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April 21, 2009
Playoff Prospectus
The Favorites Rise Up

by Kevin Pelton

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Boston 118, Chicago 115 (Series tied 1-1)
Pace: 94.0
Offensive Ratings: Chicago 125.4, Boston 122.5

Thrilling finishes. Great players making big plays. A fast pace and hot shooting. Through two games, this has been everything you could ask for in a playoff series. In Game 2, the teams traded scores down the stretch until Boston got the final possession. With the game tied at 115, Ray Allen knocked down the winning three-pointer. Had Vinny Del Negro not run out of timeouts, Chicago might have had enough time to tie the game. As it was, all the Bulls got was a desperation heave by Tyrus Thomas and a split of the series heading back to the Windy City.

After a relatively defensive Game One, this was the kind of scoring explosion the Celtics' numbers without Kevin Garnett portended. Certainly, Boston did not miss Garnett's offense at all, getting at least 16 points from all five starters. Allen was as hot as he had been cold two days earlier, knocking down six three-pointers in a 30-point effort. When the Celtics missed, Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins were all over the offensive glass. They had five offensive rebounds apiece as Boston came up with 42.9 percent of its own misses.

The Celtics also got five offensive rebounds from Rajon Rondo as part of an incredible effort from their point guard, who put up 19 points, 16 assists, 12 rebounds and five steals to thoroughly outplay Derrick Rose. The Chicago rookie wasn't bad, but he was quiet, attempting just 11 shots and more crucially no free throws. The vast majority of the Bulls' offense came from Ben Gordon, who scored 42 points--12 of them in the last four minutes, with no other Chicago player scoring in that span--on 28 possessions. Quietly, Gordon used that many possessions and played 44 minutes without turning it over once. The Bulls also made a nice living at the line, hitting 26 free throws in 29 tries.

Through two games in Boston, these teams have essentially been even. Depending on what shots fell when, that could have meant a 2-0 lead for either team. Fortunately, luck evened out, so we have the makings of a lengthy, memorable series.

San Antonio 105, Dallas 84 (Series tied 1-1)
Pace: 86.2
Offensive Ratings: San Antonio 120.9, Dallas 98.2

After a disappointing Game One, the Spurs delivered a Game Two effort that was impressive in its thoroughness. Dallas scored the first point and made a bit of a run just before halftime. The rest of the game belonged to San Antonio, which used an 18-2 run midway through the third quarter to erase the thought of a comeback.

For the Spurs, everything began with Dallas' complete inability to control Tony Parker. The French point guard put up 38 points on 26 shooting possessions and was utterly unstoppable on the drive. He shot 16-of-20 inside the three-point line and 11-of-12 on non-jumpers. The Mavericks tried a variety of different defenders, including Jose Juan Barea, who had success matching up with Parker in Game One. They tried zone. Nothing worked. Above and beyond Parker's own contributions, all the defensive attention he drew created open looks for the San Antonio shooters, who knocked down seven three-pointers, and space on the offensive glass for the big men. Matt Bonner, who had three triples and four offensive boards, filled both roles.

Even had Parker not been so hot, the Spurs could have ground out a victory behind a stifling defense that limited the Mavericks' stars. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Josh Howard combined to shoot 12-of-37 from the field, and Jason Kidd (6-of-10) was the only Dallas player to shoot the ball particularly well. The most impressive part of San Antonio's defensive effort was keeping the Mavericks off the boards, limiting them to five offensive rebounds in 40 chances, a 12.5 percent offensive rebound rate.

Barea's plus-minus is an interesting indicator of the difference between the two games. Barea was +17 off the bench in Game 1, but last night the Mavericks were outscored by 21 points with Barea on the floor and played San Antonio even when he was on the bench. It would be silly to pin that on Barea, but it reflects how much better the Spurs dealt with Dallas' small backcourt this time around. Rick Carlisle will have to find a new wrinkle to slow Parker and energize the offense.

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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