The Los Angeles Lakers closed out one series with a tough win and the Boston Celtics opened another with a narrow escape, as the NBA playoffs sits on the fulcrum between the first and second rounds this weekend. TheSportsNotebook recaps both games…
LA Lakers 96 Denver 87: The Nuggets did a lot of what they had to do to win a seventh game on the road. They played good defense, holding Los Angeles to under 40 percent shooting. Even though Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were all over the boards, combining for 35 rebounds, Denver still won the team rebounding battle 54-50. Kobe Bryant was held in reasonable check, scoring 17 points. But the Nuggets still came up short, because Danilo Gallinari must have been somewhere other than the Staples Center last night. The small forward who’s such a big part of the Denver offense scored only three points on 1-of-9 shooting. Coupled with cold nights from Andre Miller, and Gasol knocking down 23 for the Lakers, it was enough to put the home team over the top.
Overall, Denver got good play in the backcourt, with Ty Lawson and Aron Afflalo combining for 39 points, and Al Harrington came off the bench to score 24. Kenneth Faried didn’t score at power forward but he gave the team consistent rebounding effort throughout the series, including last night with ten boards. But this is the NBA playoffs and play by stars trumps all, especially in a big game. Even on an off-night, Kobe still contributed and at least he was efficient, shooting 7-for-16 and letting the big guys take over. Gallinari on the other hand, was persona non grata and that’s why Los Angeles is going to Oklahoma City for a second-round matchup that starts Monday.
Boston 92 Philadelphia 91: 48 hours after clinching their first-round series, these two teams started the NBA’s second round and Philly was the team ready for the tip, getting an early lead and still being up ten early in the fourth quarter. Then the Celtics took over. Kevin Garnett continued his strong play from the Atlanta series and with 29 points and 11 rebounds has been the best player in the postseason not named LeBron James. Garnett’s rebounding keyed a rare Celtic advantage on the boards—both of these teams are poor on the glass. As noted here at TheSportsNotebook in the series preview, 76er point guard Jrue Holiday had a tougher time scoring now that he’s not playing against backup guards. Holiday was held to eight points, though running mate Evan Turner was Philly’s best player, turning in a 16/10 night.
Philadelphia was in a position to win because the Celtics bricked three-point shots all over, going 2-for-18. Even though Ray Allen played 33 minutes after being listed as doubtful yesterday morning, he hasn’t gotten into his shooting rhythm for the entire postseason. The Sixers also had a shot because Andre Iguodala came up with 19 points, while counterpart Paul Pierce had only 14. How much Pierce is slowed by the knee injury is going to be a huge subplot in this series. But in the end, Boston has the Rajon Rondo factor and the little point guard had a triple-double, at 13 points, 12 rebounds and 17 assists and they had homecourt. That was enough to scrape out a win. The Celtics and Sixers will be back here on Monday.
The last game of the first round goes this afternoon when Memphis hosts the Los Angeles Clippers in a Game 7. The Grizzlies frontcourt of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol has stepped it up the last two games and if you combine that with homecourt, Memphis will be tough to stop. The Clippers have to counter with either dominating the backcourt—and while I respect Memphis’ Mike Conley, it’s very easy to imagine Chris Paul having that type of game against almost anyone. And they cannot afford to have Blake Griffin show up in single digits rebounding-wise again. This is about as intriguing a Game 7 as you can get. The Clips have the individual best players, but the Grizzlies have homecourt. Which of the two decisive factors holds true? I’m going with homecourt. Memphis has the playoff experience from last year, I’m not ready to give Griffin the benefit of the doubt and assume he’ll come up with a good game, and even though I’ll give Paul the benefit of the doubt—mainly because I read and listen to Grantland’s Bill Simmons, a Clippers’ season-ticket holder too much—let’s acknowledge that this type of game is new territory for Los Angeles too. In the NBA you have to lose before you can win. It’s kind of like a Republican presidential primary. And for this series, it’s Memphis’ turn.
The Miami-Indiana second round series also begins today. TheSportsNotebook’s series preview is here.