In one series, game 5 might mean the end of the road for one team: The Indiana Pacers host the Washington Wizards while holding a 3-1 lead in the conference semifinals over the visitors. The other series has been too close to call, as the Los Angeles Clippers travel to play the Oklahoma City Thunder with the series tied at 2-2.
As expected, every Thunder loss creates two things: People talking about how Scott Brooks doesn’t know a thing about coaching offense, and the usual criticism of Russell Westbrook and his selfish ways of hogging the ball when the game is on the line. Doc Rivers? He suddenly looks like a genius for going with a small lineup in the fourth quarter and finding ways to slow down Kevin Durant with creative assignments.
Chris Paul guarding Durant got most of the attention, but the player who had the most impact on Durant’s offense was Blake Griffin. The referees actually helped out Durant in that case, putting two ridiculous fouls on Griffin so Rivers had to move away from a pairing that worked very well for him. But now the Thunder will have to find an answer at home to a hole in their system. Small ball has always been a problem for them, and Brooks found out that using a lineup without Perkins and Sefolosha to counter that isn’t going to work.
Adjustments is the name of the game when it comes to coaching in the playoffs. Brooks hasn’t been a master of that through the years at Oklahoma City, leaning on Durant and Westbrook to simply take care of things offensively while the defense usually handles whatever is thrown at them. This time it is slightly different, and their talent advantage might not be enough, barring some supreme performance from their two best players, although some help from the officials which are always willing to help out Durant might be worth something as well.
In Indiana, there’s almost a feeling of the Washington Wizards giving up. They had the game in their hands and let it slip away, losing by three points. As if they did everything possible not to win. John Wall is having a horrendous series, Trevor Ariza isn’t really helping out and it seems that the awakening of Roy Hibbert along with the much improved play from Paul George, mostly individual brilliance, is too much for the Wizards to handle.
There seems to be something fragile about the Pacers that the Wizards scratched in the first game but haven’t been able to get to since. A lot about NBA defending comes from perception, and right now it feels the Wizards are afraid to attack the basket. Going at Hibbert is also a way of hurting his confidence which seems to be the motor behind everything he does. Drawing him away from the basket hasn’t been able to work, so changing their offensive philosophy might be worth a go.