Saturday, May 7, 2011

NBA Playoffs Second Round: Night Five

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks (5) @ Chicago Bulls (1)
5/2: Game One--Hawks 103, BULLS 95 (1-0, Atlanta)
5/4: Game Two--BULLS 86, Hawks 73 (1-1, Tie)
5/6: Game Three--Bulls 99, HAWKS 82 (2-1, Chicago)
Joakim Noah was a beast on the boards
in Game Three in Atlanta
Well, the Bulls don't look so vulnerable anymore.  I've had to eat a slice of humble pie over the last few days because, after I wrote that the Bulls did not look long for the playoffs, they've run off two straight double-digit victories over the Hawks. Last night's win was the most impressive because it came in Atlanta, where the Hawks had not yet lost in the postseason.  Chicago was in control the whole way in this one, leading by 13 at halftime and 17 after three quarters. Game Three really was the Derrick Rose show, as the youngest-ever NBA MVP dropped a career-high 44 points on the unsuspecting Hawks. His 59.3% shooting from the field (16-27) and 4-7 performance from downtown was a sharp departure from the first two games of the series, in which D-Rose shot a combined 21-54 (38.9%) on field goals and 3-15 (20%) on three's.  Rose's career high could not have come at a better time, because now the Bulls have home court advantage back and can advance to the Eastern Conference Finals just by holding serve at the United Center.  If Chicago continues to play the way they did last night, they are likely to do just that.  Not only did Rose live up to his MVP award, but his teammates were fantastic as well.  The Bulls shot 10-20 (50%) from downtown last night, and they outrebounded the Hawks 47-34.  Joakim Noah was particularly dominant in the paint, pulling down 15 rebounds (eight offensive) and blocking five Atlanta shots.  Despite another subpar performance from Carlos Boozer (six points, six rebounds), the Bulls were helped by Taj Gibson stepping up with 13 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.  This was a complete effort from the East's top seed, as they dominated every phase of the game and looked like the team that played to the NBA's best record during the regular season.

Western Conference

Dallas Mavericks (3) @ Los Angeles Lakers (2)
5/2: Game One--Mavericks 96, LAKERS 94 (1-0, Dallas)
5/4: Game Two--Mavericks 93, LAKERS 81 (2-0, Dallas) 
5/6: Game Three--MAVERICKS 98, Lakers 92 (3-0, Dallas)
The Mavericks stymied Kobe Bryant and the
Lakers down the stretch in Game Three
Another close game between the Lakers and the Mavericks, and, once again, Dallas comes out on top. Just like in Game One, this contest was tied in the final two minutes and the Lakers had ample opportunities to win. The Mavs were able to execute while the Lakers made careless mistakes, though, including a bad inbounds pass that gave the Mavericks the ball and more free throws with fewer than 20 seconds remaining.  Perfect free throw shooting down the stretch enabled Dallas to ice the game and prevent Kobe Bryant (see above) from getting a potential game-tying shot. Granted, barely pulling out a win at home is not the most ringing endorsement of the Mavericks' fitness for the Western Conference Finals, but they have managed to win close games this postseason, including against the defending champs.  Last night, just like in the first two games, the Mavs won by playing to their strengths and minimizing the Lakers' own advantages.  Dallas continued to have good ball movement, racking up assists on 71% (22 of 31) of all field goals--compared to just 48.7% (19 of 39) for the Lakers.  That strong team play allowed the Mavericks to find open shooters down the stretch--like Peja Stojakovic and Jason Terry, who each hit big three-pointers--while the Lakers struggled through isolation sets to Bryant and Lamar Odom.  Another result of this ball movement is that Dallas excelled at the perimeter game.  They shot 41.4% from behind the arc compared to just 23.1% for Los Angeles.  That's 12 treys for the Mavs and just three for the defending champs--a huge difference.  Dallas also worked to minimize the Lakers proclivity for controlling the ball.  During the regular season, Phil Jackson's squad committed the fifth-fewest turnovers in the league.  In the final four minutes last night in Dallas, though, the Lakers committed two turnovers, which the Mavericks promptly turned into four points.  By continuing to play to their strengths--passing and outside shooting--the Mavericks are up 3-0 in this series.  All 98 teams to be down 3-0 in NBA history have eventually been eliminated, so this doesn't look to promising for the Lakers.

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