NBA Playoffs 2012: Couple of defensive battles, high-flying Nuggets take care of Lakers


May 4, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague (0) blocks a shot by Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) during the third quarter of game three in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. The Boston Celtics won 90-84 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

Atlanta Hawks 84, Boston Celtics 90

The score doesn’t exactly depict the awful offensive basketball played but, trust me, it wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination. For example, Atlanta and Boston shot 39.1 percent from the field. The first half, especially, was particularly abominable as the two teams combined for 78 points. Other than an impressive showing for Tracy McGrady (10 points) there wasn’t anything to take away from two teams determined to set the standard for inefficient offensive basketball. In what seemed to be too cruel to be true, McGrady landed on Rajon Rondo’s foot and he briefly exited the game. Thankfully, for basketball fans everywhere, McGrady came back and he finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.

While the game was lacking sound offensive execution, it wasn’t lacking in late game drama. After Kevin Garnett knocked down a shot off a pick-and-pop with Rondo, the Celtics took a 11-point lead with 6:58 to play. Without Al Horford and Josh Smith, the Hawks, their leading scorer forced to handle the entire scoring load, seemed to have lost the game and possibly the series. Instead, Joe Johnson took over and led the Hawks to a 15-6 run that sent the game to overtime, the first of the entire playoffs.

The Hawks proceeded to score four points in the quarter, including a 1:45 drought to finish the game. The Celtics were beaten in the paint and in transition yet their ability to get to the free throw line — Paul Pierce accounted for 14 attempts himself — nullified the Hawks advantages in those areas. Boston can take a decisive 3-1 series lead with a win at home on Sunday.

May 4, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Spencer Hawes (00) and point guard Jrue Holiday (11) celebrate late in the 4th quarter of game three in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Arena. The 76ers defeated the Bulls 79-74,to take a 2-1 lead in the series. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

Chicago Bulls 74, Philadelphia 76ers 79

Not exactly an offensive explosion, either. But that is to be expected considering Chicago can’t simply rely on Derrick Rose’s incredible ability to break down a defense to bail them out and the Sixers No. 3 ranked defense (Chicago, on the other hand, is second). After trailing as much as 14 in the fourth quarter, Philadelphia closed the deficit and eventually took control of the game. Spencer Hawes struggled for the majority of the first half but he contributed 10 of his game-high 21 points in the final quarter.

Other than that, there wasn’t any transition offense or points in the paint to speak of. Lost in the scuffle was Joakim Noah’s ankle injury. His prognosis isn’t known and, while he made a brief return to the game, Noah wasn’t able to replicate his usual energy on a gimpy ankle. Noah’s injury has the potential to have resounding consequences on the Bulls. Luol Deng has struggled for the entire series and Noah’s pick-and-roll game and defense (Chicago allows 98.1 points per 100 possessions when Noah is on the court, according to NBA Stats Cube) will be sorely missed and pretty hard to replace.

Chicago will be looking to reclaim home-court advantage by taking Game 4 of the series at 12 p.m. CST.

May 4, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center JaVale McGee (34) rebounds the basketball against Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum (17) during the first half of game three in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

Los Angeles Lakers 84, Denver Nuggets 99

Now this was a fun game. Well, anything other than gouging your eyeballs eyes would suffice just because the first two games were difficult to watch. The Nuggets, at least in a brief one game sample size, alleviated their size deficiency and controlled the pace from the onset of the game. At the conclusion of the game, Denver held the advantage in fast break points, points in the paint, rebounds, assists and turnovers. Kenneth Faried brought a lot of energy to the table (12 points, 15 rebounds) and Ty Lawson darted around the perimeter, occasionally indulging himself with the interior of the lane, and was a nuisance to the Lakers perimeter defense.

What I found most interesting, however, was the head-to-head matchup between Andrew Bynum and Javale McGee. Although they’re obviously playing on two completely different levels, McGee defended Bynum serviceably. McGee doesn’t have near the offensive ability of Bynum, or really any semblance of an offensive game, but he was useful because he was in the right spot at the right time. McGee added 15 rebounds and four blocks to his cause.

Denver will have a chance to tie the series up at 2-2 with a win this Sunday at 8:30 p.m.