Pacers, Thunder, Warriors on the ropes

The Pacers have been taunted with chants of "overrated" by Hawks fans.
The Pacers have been taunted with chants of "overrated" by Hawks fans.
Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph, left, congratulates Courtney Lee after Lee sank a free throw in the final seconds of the Grizzlies' 98-95 overtime win over the Thunder.

Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph, left, congratulates Courtney Lee after Lee sank a free throw in the final seconds of the Grizzlies' 98-95 overtime win over the Thunder.

Clippers' Blake Griffin shoots over Warriors' Jermaine O'Neal.

Clippers' Blake Griffin shoots over Warriors' Jermaine O'Neal.

Don't look now, but the best team in the eastern conference through the NBA regular season, and a western conference power many had tipped to win it all, are in a deep play-off hole.

The Indiana Pacers, who finished on top of the eastern conference, trail the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks 2-1 after losing 98-85 in Atlanta on Friday. The Hawks finished six games below .500 through the regular season but, in playmaker Jeff Teague and sharpshooter Kyle Korver, have troubled the inconsistent Pacers.

Teague finished with 22 points and 10 assists while Korver added 20 points. For the Pacers Paul George, considered an emerging superstar earlier in the season, and centre Roy Hibbert again struggled. George had only 12 points and Hibbert has only 18 points in the opening three games.

If the pain of the scoreboard wasn't enough, that the Hawks' supporters chanted ''overrated'' at the visitors as they left the floor will surely play on the minds of Frank Vogel's team. So worrying has the Pacers' slump become that Hibbert may losing his starting spot for game four on Sunday Australian time.

''We're going to look at everything,'' Vogel said. ''He [Hibbert] has not played well in the series to this point. But we still have confidence in Roy Hibbert.''

The Pacers have not been afraid to verbally challenge each other in public, and nothing had changed in the locker-room after this defeat. ''We have a dream of winning it all,'' George said. ''We've got be much more tougher than that. I don't think it's there. Our toughness is questionable right now.''

In the west, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each scored 30 for Oklahoma City but it wasn't enough as the Thunder dropped game three 98-95 in over-time to the physical Memphis Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies lead the series 2-1, having prevailed in back-to-back overtime games. Power forward Zach Randolph had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who will attempt to extend their franchise-record 15-game home winning streak when the series resumes on Sunday.

Durant cannot afford to have another night where he missed all eight of his three-point attempts if the Thunder are to avoid heading for a second-straight play-off series loss to the Grizzlies. ''Personally, I think we missed a lot of good looks, some open threes, some lay-ins, some I wish I could take back,'' Durant said.

As was the case in game two, this latest contest featured an improbable four-point play, this time by Westbrook, who tied the game at 85 with 26.6 seconds remaining. Each side then botched an opportunity to claim the win in regulation.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks was confident Durant would regain his long-range groove. ''Kevin is really prideful,'' Brooks said. ''He loves what he does and loves doing it with the guys that he's playing with. He was frustrated a few times with himself missing shots he normally makes in his sleep.''

The Golden State Warriors, missing injured Australian centre Andrew Bogut, have also fallen behind 2-1, after dropping game three 98-96 at home to the Los Angeles Clippers. In an engaging contest between two fierce rivals, it was Clippers' power forward Blake Griffin (32 points) who was the difference in what Clippers coach Doc Rivers described as ''winning ugly''.

''He has just been great. He is making jump shots. I keep going back to his work [rate] – tomorrow we won't do much but he will be back in the gym,'' Rivers said.

The Warriors' ''splash brothers'' pairing of Klay Thompson (26 points) and Steph Curry (16 points, 15 assists) helped spark a late rally but Curry couldn't deliver a late three-pointer to pinch victory. ''This is going to be a long series. We have spoken about that,'' Warriors coach Mark Jackson said.

For Dwight Howard's Houston Rockets, the Charlotte Bobcats and the Chicago Bulls, there's even more to worry about, for each has lost the opening two matches of its series.

The Bulls, simply, have been unable to create and score late in games against the Washington Wizards, while Rockets coach Kevin McHale will face an uncertain future should his team be swept by the Portland Trail Blazers. The Rockets need to curb Blazers centre LaMarcus Aldridge, who has poured in 46 points and 43 in the opening two games.


NBA play-offs:

Eastern conference first round:

Atlanta 2 v Indiana 1

Miami 2 v Charlotte 0

Brooklyn 1 v Toronto 1

Washington 2 v Chicago 0

Western conference first round:

Dallas 1 v San Antonio 1

Memphis 2 v Oklahoma 1

Portland 2 v Houston 0

Los Angeles Clippers 2 v Golden State 1

This story Pacers, Thunder, Warriors on the ropes first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.