If there was one lesson Danny Granger learned earlier this season about saying something to fire up the other team (he did it after losing two straight games to the Knicks), it was this:
Yet, that’s exactly what Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo did in his recent interview after his one-game suspension.
“The end result is all that matters,” Rondo said. “If there had been a different result, it would have been very difficult. But since we won, it felt like we won the series already.”
That quote will certainly be shared in the Atlanta locker room tonight as the Hawks head into the TD Garden, though Josh Smith will likely understand his good friend’s nature.
The Hawks-Celtics meeting is just one of three playoff games slated for Friday, all on ESPN.
Atlanta (1-1) at Boston (1-1):
The Hawks look to steal that formula in Game 3, as they will be without Smith who suffered a strained knee tendon in the previous game.
Without Smith, someone else will have to step up as the starter.
Marvin Williams may fit the bill as their best current option to step in as the interim power forward.
From Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Josh Smith says he’s a game-time decision tonight for Game 3. If Smith can’t go, which lineup should Larry Drew use in an attempt to somehow win without him? My (meaningless vote) is for sending out Marvin Williams alongside Jeff Teague, Kirk Hinrich, Joe Johnson and Jason Collins. (Ivan Johnson has done all that can be expected in this series but the second unit needs his zip, toughness, post defense and rebounding.) From a matchup perspective, I like this lineup because Marvin can defend Paul Pierce instead of Joe. This would theoretically allow Joe to play more overall minutes (more on that later) and have more energy left at the end because Brandon Bass is a much easier defensive assignment. Bass’ game generally is limited to making mid-range and long 2s . Joe would have to keep Bass off the boards but Bass is a fellow blah rebounder.”
Whoever plays, the Hawks will have to stay composed without succumbing to pressure against a veteran Celtics squad that seized critical moments.
More from Cunningham: “If the Hawks tire late in games, the Celtics seem to regenerate. Hawks coach Larry Drew told his players the Celtics “smell blood in the water” when they sense the Hawks becoming tentative. “We allowed the pressure to take us out of what we wanted to do,” Drew said. “You can’t allow that to happen, not in the playoffs. You’ve got to do things harder, do things with pace. We were too lethargic, too methodical.” The Celtics haven’t been much better than the Hawks on offense, but they’ve been stingier when it counts most. The Hawks scored 31 points in the first quarter of Game 1, but managed only 52 over the next three periods, including 21 in the final 16 minutes of the game. The Hawks scored 44 points before halftime in Game 2 before sputtering to 36 points in the second half, including 20 over the final 16 minutes.”
Zaza Pachulia suffered a bone chip in his left foot as well as a sprained left ankle and will likely remain out until at least Game 6.
Playing without a suspended Rajon Rondo in Game 2, Paul Pierce turned back the clock in the 87-80 victory and went into “The Truth” mode (or “Tim Tebow” mode), doing just about everything for the Celtics with 36 points, 14 rebounds and four assists in over 44 minutes of play to help his team overcome an 11-point deficit.
He won’t have to carry as big of a load in Game 3, with Rondo – unapologetic about his actions – due for a return.
From Steve Bulpett of Boston Herald: “It’s abundantly clear that punishment hasn’t mellowed Rajon Rondo. He was fighting for each inch of the interview when he made his first public comments following a one-game suspension for making contact with a referee last Sunday… Rondo was asked about the appreciation he showed to his teammates — he ran down the tunnel at Philips Arena and hugged Kevin Garnett — and whether he felt he let his teammates down by missing the game. “I didn’t feel like I needed to say thank you for getting this win,” Rondo replied. “We’re trying to get as many wins as possible. You know, they’ve won without me before, so it’s not the first game I’ve missed. I’ve missed (for) injuries and suspensions. It’s just a big win because this is the playoffs. You know, every win counts.” And about the letting them down thing? “No,” he told the TV reporter. “Do you feel like I let them down?”
Allen – after missing the two contests in Atlanta due to an ankle injury – is optimistic of his chance of playing, though Doc Rivers is still guarded.
From Rich Thompson of Boston Herald: “Allen has missed 11 straight games and 16 of the last 21 with bone spurs in his right ankle. Allen will have the spurs removed surgically in the offseason.“Injuries are tough and we all deal with them, but I like the way I feel right now,” said Allen choosing his words carefully. “I’m in a good place, so I’m optimistic. I deal with the days as they come. I am optimistic about playing and that is a great step forward.” Celtics coach Doc Rivers has game planned around Allen’s availability since the start of the series. After the injury forced him to sit and watch both games in Atlanta, Rivers’ degree of optimism was justifiably more guarded than Allen’s. “There’s nothing really new but he’s going to practice and that’s good,” said Rivers. “I think he has a better shot but we’ll find that out.”
If Allen can’t go, Mickael Pietrus will have to continue to play a key role.
Chicago (1-1) at Philadelphia (1-1):
Despite a notable effort from Joakim Noah, who had 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting, Chicago had no answers offensively as the rest of the starting lineup went cold, shooting just 15-of-43.
Defense was just as much of an issue as the Sixers outscored the Bulls 36-14 in the third quarter that decided the outcome of the game.
Chicago will use the same game plan as they have all season long. It will be a simple matter of execution.
From K.C. Johnson of Chicago Tribune: “”We’ve been through tougher things than this,” Luol Deng said following a 90-minute practice. “I know how everyone feels. We’ve got a lot of guys who are fighters. We’re going to fight our way out of this.”The blueprint to do this has been espoused by coach Tom Thibodeau all season: Defend. Rebound. Limit turnovers. Play inside-out offensively. Share the ball. Better transition defense and more scoring from starters would help as well. The 76ers scored 25 fast-break points off just eight Bulls turnovers in Game 2, which suggests poor shot selection and floor balance offensively.”(The 76ers) leak out,” Thibodeau said. “They’re small. They’re quick. When they have Thaddeus Young on the floor, it’s like having another small out there. You can’t have just one guy or two guys back. On the raise of the shot, you have to have the discipline to be back. Not on your way back, but be back.”
Richard Hamilton and Carlos Boozer will have to improve their overall play if they want to see more playing time.
From K.C. Johnson of Chicago Tribune: “Will Richard Hamilton play in the fourth quarter? Will Carlos Boozer score more? Will the Chicago Bulls respond to avoid losing two straight games for just the fourth time in 15 months?… With their best-of-seven series tied at 1-1, the Bulls sound confident they can return to the defensive and rebounding mindset that led them to a league-best, 50-16 regular-season mark. ”I think we’re great, honestly,” Carlos Boozer said. “We had a great practice yesterday. You don’t really get a loss out of your system until you win the next game. But we’re all highly motivated and that’s what we need to be.” Hamilton has yet to play in the fourth quarter of either game. On Thursday, coach Tom Thibodeau merely replied “just our rotation” when asked why Kyle Korver is closing games. On Friday, he expounded on the subject. ”Our whole team didn’t play well,” Thibodeau said. “So you have to say, ‘Ok, the third quarter we had a problem.’ You’re looking at everything. That doesn’t mean it will always be that way. But we didn’t play well so we started looking for different answers.”
Jrue Holiday scored 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting, Lou Williams had 20 points, and the new starting shooting guard Evan Turner added 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
They also held an unlikely rebounding edge of 38-32, something they must repeat in order to have continued success against the best rebounding team in the league.
From Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: “During the regular season, the 76ers won only eight games in which they both outrebounded and made more free throws than the opposition. Those are the building blocks of professional basketball, but they are not what the Sixers do particularly well. At their best, the Sixers win the turnover battles, limit the opponent’s shooting percentage, and scoop up easy points with their fastbreak game. Being able to control the basket area – drawing contact to get free throws, and grabbing the contested rebounds – is what every coach would like his team to do. Doug Collins of the 76ers has a roster that isn’t made for that kind of basketball, and he has to find other ways to win almost all the time… When the series resumes in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, look for Chicago to reassert itself around the basket. It might not be pretty. In fact, it might be brutish. But that is what the Bulls will try to do.
Andre Iguodala has right Achilles tendinitis, but will play in Game 3.
Los Angeles Lakers (2-0) at Denver (0-2):
The game did become much closer in Game 2 when Denver erased a 19-point deficit before coming up just short 104-100.
High altitude figures to play a role in Game 3, where the Nuggets will look to push the pace once again.
From Mark Medina of Los Angeles Times: “Even with a 2-0 series lead, the Lakers shouldn’t suddenly think they’re invincible. The Nuggets chipped away at the Lakers’ 19-point lead in Game 2 because they pushed in the open floor and wound up with 30 fast-break points. They outhustled the Lakers in rebounding (52-48) and second-chance points (26-19). Playing in Denver could make it more difficult to overcome. Denver’s shooting percentage in regular-season home games (47.9%) and road games (47.3%) were similar, but that dynamic could change. Kobe Bryant joked he’ll smoke cigars to prepare for playing at high altitude, but the air could test the Lakers’ conditioning. Add in the home crowd, and there’s little margin for error in allowing the Nuggets to get in the open floor.”
Bryant has played like a monster so far, averaging 34.5 points and looking as spry as ever.
The shin injury that sidelined him for much of April may have been a blessing in disguise, providing rest for the star who seemed fatigued down the stretch of the regular season.
More from Medina: “However, that game against New Orleans provided Bryant with something that would get him rest. An injury. Although Bryant managed to play the next four games, the pain eventually became so much worse that the Lakers’ training staff forced him to miss seven games so that it would fully heal. The Lakers then secured the Western Conference’s No. 3 seeding in time to rest Bryant for the season finale last week against Sacramento. Since then, Bryant has helped lead the Lakers to a 2-0 first-round series lead over the Denver Nuggets by averaging 34.5 points a game on 49.1% shooting. Does this reflect Bryant feeling more energized and healthy? ”Absolutely,” he said. Bryant avoided explaining how.”
Andrew Bynum, who plans on growing an afro soon, has also been a force to be reckoned with in the series, following a triple-double in Game 1 with 27 points in Game 2.
Interestingly, he’s not content with how he played.
From Ben Bolch of Los Angeles Times: ”I left a lot on the court today,” Bynum said Tuesday after the Lakers’ 104-100 victory over the Denver Nuggets that gave them a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference first-round series that resumes with Game 3 on Friday at the Pepsi Center. “I worked way too hard before the game to let that happen. I could have had a perfect game.” Giving himself two thumbs down for missing a few shots seemed out of character for someone who had largely blown off more dire circumstances in previous months. Could his surprising self-assessment be a sign that the 7-footer is, well, growing up? ”To me, in order to take it to the next level, you have to be your toughest critic,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said Thursday. “And if he’s doing that and he truly means it, which I think he does, then, yeah, it’s going to help him out. It’s going to help him become the superstar that he can be one day.”
A fast start in the first quarter could make the difference.
From Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: “You don’t win a game in the first quarter. But you can lose one. That’s one of the fears for the Nuggets heading into tonight’s Game 3 first round Western Conference playoff series. Denver trails the Lakers 2-0. The Lakers came out swinging in both first quarters. In Game 1, L.A. outscored Denver 27-14. In Game 2, the Lakers took a 32-25 lead after one period. Playing at home, the Nuggets hope to utilize the loud crowd and the altitude to an early advantage tonight. ”We all know the importance of the game, but you can’t go crazy,” Nuggets coach George Karl said today after Denver’s shootaround. “You got to be ready. You got to be the guy to create the fight, start the fight.
Ty Lawson, who had 25 points and seven assists, was much more assertive in Game 2 after scoring only seven points in Game 1.
The key to success at home may be the play of Danilo Gallinari, who struggled in the previous game.
More from Hochman: “In Game 2, Danilo Gallinari got to the paint but couldn’t get the shots to drop — and couldn’t get to the line. The result was a subpar shooting performance for Denver’s potent forward — 13 points on 5-for-18 shooting in the loss. He actually missed seven of his nine attempts from inside the paint and attempted only two foul shots, making both. Heading into Game 3 tonight, Gallinari said after Thursday’s practice: “You have to find the right balance and right emotions for you, so you don’t come out too emotional or too energized. We all need to find the right energy, and I know we’re going to find it tomorrow.” This balance will be important for Gallinari, who has struggled for much of the season against the Lakers. He did, however, have a pretty good Game 1, scoring 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting.
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. You can find him on twitter @nbatupark.