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May 5, 2009
Playoff Prospectus
First Blood

by Kevin Pelton

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Orlando 96, Boston 91 (Orlando leads series 1-0)
Pace: 91.5
Offensive Ratings: Orlando 102.8, Boston 99.3

For three quarters of Game One, everything went the Orlando Magic's way. On the strength of a 29-5 run that started before halftime and extended through the third quarter, the Magic opened up a lead that reached 28 points and was 16 by the time we started the final period. Orlando then went extremely cold, shooting 5-for-20 in the fourth. That and some timely three-pointers energized the Boston crowd and opened the door for a comeback, but three straight stops were enough to hold the Celtics at bay.

The big difference between the first three quarters and the fourth was, alas, threes. The Magic was 1-for-6 from beyond the arc in the final quarter, having previously shot a cool 8-for-21 to build the lead. Meanwhile, half of Boston's eight three-pointers came in the fourth. This wasn't entirely an issue of luck or even the numbers evening out. Orlando made a good living with corner threes and got fewer looks from the shorter distance down the stretch, having to settle for less effective attempts from the top of the key. The corner threes will be an important indicator the rest of the series.

The fourth-quarter comeback--strangely similar in many regards to a Magic win in Boston on March 7 that I attended--should not detract from how well Orlando played overall. With Courtney Lee sidelined, J.J. Redick and Mickael Pietrus were very good as his replacements. They hit a combined five three-pointers and scored 29 points, including 17 for Pietrus off the bench. Double-teams on Dwight Howard gave both players open looks, and they converted them.

Still, make no mistake--this win was more about the Magic's defense than their shooting or scoring. Improbably, Orlando shut down the Celtics' starting backcourt of Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, each of whom shot 2-for-12 from the field. Rondo flirted with yet another triple-double, grabbing 10 rebounds and handing out eight assists, but committed seven turnovers in addition to his bad shooting. Rondo was able to get in the paint enough to attempt 12 free throws; when the Magic shut down those shooting lanes, he was completely neutralized, missing all eight of his attempts that weren't essentially layups. Allen got some looks and simply could not get it going, missing six of seven three-point attempts.

Boston did get a surprising boost from its reserve group, which continued its strong play from Game Seven against Chicago. Stephon Marbury scored eight points and handed out three assists in nine minutes of action, while Eddie House knocked down a pair of three-pointers. Brian Scalabrine also scored 10 points and hit two threes, and the Celtics were +22 when Scalabrine was on the floor, including the fourth-quarter run.

Because Boston did make a run, both teams can take some positives from this game. Surely the Celtics' backcourt won't shoot so poorly again, which should make for a Game Two that is competitive for four quarters, not just because of a desperation run.

Houston 100, L.A. Lakers 92 (Houston leads series 1-0)
Pace: 93.7
Offensive Ratings: Houston 106.6, L.A. Lakers 98.4

When the L.A. Lakers took a 77-76 lead less than four minutes into the fourth quarter of Game One, the Houston Rockets had to be thinking, "Here we go again." Throughout the season series, Houston played well for three quarters only to see the Lakers dominate the stretch. Not this time. The Rockets responded with a 9-0 run and, with star Yao Ming shaking off painful knee-on-knee contact, went on to steal the first game of the series on the road.

Fresh off stymieing the league's best offensive team in the regular season in the first round, Houston played about as well as is possible defensively against the potent Lakers, holding them under a point per possession. The defensive effort started with containing Kobe Bryant. Shane Battier got the assignment on Bryant almost all night, with plenty of help defense behind him. The Rockets succeeded in their goal of making Bryant a jumpshooter--he attempted more threes (seven) than free throws (five) and took 19 of his 31 shots from 15 feet or farther away from the basket. Bryant ended up with 32 points on 33 shooting possessions, the kind of game Houston would love to get from him throughout this series.

The looks the other Lakers got from the perimeter didn't go down either. Trevor Ariza, fresh off shooting 61.8 percent from deep in the first round, missed all four of his three-point attempts in this game. So did Derek Fisher, and the Lakers were 2-for-18 from beyond the arc as a team.

Lamar Odom, so good throughout the series with Utah, was largely invisible in this matchup. Odom scored nine points with five rebounds in 31 minutes. He cost the Lakers by missing five of his six free-throw tries.

About the only Laker who played well was center Andrew Bynum. Back in the starting lineup after being benched for the tail end of the series with Utah, Bynum overcame early foul trouble to post 10 points in 15 minutes. Bynum was only decent matching up with Yao at the other end, but the performance was good enough that the Lakers can reasonably count on him to sop up frontcourt minutes in this series.

Both coaches went unexpectedly deep into their benches with positive results. Phil Jackson gave Jordan Farmar a brief stint and saw him hit a three, while Josh Powell was active in his playing time. Rick Adelman went with four reserves alongside Ron Artest to start the second quarter and brought in a fifth different bench player (Brent Barry) for Von Wafer early in the period. The unit included the Chuck Hayes/Carl Landry frontcourt that has been problematic for Houston this season, but their activity overwhelmed the Lakers. The Rockets went on an 8-0 run sparked by the second unit, and the group was +5 in the period overall.

Offensively, Houston had a nice workmanlike game. The Rockets did an excellent job of involving Yao, who got up 17 shot attempts and went to the free-throw line 10 times, scoring 28 points. Artest played within himself, hitting three triples and scoring 21 points. Aaron Brooks provided a big offensive lift with his 19 points, including two scores in the midst of Houston's fourth-quarter run.

All in all, Game One went about the way the Rockets would draw it up. From the Lakers' perspective, rust could have been a factor, especially with the outside shooting. The Lakers are also being asked to step up their level of play after a relatively easy opening-round win over Utah, and it's likely they'll come out with a better effort in Game Two. Keeping Yao off the free-throw line and limiting his touches is sure to be a key topic of discussion for the Lakers' coaching staff between now and Wednesday as they look to salvage a split of the first two games of the series.

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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