Wednesday, April 20, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Night Four

Eastern Conference

New York Knicks (6) @ Boston Celtics (3)
4/17: Game One--CELTICS 87, Knicks 85 (1-0, Boston)
4/19: Game Two--CELTICS 96, Knicks 93 (2-0, Boston)
Carmelo was great in Game Two, but
the Knicks still blew it in crunch time
Another tough loss for the Knickerbockers.  Mike D'Antoni's squad was without Chauncey Billups for the whole game and without Amare Stoudemire for the last two and a half quarters, as well.  Despite the adversity, the Knicks had a real chance to pull out a win in Boston, but once again their late-game execution was not up to par.  For his valiant efforts, though, the stat line of the game goes to Carmelo Anthony.  With the New York media saying that Melo had to step up in Game Two, the Knicks' newest superstar did just that.  In 44 minutes, Anthony poured in a game-high 42 points on only 30 field goal attempts (14-30 FG, 4-8 3PT, 10-11 FT).  He also pulled down 17 boards (including five on the offensive glass), dished out six assists, and got two blocks.  Though Carmelo was the center of the Knicks' offense all night long--especially in the second half with Amare out with back spasms--he only turned the ball over once.  He also spent a lot less time in 10-second isolation sets and more time slashing to the bucket and working with his teammates.  The Knicks kept the game close the whole way, immediately responding to a 12-2 Celtics run late in the third quarter with their own 15-2 burst to take the lead with eight minutes remaining.  Late-game execution was a huge problem, yet again, for the Knicks.  With under 20 seconds to go, nobody came to double team Kevin Garnett as he backed down--and then scored over--the Knicks' beanpole of a center, Jared Jeffries.  On the ensuing Knicks possession, Jeffries turned the ball over trying to make a feed inside, and the C's had the ball with a one-point lead and 4.3 seconds to go.  Then, showing a complete lack of intensity and focus, the Knicks took 3.5 seconds to foul Delonte West after the inbounds pass, effectively handing the game to Boston.  Maybe playing at home the next two games will finally get the Knicks over the top, but they better hope the games aren't close--because they looked lost in the final minute last night.

Atlanta Hawks (5) @ Orlando Magic (4)
4/16: Game One--Hawks 103, MAGIC 93 (1-0, Atlanta)
4/19: Game Two--MAGIC 88, Hawks 82 (Tied 1-1)
Just like in Game One, Dwight Howard was the focal point of the Magic offense; in Game Two, though, his strong play propelled Orlando to victory.  Howard posted 33 points and 19 rebounds--eight on the offensive boards--on only 12 field goal attempts.  The victory was also made possible by a marginally better performance from Superman's supporting cast.  Orlando had five other players with at least eight points scored, and Jameer Nelson came up big even on a poor shooting night.  He grabbed eight rebounds while out-hustling Kirk Hinrich all night for a +12 +/- rating.  The Magic needed everybody not named Dwight to step up, and they did.  Orlando needed a win in Game Two to even the series heading to Atlanta, and they got it.  From the get-go, you could see that Orlando was playing with more hustle and more aggressiveness.  They pulled in seven more offensive boards than the Hawks did, leading to 15 second chance points in the first half alone.  The Magic also missed only seven free throws in 36 attempts, while the Hawks missed six in only 17 attempts.  By creating extra shots for themselves, both in the paint and at the free throw line, the Magic were able to grind out this low-scoring affair.  Though that may sound like a winning formula, I also wonder what would happen to Orlando's fortunes if Superman had a rare off-night.

Western Conference

Portland Trailblazers (6) @ Dallas Mavericks (3)
4/16: Game One--MAVERICKS 89, Trailblazers 81 (1-0, Dallas)
4/19: Game Two-MAVERICKS 101, Trailblazers 89 (2-0, Dallas)
Heading into last night's Game Two in Dallas, the biggest storyline wasn't about the players--it was about the officiating.  Mavs fans were steamed that Danny Crawford would be officiating their game because the Mavericks were only 2-16 in playoff games that Crawford worked.  Fortunately, all that nonsense was put to rest last night, as the Trailblazers shot only one more free throw than the Mavericks.  Instead, the star players on each time filled up the box score in a game that was closer than the final score implies.  For the Mavs, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (see above) combined for 51 points on 16-33 shooting (48.5%).  They also totaled 11 rebounds and 12 assists, with only one turnover all game.  The stars were shining brightly for the visiting Trailblazers, as well.  LaMarcus Aldridge and newly-acquired Gerald Wallace piled up 42 points by shooting 51.7% from the floor.  They also had 17 rebounds, 8 assists, and only three turnovers.  The difference in the game, though, was ball control.  The Mavericks pulled down three more offensive rebounds than the Blazers did (10 versus seven), and they turned the ball over six fewer times (six versus 12).  That comes out to nine additional possessions for Dallas, which Dirk, Kidd, & Co. used to turn a one-point lead through three quarters into a comfortable victory at the American Airlines Center.

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