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NBA Playoff Journal - May 28

   by Larry Ness - 05/28/2012

We anticipated a terrific Western Conference finals between the Thunder and Spurs and got an exciting Game 1, as the Spurs used a huge fourth quarter (39-27) to win 101-98. The Thunder must feel like they “let one get away,” as they took a nine-point lead into the 4th quarter, against a team which had won 18 straight games and 32 of its last 35. However, San Antonio tied in at 73-all with 7:56 left and took the lead fro good at 75-74 (6:54 mark). San Antonio bettors (myself included) thought we might have ‘stolen one’ when Jackson made two free throws with three seconds remaining (to put the Spurs up by six) but Harden hit a three-pointer at the buzzer.

Durant had 27 & 10 and Westbrook 17-5-5, shooting a poor 7-of-21 from the floor. OKC’s other three starters added just 17 points (a consistent problem), while Harden scored 19 off the bench (nothing new there). The Thunder got 13 points from Fisher (6-of-8 shooting) but Collison and Cook were the only other players to see time for OKC, combining for five points (all from Collison). San Antonio starters struggled as well, with Green going scoreless plus Leonard and Diaw combining for 15 points. Parker led the way with 18 points plus Duncan chipped in 16 & 11. As has so often been the case, the San Antonio bench was the difference, contributing 47 points, 26 by Ginobili.

The Spurs have now won 19 in a row, tying the NBA record for longest winning streak kept alive in the playoffs (joining the 2001 Lakers). A win in Game 2 and the Spurs would become just the FOURTH team in NBA history to win 20 in row! I noted last Monday that when the Spurs completed their four-game sweep of the Clippers, they became just the fourth team to sweep their way through the first two rounds of the postseason under the current NBA playoff format (since 1st round series were expanded to seven games in 2003). However, each of the previous three teams to do so (the 2005 Heat, the 2009 Cavs and the 2010 Magic) have all lost in their respective conference finals, failing to even advance to the NBA Finals.

To counteract that factoid comes this from Elias. With Sunday night's win, the Spurs became just the fourth team in NBA history to start a postseason 9-0 or better. Of the three previous teams, all made the NBA Finals and two won it all. That list includes three previous LA Laker teams (all prior to the expansion of the first round to seven-game series). The 1982 Lakers opened with nine straight playoff wins and went on to take the title. The 1989 Lakers opened with 11 straight wins but fell in the Finals to the Pistons (were actually swept 4-0 in a series in which Byron Scott did not play and Magic got hurt in Game 2), losing a chance at three straight titles. The 2001 Lakers opened with 11 straight wins and went on to win the second of three straight titles for that Shaq and Kobe-led group.

Game 2 of OKC/SA is set for Tuesday night and the early number has the Spurs favored by 4 1/2-points (total is 201). The Eastern Conference finals open tonight at 8:30 ET on ESPN. The Celtics are at Miami, where the Heat are favored by 8 1/2 points (total is 179). This marks the third straight season in which Boston and Miami have met in the playoffs (fifth time in seven years). Miami eliminated Boston in five games in last season’s second round and the Celtics defeated the Heat in five games in the first round in 2010 (LBJ was still in Cleveland). The Celtics have struggled so far this postseason, needing six games to get past the Hawks and then SEVEN, to beat the eighth-seeded 76ers.

Meanwhile, Miami cruised past the Knicks in the first round, before running into some trouble with the Pacers. Bosh strained a lower abdominal muscle in the opening game of that series and the Heat followed that Game 1 win by scoring just 75 points in both Games 2 and 3, putting themselves in dire straights. The fired-up Pacers had Game 4 coming up at home, with a chance to build a commanding 3-1 lead. The Pacers led 54-46 at the break in Game 4 but the Heat outscored them 30-16 in the third quarter, with LBJ and Wade scoring 28 of the team's 30 points (had a run of 38 consecutive Miami points, spanning the 2nd & 3rd quarters). The Heat would win that game 101-93, Game 5 back in Miami 101-85 and then Game 6 back at Indiana, 105-93. With Chris Bosh sidelined and not being able to consistently count on any other teammates, James and Wade soared to new heights in their “two-man game.” Over the final three games of this Eastern Conference semifinal series, James scored 98 points, grabbed 34 rebounds and handed out 24 assists while Wade had 99 points, 22 rebounds and 11 assists.

Both teams have depth issues and while much is being made of Bosh’s injury, Boston losing Avery Bradley should also be big news. Bradley’s importance is his ability to play defense against a top opponent and without him around to defend Wade, Boston really has no one to contain him. LBJ (29.0-8.7-5.9) and Wade (23.8-4.5-3.6) have carried Miami this postseason but offensive help (without Bosh) has been sporadic, at best. However, the Heat do play defense, allowing just 85.5 PPG this postseason, after allowing 92.5 in the regular season. However, Boston plays D as well. The Celtics were No. 2 to Chicago in the regular season, allowing 89.3 PPG and after two rounds of the playoffs, have allowed only 83.9 PPG.

Boston had one of the least efficient offenses in the NBA during the regular season and enters this series going only five-deep, as Pietrus, Dooling and Hollins are really non-contributors. Allen has a bad ankle (scored only 33 points in the last five games of the Philly series, making only 5-of-19 threes) plus Pierce has an MCL knee sprain (he’s playing through it, averaging 19.3-6.9-3.5, but he’s NOT 100%). KG looks 26 not 36 this postseason (10 double-doubles in 13 games / 19.2-10.8) plus Rondo can be special, see his Game 7 line against Philly of 18-10-10, joining Larry Bird as the only Boston Celtics players to post a triple-double in a Game 7 situation. Rondo’s averaging 15.3-6.7-12.3 this postseason plus the team’s fifth starter, Brandon Bass (11.7-5.1), has been solid.

After LBJ’s and Wade’s recent ‘tear,’ it would be easy to call for an easy Miami win in this series (oddsmakers have them 5-to-1 to win it) but Boston does have that experience plus, the Celtics did win THREE of four games from Miami this season. I’ll be back tomorrow at 2:00 ET.

Good luck...Larry

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