The Lakers have a Dwight dilemma. They can pin their hopes on Howard re-signing with them over the summer, taking an enormous risk by doing so, or they can go the prudent route and flip him for a wheelbarrow full of rebuilding assets.
What shall be our parting memory of Josh Smith? A 21-foot fadeaway jumper, when the Hawks needed him to attack the rim, that never had a shot.
And those were the losers whose seasons ended Thursday night.
What of the night’s other loser, the Los Angeles Lakers?
Let’s just say that if Pau Gasol is that unassertive in the Olympic gold medal game, the United States is going to win by 80 points.
On a night of three Game 6s, the Bulls were sent home for the summer by the Philadelphia 76ers with a 79-78 loss, and the Hawks went out at the hands of the Boston Celtics in an 83-80 defeat. So we get a Celtics-Sixers series that begins Saturday, and we get a Miami-Indiana series, too.
OK, let’s just go ahead and say it: We’re going to get a Heat-Celtics series in the Eastern Conference finals. It is only a matter of time.
In the Western Conference, we don’t know what we’re going to get — other than another meeting of the Clippers and Grizzlies tonight in Los Angeles, followed Saturday by a Game 7 in the Lakers-Nuggets series after Denver handled the Lakers with ease in a 113-96 victory.
There is a somewhat hollow feeling in having the Sixers advance after they defeated a team that lost Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah over the course of the series. Remember, it wasn’t all that long ago that Philadelphia as in danger of dropping out of the playoff picture entirely if the Milwaukee Bucks had been able to catch them. The clinching game was a doozy, the key sequence summarized in the rapid recap that ran on this site moments after the final buzzer:
“Andre Iguodala rebounded a missed free throw by Omer Asik with 7 seconds left, drove all the way downcourt and was fouled with 2.2 seconds left, making both free throws for the tying and winning points — making the Sixers only the fifth 8th-seeded team to knock off a No. 1 seed. Asik played an incredible game, never once taking a seat in the second half, but he was the wrong guy for C.J. Watson to give the ball to when the Bulls needed to dribble down the clock and keep the ball in the hands of a good foul shooter. Asik is not one of them (45 percent), and he missed both to leave the Bulls ahead by just one. Iggy took it from there (without the benefit of a timeout), and the Sixers are in the conference semifinals for the first time in nine years.” (Click for boxscore.)
Coach Tom Thibodeau went with a lineup of Watson, Asik, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Richard Hamilton for almost the entire second half. Boozer went out with 4 minutes left in the third quarter and the Bulls trailing by 7, and he never saw the court again.
From Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune: “Good news is, this saves the Bulls the misery of losing the next round.
If a team missing its best player and its emotional and defensive leader can choke, then the Bulls did. Even without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, the Bulls were better than the 76ers, and they finally showed it in the second half of Game 6 of their first-round playoff series. The Bulls overcame a 12-point deficit in the third quarter. They owned a five-point lead in the fourth. They had the game. The 76ers were giving up, or turning stupid, take your pick.
The Bulls played some defense, sure, but most the time they didn’t have to because the 76ers were happy to stand on the perimeter and pray that some bad shots went down. Then the Bulls went down. C.J. Watson made some awful decisions down the stretch. Omer Asik missed two free throws at the end. The lineup that coach Tom Thibodeau rode for about the last 20 minutes lost its legs. The Bulls’ defense — so good and so clutch in Thibodeau’s two seasons — flat ran away with seven seconds to go in trying to protect a one-point lead and the ball 94 feet away. The decisive play came after Asik’s second missed free throw. Andre Iguodala rebounded the ball under the Bulls’ basket. Incredibly, the Bulls didn’t smother him. Incredibly, not even one player got in his way. Maybe if Thibodeau hadn’t used all his timeouts, then someone could’ve reminded the players to stop the ball on a miss. But no. Iguodala dribbled the length of the court and was fouled. Iguodala, a guy the 76ers wouldn’t want to see at the free-throw line any more than the Bulls would want Asik there, sank two — and sank the Bulls. Perimeter play killed the Bulls all series. There’s a reason Watson is a backup. He missed 9 of 11 shots to go along with those awful decisions in a pressure situation. But it wasn’t just him. Carlos Boozer missed 8 of 9 shots in the first half, finishing with more fouls than baskets. By the time he had missed the only three shots he took in the third quarter, Boozer also had more turnovers than baskets. Seventy-five million bucks doesn’t buy what it used to.”
Josh Smith is another guy making multiple millions to come through in the clutch, and he made waves during the midpoint of the season by saying he wanted the Hawks to trade him. Of course, he said the same thing a year earlier, too.
After Kevin Garnett made a 13-foot jumper with 30 seconds left, Smith missed on his outside heave with 9 seconds left. Ray Allen was fouled and make only one of two, but Al Horford then went to the line with 2 seconds left and a chance to tie. He missed the first, and he should have intentionally missed the second. But he made it instead, and Paul Pierce was subsequently fouled off the ensuing inbounds pass and knocked down both for the final margin.
“Boston got a huge break down the stretch when, holding a two-point lead with 3.1 seconds left, Marquis Daniels fouled Al Horford just as the ball was being inbounded, a foul to give for the Celtics. Had Daniels’ foul come a split-second earlier – and it looked like it was committed before the pass – Horford would have been on the line, and the Hawks would have retained possession, shooting for the win instead of the tie.” (Click for boxscore).
As Charles Barkley said of the Hawks the previous night on TNT: “We’ve been watching this same movie for five or six years now. The ending never changes. It’s always the same. The boat sinks. Everybody drowns.”
From Jackie MacMullen of ESPNBoston: Garnett and his 19 shots are the reason the Celtics eked out an 83-80 win that finally enabled them to eliminate a persistent Atlanta Hawks team and move on to a second-round date with the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday. With Paul Pierce laboring due to his sprained left knee and Ray Allen so bothered by his balky, bone-spur-infested ankle that he actually missed two free throws, KG needed to be willing to climb into the Way Back Machine and pull out a vintage, dominant performance reminiscent of his MVP season in 2003-04, when he averaged 24.2 points — and 19 shots — a night. When Game 6 was over and KG had checked out with a game-high 28 points, a game-high 14 rebounds, a game-high five blocks and a game-high three steals, he immediately took aim at Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr., who had called KG a “dirty player” earlier in the week. ”I want to say thank you to their owner for giving me some extra gas tonight,” KG declared. “My only advice to him is next time he opens his mouth, actually know what you are talking about — X’s and O’s versus checkbooks and bottom lines.” … “That’s the best I’ve seen Kevin play in three years,” lauded Atlanta boss Dominique Wilkins. “The thing about Kevin that bothers our guys is his length. It enables him to take that turnaround and shoot over people. I know people say he’s a reluctant scorer. Well, he sure wasn’t reluctant tonight.”
And finally we turn to the Lakers, who were down 13-0 in an eyeblink.
“It was 13-0 after the Nuggets opened the game with a trio of 3-pointers, including one from Danilo Gallinari, who had been 1-for-14 in the series from downtown. Kobe Bryant, after missing shootaround earlier in the day with gastrointestinal distress, kept the Lakers within striking distance until the third quarter, when the Nuggets rang up 36 points en route to their highest-scoring game of the series. You could say they were due for an offensive explosion after leading the NBA in scoring this season. Ty Lawson shot 13-for-18 for a team-high 32 points, and Corey Brewer shot 8-of-12 in just 18 bench minutes to finish with 18 points. Kobe had 31.” (Click for boxscore).
Game 7 will be at 10:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday night. Metta World Peace will be back in action.
From Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: “And now it comes down to two words, two desperate words, the two danged words the Lakers never thought they would have to utter while toying with these Rocky Mountain munchkins and misfits. Game Seven.The Lakers never dreamed it, but now they must live it, a worst-case scenario, a last-ditch situation, one game to save this misguided season against a Denver Nuggets team that should already be starting its summer. Shame Seven. The Lakers made the least of their second chance to close out this first-round playoff series Thursday night, dominated for a second consecutive game by the Nuggets, this beating a serious one, a 113-96 loss that was even worse than it sounded. ”There is no way I thought what happened tonight was going to happen,” said Nuggets Coach George Karl. Who did? Who could? A screaming, towel-waving crowd at Pepsi Center began chanting, ”Beat L.A.” moments after the national anthem and the Lakers never offered any argument. The Nuggets began the game on a 13-0 run, the Lakers missing their nine shots in a row to start, and it never got any prettier. Kobe Bryant showed up with stomach flu yet he was the only one who didn’t play ashen, queasy basketball. And now they will decide this three-wins-apiece series with a Game 7 on Saturday night in front of a Staples Center crowd that has behaved almost as listlessly and entitled as their team. Blame Seven. It’s Andrew Bynum’s fault, he was horrible again, failing to match the energy of the Nuggets’ little big men, making only four baskets. It was Pau Gasol’s fault, he also inexplicably disappeared for a second game, making only one basket in 10 attempts with only three rebounds. ”The reality is, both of those guys have to play better for us to win,” said Coach Mike Brown somberly. And, you know, it’s also starting to look like Brown’s fault. The new guy began his first Lakers postseason with two sparkling victories, the team looking poised for a deep run, then the Nuggets’ Karl made adjustments and Brown didn’t. Karl figured out how to neutralize the Lakers strength. Brown has yet to figure out how to stop the Nuggets’ speed. Since those first two games, Karl’s team has shown up with energy and attitude, as if motivated by something larger than itself. Brown’s team, meanwhile, has seemingly lost its drive, as if Brown’s constant harping about Xs and O’s have diluted their heart and hustle.”
And so we move onto Day 13, with only Game 6 of the Grizzlies-Clippers game on the slate. Want to know who Vegas likes? Click here.