Post Up: All Tied Up

by May 19, 2012

Sixers 92, Celtics 83 (Series tied 2-2)

Wow… Talk about a comeback!

Down as much as 18 points in the third quarter, the Philadelphia 76ers showcased resiliency, enthusiasm and big-time playmaking en route to an improbable 92-83 comeback victory over the Boston Celtics, tying the series at two games apiece.

Boston came out firing, relentlessly attacking from the onset. The Celtics made their first four shots of the game, which included back-to-back 3-pointers by Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley, and before the Sixers could blink, the scoreboard read 14-0. A few minutes later, it was 18-3. Philly finished the first quarter down 24-12, shooting an awful 3-16 (18.8%) from the floor. The Sixers landed a few punches to start the second quarter, quickly trimming their deficit to six (24-18), but order was soon restored, as Boston entered the break with a 46-31 halftime lead.

At that point, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think the game, and even the series, was in the bags. After a gut-check win in Game 3, the championship-tested Celtics once again came out rolling and had seemingly hit their stride. They would cruise through this one, close out the series back in Boston on Monday, and get some rest while the boys in South Beach expend their energy trying to climb out of quicksand… Or so I thought.

But it wasn’t just me who felt that this one was pretty much over. At halftime, Sixers CEO Adam Aron tweeted, “This will have to be one of the best come backs ever for the @Sixers.”

Well Mr. Aron, luckily for you, it was.

Boston missed its first nine shots of the second half, embarking on a seven minute scoring drought. At the same time, Andre Iguodala (16 points, 7 rebounds, multiple clutch shots) and Lou Williams (15 points, 13 in the second half, and 8 assists/4 rebounds) both started to get it going, clawing their way back into it and cutting the score to 58-54 with 2:47 to go in the quarter. With time running out, Jodie Meeks stole an errant pass and scored a layup to make it 63-59 entering the fourth.

Philly started closing in on the deficit, and soon enough they would seize control and never look back. The Sixers shot a mere 32.8 percent (19 of 58) through three quarters, but made 50 percent of their shots (12 of 24) in the final quarter to cap the incredible comeback.

Just 90 seconds into the final frame, Thaddeus Young (12 points) threw down a monster dunk to tie it at 63 apiece. And on the next trip down the court, Meeks drained a 3-pointer for Philly’s first lead of the game. Then Lou Williams forced a Pierce turnover and fed the ball to a running Evan Turner for a dunk, putting the lead at 68-63.

With a under two minutes remaining, the score was tied once again. But with 20,000 fans and a proliferating confidence swirling in the air, you could feel the building waiting to erupt like a volcano on a hotspot. With 1:22 left, Iguodala converted on a step-back jumper over Ray Allen to give the Sixers an 85-83 lead, with the arena instantaneously going bonkers.

On the ensuing possession, Thad Young blocked Rajon Rondo’s layup attempt and got the ball to Lou Williams. Williams drove the lane and then kicked it out to Iguodala, who buried a trey to create some much-needed breathing room. The Sixers had an 88-83 advantage with 37 seconds remaining.

After Ray Allen missed a 3-pointer, the comeback was complete. A few more ticks of the clock and it was game over. 92-83, Sixers win.

Philadelphia used a balance attack to chip at the deficit and claw back into the game, as five guys (Iggy, Turner, Holiday, Williams, Young) scored in double figures. Also worth noting was the play of rookie Lavoy Allen, who gave Doug Collins a solid 8 points and 10 rebounds. After successfully pulling off a comeback in Game 2, last night the Sixers were certain they could beat this Boston team, even if it required the game to be won in typical Celtics fashion: Tough, physical, laborious possessions, each one more important than the last, with no room for error.

On the flip side, Paul Pierce scored 24 points and Rondo had 15 points and 15 assists, but the storyline from Boston was Kevin Garnett’s Game 4 production, or lack thereof.

KG, who was on an absolute tear the past few games, shot a mere 3-12, totaling 9 points and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes. Pedestrian numbers at best, especially considering his impact up to this point. He took only two fourth quarter shots, and committed a game-high 7 turnovers along the way (Philadelphia as a team had 11), looking more like a deteriorating veteran than the Big Ticket. As ESPN Stats and Info noted, Garnett was a mere 2-10 (20 percent) on shots from 10+ feet, while in the each of the first three games he made at least five shots per game from that distance. If the Celtics are going to win this series, they need Garnett to assert himself early and return to dominating a less-talented Philadelphia frontline.

Boston now must forget about this one and proceed. With a veteran, been-here-before group, they should have no problem doing so. The series heads to Beantown tied at two games apiece, with the winner of Game 5 back in the driver’s seat.

Regardless of what happens on Monday, Philly has ensured at least one more game at Wells Fargo this season. For the Sixers, it’s now about riding momentum, converting on open looks, and executing early so miraculous comebacks don’t become the norm. For the Celtics, it’s back to the drawing board, with another opportunity to silence the critics and remind us all that this is what they live for. Buckle up, it’s going to be a fun ride. —Eldon Khorshid (@eldonadam)

Lakers 99, Thunder 96 (Thunder lead 2-1)

The Lakers escaped.

Despite a fourth quarter highlighted by 8 free throws and 14 points from Kobe Bryant, Oklahoma City had one final shot to tie the game with about 10 seconds left and trailing by three. Russell Westbrook raced up the court and handed the ball off to Kevin Durant on the left side. Durant dribbled to the center of the three-point line and launched a shot several feet behind the line that nearly dropped.

“We didn’t have any timeouts so we couldn’t draw up a play, Russ just told me to run down and he was going to hand the ball off to me,” Durant said of the final possession. “We knew they were going to switch and Serge set a great screen, I shot it at the top of the key and it rimmed out.” Serge Ibaka rebounded the ball and went up for a layup that was blocked, instead of kicking out to Westbrook who had ran out to the 3 point line in the corner. Ibaka didn’t seem to grasp the situation with the Thunder needing a three for overtime. After the game, Westbrook said he wasn’t sure if he could have gotten a shot off in time and said the Thunder didn’t lose the game because of a single play.

The game featured a frantic final three minutes–after a failed set of Kobe pump fakes, Westbrook stripped the ball from him and went Usain Bolt to the rim for a dunk that put the Thunder up 92-87. But the Thunder could not capitalize, missing on their next three shots and a pair of Gasol free throws and a layup by Bryant brought LA within one.

Following four more free throw makes from Bryant, the Lakers held a 95-94 lead with 33 seconds left. The Thunder called a timeout and the resulting play was an Ibaka jumper from the baseline–he missed and the ball was rebounded by Durant but then quickly stolen away by Artest, who was fouled and hit both free throws. The Thunder executed nicely after their next timeout. Kendrick Perkins cut to the basket after a screen at the free throw line for a wide open bucket. Down one, OKC was forced to foul Kobe who iced his free throws before the final attempt by Durant.

“That’s two games in a row now that we’ve controlled the tempo,” Kobe said. “We’ve done a good job controlling the pace of the game and being physical. As you see, even tonight, there’s stretches where they’re explosive–they just go on runs. We’ve got to be careful with the ball and keep them out of transition.” Kobe was 18-for-18 from the free throw line, racking up a game high 36 points on 9-of-25 shooting. The Lakers finished a remarkable 41-42 from the stripe, good for 97.6 percent. “We fouled too many times,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s the bottom line. Forty-two is a high number, that’s more than they average. We were using our hands and fouling too much.”

The officiating was all over the board on both sides of the ball and nobody was shafted more often than Thunder swingman James Harden. Some of the calls against Harden while defending Kobe were ridiculous but he did an excellent job keeping his composure and fighting through it. Harden finished with 21 points and helped the Thunder get back into the game in the 1st half after a brutal start. LA was up 18-6 to start the game before Harden helped rally the Thunder back.

Durant was insane at times, putting defenders on skates at all angles. It looked like KD could get any shot he wanted out there at times, finishing with 31 points on 12-for-23 from the field. “I was just picking and choosing my spots,” he said. “I got to the paint and wanted to take a good shot, but they were tough defensively. I got to the spots I wanted to. Like I said, I believe in my teammates and I’m going to continue to make the right play.”

Ramon Sessions had a nice game for LA after his struggles in OKC. Sessions got a few buckets early on and closed with 12 points and 4 assists. Andrew Bynum was posting up deep in the key all night, but his shot was off no matter how close he was to the rim. Drew was 2-for-13 from the field but 11-for-12 from the line, ending up with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

At the end of his media session, Kobe was asked if he felt redeemed after coming through in the clutch during Game 3. “It didn’t mean much to me, you got to take the good with the bad,” he said. “Mentally that just doesn’t bother me. There’s going to be games when I win and there’s going to be games when I lose them. When I lose them everybody is going to criticize and say what they are going to say but I don’t care, I take it like a champ.”

Several reporters cited the back to back game narrative, wondering if the Lakers will have the legs to compete against a young Thunder squad in Game 4 on Saturday night. As expected, Kobe wasn’t having it. “We’re going to show up ready to play, ready to work,” Kobe said. “Have your big boy pants on, leave your diaper at home.” Nima Zarrabi (@NZbeFree)