Just when it looked like Thursday might be a decent time to schedule a date night …
It’s all good.
We were ridded of the Orlando Magic and their soap opera season in the first game of the night Wednesday, and after that came dramatics and comebacks that made that early evening double espresso worth the caffeine rush.
First, the Hawks survived when Al Horford (you remember him, the guy who said he wouldn’t be playing in this round) rushed out to defend Rajon Rondo after a potential game-altering steal, forcing Rondo to lose the ball as the final buzzer sounded to give Atlanta a 1-point victory, 87-86, that sends the series against the Celtics back to Boston for a Game 6.
Next, the given-up-for-dead Chicago Bulls finally remembered they were the deepest deep in the Eastern Conference this season and almost never lost consecutive games, summoning that knowledge and channelling it into a 77-69 victory over the Sixers that sends that series back to Philly.
And finally, the Lakers staged an epic fourth-quarter comeback behind Kobe Bryant that had everyone at the Staples Center on their feet (OK, we’re not so sure about Jack, but 99 percent of the beautiful people were upright) before the rally ultimately came up short, sending the Lakers-Nuggets series back to Denver for a third Game 6.
Yes, it’s going to be quite a Thursday across America, with hoops fans having some real drama to watch rather than enduring a night without basketball and lamenting the ACLs, fire extinguisher cases and the absence of Metta World Peace that until now have been the defining themes of the 2012 playoffs.
Who knows? Maybe we even get a bonus tonight if the Knicks (playing on the road in Miami) and the Grizzlies (playing at home in Memphis) can force another pair of Game 6s, which will cancel any fallback date-night plans y’all may be been making for Friday.
But let’s start with Tuesday, and we’ll give lead billing to the team that joined the Spurs and Thunder in the second round. With Larry Bird wearing a green plaid suit (no, really, it was a green plaid suit) from a seat near courtside, Indiana unleashed a fourth-quarter offensive onslaught to finish off an Orlando team that was diminished to a rag-tag band of 3-point chuckers over their final 48 minutes together.
With backup (because he was demoted) point guard Darren Collison leading the charge, the Pacers outscored the Magic 36-16 in the fourth quarter of a 105-87 victory that left the crowd chanting “Beat the Heat” in the waning moments. Of course, the Heat still have to get there, but that is seen as an inevitability more than a possibility. They are 11-point favorites tonight against the visiting Knicks (Click here for all the NBA odds).
After a half-decade of futility and frustration defined by one moment of madness , the Pacers have something to feel positive about (aside from Bird’s choice of haberdasher).
From Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star: “It is receding now, far into the distance, The Brawl reduced finally to a long-lost memory. It is almost imperceptible now, a regrettable chunk of Indiana Pacers history, but no longer an event that informs the franchise in any shape or form. Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was the turning point. It was, quite simply, the night The Brawl faded completely from view, the night the Pacers, patiently and marvelously rebuilt by team President Larry Bird and his front office, began to write a new chapter in franchise history. Has it really been that long? This was the Pacers’ first playoff series victory since 2005 (over Boston), the first time they closed out a playoff series at home since the Finals run in 2000. Forever, it seems. “A couple of years ago, maybe it was three years ago, after the season, I went into Larry Bird’s office,” Danny Granger said. “And he told me, ‘Hang in there. We’re not going to be where we want to be for another three years.’ And he was right on it. There have been some lean years I’ve been a part of. So to experience this now, it’s just awesome.” Give Bird and his front office credit. Give Frank Vogel, who needs to have the third year of his contract guaranteed (and now) credit. And give these players credit for turning themselves into the type of team — emphasis on team – that this city and region can embrace without hesitation.”
Danny Granger scored 25 points, Collison scored 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and George Hill added 15 points for the Pacers, who trailed by two at the end of the third quarter but won going away.
”Fun to be a part of,” said Hill, who grew up a Pacers fan in Indianapolis. ”It’s a blessing. The support that we had today, it reminded me of the Pacers back in the day. To be a part of it was fun.”
What do the Magic do now? Or more specifically, which type of explosive do they choose as they figure out how much they are going to blow up their team. I discussed that topic this morning with Brian Fritz on 740 The Game in Orlando (click to listen).
The Game of the Night look place in Los Angeles, where the Nuggets weren’t ready to call it a summer — even if Kobe Bryant sure came close to ending Denver’s season. Bryant made four late 3-pointers to rally Los Angeles from a 15-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter, but he missed his final three attempts
JaVale McGee had 21 points and 14 rebounds for the sixth-seeded Nuggets, who barely survived a frenetic finish. Denver had a 15-point lead midway through the fourth quarter against the lifeless Lakers, but Bryant engineered a swift comeback before his final three shots — one of which came just before the final buzzer and was followed by a missed 3 from Ramon Sessions — missed to allow Denver to escape, 102-99.
Perhaps Andrew Bynum wants to rethink his thought about how closeout games can sometimes be easy (Truth be told, he was correct. Just ask the Pacers. But when an opponent is not reeling from a season of anarchy as the Magic were, the dynamic changes).
From Greg Beacham of The Associated Press: “Coach George Karl gratefully fed Bynum’s offhanded post-practice comment to his players, and they played like a team that isn’t going anywhere. ”I’ve been blessed to win a few series, and it’s the hardest thing in the world to win the fourth game,” Karl said. ”I don’t care who you’re playing, it’s hard. … His feeling on closeouts is a little different than mine.” (JaVale) McGee (21 points, 14 rebounds) threw down a mind-boggling array of dunks and converted alley-oop passes while dominating the Lakers’ superstar duo of 7-footers. McGee dunked on a 60-foot alley-oop pass from (Andre) Miller early in the fourth quarter, and he stared down the Lakers’ fans after dunking while getting fouled with 6:35 to play. Arron Afflalo scored a career playoff-high 19 points and Danilo Gallinari added 14 for the Nuggets, while rookie Kenneth Faried had 10 points and nine rebounds. Miller scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and 17 in the second half, calmly leading his young teammates to the win.
From Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times: “The Lakers wanted to instantly break the Nuggets’ will in a potential elimination game. The Nuggets vowed they’d fight to the end. What really happened? The Lakers and Nuggets played with the same kind of execution many would see in a typical rec-ball game. The Lakers frequently moved the ball, but they still shot 38.9% (35 of 90). Bryant couldn’t shoot over double teams as he normally does, while stewing over many non-calls. (Pau) Gasol’s mid-range jumpers clanked off the rim. On one possession, both Jordan Hill and Matt Barnes missed consecutive put-backs. On another, the fans at Staples Center went crazy over Steve Blake and Barnes making consecutive fastbreak layups because of how awful the offense looked. Even Andrew Bynum fumbled a ball out-of-bounds. Those cheers soon turned into boos throughout the second half. JaVale McGee drove baseline uncontested for a dunk. Andre Miller breezed past Barnes off a single dribble. Miller threw a half-court lob to McGee. Simply an ugly performance no matter how you slice it.
In Atlanta, the Hawks nearly threw this one away. Twice, they needed to inbound the ball to force the Celtics to foul. The first time, they were forced to call timeout. The second time, Rondo stole the ball.
Boston had no timeouts remaining, and Rondo quickly turned and dribbled up the left side of the court. That’s when the most meaningful defensive play of the night happened, with Al Horford rushing out to pressure Rondo, who fumbled the ball and lost it out of bounds as the clock was expiring.
From Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “With his dual-personality basketball team facing playoff elimination Tuesday night, Hawks coach Larry Drew started a center (Al Horford) who was coming off his first game in nearly four months and a forward (Marvin Williams) who had played his way on to the bench for much of this season. “We wanted to give a different look and see if it jump-starts us,” Drew said. This is where the average Hawks fan inserted the just-rearranging-the-chairs-on-the-Titanic joke. Because, well, what is an Atlanta sports fan if not someone with a sense of impending doom? But something weird happened. Actually, more like something Hawks happened. Philips Arena was Sybil Central again. They trailed by 10 early. They led by 12 late. They blew the lead (of course). They got it back (of course). They led 87-83 with a minute left, but left Paul Pierce wide open for a 3-pointer (seriously?). Then they led by one point and had the ball with 10 seconds left, but Josh Smith threw away an inbounds pass to Rajon Rondo (Smith later on Rondo: “He’s got long fingers.”), only to knock away a pass at the other end as time expired. Sorry. Did you lose your stomach about seven turns back?”
Finally, we turn to a team that is running on fumes (Chicago) while competing against a team that was prone to stinking up the joint through the months of March and April. The score was 35-26 at halftime, and the only saving grace that kept a large percentage of basketball fans awake was the opportunity to switch over to the start of the Nuggets-Lakers game.
The Bulls locked down the Sixers, holding them to season lows for points and shooting ( 32.1 percent). And with Carlos Boozer 19 points, 13 rebounds, six assists) and Luol Deng (24 points) providing just enough offense, the series was extended to a Game 6 in Philadelphia, where we shall see if the local populace is sufficiently swayed by the merits of this Sixers team to sell out the Wells Fargo Arena. (Games 3 and 4 were sellouts, but there were a significant amount of no-shows).
From K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “The challenges have kept coming all season. The Bulls erased an 11-point deficit with 4 minutes left in the season opener to beat the Lakers on Derrick Rose‘s game-winner. They navigated 27 regular-season games without Rose, going 18-9. They played extended stretches without Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton. Perhaps that’s why they shrugged off the pressure of an elimination game and defeated the 76ers 77-69 in Tuesday night’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals despite playing again without Rose and Joakim Noah. Perhaps that’s why they avoided ending a second straight postseason with a four-game skid. Luol Deng’s 24 points included three fourth-quarter 3-pointers and led the Bulls, who are seeking to become the ninth team in NBA history to win a playoff series from a 3-1 deficit. They also are trying to avoid becoming just the fifth No. 1 seed since 1984 to lose to an eighth seed. There’s no time to exhale. Game 6 is Thursday night in Philadelphia. ”It’s about time we closed a game,” Carlos Boozer said.