Last night wrapped up two big Eastern First Round games. And both games were down to the last seconds, literally.
Philadelphia 76ers (79) vs Chicago Bulls (76)
76ers wins the series 4-2
Wow. I can’t believe the Bulls are out already. Yes, when Derrick Rose tore his ACL, there was still a hope. But then Joakim Noah got hurt and then that hope was just a flicker. And then Boozer is overpaid. And Luol Deng is not 100%. C.J Watson hasn’t been in this situation as the number 1 point guard and there wasn’t much life in the Bulls. They fought very hard though. And I agree with Charles Barkely on the after show. If you are a Bulls fan (and even if you’re just a causal fan) you have got to be proud of these Bulls. Without their two best players, they fought hard and was close for them to get home and try to close it out. Heck they were even down 12 in the fourth quarter, only to come back and allow only four buckets in the last couple minutes of the game. But Watson was put into a position that he isn’t comfortable or familiar with. 12 seconds left, people are trying to foul you but you give it up to a guy who is shooting 40% from the free throw line! And you’re about 80%. Even if you split the free throws, now the Sixers have to choose between going for the win or tying the game. By not hitting any free throws, any bucket will win and that was what Andre Iguodala did. Took a miss, ran up the court, recognize a 7-footer backpedaling and drove right at him. It wasn’t to say that it was a bad foul.
Statistically, Iguodala is atrocious at the foul line. Two for Nine when crunch time came. 22%. And he had been criticized for years for not being the big time gamer. But these last two free throws? Piece of cake. He calmly walked up to the line and sank both of them. Why? Cause in front of a packed house of crazy Sixers’ fans and a desperate Bulls team watching, he was just showing his son, Andre II, how to shoot the ball. And while free throws is his kryptonite, thoughts of teaching his son how to shoot is the spinach for this Popeye. With those two free throws, the Sixers have earned the right to head to Boston for a Game 1 on Saturday.
Boston Celtics (83) vs Atlanta Hawks (80)
Celtics wins the series 4-2
Speaking of the Celtics, they too entertained basketball fans last night. Going down the wire, it was the old men of Celtics that stepped up. Let me rephrase, old man (KG if you are reading this, hope it motivates you by me calling you an old man). He is 35 going on 26 because the way he played last night, the way he put the team on his old shoulders, is a reason to shudder if you are the Sixers. Garnett had a monster 28 points, 14 boards, five boards in 39 minutes of action. And many of those points were in the paint, where he has often said, he doesn’t like to hang out as much because he’s, you guessed it, old.
Will his old legs keep up in the playoffs?
The Hawks, in my opinion, are better all-around than the Sixers, especially with Al Horford back in rotation, yet the Celtics found a way to still win. The Hawks have a much better point guard, Jeff Teague, (who surprised a bunch of people of his play and mostly out-played Rajon Rondo, who is considered a top point guard) than Jrue Holiday. I think that Al Horford, even playing his second game in the playoffs and not being in “shape” is a much better version of Elton Brand and Josh Smith is probably better than Spencer Hawes. We aren’t matching up position for position, but the personnel that surrounds the stars, I would go in favor of the Hawks.
But, the one thing the Sixers do have that the Hawks don’t, is the undying motivation to play. Too many times (and years while we are at it), the Hawks give up in both their body language and their play. They settled for too many jump shots last night in crunch time (or was it great defense?) and even when Joe Johnson took it to the hole and was blocked (or was it a foul?) that was only his second opportunity inside the paint. He lived and died on the outside. And that is what you know about basketball. Outside shots aren’t reliable, but the grit, the hustle, the determination, those are things you can count on night in and night out because those are just hustle plays. You don’t have to be the fastest, strongest or the tallest. You just got to want it more. And last night the Celtics did. It wasn’t without any controversy (seems to be a common theme in New England). Did Marquis Daniels foul Horford before the ball was in? Was that last play a foul on Rondo? Did Paul Pierce bump Joe Johnson? But referees calls (or mistakes if you’re a Hawks fan) are part of the game. You just had to deal with it. And while the Hawks will complain about the number of free throws (24-10 in favor of the Celtics), they had an opportunity at the end of the game to tie the game and Horford miss the first and MADE the second. And amazingly, the Celtics held the Hawks to only nine fast break points, which they had only in the second half.
The Celtics move onto the second round, now with home court advantage against a young Sixer team. Game 1 is slated for Saturday.
Denver Nuggets (113) vs LA Lakers (96)
Series tied 3-3
Ok of both LA teams, this was the team that I didn’t think that was going to go Game 7. I mean they played real crappy the other night in Game 6 but I thought they would come back and want to close it out quickly. Take the crowd out of the game. But two things happened. One Kobe felt like crap. And even though he put up decent numbers, 31 points and shot 57%, it wasn’t enough to help the Lakers close things out. He was the one guy, who even though had puked and used the bathroom too frequently, had enough courage and hustle to help keep the Lakers within reach. The rest of his teammates? Well they were nowhere to be found. After being out-sprinted down the court by JaVale McGhee, the bigs of the Lakers just disappeared instead. Pau Gasol, who I think is way worse than his brother Marc, had three points and three boards after going for 1 for 10 from the field. Andrew Bynum, well this showing clearly shows he has a lot of growing up to do, no matter how good he plays. He grabbed 16 boards and 11 points. But those 11 points were ghosts points.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets are just feeding off the momentum they have built up. Ty Lawson, while fairly stifled in Game 5, exploded for 32 points. He scored wherever, whenever. Threes, lay-ups, pick and rolls. Whatever he wanted, he got. Complementing him was Andre Miller who had 12 points, Kenneth Faried who had 15 points, Danillo Gallinari who had 12 points and Corey Brewer who completed the game with 18 points off the bench. McGhee followed up his explosive night with only two points, but his havoc on defense cause tough shots for the Lakers all night.
And Kobe was being Kobe. Asked if his teammates matched his heart. He frankly said no. Game 7 means that Metta World Peace is back from suspension and will play. While he is not the savior for the Lakers, Kobe made no secret that he wanted World Peace back to help him.
“I expect him to come out and play with the tenacity that he’s known for,” Bryant said. “He’s the one guy that I can rely on night in and night out to compete and play hard and play with a sense of urgency and play with no fear. So, I’m looking forward to having him by my side again.”
To me that speaks volumes against his other teammates. They played poorly and maybe they played with fear. And it showed. But for the Lakers to win, they need a better output from those two big seven footers, cause you know that Kobe will be Kobe and he’ll play his MVP way.
Game 7 will be in LA. Tip off is 10:30 pm EST.