The New York Knicks: All the talking heads said Knicks-Celtics could be the most intriguing series of the first round. The Knicks were surging! The Celtics were slumping! The situation was ripe for an upset. And after Games 1 and 2 were decided by Boston's clutch plays (or, conversely, New York's clutch fails), those same talking heads were saying the Knicks "should have won" one or both of those games.
If only 'Melo had shot better in Game 1.
If only Amar''''''e hadn't been gimpy in Game 2.
If only Mike 'Antoni had coached a little better.
So on and so forth.
Then the Celtics came out and just bitch-slapped the Knicks in Game 3 in New York. Paul Pierce dropped 38. Ray Allen scored 32. While those two guys were combining to shoot 14-for-19 from beyond the arc -- no that's not a typo -- Rajon Rondo was setting a new Celtics playoff record by dishing out 20 assists. Rondo also had 15 points and 11 rebounds, joining Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and LeBron James as the only players in NBA history to record six career playoff triple doubles.
Dear Knicks defense: The Celtics thank you.
Anyway, New York fell behind by as many as 23 and lost 113-96, earning boos from the crowd as MSG.
Said 'Melo: "It's tough knowing that Amare's not 100 percent, Chauncey's not 100 percent and we're just trying to find our way on the fly right now. That's a tough situation but I think that would be making excuses if I sit here and say that they beat us because we're not at full strength. We've still got guys that have to go out there and play and that is going out there and playing, so I don't want to use that as an excuse."
Of course not. We all know 'Melo doesn't make excuses.
Meanwhile, Stoudemire scored only 7 points on 2-for-8 shooting, and he looked like he'd rather be pretty much anywhere other than on the court. Said STAT: “I was very ginger, didn't really want to draw any contact."
Didn't really want to draw any contact...the story of his career.
Anyway, Game 4 was more of the same. the Celtics went ahead by as many as 23, the Knicks tried to make a fourth quarter rally, and the combination of Boston's defense (the Knicks couldn't get a good shot if their lives depended on it) and New York's defenselessness (the Celtics literally got whatever shots they wanted) defined the final five minutes. The Final score: Boston 101, Knicks 89.
Said 'Melo: "Tonight was one of those games that we have to leave it all out on the court. Wasn't no need to take anything home with us, and we did that. So I'm pretty sure that we gained a lot of respect from a lot of people right now, but this is the first step of something great."
Reality check: New York finished with 89 points on 34.1 percent shooting and got outrebounded 53-42 at home in an elimination game. The only thing they left on the court was feces. Which the Celtics kindly swept away.
And so, despite being considered the most vulnerable team heading into this year's playoffs, the Celtics are now the first team to advance to the second round.
Some final numbers: Allen shot 57.4 percent from the field and an incredible 65.4 percent from beyond the arc (17-for-26) in this series. Pierce went 10-for-20 on threes. Jermaine "The Drain" O'Neal shot 61.1 percent (11-for-18). Oh, and I almost forgot, Ray-Ray had an Offensive Rating of 144.
Again, Knicks defense, the Celtics thank you.
Mike D'Antoni, sour grapes machine: Sometime during the gap between watching Rondo deal out 20 dimes (and compile a triple-double) and then helping the Celtics finish of a sweep of the Knicks with 21 points and 12 assists, Mike said: "I'd like to see him play on Minnesota and see how he does."
The Chicago Bulls: I'm not going to sugarcoat this: The Bulls played like complete and total ass against the Pacers in Game 4. Actually, they played like ass in Games 1 through 3, too, but Game 4 was their assiest performance of the playoffs: 37.8 percent shooting, 3-for-20 on threes, 21 points given up off 14 turnovers, 18 second-chance points surrendered off Indy's 15 offensive rebounds, no fast break points and a deficit as large as 18 points.
And yet...the Bulls trailed by 16 points with under three minutes to go but got to within a point with 15 seconds left. Danny Granger knocked down two free throws off a forced foul, giving Chicago a chance to tie it with a three-pointer.
Enter a play straight out of Vinny Del Negro's playbook: The ball was inbounded to Joakim Noah, who held it for nearly 10 seconds before finally initiating some panicked passing, at the end of which the ball ended up in the hands of Carlos Boozer. For three.
Perspective time from ESPN Stats and Information: "In his 617 career NBA games, combining both regular season and playoffs, Boozer is now 1-10 in his career on 3-pointers. Boozer's only made 3-pointer in his career came on December 30, 2003 as a member of the Cavs... against the Pacers."
In other words, "Boozer for three!" is not the shot the Bulls wanted.
Said Noah: "I caught the ball at the elbow and I was supposed to set a backscreen for Luol. They played it well, they denied the dribble handoff. Really, it was a mental mistake. When you're in that position, you've got to call timeout, so we learn from it."
The failed comeback and Indy's crunch time choke job aside, the Pacers played harder and wanted this game more than the Bulls. They hustled more and came up with all the 50-50 loose balls. The Bulls never matched their intensity until the final few minutes. That's too little too late.
Said Granger: "The mentality is play it like it's the last game you ever play in your life. We played like that tonight."
Frank Vogel, quote machine: "I'm still upset that it's 1-3. We should be up in the series."
The Dallas Mavericks: Jason Kidd's hot shooting and Dirk Nowitzki's fourth quarter heroics in Games 1 and 2 made me feel like I had been sucked into some kind of dark alternate reality. Seriously, I had to do some quick Google Fu to make sure that, like, the Nazis didn't win World War 2 or something.
Well, Game 4 confirmed that I am still in the reality of my birth. Dallas led by as many as 23 points in the third quarter and went into the final 12 minutes with an 18-point lead. Game over? Ha! You saw the 2006 NBA Finals, right?
The Frail Blazers outscored the Mavericks 35-15 in the fourth quarter. Brandon Roy -- who scored 18 of those points -- redeemed himself for last week's jack-assery by hitting the go-ahead shot with 39.2 seconds left.
Said Roy: "I've been in some pretty good zones before, but nothing like tonight."
Added Gerald Wallace: "When people ask me what did I do in the fourth quarter, I'll tell them I stood in the corner and watched The Brandon Roy Show."
According to the AP recap, Portland became the third NBA team in the shot-clock era to win a playoff game when trailing by 18 points or more heading into the fourth quarter. Furthermore, according to ESPN Stats and Information, "The Blazers trailed by 18 after the 3rd quarter, and came back to win. The 18-point deficit is tied for the 2nd largest comeback (in terms of points trailed after 3 quarters) in playoff history." That they did it against the Mavs is, well, not at all surprising. I mean, if any team in these playoffs was going to have a near-historical choke, wouldn't you assume it was going to be the Mavericks?
Said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle: "Did we let up? I think we let up, yeah. There isn't any question."
Added Nowitzki: "You can always, after the fact, talk about what you could have done or should have done. You can go a million ways about it, and afterward you're a lot smarter, but that doesn't help anybody right now."
Brandon Roy, quote machine: "It still just doesn't feel real yet. It was just an unbelievable game and comeback. With everything I've been through this season, they just all came into that moment there on the court when guys were grabbing and cheering me on. It was real special."
The San Antonio Spurs: You know, earlier this season, I (somewhat jokingly) suggested that the 2010-11 Spurs had transformed themselves into the 2007-08 Suns: Potent offense, quasi-adequate defense, vulnerable to hard-nosed physical teams. Like, you know, the Grizzlies. Yes, the Grizzlies. I know. Mind blown.
The Spurs might not make it past the Grizzlies. Holy shit.
Said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich: "One would probably think that you'd like Zach to shoot the 3 rather than continue to lay it in against you, so it was a heck of a shot and part of the playoffs is about making shots."
Added Shane Battier: "I think there was a collective holding of the breath at the Forum when that shot was in the air, and it went through. It was one of those moments where it's like: 'No, no, no, no, no, yes. Yes.'"
Duncan, who was defending Randolph, said he didn't think Z-Bo would take that shot. I guess Timmy doesn't read Basketbawful. If he did, he'd have known better.
Said TD: "I leaned back and tried to make sure that there wasn't a quick big-to-big roll, but he hit a 3 from that range. It was a great shot."
Added Randolph: "It was 5 seconds on the shot clock. I had a little space to see it, so I just shot the shot. It went in, but that's the shot I work on and I practice every day shooting so it felt good when it left my hand."
Stat check: Zach went 8-for-43 on threes during the regular season.
Despite it all, the Spurs had a chance to tie the game up in the closing seconds, but Memphis threw a wet blanket on a brain-farting Manu Ginobili, who failed to shoot, pass or call a timeout. That's right: With the game -- and possibly the series -- on the line, San Antonio's Mr. Clutch let the clock expire without even getting a shot off.
Said Manu: "I thought we had a little more time. But no, there wasn't enough time. But now it's easier ... I wish we had called a timeout or done something different."
Now you know how the Suns felt all those years, Manu.
The Denver Nuggets: The dream is coming to an end. I won't rub it in to Nuggets fans that I predicted it. Not because I don't like this team -- I actually do -- but reality was going to punch them in the face eventually. Turns out "eventually" was Game 3.
Losing Games 1 and 2 in Oklahoma City was understandable. But if the Nuggets were going to make a stand in this series, it was going to have to start in Game 3. Only Denver shot 37.2 percent and went 6-for-23 from downtown. Still, despite it all, J.R. Smith had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer...
...but didn't. He may or may not have been fouled by James Harden. But that doesn't matter since no call was made. And now the Nuggets are staring down an 0-3 deficit.
Said Smith: "I thought it would have had a better chance of going in if I didn't get fouled. I guess they didn't call it because he's planted or whatever. If somebody hits your arm like that, I think you still have to call the foul."
Countered Harden: "J.R. had just hit two 3s in a row, we went small to switch everything. As soon as he caught the ball I tried to not give him any space where he could get an open shot."
Final shots aside, the Nuggets should look a little deeper at their own failings. Like letting Serge Ibaka tie his career-high with 22 points and set a new career-best by grabbing 16 rebounds. Ibaka also blocked 4 shots.
Even more damning was Denver's 15 missed foul shots. In a three-point loss.
That's not a one-game aberration, either. The Nuggets are shooting only 69 percent (79-for-115) for the series.
Said Denver coach George Karl: "The free throw line I think is a little nightmarish right now."
Added Smith: "Nobody wants to lose, let alone be embarrassed. That's what they're doing to us right now, they're embarrassing us. They're up 3-0. We're in a real tough position. We have to fight back."
Good luck with that, J.R.
The Miami cHeat: Thanks to a tip-in by Dwyane Wade, the cHeat went up 82-76 with 1:35 left. That lead should have been insurmountable, right? With Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, you'd think Miami would be able to close out the game, wouldn't you?
Only the Sixers went on a 10-0 run in that final minute and a half to win 86-82.
Said cHeat coach Erik Spoelstra: "We've proven all year long that we were able to close those types of games out. We were not able to tonight."
Really, Erik? According to ESPN Stats and Information:
With 3.8 seconds remaining, LeBron James had an opportunity to tie the game, but ended up being blocked by Elton Brand. This continued a trend in which James and Wade struggle in the closing seconds of a close game.
Just a reminder... Including LeBron's missed shot today, the Heat are now 1-19 from the field in the final 10 seconds when trailing by 3 or fewer (or tied) ... LeBron now 1-8 on the season... The Heat were by far the worst in these situations during the regular season.
The cHeat are going to close out this series in Game 5. I'm sure of it. But this game provided a reminder that they are not yet invincible.
Bonus stats: Miami shot 38.5 percent from the field and went 5-for-23 on threes. Philly's bench outscored the cHeat's reserves 36-16. Miami starters Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mike Bibby combined for one point on 0-for-9 shooting.
Final thought: The cHeat should put the ball in Wade's hands in these situations.
LeBron James, quote machine, Part 1: "Intimidation factor? We're not trying to intimidate anybody."
LeBron James, quote machine, part 2: "We're not going to hang our heads all the way to the ground about it."
The Orlando Magic: Game 3 was all like this...
...and all like this...
With Zaza and J-Rich sitting out Game 4, the Magicians shot 39.2 percent from the field and got outrebounded 44-42. Back to the shooting, Orlando went 2-for-23 from downtown. According to ESPN Stats and Information: "At 8.7 percent, it was the worst 3-point performance in a playoff game with at least 20 attempts in the last 20 years." Even worse than when the Kings went 2-for-20 against the Lakers back in 2002. Sorry. Had to work the Kings in here somewhere.
Said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy: "They're playing good defense. I'm not taking anything away from them. But we're getting good enough looks. I don't know what to tell you about the shooting. I really don't."
Whatever the reason -- like, I dunno, Orlando's shooters aren't all that? -- the Magic are now down 3-1 in this series and on playoff life support. Yes, they had a chance to win both Games 3 and 4, but no, they did not.
The Hawks now have three chances to close things out.
Dwight Howard, trash talk machine: From the AP recap:
Howard, an Atlanta native, bantered with the crowd in his hometown, even coming over to the press table to exchange barbs with a couple of trash-talking fans in the third quarter.
"You're the biggest whiner in the league," one of them said.
"You wanna come out here and play me?" Howard responded. "I'm averaging 33 points a game. Just keep drinking your beer."
But the home fans had the last laugh.
Dwight had 29 points and 17 rebounds in Game 4. But you know how I said the Magic had a chance to win the game down the stretch? They weren't running any plays for Howard in the final minutes. Gilbert Arenas and Jameer Nelson were getting the clutch shots. I'm just sayin'.
The Los Angeles Lakers: For the upteenth time this season, the Lakers had a dominating performance in their 100-86 win in Game 3 that made everybody think: "Okay. They're finally back on track. Back in control." And for the upteenth time they followed up a dominating performance with one that was stunningly weak in Game 4.
Kobe Bryant sprained his ankle, but he was shooting poorly before that, finishing with 17 points on 5-for-18 from the field. But Kobe's shooting aside, the Lakers were simply outworked. As Karc pointed out: "Chris Paul had the same number of rebounds as Bynum and Gasol combined (13). And the Hornets were +16 in 2nd chance points. Pretty much says it all."
If that says it all, then Chris Paul's amazing triple-double (27 points, 15 assists, 13 rebounds) should be a major footnote. Holy crap. Where was this CP3 all season?
From Elias Sports Bureau: "The last player with at least 25 points, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds in the playoffs was Oscar Robertson on March 29, 1964 against Philadelphia. He had 32 points, 18 assists, and 10 rebounds in that game. Entering Sunday, Oscar Robertson was the only player in NBA history to do this in the postseason. He did it twice."
Please joine me in saying: "Wow."
Said Bryant: "He's going to have games like this. I mean, the majority of the game, he's just a phenomenal player."
Added Trevor Ariza: "He's maybe 6 feet and he had 13 rebounds. He played unbelievable. He's made our team go all year. He's carried us when we were down."
Speaking of Ariza, he had quite the little revenge game against his old team: 19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and great D on Kobe. According to ESPN Stats and Information: "Trevor Ariza has been the man tasked with guarding Kobe Bryant and the results seem to show him doing a much better job than the Hornets' other alternatives. In the 4th quarters of this series, Bryant is averaging just 0.59 points per play on 3-11 shooting. He has been nearly three times more effective when guarded by others, scoring 1.5 points per play on 3-7 FG."
And, just like that, the series is knotted at two games each.
Said Phil Jackson: "Well, it's a series now. We punked out there on the court tonight."
Chris' weekend lacktion ledger:
Celtics-Knicks: Nenad Krstic crushed a rebound in 7:50 with two turnovers and a foul for a 3:1 Voskuhl.
Lakers-Hornets: Joe Smith headed one brick in 46 seconds for a +1 and a Mario.
Mavs-Frail Blazers: Chris Johnson can now help Paul Allen with his investments after a 2.2 trillion (2:13).
Thunder-Nuggets: Kendrick Perkins spent 19:14 as Oklahoma City's starting big man, getting two boards and a field goal...only to foul four times and lose the rock twice for a 6:4 Voskuhl.
El (Oh El) Heat-Sixers: Juwan Howard (at 2.1 trillion/126 seconds) and Eddie House (at 2.8 trillion/169 seconds) have come up big in the mission to provide Miami with more cap space, while Zydrunas Ilgauskas spent 10:22 as starting big man negating a free throw and board with three fouls for a 3:2 Voskuhl!
Celtics-Knicks: Jared Jeffries jacked over a block in 5:59 with a brick, rejection, turnover, and foul, earning a 2:0 Voskuhl.
Magic-Hawks: Josh Powell provided a field goal and board in 10:54, only to foul thricely and lose the rock once for a 4:3 Voskuhl. Also garnering a Voskuhl ratio was Hilton Armstrong, checking in after 7:49 of unpacking two steals with three fouls for a 3:0 final number.
Lakers-Hornets: Jason Smith buzzed into the ledger tonight after he fouled twice and bricked once in 3:42 for a +3 that doubled as a 2:0 Voskuhl!