2012 NBA Playoffs Recap, Day 9

The 76ers deal the Bulls another devastating blow, the Knicks stay alive, the Celtics cruise, and the Lakers slow down the Nuggets.

76ers within one win of 2nd round
I’ll admit, I was horribly wrong about the Sixers. This playoff experience has been priceless for such a young group. Jrue Holiday is getting closer to making the leap from “nice player” to “star” and Evan Turner has performed well throughout most of the series (just not Game 4). Does it feel a little wrong beating a team so snake bitten by injuries? Absolutely. On the other hand, look at it like this:

Even without Derrick Rose, the Bulls are still probably the 3rd or 4th best team in the East. Without Joakim Noah, the Bulls are probably 4 or 5 in the conference. The Sixers are an 8th seed, so injuries or not, Philadelphia is still pulling an upset. For a young team with what looks to be a bright future, gaining this playoff experience and learning how to elevate their play in big games will work wonders toward their development. And I wanted them to forget the playoffs and head into the lottery. Psshhh, what an idiot.

With that said, I think it’s unfair to bash the Bulls for losing three straight and falling behind in the series. Within a week they lost their best player and the heart of their team. The city is too shell-shocked to rally behind the Bulls and as I mentioned a few weeks ago, Luol Deng cannot carry a team. He just isn’t good enough. At this point, the Bulls need a miracle to even force a Game 6.

Knicks avoid embarrassment
The Knicks were impressively feisty on Sunday in staving off elimination for one more game. Carmelo Anthony was brilliant and Amare Stoudemire was surprisingly effective after missing a game with a lacerated hand. Regardless, I’m not going to sit here and pump up Carmelo and the Knicks because they won ONE playoff game. Sure, the Knicks will be a fun story again for a day or two, but no one will remember their Game 4 victory when they’re on summer vacation next week. It’s time the Knicks and Carmelo did something beyond the 1st round to earn my praise.

As for the Heat, I have no idea what the plan was on their final possession. Apparently, they opted for the discombobulated isolation offense and to no one’s surprise, it failed. The Game officially ended after Dwyane Wade attempted a horrendous three with the Heat trailing by two as time expired. Meanwhile, LeBron James, who was brilliant down the stretch and kept Miami in the game, was standing alone in the corner helplessly watching the seconds tick away. As Charles Barkley adamantly said many times Sunday night; “It must be nice to have the best player in the world sitting in the corner as a decoy.” In other words, give LeBron the ball. Win or lose, the Heat should’ve gone down with LeBron taking the swings, not Wade.

Celtics cruise past hapless Hawks.
Even Al Horford’s valiant return couldn’t snap the Atlanta Hawks out of their three game funk. The Celtics took control late in the 2nd quarter and never relinquished it. Rajon Rondo was unbelievable again. No point guard in the league can break down a defense quite like Rondo. He makes the Celtics nearly unbeatable when he’s on top of his game.

Kenny Smith of TNT brought up an interesting point Sunday night in regards to defending Rondo. He can’t figure out why teams play so far off Rondo. While he’s aware they do so because Rondo isn’t a great shooter (he’s awful), Smith still argues it’s a stupid strategy and only makes Rondo’s job easier. Essentially, Smith argues you’re giving Rondo time and vision to dissect the defense and find the open man when you play off of him. If defenses were to pressure Rondo as if he were a shooter, he’d have to work harder to read the defense and find open teammates. I think Smith is absolutely right. An NFL defense wouldn’t drop its defensive ends back in coverage and hope Tom Brady wouldn’t find an open receiver despite unlimited time would they? Of course not. Rondo is Boston’s quarterback. To beat the Celtics, you have to pressure the quarterback.

As for the Hawks, is there another team in the NBA as predictably bad in the playoffs? Does anyone even consider the Hawks a good enough team to compete in the postseason? Year after year they compile a decent record and then disappear against quality opponents. The Hawks blew a golden opportunity to take a 2-0 series lead after Rondo’s suspension and then blew a chance to regain the series momentum in Game 3. Then, in a must win Game 4, the Hawks no-showed. This is what happens when you build a team of very good players with no leadership and/or guts. Al Horford should get himself out of Atlanta before he turns into Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, or worst of all, Joe Johnson.

Lakers take commanding 3-1 lead
Everything the Nuggets did so well in winning Game 3 on Friday night they struggled with in Game 4. The Lakers owned the glass, outrebounding the Nuggets by double digits. The Nuggets failed to get to the charity stripe, shooting only 12 free throws compared to 23 in Game 3. Finally, and perhaps most devastating of all, the Nuggets shot a miserable 15% from beyond the arc.

The Nuggets only hope of winning this series was running the Lakers into the ground and keeping the games in the 105 – 110 range. The Nuggets needed the series to be a track meet and they needed to be relatively successful from three. On Sunday night, they could do neither. Even after Laker misses, Denver failed to get their transition offense going. Ty Lawson struggled and Aaron Afflalo continued to be a non-factor for George Karl’s team.

To make the loss more painful for Denver, Kobe Bryant again struggled and Andrew Bynum only had half the attempts of Bryant. The Lakers didn’t play well and still the Nuggets couldn’t take advantage. It was painfully obvious in the closing minutes how much Denver needs a go-to player. If they weren’t getting points in transition, they simply weren’t scoring. A go-to player either creates shots for teammates in those crunch time situations or buries shots of his own. The Nuggets couldn’t get a basket when they needed one. Conversely, Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake hit huge back-to-back threes to clinch Game 4 for the Lakers off excellent passes from Pau Gasol and Bryant, respectively.

(Tangent: I’m a big Danillo Gallinari fan, but his flop at such a crucial point in the game (86-86, less than a minute to go) was abominable. I understand wanting to get the call, but his acting completely took him out of the play. What’s worse, he didn’t even try to get up. While Gallinari was laying flat on the floor, the Lakers found Sessions open for a corner three. The Nuggets never recovered. Such an irresponsible play in a moment where the Nuggets absolutely had to get a stop.)

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