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May 7, 2012
Playoff Prospectus
Weekend in the East

by Bradford Doolittle

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at Philadelphia 79, Chicago 74 (Sixers lead 2-1)
Pace: 83.0
Offensive Ratings: Philadelphia 95.2, Chicago 89.1

at Philadelphia 89, Chicago 82 (Sixers lead 3-1)
Pace: 89.0
Offensive Ratings: Philadelphia 100.0, Chicago 92.1

The Bulls have done their best to justify the opinion that the Bulls can't win without Derrick Rose rather than the numbers which say that they can. The Chicago defense has wilted down the stretch of three straight losses, and if the Bulls aren't in panic mode by now, they haven't been paying attention.

Chicago's 95.4 Offensive Rating in four games against the Sixers isn't the worst in the playoffs. In fact, five teams have done worse. Atlanta's is 86.4 against Boston; New York has managed just 89.7 against Miami. The storyline that everyone seems to be going with is that the Bulls' offense has ground to halt in key situations. That's certainly true. On Friday, the Bulls went 2 for 19 down the stretch while blowing a 14-point lead. Chicago's Offensive Rating in the fourth quarter during the last three games of the series -- or the post-Rose portion -- is just 89.8.

However, it's Chicago's calling card -- Tom Thibodeau's defense -- that has really faltered. Philadelphia's Offensive Rating in the last quarter of the last three games is 128.6, the best of any team in the playoffs. During the 4.6 minutes in the series during which the games have been defined as "clutch" (ahead or behind by five points or less), the Sixers have outscored Chicago 27-10, and scored more than 1.6 points per possession.

On Sunday, the Bulls suffered a couple of key defensive breakdowns down the stretch, each resulting in three-pointers by Jrue Holiday. They both came off simple high ball-screens. On the first one, Spencer Hawes came out to pick C.J. Watson, who got hung up on the screen. Taj Gibson sort of watched this happening, with his back to Holiday, who dribbled to his right and drilled a three. There apparently was no communication on the play, or Gibson failed to recognize that Watson was hung up. Either way, the result was an easy three points for Holiday.

On Philly's very next trip, Elton Brand drifted out to screen for Holiday. Watson went under the screen, while Carlos Boozer sagged into the lane. Holiday was again left unfettered and sank another trey. The sequence boosted the Sixers from a 74-73 lead to 80-73, and they cruised home with the win.

Watson finally got his shot going a little bit in the second half of Sunday's game, but still has struggled through this series on both ends of the floor -- perhaps because of lingering injuries. Joakim Noah suffered a bad ankle sprain late Friday, missed Sunday, and may be done for the series. His absence was felt on Sunday, as Sixers beat the Bulls 19-13 on second-chance points. Also, Omer Asik is a poor matchup against Hawes because he's uncomfortable stepping too far out on the floor. Hawes scored 22 points on 11 shots.

Tom Thibodeau continues to insist that the Bulls have enough to win with. At some point, he's just going to start sounding like the Black Knight from "The Holy Grail." (It's only a flesh wound!) The Bulls have enough to win without Rose, but do they have enough to win without Rose, Noah, 1/2 of Watson and about 1/4 of Luol Deng? Things are looking bleak for the Bulls, who find themselves on their first three-game losing streak of the season.

at Boston 90, Atlanta 84, OT (Celtics lead 2-1)
Pace: 88.3
Offensive Ratings: Boston 92.3, Atlanta 86.1

at Boston 101, Atlanta 79 (Celtics lead 3-1)
Pace: 90.4
Offensive Ratings: Boston 111.8, Atlanta 87.4

Losing Game Two -- and Josh Smith -- really took the wind out of the Hawks' sails. If they couldn't beat Boston at home without Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, how would they win in Boston with those two back on the court, and Smith on the sidelines? Despite a good effort on Friday, it doesn't look like the Hawks are long for these playoffs.

As mentioned above, either the Hawks' offense has been the worst of the 16 playoff teams, or the Celtics' defense has been the best. It's a little of both. But with Smith and Al Horford on the sidelines, the Hawks just don't have the weapons to keep the scoreboard turning. They hung close on Friday with Tracy McGrady turning back the clock for a half. But he hurt his ankle and managed just two free throws after the break. It was his career in a microcosm, and the fact that Larry Drew was forced to play him 41 minutes in a crucial game, well, that tells you a lot about why the series is going the way that it is.

The Hawks relied on Joe Johnson and Jeff Teague for all of their offense down the stretch. The duo combined for 31 of Atlanta's 42 points after halftime, and 22 of its 31 shots. That almost was enough, as the Hawks' rode a quick eight-point run late in regulation to tie the game. Neither team could score down the stretch, with Paul Pierce missing a long jumper to send the game into overtime.

The Hawks shot 2 of 11 in the extra session, hitting a couple of shots at the rim but missing all eight of their jumpers. Rajon Rondo was the only player looking alive on the court, and he drove the Celtics' offense as much as with his scoring as his passing.

Sunday's game was no contest. The Hawks fell behind by 23 in the first half and by as many as 37 in the third quarter. Smith was back on the floor, but Atlanta looked spent. Boston shot over 51 percent from the field and got up 26 three-point shots. Not only did Doc Rivers have a chance to get his starters some much-needed rest, but Allen had a solid game off the bench. He seems to be taking to the role of an off-the-bench gunner, which is a nice development for Boston. Suddenly, a second-round series between old rivals Boston and Philadelphia, with both team healthy and ascending, looks pretty sweet.

at New York 89, Miami 87 (Heat lead 3-1)
Pace: 91.8
Offensive Ratings: New York 97.0, Miami 94.8

Lots of times when I'm caterwauling about Carmelo Anthony, people bring up the fact that the Denver Nuggets once made Western Conference Finals with him leading the way. It's a fair point. I remember that Anthony was fantastic in the conference finals loss to the Lakers, getting 75 free-throw attempts in six games. It was an Anthony that we hadn't really seen before, not to that degree, and it's one we haven't seen much of since.

That's the Anthony we got on Sunday. He was 10 for 14 from the line and while he used up 29 shots, 14 of them came at the basket. That attacking version of 'Melo is dangerous. The pound-pound-pound-take-a-long-jumper Melo should take note. With the Knicks down to Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas point guard, it's not like there are any options left.

The Knicks won their first playoff game since April 29, 2001. In the eleven seasons since, including this one, New York has spent just over $1 billion on player salaries. It's almost like they've been a poorly-run franchise or something.

Indiana 101, at Orlando 99, OT (Pacers lead 3-1)
Pace: 85.2
Offensive Ratings: Indiana 107.3, Orlando 105.2

You have to give credit to the Magic for continuing to fight hard in what certainly seems like a hopeless battle. Stan Van Gundy's troops almost pulled out Saturday's game, overcoming a 19-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Big Baby Davis fueled the rally with 12 points. The Magic could have won in regulation, but Jameer Nelson missed a turnaround from 14 feet. It looked like he was a lot more open than he realized.

In the extra session, George Hill came up big. He got to the line after rebounding his own miss to put Indiana up two. Davis tied the game with a layup. Hill hit a short jumper. Davis scored again in the paint. Hill drew a foul and sank two free throws and that was it. Davis missed a short jumper at the buzzer.

For the first time in the series, Orlando outscored the Pacers with Davis on the floor. He was +11, in fact. But Indiana's bench dominated their Orlando counterparts, with Earl Clark somehow posting a -24 in 17 minutes. Orlando fought Indiana to a stalemate in paint points, but the Pacers were more efficient. With the Magic again sans a basket protector, Indiana shot 18 of 22 at the rim.

(Note: Data from MySynergySports.com and NBA.com/Stats were used in this piece.)

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