It was a night for defense last night in the NBA playoffs, as five of the six teams in action shot less than 40 percent and the one that did meet that minimal threshold—the Boston Celtics—hit it right on the nose. TheSportsNotebook recaps Friday’s three games and looks ahead to Saturday’s quadruple header…
Philadelphia 79 Chicago 74: Is it premature to start reminding people that the last time we had a strike-shortened season in the NBA, the #8 seed in the East reached the Finals? That was the New York Knicks. Now, with Derrick Rose’s injury, suddenly Philadelphia is looking to do the same thing. With neither team able to generate any offense via conventional sets, the Sixers got the foul line more frequently, winning free throw scoring 26-14. You can argue that it’s home cookin’, although #1 seeds from major media markets generally don’t get that negative treatment on the road. More likely, the Bulls became passive offensively and took too many shots from the perimeter—witness John Lucas, C.J. Watson and Rip Hamilton combining to 8-for-31 from the perimeter. Meanwhile Philly guards Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner combined to go 13/17 just from the charity stripe. I wrote off Chicago’s blowout loss in Game 2 at home as being a temporary fruit of a post-Rose injury hangover. Though the Bulls played much better last night, this one’s a lot more alarming, as it would seem to be clear evidence that all the success this team without its star in the regular season won’t carry over into the playoffs.
Boston 90 Atlanta 84 (OT): The Celtics had an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter of this one, at which point Doc Rivers must have looked across town and summoned the Red Sox bullpen to hold the lead, because Atlanta rolled back behind some clutch play from Joe Johnson. The Hawks were ultimately done in by poor three-point shooting—they shot 4-of-20 from behind the arc, but that wasn’t the fault of Johnson who had three of the makes, only four of the misses, and finished with 29 points. Rajon Rondo was dynamic, with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists. This begs the question of Atlanta’s guards—where are you on the box out? How does a little point guard like Rondo steal fourteen rebounds?!? Paul Pierce made a living at the free throw line, going 14-for-14 and contributing to a ten-point Celtic advantage there. I would argue that it’s the result of Boston going to the basket while Atlanta settled for too many threes, but if a Hawks fan wanted to scream home cookin’, I wouldn’t battle the point too ferociously.
Denver 99 LA Lakers 84: The intensity the Laker bigs had brought to the first two games was non-existent in the Rocky Mountains. The Nuggets won the rebounding battle 54-44, as forward Kenneth Faried continued his good board work in this series, and Javale McGee finally made himself heard from with 15 boards. The Lakers were another team that was intent on bricking threes all night long, going 6-for-25. This might have made sense for Atlanta, who was playing without its key post scorer in Josh Smith. It makes zero sense for Los Angeles, with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, to keep futilely airing it out from long range and suggest a lack of offensive focus—think about playing pickup ball. When you get tired or don’t concentrate, the easy thing to do is settle for jumpshots. The Lakers also lost the turnover battle, 15-6, with Kobe Bryant coughing it up six times. Given the caliber of Los Angeles’ talent and their experience, this has to be the most disappointing effort of the night.
Its all-day action in the NBA on Saturday with these four games ahead…
*Oklahoma City can become the first team to advance to the second round as they try and close out a sweep in Dallas. The Thunder are living off the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook combo on offense with some rebounding from Serge Ibaka. Can the Mavs at least take one of those away?
*San Antonio’s only played two games against Utah, but they’ve been so dominant it feels like they should be ready to sweep this series in three. The Jazz’s only chance is for Gordon Heyward to open things up with some perimeter scoring and give Utah’s big men a chance to succeed against Tim Duncan and the array of depth the Spurs bring off the bench at all position. Then again, Heyward did that in Game 2 and his team still lost big.
*Game 3 of the compelling Memphis-LA Clippers series goes out to Los Angeles, continuing what has to be the greatest run of basketball the Staples Center will see, with the Clips coming home just as the Lakers go on the road. The Clippers have homecourt now for this series, but they really need someone like Randy Foye to step up and hit some shots and be a reliable third scorer if they’re going to hold that edge over these next two games.
*And Indiana looks to jam the knife in on Orlando. The Pacers played a championship-quality game in dominating the Magic in Game 3 and reclaiming homecourt advantage. Asking Indiana to win two in a row on the road is a lot, but the Pacers should be looking to go for the kill and not be tired before facing what will be a rested Miami team in the second round. If Orlando wins today there’s a good chance this series goes the distance.