Post Up: Holy Thunder

by May 15, 2012

Sixers 82, Celtics 81 (Series tied 1-1)

After letting Game 1 slip from their hands, the Philadelphia 76ers overcame a sloppy, physical, turnover-filled game to escape with a gritty 82-81 victory at TD Garden. With the win, the series heads to Philly tied 1-1, with pressure now on the Celtics to steal at least one game on the road.

Two days removed from a disheartening defeat, the Sixers answered in a big way. They sharpened their focus, showcased resiliency and executed down the stretch, particularly on defense. Jrue Holiday scored 18 points and Andre Iguodala added 13 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds, but second-year guard Evan Turner was the hero, converting on a go-ahead layup in the final moments to propel Philly to victory.

Boston took command early, scoring the first 9 points of the game, and was in the driver’s seat for most of an ugly, back-and-forth first half of basketball. Rajon Rondo had 8 of his 13 assists in the first two quarters, doing his part to give the C’s a 38-36 lead at the break.

From a “flow” standpoint, the third quarter was no different. In fact, it was worse, making the game borderline unwatchable. With about 5 minutes left in the third, the score was just 43-41 Boston. It was an unsettling display of sloppiness, with the Celtics committing 7 turnovers and making just 4 of 17 shots in the quarter. When the shots finally started to go in, though, it was Philly doing the scoring. The Sixers scored 14 straight points, turning a 47-43 deficit into a 57-47 lead in the final minute of the third.

Entering the fourth quarter, Game 2 was eerily similar to Game 1—the Sixers held a double-digit lead (57-49) to begin the final stanza, but quickly relinquished command, as Kevin Garnett imposed his will, scoring 11 of his 15 points in the fourth. Boston tied it twice before eventually going up 72-71 on an Avery Bradley 3-pointer with under 3 minutes to play. Holiday answered right back with a 3 of his own, but Ray Allen one-upped him, sinking a trey with 1:40 left, putting the Celtics back up one. After forcing Philly into a 24-second shot clock violation, the Celtics had a chance to extend the lead, but Rondo couldn’t convert on a short-range jumper.

Then came the moment.

Down by one with under a minute to play, Evan Turner caught the ball on the left side of the court at the 3-point line. He sized up Rondo in the triple-threat position, blew by him using one dribble to the right, took two steps towards the hoop and converted on a nifty reverse layup. ET had a sloppy game overall, tallying a negligible 10 points and committing 5 turnovers, but he converted with the game on the line, and in the Playoffs, that’s ultimately what matters most.

In a hostile, zoo-like environment, with his team staring at a 2-0 deficit, the former No. 2  pick made the first No. 2-pick-play of his career, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The jury is still out on Turner in terms of potential, value and ceiling, but if Turner can consistently create his own shot in crunch time, he has a chance to develop into the go-to guy Philly desperately needs.

Turner’s layup put the Sixers up 76-75 with 40.4 seconds remaining, and on the ensuing possession, Allen missed a fadeaway baseline jumper. After inexplicably wasting 10 seconds of clock, the Celtics finally fouled Turner, who calmly sank both free throws to give his team a 78-75 lead with 12 seconds to go.

Out of a timeout, Doc Rivers drew up a set to get an open shot, but the Celtics never got their chance, as Kevin Garnett was whistled for an offensive foul while setting a screen for Paul Pierce (who finished with just 7 points on 2-of-9 shooting). And, that was it. A few meaningless 3-pointers bridged the score, but the game was already in the bags. Allen scored a game-high 17 points, but it was to no avail. The 76ers, unlike in Game 1, executed down the stretch—going 6-for-6 from the foul line in the last minute—to escape with the narrowest of victories. Game 3 is Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

Last tidbit: It’s only a matter of time before Pierce has one of his signature 30-point, four clutch-shot games, right? Well, if the Sixers can keep Pierce at his series average of a shade over 10 points per, their chance of winning increases significantly. So far this series, when Iguodala has guarded Pierce, he’s annulled Pierce’s scoring prowess. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Iggy held Pierce to 1-6 shooting and forced four turnovers when guarding him in Game 2. And, for the series, he’s held Pierce to 26.7 percent shooting, tallying more turnovers (6) than field goals (4). Part of Pierce’s struggles are a direct result of his injured knee, but let’s give Iggy some credit here. It didn’t occur to me before the series, but Iggy’s length, quick hands and feet, and tenacious motor can stymie Pierce. Pierce is one of the most persistent players in the league, and isn’t one to relent or back down, but if I’m Doug Collins, I stick Iggy (and occasionally Thad Young, when Young is at SF) on Pierce for the remainder of the series. Even if this will tire Iggy and make him a one-way player, a) it’s not like he’ll be too tired to do the little things, like get ahead on fast breaks and convert easy buckets, and b) the Sixers have had a scorer-by-committee approach all year, so I don’t think they’d fret if Iguodala doesn’t give them 17 points every night.

It’s exciting, and convenient, to start dissecting a presumed Heat-Celtics Eastern Conference Finals. But if last night told us anything, it’s that Philly is a fearless—and more importantly—a capable, group of guys. If Turner, or whoever else has the ball in the final moments, can continue to make plays, the Sixers could very well win both games at home. And then, uh, they would be up 3-1. As KG once assured us, “anything is possible.” Eldon Khorshidi (@eldonadam)

Thunder 119, Lakers 90 (OKC leads 1-0)

Call it the Monday Night Massacre.

The Oklahoma City Thunder throttled L.A. in Game 1 of their second round matchup, riding a combined 52 points from superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to coast to a 119-90 victory. OKC had 9 days of rest following their sweep of Dallas in round one, and showed no signs of rust. Just pure energy, committing only 4 turnovers for the game while being extremely efficient offensively, racking up 20 assists and shooting 53 percent from the floor overall—plus 41 percent from 3-point range and 82 percent from the free throw line. The Lakers turned the ball over 15 times.

“Obviously they’re more well-rested than we are, but I don’t think it really made that much of a difference for us,” Kobe Bryant said. “We could have had the same amount of days off. They’re just younger and faster. I think tonight, what you saw is they executed extremely well. We’re going to have to make our adjustments. Tonight and tomorrow, we’ll talk about it and figure some things out and things that we want to do differently. They just got too many open looks.”

Westbrook led all scorers with 29 points and added 9 assists, while the Thunder bench was brilliant, led by James Harden’s 17 points. OKC went all the way down their bench with all 13 players earning playing time and 12 of them registering points. “Like I told the guys, it’s one game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “The first team to four wins the series. Come Wednesday night, regardless if you won by 20, it’s going to have no impact. We have to come out with the same energy.”

Following a somewhat close first quarter, OKC extended their lead to 15 at the half. The game continued to get away from L.A. in the third. After Thabo Sefalosha hit a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 77-48 with about 8 minutes left in the third, Lakers coach Mike Brown stood with his hands in his pockets, stunned.

“Give OKC credit they did a terrific job,” Brown said postgame. “Westbrook and Durant got loose for jump shots that weren’t contested. We had problems defending the pick-and-roll and our weakside defense wasn’t very good. They were very physical and made our offense look stagnant at times.” Bryant led the Lakers with 20 points and Andrew Bynum posted 20 points and 14 rebounds.

With the game out of hand late and reserves in for both squads, Lakers forward Devin Ebanks was ejected for shoving Royal Ivey during a loose ball. He smacked a chair on the Lakers bench and stripped off his jersey on his way to the showers. It was that kind of night for the Lake Show. Game 2 is Wednesday in OKC. —Nima Zarrabi (@NZbeFree)