Friday, April 29, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Night Thirteen

Last night was an exciting night of NBA basketball, as three first round series wrapped up--two by seven points or fewer.  The only remaining series is the Spurs and the Grizzlies, who play Game Six tonight in Memphis--another do-or-die game for Tim Duncan's Spurs.  But before moving on to focus on the possibility of an eight-seed upsetting the top seed in the West, let's take a look back at last night's games, including another nail-biter between Atlanta and Orlando.

Eastern Conference

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)
4/22: Game Three--HAWKS 88, Magic 84 (2-1, Atlanta)
4/24: Game Four--HAWKS 88, Magic 85 (3-1, Atlanta)
4/26: Game Five--MAGIC 101, Hawks 76 (3-2, Atlanta)
4/28: Game Six--HAWKS 84, Magic 81 (4-2, Atlanta wins)
Joe Johnson lived up to his max deal in
upsetting Superman and the Magic
Another game between the Hawks and the Magic: another close contest.  Like the previous two games in Atlanta, the Hawks were able to pull this one out in the final seconds, as they took Game Six to win the first round series 4-2 and advance to face the Chicago Bulls in the second round.  Last postseason, the Magic swept the Hawks in what was the most lopsided playoff sweep in NBA history.  In winning last night, Atlanta became only the ninth team in the past 30 years to win a series against the team that swept them in the previous postseason.  How did the Hawks pull out this series-clinching Game Six to get revenge on the Magic?  Surprisingly, despite Superman's superb performance all series, Atlanta was able to dominate the offensive glass last night and win via second-chance points.  They Hawks actually had seven more offensive rebounds than the Magic did last night (14 to seven edge), giving them seven more chances for points.  Atlanta then took advantage, getting 15 second-chance points, compared to the Magic's 10.  Those five points are a huge and meaningful swing such a close game.  Atlanta's max-contract player, Joe Johnson (see above), actually got a huge offensive rebound in the final seconds to give the Hawks a three-point lead with only eight seconds remaining.  Had the Magic been able to come up with that rebound, they would have only been down one point with ten seconds to go.  Those two points were huge in that they lead Orlando to force up a three-pointer near the buzzer, instead of running a play for a layup or mid-range jumper.  Without that particular offensive rebound--and the Hawks' general prowess on the offensive boards all game--the Magic likely would have won Game Six and sent the series back to Orlando.  But now, the Hawks are going to Chicago, and the Magic are going to the golf course.

Hit the jump to read about the two Western Conference games:

Western Conference
New Orleans Hornets (7) @ Los Angeles Lakers (2)
4/17: Game One--Hornets 109, LAKERS 100 (1-0, New Orleans)
4/20: Game Two--LAKERS 87, Hornets 78 (Tie, 1-1)
4/22: Game Three--Lakers 100, HORNETS 86 (2-1, Los Angeles)
4/24: Game Four--HORNETS 93, Lakers 88 (Tie, 2-2)
4/26: Game Five--LAKERS 106, Hornets 90 (3-2, Los Angeles)
4/28: Game Six--Lakers 98, Hornets 80 (4-2, Los Angeles wins)
Kobe got the best of CP3 in Game Six
and in their whole first round series
By far the least competitive game last night, Game Six between the Hornets and the Lakers was actually pretty close throughout the first half.  Los Angeles led by only two after the first quarter and six at halftime.  However, Phil Jackson's squad never took their foot off the proverbial gas pedal, and the Lakers outscored New Orleans on their home floor by six points in both the third and fourth quarters.  Unlike in their two losses of this series, the Lakers were able to keep Chris Paul relatively in check.  Now, for CP3, "relatively in check" means being two rebounds away from a triple-double, which is what happened last night.  But for a guy like that, holding him to 11 assists and only 10 points is particularly impressive.  It forced other players on the Hornets, like Trevor Ariza and Carl Landry, to try to step up to fill the void.  No one was able to do so, though, as CP3's teammates combined for only 70 points on the night.  The Lakers, by contrast, got a big performance from Kobe Bryant, who hit all ten of his free throws en route to 24 points and a +15 +/- rating.  Kobe's teammates chipped in as well: Lamar Odom had 14 points off the bench, and Andrew Bynum grabbed eight offensive rebounds to go along with 18 points.  Those eight offensive boards were particularly huge in getting the Lakers four more field goal attempts and eight more free throw attempts--leading to 18 more points for the game, and a series win.

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)
4/21: Game Three--TRAILBLAZERS 97, Mavericks 92 (2-1, Dallas)
4/23: Game Four--TRAILBLAZERS 84, Mavericks 82 (Tie, 2-2)
4/25: Game Five--MAVERICKS 92, Trailblazers 83 (3-2, Dallas)
4/28: Game Six--Mavericks 103, TRAILBLAZERS 96 (4-2 Dallas, wins)
Jason Terry got it done all series long for the Mavs,
and he was key to their series-clinching win.
Another stellar performance last night for the unsung hero of this series (and the Mavericks as a team): Jason Terry.  Though he did not nab the Sixth Man of the Year award this season, Terry (see right) has been phenomenal off the bench for the Mavs all season long.  While starting only ten games in 2010-2011, he averaged 15.8 points on 45.1% shooting to go along with 4.1 assists per game.  He's stepped up his game even more in the playoffs, averaging 16.4 ppg.  Last night, though, Terry really rose to the occasion on the road in an arena in which the Mavs had lost both prior games in the series.  He poured in 22 points on 9-16 shooting (56.3%) from the floor, while dishing out eight assists on the night.  He even had a team-best +17 +/- rating last night, meaning the Mavs were actually outscored by 10 points when he was on the bench.  Due to Terry's big performance in Game Six (plus Dirk Nowitzki's ho-hum night of 33 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists), the Sixth Man of the Year from 2008-2009 is moving on to the second round to face this year's top Sixth Man, Lamar Odom and his Lakers.  Should be a heckuva series.

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