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Pacers, Thunder halfway to early playoff elimination

Vogel, Pacers closer to the brink after Game 3 loss
Vogel, Pacers closer to the brink after Game 3 loss
Photo by Kevin C. Cox

The NBA playoffs are supposed to be when the elite flip the switch. Yet this year may have one of the most upset laden first rounds in NBA history, with the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder as the headliners. The Pacers and Thunder reached the halfway point of stunning elimination on April 24, with Indiana getting thumped by the 38-win Atlanta Hawks again while Oklahoma City suffered another heartbreaking overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Hawks' 98-85 victory in Game 3 was reminiscent of their Game 1 triumph over the Pacers. Once again, Atlanta took control in the second half, no one had an answer for Jeff Teague and Indiana stumbled all over itself. Teague was aided by Kyle Korver's 20 points and four three-pointers, with the Hawks sinking 10 three's overall.

The most controversial three came with Atlanta up by 84-78 in the fourth, as Teague appeared to step out of bounds first. Yet officials missed it and could only review whether Teague was behind the line. After that, the Pacers were unable to rally -- and are close to being unable to rally in this series.

While losing this series would be shocking on paper, this may be one of the least shocking big upsets in NBA playoff history, given Indiana's collapse in recent weeks. In fact, Oklahoma City losing to Memphis would be more stunning.

The Thunder were dominated by the Grizzlies in last year's playoffs, but had the loss of Russell Westbrook as an excuse. With Westbrook and Kevin Durant healthy, the Thunder have no excuse not to get revenge. Yet Memphis has a 2-1 series lead after another overtime win by 98-95.

Like the Hawks, the Grizzlies' second win in these NBA playoffs resembled their first. Like in Game 2, Memphis blew a late lead, gave up an unlikely four-point play -- in this case to Westbrook and not Durant -- and looked set to lose in overtime. But once again, the Grizzlies were resilient as they picked themselves up and held off the cold shooting favorites.

Oklahoma City got 30+ points from both Durant and Westbrook, yet shot 5-of-28 from three-point range. The Thunder's struggles are even more sudden than the Pacers, although they face a superior opponent. Yet by this time next week, these two teams that could have met in the NBA finals could be cleaning out their lockers.