Last week, we had a book review of Don’t Put Me In Coach, in which Ohio State benchwarmer and author Mark Titus repeatedly refers to teammate Evan Turner as “The Villain.”
On Monday night in Boston, The Villian was The Hero.
Turner shook off a tough shooting night to make a difficult driving, twisting layup that gave the Philadelphia 76ers the lead for good, then added two clutch free throws to help them hold on for an 82-81 victory over the Celtics that evened their Eastern Conference semifinal series at one game apiece.
It was Philadelphia’s first playoff win in Boston since Game 7 of the conference finals on May 23, 1982. That was more than six years before Turner was born. In fact, the only Sixers born before that game were Elton Brand and Tony Battie.
From Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer: Evan Turner, who had played the entire game taking way too many chances, wasn’t going to risk another as he drove toward the basket with the Sixers trailing by one point and just over 40 seconds to play against the Boston Celtics on Monday night. The Sixers had led by 10 points late in the third quarter and saw that lead steadily drip away, just as it did in Game 1 of this series. If Turner didn’t take care of the ball and get it safely to the basket, the Sixers were looking at another gee-whiz loss to the Celtics and a two-games-to-none series hole. So, Turner took off from the left wing, picking his way through the Boston defenders like a man dodging puddles on a rainy street. He cradled the ball in his right arm near the end, running back-style, then switched it to his left as he flew beneath the basket and laid it in delicately from the reverse side. It wasn’t the best game of Turner’s career, but it was the biggest, and his determined drive to the basket can serve as a microcosm of how the Sixers are playing now. It isn’t pretty basketball. It isn’t consistent basketball. But in those final furious minutes, they can hang around long enough to get a win.”
In our series preview, we referenced Philadelphia’s tendency to break down late in games because it doesn’t have a true star or dependable low-post presence. We suggested the Sixers put the ball in the hands of Turner, whose 6-7 size gives him the advantage in most matchups.
During the season, the 76ers were 1-8 in games decided by four points or less. But thanks to Turner, they are starting to get the hang of this winning-close-games thing. Philadelphia has played three straight one-point games – a first in NBA playoff history – and is 2-1.
From John Mitchell of the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Every time the Celtics seemed that they were going to do that sage-like veteran thing and run the young Sixers over, the guys who by all accounts should be wearing swaddling clothes delivered the dagger. Holiday gave the Sixers a 74-72 advantage with 1:57 left in the game. After Boston’s Ray Allen restored the lead with a three-pointer of his own that sent the sellout crowd in TD Garden into convulsions, Turner struck back with a contortionists’ layup that put the Sixers ahead for good, 76-75. He then hit a pair of clutch free throws, as did Williams and Meeks, all in the final 12 seconds. Perhaps we’ve been buffaloed. Remember, this was the disjointed group that allegedly had come close to becoming mutinous when things went bad because Collins has a propensity to raise his voice a little. He spoke softly following the biggest win of his coaching career in Philly. “Again I have to tell you,” he said, “All season long we couldn’t win these games and now our guys are believing they can do it, and it is pretty special to watch.”
Game 2 was looking like a mirror image of Game 1, in which the Sixers opened a double-digit lead in the second half and the Celtics stormed back in the fourth quarter, eventually taking a 92-91 win. But this time, it was Boston that had trouble executing down the stretch after taking the lead with under two minutes to play.
Rondo missed an open foul-line jumper that would have given the Celts a three-point lead with 54 seconds to go. After Turner’s bucket, a screen by Kevin Garnett wasn’t good enough to free Ray Allen for a catch-and-shoot, and his ensuing step-back jumper off the dribble was off the mark with 28 seconds left.
Rondo, who took a really smart foul at the end of Game 1 that denied the Sixers a chance for a potential tying 3-pointer, took a not-so-smart one – on the orders of coach Doc Rivers – that reset the shot clock to 14 seconds with just 14.4 seconds remaining. The foul needed to be taken much earlier, but the Celtics appeared committed to trying to get a stop.
Turner’s two free throws made gave the Sixers a 78-75 lead. The Celtics drew up a play in which Garnett first screened for Allen, then for Paul Pierce. But his second screen on Andre Iguodala looked more like a chip block by a running back, and referee Michael Smith called an offensive foul.
It was a really tough call at that point of the game, but it was the right one. Despite the consensus reached by the three blind former players in TNT’s studio, Garnett is never set on the play. He simply drives right into Iguodala – a quality defender entitled to his own whistle or two, by the way – and extends his arms, giving Smith the leeway he needs to make that call at that juncture.
From Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: “Mike Smith blew his whistle, and Garnett looked back with a frozen stare as the referee trotted back down the floor, where Williams hit two more free throws that essentially sealed the Celtics’ 82-81 Game 2 loss in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Garnett may have found the timing curious, but he couldn’t dispute the call. He couldn’t deny that like many of his teammates last night, he simply made the wrong play at precisely the wrong time. “Mike was in a position and he called it. I’m not going to make a big stink about it,” Garnett said. “Danny (Crawford, one of the other referees) had already given me a warning about setting the picks. I’m going to continue to set picks and continue to get guys open, but to me that wasn’t the reason we lost the game. There were things going up to that point in determining the game. But Mike made a great call, man. Hey, if you thought that was a moving pick . . . I just thought in that situation you let the players decide the game. But if that was an illegal pick, then that’s what it is.”
Garnett admitted he already had been warned; in fact, he already had been called for a couple of illegal screens. That meant the referees were watching for it. With a little help from Sixers coach Doug Collins, they will probably be watching for it again Wednesday when the series shifts to Philadelphia for Game 3.
The West semifinal opener was billed as a referendum on the age-old argument of rest vs. rhythm. The Oklahoma City Thunder hadn’t played in nine days. The Los Angeles Lakers were coming off a first-round series that lasted seven games.
Turns out the Thunder had both rest and rhythm, while the Lakers had neither. In a game that was every bit as close as the score indicated, Okalhoma City rolled to a 119-90 home victory and remained unbeaten in the postseason.
Russell Westbrook scored 27 points, kevin Durant added 25 and James Harden 17 for the Thunder, who met virtually no resistance from the Lakers. Oklahoma City committed just four turnovers. To put that in perspective, Westbrook averaged 3.6 turnovers per game by himself this season.
From Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: “Game 1 wasn’t a fair fight, and not only because the Lakers completed a draining seven-game series with an emotional victory Saturday over the younger, faster and more athletic Denver Nuggets. The Lakers looked drained after a credible start. The Thunder hadn’t played since finishing off the Dallas Mavericks in four games on May 5, and took their time to size up the Lakers and then race away from them with a flurry of jump shots, layups and dunks after halftime. Oklahoma City shredded the Lakers 39-24 in the third quarter. The Thunder led by as many as 35 points in the quarter. The only drama in the fourth quarter involved the ejection of backup small forward Devin Ebanks after a minor scuffle with 2:18 remaining. Ebanks left the court and took off his jersey in anger. “We got beat,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “You can say anything you want to about a seven-game series and us having a day (to prepare). The bottom line is this is the playoffs and we have to come to play. We didn’t. We got beat.” Added Bryant: “Obviously, they’re more well-rested than we are, but I don’t think it made that much of a difference for us. We could have had the same number of days off. “They’re just younger and faster.”
There also was a great deal of anticipation for the first matchup between the teams since Lakers forward Metta World Peace’s unsuccessful decapitation attempt of Harden on April 22 that resulted in a seven-game suspension. As expected, he was booed during introductions and on virtually every touch.
There was a minor incident between the players in the fourth quarter. Both were going for a loose ball and Harden had inside position on World Peace, who pulled him down to the floor, drawing a loose ball foul. It was the typical extracurricular crap designed to unnerve opponents that we’ve come to expect from World Peace, but in the grand scheme of things – just like his efforts to slow down Durant – it meant nothing.
From Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: “This time, World Peace and the Lakers didn’t put up much of a fight. The small forward had 12 points, two rebounds and two assists in 32 minutes during the Lakers’ 119-90 defeat, departing for good with 10 minutes 9 seconds left in the fourth quarter. World Peace also left the court shortly thereafter. He said he had to use the bathroom, the Lakers having long since given up any chance at a victory. Since the Lakers showed a replay of the teams’ last meeting in their locker room before the game, as is customary, World Peace’s elbow to the head was shown several times on a large-screen television. World Peace ignored the screen as he walked into the room, going directly to a back area. The same player who was so pugnacious a little more than three weeks ago turned evasive when he met with reporters after the game. Was he now fine with Harden or did he still think his Thunder counterpart flopped, as he had previously stated? “Right now is about basketball,” World Peace said. “I think after the season, if the fans want to talk to me, tweet me or email me at RonArtest.com or go to my podcast, ‘The Ron and Metta Show,’ after the season we can talk about that.” What about his loose-ball foul early in the fourth quarter on Harden? “I can’t remember,” World Peace said. Did the booing bother him? “There’s a lot of great-looking women in the stands booing,” World Peace said, prompting a female Thunder employee recording the interview to roll her eyes. “I’m like ‘Wow, you are beautiful.’”
Two more games tonight, with the Heat hosting the Pacers in the East as they begin life without Chris Bosh and the Spurs coming off their bye week to open their West semifinal against the Clippers in another rest-vs.-rhythm affair. We will have previews of both games this afternoon.