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April 21, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
The Fountain of Youth

by Kevin Pelton

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at Boston 106, Miami 77 (Boston leads 2-0)
Pace: 86.8
Offensive Ratings: Boston 121.5, Miami 89.1

Where did that come from?

Without the suspended Kevin Garnett, the Boston Celtics put together their most complete performance in months to eviscerate the Miami Heat in a Game Two blowout at the TD Garden. In fact, adjusted for opponent and location, it rates as Boston's second-best performance of the season, trailing only a 33-point win over the Charlotte Bobcats in October that wasn't really as impressive as it looks because the Bobcats were struggling at the time before dealing for Stephen Jackson.

Amazingly, the Celtics actually trailed early in the second quarter. However, after Jermaine O'Neal's dunk made it 29-25 Heat with 10:10 left in the period, Miami would not score again until the 2:06 mark. During that span of more than eight minutes and 14 possessions (featuring 13 missed shots and a pair of turnovers), Boston was busy scoring 21 points at the other end to blow the game open.

To replace Garnett's presence on defense, the Celtics relied on tight rotations. Dwyane Wade got his, scoring 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting, but Michael Beasley was the only other Heat starter to reach double-figures. In particular, Kendrick Perkins stonewalled Jermaine O'Neal, who missed nine of his 10 shot attempts.

Glen Davis was outstanding in place of Garnett in the starting lineup. He got to the free throw line 11 times, scoring 23 points, and added eight rebounds. Davis and Ray Allen were the key figures in the 21-0 run. Allen had it locked in all night, especially from the left wing. He dropped seven three-pointers, putting up a .962 True Shooting Percentage (25 points on 13 shooting possessions).

Heading home, Miami needs to regroup. The Heat has yet to show the ability to consistently score against the Boston defense in two games, and needs to get at least one of its frontcourt starters going. O'Neal has shot 4-of-24 (16.7 percent) in the series, and Beasley (9-for-22, 40.9 percent) hasn't been scorching the nets either. If the Celtics keep defending at this level, there may not be an adjustment Miami can make to change that.

at Atlanta 96, Milwaukee 86 (Atlanta leads 2-0)
Pace: 86.4
Offensive Ratings: Atlanta 112.6, Milwaukee 98.3

This one definitely felt a lot more lopsided than the final score would indicate, in part because the Hawks' starters were so dominant. Other than Marvin Williams, the rest of the Atlanta starting lineup posted plus-minuses of +19 or better. Meanwhile, every Milwaukee starter saw his team outscored by at least 11 points while on the floor. It didn't help that Scott Skiles persisted in defending Josh Smith with Carlos Delfino at the outset, allowing Smith to get going early en route to a near triple-double--21 points (on 11 shot attempts), 14 rebounds and nine assists. (Remember, this guy wasn't an All-Star.)

The Bucks' bench helped keep things close, but even when Milwaukee got more favorable matchups down the stretch, the Bucks could do no better than trade buckets with the Hawks' starters. A big factor is that Milwaukee simply doesn't have the perimeter shooting to make Atlanta pay for switching and bringing help defense. The Bucks clanged 20 of their 24 three-point attempts; Delfino and John Salmons missed all nine triples they took.

Atlanta's interior defenders keyed in on Brandon Jennings, who followed up his scintillating Game One effort by having more shots rejected (four) than went in the basket (three) in 15 attempts. Equally problematic was that the Hawks kept Jennings from driving and kicking, holding him to two assists.

Milwaukee did get some strong efforts off the bench. Jerry Stackhouse was the lone Buck who had it going from the perimeter and scored 15 points on 10 possessions, while Ersan Ilyasova scored 13 points and pulled down 15 boards--seven of them on the offensive glass. Atlanta's reserves were almost equally ineffective, what with Jamal Crawford (2-of-11) having an off night, but the starters were excellent. Joe Johnson scored 27 points and Al Horford had 20 and 10 rebounds.

The Bucks simply can't afford to keep digging themselves early holes, and Skiles has to make a change defensively. Putting Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on Smith is almost too obvious to mention. Salmons should be capable of defending Johnson, and Delfino creates less of a matchup problem defending Marvin Williams in the post than Smith.

at Phoenix 119, Portland 100 (Series tied 1-1)
Pace: 86.9
Offensive Ratings: Phoenix 135.4, Portland 104.7

The funny thing about this game is that it was ultimately played at a slower pace than Game One, though garbage time can throw this off, and there was an entire quarter's worth of that. Still, the Suns set the tone for their series-evening win during the game's opening moments. Phoenix was aggressive in every basketball sense of the word, overplaying and pressuring on defense and pushing in transition at the slightest opportunity. The Suns, who had just four fast-break points in Game One, doubled that total before the first quarter was over. Led by the ageless Grant Hill, they seemed to overwhelm the Blazers with their energy and intensity.

That's not to totally discredit the strategic machinations. Alvin Gentry switched Hill onto Andre Miller and asked Hill to pick up full-court pressure. Hill's harassment forced the Blazers to turn elsewhere to initiate the offense, and Hill was frequently able to keep the ball from ever getting back to Miller, who torched the Phoenix defense in the first game. It was the third quarter by the time Miller was able to find any kind of opening, and he finished with just 12 points and three assists.

The Suns also blanketed LaMarcus Aldridge, at least when Aldridge wasn't on the bench with foul trouble. This matchup looked favorable for Aldridge, but he hasn't been able to score efficiently even when going one-on-one. Taking away Miller and Aldridge as scoring threats put the onus on wing players and Marcus Camby. Rudy Fernandez's mug is appearing on milk cartons in the Willamette Valley after he missed his pair of shot attempts, both threes, and scored all five of his points from the free throw line. Camby blew a serious of point-blank attempts and finished the game 2-for-10 from the field. Martell Webster (16 points) and Nicolas Batum (12) were solid, but the Blazers aren't going to win many games with that duo as their leading scorers.

It's to Phoenix's credit that we've gone this far without really even taking note of the Suns' offense, which, oh yes, did pour in 119 points in 86 possessions for the most efficient evening of the postseason to date. Steve Nash piled up nine assists in the first quarter and 16 for the game, but got them with more ease than usual thanks to the efforts of Phoenix's wings. Hill couldn't miss, making 10 of his 11 shot attempts, while Jason Richardson was almost equally hot in scoring 29 points on 18 possessions.

Portland's big concern heading into Game Three on Thursday is the availability of Batum, who left late in the third quarter after straining the right shoulder he had surgically repaired last October. Losing Batum on top of Brandon Roy would take a devastating toll on Portland's depth. The Blazers also have to figure out a way to keep the Suns from hiding Steve Nash on defense. Jerryd Bayless offers the best hope of exploiting Nash, though Webster has been the most consistent option among the team's non-Batum wings. Portland can also do more to free Miller on offense. They'd be wise to run Hill through a series of hard, clean screens in the backcourt that limit his ability to pressure Miller and also take something out of a 37 year old who is expending a lot of energy on defense in this matchup.

at L.A. Lakers 95, Oklahoma City 92 (Lakers lead 2-0)
Pace: 94.8
Offensive Ratings: L.A. Lakers 99.9, Oklahoma City 97.3

The Lakers played a lot of home playoff games last season, especially against Utah, where it felt the opponent was hanging around but never really had a chance to win because the Lakers would eventually put them away. This is an awfully subjective consideration, but I never got that feeling from this game. It was very much in doubt up to the point where Jeff Green missed a deep three-point attempt at the buzzer. The gap between these two teams just doesn't seem that large.

Oklahoma City might just have stolen this game on the road with a little better late-game execution. A three-possession span was costly. First, Serge Ibaka was called for basket interference on a Russell Westbrook miss. Next, Kevin Durant was called for an offensive foul for dropping Pau Gasol coming around a screen on a play that looked to me like it involved since acting on Gasol's part. Lastly, Durant lost the basketball while operating near the top of the key. Tied at the beginning of that stretch, the Thunder ended it down five.

Still, Oklahoma City got opportunities to tie. The Thunder got a crucial stop on one of the better defensive possessions you'll see. A trap got the ball out of Kobe Bryant's hands on the pick-and-roll, and Russell Westbrook had an amazing closeout to block Shannon Brown's three-point attempt (Oklahoma City's 17th block of the game). When Bryant split two free throws after a Jeff Green score, the Thunder had a chance to take the lead with a three. Durant got a fairly good look, with Ron Artest in his face but not entirely in position to contend, but it was off and Green's trying tie at the buzzer was a desperation attempt.

A faster pace and a slew of free throws (33 attempts for Oklahoma City, 32 for the Lakers) hid the fact that this game was as ugly in terms of offensive numbers as Game One. The Thunder posted a .426 effective field-goal percentage, and that actually bested the Lakers' .409 mark. The respective stars were better than in the opener, but still not efficient. Durant needed 37 possessions (including eight turnovers) to score 32 points; Bryant had 39 points on 39 possessions. Durant shot a higher percentage, but got to the line just six times. It was Bryant who attempted 14 free throws, padding his efficiency by beating Green and destroying any other non-Thabo Sefolosha defender he saw.

Both sides continue to lay bricks from beyond the arc. Oklahoma City shot 26.3 percent on threes, the Lakers 27.2 percent. The role players aren't making defenders pay when left open. Green (1-of-6) was the biggest culprit for the Thunder, while Artest is now 2-of-14 on triples in the series and Derek Fisher was 1-of-5 on both twos and threes. Fisher fouling out late might have been a hidden boon to the Lakers. His plus-minus was -12, far and away the worst of the L.A. starters, while the Lakers outscored Oklahoma City by 11 points with Brown on the court.

The Thunder will continue to explore ways to free Durant from Artest's physical defense as the series shifts back home. Still, getting Green going may be more important to the team's chances. He's doing yeoman's work at the defensive end, going back and forth between defending Gasol and Bryant with some Lamar Odom mixed in, but Green has to keep the defense honest and has been unable to do so in this series. He's getting open looks already; at some point he simply has to start knocking them down.

G2: Atlanta 96, Milwaukee 86 (Hawks lead 2-0)
MIL  20  26  16  24 - 86
ATL  28  24  24  20 - 96
MIL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23   87.5  .385  .267  .000  .087  5.35
Second Quarter 20  127.8  .524  .667  .190  .197  4.82
Third Quarter  23   70.8  .342  .333  .158  .266  3.43
Fourth Quarter 21  116.7  .479  .333  .042  .049  4.82
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     43  106.4  .447  .417  .085  .139  5.09
SECOND HALF    43   92.7  .419  .364  .093  .087  4.12
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          86   99.6  .433  .375  .089  .150  4.61
======================================================
ATL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23  122.4  .605  .143  .263  .131  5.63
Second Quarter 20  117.9  .432  .308  .227  .049  5.29
Third Quarter  23  106.2  .500  .300  .091  .177  5.74
Fourth Quarter 21   97.3  .441  .222  .294  .097  5.03
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     43  120.3  .512  .250  .244  .093  5.46
SECOND HALF    43  101.9  .474  .238  .179  .073  5.39
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          86  111.1  .494  .256  .213  .116  5.42
======================================================

G2: Boston 106, Miami 77 (Celtics lead 2-0)
MIA  23  10  26  18 -  77
BOS  23  26  36  21 - 106
MIA          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23  102.0  .548  .000  .000  .089  5.91
Second Quarter 22   46.5  .200  .067  .100  .139  3.60
Third Quarter  22  116.5  .556  .300  .333  .179  3.39
Fourth Quarter 20   87.9  .471  .182  .118  .195  3.51
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     44   74.9  .378  .040  .049  .113  4.76
SECOND HALF    43  102.9  .514  .278  .229  .098  3.43
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          87   88.7  .441  .130  .132  .150  4.10
======================================================
BOS          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23  102.0  .341  .286  .364  .089  5.03
Second Quarter 22  120.8  .679  .200  .500  .232  4.61
Third Quarter  22  161.4  .816  .500  .263  .179  8.45
Fourth Quarter 20  102.6  .475  .167  .100  .147  4.02
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     44  111.2  .472  .263  .417  .159  4.82
SECOND HALF    43  133.2  .641  .238  .179  .088  6.26
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          87  122.1  .560  .270  .293  .161  5.53
======================================================

G2: Phoenix 119, Portland 90 (Series tied 1-1)
POR  26  23  19  22 -  90
PHX  32  32  31  25 - 119
POR          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  24  108.2  .400  .083  .500  .042  4.51
Second Quarter 22  106.7  .450  .286  .250  .093  2.69
Third Quarter  18  102.8  .433  .400  .400  .216  3.63
Fourth Quarter 23   96.3  .357  .308  .333  .131  4.61
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     46  107.5  .425  .158  .375  .066  3.60
SECOND HALF    41   99.2  .389  .421  .361  .083  4.15
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          87  103.5  .408  .262  .368  .115  3.86
======================================================
PHX          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  24  133.2  .587  .100  .217  .042  7.26
Second Quarter 22  143.8  .500  .625  .550  .093  5.23
Third Quarter  18  167.7  .738  .400  .000  .054  5.75
Fourth Quarter 23  109.4  .455  .333  .227  .131  3.99
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     46  138.2  .547  .333  .372  .066  6.25
SECOND HALF    41  135.5  .593  .286  .116  .048  4.80
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          87  136.9  .570  .343  .244  .081  5.56
======================================================

G2: L.A. Lakers 95, Oklahoma City 92 (Lakers lead 2-0)
OKC  18  29  22  23 - 92
LAL  26  19  28  22 - 95
OKC          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  26   69.5  .333  .231  .190  .232  4.23
Second Quarter 23  126.3  .571  .222  .238  .087  4.24
Third Quarter  22   99.6  .469  .000  .438  .181  4.21
Fourth Quarter 24   96.3  .313  .250  .813  .209  3.67
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     49   96.2  .452  .227  .214  .164  4.23
SECOND HALF    46   97.9  .391  .125  .625  .104  3.93
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          95   97.0  .426  .189  .392  .179  4.09
======================================================
LAL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  26  100.4  .500  .250  .083  .193  5.99
Second Quarter 23   82.7  .357  .364  .190  .218  4.56
Third Quarter  22  126.7  .477  .615  .318  .226  5.77
Fourth Quarter 24   92.1  .286  .308  .476  .042  4.46
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     49   92.1  .433  .304  .133  .205  5.28
SECOND HALF    46  108.7  .384  .480  .395  .071  5.11
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          95  100.2  .409  .388  .261  .169  5.20
======================================================

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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