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Playoff Prospectus (04/24)

April 24, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Championship Form

by Bradford Doolittle

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Boston 100, at Miami 98 (Celtics leads series 3-0)

Pace: 90 possessions

Offensive Ratings: Celtics 111.6, Heat 109.4

The Celtics have been showing signs of system-wide breakdown for three months. Is it possible that all of a sudden Boston is rounding into championship form? Boston entered its four-versus-five matchup with Miami as easily the most likely top-four seed to go down in the East. Instead, the Celtics are up 3-0, the Big Three are rolling and all of the ambivalence of their regular-season is becoming quickly forgotten.

Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 32 points and capped off a vintage performance with a buzzer-beating jumper over Miami's Dorell Wright to give the Celtics what has historically proven to be an insurmountable advantage. Dwyane Wade paced Miami with 34 points and got decent supporting help from Michael Beasley and Wright, but finished the game on the bench with cramping in his left leg, watching as Pierce buried the game winner.

In the first quarter, Wade got Miami off to a fast start with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting. The Heat was getting out in transition, leading to another good first quarter for Miami, which has outscored Boston 52-51 in the three first quarters during the series. Unfortunately, that hasn't resulted in good working margins for Miami, because Boston has hung close with efficient offense of its own. In game three, Dorell Wright came up big early for Miami with six points on two shots, three boards, three assists and a crowd-inciting reverse dunk off an alley-oop from Wade in transition. However, Michael Beasley threw a goose-egg against Kevin Garnett, putting the onus entirely upon Wade. Things didn't really pick up for for Miami until after Beasley was replaced by Udonis Haslem. Both teams were leaking out in the period, resulting is some high efficiencies (126.3 to 117.6 in Offensive Rating) on 23 possessions. You didn't get the feeling that it would last.

It didn't. The Celtics held Miami to two points in the first 5:04 of the second quarter, which coincided with Wade's rest and the time just after he returned to the game. By the time, Quentin Richardson hit a three at the 6:56 mark in the quarter, Boston had run off 10 points and taken control of the game. Miami committed five turnovers during its second-period drought. Richardson's bucket sparked a Miami rally as the Heat became more aggressive and got some closer looks. Richardson was working against Paul Pierce in the post and Mario Chalmers starting getting the basket and also hit a couple of pull-up jumpers. Wade didn't score in the period, but the Heat too a one-point lead into the half. One thing that did stand out--there was a play when Boston isolated Garnett on the block against Beasley. At the time, Haslem was playing alongside Beasley up front, so Miami's top shot-blockers were on the bench. Garnett went around Beasley with so little effort that you have to think that Boston coach Doc Rivers will attack Beasley in the post every chance he can when Miami doesn't have a basket-protector in the contest. At the half, Boston held a 12-7 advantage at the foul line, but the Heat was beating the Celtics on the offensive glass, holding an 8-1 edge in second-chance points.

The Celtics outscored Miami 32-23 during a third quarter in which the Heat put up a .656 eFG%. It was all about possessions. The Heat, which was the fifth-best team in the league during the regular season when it came to taking care of the basketball, committed seven turnovers in 22 third-quarter possessions and allowed Boston to retrieve nearly half of its own misses on the offensive end. So despite the good shooting, the Heat's 104.0 Offensive Rating in the period was squashed by Boston's 144.7 mark. Beasley started off the period by being more aggressive, but it was short-lived--he took one shot in the period and made a couple of free throws. After he was beaten in the post a couple of times by Garnett, he resumed his tendency to drift to the right corner on the offensive end, waiting for the action to come his way. Ray Allen had a big quarter for the Celtics, with 11 points on five shots. He's just such a sound player, one of the best guys in the league to satisfy a basketball purist. On one set, Wade left Allen for a possible play on Garnett in the post as a weakside help defender, but KG simply flipped the ball out to Allen for the uncontested three. Mistake by Wade, but it raises the point that if you want Wade's improvisational skills on defense to make an impact, you probably don't want to assign him to Ray Allen. While the Celtics struggled in the paint (13-of-32), the old legs on Boston managed to increase its edge in fastbreak points to 21-9. By the end of the period, Pierce was hot and a frustrated Wade picked up a technical foul. The Celtics took an eight-point lead into the final period.

For a little while in the fourth quarter, it looked like Beasley was going to have his coming out party at just the right time. Miami coach Eric Spoelstra began having Wade and Beasley play a little two-man basketball, with Beasley rolling out to pick high. It created some open looks for Beasley in the middle of the floor and moving towards the hoop. It also got his confidence going, and he hit four shots early in the quarter, before disappearing down the stretch. At the other end, Miami tried some zone early in the period, but Beasley left Pierce uncovered in the corner and that was that. The Heat did start to force some Boston turnovers--six in the period--and mostly coming off of charging calls. This was to be Miami's big advantage in the series, but it hasn't turned out that way. However, the turnovers, Wade and a continued breakout performance by Wright propelled Miami to a 16-6 run and set up a great finish.

On Miami's first possession in final minute, and the game tied at 98, Wade held the ball out top as the Heat spread the floor. But Beasley came out to pick, which cluttered up the middle, so when Wade drove, the Boston defense pinched him and forced a kick out to Haslem, who missed a jumper. Miami got the ball back a few seconds later after a Pierce miss and a timeout. Same set, only this time no screener for Wade. He held the ball against Ray Allen, launched a three, not a bad look, but missed and came down on Allen's foot. He was carried off the floor and sat out Boston's final possession. Fortunately, it turned out to be just an ill-timed cramp. After a Boston timeout, the Celtics ran as basic a set as you can run: Give the ball to Pierce and get out of the way. Pierce ran the clock down against Wright, drove, created some space with a hard dribble, stepped back and nailed a 21-footer as the buzzer sounded. The rest of the Celts spread along the baseline; no one on Miami was able to get close enough to help.

Game, set and match. And with the Celtics up 3-0, you add "series" to that list. The dreary 3-0 game four is on Sunday.

at San Antonio 94, Dallas 90

Pace: 85 possessions

Offensive Ratings: Spurs 110.6, Mavericks 105.9

Game three came down to the inside dominance of the Spurs against the jump-shooting prowess of the Mavericks. That's an over-simplification, but the Spurs outscored Dallas 56-38 in the paint while seizing the lead in the series.

Dallas contributed to its own demise with nine first-half turnovers, then was unable to keep the Spurs out of the paint and off the line in the second half. Dallas actually posted up more often and more successfully in the game, but San Antonio attacked the painted area (apropos for a Hubie Brown-called game) with dumpoffs to the roll man in pick-and-roll situations, cuts to the basket isolation plays for Tony Parker. That offset a fairly dismal performance on spot-up jumpers. Dallas, as is its wont, took nearly a quarter of its shots in spot-up situations and was very efficient on those possessions. However, Dallas got just five points in 15 pick-and-roll sets and also struggled on isolations. The Mavs were at their best in transition, but just didn't have enough opportunities to run.

The Mavericks struggled for points in the opening quarter. Dirk Nowitzki took eight of Dallas' 19 shots, but hit just three. Also, Dallas, one of the league's better ball-handling teams going against a Spurs team that doesn't take many chances on defense, committed six turnovers in 22 first-quarter possessions. Tim Duncan matched Nowitzki's eight points, but needed just six shots to get there, and Tony Parker came off the bench to gets six points on his patented whirling-dervish forays to the basket. San Antonio was 8-of-10 in the paint during the first 12 minutes.

Dallas heated up from the field and closed the gap in the second quarter. Jose Barea scored eight points on four shots to lead the way. The Mavs scored 1.4 points per possession in the period and put up a .639 eFG%. San Antonio escaped with the lead at the half, thanks mostly to another robust showing on the offensive glass. The Spurs napped eight of their 15 misses in the quarter, let by three offensive boards from DeJaun Blair. Duncan was still rolling, going 3-of-5 in the period and finishing the first half with 16 points. The Spurs were really focused on attacking the paint, with a 30-18 edge on points in the paint and a 12-4 advantage on second-chance points. The Spurs attempted just two three-pointers in the entire half.

The intensity of the game ratcheted up a couple of notches in the third quarter. Nowitzki, still single-teamed, stayed hot, hitting 6-of-8 and scoring 16 points in the period. He was aided by Barea, who was dribbling circles around San Antonio's George Hill and Parker. Barea chipped in with four points and three assists in the period. Dallas tightened up on the defensive glass as San Antonio recovered only one of the available boards on its own end. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle started Barea in place of Caron Butler to begin the half and Barea played all 12 minutes in the quarter. At one point, Dallas went on a 17-point run, during which Nowitzki and Barea combined for 11 points, while the latter created the other six points with his penetration, which resulted in threes for Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. San Antonio ended the run on a drive by Parker. Then Duncan beat Erick Dampier down the floor and scored an and-one layup in transition. Dallas led 70-66 at the end of the period, but momentum seemed to be back with the Spurs.

It stayed with San Antonio through most of the fourth quarter. Carlisle went with Barea, Terry and Kidd for the entire period in a small lineup, but the trio combined to go just 3-of-15 from the floor. The Mavs put up a .364 eFG% in the last 12 minutes, which was about what they did in the first quarter. Those showings bookended a couple of hot-shooting periods for Dallas. The Spurs' 127.9 final-quarter Offensive Rating is a bit exaggerated by some final-minute fouling, but San Antonio definitely executed better down the stretch. Parker went 4-of-4 in the quarter and combined with Manu Ginobili and George Hill to score 26 of the Spurs' 28 points.

Game four is Sunday in San Antonio.

at Utah 105, Denver 93 (Utah leads series 2-1)

Pace: 91 possessions

Offensive Ratings: Jazz 115.7, Nuggets 102.5

The Jazz put on another clinic in offensive execution and became the first team in the series to flash a little defense, rolling to a comfortable 12-point win to grab the series advantage. After falling behind early, the Jazz bench riddled the Nuggets with ball movement in the second period. Denver got a combined 50 points from Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, but no other Denver player cracked double figures. Five Utah players scored in double digits and two others scored eight or more.

While the tempo was slower than the first two games, it was still a good pace and Utah did a fabulous job of protecting the basketball, committing five of its nine turnovers in the extended garbage time of the fourth quarter. Meanwhile the Nuggets committed 14 turnovers, 10 of them off of Jazz steals, as Utah enjoyed an 11-shot advantage in field-goal attempts, nice when you also have the edge in eFG%.

The Nuggets jumped out to an early lead during a first quarter in which neither team shot the ball well. The Nuggets shot a raw 41 percent versus the Jazz's 32 percent, but outscored Utah 7-2 from the line. Carlos Boozer went 0-of-5 in the quarter, Deron Williams was 2-of-6 and C.J. Miles 1-of-5. The Jazz, which suffered a decline in offensive rebound percentage over last season, grabbed just two of 17 available offensive boards in the period. Utah closed the quarter strong after Denver started settling for jumpers towards the end of the period.

Paul Millsap sparked a Utah rally with a huge second quarter. Millsap went 8-of-8 from the floor as the primary beneficiary of Utah's trademark ball movement. The Jazz assisted on 12 of its 14 made field goals in the period, led by five from shooting specialist Kyle Korver. With those defending Korver, often J.R. Smith, playing him tight, Korver showed his underrated ability to put the ball on the floor and create. He worked a couple of nice plays with Kyrylo Fesenko for dunks, and also found some offense for himself in transition. That's what allowed Utah to explode in a quarter in which Williams did not take a shot. Utah scored 1.5 points per possession on a .725 eFG%. The Jazz was 10-of-10 in the paint in the second period. Utah had 17 assists altogether and the half, with only one turnover. Chauncey Billups kept the Nuggets close by continuing his hot shooting from the first quarter, finishing the half with 15 points on eight shots.

After heating up on offense in the second quarter, Utah had it going on both ends in the third. The Jazz continued to move the ball, protect the ball, force turnovers and just generally play an extremely unselfish brand of basketball. Utah put up a 127.9 Offensive Rating in the period, while holding Denver to 79.9. The Nuggets hit just 5-of-15 from the field and committed six turnovers in 25 possessions, as Utah stretched the lead to as many as 19, a 30-point turnaround from Denver's apex in the first quarter. Anthony picked three fouls in the quarter before going to the bench with five fouls. Williams and Boozer got going for Utah, combining for 19 points on 12 shots. As the Nuggets unraveled, you couldn't help but wonder if they were missing George Karl more than ever.

The Nuggets never really made a run during a fourth quarter most notable because of Millsap, who added nine more rebounds to his ledger. That gave Millsap 22 points on 14 shots, 19 rebounds (six offensive) off the bench.

Game four is Sunday in Salt Lake City.

G3: Boston 100, Miami 98 (Celtics 3-0)
BOS  27  21  32  20 - 100
MIA  29  20  23  26 -  98
BOS          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23  117.6  .524  .200  .238  .087  4.80
Second Quarter 23   91.7  .438  .222  .438  .218  4.93
Third Quarter  22  144.7  .540  .455  .200  .090  5.55
Fourth Quarter 22   92.7  .559  .333  .059  .278  3.53
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     46  104.6  .486  .211  .324  .153  4.86
SECOND HALF    44  119.0  .548  .368  .143  .097  4.53
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          90  111.6  .519  .306  .228  .167  4.70
======================================================
MIA          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  23  126.3  .500  .364  .208  .087  5.47
Second Quarter 23   87.3  .474  .273  .105  .306  4.84
Third Quarter  22  104.0  .656  .333  .125  .316  4.51
Fourth Quarter 22  120.5  .583  .000  .278  .093  4.13
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     46  106.8  .488  .318  .163  .196  5.15
SECOND HALF    44  112.1  .618  .167  .206  .112  4.30
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          90  109.4  .545  .250  .182  .201  4.74
======================================================

G3: San Antonio 94, Dallas 90 (Spurs lead 2-1)
DAL  16  28  26  20 - 90
SAS  23  24  19  28 - 94
DAL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  22   73.0  .368  .250  .105  .274  4.19
Second Quarter 20  138.4  .639  .286  .278  .148  5.13
Third Quarter  21  124.1  .676  .000  .176  .143  4.34
Fourth Quarter 22   91.4  .364  .333  .182  .183  3.44
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     42  104.4  .500  .267  .189  .214  4.66
SECOND HALF    43  107.4  .500  .235  .179  .092  3.89
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          85  105.9  .500  .250  .184  .188  4.27
======================================================
SAS          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  22  105.0  .556  .111  .167  .137  4.98
Second Quarter 20  118.6  .417  .533  .167  .049  6.58
Third Quarter  21   90.7  .444  .111  .167  .191  3.03
Fourth Quarter 22  127.9  .563  .286  .625  .137  3.85
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     42  111.5  .476  .375  .167  .095  5.78
SECOND HALF    43  109.7  .500  .188  .382  .086  3.46
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          85  110.6  .487  .300  .263  .129  4.61
======================================================

G3: Denver at Utah
DEN  27  21  20  25 -  93
UTA  21  31  32  21 - 105
DEN          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  24  112.1  .455  .231  .318  .083  3.63
Second Quarter 20  104.8  .559  .143  .118  .200  4.35
Third Quarter  25   79.9  .333  .100  .667  .240  3.04
Fourth Quarter 22  115.7  .472  .273  .444  .093  4.57
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     44  108.8  .500  .200  .231  .136  3.99
SECOND HALF    47   96.5  .409  .250  .545  .094  3.81
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          91  102.5  .458  .195  .375  .154  3.90
======================================================
UTA          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  24   87.2  .380  .118  .080  .000  4.90
Second Quarter 20  154.7  .725  .167  .100  .050  7.78
Third Quarter  25  127.9  .571  .222  .381  .120  5.81
Fourth Quarter 22   97.2  .382  .500  .471  .231  4.66
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     44  117.9  .533  .130  .089  .023  6.34
SECOND HALF    47  113.7  .487  .292  .421  .089  5.27
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          91  115.7  .512  .238  .241  .099  5.79
======================================================

Follow Bradford on Twitter at @bbdoolittle.

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

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