Before the start of the conference semifinals, some have considered the possibility of an NBA Finals rematch between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
Both teams will have to start playing much better for that to happen, especially for the Lakers, who have become serious underdogs against the Oklahoma City Thunder after getting blown out by 29 points in Game 1.
Two games are slated for tonight on TNT, where silly contests happen.
The long-time rivals have, predictably, battled down to the wire in the first two games – each contest was won by a single point – with grind-out defensive battles that have turned into some low-scoring contests.
The final score of Game 2 was 82-81, and the 76ers left Boston with what it hoped for: a split to steal homecourt advantage.
The referees had a say in deciding the outcome of Game 2, calling a crucial offensive foul on Kevin Garnett with 10 seconds remaining for an illegal screen against Andre Iguodala.
“I just thought in that situation, you let the players decide the game,” Garnett said. “But if he felt like that was an illegal pick, then that’s what it is.”
Sixers rookie center Lavoy Allen was effective coming off the bench and hit a timely bank shot to beat the shot clock down the stretch, while Jrue Holiday led the way with 18 points.
The momentum has shifted to the 76ers, and the key to victory will be continuing to attack with speed and athleticism against the battered and aging Celtics.
From Bob Cooney of The Inquirer: “Sharks smell blood and attack. In the NBA playoffs, teams attack injuries, whether they’ll admit it or not. Boston’s Paul Pierce has a sprained ligament in his left knee that basically prevents him from being able to move side-to-side with any kind of quickness. Offensively, he has to catch and shoot while his feet are planted. Any type of movement to get himself open is an adventure. Defensively, if Pierce has to do anything but move forward or backward, he’s done. Teammate Ray Allen is suffering from foot bone spurs. While he still spins through picks and runs his defender through a myriad of elbow-extended screens, the step is a little slower, the shot a half-second later to leave his hands… Attacking the aging Celtics in Game 3 with their speed and athleticism is certainly the theme of the series for the Sixers, never more so than Wednesday.”
Rajon Rondo had 13 assists and just one turnover, and normally, that would be considered quite an effort from any point guard. However, his decision-making wasn’t quite as spot-on as it was in Game 1.
From Mark Murphy of Boston Herald: “But the ball also stuck. Rondo held the ball for too long during one possession in the last minute before missing a jumper. Despite Garnett’s explosive scoring over his previous two games, the point guard seemed to forget about the big guy who has been in that rare zone where he wants the ball. Instead, Garnett only took 12 shots, including three by halftime. Brandon Bass, someone the Celtics were trying to prime, took 15, including 12 in the first half. Something on the execution meter was out of kilter. Garnett, never one to criticize teammates or coaches, alluded to the problem later on when he said, “I don’t call the plays. You know, Doc . . . you know, Rondo . . . we’re trying to get guys into a rhythm, trying to keep the offense flowing. That’s what it is. Whatever he asks me to do is what I’m going to do.” The problem — and blessing — is that much has been left to Rondo’s whim.”
Garnett has been one of the hottest players in the postseason, and with Pierce and Allen struggling to get going offensively, it will be imperative for the Celtics to utilize the Big Ticket to the fullest extent.
That is bad news for a team that does not have homecourt advantage against Oklahoma City, one of the best home teams in the league.
The Thunder were well-rested and it showed in Game 1 as they embarrassed the Lakers, 119-90.
Losing so badly may have put Metta World Peace out of his mind.
From Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: “On his hot start, with two baskets in the first 2½ minutes: “I didn’t realize Oklahoma had so many fine women. I felt really comfortable. I hit my first two shots, it was mainly because of how beautiful the women were.” On the Lakers trying to recover from the Game 1 blowout: “It’s the same thing like a man has five wives. He’s been divorced once and he got married again. You’ve got to move on. He didn’t want to get divorced, she didn’t want to get divorced. But hey, she said, ‘OK honey, I want half.’ She said that. You know she said that. “It’s a metaphor. The name of my podcast is mettaphorically speaking. “She got married again, he got married again. Moved on and it’s a new life. That’s how the game is. It is a fun game. At the same time, still a lot of passion involved. She will love her husband. We will love the game, too. Have fun, play with passion and it’s a whole new day.”
Russell Westbrook was unstoppable in just 27 minutes, finishing with 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, seven rebounds and nine assists.
Joining him was Kevin Durant, who had 25 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
The only downside for the Thunder in Game 1 was losing center Kendrick Perkins after he aggravated a right hip muscle strain. He is a game-time decision for Game 2.
From Brian Kamenetzky of ESPN Los Angeles: “Among the items on an extensive laundry list of needed improvements: Cohesion for the pick-and-roll defense. Too often Russell Westbrook was able to turn the corner and step into a midrange jumper without being bothered. Same with Kevin Durant. The Lakers have to apply more pressure higher on the floor, and more importantly need to make sure everyone is on the same page in his coverage. Clearly that wasn’t the case Monday night. Westbrook, Durant and particularly James Harden are all elite-level scorers handling the ball on the pick-and-roll, and will require elite-level defense in response. It’s not simply a question of playing the Kobe Bryant-on-Westbrook card. They tried that in Game 1, and it wasn’t effective because the overall coverages weren’t good.”
Bryant has struggled against the defense of Oklahoma City all season, and Game 1 was no different as he scored 20 points but shot just 7-of-18.
Point guard Ramon Sessions was invisible for much of the game as he scored two points and shot just 1-of-7.
The only Laker that played well may have been Andrew Bynum, who had 20 points and 14 rebounds.
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. You can find him on twitter @nbatupark.