Boston 106, Chicago 104 (OT - Boston leads series 3-2)
Offensive Ratings: Boston 113.2, Chicago 110.5
Can we make this series best-of-nine? 11? 13? Every time you think it can't possibly get any better, the Celtics and Bulls come up with more twists and turns. For the third time in five games, 48 minutes wasn't enough to decide the outcome, as a player who was a game-time decision because of a bad hamstring came up with a key shot late in regulation. Following a critical three-shot foul in OT, the final true possession saw referees debate whether or not to call a flagrant foul, along with a rare intentional miss of a free throw.
Despite his hamstring injury, Gordon started and played 51 of a possible 53 minutes. That allowed Vinny Del Negro to again make liberal use of a small lineup with Kirk Hinrich at small forward and John Salmons at the four down the stretch. Aside from situational substitutions, that group played the last five minutes of regulation and all of OT. Doc Rivers stayed big until the final minute of regulation and most of OT, when he went, surprisingly, with Stephon Marbury in a crucial situation. Rivers' hand was forced by Ray Allen fouling out with 5:26 to play, which meant Tony Allen was already in the game instead of his namesake.
Even after a miserable shooting effort in the first half, Gordon was still Chicago's go-to guy down the stretch. He responded, hitting the go-ahead bucket late in regulation and other key scores. Gordon also benefitted from more than a little largesse from Tony Allen's traditionally over-enthusiastic defense. Twice, Allen sent Gordon to the line in the extra session, including a three-shot foul that allowed the Bulls to tie the game.
Missing Ray Allen, the Celtics made Rajon Rondo part of their end-game playcalling along with Paul Pierce. The two combined to score 20 of Boston's last 26 points, with Kendrick Perkins taking advantage of the defensive attention to get a couple of scores. Pierce hit the biggest shots, twice tying the game in the last 1:13 of regulation and scoring on each of the Celtics' last three possessions of the game. Pierce finished with 26 points, while Rondo had 28, 11 assists and eight rebounds. Glen Davis was the third Boston player with 20-plus, and Perkins finished with 16 points, 19 rebounds and an incredible seven blocks (perhaps I did overlook him for my All-Defensive Teams?).
The concern for the Celtics is the lack of production from the bench, which shot a combined 1-for-10 from the field. Marbury wasn't much of a factor while on the floor. His most notable play was passing up an open look from three late in regulation in favor of a Rondo runner.
Who knows what Gordon might have done were he healthy. As it was, his 11 free throws in 12 attempts helped make up for 6-for-21 shooting. Chicago got a big lift off the bench from Hinrich, who scored 19 points on 14 shooting possessions. It looked like that might be enough for the Bulls to steal the game. As it was, their fate came down to a brilliantly-designed inbounds play that used Gordon as a decoy to free Brad Miller to rumble down the paint. Two Celtics converged, including Rondo, who drew blood by raking Miller across the head. The referees ruled it was just a personal foul and not a flagrant, which would have given Chicago a chance to win the game in regulation. Instead, Miller missed the first shot and had to intentionally miss the second. He banked it hard off glass, not hitting rim and giving the ball back to Boston. Pierce missed both of his subsequent free throws, but the Celtics secured the ball as time expired and that was that.
Orlando 91, Philadelphia 78 (Orlando leads series 3-2)
Offensive Ratings: Orlando 110.8, Philadelphia 91.5
The Philadelphia 76ers' run of three-point shooting couldn't continue forever. Having won two of the first four games in the series in large part thanks to red-hot 42.1 percent accuracy from beyond the arc, the Sixers played down to their 31.8 percent regular-season three-point mark in Game Five, going a frigid 4-for-18. With the threes went the Philadelphia offense, which mustered just 91.5 points per 100 possessions. Orlando never really got a run to pull entirely away from the 76ers, but walked the lead up to double-digits and held on for the 91-78 win.
While the Magic is now in position to close out the feisty Sixers Thursday back in Philadelphia, there are reasons for concern, and they all involve Dwight Howard's pointy elbows. The most important is the possibility that Howard will be suspended for Game Six after directing a 'bow blow towards 76ers counterpart Samuel Dalembert early in the game. Howard received merely a technical foul, but Stu Jackson might not be so lenient when the league reviews the tape. Rookie Courtney Lee was on the receiving end of another Howard elbow, this one inadvertent. Lee left the game and did not return, his availability for Game Six also in question.
Howard was a dominant force in Game Five, posting a line of 24 points and 24 rebounds while shooting 8-for-14 from the field. The Magic can and has won without him, and was +3 in the eight minutes Howard spent on the bench Tuesday, but the big fella obviously makes things a lot easier. As for Lee, his minutes were filled by a combination of Mickael Pietrus and J.J. Redick. They combined to make two of nine shot attempts. Redick has been hurt as much as anyone by the 76ers' impressive perimeter defense in this series; if he's not hitting three-pointers, he's not of particular value on the floor. Pietrus did offer six minutes and is the superior defensive option. Hedo Turkoglu had another rough outing, missing 11 of his 14 shots, but Rashard Lewis had 24 points and three triples in his best game of the series.
One surprise and disappointment for Philadelphia: With the 76ers in need of offense and Dalembert in foul trouble much of the night, Tony DiLeo stuck with veteran Theo Ratliff instead of giving a look to rookie Marreese Speights.
Dallas 106, San Antonio 93
Offensive Ratings: Dallas 128.4, San Antonio 113.5
With Manu Ginobili sidelined, I expected the Dallas Mavericks to win this series (and joined two others in the TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown in picking the right result). What I didn't imagine is how easy the win would feel. None of the Mavericks' four wins in this series came down to the buzzer or relied on any exceptional luck. They were simply the better team, and clearly so. The critical question, then, is how much of that we credit to Dallas and how much we write off San Antonio.
The Spurs hobbled into the postseason, but overall their performance without Ginobili was fairly similar to what Dallas accomplished over the course of the season. To that extent, I think we have to consider that the Mavericks--who finished this season on a solid run--are playing somewhat above their season performance. A healthy Josh Howard had an excellent playoff series, averaging 18.8 points, and Juan Jose Barea proved a crucial difference-maker with his speed. Assuming the Nuggets are their semifinal opponent, Dallas won't enter as the hotter team. However, the Mavericks have shown more than enough to make that series interesting.
For San Antonio, the question is whether this was the deathknell for the Spurs' run. It's the first time since 2000 (when Tim Duncan was injured) that San Antonio lost in the first round. Game Five featured a familiar refrain: Duncan and Tony Parker played well (they combined for 56 points on 47 shooting possessions, though Parker did commit seven turnovers) and no one else contributed. Matt Bonner (3.0 ppg) and Roger Mason (one point in the last two games) were unequivocal busts in this series. Last year, I wrote time and time again how the Spurs couldn't get away forever with getting production from just three players. With that trio reduced to a duo this year, a first-round exit was no surprise.
Ginobili will return healthy, though his style of play always leaves him at risk for injuries. As Duncan ages gracefully and Ginobili slows, Parker has been able to pick up a heavier load. The issue, now as a year ago, is finding players who can do more when needed to put around those two. It seemed like Bonner and Mason might be those guys; now not so much. George Hill had an uneven rookie year that finished in the playoffs with some promise, so maybe he might be one guy. A healthy Spurs team can certainly make the playoffs and maybe even secure home-court advantage again. Serious contention, however, seems to be in the rear-view mirror.
The biggest disappointment of this series was San Antonio's defense. The lack of scoring can be explained; the defense is a different story. The Spurs got torched last night and allowed 115.5 points per 100 possessions in the series, and that's most unlike a team with Gregg Popovich at the helm and Tim Duncan as the anchor in the paint.
Portland 88, Houston 77 (Houston leads series 3-2)
Offensive Ratings: Portland 105.2, Houston 87.8
PORTLAND - With their season on the line, the Portland Trail Blazers responded with their best basketball of the series during the fourth quarter of last night's Game Five matchup with the Houston Rockets. On the strength of scoring the first six points of the final period, the Rockets took a four-point lead into the under-nine-minute timeout. At that point, Nate McMillan brought Brandon Roy back in the game. Though fighting flu-like symptoms that required him to be hooked to an IV before the game, Roy came through, scoring on the next two possessions to tie the game and spark a 15-0 run.
More than just Roy evoking memories of Michael Jordan in the 1997 NBA Finals, the Blazers relied on fouls and defense to win the game. Having run up a disadvantage of 27 free-throw attempts in the first four games, Portland owned the line in this one, getting 23 attempts to Houston's 10. In part, McMillan's effort to work the referees at yesterday's practice probably paid off; some calls that were going against the Blazers earlier in their series went their way in Game Five. However, the bigger factor was their aggressiveness, especially in the fourth quarter. The Rockets reached the penalty with 7:46 left in the fourth, Portland taking advantage to reach the charity stripe three straight times in retaking the lead.
At the defensive end, the Blazers committed and made Houston work, holding the Rockets scoreless for more than five minutes during the run. Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden both deserve to be commended for their work against Yao Ming, who was limited to 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Luis Scola again used the defensive attention to his advantage, scoring 17 points in the first half and 21 for the game, but the rest of Houston's role players were quiet at best. Aaron Brooks, so good the last time the Rockets played at the Rose Garden, shot 6-for-20 from the field (1-for-8 from three) and looked frazzled down the stretch. Ron Artest went 1-for-5 down the stretch, and the looks that Shane Battier utilized to full effect in Game Four simply weren't there this time around.
Portland's defensive activity is reflected in 10 steals and eight blocks, five apiece coming from reserves. That designation might not hang on Rudy Fernandez much longer. McMillan started Fernandez coming after halftime, having already got him to the scorer's table less than three minutes into the game. Nicolas Batum just isn't helping the Blazers in this series, and we might have seen the last of him against Houston. After making his first two shots, Fernandez did not hit again the rest of the night. Still, the mere threat of his scoring punch opened things up for everyone else. Fernandez's ability to move without the ball also makes his defender work constantly instead of having any chance to relax.
The last critical factor for Portland was LaMarcus Aldridge's best game of the series. Aldridge had 25 points, including 10 in the third quarter when his teammates were nearly invisible and combined for but four points. He was connecting more frequently from midrange, but the bigger aspect of Aldridge's performance was his willingness to score with his back to the basket or facing up in the post instead of merely from the perimeter.
On the other side, his bench's poor play forced Rick Adelman's hand in the second half. Kyle Lowry was especially ineffective, failing to run the offense and committing a pair of costly fouls. The Chuck Hayes/Carl Landry frontcourt simply can't be used against the Blazers' length, which made Adelman bring Yao back more quickly than was preferable. The big man sat out for two minutes and 14 seconds, which may in part explain why he was ineffective down the stretch. Already, three Rockets starters (Artest, Battier and Yao) played at least 40 minutes, so there's not a whole lot more they can give. The reserves have to play better, and Adelman needs to spot Scola so that either he or Yao is always in the game in the frontcourt alongside Landry or Hayes.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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