It looked like the NBA might be headed for a weekend of drama, with six first-round series having potential Game 7s and three of them needing only the home team to hold serve in Game 6. But close-outs were the theme of Thursday and Friday night, and only Brooklyn-Chicago will reach a decisive seventh game. We’ll run through the six games of the last two nights, starting with Nets-Bulls.
BROOKLYN-CHICAGO: It was the third straight nailbiter in Chicago Stadium on Thursday night and Brooklyn finally got the road win they needed to survive. The Nets showed exceptional balance in the 95-92 final. The Big Three of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez all scored 17 points, while Reggie Evans hit the boards for 15 rebounds and they held the Bulls to 40 percent shooting. That’s the formula that can eventually take Brooklyn a long way in the playoffs, and at the very least it’s taking them to a Game 7.
Chicago is wounded badly, and Kirk Hinrich remains a game-time decision for tonight’s finale (8 PM ET, TNT). Hinrich’s backcourt defense was a big part of Chicago winning Games 2 thru 4 and they’ve lost both games he’s been out. Joakim Noah is a warrior and he keeps hitting the boards, but he’s also dragging along hurt. The NBA system already favors stars and homecourt, which Brooklyn has going for it tonight, and to top it off they’re healthier. If the Bulls win this game it’s one of the truly great Game 7 wins in the league’s lore.
The winner tonight goes to Miami for the second round. The other Eastern semi-final will be Indiana and New York, who won on the road Friday night to clinch.
INDIANA-ATLANTA: It took six games, but we finally saw the Pacers team that impressed during the regular season. It was a team built on defense and rebounding, holding Atlanta to 33 percent shooting and winning the boards battle 53-35. It was a team that pounded it down low, with Roy Hibbert scoring 17 points/11 rebounds and David West going for 21/8. Even though Paul George had an awful night, scoring only four points and being ice-cold from the floor, Indiana controlled the game throughout en route to an 81-73 win.
NEW YORK-BOSTON: The Celtics couldn’t get a shot to fall, trailing 75-49 at one point in the third quarter before ripping off a stunning rally to get to within four points before New York finally averted humiliation with an 88-80 win. It was a big moral victory for Boston, who first won two games after being down 3-0 in the series and then was a tough out in Game 6. But the Knicks played some excellent defense and Paul Pierce just couldn’t buy a shot. The team as a whole shot 6-of-22 from three-point range. Pierce himself was 1-for-9, and he wasn’t much better inside the arc.
Like LeBron James last year, Carmelo Anthony came to Boston for a Game 6 with his reputation hanging in the balance. Like LeBron, Melo walked out of the Garden a winner, but unlike LeBron, Melo can’t take a lot of credit. He scored 21 points, but shot poorly for the third consecutive game.
OKLAHOMA CITY-HOUSTON: The Thunder were in more danger than the Knicks of losing their 3-0 series lead, given that OkC was actually down a star player in Russell Westbrook. They got a clutch 103-94 win, pulling it out in the fourth quarter, because their star was more efficient than Houston’s, Kevin Durant had 27 points and James Harden had 26. But Durant did it on 11-of-23 shooting, while Harden was 7-for-22.
MEMPHIS-LA CLIPPERS: It’s going to be a long offseason in Los Angeles after two opening series wins ended with four straight losses, all by double-digit margins. Blake Griffin was only able to play 14 minutes due to his high ankle sprain, but Matt Barnes more than made up for it with a 30-point night. Chris Paul was fantastic with 28. But the rest of the lineup was non-existent for the third straight game.
Meanwhile, Memphis showed a lot of balance. Mike Conley and Zach Randolph created an outside-inside balance with 23 points apiece and seven players scored in double figures. On a Friday night where the games in Atlanta and Boston were marked by horrific offense, this one kept ESPN’s execs happy, with each team shooting 50 percent or better. It’s of little consolation to Los Angeles who loses a series in spite of having the deeper, more star-oriented team and you have to wonder what this means for head coach Vinny Del Negro. As for the Grizzlies, they now get a crack at the wounded Thunder.
DENVER-GOLDEN STATE: The Warriors showed they could defend their home floor, quite literally on Thursday night. Even without a vintage game from Steph Curry (he still had 21, but didn’t light it up like the first four games), Golden State ground out a tough 92-88 win. They hit the boards with a vengeance, winning 55-44 on the glass and had a plus-10 scoring edge on the free throw line. Golden State swept all three games played on their home floor and on Thursday they established they can do it even when the game isn’t a three-point shooting contest.
Golden State moves on to play San Antonio in the second round. The conference semi-finals will get started on Sunday with an ABC doubleheader of Memphis-Oklahoma City & Indiana-New York that starts at 1 PM ET. Tomorrow morning TheSportsNotebook’s NBA commentary will look back on the Chicago-Brooklyn Game 7 and then preview the four second-round series.