Between traveling and the holiday weekend, I fell behind. Thus, there’s a lot to catch up on today; A Game 7 from Saturday, a thrilling opener to the Western Conference Finals and a not-so-thrilling Game 1 in the East. (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Celtics win Game 7, advance
The 76ers lost due to poor shooting (35%) and inexperience. That’s about all I remember about the 76ers from Saturday night’s Game 7. The real story was the Celtics stars coming through in the 4th quarter and closing out the young, resilient 76ers.
Entering the 4th quarter Boston had a three point lead. They looked old, tired, and prime for an upset. Then Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett stepped up.
Garnett buried two jumpers to keep the 76ers at arms length after the 76ers cut the lead down to one. Allen finally found his stroke from beyond the arc, sinking two threes, the second of which gave Boston an eight point lead with 5:50 left to play. From there, it was the Rajon Rondo show. Rondo would score 11 of the Celtics next 12 points – a floater in the lane, a driving layup, a jumper from 23 feet, a clutch three, and two free throws – before Allen closed out the victory with two free throws of his own. It was the type of performance the Celtics would need from Rondo if they have any hope of competing with the Heat.
As for the 76ers, it was the same old story. They couldn’t shoot and the offense went stagnant for the better part of two quarters in the middle of the game.
I was fortunate enough to finally catch a 76ers playoff game with my Dad this weekend (a first since 2001). He abandoned NBA basketball because the 76ers essentially murdered it for the past decade. Amazingly, this year’s team brought him back. (Though not completely, but enough that he pays attention.) It was entertaining to see how the 76ers offensive ineptitude drove him crazy and how every Lou Williams contested shot that bricked out made him want to throw a shoe through his TV (or at Lou).
Regardless, Philadelphia professional basketball is alive again. Hopefully, the 76ers find some offensive firepower to keep the city’s and my dad’s attention for years to come. It was a nice season for a young team. Jrue Holiday showed flashes of stardom, Evan Turner showed he’s not a bust, and the 76ers proved they have a future. But what I’ll remember most about the 2012 76ers is they made my dad care (if only a little bit) about NBA basketball again.
Spurs rally to take Game 1
I think the best way to explain the Spurs impressive victory in Game 1 against the Thunder is to list all the reasons the Spurs should have lost.
1. Tony Parker was pretty bad. Aside from a stretch in the 4th quarter when he finally got his floater to fall, Parker couldn’t hit from anywhere. In fact, Parker hasn’t played to the MVP candidate level he showed during the regular season since the opening round against the Utah Jazz. And still, the Spurs keep winning.
2. Tim Duncan struggled with his outside shooting. That top of the key or elbow jumper that Duncan consistently buried against the Clippers just wasn’t falling in Game 1. Duncan still got his points by aggressively getting to the rim, but the Spurs are deadly when Duncan’s jumper is on.
3. Turnovers. San Antonio looked like a high school team for most of the 1st half, but the 1st quarter was especially brutal. The Spurs forced the ball in tight spaces, rushed the offense, and tried to match the Thunder’s athleticism. Yet somehow, the Spurs still led after the opening quarter and trailed by only one at the half.
4. The Spurs got absolutely nothing from Danny Green (their most reliable three point shooter throughout the postseason) and very little from rookie Kawhi Leonard.
There are a few other reasons the Spurs should have lost Game 1, but the four listed above were the most significant. So why dwell on why the Spurs should have lost instead of why they won? Because the reasons the Spurs should have lost magnify the reasons they won. Depth. Teamwork. Experience.
It’s no secret the Spurs are the deepest team in the NBA. When Gregg Popovich decided Green didn’t have it in Game 1, he gave Gary Neal extra minutes. Neal responded with 12 points and two huge buckets in the 4th quarter. When Leonard had little impact offensively and struggled to keep Kevin Durant from scoring, Popovich went to the older, savvier Stephen Jackson. Durant converted zero field goals against Jackson in the 4th quarter.
When the Spurs turnover issues would have made any other coach kick and scream, Popovich gave his team time to work off the rust from a week layover. He trusted his team to fight back. They’ve been through every situation imaginable. They wouldn’t panic, so neither would he.
And then there’s Manu Ginobili. Manu has been struggling throughout the postseason. Naturally, on a night when both Duncan and Parker were limited offensively, Ginobili took over and single-handedly destroyed the Oklahoma City defense in the 4th quarter. Even with Durant and Russell Westrbook on the floor, Ginobili was hands down the best player in Game 1.
Simply put, the Spurs have too many weapons to lose a game just because they’re having an off night. There’s always someone else to pick up the slack. There’s always another reliable option to bring off the bench. It’s only one game, but the Spurs victory in Game 1 proves just how difficult it will be to beat the Spurs this spring. They’re too deep, too focused, and always appear in control of the game regardless of whether they’re up five or down nine.
Also, it’ll be interesting to see how Popovich approaches Game 2 in regards to defending Durant and Westbrook. Smothering Westbrook like the Spurs smothered Chris Paul was successful in Game 1, especially in the last quarter. With Durant, though, Popovich knows he can’t completely shut down Durant for an entire game. Therefore, I think Popovich goes with Leonard early to keep Stephen “Nasty” Jackson fresh and out of foul trouble heading into the last 15-18 minutes of the game. Additionally, I don’t necessarily think Westbrook just had a bad game. Westbrook’s game relies heavily on getting to the rim. The Spurs took away those lanes and forced Westbrook (and Durant and James Harden, for that matter) to hit jumpers. Although the Thunder’s trio was successful at times with those jumpers, Popovich and the Spurs are willing to play the percentages and dare the Thunder to hit those shots for 48 minutes.
Heat roll Celtics in Game 1
I’m not writing off the Celtics just yet. They battled the Heat to a tie in the 1st half before the wheels came off in the 2nd. Did the wheels come off due to an inability to compete with Miami’s talented duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, or were heavy legs after a Game 7 two days earlier to blame? I’m honestly not sure. Though, the Celtics scoring draught in the 3rd quarter was a huge cause for concern if I’m a Boston fan. Whether it’s Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, or even Brandon Bass, the Celtics need at least one player to be lights out at every point in the game to contend in this series.
Against the offensively challenged 76ers, the Celtics could survive extended scoring droughts and count on their defense to keep them in contention. Without Avery Bradley, Boston can’t shut down the Heat offense like they did the 76ers’. Wade and LeBron are just too good right now. Although we’ll have a better idea of what to expect from this series after Game 2, it isn’t looking good for the Celtics right now.