Post Up: Still Fighting

by April 30, 2013

Nets 110, Bulls 91 (Bulls lead series 3-2)

The Nets and Bulls looked lethargic early on at Barclays Center, but the intensity was quick to mount during Monday night’s potential elimination game.

Cleaning up the offensive glass, nailing long jumpers over Joakim Noah’s outstretched hand and continuing to protect the rim, Brook Lopez dominated with a workman-like attitude. The All-Star paced the team with 28 points and 10 rebounds.

”We came out very aggressive, as we have the past few games. I think the difference was just we sustained it for essentially a full 48 minutes tonight,” Lopez said.

All eyes were on Nate Robinson, who scored 29 of his 34 points after the third quarter on Saturday, but it was another reserve’s night to be crowned “Mr. Fourth Quarter.” Andray Blatche had 10 of his 13 points in the final period, as the Nets flourished in the forth quarter and staved off elimination. Nate, the Game 4 hero, couldn’t connect down the stretch and even threw away the rock several times.

Holding a seven-point lead heading into the final three minutes, Brooklyn made sure to close out the game right. The Nets out-scored the Bulls 15-1 in the final minutes of the game and upped their defense, forcing Chicago to make sloppy pass after sloppy pass in crucial fourth-quarter moments.

”I believed that we would respond,” coach PJ Carlesimo said. ”We’ve bounced back all year too well, and as disheartening a loss as that was on Saturday, there’s still been enough good minutes in this series. Neither of us are getting away from each other.”

“Captain” Kirk Hinrich was out with a bruised left calf, and his absence was sorely felt. Deron Williams had his way against Robinson, and the Bulls’ offense looked stagnant late in the game without their veteran PG putting the ball in the right hands.

Brooklyn scored 54 points in the paint (24 of them, second-chance) and out-rebounded the Bulls, 44-33. Their solid defense led to an uncharacteristic 21 points on the break, including an emphatic Gerald Wallace throw-down that put away the game with two minutes to go.

“That’s the difference in the game, the rebounding,” Tom Thibodeau said. “If you defend fairly well and then you give a team a second and a third crack at it, it’s hard to win like that.”

Jimmy Butler continued to be a revelation for Chicago—playing crucial defense, picking-off Williams twice in the third quarter and leading the fast-break charge. He challenged the Brooklyn bigs repeatedly with daring drives to the cup and finished with a solid 18 points and 4 steals.

Chicago will have to go back to its grind-it-out defense in Game 6 at the United Center and try to get Carlos boozer and Luol Deng going again. The veteran duo was quiet in Game 4, scoring a combined 22 points.

“It was just a lot of mental mistakes. A lot of mental mistakes,” Noah said. “I feel like we had our chances. We beat ourselves. They played well. You’ve got to give credit when credit is due and now it’s on us to come back and be ready for Game 6.” —Ryne Nelson / @slaman10

Hawks 102, Pacers 91 (Series tied 2-2)

We all know that a series doesn’t start until a road team wins, but that didn’t stop me from thinking that Indiana had this thing locked up after Game 2. The Hawks have showed serious toughness since.

Atlanta held Indiana to just 69 points in Game 3, and were the better team again in Game 4 on Monday night. A Pacers run cut a 57-40 halftime deficit to a four-point game in about 8 minutes in the third, but the Hawks regrouped and held them off from there. Atlanta led by at least a few buckets for most of the fourth quarter.

Josh Smith broke out with 29 points and 11 rebounds. He knocked down 9-of-20 shots and went to the line 16 times, a huge number for a guy who averaged just over 4 free throws attempted per game during the regular season. He had been a steady contributor throughout the series, but took his game to a new level last night.

Kyle Korver was major as well, hitting 5 treys on his way to 19 points. He started the first three games, but came off the bench last night as Johan Petro slid into the starting lineup. Obviously the switch worked wonders, as he had scored a total of 20 points in games one through three while being locked down by Paul George. Al Horford chipped in a classic Horford game—18, 5 and 4. The Hawks hit 11-of-24 threes.

The Pacers’ offense was cold again. George finished with 21 and 12 rebounds, but made only 6-of-16 shots. David West (15) and George Hill (12) combined to shoot 9-for-29. Gerald Green, who played well in the first two games of the series, scored just 3 points in 8 minutes off the bench. On the plus side, Lance Stephenson had a very productive night with 10 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists.

The Pacers have the luxury of not having to win on the road as long as they take care of business in Indiana. However, these last two games are concerning for both their short- and long-term hopes. Indiana can often pull out a game where they score 91 thanks to a typically elite defense, but they were nearly blown out last night. I’d be very surprised if the Hawks knock the Pacers out of the Playoffs, but right now Indiana doesn’t look like a team capable of handling Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks in Round 2. We’ll see if they turn things around when they return home for Game 5 on Wednesday night. —Leo Sepkowitz

Rockets 105, Thunder 103 (Thunder lead series 3-1)

Anyone and everyone who watched Game 4 saw Chandler Parsons put the Houston Rockets on his back with a team-high 27 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. Parsons was the star, but it was the home team hustlers—Aaron Brooks and Patrick Beverly—that helped stave off OKC’s quest to break out the broom Monday night and facilitated a 105-103 Rockets win at Toyota Center.

The fleet of foot point guards combined for 23 points, seven rebounds and five dimes, but more than that, they did all the little things Houston needed, when it needed it to upset Oklahoma City and push the series to another game at Chesapeake Arena.

“The pressure’s on them now, not on us,” said Aaron Brooks. “We’re supposed to lose, right? We’re young and just gotta go out there and play reckless and play hard. Chandler had a big game, Patrick Beverly played huge, and to get a win when our starter (Harden) isn’t playing shows what we can do.”

What the Rockets finally showed they could do was close out a game. In the previous two games, they led in the fourth quarter, only to squander the lead and the game. This time out, though, the young upstarts, led by Parsons, managed to hold their ground and get a much-needed W.

“We felt the pain and frustration from the last two losses and we didn’t want that to happen for the third straight time,” Parsons said. “We know we can beat these guys. We were in the situation the last two games, there’s no way we were going to give it up.”

They almost did, though. Kevin Durant, who had another great game with 38 points, 8 boards and 6 gives, closed the gap to two in the waning minutes on five quick points, which included a three pointer and a monstrous one-on-five slam.

The Thunder could have tied the game at the buzzer, but Serge Ibaka missed a point-blank layup. Not surprisingly, the shot-blocking machine lie in a heap on the floor with his face covered in shame after the miss.

“Getting this first win gives us confidence going back to Oklahoma City, and anything can happen,” said Harden, who joked that he had a double-double after his forgettable 15 point, 10 turnover outing. “A lot of guys came in and contributed. It was a great team win for us. I couldn’t get it going early. The foul trouble kind of set me back. Coming in trying to make big shots, I was cold. I was freezing.”

Durant wasn’t cold. Like his go-ahead lucky bounce three ball in Game 3, the No. 2 scorer in the League wanted to get off another dagger from behind the arc to close out this one, but Francisco Garcia was there to stop it.

“I was. I was going to try to win it,” said Durant. “But he played good defense. We’ll be all right,” he said. “We’re up 3-1 with a good opportunity to close it out at home. We couldn’t ask for a better situation, so hopefully we’ll get the job done.”

“It seemed like he was going for three,” added Parsons. “With that lucky bounce in the last game, we didn’t want to give him a chance.”

Derek Fisher, who was relentlessly booed by the fans every time he entered the game or touched the ball, made a 3-pointer to cut Houston’s lead to 104-101 with less than three minutes remaining, but it was taken away after the replay showed that the shot clock had expired.

The real turning point of the game came on a defensive play by Beverly, who took a charge on Durant with 35 seconds left.

“They do some crazy things on defense,” said Durant. “They run two guys at you and they don’t care about the other players on the floor.”

Reggie Jackson, filling in nicely for the injured Russell Westbrook, finished with 18 points. Fisher added 12 from the pine.

Omer Asik, who was all over the place, chipped in 17 for Houston and Carlos Delfino, who smashed on Kevin Durant on the break for the SportsCenter-worthy poster in the third quarter, tossed in 13.

“That was a gutsy win,” McHale said. “We’re not going to lie down. The one constant has been their willingness to scrap and fight. We kept on fighting.”

Game 5 is Wednesday in Oklahoma City. —Maurice Bobb