and they legitimately were for the two middle quarters. It’s very rare to see a NBA game, much less a playoff game, where a team never makes a run. Denver never did. Is there still anyone out there who doesn’t think OKC has a legit shot at going to the Finals this year? … There’s bad Russell Westbrook (21 points) and good Russell Westbrook. Bad Westbrook, the guy who somehow ends more Thunder possessions than Kevin Durant (23 points), surfaced a lot, like in the second quarter when he broke down a play to go one-on-one, took five seconds to decide what to do, and then got called for a charge. Still, OKC has to put up with it because the good Russ is too ill. Westbrook had a play in the second quarter where he spun to split a double team at midcourt, then nearly lost the ball, then spun again in the lane and finished with a finger roll … A rare Nugget highlight: Nene dunked all over Durant in the second quarterKeep reading to see the dominating effect Manu Ginobili has on the Grizzlies… We aren’t sure what San Antonio’s closer-than-it-should-have-been six-point win over the Grizzlies meant. For one, it got them back into the series, and showed that when Manu Ginobili (17 points, four steals) is healthy, they can be deadly. But on the other hand, they could never knock out Memphis, even in a game they had to have and with the Grizzlies coming off the biggest win in their franchise’s history. Memphis proved they aren’t going to die easily. Every time the Spurs jumped out, the Grizz came right back. Early in the third quarter, the Spurs opened the game up, going on a 13-2 run highlighted by a Ginobili steal and dunk, but Memphis charged back. Even after San Antonio went up by eight with a minute left, the Grizz still fought back and cut it to two with 15 seconds left … In his triumphant return, an arm-braced Ginobili showed why he’s probably the most important Spur on the roster (aside from “Red Rocket” Matt Bonner). Add to it that the padded sleeve is a good look for him, much better than the weird gauze Manu sported when he broke his nose a few years back. Ginobili hit a wild step-back jumper off one foot over Tony Allen in the second quarter that had Allen yelling, “That’s bulls@#$!” all the way up the court. Then, when Manu was walking off the court, Allen got into him again. When we watch him on TV, you can tell Ginobili is annoying. Imagine having to guard him? … He means everything to San Antonio. When he was in the game last night, the Spurs were plus-16. Even during the regular season games between these two, when Ginobili played, the Spurs were nearly plus-11. When he wasn’t playing, they were nearly minus-21. Now that he’s into this series, that’s bad news for Memphis … Allen has given Memphis an identity. When you watch the Grizzlies play, everything about them is a reflection of Allen. It’s amazing how much things can change in one year. Last year in Memphis, no one wanted to play defense. Now, they’re the Memphis Crazies: you can’t shake them up because they’re already too crazy, already rough around the edges. We are betting we see Shane Battier throw down with someone during these playoffs just to do it. He probably feels so out of place right now … So after another legit night in the 2011 playoffs, we are pumped for tonight. Chicago-Indiana? Miami-Philly? Portland-Dallas? … We’re out like that weird TNT halftime show.

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