The cliché that offense wins games, defense wins championships has always held true, but on Tuesday, we saw evidence that defense wins games too.
In both of last night’s NBA playoff matchups, defense proved the determining factor. It’s just a simple fact that teams who win commit to defending, consistently getting a hand into passing lanes and the faces of shooters, fighting around screens and protecting the rim. Last night, Memphis and New York showed why they’ve made it this far.
Looking at the Knicks and Pacers game, the statistic that stands out is the late third quarter and most of the fourth quarter in which the Knicks had a 30-2 run. You read that right, the disparity reached 36-4 before the Pacers found the ability to score again.
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Indiana took a 64-62 lead with 2:40 seconds left in the third, but New York would take control of the game with domineering defensive play that saw them force six turnovers during the span and allow Indiana just one offensive rebound. In the fourth, the Pacers did not muster a field goal or point on the board until there was just 4:48 remaining on the clock.
Yes, the Knicks offense clicked during that span, but they could have shot 20 percent from the field and taken a commanding lead. Closing out quarters is a great way to steal the momentum from your opponent and the Knicks did just that with an 18-9 run at the end of the first and a 10-2 at the end of the third.
For the game, New York forced 21 turnovers and had seven players snag at least one steal. Kenyon Martin has become every bit the rim protector that Tyson Chandler is during this postseason and notched a pair of blocks in this one. When the Knicks play like this defensively, Carmelo Anthony’s shooting woes don’t mean much and their reliance on three point shooting is excusable.
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In Oklahoma City, the talk will center around Mike Conley and his ability to score big buckets down the stretch for the Grizzlies, but the team defense is what made the difference, particularly in terms of slowing down Kevin Durant late in the game.
Durant still went off on the night, finishing with 36 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists, but down the stretch Memphis used suffocating double teams to pressure the ball from Durant’s hands and to force him into impossible shots from long range. Tony Allen was massive on both ends of the floor, but perhaps no stat was bigger for the veteran guard than his five steals.
Allen was key on the play that sealed the game for the Grizzlies as Durant turned his back on him near the three point line. Allen pulled the chair out from behind Durant and watched the star fall to the floor losing control of the ball before tipping it to Marc Gasol to get things moving the other way.
Memphis is the best defensive team in the league and a big threat to OKC because of that strength. The Grizzlies dominated the painted area on Tuesday winning the rebounding battle 43-35 and forced 19 turnovers from the Thunder leading to an 18-7 fast break point advantage. They were much more effective in shutting down Kevin Martin on the night limiting him to just six points after a 25 point game one.
If the Thunder are going to get past Memphis, they’ll have to learn how to deal with the intensity of Memphis’ defense and relieve Durant during key moments down the stretch. Memphis will continue to pressure the ball and if Allen makes the kind of night he had on Tuesday a regular thing, the Grizzlies will be headed to the Western Conference finals.