Thunder-Lakers Game 4 Preview
Playing Nice in the Postseason
The playoffs are different. The fouls are harder, the preparation is more intense, the defensive schemes are more focused, and the easy shots are memories. The emotional burden can be high; nerves can fray. It's not for everybody.
Here's a peek at a few players who are ahead of the curve in the early going:
The Suns guard started the playoffs as something of a goat. He was the guy who was supposed to be guarding Andre Miller when Miller led Portland to a Game 1 road win. Since Alvin Gentry switched Grant Hill onto Miller, however, Richardson has taken off. It's amazing what two straight scorching-hot shooting nights can do for your production: Today, Richardson leads the entire NBA in playoff PER. Even including his bad early stretch, he's now a ridiculous 14-of-23 from downtown in three games. Thursday night, Richardson had 42 points, as described by Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns: "That's a playoff career high and two shy of an overall career high. He's 24-of-35 (68.6 percent) from the field and 12-of-17 (70.6 percent) from three the past two games, and he's averaging eight boards a game from the shooting guard spot."
The Thunder's MVP candidate is making his playoff debut, is being hounded by a very aggressive Ron Artest and has taken some punishment in the box score -- he has made just 27 of his bullish 74 shots from the floor, and has turned the ball over 14 times compared with just seven assists. But the Thunder are hanging tough with the Lakers, and Durant is a big part of that story.
"There's no human on the planet who would score efficiently against what the Lakers are doing to Kevin Durant," David Thorpe says. "It is very clear their game plan is to stop him at all costs, and we're not talking about a bad defensive team. Maybe you'd prefer he shoot 68 shots instead of 74, but generally the Thunder need him to stay aggressive. If he passed a ton more, they'd have even more turnovers because that's not what they do. And he was pretty great in Game 3, I thought. His guarding Kobe Bryant in crunch time was the story of the playoffs so far."
Schedule: Saturday, April 24
PORTLAND -- Brandon Roy has returned for Game 4 of the Portland Trail Blazers' first round series against Phoenix today, after making a rapid recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery just nine days ago. A shocked Rose Garden Arena crowd erupted in roars after he checked in with 4:06 left in the first quarter -- with the theme from "Rocky" playing.
A team source said Roy couldn't hurt his surgically repaired left knee any more because the surgery itself -- for a partially torn meniscus in his left knee -- was much less invasive than originally expected. At first, the prognosis was that he'd be out four-to-six weeks; that was later adjusted to one-to-two weeks, and today's return means he's at the low end of that scale.
Roy "wouldn't take no for an answer," according to the source, and insisted he play after working out yesterday and earlier today. Unusually, the team conducted a shootaround until just before the 90-minute window when they're required to allow the other team onto the court; that, presumably, was to test the feasibility of activating Roy.
Blazers owner Paul Allen was in on the decision and fervently supported it, according to the source. Roy isn't in basketball shape but presumably would give a big lift to a Blazers team that has been blown in its past two games and trails two games to one in their best-of-seven series.
Playing Naughty in the Playoffs
Is it just me? There have also been some serious goats [in this postseason]. The playoffs expose things about certain players. Maybe they're hampered by injuries. Maybe there's a game plan against which they cannot be effective. Maybe they don't like the increased intensity and physicality. Maybe the referees call things differently. In any case, any player will tell you the playoffs are different, and that doesn't suit everybody.
They are among those for whom, for whatever reason, these playoffs have been more nightmare than dream.
The Hawks' bench
The Hawks have been a very strong team so far -- it's nearly impossible to imagine they'll lose in the first round, which you can't say about many teams. But make no mistake, it's because of their starters (some of whom have blow-your-mind adjusted plus/minus numbers in the early going). Their backups, however, have been bad. Bret Lagree of Hoopinion: "The Hawks bench is a collective nine of 32 from the floor with 12 rebounds, six assists, and seven turnovers in 150 minutes. Zaza Pachulia, Joe Smith and Jeff Teague all have negative PERs through two games."
The Blazers' Spanish shooting guard has spent long portions of the playoffs wide open, and apparently suffering from some dreadful newfound lack of aggression. He has quibbled in the past with his role, minutes and touches, but now he's starting for injured Brandon Roy, the bright lights are on and he has suddenly gone reticent. After playing long minutes in three straight Portland games, he has managed to put the ball in the basket just six times, four of which came in a late-game flicker of life near the end of another blowout loss in Game 3.