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by Al McMordie - 04/27/2008
Itâ€™s not your imagination: The home teams have been tearing it up in the NBA playoffs. Home teams started 18-8 straight up and 16-10 against the number, and that includes the Rockets/Jazz series where the home team failed to cover in the first four games. Everywhere else home court has been a dominant factor.
Of course, donâ€™t tell that to the Suns, who felt they were ready to make a run to the NBA Finals only to fall behind 0-3 SU/1-2 ATS to the defending champion Spurs. Itâ€™s been a nightmare series for a very talented Phoenix club. They blew game one, though you can make the argument the Spurs were incredibly lucky. They havenâ€™t been able to stop the San Antonio offense and valuable role player Grant Hill is hobbling. In 74 of 83 cases, a team leading 3-0 has ended the series in Game 4 or 5. Itâ€™s been a series about fundamentals, really.
The Spurs have killed the Suns on the basic pick and roll, plus sparkplug guard Tony Parker is finally healthy, burning the Suns for a career-high 41 points in Game 3. The Spurs have been close to perfect in their half-court defense, making the Suns work for almost every point. Without a vital fast-break offense, Phoenix has been taken out of their game.
The first three games of the Hornets/Mavericks series was dominated by home court. New Orleans had double digit wins in the first two games, then got beat by double digits in Game 3 at Dallas. The key strategic move that took place was Dallas coach Avery Johnson starting quick guard Jason Terry, often his sixth man.
Terry got his first start of the series in Game 3 and did a number on the Hornets at both ends of the floor. He scored 22 points and, in his first duty as primary defender on Chris Paul, limited the outstanding New Orleans point guard to 4-of-18 shooting and 16 points, less than half his scoring average in the first two games. Dallas was desperate to find a way to stop, or at least slow down, the incredible Paul. The Mavs ditched the double teams and traps that weren't working and relied on Terry's quickness.
Is home court the key, or Terry? Terry has been a beast against the Hornets this season as a starter. In four regular-season games, Terry averaged 22 points, his high against any Western Conference team, and shot 56.9 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point arc. Coming off the bench in Games 1 and 2, Terry averaged 12 points in 27.5 minutes. It is a situation worth watching closely.
The home team started 3-0 SU/ATS in the Cavaliers/Wizards series. The Cavs are 3-0 in series in which they have taken a 2-0 series lead. Of greater concern for Washington than home court is star guard Gilbert Arenas, who sat out of the second half of Game 3 with a bone bruise and a pinched nerve in his surgically repaired left knee. After starting the playoffs coming off the bench, Washington coach Eddie Jordan said Arenas would get back to starting â€“ if heâ€™s healthy.
Home court started a perfect 3-0 SU/ATS in the Celtics/Hawks series, after Atlanta won 102-93 as a +8 dog in Game 3. How important was home court? Hawks coach Mike Woodson said, "It felt good to come and get some home cooking."
"I think it had to do with the crowd, just coming back home, seeing the fans," said center Al Horford. "They were so excited. That made the biggest difference for us." Marvin Williams said, "The Boston fans made it difficult for us up there, and I think our fans did it in Game 3. I've been here three years, and I've never heard it like that. I could feel it in warm-ups." Boston's P.J. Brown added, "The Hawks fed off the energy of the crowd." Amazing, isnâ€™t it, How much a simple change of venue can be in a playoff basketball game?
Home court is 2-1 SU/ATS in the Lakers/Nuggets series. However, the Nuggets fell flat in Game 3 at home. Worse, Carmelo Anthony said the team quit in the third quarter, including himself. "We quit," Anthony said. "Everybody, from the coaches to the players. And I'm not pointing the fingers at anybody, because we all sucked."
Adding to the anger of the loss, Allen Iverson said he was insulted and "shocked" that George Karl played him just one minute in the fourth quarter. "I've been in a lot of playoff series," Iverson said, "and I don't think I've ever been this frustrated." Anthony added, "These last three games, we haven't just been losing, we've been getting the (expletive) beat out of us." Heâ€™s right on all counts. Thatâ€™s what you get for spending 82 games concentrating on offense and not playing a lick of defense. Defense shines in the postseason, in all sports.
Whatâ€™s the over/under for when Karl gets fired? He has two of the top players in the game, plus very good role players like Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin, and they play like this? Carmelo didnâ€™t help the cause of his coach or his team by shooting a miserable 5-of-22 from the field, plus playing zero defense. Karl said, "We chart our layups, and we were 1-for-20 in the game. Melo and A.I. missed most of those. We missed a lot of easy baskets in the first half. Melo missed a lot of those." Wow! What a mess in Denver! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.