Tag: NBA Playoffs 2012

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Two

Dwyane Wade helps Heat overcome stellar game from Rajon Rondo


The Boston Celtics looked like they might be on their way to a big win on Wednesday night in Miami as Rajon Rondo had his offense hitting on all cylinders in the first half. It apparently wasn’t meant to be for Boston, however, because Dwyane Wade re-ignited the Heat in the second half to take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals before heading to Boston.

Wednesday night’s game had to be heartbreaking for the Celtics faithful considering they were able to watch Rondo have what may very well have been the best game of his young career. For fans just hoping for a stellar game of basketball, though, it was one of the better games in this year’s playoffs … at least as far as the guard play was concerned. Wade found a way to score 23 points in 44 minutes after just two points in the first half and, while it certainly wasn’t as impressive box score-wise as Rondo’s 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists while playing all 53 minutes, it was just enough to help Miami defend their homecourt by way of a 115-111 overtime victory.

Rondo looked like he would be garnering all the headlines early on the way to a win: his jumpers were falling, he connected consistently from the charity stripe and scored a career-high in points in what was almost a must-win game — and that’s before mentioning the near triple-double while having to be almost exhausted due to playing every minute of an overtime game. In all honesty, after Rondo’s stellar play allowed the Celtics to jump out to a 36-21 lead, there were probably quite a few people in the viewing audience anticipating a tied series heading into Friday night’s Game 3 — how bad would Boston have to play to give up a 15-point lead considering they were already able to keep Wade out of the scoring column?

Boston never ended up playing bad, basketball though; in fact, they continued to play quite well. The Heat changed their defensive schemes and were able to bottle Rondo up for a significant portion of the third quarter but, after that, the resilient point guard rebounded and returned to the scoring role he’d adopted in the first half. It was, especially considering the circumstances, one of the most impressive performances submitted in this year’s NBA Playoffs (at a minimum).

Unfortunately for Rondo and Co., though, Wade woke up in the second half.

Wade’s first half performance made it look like he was going to find his way into the headlines for all of the wrong reasons after being held to just two points, by way of a lay-up, late in the first half. He came alive after halftime, though, spurring the Heat to a  12-0 run following a beautiful block on Ray Allen breakaway. Rondo and  the Celtics eventually bounce back from that run thanks to some defensive adjustments of their own, but Wade once again turned on the jets down the stretch — on both ends of the court — allowing fellow superstar teammate LeBron James to avoid the “un-clutch” headlines while also forcing Boston to have to try and figure out how to win four of the next five games.

The Western Conference Finals matchup has shown how brilliant team basketball can be, but Wednesday night’s game in the East showed just how important individual players still can be in today’s NBA. It wasn’t as though Rondo and Wade didn’t get their teammates involved, because they did, but both players figured out what their team needed them to do and when to do it, resulting in a frenetically fun game down the stretch and into overtime.

It’s going to be difficult for Rondo to outdo himself for Game 3 back in Boston, but it had to worry the Heat that he was able to take on a scoring role  — and excel at that, even from deep — because a less-than-heroic second half from Wade would have steered this series in a whole different direction. That obviously isn’t the case, though, and now the onus is on Boston to figure out the next step in the game plan. It won’t be easy, either, considering even holding Wade to such small contributions through the first 24 minutes wasn’t enough on Wednesday night.

With Josh Smith out due to injury, Hawks need someone to step up in Game 3 against Celtics

Ivan Johnson and Paul Pierce

The Boston Celtics picked up a solid victory without Rajon Rondo in the lineup earlier this week in Atlanta, evening their series against the Hawks at one game apiece. One has to wonder, then, what might happen on Friday night now that momentum is in the favor of the Celtics, the game will be in Boston and Atlanta standout Josh Smith is a game-time decision due to a knee injury (Update: Adrian Wojnarowski reports that he’s out).

Suffice it to say, the Hawks will have their hands full when the game tips off in the Garden at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN — and that’s before delving in to whether they’re able to stop the machine that was Paul Pierce in Game 2 of the seven-game series.

Pierce was tremendous earlier this week while evening the series, scoring 36 points and grabbing 12 rebounds as he jumped into the driver’s seat while Rondo served his one-game suspension. “The Truth” shouldn’t need to shoulder quite as much of the load on Friday night, though, considering Rondo will be back in the lineup and the early offense will likely be sent through Kevin Garnett if Smith is out (or even plays at less than 100 percent, for that matter).

In all likelihood, then, it would seem the wildcard for Game 3 will be what the Hawks opt to do in the absence of “Smoove” Smith. Their most-likely option is bringing Marvin Williams off the bench —  or maybe even Tracy McGrady considering he’s looked good in limited minutes this series — but it might not hurt to go (relatively) big by inserting NBA Development League stalwart Ivan Johnson into the starting lineup. It would hurt the size in the second unit, but considering Greg Stiemsma isn’t often an offensive force for the Celtics, that might not be a problem as long as Johnson and Jason Collins are able to stay out of foul trouble.

The positives of bringing the bruising Johnson into the fold as a starter are that he’d be able to set an early precedent that easy baskets aren’t going to be an option considered he and Collins have already nearly negated Garnett’s impact on the series. Johnson also matches up well with Brandon Bass and, though he doesn’t exactly bring a lot to the table on the offensive end (save for this, of course), the Hawks offense has been predicated on isolation looks anyway in the first two games of the series. At least with Johnson in the starting lineup, Atlanta would have an advantage as far as rebounds are concerned while leaving a couple of solid scoring options available for a burst off the bench.

As far as the rest of the game is concerned, it’ll be up to the Hawks to keep their offense moving — not just in the wake of what might be the loss of Smith, but also due to a stagnation that has occurred for some reason quite a but during the second half this season (and reared its ugly head more than normal in Game 2, too). Starting guard Joe Johnson addressed that concern during media availability with the Atlanta Journal Constitution earlier this week.

“In the first two, three quarters we are probably at our best running and getting up down the floor. Then in that fourth, for whatever reason–fatigue maybe—we just get a little stagnant and our offense just doesn’t flow as much. That is something we will look at on tape and try to make adjustments, and I am sure we will do better.”

The Celtics don’t have nearly as many things to worry about considering they’re back on their homecourt, they have their starting point guard back and have seemed to do just fine with Avery Bradley getting more minutes while veteran sharpshooter Ray Allen recovers from injury. It certainly isn’t ideal to be missing a starter, but when considering the Hawks are without their best three big men — Smith, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia — it’s not all that bad when put into perspective.

There’s still a lot of time left in the series, but Game 3 seems awfully important for Atlanta. If they’re able to replace Smith’s production and pick up a win in Boston, all will be well … if they’re unable to do what the Celtics did in Game 2, though, it seems like it’ll be tough for the Hawks to make up lost ground.

NBA Playoffs: Hawks take Game 1, scoff at the notion of unsustainable offense

Josh Smith

After years of watching the Atlanta Hawks operate within a zone of improbability, you’d think we might be better prepared to see them again best a sure favorite.

Yet here we are, as dumbstruck as the now 0-1 Boston Celtics. Atlanta didn’t stumble into a revelation of efficiency or make a crucial late-season addition. They merely played the same illogical brand of basketball that has marked the franchise for the last half-decade, and by way of talent, energy, and flat-out good fortune, they pounced on a Celtics team that wasn’t quite ready to begin their playoff run. I won’t submit into cliché and say that the Hawks “just wanted it more,” than the Celtics, but they certainly wanted to work more than their breathless opponents; Boston practically began the game hunched over, while Atlanta started their night with a 31-point rampage. That contrast speaks for itself, and although the game eventually leveled out, that almost seems beside the point.

By the time Atlanta’s shots stopped falling at such a ridiculous rate, the damage had been done and the game had been sufficiently mucked up. Although the Celtics typically benefit from uglied games minimized to single-possession battles, the Hawks — with their grit and uncanny ability to hit contested jumpers — too have managed to make this style their own.

That approach may have been epitomized by the odd success of Atlanta’s makeshift rotation of bigs. Josh Smith still provided his expectedly dynamic contributions, but beyond Smith were Jason Collins — whom Hawks head coach Larry Drew again elected to start as a defensive counter — and Ivan Johnson, two big men skilled in basketball’s dark arts, and thrown into relevance due to injuries to Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia. The decision to play an offensive liability like Collins against one of the best defensive teams in the league was an odd decision by Drew, but one that ultimately paid off; Collins played a huge role in erasing Kevin Garnett during the first half, and in his own detour into the impossible, actually converted three field goals — a feat he’s accomplished just seven times in the last four seasons.

For his part, Johnson contributed a surprisingly beneficial four points and five rebounds. That output may not seem like much, but considering that the Hawks only managed 83 points total (in a win, mind you), that Johnson himself matched the scoring total of Boston’s entire bench, and that three of his rebounds came on the offensive end in a game where extra scoring opportunities were much-needed, his impact stretched well beyond what those underwhelming numbers might imply.

It was micro-level contributions like those of Collins and Johnson that fleshed out Atlanta’s otherwise baffling performance, and gave it the texture to make it something other than what it was. The Hawks were on top of the world for minutes at a time, but as is usually the case with this team, every brilliant play was eventually met with several highly questionable ones. Only zeal was left to fill in the gaps; whether by feeding off of an earned home crowd or drawing from a self-instilled bit of confidence, the Hawks approached this game as one they could steal. They stared down a team that had been playing brutally effective defense over the last several months, drove into the paint at their whim, and dared try to beat Boston with Collins in tow and spot-up jumpers from Smith as a consistent weapon.

And it worked, because these are the Hawks, and this is just what they do. They render discussions of offensive sustainability completely irrelevant with their style and audacity, and the mitigate the importance of defense by managing to create shots in spite of it. Nothing is easy and nothing is aesthetically pleasing, but they manage to win in spite of themselves and our better judgment.

Even if all we can do is shake our heads in disbelief, the Celtics are undoubtedly left doing the same.

Closing thoughts:

  • Just to make things that much worse for Boston, Rajon Rondo — the single Celtic who managed to put together a decent game — decided to fully embrace the game’s madness and make physical contact (a chest bump, but still) with official Mark Davis. Davis had all but killed Boston’s hopes for an endgame comeback with his correct determination that Josh Smith was fouled on what Rondo thought should have been a jump ball, and Rondo responded with harsh words and foolish action. The NBA doesn’t take any player making contact with an official lightly; it seems very likely that the Boston will be without both Ray Allen (ankle) and Rondo for Game 2, making things that much more fun for the struggling Celtics.
  • Joe Johnson did some nice work defensively against Paul Pierce, but was absolutely miserable as a spot-up shooter. Smith, Kirk Hinrich, and Jeff Teague were able to get some nice penetration against Boston’s defense, but when they looked to the perimeter, they often saw Johnson standing more than a foot behind the three-point line. Even with the understanding that nothing that these Hawks do makes sense, I’m not sure how to even approach the peculiarity of Johnson’s placement. (On a related note: Johnson finished 0-of-9 from beyond the arc.)
  • Smith is a tremendously fun — if curious — player, but I’ll never quite understand how he manages to have such great court awareness without having even the slightest bit of self-awareness. He’s a wonderful practitioner of the “extra pass,” and yet many of his shot attempts betray the basketball savvy that seems to inform his more altruistic efforts. You remain an enigma, Mr. Smith, and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.