Tracy McGrady sprained an ankle (though he later returned), Avery Bradley hurt his shoulder, and Al Harrington fractured his nose.
No team, though, is getting hit harder than the Chicago Bulls, the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, who lost 79-74 at Philadelphia to fall behind 2-1 to the Sixers.
Already without Derrick Rose, who was lost for the remainder of the playoffs after tearing an ACL in his left knee in Game 1, Chicago lost another key player in Joakim Noah to a fairly gruesome ankle injury.
With 7 minutes and 57 seconds left in the third quarter, Noah led a fast break and drove to the basket but stepped on Andre Iguodala’s foot and crumpled to the floor, screaming in pain.
(Warning: if you have a weak stomach, this clip may not be for you.)
As you can see, Noah’s injury is no ordinary ankle sprain. Though he
foolishly miraculously returned in the fourth quarter, he was clearly unfit to stay on the court.
“He wanted to give it a shot,” Tom Thibodeau said. “You could see he couldn’t move. First, he has to be cleared by athletic trainer Fred Tedeschi. He felt like he could go. Once we saw he was having a hard time moving, that was it.”
“You could see he couldn’t move” would perhaps indicate that a better coaching decision was in order.
After hearing some criticism for leaving Rose in a game they had essentially won, Thibodeau is sure to hear some further flack for allowing Noah to even make an attempt to come back into the game.
The crowd of Wells Fargo Arena, by the way, should be ashamed of themselves.
It is entirely possible that the Bulls may have lost their starting center for at least the remainder of the first round.
What many predicted would be an easy series for the Bulls, even after Game 1, suddenly looks losable.
The Bulls uncharacteristically broke apart in the fourth quarter, and they may slowly be breaking down as a team, both physically and mentally.
From K.C. Johnson of Chicago Tribune: “Before Joakim Noah hobbled out of Wells Fargo Arena on crutches in an air cast to protect what is a serious left ankle injury, Tom Thibodeau stared into a sea of faces and offered familiar words. ”We have more than enough to win with,” he said. After another overachieving regular season in which the Bulls entered the playoffs as a powerhouse No. 1 seed, Thibodeau’s words sounded hollow for the first time. The Bulls somehow coughed up a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead to lose 79-74 to the 76ers on Friday night, falling into a 2-1 hole in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals that resume here Sunday. Derrick Rose already is out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Luol Deng is playing through a torn ligament in his left wrist that, again Friday, rendered his left hand mostly useless. Noah is in bad shape. Initial X-rays were negative, however the team hasn’t ruled out a fracture, two sources said. C.J. Watson, who failed to score, continues to battle lingering ankle and elbow injuries, and has a broken jumper to boot. ”We’re supposed to count on our defense late,” Taj Gibson said. “They played with a lot more will. They made the hustle plays, fighting, diving. They got to loose balls. That’s what is so disappointing.” Indeed, on a night were the Bulls outrebounded the 76ers, limited them to 10 fast-break points and 34.2 percent shooting, this collapse could prove catastrophic.
From Bob Cooney of The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Two quarters, 24 minutes. Third quarter Tuesday, fourth quarter Friday. That right there is the difference in the first-round playoff series between the Chicago Bulls and the 76ers. Tuesday in Chicago, the Sixers jolted to a series-evening win by throwing a 36-14 scoring advantage at the Bulls. Friday, it was the 28-14 comeback that suddenly produced an improbable, had-to-be-seen 79-74 win that gave the Sixers a lead of two games to one in the best-of-seven series. It certainly didn’t appear after three quarters that the Sixers would be holding an advantage after three games… As much as the third quarter in Game 2 brought optimism to the 76ers for the series against the Bulls, Friday’s third period seemed to zap all that momentum. Friday’s fourth quarter, however, turned out to be much like Tuesday’s third. After the Bulls corralled a half-dozen offensive rebounds at the beginning of the fourth and the fans started riding the home team with a chorus of boos, the lead grew to 67-53 on a Rip Hamilton three-pointer with 10 minutes, 16 seconds remaining. Then came the 26-7 explosion by the Sixers to end the game.”
With Andre Iguodala nursing Achilles tendinitis and mostly ineffective on offense, Evan Turner stepped up once again and showed that he can be a big time player in this league, provided the ball is in his hands.
More from Cooney: “With the Sixers up just 75-74 after a trey by John Lucas III, Turner missed a layup in traffic. He got the rebound only to be blocked by Luol Deng. He got the ball again and was fouled trying to convert a layup. His two subsequent foul shots put the Sixers up by 77-74 with 20.1 seconds left and moved the crowd to a frenzy. “It was beautiful,” said Collins of Turner’s resiliency. “Evan getting in there and fighting, he’s a big-time competitor. He is at his best in these kinds of games. He played great in Chicago. It’s fun to watch Evan and Jrue out there and Dre anchoring the defense.” Hawes scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Holiday had 17 points to go with six assists. Turner contributed 17 points and six each of rebounds and assists, and (Lou) Williams, despite an aching tailbone after a hard fall in the fourth, finished with 14 points. “The last couple of plays coach put the ball in my hands, and I didn’t want him to regret the decision,” said Turner, who played a team-high 40:42.”
Some thought it would be an easy win for the Celtics, with the return of Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, while the Hawks – already missing Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia – were without Josh Smith due to a knee injury.
But the Celtics know as well as anybody that a team facing adversity can be a tough out. They’ve won plenty of games facing adversity themselves, and used it as motivation as they did in Game 2.
From Mark Murphy of Boston Herald: “Doc Rivers, asked before the game if he was worried about the Celtics response to a team stripped of important players, said: “Of course.” After all, the Celtics have thrived on that concept since the All-Star break. So perhaps an Atlanta team forced to go long stretches with subs like Erick Dampier and Tracy McGrady in the absence of Josh Smith warranted those red flags. In a performance far more belabored than expected, the Celtics needed Rajon Rondo relentless attack and a game-sealing tip dunk from Kevin Garnett with 28 seconds left in overtime to pull out last night’s 90-84 Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff win over the visiting Atlanta Hawks. The Game 3 win gives the Celtics a 2-1 edge in the best-of-seven series over Atlanta, though they may have suffered another personnel loss. Guard Avery Bradley left the game for good late in the third quarter with a sore left shoulder. Another injury for this group is merely another seamless change in the lineup. Out went Bradley, who will be reexamined today, and back came Rondo from his one-game suspension and Allen after missing 11 games due to painful bone spurs in his right ankle. Much like the sensation in Allen’s ankle, the Celtics are in a permanent grind.”
Though he missed 15 of 22 shots, Rondo had one of those Rondo on national television games as he notched his seventh postseason triple-double with 17 points, 12 assists and 14 rebounds.
Pierce was not the player he was in the previous game and shot 3-for-12, but scored 21 points thanks to getting to the line 14 times, and converting all of them. He also missed a game-winning shot attempt at the end of regulation.
Kevin Garnett was the most consistent player for Boston as he notched 20 points and 13 rebounds. His offensive put-back dunk of Rondo’s miss down the stretch all but sealed the victory.
In the end, they relied heavily on the young legs of Jeff Teague and Joe Johnson, who made the big shots to send the game to overtime but was ultimately double-teamed down the stretch — and the rest of his team could not come through.
From Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “The Hawks tried to take it away from the Celtics. They shook off their depleted roster, scrapped well enough to force overtime, but eventually faded in a 90-84 loss. Boston leads the best-of-seven series 2-1 with Game 4 on Sunday in Boston. If the Hawks lose that game, they will head back to Atlanta for Game 5 on Tuesday facing elimination. The Hawks tried to steal Game 3 with defensive intensity, key contributions from role players and big shots late. The Celtics ran to an 86-82 lead in the extra period and held on for the victory. The Celtics squandered an 80-72 lead with less than three minutes remaining in regulation. Willie Green made a 3-pointer, Joe Johnson sank a step-back jumper and then Johnson’s deep 3-pointer tied the score 80-80 with 1:23 to play in regulation. Each team missed twice, setting up a final chance for the Celtics to win in regulation. But Paul Pierce missed at the buzzer under pressure from Johnson and Boston needed overtime to win. The Hawks nearly earned the victory despite missing two of their three best players.”
Andrew Bynum more or less forgot to show up in the first half, Kobe Bryant scored 22 points on a pedestrian 7-of-23 from the field, and the team chucked up 25 3-pointers – and made six.
From Mike Bresnahan of Los Angeles Times: “So much for a sweep. And Andrew Bynum’s coronation as the top center in the league. And Kobe Bryant’s playoff run of 30-point games. The Lakers didn’t lose Game 3. They were embarrassed for most of it, trailing by 24 before falling, 99-84, Friday at Pepsi Center. The Lakers lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1. Game 4 is Sunday at Pepsi Center. Bynum was scoreless in the first half, finished with 18 points and wasn’t the best big man on the court. That went to JaVale McGee, who had 16 points on eight-of-12 shooting and 15 rebounds. Bynum, who made five of 11 shots, wasn’t the most motivated post player either. That would be Nuggets rookie Kenneth Faried, who had 12 points, 15 rebounds and a fourth-quarter dunk that sparked the Nuggets. Bynum said he “wasn’t ready” for the first half, blaming the altitude. ”It was crazy, man,” he said. “It was tough. I missed three bunnies.” There’s new life for the Nuggets. After all, an NBA team has never come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. They didn’t lead in 96 minutes at Staples Center, but it was the Lakers who never led Game 3 after the 5:34 mark of the first quarter.”
Meanwhile, McGee – the butt of many jokes during the regular season – made his mother proud and showed the world of his potential and talent as he went toe-to-toe against one of the best centers in the league.
The combination of McGee and Kenneth the “Manimal” Faried proved to be too much for the Lakers front court to handle in high altitude.
Everything started with the overall play of speedy point guard Ty Lawson, who had 25 points and seven assists to help save the Nuggets’ season.
From Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: “It was the epitome of a breakout performance – considering that in the first two games, both won by Los Angeles – the playoff newbie McGee scored seven total points. ”I think the intensity and guts of JaVale he was working underneath the defense – always helping uphill and pounding the penetration,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “He and Kenneth Faried were really, really great. Faried has tremendous heart.”… And so, we’ve got a series. Game 4 is Sunday at the Pepsi Center. Basically since the final buzzer of Game 2, Karl and the Nuggets talked and talked about changing their first-quarter approach. ”You got to be ready,” Karl said Friday morning. “You got to be the guy to create the fight, start the fight.”…”The game for us is all about our energy. It’s not complicated for us,” Karl said. “When we play poorly, we don’t play with enough energy. Our defense was probably better than our offense tonight.” Wearing his faithful LeBron 9 Mango shoes, the fleet-footed Ty Lawson left his footprint on Game 3. He was Denver’s motor, notably in the first half, when he scored 18 points and made numerous potent penetrations from the top of the key, fearlessly taking on anyone in purple.”
The only downside of the night for Denver was losing Harrington to Bynum’s elbow. Harrington suffered a fractured nose, though he is not expected to miss any time because of the injury.
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. You can find him on twitter @nbatupark.