Friday night’s NBA playoff results were a friendly reminder of who’s in charge until someone proves otherwise.
Chicago and Golden State were riding high, playing their first home games after gaining a split on the road in their conference semifinals series. Both had chances to take 2-1 leads. Instead, both were brought back down to earth with 10-point losses compliments of playoff fixtures Miami and San Antonio.
The defending world champion Heat has been to two straight NBA Finals and finished with a league-best 66-16 record this season. The Spurs were Western Conference finalists last season and one of the NBA’s most successful franchise of the last 15 years.
So will today’s games put the higher-seeded team back in control?
The Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers also gained a split on the road and will be at home for the first time in the semis. The Grizzlies are looking to take a 2-1 lead against the defending Western Conference champion Thunder while the Pacers are trying to get a leg up on New York and advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in nine seasons.
As Berry Tramel pointed out in his column this morning, only the Heat, Spurs and Grizzlies are operating with a “full deck” when it comes to good health. Russell Westbrook’s absence instantaneously transported OKC from being the top seed to being viewed as an underdog. When the Thunder scratched and clawed its way past No. 8-seeded Houston in the opening round last week, it appeared big, bad Memphis would have little trouble shoving OKC out of the way and waltzing to the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder undeniably is better than it was a week ago. If it can continue to show steady improvement without Westbrook, perhaps OKC’s chances of repeating as Western Conference champs aren’t so farfetched.
The Grizzlies have been in control much of the series, leading for 74:45 of the 96:00 minutes thus far. Memphis’ biggest lead has been 12 while the Thunder has never led by more than five. Actually, these teams have spent most of their time side-by-side on the scoreboard with an astonishing 36 lead changes and 24 ties so far.
Memphis recaptured home-court advantage by winning Game 2 at Chesapeake Energy Arena and is a 5-point favorite to win Game 3 at 4 p.m. today at FedExForum. But with a victory, the Thunder could take a significant step toward maintaining the status quo just as the Heat and Spurs did Friday night.
- John Rohde