Monday, April 25, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Weekend Recap

We NBA fans got to watch an incredibly exciting weekend of basketball the past two days, as one series came to a close, a few others were pushed to the brink, a couple of Eastern underdogs staved off elimination (for now), and a couple of favorites out West had trouble handling their lower-seeded opponents.  Chris Paul was the big story on Sunday, with Brandon Roy provided the fireworks on Saturday night.  Hit the jump to get a recap of and interesting stat from all eight NBA games this weekend.

Eastern Conference

Indiana Pacers (8) vs, Chicago Bulls (1)
4/16: Game One--BULLS 104, Pacers 99 (1-0, Chicago)
4/18: Game Two--BULLS 96, Pacers 90 (2-0, Chicago)
4/21: Game Three--BULLS 88, Pacers 84 (3-0, Chicago)
4/23: Game Four--PACERS 89, Bulls 84 (3-1, Chicago)
Not in Hibbert's house!
Like in just about every other game in this series, the key statistical line belongs to the Bulls' Derrick Rose (see right).  However, unlike in the previous three games, Rose's line is not a positive one--and the game results for the Bulls' was also not a positive one as a result.  The Pacers staved off elimination in Game Four by shutting down--as much as anyone really ever could--the Bulls' budding superstar.  Though his line seems pretty solid on its face (15 points, 10 assists, four steals), he actually played an incredibly flawed game for 43 minutes.  Rose was incredibly inefficient in Game Four, wasting possessions for his team and redirecting the offense away from his more productive teammates.  On Saturday, Rose took a game-high 22 field goals, but he only hit six of them.  That's only a 27.3% field goal clip while taking almost 50% more shots than any other teammate.  Joakim Noah shot 61.5% from the floor, but he only got 13 shots.  Carlos Boozer shot 40%, but he only got 15 shots.  Had Rose, who missed almost three-quarters of his field goal attempts, looked to pass more often and shoot less often, perhaps the Bulls would have completed the sweep in Indianapolis.  Every good point guard knows to get the ball to the offensive player most likely to hit a shot at any given time.  Unfortunately for his team, Derrick Rose thought that he was that guy for most of Game Four--and he was wrong.

Philadelphia 76ers (7) @ Miami Heat (2)
4/16: Game One--HEAT 97, 76ers 89 (1-0, Miami)
4/18: Game Two--HEAT 94, 76ers 73 (2-0, Miami)
4/21: Game Three--Heat 100, 76ERS 94 (3-0, Miami)
4/24: Game Four--76ERS 86, Heat 82 (3-1, Miami)
If I had to pick an Eastern Conference series to be a sweep, it probably would have been this one, just because the Heat have the firepower to overwhelm a team like the 76ers.  However, much to my dismay as a Knicks fan, the Sixers got the win to prolong their series while my Knickerbockers did not.  The Sixers had an incredibly balanced attack in Game Four, with five players in double-figures scoring, including 36 bench points.  Three of the four Sixers with 15 or more points (Elton Brand, Lou Williams, and rookie Evan Turner) shot over 50% from the floor yesterday, and they even got balanced production on the boards: seven of the eight 76ers who played in Game Four (Jodie Meeks being the lone exception) pulled down at least four rebounds.  By contrast, the Heat's production was incredibly unbalanced.  The Big 3 were the only players in double-figures, and they accounted for 79.3% of all team scoring in the game.  Miami got only 16 bench points and one point from non-Big 3 starters.  Mike Bibby and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who both started alongside LeBron, Bosh, and D-Wade, contributed one point on 0-9 shooting, plus only five rebounds and no assists.  No matter how good your "Big" group of superstars is, it is always difficult to overcome balanced production with such an unbalanced showing--and that's why the Heat fell yesterday afternoon.

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)
4/22: Game Three--Celtics 113, KNICKS 96 (3-0, Boston)
4/24: Game Four--Celtics 101, KNICKS 89 (4-0, Boston wins)
This was a surprising sweep, in my opinion, after how closely these two teams played in the first two games in Boston.  The Knicks were utterly dominated in Game Three, though, and Game Four was not much better.  The Knicks never led after the first few minutes yesterday, and they were down by 17 at halftime.  Though they showed some life and cut the Celtics' lead to four in the fourth quarter, Boston quickly built their lead back up to 10.  Kevin Garnett sealed the series win for Boston by hitting a short shot to take a 13-point lead with 57 seconds remaining in the game.  The biggest culprit for the Knicks was Garnett's counterpart, power forward Amare Stoudemire.  The man known as STAT had been playing through a sore back since Game Two, and it showed in the two contests in New York.  Stoudemire was held to seven points on eight shots in Game Three.  Then, yesterday, he managed 19 points, but he had to shoot 5-20 to do so.  Shooting 25% from the floor took shots away from the few Knicks who were hitting shots, like Carmelo Anthony and...nobody else.  In the end, the Knicks' 34.1% field goal percentage just wouldn't cut it, and the team's leader (Stoudemire) was leading the way in that futility as well.

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)
The final score of Game Four seems to suggest that, like Game Three, it was an incredibly close and heated affair that was decided in the final seconds.  That impression could not be farther from the truth, however, as Orlando never held a lead in the entire game, while Atlanta's largest lead was 16.  The Hawks led by eight after the first quarter, and the game never got particularly close until the final period.  Every time the Magic would close the gap, the Hawks responded with a big shot--often by Jamal Crawford (see right), who had 25 points on 10-18 shooting.  At one point, Dwight Howard tied the game with just under six minutes remaining; Atlanta responded by holding the Magic scoreless for four minutes while taking a six-point lead.  Kudos should especially go to Hawks coach Larry Drew, who called a timeout after Howard tied the game and made the necessary defensive adjustments to keep the Magic off the scoreboard for some time.  The big thing Atlanta did all game long--including in the fourth quarter--was to frustrate Orlando's attempts from behind the arc.  While the Hawks shot a respectable 6-15 from three-point range last night, the Magic made only two of 23 attempts, for an 8.7% shooting clip.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, last night the Magic had "the worst 3-point performance in a playoff game with at least 20 attempts in the last 20 years."  That's particularly surprising given the types of players on Orlando's roster.  Hedo Turkoglu shot 41% from three-point range in the regular season, but he went 0-6 last night.  Jameer Nelson shot 40% from three on the regular season, but he missed all four of his attempts in Game Four.  Even though the Magic shot 12.4% better than the Hawks from the free throw line and a few percentage points better on two-pointers, they could not overcome dreadful three-point shooting.  Now they find themselves in a three-game hole.

Western Conference

Memphis Grizzles (8) @ San Antonio Spurs (1)
4/17: Game One--Grizzlies 101, SPURS 98 (1-0, Memphis)
4/20: Game Two--SPURS 93, Grizzlies 87 (Tie, 1-1) 
4/23: Game Three--GRIZZLIES 91, Spurs 88 (2-1, Memphis)
Gasol has led the Grizzlies to an improbable
2-1 series lead over the top-seeded Spurs
In Game One, the Grizzlies were able to prevail in San Antonio because of the superior performance of their front line--Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph completely dominated Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess.  The Spurs' experience was on display in Game Two, though, as they cooly and calmly tied the series at one game apiece.  Saturday night in Memphis, the youth and energy of the Grizzlies' big men were on display again, as Memphis, yet again, gutted out a close win over the heavily-favored Spurs.  Gasol (see left) and Randolph combined for 42 points on 15-34 shooting (44.1%) from the floor.  McDyess and Duncan, by contrast, totaled only 21 points, including hitting only three of their six free throws.  Memphis' front line did more damage inside, getting to the line 14 times and hitting 11  shots.  Those eight additional free throws made, combined with a four-point Grizzlies edge in points in the paint (44 to 40) made the difference in what was a very close game most of the way.  Gasol especially, who played to a +8 +/- rating in a three-point victory, proved how valuable just his precense on the floor is to his team.

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)
Did Kobe Bryant hurting his ankle have something to do with the Lakers loss? Obviously it didn't help Los Angeles, but tonight was the night where CP3 took over and tied the series up in New Orleans. How good was Chris Paul last night? According to Elias Stats Bureau, the last player to get 25+ pts, 15+ assists and 10+ rebounds in the same playoff game was Oscar Robertson--way back in 1964. Paul just had an overall great night, shooting 50% from the floor and three-point range (7-for 14 and 2-for-2). In addition, Paul hit all 11 of his free-throws, which shouldn't be too surprising considering he shot 88% from the charity stripe this season and 85% for his career. If there was any time for CP3 to have his first triple-double of the season, this was a great night to do it.  Now it's back to Los Angeles where Paul kicked off this tightly-contested series by dropping 33 points and 14 assists (no big deal) on the unsuspecting Lakers.

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)
Brandon Roy made the Rose Garden shake as he
almost singlehandedly overcame an 18-point deficit
After playing only eight minutes off the bench in Game Two, Brandon Roy (see right) admitted he almost cried.  After his performance last night in Game Four, it might very well have been the Mavericks who were crying about Roy's playing time.  As far as they were concerned, he got way, way too much of it, as he led a furious Blazers comeback to tie the series at two games apiece. Through three quarters of last night's game, the former All-Star Roy was in the midst of another lackluster effort: six points on a 1-3 shooting and some free throws.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Portland found itself in an 18-point hole.  As soon as the fourth quarter started, though, Roy turned it on and led a comeback for the ages.  In those twelve minutes, Brandon Roy scored 18 points--the Mavericks only scored 15 as a team--on 8-10 from the floor.  He also grabbed two rebounds and dished out four assists, meaning he scored or assisted on 27 of the 35 Trailblazers points in the final period.  Roy actually scored the Blazers' final eight points, including a four-point play with 1:06 remaining to make a three-point deficit into a one-point lead for Portland.  Due to their shooting guard's heroics, Portland outscored the Mavericks by 20 and pulled out a two-point victory in the final minute.  Who hit the tie-breaking and game-winning shot?  Brandon Roy, of course.

Denver Nuggets (5) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (4)
4/17: Game One--THUNDER 107, Nuggets 103 (1-0, Oklahoma City)
4/20: Game Two--THUNDER 106, Nuggets 89 (2-0, Oklahoma City)
4/23: Game Three--Thunder 97, NUGGETS 94 (3-0, Oklahoma City) 
In many ways, Game Three on Saturday followed a similar pattern to the first two games in this series.  Russell Westbrook (23 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists) and Kevin Durant (26 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists) dominated all night long.  Denver got balanced scoring (five players with 13 or more points), but nobody stepped up to carry the load as the Nuggets fell to their third-straight defeat.  One difference in this game, though, was the ferocious play of young Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka.  In his sophomore season, Ibaka set career-highs with 9.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game.  Saturday night in Denver, he took the interior dominance to another level, with 22 points on 46.2% shooting (6-13).  He also hit all ten of his free throw attempts, proving he could get to the charity stripe and knock down shots against the Nuggets' deep front line.  Ibaka was also a beast on the defensive end, pulling down 16 boards (six offensive) and blocking four shots while only committing one turnover.  Not only did Ibaka pick a great time to tie a career-high in points scored, but he also showed that he can be a dominating inside presence against the best in the game.

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