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May 1, 2009
Playoff Prospectus
It Keeps Getting Better

by Kevin Pelton

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Chicago 128, Boston 127 (3OT - Series tied at 3)
Pace: 86.1
Offensive Ratings: Boston 113.8, Chicago 111.7

What more can possibly happen in this series? The Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls have packed the drama of an entire postseason into six games, and we'll get a seventh after Chicago held on to win in the third extra session Thursday. This time around, there was more flagrant-foul drama, more end-game plays than some teams run in a whole season, key players fouling out on both sides, a critical missed layup and a saving block.

Let's start late in regulation, when the Bulls blew a 12-point lead on the strength of a 23-3 Celtics run The spurt culminated with Ben Gordon on the bench in foul trouble after committing two fouls in a five-second span midway through the fourth. Gordon returned at the 3:34 mark with Chicago down eight, giving Vinny Del Negro the small-lineup look for the first time in the second half. The Bulls proceeded to outscore Boston 10-2 the rest of regulation to tie it. Doc Rivers responded for the last two minutes by putting Tony Allen on the court instead of Glen Davis to match up, and Allen ended up taking two shots (missing both).

Overtime.

With both teams staying small, Chicago opened up a four-point lead. Things changed when the Bulls twice fouled Paul Pierce in the act of shooting. The first of those was also Gordon's sixth foul, bringing Tyrus Thomas back on the floor. That allowed Rivers to go back to his usual five (at least in this series). Davis ended up making a crucial jumper with the shot clock running down that John Salmons answered to tie the game. Pierce forced a shot at the buzzer against a Chicago double-team.

Double overtime.

Salmons came out strong, scoring the Bulls' first seven points. Kendrick Perkins fouled out and was replaced by Brian Scalabrine. Boston trailed by three with 16 seconds left when things got real interesting. Chicago used its foul-to-give very early, leaving plenty of time for the Celtics to find Ray Allen for the tying three. There were still seven seconds on the clock, but the Bulls did not even get off a shot in one of the most dismal end-game plays you'll see. One inexplicable issue on the play: Why was defensive specialist Lindsey Hunter, who shot 32.9 percent this season, on the floor?

Triple overtime.

Both teams essentially played the same fivesomes until situational substitutions at the bitter end. The key play was Joakim Noah's steal and score with 35 seconds left to play. Noah outraced Paul Pierce to the basket, finishing with a dunk through the Pierce foul--his sixth. That free throw was still the margin of difference when Del Negro drew up a great play to free up Hinrich at the rim off of the inbounds for a sure layup...only Hinrich saw it swirl in and out (possibly thanks to a little illegal interference from Rajon Rondo), giving Boston a chance to go ahead. Derrick Rose saved his teammate, rising high to block Rondo's shot attempt. Fouled with 3.2 seconds left, Rose somehow missed both free throws, but the Celtics, having run out of timeouts, got only a desperation heave from Rondo before the buzzer.

It wasn't inexcusable for Rivers to be out of timeouts; he took all of them in the final 35 seconds and drew up a great play to get House free in the corner. Had House been six inches further from the basket, it would have tied the game. It's more an example of the limitations of trying to play catch-up down the stretch.

All told, that recap has surprisingly little Ray Allen given how brilliant he was. All Allen did was make nine three-pointers and score 51 points on 38 possessions. Rondo couldn't buy a bucket (4-for-17 from the field, though he did make a crucial tip-in late in the game) yet handed out 19 assists and played turnover-free basketball for 58 minutes. He's committed 11 turnovers in the series in 280 minutes. Amazing. Davis had another very good game with 23 points on 10-for-18 shooting. He somehow had six offensive boards and just one defensive rebound. Still, taking Davis off the court just isn't a good play for Rivers right now.

Salmons' shot selection wasn't necessarily any better than it's been the rest of the series, but tonight he was hitting those difficult shots, including five three-pointers. He scored 35 points in playing a game-high 60 minutes. Brad Miller was great for Chicago off the bench, hitting key shots late in the fourth quarter. He made eight of the nine shots he tried, scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. They helped make up for an off night from Gordon, who shot 4-of-14 and was limited to 31 minutes before fouling out.

Orlando 114, Philadelphia 89 (Orlando wins series 4-2)
Pace: 88.7
Offensive Ratings: Orlando 128.0, Philadelphia 100.8

All it took for the real Magic offense to return was Dwight Howard to get suspended and Courtney Lee to get injured. Wait, what? Orlando finally got it going from beyond the arc, torching Philadelphia to the tune of 46.2 percent three-point shooting, with 12 makes in 26 attempts. Lee's replacement in the starting lineup, J.J. Redick, proved the catalyst. Redick made five three-pointers and scored 15 points with four assists, while Marcin Gortat (11 points, 15 rebounds) provided a credible Howard impersonation (at least at the defensive end) and continued towards a solid payday this summer, when he'll become a restricted free agent.

With Howard and Lee absent and Hedo Turkoglu suffering through a rough series, the onus fell to Rashard Lewis to lead the Magic's offense. Lewis came through, scoring 29 points on 11-for-22 shooting on a night that saw him help fill in the Howard void by playing more in the post and less on the perimeter. Rafer Alston also had his best game of the series, scoring 21 points, handing out 10 assists and turning the ball over just once.

The Philadelphia offense ran out of steam, with the 76ers shooting 40.8 percent and turning it over 17 times. With Willie Green and Thaddeus Young having long nights, the offense was a three-player affair--Andre Miller (24 points, 10-of-12 on free throws), Andre Iguodala (20 points) and Louis Williams (17 off the bench). As I suggested he do in Game Five, Tony DiLeo gave Marreese Speights a look off the bench to try to fill that offensive void, but the rookie was ineffective. This result was a disappointment, but it was a solid series for the Sixers and a reminder that with some additional outside shooting this team could be a factor in the Eastern Conference.

The Magic, meanwhile, had the best possible Thursday. The team now heads home to Orlando to get a couple of days of rest while the Celtics and Bulls continue to wear each other out in a battle of attrition.

Houston 92, Portland 76 (Houston wins series 4-2)
Pace: 77.9
Offensive Ratings: Houston 116.6, Portland 98.9

By the time those of us outside the respective two markets got a chance to see this game (just after halftime), it was essentially decided. A 31-18 second-quarter advantage for the Rockets proved decisive, as the Blazers could never string together enough scores and stops to make a real dent into the lead.

The Houston offense wasn't brilliant in any particular area, with the possible exception of committing just eight turnovers, but the sum of solid play in every category was a solidly efficient night in a slow-paced game. The Ron Artest cooldown Portland fans kept waiting for never materialized, as this time Artest was locked in and scored a game-high 27 points on 11-for-21 shooting.

On the other side, the Blazers were reduced to Aldridge and Roy and "oh, boy." The two stars scored a combined 48 points; everybody else had 28 on 10-for-33 shooting. The confident group that led the NBA in Offensive Rating during the regular season was absent much of this series, and Game Six was the culmination of that. My belief is that had more to do with the Rockets' stingy defense than inexperience; your mileage may vary.

As expected, Nate McMillan went to Rudy Fernandez as his starter at small forward. Fernandez ended up missing six of his seven shot attempts and scoring two points, bringing out the second-guessers in full force. I still think it was the right move, as Fernandez played well most of the series and Nicolas Batum was a total zero in this matchup. Travis Outlaw also suffered through a series-long slump that saw him shoot 2-for-9, and Steve Blake had a disastrous Game Six too, finishing with two points and four turnovers. When everybody struggles like that, there's very little a coach can do.

For the Rockets, as the Denver Nuggets the night before, this is a series win that means a little something extra. Houston had lost in the first round four straight times, and only Artest of the Rockets' key players had ever won a playoff series before last night. In the past, the Rockets had seen poorly-timed injuries and a bad matchup with Utah hold them back. Now, that proverbial monkey is gone. That won't help Houston as a difficult matchup looms against the Lakers, but the Rockets' season has already been a success regardless of the outcome.

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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