The first round of the playoffs are seemingly coming to a quicker close than many may have anticipated.
The Mavericks and Jazz have already been swept out, and one of the remaining teams in each series is on the brink of elimination.
Four teams will try to extend their postseason on Tuesday night as they head into their series down 3-1, but history is not on their side, as only eight teams in NBA history have come back from a 3-1 deficit.
The only consolation news they have is that of those eight teams, five moved onto the Finals.
It was much worse the second time around, as they gave up a 19-point cushion in the fourth quarter, and nearly lost the game in regulation, but Jameer Nelson’s game-winning shot attempt came up short. They did just enough to win in overtime with George Hill hitting two free throws to seal the 101-99 victory.
Having gone through some grinding games against Orlando, Indiana is not taking their opponent lightly in the potential close-out game.
From Mike Wells of Indianapolis Star: “One victory in the next three games. That’s all it takes for the Indiana Pacers to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in seven years. The Pacers aren’t looking at it that way despite their 3-1 cushion over the Orlando Magic in their best-of-seven series. They want to end the series tonight. Not Friday in Game 6. And definitely not Sunday in Game 7. They want to do it tonight in front of what should be a sellout crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. ”(Coach) Frank (Vogel) put it best: We have to approach it like a Game 7,” forward Danny Granger said. “We have to come out like everything is on the line if we lose this game. I think if we come out with that mentality and that focus, everything will take care of itself.”
In order to end the series in five games, Roy Hibbert will have to do a better job against Glen Davis, who has had his way in the post for much of the first four games.
More from Wells: “Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert wants to be on the court for as long as possible in tonight’s Game 5 against the Orlando Magic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. One way for that to happen is to do a good job defending Orlando’s big man Glen Davis. Davis, starting at center in place of the injured Dwight Howard, is shooting 46 percent from the field and averaging 20 points a game so far in the series. Davis has been effective by knocking down midrange jump shots off pick-and-rolls with Orlando’s point guards.”
From Josh Robbins of Orlando Sentinel: “The Orlando Magic say they’ve gotten over losing Game 4 to the Indiana Pacers in heartbreaking fashion. “At the end of the day, it’s tough, but you’ve got to let it go because you’ve got one more game,” Glen Davis said after the Magic finished practice today at Amway Center. “You can dwell on that or you can get ready and focused on the tasks at hand. We want to stay alive. In order to do that, we’ve got to go and bring that high energy level and forget about the past.” Of course, the true test of whether they have recovered emotionally will be when the teams face off in Game 5 Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Stan Van Gundy was happy there are two days between Game 4 and Game 5. Saturday’s loss was, in his words, “just excruciating, quite honestly, for all of us.” “Yesterday, I’m just speaking for myself, you’re still feeling it,” Van Gundy said. “You’re still feeling it. But you’re doing your work and you’re getting ready and the whole thing, but you’re still feeling it. But then you come in today and, hey, we’ve all been through this long enough and been through enough of these games that by today you’re on to the next one. I think that’s where everybody’s head, coaches and players, were today.”
Pushing the pace will be the key to a victory against a team that clearly has a strong size advantage.
More from Robbins: The Pacers’ height advantage has caused significant problems for the Magic all series, but one way to negate Indy’s height advantage is to prevent Indy’s defense from getting set. “To me, there’s no other way to effectively play against size, especially athletic size, than to keep them on the move,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “The slower we move, the slower we play, the tougher they become.” To do that, Orlando has to stop its plodding offensive ways and push the ball whenever possible. Orlando also has to swing the ball and employ good ball movement. Orlando’s halfcourt offense struggled in Game 4 when Chris Duhon spelled Nelson. Van Gundy might be well-served to play speedier Ish Smith instead of Duhon.
Ryan Anderson, shooting just 32.2 percent in the series, will have to play better against David West, who had his way with 26 points and 12 rebounds in Game 4.
The team saw the return of Al Horford, who hadn’t played since January 11 after suffering a torn pectoral muscle. He scored 12 points in 20 minutes of play and looks to suit up again on Tuesday.
Josh Smith also made a hasty return from a strained knee and had 15 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, but also committed six turnovers.
Atlanta will need better production off the bench that has failed them thus far in the series.
From Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “When coach Larry Drew has gone to his bench, the Celtics have often countered by keeping at least two of their top three players – Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo – on the floor. This has led to some match-up problems. Marvin Williams, who started Game 3 in the absence of Josh Smith (knee), has made just 5-of-23 shots (.217) in the series. Pargo has made just 6-of-21 shots (.286) and Willie Green has made 6-of-13 shots and only one 3-pointer. Ivan Johnson has converted 5-of-16 shots (.313) and played just 6:26 in Sunday’s Game 4 loss. “They have not been able to make shots,” Drew said. “We rely on our bench a lot to give us some type of offensive energy. We have guys who are capable of making shots. We have not made shots. That is one of the things that hopefully [Tuesday] night, we can get one or two guys to get on a little bit of a roll.”
Joe Johnson, who had nine points on just eight shot attempts, hopes to get more touches in Game 5.
More from Vivlamore: “A day later, Joe Johnson was at loss for words about the Hawks’ embarrassing Game 4 loss to the Celtics that has the team on the brink of playoff elimination. His one-word answer to a question on his number of shot attempts spoke volumes. Johnson took just eight shots in Sunday’s 101-79 loss to the Celtics, who are up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series heading into Game 5 Tuesday at Philips Arena. “I don’t think they are doing anything different defensively on me,” Johnson said. “I think it’s just, basically, getting an opportunity to touch the ball. That’s it.” When asked if he was not happy with his touches, Johnson answered with a simple, but emphatic, “No.”
Rajon Rondo, perhaps the MVP of the playoffs thus far, had another stellar game with 20 points, 16 assists, three steals and just one turnover.
Paul Pierce was nearly unstoppable, scoring 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting.
Despite hurting his knee in Game 4, he will play on Tuesday.
From Mark Murphy of Boston Herald: “Celtics coach Doc Rivers has expressed concern over the availability of three players for tonight’s Game 5 against the Hawks due to health reasons — Avery Bradley (shoulder), Mickael Pietrus (hamstring) and Paul Pierce (knee). Pierce, who suffered the knee injury during Sunday morning’s pregame shootaround but still went on to score 24 points in 17 minutes during the Celtics’ Game 4 win, expressed his intention late Sunday night via Twitter: “I think the knee is going to be fine glad I didn’t have to play a lot of minutes tonight to rest it good win tonight fellas.” With Pierce’s history of coming back from injury, that sounds about right. The captain was on the floor shooting at the Celtics’ practice facility in Waltham before the team departed for the airport yesterday.”
That sentiment changed when Chicago also lost Joakim Noah to a serious ankle sprain, and now, Philadelphia has a chance to close them out in just five games.
From John N. Mitchell of The Inquirer: “The 76ers recognize that now is the time to deliver the kill shot in their series with the Chicago Bulls. They know that now, leading three games to one in their best-of-seven series, with the Bulls missing their best player and probably their second best as well, is the time to finish them off. ”You can’t go in with the idea that we’ve got three games to win one,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said Monday at the team’s practice facility at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “That’d be bad psychology. You got to go on the idea that we want to go to Chicago and we want to finish the series.”
One of the surprising factors in the series has been their ability to get to the free throw line, a notable problem the team has had all season long, thanks to a change in the starting lineup.
More from Mitchell: “After going to the free-throw line a league-low 18.2 times per game – just shy of the league-low record of 18 by the 2005-06 Phoenix Suns – the Sixers have lived on the line in this series. The Sixers have gone to the line 30 times or more in three of their four playoff games against Chicago. So what gives? Coach Doug Collins said part of the reason for the difference has been the insertion of Evan Turner into the starting lineup. ”We’re playing a different team,” Collins said. “Jodie Meeks was the starter and he would stand out beyond the three-point line and give us spacing. Now all of a sudden we’ve got three guys out there that are all driving – and you throw Lou [Williams] out there, four. So now we’re a different team.”
The biggest factor for the last two games has been the play of Spencer Hawes, who is averaging 21.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. He had a combined seven points and seven rebounds in the first two games.
From David Haugh of Chicago Tribune: “In the past 10 emotional days, the Bulls have lost their MVP, their emotional leader, Joakim Noah, and dealt publicly with a heart condition team Vice President John Paxson hoped to keep private before Collins sent well-wishes from the podium. Not coincidentally in that stretch, the Bulls also lost three straight games to a lesser team, their focus, identity and anything resembling a swagger. Physically, even without Rose or Noah I still find no acceptable excuse for the Bulls to lose to a 76ers team that failed to shoot 40 percent in its last two wins. Alas, mentally, there are no signs of the Bulls recovering. An air of inevitability looms.”
Though the circumstances are worse now, one player that may still believe in their chance of coming back is Richard Hamilton, who was a part of the Pistons team that also came back from a 3-1 deficit.
From K.C. Johnson of Chicago Tribune: ”You can win and continue playing,” Richard Hamilton said. “Or you can go home. So you have to make it personal.” As the Bulls try to avoid becoming just the fifth No. 1 seed to fall to a No. 8 seed since the NBA instituted a 16-team playoff format in 1984, it seems fitting that Hamilton spoke some tough truths. The veteran shooting guard played for a top-seeded Pistons team that rallied from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Magic in 2003.” I remember (then-Magic swingman) Tracy (McGrady) made a comment saying it felt good to be going to the second round,” Hamilton said. “We took that personal.” Then again, that Pistons team played at full strength, unlike this Bulls team that will be without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and with a banged-up Luol Deng and C.J. Watson.”
Carlos Boozer had 23 points, 11 rebounds and four assists to help shoulder the load in Game 4.
The scoring has been tougher in Denver, where his average dipped to just 22 points, but his willingness to involve teammates has made a difference.
This was especially the case when he passed in the final minute to Steve Blake who drilled a 3-pointer to help close the game 92-88.
The Lakers will have a chance to close out the Nuggets on Tuesday, and they are a team known to be excellent in close-out situations.
From Mike Bresnahan of Los Angeles Times: “These are the games that defined the Lakers’ recent runs to the NBA Finals, three consecutive appearances until their forgettable flop last season. If there was a series they could close out, the Lakers were almost automatic, going 12-1 since acquiring Pau Gasol in 2008. Their lone mistake was a Game 6 loss to Houston in the 2009 conference semifinals, though they quickly atoned by eliminating the Rockets in the next game and taking the NBA championship four weeks later in Orlando. They have a chance Tuesday to put away the Denver Nuggetsin Game 5 of the first round. “Hopefully, we finish them off,” Andrew Bynum said. “I don’t want to go back to Denver.” If the Lakers don’t win Tuesday, they might be on the road for quite a while. Game 6 would be Thursday in Denver, and if the Lakers won that, they might head directly to Oklahoma City for the next round, which would presumably start Saturday or Sunday”
From Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: “Gasol’s pick — or Gallo’s flop, depending on your view — is emblematic of a series in which the Lakers have imposed their will with overwhelming toughness… Entering tonight’s Game 5 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, with the Lakers ready to close things out on their home court, it’s obvious what the Nuggets need to do to keep this best-of-seven series going: Be tougher and rebound better. In their only victory in this series, the Nuggets won Game 3 by controlling the offensive boards. But the Lakers had 10 more rebounds Sunday, including 19 on the offensive glass. That’s a killer for the Nuggets because they thrive off points in transition. With the Lakers able to slow the game by controlling the boards, their brawny bigs stole opportunities for Denver to keep the tempo at a fast pace. The Lakers outscored the Nuggets in second-chance points 28-18. ”We’ve got to make adjustments,” Nuggets center JaVale McGee said Monday. “They made adjustments to us rebounding. Their guards were coming in, boxing us out, helping their rebounding.”
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. You can find him on twitter @nbatupark.