Of course, how and why they lost, and how that makes it sting so much, is a whole different story. The 76ers got blown out of their own house quite convincingly. The Lakers, as Andrew Bynum would say, played Santa Claus, gift-wrapped a victory and handed it over to Oklahoma City.
Both teams look to recover in their respective series tonight on ESPN.
After under-utilizing a red-hot Kevin Garnett in Game 2, the team made sure he would not be ignored. He went out to score 27 points on 12-of-17 shooting and grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds.
Paul Pierce, dealing with a knee injury, shot just 6-of-17, but found his way to the free throw line to score 24 points while also grabbing 12 rebounds.
Rajon Rondo was nearly perfect with 23 points, six rebounds and 13 assists with just one turnover.
The key for Boston heading into Game 4 will be to not let up or get comfortable.
From Steve Bulpett of Boston Herald: “There appears to be some measure of concern that the Celtic subconscious will look at the Game 3 rout and whisper that it’s all right to relax. But Rivers offered a quick rebuttal when it was suggested yesterday that his team had achieved that for which it came here — namely the retaking of homecourt advantage. “I don’t know who said that,” the coach replied. “We never said that. We’re taking one at a time. We won the first one and now we have another one. “The key is to keep our focus and play the way we play, with energy — not play like you’ve won one and now you can relax. The point here is to win the series, and so you take it one game at a time. You can’t look at what you’ve done if you lost or won. That’s over. Now you have a new game. “We’ll reinforce it. They know it. They’ve been around long enough to know it. But human nature comes into play.”
Philadelphia started the game hot with 33 first-quarter points, but struggled to deal with Boston’s defense the rest of the way, aside from a meaningless fourth quarter when the game was well in hand.
The team shot just 40.7 percent compared to Boston’s 51.9 percent and got outrebounded 44-37.
The 76ers will have to get back to what made them a successful team all season long in order to tie the series: play tough defense.
From Bob Cooney of The Philadelphia Inquirer: “It didn’t take long for the 76ers coaching staff to realize during Wednesday’s Game 3 that it wasn’t going to be a good night. Even after the team took a 10-4 lead in the early going against the Boston Celtics, associate head coach Michael Curry turned to head coach Doug Collins and said he didn’t like what he was seeing. Even that early, blown defensive assignments were plentiful, just not exploited due to poor shooting by the Celtics. That didn’t last long. Boston used a 28-8 run in the second to erase a seven-point deficit, then pounded home its offensive game plan to perfection to roll out a 16-point win and a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. As much as the Celtics were able to get Paul Pierce to the foul line, to get the ball to Kevin Garnett in the lane and have Rajon Rondo rule the court, the Sixers really showed little resistance from the opening jump.”
They had managed to slow down the pace, established a low-post presence with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, and limited the Thunder to mostly jump shots.
Then, Kobe Bryant played possibly the worst two-minute stretch of his postseason career, Steve Blake missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer, and the Lakers found themselves down 2-0.
History is not on their side, but the team insists on feeling confident and comfortable heading into Game 3, even if they should be in full panic mode.
From Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: “Teams that lose the first two games in the conference semis come back to win only 5 percent of the time. Also daunting is the interesting rule put forth by Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: Whichever team first wins back-to-back games in an NBA playoff series will win that series. It has held true throughout this postseason, and it has held true for 37 of the past 38 playoff series going back to the start of the 2010 playoffs. The Lakers naturally can’t focus on that negativity, with Andrew Bynum saying Thursday that the Lakers’ ability to hold the Thunder to 77 points is huge progress. Bynum said any time the Lakers hold the Thunder to fewer than 100 points it’s a winnable situation for the Lakers. ”I don’t think we have any pieces to pick up,” Bynum said. “We know exactly how to defend them now.” Bynum added about being down, 2-0, in the series: “We’re actually confident.”
The Thunder won the game thanks to James Harden and Kevin Durant who combined to score the final nine points of the game. Durant, in particular, was spectacular as he hit a running floater that gave the team the lead for good.
Russell Westbrook struggled with his shot throughout the game, shooting just 5-of-17 for 15 points.
The young team that failed to get over the hump over the last two seasons in the playoffs is now the ones finishing off all the close games. It happened in the first round against the Mavericks, and it seems to be happening again in the second round.
From Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: “Wasn’t as much fun as that 119-90 rout in Game 1. Not for the nervous fans. Not for the frustrated players. Not for chairman Clay Bennett, who didn’t hesitate when I asked him which win was more fun. “Game 1,” he said. But Scott Brooks wasn’t all that sure. “I like ‘em both,” said Foreman Scotty. “I like competitive basketball. We all live for these moments. Playing close games. Our guys love the moments. There were so many critical moments.” The Thunder loves these moments? Maybe it’s so. In Game 1 against Dallas, the Thunder trailed by seven points with 2:18 left, yet won 99-98 – on a feathery Durant shot. This is becoming common. “In this league, it’s all about fighting to the end,” Durant said. “Both teams grinding it out. Coach called a timeout, told us we could do it. We came out and made plays.”
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. You can find him on twitter @nbatupark.