One night after the Clippers were swept out of the second round by the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers are one game away from losing their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers will look to extend their season in Game 5 while the Boston Celtics hope to regain control against the Philadelphia 76ers in the two games slated for Monday night on TNT.
The 76ers have made life tougher than expected for the Celtics in the second round. It was especially true in Game 5, when Boston went up big once again and led by as many as 18 points before squandering the lead and losing the game 92-83.
Paul Pierce scored 24 points and Rajon Rondo once again had a double-double with 15 points and 15 assists, but it would prove to be insufficient.
Now, instead of having a comfortable 3-1 series lead, the Celtics face a must-win situation.
From Steve Bulpett of Boston Herald: “They’re still calling what’s going to happen tonight at the Garden “Game 5.” But it’s fair to say the nature of what will take place has changed dramatically for the Celtics. It has gone from coronation to critical, from fun to fitful, from tranquil to tense. With a little more than 10 minutes left in the third quarter on Friday in Philadelphia, the Celts had an 18-point lead against a team that had shot 23.1 percent in the first half and then proceeded to miss its first four attempts in the new period (dropping the batting average to .209 — yikes). At that moment, Game 5 was all set to be a closeout sale. The Celtics would be taking a 3-1 lead into a game on their home floor, and surely they would draw upon the home energy to get this conference semifinal series into the history file. They would then be able to sit back, heal their wounds and watch at least one more game of the Miami-Indiana series the next night. The setup was so perfect for the Celtics that they couldn’t possibly squander that which they had worked so hard that evening to build. But they did. Everything can change in an NBA minute. When the clock had drained completely, Game 5 had been transformed into a must-have item for the Celtics.”
When the team needed someone to step up to play the role of a closer, it was Andre Iguodala who suddenly embraced the role.
For now, it has been hard to make sense of what has transpired in this series.
From Bob Cooney of The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Why things are happening the way they are can be attributed to so many variables. When the Celtics get the ball inside to Garnett and he’s able to get shots, they are a much better team. But sometimes they get away from that and it allows the Sixers’ defense to become that much more effective. How, with the Sixers waging a huge comeback on Friday, was it that Garnett shot the ball just two times while playing virtually the whole fourth quarter? Yes, rookie Lavoy Allen is doing a fine job of covering him, but he certainly hasn’t all of a sudden turned into the next coming of Bill Russell. Not even Celtics coach Doc Rivers could figure out Garnett’s disappearance late Friday. How is it that Andre Iguodala, not very successful during his career when given a chance to be a game-changer at the end of contests, is now the go-to guy for the Sixers? He scored five straight points down the stretch on Friday, giving the Sixers a lead they never relinquished. And who would have thought that the player seemingly making the most difference in this series would be the 50th overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Temple? But Allen is certainly playing the role. It’s all just so strange and fun to watch, especially for Sixers coach Doug Collins, who is thrilled that his team is taking on his never-stop mentality.
The Lakers have shown that they can compete against one of the most explosive young offensive teams in the league in Thunder, but it may not be enough to keep them in the postseason as they face elimination after just four games.
They had chances to be up 3-1 in the series, but blew Games 2 and 4 by squandering sizable leads.
After their latest fourth quarter meltdown, many played the blame game, particularly pointing fingers at Pau Gasol, who wasn’t a factor offensively, and turned the ball over at a critical juncture of the game which led to a decisive 3-pointer by Kevin Durant.
Still, they have no choice but to move forward, one game at a time.
From Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles: “The Los Angeles Lakers are facing elimination and after their most recent loss Saturday, Kobe Bryant pegged the Lakers’ late-game problems on Pau Gasol, but coach Mike Brown insists the team isn’t coming apart. ”They’ve played together too long,” said Brown. “Pau knows how Kobe is. Kobe knows how Pau is and they’ll do a good job of figuring each other out.” The Lakers head into Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder trailing 3-1, but could just as easy be up 3-1 had it not been for poor execution down the stretch in Games 2 and 4. Bryant did not speak to reporters after shootaround. Gasol did and focused on the team’s predicament rather than any interpersonal relationships that may be fraying. ”We’re thinking about winning this one and going from there,” Gasol said. “Every game is obviously a different story, as we experienced throughout the playoffs. So, we’re tuning in to this one and understanding that our life is on the line and to be able to stretch this out and give us an opportunity, we have to be able to win (Game 5) here in Oklahoma with all the momentum that they have right now.”
Quickly growing into a clutch group is Oklahoma City, led by the trio of James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Durant. Their ability to close out tough games thus far in the playoffs has been the primary reason for their 7-1 overall record.
From Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: “In his on-court interview with TNT immediately after the Thunder’s thrilling three-point win over the Lakers on Saturday night, Russell Westbrook declared that he always knew his team would come back and win. And why shouldn’t he have been confident? All postseason, Oklahoma City has closed out games in grand fashion. The Lakers, in Game 4, simply became the latest victim of the Thunder and its ability to storm back from a fourth-quarter deficit and secure a win. That trait, not Westbrook’s explosiveness or Kevin Durant’s daggers or James Harden’s surgeon-like precision in the pick-and-roll, has been the most impressive thing about the Thunder’s playoff run thus far. Oklahoma City is now all grown up. The final five minutes of nearly every Thunder game this postseason has proved as much. Gone are the days when the Thunder would wind up on the wrong end of a blown lead. Now, it’s the Thunder that is snatching victories from the jaws of defeat. Four of the Thunder’s seven playoff wins have come by three points or less. Another victory was decided by just six points. Of those five wins, the Thunder trailed by 13 points in the fourth quarter of two games, by seven in the fourth period of two others and by one with a minute remaining in the other.”
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. You can find him on twitter @nbatupark.