Will it be do or die in Game 6s?
Three Game 6s on Thursday night, three teams with their backs against the wall. Can the Pacers, Thunder and Warriors keep their seasons alive? Our writers weigh in on six questions in honor of tonight's Game 6s.
1. Fact or Fiction: The Pacers will be eliminated in Game 6.
Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: Fiction. So far, it has been impossible to predict when the Pacers pull it together. So far, it has happened, if only briefly, in Games 2 and 4. So why not keep to the even numbers theory and say Indiana wins Game 6? Seriously, that's how confusing the Pacers have been. With everything officially on the line, perhaps the best Indy comes out.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Fiction. Over the years I've built up an aversion to trusting the Atlanta Hawks. That's not entirely fair to this particular Hawks team, a well-coached unit that flings 3-pointers from all over. I just expect the Pacers to look more like a No. 1 seed now that they're on the brink of elimination. Desperation should compel them toward playing the kind of perimeter defense they played earlier this season.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Fiction. While the Pacers have been embarrassing themselves since the All-Star break, the first round has brought the struggle to new lows -- and it has largely been a product of Frank Vogel's refusal to adjust and use different personnel. He wanted to beat the Hawks by staying big even as his opponent spread the floor with five shooters. It hasn't worked, but there is enough talent on his roster to switch courses, match Atlanta stylistically and win. Tonight, I think he will -- finally -- choose victory over principles.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Fiction. I picked them to reach the conference finals, and I'm sticking with it. I'm prepared to go down with the ship, just like Frank Vogel.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Fiction. Every bit of common sense says they will be. After mysteriously falling flat at home in Game 5, it appeared as if the Pacers were ready for their fishing trip. But I won't believe the Hawks will eliminate the Pacers until I see it. I fully realize what has been happening with the Pacers the last couple of months, but this is still a good team that just needs to sort themselves out. I think.
2. Fact or Fiction: The Thunder will be eliminated in Game 6.
Gutierrez: Fiction. I just have a hard time believing the combination of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook goes out like this. Hard to believe that Durant, after shooting 37 percent in the last four games of this series, will continue to shoot this poorly, regardless of Tony Allen's presence.
Strauss: Fiction. The Thunder finally discovered small ball after trailing big in the last game. You can't depend on Scott Brooks learning from the past, but they're on the brink now. Fear sometimes does the work of reason. Look for Brooks to go with what worked in Game 5.
Wade: Fiction. In any single playoff game, I'm picking the team with the most talent. That remains the squad with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka in uniform. At home, the Grizzlies are more likely to score at a reasonable rate, but I can't see Durant going out like this.
Windhorst: Fiction. I picked Durant as the MVP, and I'm sticking with him. I'm prepared to go down with the ship, just like Scott Brooks.
Young: Fact. Insanity is the Thunder, most specifically Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, doing the same things over and over but expecting different results. We keep telling ourselves the Thunder's superduo is just in a slump and that they're merely missing shots. But it's time to face the music: The Grizzlies have the Thunder's number, and Scott Brooks has been unable to sort out the issues.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Warriors will be eliminated in Game 6.
Gutierrez: Fiction. Mostly because I like Game 7s, but also because, with their season and possibly their coach's job on the line on their home floor, the Warriors will play maniacal basketball. If Steph Curry is anywhere near as hot as he was to start Game 4, the crowd at Oracle Arena can carry Golden State the rest of the way.
Strauss: Fact. It's commendable the Warriors pushed this to six, considering they're without their starting center and DPOY candidate Andrew Bogut. Right now they're too small up front, and they lack the depth to withstand foul trouble to either Draymond Green or David Lee.
Wade: Fact. Everything surrounding the Clippers still feels bigger than basketball, and I think they will ride that wave to another win tonight. This will be the first time in a week that a game won't be clouded by chaos and emotions, and the relative return to normalcy should enable a level of relief and focus that will fuel Los Angeles to victory, even in the Oracle.
Windhorst: Fact. By the end of these playoffs, the MVP of the Clippers might end up being Donald Sterling. They're now America's team. Think about that one.
Young: Fiction. The Warriors' imposing home-court advantage is something to have faith in, but don't overlook how well they played in Game 5 against an emotional, desperate Clippers team. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are more potent in their own building, and as they proved in Game 4, a couple early shots drop and the avalanche is on.
4. Fact or Fiction: Frank Vogel deserves the most blame if Indiana loses.
Gutierrez: Fiction. The Pacers' problems have been about team makeup, stubborn play and a shrinking Roy Hibbert. Yes, Vogel is largely responsible for identifying those issues and attempting to solve them, but this goes deeper than any head coach.
Strauss: Fiction. Should he be punished for this roster looking better at the beginning of the season?
Wade: Fact. Virtually nobody is blameless for the regular-season tailspin; Ian Mahinmi and C.J. Watson are the closest. But the reason the Hawks are outplaying the Pacers has more to do with matchups and tactical basketball adjustments. Vogel has either refused to make any or chosen the wrong ones. If he can't figure out how to use the versatile skill sets available on his bench to beat a team of limited players who rely on 3-pointers, that's almost entirely on him.
Windhorst: Fiction. But that's what will happen because the coach is always the first to get blamed. He's been a little slow to make adjustments, and that will be the reason he's let go if it happens, but his team has also emotionally gone flat on him.
Young: Fiction. The finger always points first at the head coach, but Vogel didn't forget how to do his job overnight. He's been lauded the past two years as one of the rising stars in coaching, but some kind of virus has infected his locker room, and he hasn't been able to find the antidote. He shares in the blame, absolutely, but it doesn't all fall on him.
5. Fact or Fiction: Scott Brooks deserves the most blame if OKC loses.
Gutierrez: Faction. "Most" of the blame should almost always go to the players, especially when you have two of, arguably, the best 10 in the game. But of the three coaches discussed here, Brooks probably deserves more of the blame, because he has two of the best 10 players and can't find an answer to Memphis' one-man wrecking ball, Tony Allen.
Strauss: Fact. The offense looks ad hoc, which might have worked well back when his players were too young to succeed with complicated sets. They're older now, and the Grizzlies are disrupting a team with no Plan B. That's on Brooks.
Wade: Fiction. This team has been too successful for far too long to claim that the limitations of Scott Brooks' offense are the cause of the downfall. While the late-game play calling and the general lack of offensive creativity remains troubling, the core of this team has been living and thriving under this system for years. If they can't do the same now and outscore the impotent Grizzlies offense, that is the fault of the players.
Windhorst: Fiction. The guys missing the shots should get the blame. But again, the coach goes first. He has not reacted strongly enough, yet, at least, to the Grizzlies' strategy with Durant.
Young: Faction. It's kind of a chicken-or-the-egg situation with Brooks. On one hand, is it his fault his two stars have combined to shoot the ball miserably, with Kevin Durant shooting just 37 percent from the floor the last four games? But on the other, isn't it his fault that his team is so reliant on two players, and with a little physicality and ball denial, the Grizzlies have been able to completely disrupt the Thunder's overly simplistic offense?
6. Fact or Fiction: Mark Jackson deserves the most blame if G.S. loses.
Gutierrez: Fiction. Jackson is still a coach learning on the job, and so far his record would indicate he's improving. The Clippers are legitimate championship contenders, and the Warriors are short a critical interior defender in Andrew Bogut. Perhaps Jackson needs to work on relationships with assistant coaches, but he shouldn't get the ax, regardless of how this season ends.
Strauss: Fiction. He didn't throw a javelin at Andrew Bogut's ribs. Still, there could be criticism in how Golden State handled the Bogut situation, considering that he initially hurt his ribs against the Nuggets before playing Portland and suffering the fracture. Why wasn't he resting?
Wade: Fiction. Andrew Bogut's genetics or the Gods of Health deserve top billing. Beating a team as dynamic as the Clippers was always going to be an uphill trudge without the Aussie center, and the way Doc Rivers limited Curry in Game 5 only further showed the personnel challenges Mark Jackson faces now that his interior presence has been taken away. There seem to be some season-long, let's say, curiosities surrounding Jackson, but many coaches would prove unable to beat these Clippers -- especially right now.
Windhorst: Fiction. I almost never feel the coach is fully to blame. There are injuries, and there was his team's focus and inconsistent effort that cost them numerous winnable games, and they slid to the No. 6 seed.
Young: Fiction. It's easy to get caught up in progress and expectations and overlook the positive development of this team over the last two seasons. The Warriors were always going to be in a difficult position against the Clippers without Andrew Bogut, and as DeAndre Jordan's 25 and 18 showed in Game 5, they probably could really use their starting center. And I don't think Jackson's to blame for that.