Pulse of the NBA
By Andy Roth, Contributing Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Oklahoma City Thunder barely survived their opening- round series with the Memphis Grizzlies with their playground style of play, but I have a feeling that won't be the case against the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round.
The Thunder got to the NBA Finals in 2012 before losing to the Miami Heat with this style of play, but that's when they had a third major offensive option with James Harden.
In Game 1 against the Clippers Monday night, we saw the usual heavy doses of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook pounding the ball into the floor while the rest of the guys on the floor were spectators.
Meanwhile, the Clippers had Chris Paul brilliantly orchestrating the offense, with coach Doc Rivers' team getting lots of ball movement and a ton of good looks at the hoop.
Sure, the Clippers were lights out from the floor, hitting 15-of-29 from 3- point range, including Paul's 8-of-9, but there was so much more of a flow to their offense compared to what coach Scott Brooks was running with the Thunder. Paul and Blake Griffin combined for 15 assists and three turnovers in the opening game, while Durant and Westbrook had eight assists and nine turnovers.
There's no doubting Durant's greatness - he's the league MVP this season - but he doesn't make other players better to the level of the elite players on other title contenders such as Paul, LeBron James and Tony Parker.
It's also very clear that Westbrook should not be playing the point and the Thunder need someone who really knows how to run an offense and get his teammates involved.
And finally, it's very evident it's time for a coaching change in Oklahoma City. Despite the shortcomings of Durant and Westbrook as playmakers, Brooks has to know that no team has won a championship playing playground basketball.
Like the Thunder, the Indiana Pacers narrowly escaped a huge opening-round upset, and like Oklahoma City, they look like they'll exit here in the second round against the Washington Wizards.
After finally waking up in Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks with a 13-point, seven-rebound performance, Roy Hibbert looked like the awful player he's been for more than three months in Monday's Game 1 loss to the Wizards.
The 7-foot-2, 290-pound center didn't pull down a rebound or score a point in 18 minutes, and committed two turnovers and five fouls.
The Pacers survived Hibbert's terrible performance against the Hawks, but they won't be able to do that against a much more talented Wizards team.
"We're at the point where we really need Roy and we need him now," Pacers star Paul George said following Monday's loss.
David West also knows how important it is for their All-Star center to do his part, saying after Game 1 that the team plans to "keep encouraging" Hibbert and that he has to "be a part of the fight."
Hibbert averaged just over 21 minutes a game against the Hawks. They need more minutes and more production out of him against the Wizards, who are bigger and more talented up front.
But given how long he's played so poorly, it's unlikely Hibbert will give the Pacers what they need to win this series.
In the other Eastern Conference semifinal, the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat seemed to coast through their Game 1 matchup with the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday night and still managed a 21-point win.
The Nets only had three players score in double figures, with Kevin Garnett being held scoreless in a playoff game for the first time in his career.
Garnett and Andray Blatche combined for just four points and eight rebounds after averaging 21 points and 15 rebounds in the final two wins in closing out the series against the Toronto Raptors.
The 4-0 regular-season sweep by Brooklyn now seems like a distant memory. It also means the Nets will have to get "A" games from most of their prominent players - which appears unlikely against such a great defensive team - to make the Heat sweat a little.
While the Nets were at least in the game Tuesday night for a little more than a half, the Portland Trail Blazers were basically out of it once the ball was tipped in their series opener against the San Antonio Spurs as the defending Western Conference champs put on a clinic in their 116-92 rout.
The Blazers had major problems defending Parker (33 points, nine assists) in the pick-and-roll, and generally had a lot of difficulty with all the off-the- ball cuts and ball movement by San Antonio.
On the defensive end, Tiago Splitter did an excellent job on LaMarcus Aldridge, especially making the All-Star power forward work for everything he got in the low post.
Aldridge finished with 32 points, but he was just 5-for-15 in the first half and scored 11 points when the game was basically decided as the Blazers trailed by 26 at halftime.
I thought going into the series Portland would give the Spurs all they could handle, but it's hard to feel that way after Game 1.
05/07 11:43:25 ET