Chicago Bulls 78, Philadelphia 76ers 79
Wild game No. 1. As expected with one team devoid of their superstar and other key contributors and the other with the inability to score points in a basketball game, the game was relatively close albeit of the low scoring variety. The teams combined for an aggregate 38.6 percent shooting with the 76ers’ 39.7 percent shooting representing the model of efficiency in this series. In essence, the team that scored 80 points first significantly improved their chances at netting a victory. But, let’s get back to the wild last couple of minutes real quick, beginning, specifically, with the 51.9 second mark.
51.9 Andre Iguodala draws blocking foul on C.J. Watson, who we’ll definitely hear from later.
51.9: With a SLOB set, the Sixers found Spencer Hawes. Hawes then handed it off to Jrue Holiday to execute a simple pick-and-roll. The Bulls made their customary rotations as they forced Holiday to dribble towards the sidelines which further limits his options. Cutting from the weak side, Thaddeus Young found space on the wing to create a passing angle for Holiday. Hawes continued his cut to the rim. Young received the pass and delivered a pass to Hawes, unimpeded under the rim because of a missed defensive rotation from Richard Hamilton. As a result, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik were too late to rotate. Hawes converted the lay up. Sixers down, 76-75.
38.8: Bulls timeout.
38.8: Now it was the Bulls turn to execute a SLOB play of their own. Watson struggled to Hamilton and nearly created a turnover via five second violation. Hamilton then gave the ball back to Watson off a hand off. The Bulls’ set seemed to be an absolute failure primarily because Asik was so late in setting the pick, the shot clock was already at 10 before Watson actually used the screen. The Sixers pushed Watson towards the sidelines as well and Watson found a rolling Asik, an incredibly difficult passing angle by the way, for a dunk that put the Bulls back up three points.
25.4: Iguodala used a couple of screens to no avail before kicking out to Holiday. Holiday attempted to take Watson off the dribble but that, too, wasn’t going to happen. The vaunted Bulls defense was making crisp rotations up until Thaddeus Young received the ball against a rotating Gibson. Young used Gibson’s momentum against him and found a soft spot in the Bulls defense. Young drew the contact on Ronnie Brewer in a close no-call. Young converted the tough layup, putting the Sixers down by one point again.
12.0: Of course, it got crazier. Brewer inbounded the ball to Watson, a career 80.7 percent free throw shooter (this will prove to be an important point briefly). After Holiday made a last ditch effort to swipe the ball, Watson was confronted with tons of space and a winding clock, both positives for the Bulls. What he should’ve done was take up more clock and wait for contact. Instead, Watson made the unselfish — ill-advised in this situation, though — pass to Asik. Asik was left open because A) Hawes needs to foul Watson quickly and B) Asik will never get the ball in this situation and C) if Asik does somehow touch the ball, he’s an awful free throw shooter so that’s a much better alternative for Philly. Watson chose option ‘C’ and Asik drew a hard foul from Hawes.
7.0: Asik misses first free throw.
7.0: Asik misses second free throw.
7.0: Iguodala retains possession after Asik’s second pivotal miss. He quickly races up the court, taking advantage of the Bulls transition defense, and draws a shooting foul on Asik. Not the best day for the 25-year-old, I presume.
2.2: Iguodala drains both free throws. Sixers up, 79-78.
2.2: With no timeouts left, the best look Chicago could muster is a Gordon Hayward-ish shot that hit the back iron.
0.0: Now this is why a 80.7 career foul shooter should never, never, ever pass to a career 48.4 percent foul shooter with the game on the line. Never.
Atlanta Hawks 80, Boston Celtics 83
Wild game No. 2. The game seemed to be in Boston’s hands early in the fourth quarter. Jeff Teague changed the complexion of the game after he stole a Paul Pierce pass intended for Rajon Rondo. He turned the turnover into a dunk that cut the Celtics’ lead to seven points. But his play ended up to mean much more than a simple transition bucket. Teague’s dunk manufactured a 14-4 run that spanned nearly five minutes, with Al Horford and Josh Smith combining for 12 of the 14 points. We’ll pick it up with 2:24 to play in the fourth quarter.
2:24: On the previous possession, Al Horford made a tremendous running layup off a pick-and-roll set. The Celtics attempted to accomplish the same result with Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Pierce took a Garnett screen on the right side of the key and dribble away from the screen taking Joe Johnson and Josh Smith with him. Garnett’s roll to the basket was funneled into the Hawks help defenders sagging into the paint. Johnson and Smith made a half-hearted attempt at trapping him but Pierce maintained his dribble. Finding an alley, and simultaneously benefiting from Ryan Hollins clogging up space down low, Pierce continued to go baseline where Smith believed he had Horford helping him. Problem was that he was stuck on Hollins. Pierce converted the lay up.
1:58: Teague isolation. Teague miss. Garnett corrals his 13th rebound.
1:37: Pierce-KG pick-and-roll. Pierce to KG. Rondo sneaks up from the left block and finds space in the paint. KG delivers the pass but Smith’s incredible athleticism helps him close out to Rondo, forcing the up-and-down turnover.
1:25: Iso Joe time! Johnson also missed the midrange jumper, by the way. Another Garnett rebound.
1:00: Pierce-KG pick-and-roll again. KG rolls towards the elbow where he receives the entry pass. He briefly backs down Smith before fading away for a tough midrange jumper. Hollins does grab the offensive rebound and makes the shot but, unfortunately, the referees called the play dead.
42.3: The Celtics ran a couple of pick-and-rolls before eventually finding Ray Allen off a couple of down screens away from the ball. Allen instinctively makes the drop off pass to Garnett because of Horford’s hard hedge on the screen. KG takes a dribble to set up his patented fadeaway jumper that he converts a high percentage of the time. Well, he did it again.
30.4: Classic Atlanta offense. Little to no off-ball action, ball movement or general knowledge of sound offensive basketball. The ball swings around the court helplessly before Smith jacks up an awful shot just inside the 3-point line. Ughhhhh. I miss the Spurs.
9.3: Teague fouls Allen, a 89.4 percent career foul shooter. Allen makes one of two free throws. Hawks timeout.
9.3: Johnson takes no screen, Atlanta creates no havoc with off-ball screens and Johnson misses on another isolation set. Iso Joe! The Hawks do, however, retain possession after the Celtics knocked the ball out of bounds.
3.1: Nothing like a series deciding playoff game without a little controversy. On the ensuing inbounds, the Hawks’ Marvin Williams inbounded the ball apparently after the whistle judging by their decision to give the Hawks possession of the ball. The call was incredibly close, though, and the referees may have cost the Hawks a prime opportunity to take Game 6. If the call was indeed before the inbounds, Atlanta would’ve received one free throw and the chance to win the game in regulation.
3.1: Instead, Hawks have the ball on the sideline. Smith made a tough pass to Horford before Daniels made his second consecutive tough foul. Horford to the line for two.
2.3: Horford misses the first free throw. He has to miss the next one because Atlanta has no timeouts left.
2.3: Wait, HUH?
1.3: Pierce makes both free throws.
0.0: Now this is why you miss the second free throw intentionally.
So, to summarize, the Bulls and Hawks lost two very winnable games because of awful decisions made in the fourth quarter. Like not realizing the strengths of your teammates, not getting back in transition, running absolutely no productive offense in the final minutes, a bad break from the officials that was out of their control and a made free throw that was actually the wrong decision. Crazy day, really.
Los Angeles Lakers 96, Denver Nuggets 113
So many poop jokes. (Yes, this post ran a little too long. Sorry).