Boston 87, Atlanta 80 (Series tied 1-1)
Offensive Ratings: Boston 94.8, Atlanta 88.8
Giving the Atlanta Hawks' Offensive Rating for the entire game doesn't do justice to what a disaster their offensive attack was over the last quarter of this game. Up 66-61 entering the final 12 minutes, the Hawks managed just 14 points in the fourth period on 23 possessions. Over the first 9:09 of the quarter, Atlanta made a total of two field goals.
Somehow, the Hawks' offense looked even worse than it really was. There was no flow, movement or general sense of direction. This Atlanta offense made the Iso-Joe attack look beautiful, because at least then the ball was in the hands of the right player in a low-turnover style, offsetting low shooting percentages. Johnson got his isolations, sure, but with 1:10 left and the Hawks still clinging to hope of a comeback, it was backup Ivan Johnson who isolated and drove to the basket, where Kevin Garnett predictably swatted away his attempt.
The problem with going 1-on-1 in the context of a static offense is that it really means going 1-on-5 against a help defense as skilled as the one played by the Boston Celtics. That math simply doesn't work. The coaching staff must generate something else for the defense to think about, and players must share the basketball. Neither of those things happened in the fourth quarter Tuesday. In the game's last 17:42, Atlanta scored one assisted basket.
It would also help if the Hawks' role players forced the Boston defense to respect them. Johnson and Jeff Teague made five of the team's six three-pointers, and reserves were a combined 0-of-6 from beyond the arc. Marvin Williams was a non-factor on offense, missing five of his six shot attempts, which was problematic because Larry Drew had few other options, especially after Josh Smith left the game with 4:20 to play due to a sprained left knee. One player Drew must consider is Vladimir Radmanovic, who has yet to appear in the series. If nothing else, Radmanovic supplies size and shooting, two commodities in short supply in Atlanta at the moment.
On the other side, Doc Rivers was able to turn to several reserves to cover for the absence of Rajon Rondo due to suspension. Keyon Dooling hit a pair of important three-pointers and Marquis Daniels delivered a surprisingly effective 15 minutes off the bench, during which the Celtics outscored the Hawks by 11 points. Daniels was in down the stretch for his defense. Avery Bradley slid over to the point and delivered an efficient line: 14 points on 12 shooting possessions, plus a single turnover in 42 minutes, to go with more defensive numbers than he usually racks up (three steals and three blocks).
For the most part, though, Boston relied on the broad shoulders of the captain, Paul Pierce. Without half of the Big Four, the offense ran through Pierce. He turned the ball over--a lot (eight times in all)--but delivered the big shots down the stretch creating while staying within the team context. Pierce finished with 36 points, nearly as many as the next three Celtics combined, and pulled down 13 rebounds while playing much of the night at power forward.
By winning without Rondo, Boston got the sweep it needed heading home. Suddenly, the tenor of the series has shifted. Now Atlanta is staring at the possibility of playing a pivotal game without one of its best players (Smith). As the Celtics' performance showed, momentum is your next game in the playoffs. But the Hawks will have to do some soul-searching to find a better way on offense after Tuesday's debacle.
L.A. Lakers 104, Denver 100 (L.A. Lakers lead 2-0)
Offensive Ratings: L.A. Lakers 110.3, Denver 110.0
That the Staples Center crowd was chanting for tacos in the closing minutes is a perfect encapsulation of what was surely the least dramatic playoff game decided by four points in recent memory. The Nuggets' fourth-quarter run kept this from being the kind of decisive victory Game 1 was for the Lakers, but at no point did the home team's lead seem to be in any particular peril.
Ultimately, a handful of small plays made the difference--Kenneth Faried dribbling the ball away in traffic, Faried fumbling a pass in the paint and then fouling Andrew Bynum at the end to surrender an unnecessary three-point play; Kobe Bryant tracking down a long rebound that could have gone either way. What Denver has to hope, as this series heads to the Mile High City, is that those 50-50 plays will turn in their direction at home.
The Nuggets still don't have an answer for Andrew Bynum, who racked up 27 points on 22 shooting possessions. For the most part, the Lakers relied on Bynum and Kobe Bryant, who combined for 65 of their 104 points. Bryant's superb first three quarters (he shot 14 of 22 from the field) gave him license to wrest control of the offense in the final period, when he struggled. A dagger three-pointer with 4:05 to play was Bryant's only make in seven attempts, and those misses helped the Nuggets hang around.
Still, the most important stretch of the game came when Bryant and Bynum rested at the start of the quarter with the Lakers leading by just seven points. With three reserves flanked by Pau Gasol and Ramon Sessions, the Lakers extended the lead to 12 and kicked off a 10-1 run. Sessions was at his best during this stretch, but the real hero was Jordan Hill, who grabbed 10 rebounds, five offensive, in 21 minutes of action.
George Karl might consider matching energy with energy by playing Faried against the athletic Hill and giving Al Harrington more minutes with the Denver starters. The Nuggets keep falling behind whenever the starting lineups are on the floor, and though that obviously has a lot to do with the quality in the L.A. starting five, the plus-minus differences are most extreme at the four spot. Faried was a -14 and Harrington at +16, which is consistent with Harrington's plus-minus advantage during the regular season. Presumably, Harrington's minutes are limited by the torn meniscus he's played through recently. The time he is on the floor may still be leveraged in a superior fashion.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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