at Boston 96, New York 93 (Boston leads 2-0)
Offensive Ratings: Boston 109.8, New York 102.1
The New York Knicks deserve all the credit in the world for the way they fought for 47 minutes and 56 seconds. After Amar'e Stoudemire joined Chauncey Billups on the sidelines just before halftime, suffering from back spasms, the Knicks had no business being in a game against the defending conference champs on the road. Yet thanks to the heroics of Carmelo Anthony and some timely contributions from role players, New York was a bucket away from the improbable victory.
In a game so close, little things loom large, and again the Knicks made some costly mistakes down the stretch. The biggest came at the very end, when New York failed to chase Delonte West into the backcourt, allowing the Boston Celtics to run enough time off the clock that the Knicks had time only for a desperation 75-footer with a chance to tie the game.
Mike D'Antoni's substitutions were also somewhat curious. It worked when D'Antoni went wing-heavy with his second unit, taking Roger Mason out of mothballs to serve as his backup point guard and using Jared Jeffries in the middle. But D'Antoni stubbornly stuck with Jeffries and Bill Walker (0-of-11 from the field, but a credible job of defending Paul Pierce) even when he could have made offense-defense substitutions and gotten Landry Fields or Shawne Williams in the game. Jeffries responded with a timely bucket to put New York ahead in the final minute, but on the Knicks' last true possession, he turned the ball over underneath the rim--a play a more athletic player might have finished at the rim despite the presence of Kevin Garnett.
Jeffries was open because the Celtics had no choice down the stretch but to send a trap at Anthony, who could not be stopped by a single defender. Hitting a variety of off-balance attempts from the perimeter, Anthony rung up 42 points to carry his depleted team. As impressive were Anthony's 17 rebounds. He attacked relentlessly rather than settling during the kind of performance that explains why New York coveted him so badly. Anthony made the right plays down the stretch to throw out of the double team. Unfortunately, he was ultimately not rewarded.
Boston will take a 2-0 series lead to Madison Square Garden, but there are still major concerns for the Celtics. Other than Big Baby Davis, their bench has been a bust. The Knicks made a run to get back into the game with the second units on the floor early in the second quarter, then held their own in the fourth quarter despite being deep into the rotation. If the Boston bench is getting outplayed now, it will be a disaster in rounds to come. The encouraging trend for the Celtics is one we predicted earlier this week--Rajon Rondo looking like his old self. Actually, Rondo was so potent as a scorer he really looked more like another No. 9, San Antonio's Tony Parker. As Parker does for the Spurs, Rondo served as a one-man Boston fast break and was a terror off the dribble, supplying needed offense.
at Orlando 88, Atlanta 82 (Series tied 1-1)
Offensive Ratings: Orlando 102.0, Atlanta 94.4
The difference in the first two games of this series was less about adjustments and more about regression to the mean. While the Orlando Magic had more of a balanced offensive output than in Game One, when Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson got virtually no help from their teammates, the end result was about the same. In fact, the Magic scored fewer points per possession. However, the Atlanta Hawks were unable to replicate their hot Game One shooting, and the result was an Orlando victory that felt more resounding most of the second half.
Jason Collins continues to do yeoman's work defensively against Howard, who had just four points in the 19 minutes Collins played. Collins also forced three turnovers, mostly by overplaying the Magic's predictable entry passes. The moment Collins exited, Howard went wild, scoring 20 points in the second quarter alone--aided by Atlanta going small after Al Horford picked up his second foul and sat the rest of the half, in Hawks tradition. Still, the Magic's offense was less Howard-centric, as he got a lot of his production off of stickbacks.
Orlando might have been able to blow it open had any of the team's three-pointers fell, but the Magic shot just 2-of-15 from beyond the arc in the first three quarters. Ryan Anderson came off the bench to knock down a pair of triples in the fourth as Orlando extended its lead as large as 14. Atlanta snuck back into the game with a 10-0 run to get within two with 2:14 remaining, but the Magic quickly restored order with back-to-back buckets.
The Hawks' offense did not extend far beyond Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford. Horford was neutralized by foul trouble (naturally, he did not commit a foul after halftime) and injury (he banged knees and briefly left the game), while Quentin Richardson's defense helped take Joe Johnson (6-of-15 from the field, plus five turnovers) out of the game. Add in Kirk Hinrich coming back to Earth and Atlanta couldn't consistently generate offense. The Hawks need to get more ball and player movement to generate offense, but I could have written that a year ago.
at Dallas 101, Portland 89 (Dallas leads 2-0)
Offensive Ratings: Dallas 126.1, Portland 110.5
It was masked a little by the slow pace, but what an impressive offensive display by the Dallas Mavericks in a surprisingly easy victory. During the fourth quarter, the Mavericks scored on 14 of their 19 possessions for a total of 28 points--a cool 147.4 Offensive Rating. It helps when you never turn over the basketball. Dallas did not commit a single turnover after halftime and had just six in the game, explaining why the Mavericks ended up with 10 more shot attempts than the Portland Trail Blazers and overcame shooting virtually the same percentage from the field (48.7 percent vs. 48.5 percent).
During the fourth quarter, Dallas could not be stopped. The attack started, of course, with Dirk Nowitzki. It wasn't a great night for Nowitzki, who shot just 9-of-22, but he earned another 17 trips to the free throw line and was at his best down the stretch. When the Blazers started hugging Nowitzki while defending the pick-and-roll, that opened up the lane for Jose Barea, who fearlessly drove to the hoop for early scores. And when Portland brought over a third defender to cut off Barea, that left Peja Stojakovic alone at the three-point line for daggers. The Blazers did not have enough fingers to cover all the holes.
If Kidd continues to shoot like this--and he was even creating off the dribble in the third quarter, en route to 18 points on 11 shots--I'm not sure Portland has an answer, at least when the Mavericks' potent second unit with Stojakovic and Barea is in the game. They can do more to force DeShawn Stevenson (one point in 13 minutes) to beat them when he plays, and they also have to find a way to punish Stojakovic and Barea at the other end of the floor. The Blazers' size advantage at guard figured to be a huge asset, but Barea has more than held his own and drew a key offensive foul on Wesley Matthews in the fourth quarter.
As the Dallas offense was picking up down the stretch, Portland was imploding without the easy buckets Gerald Wallace was able to generate in transition during an active first half. When LaMarcus Aldridge was neutralized in the post, the Blazers' half-court offense bogged down. Brandon Roy hasn't been the answer, and Nate McMillan wisely curtailed his action dramatically. Roy played just eight minutes off the bench, during which he was scoreless. Rudy Fernandez added one point for the only scoring by any reserve besides Nicolas Batum. Portland will need far more from its second unit, along with a boost from the Rose Garden crowd, to get back into this series starting Thursday at home.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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