Tag:Conference Semifinals
Posted on: May 5, 2011 12:55 am
Edited on: May 5, 2011 1:11 am
 

NBA Playoffs Hawks-Bulls: Noah makes good

Joakim Noah provides the spark for the Bulls in Game 2. 
Posted by Matt Moore

The Bulls can't win if Derrick Rose plays poorly (he can play "not great" as he did Wednesday night, despite what the point total and narratives will tell you, just not badly). But more prevalent in Game 2 was this: the Bulls can't lose if Joakim Noah plays great. 

19 points on 6-8 shooting, 14 rebounds, 7 offensive, 3 steals and 1 block. That's a great line. And it doesn't even cover how big of an impact he had versus the Hawks. 50 percent of the Bulls' offensive rebounds were snagged by Noah. On a night when the Bulls' offense was only slightly less woeful than the Hawks', those seven extra possessions, full of putbacks and resets, were vital. Basically, if you can't produce efficiency with the possessions provided, create more possessions. 

Most notable was his dominance over Al Horford. Horford is generally regarded as the better player. He's more versatile, has better range, is more efficient and a better passer. But in terms of those key plays which make your team that little bit better than the other in key areas, Noah dragged Horford out behind the shed and taught him a thing or two. Which is odd since they both learned about those things at the same university. If Noah's going to get at those key rebounds at that rate over Horford and Josh Smith, the Bulls will simply grind the Hawks into wood shavings, as they did in Game 2. 

Noah's not particularly versatile, but he had the full array going on Wednesday, including the lefty hook early for the first points for the Bulls. It's that production that puts the Bulls at a level just high enough to overcome an inefficient game from Rose and a terrible game from pretty much every other Bull offensively. Noah struggled in the regular season with injury and the first round with energy. But his biggest performances coincide with the Bulls' strongest wins. The Bulls' win over the Hawks in Game 2 wasn't pretty. It was just very Noah. 
Posted on: May 4, 2011 11:00 pm
Edited on: May 5, 2011 12:58 am
 

Ugly for ATL in Game 2 but things are pretty good

Posted by Royce Young



At some point during the fourth quarter, I think the Hawks looked up at the scoreboard in the United Center and realized what we were all thinking.

Hey, at least we got a split.

Because Wednesday night's Game 2 was a complete reversal of good shooting fortune for the Hawks. Unless you're a Bulls fan, that was not a fun 48 minutes of basketball. Both teams shot under 40 percent, with the Hawks clocking in at a paltry 33.8 from the field. The Atlanta bench, which is typically a major weapon, went a combined 3-11 for 13 points (11 coming from Jamal Crawford).

The Bulls got back to their style of basketball, grinding out a win behind excellent perimeter defense, stellar rebounding and just enough from Derrick Rose and his rag-tag bunch of scorers. Not that Chicago looked dominant by any means, because there's still certainly some vulnerability there, but it was a more routine Bulls win. It's exactly what the doctor ordered for Game 2 to even the series.

But the Hawks can walk out of the United Center tonight thinking one thing: mission accomplished. Taking one game is a huge coup, and because they won, the Hawks actually have a shot. Like really, they have a chance in this series. I'm not kidding. This series, much like the Memphis-OKC one, has a real look of seven games written all over it.

The question is how to replicate Game 1 and forget Game 2. The Bulls were obviously much better, and suffocated the Atlanta offense while killing on the glass (58-39 edge). Rose was average (10-27, 24 points, eight turnovers), Carlos Boozer was a non-factor once again and the entire team shot the ball horribly. And yet the Bulls won by 13. It's exactly the way Tom Thibodeau draws it up.

Joe Johnson returned to the Joe Johnson we are all familiar with in postseason play (16 points, 7-15 shooting) He forced things, tried to take over in awkward moments and wasn't able to free himself from the terrific on-ball defense of Luol Deng. But because of Johnson's struggles and Al Horford's rough game (3-12, six points), the Hawks watched as unproven second-year point guard Jeff Teague stepped up in a big way.

Teague's effort in the first two games of this series is probably the second best thing the Hawks are taking back with them to Atlanta (a win being the first). Teague went for 21 on 7-14 shooting Wednesday and played 40 minutes against Chicago's pressure defense without a turnover. In these two games filling in for Kirk Hinrich, Teague has just one turnover. In Game 2, he outplayed the guy that was just handed the MVP trophy by David Stern before the game.

That, along with the snatching of homecourt in Game 1, means the Hawks have a chance. I know, I have to keep saying it to almost convince myself. But with the way that Indiana series went for Chicago, and then the stinker in the opening game against the Hawks, it just feels like the Bulls aren't themselves right now. It feels like they're vulnerable. They're better than they're playing, but it doesn't matter right now. The Hawks have the upper-hand in this series.

Atlanta closed in a few different times on Chicago in the fourth quarter but never approached getting over the hump and taking the lead. While a 2-0 lead would basically be more shocking than the contract Joe Johnson got in the offseason, one win in of itself is big.

It's easy to lose sight of things like that, especially when a team plays as unimaginative as the Hawks did Wednesday. But any road team's goal in the opening two games is to take one and therefore, homecourt. The Hawks accomplished that. And may have found a pretty good point guard in the meantime.
Posted on: May 4, 2011 3:20 pm
Edited on: May 4, 2011 3:24 pm
 

Paul Pierce is 'day to day' with Achilles strain

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce is dealing with an Achilles injury. Posted by Ben Golliver. paul-pierce-game2

Here's the injury added to the insult of the Boston Celtics dropping both Games 1 and 2 to the Miami Heat in Florida: Forward Paul Pierce says he is "day to day" with an Achilles injury according to WEEI.com.
Paul Pierce strained his left Achilles tendon in the first quarter of Game 2 and had to go back to the locker room for a stretch. He returned soon after and scored 13 points in the Celtics’ 102-91 loss. “It’s day to day right now,” Pierce said. “We’ll see how it feels the next couple of days.” 
Pierce said he wasn’t sure how the injury happened, but it was a problem for him. “When you strain your Achilles, every step is like a slight little pain,” he said. “It actually loosened up as I got back in there and it didn’t really affect me the rest of the game.”
Is this just another sign that the aging Celtics can't keep up with the three-ring athletic circus that is the Miami Heat? Is this an early excuse seed-planting in the event Boston bows out of the playoffs in ugly fashion?  I'm not sure on either count. It's still too early to tell.

One thing is clear though: The Celtics need more from Pierce. His averages so far against Miami: 16 points, six rebounds, 1.5 assists just aren't going to be enough to get it done with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade going off as they have been. 

Pierce needs to get to the free throw line with more regularity and also hope that his 44% shooting in the series so far heads back towards the 49.7% mark he posted during the regular season. 

Posted on: May 4, 2011 3:06 am
Edited on: May 4, 2011 3:29 am
 

Playoff Fix: Chicago needs to find itself again

Posted by Royce Young



One Big Thing: So... things didn't go exactly as planned for Chicago in Game 1. The Bulls looked average at best, relying far too heavily on Derrick Rose while just assuming their defense could contain the Hawks. Wrong on both accounts. Atlanta executed down the stretch, while Chicago didn't, and the result is a shocking 1-0 lead for the Hawks.

The question now: Is Rose healthy after re-tweaking his ankle in the final seconds of Game 1? He practiced and, reportedly, there was no swelling. He should be good. But how effective he can be in a game has yet to be seen.

The X-Factor: The Chicago bench has to show a pulse. The Hawks second unit absolutely destroyed the Bulls role players. Granted, it's not really fair when Jamal Crawford is part of the group, but even guys like Jason Collins stepped up big. Chicago got little to none of that from its backups. Someone, whether it's Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer or Taj Gibson, has to show a heartbeat.

The Adjustment: If we're all being honest with ourselves, we saw a Hawks team that knocked down a bunch of outside jumpers. Can they do it again? The Magic asked the same question, and Atlanta answered in buckets. Of course, the Bulls are a better defensive team, so locking down and sealing off the perimeter is probably the focus. Allowing good shooters to get open looks all over the floor is a recipe for failure, and the Hawks made the Bulls pay.

The Sticking Point: The Bulls absolutely can't afford to drop this second game. The Hawks are already guaranteed a split, which is what they went to Chicago hoping for. But, if Atlanta wins Game 2, they've got a firm stranglehold on the series. It will take another steady performance from Jeff Teague and more great shot-making from Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson. Not that the Hawks aren't capable of it, but you can safely assume the Bulls will ratchet things up a bit.

And they better. The Bulls weren't any better than in their series against Indiana, and facing a team like the Hawks, Chicago wasn't ready. Something tells me the Bulls will be prepard tonight, though, and get back in the series.
Posted on: May 4, 2011 2:54 am
Edited on: May 4, 2011 3:00 pm
 

Zach Randolph comes up small in Game 2

Memphis forward Zach Randolph was missing in action when the Grizzlies needed him the most. Posted by Ben Golliver. zach-struggle

Things were finally starting to look up for Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph. He has battled a bad rep for years, and flown under the radar for most of his NBA career. Despite being one of the league's most productive big men, he's been named an All-Star just once and has been long been known for his run-ins with the law rather than the merits of his game.

That's changed in the past few weeks, as the Grizzlies launched a stunning upset over the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, and stole Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Randolph even got a nice write-up in the New York Times

Unfortunately, those good times came to a halt for Randolph on Tuesday night, as the Grizzlies fell to the Thunder, 111-102, in Game 2, and Randolph uncharacteristically struggled mightily from the field.

First, some perspective. Randolph was the No. 19 NBA scorer this season, averaging 20.1 points per game.  His 50.3 field goal percentage was good for No. 27 in the league, a rank that doesn't really do him justice given how much of his scoring comes from his perimeter game. When the Thunder told CBSSports.com's Royce Young that Randolph was the best power forward in the league, they might have been exaggerating, but it wasn't an insane statement. In fact, Dirk Nowitzki is the only other premier power forward with comparable numbers that's still playing in the NBA playoffs.

Randolph's value as a player is tied directly to his elite consistency. Randolph scored in double figures in 72 of his 75 appearances for Memphis during the regular season, and only grabbed less than eight rebounds seven times on the year. More or less, you knew what he was giving you. He was the bedrock.

As Young writes, Randolph was ably held in check in Game 2 by the Thunder defense. Randolph scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds -- getting his numbers -- but he did so in super-inefficient fashion. 

Indeed, Randolph shot just 2-for-13 on the night. That 15 percent shooting clip was Randolph's second worst of the entire 2010-2011 campaign. Only a 2-14 performance in a February 7 loss to the Lakers was worse.

Here's a chart that reinforces how consistent Randolph is. Rather than looking at scoring, it's a look at his game-by-game field goal percentage. You don't need to a magnifying glass to see his Game 2 performance, on the far right, sticking out like a sore thumb.

zach-fg.jpg

As the chart shows, Randolph failed to shoot 30 percent, a good cut-off point for an awful night, just five times this season, including Game 2. 

Randolph is in some good company there. For comparison's sake, Lakers star Kobe Bryant and Thunder star Kevin Durant each failed to shoot 30 percent five times on the season as well. The same goes for the NBA's MVP, Derrick Rose and Miami Heat All-Star Dwyane Wade

Who was better among the NBA's elite scorers? Nowitzki only slipped below 30% three times. Same thing for Heat All-Star forward LeBron James.

So the Thunder are smart to be wary about their ability to repeat their defensive performance on Randolph. In reality, he had a once-every-40-games off night, and won't likely repeat that ugly performance during the rest of the Western Conference semifinals.
Posted on: May 4, 2011 1:03 am
Edited on: May 4, 2011 1:26 am
 

Playoff Fix: Kobe Bryant is 'highly concerned'

The Los Angeles Lakers look to even their series with the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night. Posted by Ben Golliver.



DALLAS LEADS 1-0

One Big Thing:  The first two rounds of the Western Conference playoffs were always going to come down to the focus (or lack of focus) displayed by the Los Angeles Lakers. In Game 1, the Lakers collapsed in ugly fashion down the stretch, gifting the Dallas Mavericks a crucial road victory. Unlike L.A.'s two first-round losses to the New Orleans Hornets, though, the Lakers immediately made it clear that there was a sense of urgency. Lakers All-Star guard Kobe Bryant was quoted by ESPNDallas.com saying after the loss: "I'm highly concerned. This team can beat us. It's clear. We just have to come in ready to play Game 2." And all it should take is intensity. The Lakers were able to build a commanding double-digit lead in Game 1 before the choke job.

The X-Factor: This series will turn (or not) on the play of Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who was a bit disappointed in his passive play in Game 1. He should have been disappointed in his eight-point and five-rebound effort after posting four double-doubles against the Hornets, and falling just one rebound shy of a double-double in L.A.'s other two games against New Orleans. Mavericks center Tyson Chandler was a difference-maker in Game 1, never more obviously than with his help on a Bryant drive that led to a late fourth quarter turnover. Chandler can be foul prone, though, and Bynum is the player best equipped to send Chandler to the bench for stretches.  

The Adjustment: Dallas got big-time contributions top to bottom of the roster. They also shot the ball extremely well and hung in there on defense. If they could replicate their Game 1 performance, they would gladly do it, especially their steely play down the stretch. For the Lakers, the biggest adjustment is simple: Bryant can't be a one-dimensional bomber. He needs to look to get to the free throw line, avoid settling for difficult shots and continue to look to get his teammates open shots. In turn, his teammates must knock down those shots. The Lakers shot just 5-19 from deep in Game 1.

The Sticking Point: What will the Lakers do to better counter Dirk Nowitzki? The All-Star forward put up 28 points, while only shooting five free throws, but adding 14 rebounds. The performance was typical of his playoffs so far, as he continues to raise his game in the big moments and deliver when called upon. The Lakers will likely look to rough him up a bit more, but it's tricky because he's such an elite free throw shooter. You're damned if you do, damned if you don't with Nowitzki. But a little extra physicality from the likes of Ron Artest and Lamar Odom may be enough to make his life more difficult and his offense a little less efficient.
Posted on: May 4, 2011 12:10 am
Edited on: May 4, 2011 12:28 am
 

Dwyane Wade turns Kevin Garnett around backwards

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade turns Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett around backwards with a eurostep. Posted by Ben Golliver.

The story of the first two games in this year's Eastern Conference semifinals has been Miami's athletic prowess stomping all over Boston's team-oriented, tough-minded approach.

If you're looking for a signature play from the first two games, both Miami victories, you need look no further than Heat All-Star guard Dwyane Wade's eurostep blow-by of Celtics All-Star forward Kevin Garnett during Tuesday night's 102-91 win. Wade approached Garnett with a full head of steam in transition on a two-on-two fast break with LeBron James to his right. Garnett was back and in solid defensive position, back-pedaling to stall the play a bit as Wade approached.

As Wade his the three-point line he angled into the paint, lunging forward as if to drive hard to his dominant right hand. Garnett bit on the move and Wade perfectly executed the crossover second step, shifting his entire body weight back to the left. Garnett had no idea what just hit him, and continued to turn towards the middle, before realizing his error. As he spun full circle to attempt to contest the shot, Garnett lashed out with his left arm, contacting Wade as he rose to scoop in a right-handed lay-up. 

The most remarkable part of the move? Wade took just 2.1 seconds to go from the three-point line to the rim.

Here's a look at the video of the must-see highlight from Tuesday night.



That play was the story of the first two games in a nutshell. Garnett, back on his heels, reacting as Wade carefully picked his path, executed too flawlessly and too quickly for one of the league's premier defenders to keep up. 

Not to be overlooked in the video is LeBron James' reaction. James is full of intensity, confidence and exuberance, as if the carefully-laid Big 3 plan had come to fruition right before his eyes. 
Posted on: May 3, 2011 1:12 pm
 

Shaq a game-time decision for Game 2

Posted by Royce Young

Doc Rivers already said Shaquille O'Neal will be ready for Game 3 against the Heat, but there's a chance he'll go tonight, reports WEEI. Shaq is being dubbed a "game-time decision" right now.

"He looked great yesterday," Rivers told reporters. "He went through the whole practice. He was phenomenal actually. He had one stretch that was phenomenal. Then by the end of the practice he was struggling walking. We’ll see but I would say Game 3 is becoming likely. Game 2, were not sure but I doubt it."

Shaq has yet to play in the postseason and hasn't seen meaningful minutes since February. He made a brief return in April, but only made it a few trips up and down the floor before straining his calf.

Shaq has been practicing however and even scrimmaged some. As Rivers pointed out above, the team is really encouraged with the way he performed and looked. Whether he's able to hold up in an actual game though, is yet to be seen.

The Celtics and Heat play Game 2 tonight at 7 p.m. ET.
 
 
 
 
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