2012 NBA Playoffs Recap, Day 4

Truth be told, the Celtics had no business winning Game 2 in Atlanta, but don’t tell Paul Pierce that. Elsewhere, the Rose-less Bulls collapse in the 2nd half and the Lakers outlast the pesky Nuggets.

76ers cruise past Bulls in 2nd half
As I’ve said before; I’m a 76ers fan. Obviously, I’m excited my team won on Tuesday night and the possibility of advancing to the 2nd round for the first time since the days of the original AI is intriguing. However, Tuesday’s victory over the Chicago Bulls didn’t feel right. I wasn’t overjoyed watching Jrue Holiday torch the vaunted Chicago defense. I wasn’t thrilled that Evan Turner showed flashes of what could make him a tremendous asset to a contender one day. I wasn’t even giddy about rookie Lavoy Allen’s impressive 11 points, 9 rebounds performance. No, the 76ers win felt more like kicking a dead horse.

Basketball isn’t like football. In the NFL, injuries to an opponent or rival are celebrated. I don’t bat an eye when Tony Romo can’t lift his shoulder over his head. It’s part of the game. Injuries define each NFL season almost as much as star players and championship teams do. But basketball is different. Titles in the NBA are mostly won when every contender has its full arsenal available. It’s very rare to see widespread injuries to elite players. The NFL is a huge success because of the game itself, not necessarily its stars. Conversely, stars carry the NBA. Stars make the game popular and stars attract people to the league’s biggest stage; the Playoffs. Without Derrick Rose, the lights in the Philadelphia-Chicago series have been dimmed, the hoopla has been lost, and even my excitement about the 76ers winning is diminished.

With that said, what a stellar performance by Holiday and Turner, especially Holiday. 26 points, 6 assists, 11/15 shooting including 3/3 from three, and zero turnovers? Whoa. Let’s not forget this kid doesn’t even turn 22 until next month. I wavered back and forth all season on what Holiday’s ceiling is. At times he showed he has star potential. At others, it looked like he’ll be a solid point guard for many years and that’s it. Tuesday’s performance clearly demonstrated his star potential.

Turner’s effort on Tuesday was equally impressive; 15 points, 7 boards, and 6 assists. He essentially does all the things Andre Iquodala does at a fraction of the cost and with a brighter future. While I hoped the 76ers would opt for the lottery rather than a 1st round slaughter to the Bulls, the injury to Rose opens the door for the 76ers to get extended playoff experience for Holiday and Turner that could pay big dividends down the road. So, for the trillionth time, I admit I was wrong.

Paul “The Truth” Pierce carries depleted Celtics past Hawks
At some point between 8 and 8:30 PM ET, I told my brother the Celtics would win. Boston was trailing at the time and not playing well, but I knew what was coming. The Celtics are one of those teams that rally around controversy. When everyone writes them off, they excel. Remember back in February when the Celtics were regarded as 1st round cast offs for the Bulls or Heat? Well, Boston rallied, finishing the season as the hottest team in the NBA before forfeiting games down the stretch. Controversy and obstacles galvanize this Celtics team. Paul Pierce relished the opportunity to hoist the Celtics on his back and carry them in Rajon Rondo’s absence on Tuesday night.

It also didn’t hurt that Pierce and the Celtics faced a content/disinterested Atlanta Hawks squad in front of one of the notoriously horrendous crowds in the NBA. The Hawks aren’t a basketball team… they’re a group of talented players that wear the same jersey and share a court. Team basketball, even minus star players, will most often trump discombobulated talent.

As a result, instead of heading back to Boston in an 0-2 hole, the Celtics have stolen home court advantage and welcome back their All-Star point guard and possibly their Hall of Fame shooting guard. Not a bad position for a team many believed would need a remarkable rally to gain control of this series after the Rondo suspension.

Also, do we appreciate Paul Pierce enough? While he’s not flashy or supremely athletic, he’s nearly unstoppable when at the top of his game. Similar to Tim Duncan, Pierce’s fundamentals make him a great player and allow him to continually succeed despite his age and decreasing athleticism. If Kevin Garnett doesn’t get hurt in 2009 and Kendrick Perkins doesn’t go down in 2010, its possible Pierce has another title or two under his belt. At that point, would it be so outrageous to rank him higher than the likes of Dwyane Wade or Dirk Nowitzki in the All Time Greatest Players discussion?

Nuggets keep it interesting, but still fall to Lakers
You know how gnats constantly bother you, harass your face, and then disappear for a few seconds before returning to repeat the process an infinite amount of times, all while you sit there and deal because you know a gnat isn’t going to kill you? Well, that’s exactly how the Nuggets-Lakers series has gone thus far.

In Game 2, the Nuggets kept within striking distance and even gave the Lakers a little scare late in the 4th quarter when they sliced a 15 point Lakers lead to four with three minutes to play. It was a consistent trend on Tuesday. All game long the Lakers would build double digit leads and the Nuggets would come storming back to cut the lead to four or five. Then, like clockwork, Los Angeles would get the ball into the post for Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol to have their way with Denver’s undersized defense.

However, Denver’s spirited performance in Game 2 makes me believe they have a reasonable chance of making this a six or seven game series. Though, even as the series shifts to the thin air in Denver, the Nuggets must get two scorers going at the same time to have a chance. In Game 1, it was Danilo Gallinari. On Tuesday night in Game 2, it was Ty Lawson. Both are very talented players capable of getting their shots and filling the stat sheet. However, the Nuggets need above average performances from multiple players at the same time. (Aaron Afflalo, are you listening?)

The Nuggets are built around depth. At the beginning of the year coach George Karl openly talked about winning with 10 very good players as opposed to one truly great player. For the most part, Karl’s experiment has worked. He’s overcome a plethora of injuries and even a major midseason trade that shipped Denver’s best low post player out of town.

Conversely, building a team around depth as opposed to a superstar requires an outstanding group effort in the postseason. Superstars typically carry their teams throughout the ups and downs of the playoffs. I’m not sure the Nuggets have that player on their roster. Lawson, Gallinari and Afflalo have the potential to get to that point, but they’re not there yet, and until they get to that point, it will be difficult for the Nuggets to compete against teams with tried and true superstars like the Los Angeles Lakers. As Kobe Bryant demonstrated with a back-bracking fade away three in the final minutes, superstars win playoff games.

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