Denver Nuggets 99, Los Angeles Lakers 84 (Los Angeles leads series, 2-1)
The Denver Nuggets won the game. The Los Angeles Lakers lost the comeback.
The Nuggies took a game in this series by racing out to a massive early advantage, utilizing Ty Lawson's speed and finishing ability to put the Lakers on their heels almost immediately. Lawson ended Game 2's loss against Los Angeles on a high note, putting up 17 points in the game's second half. He dashed toward 13 in the first quarter on Friday even though the Lakers should have known what was coming.
Los Angeles responded, though, with ball movement and talking on defense. By halftime, things were respectable despite Denver's 11 point lead and Andrew Bynum's lethargic play on offense (he was a ball stopper) and defense (where he was useless in pick-and-roll defense). The Lakers added to the comeback by outscoring Denver by nine in the third quarter, as Bynum (who finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks) woke up on both ends. Bynum even had to be restrained from going at referee Danny Crawford after a blown goaltend call when second star of the game, Javale McGee, swatted Bynum's hook away.
[Video: Mavs coach Rick Carlisle blows his top over dicey call]
McGee was … McGee was fun, as usual. He made a couple of silly plays on both ends of the court, but he also utilized a spin move, an up-and-under lay-in, and a running hook alongside the usual athletic feats to score 16 points off the bench in the win. He had 15 rebounds (in 28 minutes, mind you) with two assists, three blocks (er, "two," Bynum and I suppose) and two steals.
He was probably the game-changer. It's May 5th, by now, and Javale McGee just changed a game in a good way. Everyone drink.
Lawson was the real star, though, adding 12 points to his first quarter totals to finish with 25 overall, including seven assists to zero turnovers in 38 end-to-end minutes. His spark in the beginning of the contest helped ensure that a potentially-nervous Nugget team (and crowd) could secure some momentum; and with 42 combined points over his last six quarters of play, he's clearly become a problem for the Lakers.
The Lakers, as they usually are in losses, were a problem for the Lakers. The team ranked 26 out of 30 NBA teams in 3-point percentage this season, yet the squad took 25 of those bad boys, making six. The apologist in you says the team needed to chuck as many because of Denver's early lead, but that jerk would forget that the Lakers got the lead all the way down to five points based on interior play, smart decisions and ball movement. It was only when the Lakers took all those long shots that things fell apart and the Nuggets were able to run.
Kobe Bryant, who didn't score for the final quarter and a half (save for a gorgeous layup with seconds left in the fourth) of what was a winnable game, was particularly egregious in shooting 3-of-10 on long bombs; and that's frustrating because he knows better. His teammates weren't helping, though. Bynum was terrible in the first half, Ramon Sessions struggled on both ends, Steve Blake made some bad decisions and the Lakers whiffed on a good chance to put the Nuggets up against the wall.
Philadelphia 76ers 79, Chicago Bulls 74 (Philadelphia leads series, 2-1)
In a season filled with masterful work on the fly to make up for myriad Chicago injuries, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau invited further criticism for his decision-making for his work during Chicago's loss to the 76ers on Friday night.
Following a scary ankle injury to Joakim Noah, the re-taped Chicago center pleaded with Thibodeau to make a re-entrance into the game as the squad started to lose a bit of its double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. Thibodeau relented, though Noah was clearly in massive amounts of pain, and the Bulls played poorly in the couple of minutes Noah returned. Thibs pulled the quick hook, but not before it was apparent that he should have given a stern "no" to his center.
Thibodeau's play-calling left a lot to be desired as the Bulls featured a litany of isolation or screen-and-roll basketball that the Sixers happily loaded up on. John Lucas, who needed 12 shots to score 12 points only because his late, desperate 3-pointer splashed in, was particularly poor. The result was an ugly 14-point fourth quarter for Chicago as Philly pulled out a needed win.
The 76ers earned this win. They are the better team and the squad routinely hit tough shots in the fourth quarter after missing those same ones in an ugly 11-point third quarter. Evan Turner (16 points) did well to create his own shots and chances at the free-throw line, Spencer Hawes finished well once Noah (clearly a nemesis of sorts, dating back to the 2007 NBA draft) left the contest, and Andre Iguodala's defense was so good that it made up for the fact that he didn't make a single field goal in this slugfest.
Whatever the diagnosis (Noah left the stadium on crutches, wearing an air cast to support the ankle and lower leg), Thibodeau deserves criticism. Playing Derrick Rose while the team was up 12 with 90 seconds left in the contest during last week's Game 1 was passable, but this marks the second time in two postseasons that Thibodeau has re-entered a player that clearly should not have been on the court following an injury — as was the case for Omer Asik's broken femur fibula last spring. Why Noah also entered during what was a productive run from Asik and Taj Gibson (whose absence down the stretch was either a poor coaching move or a response to Gibson's own fourth-quarter injury) boggles as well.
I've defended Thibodeau quite a bit in these pages, and a loss in this series would not be the fault of a Bulls coaching staff working with a Rose-less team, but he needed to say "no."
Boston Celtics 94, Atlanta Hawks 90 (OT) (Boston leads series, 2-1)
An ugly but very exciting game that featured Rajon Rondo coming through with yet another triple-double, shockingly on national TV in an overtime game that featured the Boston point guard dominating the rock for heavy minutes. My man knows what he's doing.
In a return from a one-game suspension for bumping referee Marc Davis in Game 1 on Sunday night, Rondo appeared to have the liveliest legs of anyone on either team, which makes sense in a game that didn't not feature Atlanta's Josh Smith (thankfully not attempting to play through a sprained patella tendon), and a whole host of players that were drafted a long, long time ago.
[Related: Atlanta's Jerry Stackhouse is going to 'take Miami to win it all']
Tracy McGrady and Paul Pierce, stars of decades-old All-Star games, were the best players on the court in the first half. A second quarter sprained ankle from T-Mac limited his effectiveness in the second half, but his double-figure output in the first half was needed by a Hawks team that was struggling to score. Erick Dampier, who was once traded for Chris Mullin, nearly played half the game. At this point, 37-year old Jerry Stackhouse (DNP-Old) has to be wondering what he has to do to get some run.
Boston smartly hung in there. Kevin Garnett was all over the place — opportunistic off of broken plays, finishing with 20 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in the win. Paul Pierce made up for a miserable shooting night (including clanging his go-to game-winning jumper at the end of regulation) by busting his tail and getting to the line 14 times, making all 14 free throws on his way to 21 points. It was just smart, heady play by guys who need all they can get to make it to that buzzer.
And Rondo … what can you say? He didn't shoot well, missing 15 of 22 shots, and he turned the ball over six times. But those six times came in nearly 49 minutes of having the ball in his hands, and being forced to take chances. Those missed shots, especially one toward the end of overtime that Kevin Garnett tip-dunked in, lead to chances for Boston to recover, even if this is one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the NBA. The Celtics badly need someone to stir that drink, efficiency stats be damned, and Rondo was that guy again.
Game 4 is on Sunday, and with little time for Josh Smith to recover, this looks like a tough road ahead for Atlanta. Still, they can play with these guys. Boston struggles so much offensively that Atlanta can't get down. There's a very good chance that this series could head back to Atlanta for two of the three games next week, tied at 2-2.
Hawks point guard Jeff Teague will have to figure out a way to make Rondo's life pretty uncomfortable, though. No easy task.
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