Is it safe to say that NBA teams always enjoy home court advantage?
It may actually be an understatement when it comes to home court in this postseason.
All but two games in the playoffs so far have been won by the home team, and the lone two teams that won on the road basically needed to pull off miracles to get their victories.
Of course, there’s the simple fact that the home teams are also generally the better teams, which is why they had home court in the first place. Whatever the case, the road teams will have to start making more noise if they want a chance to survive the first round.
There are three games slated for Tuesday night, with all the road teams looking for their first victory of the postseason.
Boston (0-1) at Atlanta (1-0):
Losing Rajon Rondo for Game 2 may be the ultimate reason the Celtics may go back home with an 0-2 deficit.
Rondo was suspended for one game for bumping a referee after a disputed call. He had 20 points, 11 assists, and was the only starter for Boston that shot better than 43% from the field.
From Steve Bulpett of Boston Herald: ”The Celtics All-Star point guard is alternately the most unique and driven talent in the NBA and a foolishly emotional child whose fits of pique can cost his team dearly. Rajon Rondo is the warrior who played on through the Miami playoff series with a mangled left elbow last year. And he is the picture of roundball rage who not only picked up a technical foul with his team trailing by four points in the final minute Sunday, but who continued the argument until he had made contact with referee Marc Davis, earning not only a second tech but a one-game suspension. Danny Ainge wanted to choose his words carefully yesterday. He is the biggest Rondo fan outside the Rondo home, and, as one who was accused of childlike qualities (and not in a positive way) early in his career, Ainge has some perspective on such things. But as the Celtics president, Ainge knows the on-court operation will suffer without Rajon Rondo. “I don’t think something like this should happen with any player,” Ainge said. “I don’t want him to not be intense, but I want him to stay on the court. I think you can do both. “Rondo has been our best player, and we need him on the court.” In a season he finished with 24 straight games with double-figure assists and the NBA lead in assists, Rondo also had a two-game suspension for throwing a ball at ref Sean Wright in February. “It’s part of the package with our team,” Rivers said. “We’re a volatile team in a lot of ways. Rondo’s an emotional player. And you know the old saying, I’d rather kindle a fire than start one. I like his fire, and sometimes it burns you, you know what I mean? But I like the fire that he has.” The more immediate question isn’t whether Rondo will overcome his demons, it’s whether the Celtics will overcome Rondo’s absence.”
With Ray Allen (ankle) also due to miss another game, the Celtics will be forced to rely on a combination of Avery Bradley and Michael Pietrus as the likely starting backcourt.
For Atlanta, Josh Smith will have to stay on top of his game and carry the load to have a chance to come out victorious in this series. He did just that in Game 1, racking up 20 points and 18 rebounds.
Jeff Teague made huge contributions down the stretch, hitting timely baskets when Boston made its run. He finished with 15 points and six rebounds, while Kirk Hinrich made his mark with 12 points on four 3-pointers.
One of the unexpected contributions came from long-time veteran in Jason Collins, who was forced to start in place of the injured Zaza Pachulia, who will miss his second consecutive game with a sprained foot.
From Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta-Journal Constitution: “With Zaza Pachulia sidelined with a foot injury, (coach Larry) Drew started 7-footer Jason Collins at center. Collins had a tough primary defensive assignment against Boston’s Kevin Garnett, but Drew was pleased with the results. “He held his own,” Drew said Monday. “I think he is a type of guy that, first of all, he knows players and he understands them. He positions himself well, particularly against guys that may be a little bit more mobile, guys that are faster. But I think his experience over the years allows him to defend those type players.” Collins, 33, hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2006-07 with New Jersey. He’s earned a niche with the Hawks as an effective post defender against opposing big centers but Drew decided to send him out against Garnett, a natural power forward. Garnett tried to play to his strengths and take Collins to the post, but Atlanta’s center held his ground. “What we told Jason is just try to make him work for everything he got and he did that,” Drew said. Garnett made 6-of-11 field-goal attempts with Collins on the floor (though Collins had switched away from Garnett for one of those baskets). Garnett couldn’t score over Collins in the post early but later had success with spot-up jump shots and flashing to the basket on pick-and-rolls.
Joe Johnson will look to speed up his game after playing a miserably in Game 1.
More from Cunningham: “But the offense slowed down at times when Johnson had the ball, something he intends to change for Game 2. “Probably just go a little quicker,” Johnson said Monday. “Try to get a lot of easy baskets in transition. Don’t stop and stand and hold the ball as much. Because they are the best defensive team in the league, [we can't] give them a chance to load up.” Making that up-tempo adjustment should help Johnson recover from a miserable offensive performance in Game 1. Johnson scored 11 points, missed 12 of 15 shots and had four turnovers in 38 ragged minutes. The Hawks have sometimes struggled to strike a balance between Johnson’s strengths as an isolation player who dominates the ball and Larry Drew’s egalitarian motion sets. But Johnson said it’s not a tough adjustment. “It’s not, because I feel like I can do both,” he said. “It’s not going to bother me at all. Whether it’s playing off Jeff or playing off Josh or playing off both of those guys, it doesn’t matter to me.”
Philadelphia (0-1) at Chicago (1-0):
The Bulls took the 103-91 victory over the Sixers on Saturday, but lost their most important player when Derrick Rose, after missing 27 regular season games with a litany of injuries, suffered a torn ACL which could sideline him for up to nine months.
Despite the devastating outcome, the team is far from giving up their quest for a title.
From K.C. Johnson of Chicago Tribune: “The Bulls received a surprise visitor Monday: Derrick Rose. Less than 48 hours after ending his season by tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, the league’s reigning most valuable player came to the Berto Center to begin treatment and healing of another kind. Several who spoke to him said Rose focused more on how his teammates are doing than his own injury. ”We want him be around,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “As much time as he needs is fine. I don’t think he’ll be able to travel with us. But he’ll be around. And he wants to be around. He’s anxious to get around his teammates. That’s the way Derrick is. He doesn’t look back. He looks ahead. That’s a great way to be.” Thibodeau said he doesn’t know if Rose will attend Tuesday’s Game 2. A specific medical plan for when Rose undergoes surgery is still being formulated. ”He’s got to wait because they’re strengthening the quad and all that,” Thibodeau said. “It will probably be clearer by the end of the week.” Thibodeau said Rose, as usual, is already flashing a competitive side. ”He’s obviously disappointed with the injury,” Thibodeau said. “He’s totally into the team, and he’s already thinking of all the things he’s going to do to get back. The guy’s a fierce, fierce competitor, and that’s the way he’ll approach his rehab. I’m extremely confident he’ll come back better than ever.”
The Bulls have plenty of experience playing without their key players.
The team went 18-9 without Rose, and played the starting five that began the post season for a total of 15 games this season due to lengthy absences from Richard Hamilton and Luol Deng.
The key will now fall in the hands of C.J. Watson who takes over as the starting point guard for the remainder of the playoffs.
More from Johnson: “C.J. Watson started 25 regular-season games this season, averaging 11.3 points. Tuesday night, he will make his first-ever postseason start, subbing for the injured Derrick Rose. The Chicago Bulls lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Philadelphia 76ers 1-0. ”I’m very comfortable,” Watson said. “My teammates believe in me. Coach believes in me. That’s all that really matters.” The Bulls went 18-9 during the regular season without Rose and 17-8 in games Watson started. ”Everyone has been playing their roles the whole season,” Watson said. “Nothing is new. Just run the plays and play the defense like we’ve been playing. ”Everyone will go in with confidence, knowing they can make shots and play big minutes with Derrick out. We’ve been able to win games with Derrick out. It’s nothing new for us.” Watson vowed to play aggressively. ”Just try to push the ball, make open shots, try to drive and get some assists,” the mild-mannered guard said. The Bulls are planning for Evan Turner to guard Watson and Jrue Holiday to guard Richard Hamilton at times. Kyle Korver will play as expected after resting during Monday’s practice. ”The advantage we have is we’ve already played with this group,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Now we have to play well.”
Asked if the Sixers’ mindset has changed now that Rose is gone for the series, Collins asked, “You’re kidding, right? You’re kidding, right? Are we favored to win this series now?”
They are not favored, but a revision of their original plan coming into the series is still in order, beginning with the starting lineup.
From Bob Cooney of The Inquirer: “The tape sessions were lengthy before the series started, but most of the plans that were made from those gatherings had to be scratched when Bulls point guard Derrick Rose snapped his ACL in the final moments of Chicago’s Game 1, 103-91 win. Now it’s back to the drawing board for the Sixers. Fortunately for the team, tape without Rose wasn’t hard to find since he missed 27 games this season due to various injuries… Still, changes certainly have to be made, and it appears the biggest one will be to the Sixers’ starting lineup. While coach Doug Collins refused to answer when questioned who was going to start Game 2 on Tuesday, Jrue Holiday may have inadvertently revealed the secret. When asked about guarding Watson, Holiday talked about what the plan would be. He was then asked if Watson would be his assignment. He said: “No, that’s Evan [Turner]. I’m on Rip [Hamilton].” Turner almost certainly will be starting instead of Jodie Meeks, who struggled mightily in Game 1 and was pulled by Collins midway through the first quarter. He didn’t see the court again until late in the fourth quarter. ”[I need to] come out defending and try and push the tempo and keep the defense on their heels and attack and try to distribute the ball and make shots,” Turner said. “Just have an all-around impact and play the game the right way and help.” And though Collins insists the focus still has to be his team’s ability to keep the Bulls off the backboard, adapting to a different Chicago style with Watson at the point is another concern.
Denver (0-1) at Los Angeles Lakers (1-0):
The extra rest did him well, as he scored a game-high 31 points and looked spry in the first game against the Nuggets.
His leadership and maturity level has seemingly brought the team together.
From Bill Plaschke of Los Angeles Times: ”He didn’t hit the last shot. He didn’t make the big steal. He summoned only a handful of oohs, a couple of aahs and a smattering of M-V-Ps. Cued to enter his favorite stage Sunday, Kobe Bryant instead spent most of the first postseason game of his 16th season hovering in the wings. He’s never been quieter. He’s rarely been better. Just when we thought we’d seen every possible evolution of this town’s most complicated athlete, a howling Staples Center sellout crowd was introduced to the Invisible Mamba. He wasn’t really seen until the fourth quarter. He was barely heard until after the game. But with an influence that flowed as brilliantly as his aching body once did, Bryant was felt through every inch of the Lakers’ 103-88 victory over the Denver Nuggets in the playoff opener. After spending much of the season openly pushing his teammates to be more assertive, Bryant contentedly stood aside for three quarters while watching them assertively smack the Nuggets upside the head. Steve Blake’s trio of three-point swishes that started it? ”Kobe is always saying things like, ‘If something is there, you’ve got to take it,’” said Blake. Jordan Hill’s 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench? ”Kobe is always saying we have to rely on everyone on the floor,” said Hill. Ramon Sessions’ calmly scoring 14 points with only two turnovers in nearly 30 minutes in his career postseason debut? ”Kobe told me, ‘If you’re going to go down, go down shooting,” said Sessions, grinning. “Hey, if Kobe says it, I’m good to go.” If the Lakers spend the next few weeks elaborating on this impressive opening statement, they are good to go, like, really far. ”It’s a championship-caliber team,” Bryant said afterward with a sense of pride in his voice that one doesn’t often hear even after he has just hit a buzzer-beater.”
If the focus and defensive-minded version of Andrew Bynum shows up again, the Nuggets may be in for another long night.
From Mike Bresnahan of Los Angeles Times: “Bynum represented the Lakers’ complete command of the Denver Nuggets in a playoff opener, getting the Lakers’ first postseason triple-double since Magic Johnson in the 1991 NBA Finals. Bynum had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and tied an NBA playoff record with 10 blocked shots as the Lakers cruised past Denver, 103-88, at Staples Center. ”It makes us a championship-caliber team,” Kobe Bryant said of Bynum’s second brush with team history this month. Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday at Staples Center, assuming the Nuggets show up after their shots were blocked 15 times. Bynum had 30 rebounds a few weeks ago against San Antonio, making him one of only five Lakers to hit the mark. On Sunday, he broke the team playoff record of his former mentor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had nine blocks in 1977 against Golden State. It was only the second time in NBA playoff history that a player had a triple-double including blocked shots. Hakeem Olajuwon had 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocked shots against the Lakers in 1990…”If he continues to play like he did … being the type of monster he was today, patrolling the paint, we’ll be playing a long time,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. No pressure there. ”It’s not pressure,” Bynum said. “It’s just the truth. If I come out and play defense, this team is a lot better.”
Devin Ebanks, starting for the suspended Metta World Peace, was also a difference maker in the game.
From Mark Medina of Los Angeles Times: “He refused to flex his muscles. He declined to blow kisses to the crowd. He said little about his game afterward. Replacing a suspended Metta World Peace as the Lakers starting small forward, Devin Ebanks hardly provided the dramatics the player formerly known as Ron Artest usually exhibits. Instead, in the Lakers’ 103-88 Game 1 victory Sunday over the Denver Nuggets, Ebanks posted 12 points (on five-of-six shooting) and five rebounds off subtle play. As he gushed about Ebanks’ playoff debut in just his second year in the NBA, Lakers Coach Mike Brown marveled at how the 6-9 swingman took an otherwise routine 18-foot jumper in the second quarter. Just as he caught Kobe Bryant’s pass, Ebanks stood a few steps below the three-point line. Instead of stepping back, though, Ebanks simply nailed the jumper. ”That’s a small thing,” Brown said, “but that’s part of being solid.” Ebanks’ 12 points all came in the first half and at one point led in the team in scoring. Yet his performance encapsulated how Ebanks has treated playing time as less of an audition and more as a way to prove his fundamentally steady growth.”
From Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: “Sure, his low-post crime partner is named Pau, but Andrew Bynum is the Big Onomatopoeia. Boom! Pop! Thwack! Bynum stuffed and swatted the Nuggets on Sunday, 10 blocked shots in all at the Staples Center, as the Lakers cruised to a 103-88 victory in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series. Manning the Lakers’ low post once occupied by Shaquille O’Neal, who was the Big Fill In the Blank for many years, Bynum changed the course of Game 1 with his smothering defense. ”We can’t give up 15 (total) blocks. A block is like a turnover,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Shot blockers, you have to attack, but you have to respect — if you attack and respect, you will find shots. Tonight the shot blocker won the game for them, probably.” Karl, though, suggested that Bynum and the Lakers received some help. ”Yeah, he was playing nice illegal defense,” Karl said. “He was zoned up good. I think we got one illegal defense (call) — I saw about 30.” The low-post dominance from Bynum and Pau Gasol, combined with the smart footwork by the Lakers’ perimeter defenders, led to the Denver disaster — 35.6 percent shooting, the Nuggets’ worst of the season. The Nuggets need their backcourt to click. Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo each averaged about 19 points in April games. Well, each shot only 3-for-11 on Sunday and combined for just 16 points. When Lawson pushes the basketball in transition, when he pierces the half-court defense with his penetration and when he shoots with confidence off the dribble, he can be a game-changing point guard. He did none of that Sunday.”
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. Follow him on twitter @nbatupark.