A lot of things change and can go wrong once teams hit the road in the playoffs, but a 2-0 lead that both the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies have built for themselves seems like a solid foundation for a stepping stone towards the conference semifinals, in playoff series that seem pretty much over.
The Hawks took the two-game lead over the Brooklyn Nets with a 96-91 win. It’s not smooth sailing for them in the games, with their defense, especially for the second unit, is suffering without Thabo Sefolosha which hurts their ability to run the open floor, but Paul Millsap looks healthy, scoring 19 points on 7-of-11 from the field. Their 38.9% from the field had more to do with missing open shots than not getting good looks.
Al Horford had a fantastic game with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists, although he’s still struggling in keeping Brook Lopez contained. Lopez scored 20 points on 8-of-15 from the field, getting a lot more balls inside than in the previous game. Joe Johnson scored 19 points (that Sefolosha thing hurting the Hawks again) and Jarrett Jack scored 23 points to lead them off the bench.
The Nets looked about as good as in the first game, but it comes down to not making enough plays and especially stops. Atlanta’s speed and ability to stretch the floor (Kyle Korver scored 17 points) keeps getting to them, and without a way of doing better when the game hits a faster pace, heading home for games 3 and 4 isn’t going to do much in regards to changing the outcome of the series.
In the West, things are a bit more one sided in the series between the #4 and #5 teams. The Memphis Grizzlies might have had a slow start to the game, but ended up beating the Portland Trail Blazers 97-82 as the defense limited their rivals to bad shots, hitting only 39% from the field. Right now, it seems that more than in any other series, the favorites have their rivals perfectly figured out.
The Grizzlies aren’t doing anything special or playing exceptional basketball, at least not on offense. Mike Conley and Courtney Lee scored 18 points each, helping make up for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combining to shoot just 9-of-31 from the field. With the kind of defense and their ability to clog the lane, they Grizzlies can afford those misses.
The Blazers seem lost. Arron Afflalo didn’t play with a sore right shoulder, which meant Alan Crabbe (3 points in 23 minutes) starting. C.J. McCollum got more minutes, but he was awful with 3-of-13 from the field. The only player that can beat others off the dribble, Damian Lillard, is in the wrong kind of form and isn’t deferring to others. The Blazers simply seem like a team with bad things happening to them at the worst possible time.