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Are The Green Bay Packers Getting It Going At The Right Time?

(photo courtesy of Associated Press)

(photo courtesy of Associated Press)

The Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins were going in opposite directions going into the playoffs. The Packers entered the playoffs on a two-game losing streak. They had been embarrassed on national television against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16 38-8. And in the season finale going for the division crown, the Packers lost to the Vikings at home 20-13. The feeling around the Packers were that they had some issues on both sides of the football. Defensively, the Packers were solid up front. But in their secondary, there were some things going on there that were not conducive to good defense. Who can forget how the Cardinals had some fun at their expense in Week 16? But not to be left out, the offense definitely had their share of issues. The running game has been inconsistent all season long for the Packers offense and Eddie Lacy had not been himself. The wide receivers had not been able to get separation so Rodgers could throw them the ball. And the offensive line has been depleted all year. The feeling some in media had was that the hot team, the Washington Redskins, were better than the Packers at this point in the season. And if they were able to come out and jump on the Packers, then the Redskins would be marching on to the next game. But little did we know, the real Packers would come to play.

The Redskins came out and shook up Green Bay at first. The Redskins sacked Rogers in the endzone making it 2-0. And the Redskins took the next possession and drove it all the way down into Packers territory. From there, the Redskins squandered an opportunity while the Packers stood up. The Redskins thought they had scored when DeSean Jackson ran a dig across the field and got free. It appeared Jackson beat the defender to the pylon, but unfortunately Jackson did not stick the ball inside the pylon. That nullified the touchdown and put the ball at one-yard line. From there, the Packers defense made a stand. They stuffed the Redskins three straight times to force a field goal. The result of doing that missed opportunity was the potential four points that was left out there. The Packers had not shown that type of resolve in a few weeks and when put in a tough situation, they responded to the adversity instead of crumbling under the pressure. And as far as the running game, the Redskins had only 84 total rushing yards. That is outstanding rush defense.

But this was not all the Packers defense did. The aforementioned DeSean Jackson is an electrifying player. He can score from any angle on the field and make it look real nice while it’s happening. Against the Packers, it seemed the defense was clued into him and his abilities. And even though tight end Jordan Reed had a great day(9 receptions for 120 yards and 1 touchdown), the Packers were able to hold Jackson to just two receptions for 17 yards, with his longest being that reception that he should have scored on. The Packers communicated with each other and in doing so, helped each other do their jobs and keep Jackson in check. He did test them a few times down the field, but Green Bay was right there to swat the ball away. The young defensive backs of the Green Bay Packers (Quinten Rollins, Damarious Randle) handled the pressure of keeping up with Jackson and the Redskins passing attack quite well. And as a whole, the defense held the duo of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson to under 100 yards total. That kind of defense, along with them putting heat on Cousins all game, will make any offense uncomfortable.

The defense played well, but the offense turned a corner on Sunday. It looked like the fun was out of the game in the last few weeks for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He was visibly frustrated at what was going on. He started off rough, but he soon found his rhythm. He would end up getting it going in the passing game to Randall Cobb, James Jones and Davante Adams. The one that got him even more pumped up was the score before halftime. The defense had held the Redskins before the two-minute warning and got the ball back to the offense. And the Packers took it 60 yards for the score before halftime. That throw and that drive let people know that Rodgers was really feeling good and the confidence the offense was missing had started to reappear. Rodgers would only throw for 210 yards, but he was solid and looked like he was at the beginning of the year. And as far as the offensive line, they held up admirably after giving up the sack for a safety early in the game.

The passing game looked good, but the element of the run was a welcomed addition to this game. All season there has been no consistency there. When Lacy and James Starks were present, the team and the offense looked better and was able to win. When Lacy and Starks were not running the ball well, the Packers faced even more challenges to their offense. Sunday, the Packers’ running backs came out and ran the ball hard and tough. Eddie Lacy ran for 63 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown, including a crucial 30 yard run in the second half. And as for James Starks, he ran for 53 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. When these two are running the football with conviction and toughness, the Packers are a tough team to beat. And with the holes the Packers offensive line was opening, it was definitely a sight for sore eyes to see that size of a hole. But what made their performances even better is they did not have to have the big holes to make yardage. There were a few times that Starks and Lacy had to duck their heads and get what they could get. And both realized that and did what they had to do. Eventually, they helped tire out the defense and make Aaron Rodgers even more lethal. When a passer like Rodgers gets a running game, it can keep the defenses guessing all game long. And that is something you don’t want with Rodgers at the helm.

Overall, the Packers looked like a much different team than they did the last few weeks of the year. And because of the polish they showed, they looked like the team that everyone thought they would be all season long. After this 35-18 win, the Packers head back to the desert to play the Arizona Cardinals next weekend. It will be interesting if they can carry the momentum from this win to next week or if it was just a win against the winner of a pretty bad division.

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Matthew Dellavedova Brought The Grit As The Cleveland Cavaliers Win Game 2

LeBron James and Matthew Dellavedova celebrate after a win. (photo credit Gus Chan of The Cleveland Plain Dealer)

LeBron James and Matthew Dellavedova celebrate after a win. (photo credit Gus Chan of The Cleveland Plain Dealer)

The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors went at it again at Oracle Arena for Game 2. The task was monumental for LeBron and the Cavs, as they were playing without their star guard, Kyrie Irving. The Cavs came out inspired and they were up by 11 late in the game, but the Warriors roared back behind big shots by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala. But in overtime, the one guy that many viewed as a liability for Cleveland in Game 1 came through in the clutch. Matthew Dellavedova was an afterthought in Game 1. He played only 10 minutes in the first game and he was so forgotten that the Cavaliers team bus actually left him at the arena. But in Game 2 when it really mattered, he played hard, fought for everything and was arguably the second-most important man on the court for the Cavs. His stats were not overly impressive this game (9 points on 3/13 shooting, 5 rebounds and 1 assist), but it was the little things that made him one of the stars of the game.

Everyone remembers the plays that were made by Kyrie Irving against Steph Curry during Game 1. Curry had two of his shots rejected while going to the basket against Irving, including the potential game-winning layup at the end of Game 1. But being that Irving was injured for Game 2 and the rest of the series, not many gave Matthew Dellavedova, affectionately called Delly by Cleveland fans, a chance at all. Many expected Curry to take it to him offensively. After all, Curry was giving him fits when he was guarding Dellavedova defensively and Curry was having his way against him when he got his shot offensively. But going into Game 2, it seemed that Dellavedova took it to Curry just a little bit more. The thing he did the most against Curry was take away his air space. Usually Curry has some room to operate and run off screens when he gives up the ball offensively. This game, Curry felt Delly everywhere he went on the court. Curry was not fouled by Delly, but the defense was enough to make Curry uncomfortable. Delly not only played physical with Curry but he moved his feet defensively better than some thought. Delly was able to stay in front of Curry for most of the game, minus one open court layup where Curry gave him the business. That seemed to frustrate Curry and also made Curry take some tough shots where he had his momentum leaning away from the basket. Of course Curry usually hits some of these tough shots and he hit a big shot down the stretch from three-point range, but they were not falling tonight and most of that credit has to go to Cleveland’s underdog point guard. Curry did not hit one shot against him all night.

Delly was clicking defensively, but earlier in the game he was giving the Cavaliers nothing offensively. In the first half, Dellavedova was just turning the basketball over. He was trying to throw the lob to some of the Cleveland big men, but it was not working like it had in previous series. He also was jacking up shots way too quickly with a lot of time left on the game clock. He kept on doing some of the same unexplainable things in the second half. At one point, there had to be some question as to what else he could give on the offensive end and how could they hide him. But when the fourth quarter came around, it seemed like Delly saw the bright lights and felt it was time to make things happen. The Warriors dared him to shoot the basketball off a pick-and-roll at the top of the screen twice and Delly obliged them. But what he did smart was counted on the floater that he was missing earlier in the game. He hit two straight floaters in the fourth quarter and then hit a big three off the assist of LeBron James. That was thought to be enough if it were not for the huge collapse the Cavaliers had in the fourth quarter. But in overtime, just like in the fourth quarter, Delly made a huge play when it counted. The Cavs were down one point with the ball when James Jones missed a three-pointer with 10 seconds left. One guy the Cavaliers were expecting to be in the paint fighting for the ball was rebound machine Tristian Thompson. But he was not by himself in that battle because there was small, gritty Dellavedova fighting and clawing on the boards. He was fouled by Harrison Barnes and he hit two free throws to put the Cavaliers up one point. And that was a lead the Cavaliers would not relinquish. Besides the play of LeBron during the game, his effort on that one play alone was the play of the game. His grittiness definitely helped Cleveland pull out this victory.

Going forward, Dellavedova can be key in how Cleveland does. He is a gritty defender and can cause havoc and muck up the game. For Cleveland to win, he has to play this way and so does the entire team. James is definitely the straw that stirs the drink for the Cavs, but Dellavedova was definitely the spark plug to the Cavs mentality change going into this game. For Cleveland fans, they hope Delly shows up like this again in Game 3 minus the turnovers and bad shot selection at time. The Cavs probably will not see Steph Curry have another shooting night like he had in Game 2, but in this game, Delly had the upper hand. And going into Game 3, it will be interesting to see how Curry counteracts the physical defense Dellavedova played on Curry.

For more sports talk, feel free to follow me on Twitter and check me out on Facebook.

Three Reasons The Atlanta Hawks Are About To Be Eliminated From The Eastern Conference Finals

Jeff Teague is a part of an Atlanta team that is fading fast in the Eastern Conference Finals (photo courtesy of www.ajc.com)

Jeff Teague is a part of an Atlanta team that is fading fast in the Eastern Conference Finals (photo courtesy of http://www.ajc.com)

The Atlanta Hawks were the top seed heading into their series versus the Cleveland Cavaliers but it did not seem like it. The Hawks had struggled to win series against the Washington Wizards and the Brooklyn Nets before facing the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs, on the other hand, had an easy matchup versus the Boston Celtics and got a little push from the Chicago Bulls. And even without the services of Love since the first series, it seems like the Cavs have taken it to another level and have blown through the playoffs. Some expected a good battle between both teams. After all, Atlanta was nicknamed “Spurs East” due to their ball movement and their head coach, Mike Budenholzer, who was a longtime assistant in the Spurs organization. But there were others that looked at this team and were waiting on the Cavs to taken them apart like they did to the Celtics and Bulls. Well, at this point we are still waiting on any semblance of a series to show up. The Cavaliers have handled the Hawks pretty easily through the first three games on their way to a 3-0 series lead. It’s hard to believe that the #1 seed in the East could be getting swept so late in the postseason and so soundly. But there are three big reasons why this is happening to them and why Tuesday will more than likely be their last game in the playoffs.

Like was mentioned before, the Hawks are a team that moves the basketball a lot. The constant cutting, movement and passing has led to the Hawks being able to find high-percentage shots created by all the action going on offensively. And as a result, the Hawks averaged 102.5 points per game and were a difficult matchup for teams due to their multitude of players that can step away from the basket and shoot a three pointer. But in the playoffs, it seems as if the movement has gotten worse and worse. They had some ball movement versus the Nets and the Wizards, but it seems as if that motion has come to a halt. Part of that is the defense of Cleveland, which has been the best in the postseason. But the Atlanta Hawks have to take most of the blame in this one. They have become a stagnant offense in the playoffs and it seems like Budenholzer cannot get them out of their tailspin. Instead of the ball movement that was attributed to their offense, the Hawks have now become a more isolation-oriented offense. And with that type of style, the Hawks will never win, as evidence by this series. The best thing for them to do would be to stop looking at the matchups and where they may have the size advantage. By doing that, maybe it will bring some of the focus back to what made the Hawks so dangerous this season. Of course it will be a little bit harder for them to attempt to dig out of this hole, but it is something that would not be deemed impossible either.

Another thing that has helped them into their 3-0 is their lack of rebounding. The Hawks have not been considered a team that has been great rebounding this season. In fact, they were ranked in the bottom half of rebounding this season (ranked 28th in the NBA). Atlanta was successful in the regular season despite the lack of rebounding on both ends of the court. But as the postseason has gone on, they have definitely been exposed in the paint. They came into this series versus Cleveland ranked as the 11th worst rebounding team out of 16 teams. A successful playoff team should never be that low and when they are, they should know that it will catch up to them. Well it took a while, but the Cavaliers have been punishing the Hawks on the boards this series. As it stands before Game 4, the Hawks are a have been beat on the boards every game and are an astonishing -41 on the boards for the series. Tristian Thompson, LeBron James and Timofey Mozgov have been tearing it up on the boards while the Hawks have been missing shots and missing blockouts on the offensive end as well. As a result, the Cavaliers seem to get more shots each game and they also seem to be the tougher team. The Hawks never adjusted to the physicality of the Cavaliers and it is evident not only in the rebounding, but the games.

But the biggest reason the Hawks are down is they have no superstar or star guy that takes over when times get tough. Taking a look at the teams left in the playoffs, they all have a guy they can go to when the offense gets tough and stagnant. Steph Curry (Golden State), James Harden (Houston) and LeBron James (Cleveland) have been coming through for their respective teams and carrying them when it is evident their teams need someone to step up. All three of these guys make plays and can elevate the roles players around them to new levels of productivity. For the Hawks, they have some good players, but not one that can make other teams pay no matter what they do. It is commendable they have made it this far without one, but for the future, Atlanta will need that one guy to take over and make their offense go. Al Horford is a good post player, but he is not taking over when the going gets tough for them. All the Hawks have to do is look at their opponent to see how much a star player can help in tough times. The Cavaliers have been playing without Kevin Love since the Chicago Bulls series and have been missing Kyrie Irving the last two games. But despite those absences, the team still wins and it is all because of the LeBron James setting the table. He has not only scored when they needed it, but he has also made players like Matthew Dellavedova and veteran James Jones effective on the offensive end by setting the table for them. Having that star takeover has gotten them through the absences and the tough times and that is something a team trying to win a title needs. And unfortunately for Atlanta, they do not have that guy.

As it stands, it looks like the Hawks great season is going to go by the wayside in embarrassing fashion. They more than likely will lose the fourth game in this series and be going on vacation earlier than they though. But most of it is in their own doing. Sure, there have been some questionable calls and there may be some plays that bothered the Hawks and made tempers rise, but the Hawks cannot blame any of those on the execution of their offense and lack of rebounding. The star power search is up to the front office of their team. And even though there is one candidate in Jeff Teague that could be a star for them, he unfortunately has not reached the level they want him to just yet. The season has been a whirlwind for the Hawks, but the time has come for them to head to the offseason and the Cavs are going to take them there with a broom in hand.

TEM’s Divisional Playoff Weekend Preview: New York Giants vs Green Bay Packers

The Pack have been the favorite since the beginning of the year. The Giants weren’t even supposed to be here in some people’s eyes. But no matter what we all think, what we do know is that these two teams had a really competitive game in the New Meadowlands. Now we get to see Round 2, except this time, its in Green Bay.

QB Eli Manning was hitting the big play with consistency last week. And no player was bigger for him in the passing game than WR Hakeem Nicks. This week, expect Nicks to have the advantage again in his matchup. He will more than likely be facing CB Sam Shields while CB Charles Woodson will be in the slot. But for as good as the Giants were in the passing game, they must be equally impressive in the running game. If RBs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are effective, they keep Packers QB Aaron Rodgers off the field. Another thing the Giants have to do is account for LB Clay Matthews. He can wreck a game if the Giants don’t control him and Eli could be under duress all game.

QB Aaron Rodgers is the MVP. Contrary to all the Drew Brees lovers, he’s the man in my opinion. Now with that being said, Rodgers has to come out and carry his offense again this week. For him to do that, the Packer offensive line must protect Rodgers from the Nascar pass rush of the Giants, led by DEs Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck. If the Packers protect Rodgers, then the Giants secondary could be in some trouble. No offense to the Giants, but they don’t have enough DBs to cover TE Jermichael Finley and WRs Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and James Jones. Another player to watch this game when the Packers are on offense will be James Starks. He is the most physical of the Green Bay RBs and he must be somewhat effective to help the offensive line keep some of the heat off of Rodgers.

This game should be interesting and high-scoring. But, like most games, it comes down to defense. Whoever makes more plays defensively will win the game. I will take the team that creates more turnovers to win this game, the Green Bay Packers.
Prediction: Green Bay Packers 34, New York Giants 31

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