Ball Don't Lie - NBA



Boston 85, Miami 76

This may have been the ugliest of the four games to start the 2010 NBA postseason, but Boston's Game 1 win certainly felt the most playoff-ready. Nasty defense. In-game adjustments. A shoving match or three. A Paul Pierce(notes) "look at me!" injury. Finally, the playoffs are back.

I can't say enough about how much Tony Allen(notes) and Glen Davis(notes) saved this game for Boston. And on the flipside? I was shocked at how disconnected from reality Ray Allen(notes) and Kendrick Perkins(notes) seemed, considering how centered that duo usually is. Remember, this is in comparison to Tony Allen, and Glen Davis.

Tony Allen and Davis sealed the screens that Ray Allen and Perkins let dominate the Celtics for the first two and a half quarters of this game. That was the difference in the contest, because until the midpoint of the third quarter, Dwyane Wade(notes) was absolutely having his way with the C's.

That's right, Dwyane Wade. In case you forgot. 26.6 points, about 11 combined assists/rebounds, and three combined blocks/steals in the regular season this year, for the East's fifth seed, and somehow overlooked. And he just took over Ray Allen for the first 30 minutes, splitting screens, working off the ball, finding Quentin Richardson(notes) behind the arc, and generally ruling things.

Until Tony Allen came in, which also coincided with Davis staying low on screens, in a situation where Perkins would often be caught in no man's land some 24 feet from the hoop.

With the nuttier Allen and Davis in, the Heat struggled. They went nearly half the third quarter without a field goal, and scored just 10 points in the fourth period. And while the Celtics weren't great guns offensively, Doc Rivers' crew did have enough to hang. In this series, a 21-point fourth quarter will be enough to pull out a win, as was the case on Saturday.

Jermaine O'Neal(notes) struggled offensively, and for a few defensive possessions as well. This bears watching, because the Heat big man shot an unrepresentative 53 percent on the season, after shooting 46 percent on his career (and throughout his prime). Field goal percentage, year to year, is notoriously fluke-y, so after 70 games of truly giving his all in 2009-10, don't be surprised if JON fades a bit. Hopefully this isn't the case.

Also, Ray Allen has to get it together. He was caught sleeping off the ball several times, and there's no excuse for that. It's one thing not to be able to stay in front of a player like Wade, few people can (though it's a statistical oddity that another dude named "Allen" on the same team seems capable of it), but at the very least you can attempt to box the guy out.

26 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals, two blocks for Wade, despite being a non-entity in the fourth quarter. Seven turnovers, though the cough-ups weren't a huge problem down the stretch. He was just missing shots, or had to give up the ball.

The thing that will keep us chatting about this series between now and Game 2 on Tuesday is the scuffle that took place in front of the Heat bench late in the fourth quarter. Paul Pierce went down with another of his twice-monthly career-ending injuries, and Kevin Garnett(notes) needlessly took offense to Quentin Richardson rather harmlessly (though, it must have been a bit annoyingly) wandering around Pierce's writing frame.

KG clearly threw an elbow at Q-Rich to prove his pointless point, and it also appeared as if Daequan Cook(notes) left the Miami bench. Glen Davis also got in a bit of nonsense, but nothing that seemed suspend-o-ble. KG and Cook? Yeah, they're probably gone for Game 2.

A couple of tweaks for Miami, offensively? They can grab home court advantage on Tuesday. With or without KG around. Or Cook, I guess.

Fun start. Now let's get a little smarter.

***



Cleveland 96, Chicago 83

Cleveland is clearly the better team, they have an advantage at just about every position, and in some instances (when Derrick Rose(notes) is left to try and fight through a screen), even Mo Williams(notes) can match what D-Rose brings. Bad defense (I'm sorry, Rose fans) has a way of mitigating advantages.

But then Chicago adds to it. It turns the ball over. It falls asleep on the defensive glass. It doesn't bring typical defense, and it misses open shots. Chicago was wildly turnover-prone to start the game, and in a game where they need play nearly a perfect game offensively, shot after shot went wrong. It makes sense, these are long two-pointers and hardly the most efficient shot out there, but when Kirk Hinrich(notes) and Joakim Noah(notes) are clanging away, big holes are to be established.

And while Cleveland earns everything it gets, the one-sided turn to start Game 1 was on Chicago. The turnovers, the lack of focus defensively, and the insistence on stopping well short of the free throw line. Or, in Derrick Rose's case, the insistence in starting the game with a three-pointer and barely earning contact the entire game in spite of drive after drive.

Everything else was on Cleveland.

Shaquille O'Neal(notes) was quick with his moves, and with his reactions. Antawn Jamison(notes) had that in-between game going, impossible to block or even contest (because he's releasing the ball well before the apex of his jump), Mo Williams took it to Rose on occasion (especially in that first half), and LeBron James(notes) was himself.

Now, Chicago came back when Cleveland's defensive intensity waned a bit to end the third and start the fourth quarter, but the Cavs just had too many options. Mo Williams would get past Rose, LeBron would take the pass and draw even more attention, then someone would be open, and ready to connect. Option after option; and when the Bulls are trying to answer with that same low efficiency offensive game that has won them - well, nothing since 2004 or so - the writing was on the wall.

87.4 points per 100 possessions for Chicago, which is astoundingly poor. The team averaged 103.5 points per 100 on the regular season, so you can see the drop off, but dig this: Chicago was 27th with that mark this season. So it's a startling drop off from a one of the worst marks in the league. That's how bad things were for Chicago. They make bad decisions offensively, consistently. With no answers coming from the bench in the form of a player or a play.

Cleveland wasn't too hot itself offensively, but things will likely change. The Cavs missed 17 of 23 three-pointers, and that's not happening again. I'd prefer not to think that Game 1 was "Chicago's to get," but it probably was. Yikes.

The only way Chicago takes a game in this series is if the Cavaliers relent and don't bring the effort. Now, I predicted that this would happen in either Game 3 or Game 4; but I also should remind you (or, at the very least, me) that Cleveland didn't relent in the slightest against Detroit or Atlanta last year.

***

Atlanta 102, Milwaukee 92

It really bears repeating just how great an offensive team Atlanta is.

This squad was second in offensive efficiency during the regular season, and though they don't have the flash of a high-possession squad or an all-world superstar to get behind (sorry, Joe), they do put up big offensive numbers at a relatively slow pace. And it's impressive that, despite some standout Milwaukee defense in the second half and a few hiccups offensively for the Hawks in the third quarter, the Hawks were able to take it to a sound defensive team in Game 1.

Nearly 119 points per 100 possessions for Atlanta, up from about 112 per 100 during the regular season. And despite the absence of Andrew Bogut(notes) in the middle (and on the perimeter, and on the glass, and from the weak side; I miss Andrew Bogut), Milwaukee can still get after it, defensively.

But Atlanta paid no mind. The Hawks hit the boards, they moved the ball, and they enjoyed and took advantage of a hot shooting night from Mike Bibby(notes), who finished with 19 points on 8-9 shooting. The Hawks didn't spend all afternoon at the free throw line (14 makes) and they didn't run the ball down Milwaukee's throats. They just ran sound offense and made shots.

Brandon Jennings(notes) made shots, too. At one point in the game - in the last third quarter no less - Jennings had 32 points, he had missed seven shots, but five of them were blocked. This means, short of Al Horford(notes) and Josh Smith(notes) slapping things back, Jennings was getting whatever he wanted in the second and third quarter, and connecting. And, curiously, Scott Skiles decided to sit Jennings with the Bucks only down seven (after spending most of the game with a deep double-figure deficit) and a few minutes left in the third quarter. As if he was some veteran in his early 30s, looking to conserve the legs.

Though Luke Ridnour(notes) hit a three and runner in Jennings' absence, he played poor D despite good effort, and the Hawks pulled away again. By the time Jennings returned with over four minutes gone in the fourth, the game was more or less finished, the momentum had swung back. And it didn't help that before Jennings sat, the Bucks went away from him despite a hot hand. John Salmons(notes), Luc Mbah a Moute, and Carlos Delfino(notes) all got a (crummy) look, though Jennings didn't help that case by being stripped by Joe Johnson(notes) on consecutive possessions following.

This doesn't take away from the fact that Jennings should have played longer, and should have been featured more prominently. The Bucks struggle to score as it is, so to take away the only sound offensive option they had (even when Salmons was hitting, the looks weren't all that great) for that long, with a switch in home court advantage that close? Bucks coach Scott Skiles, as stubborn as he is, probably looks back on that move with regret.

The scary thing for Milwaukee is the idea that Atlanta hasn't scratched the surface. No, Bibby won't shoot 8-9 again, but the Hawks still finish games with observers wondering if they should have gone to Al Horford (15 points, five blocks) more, looked to find Josh Smith more, or run it through Jamal Crawford(notes) (17 points) more often.

This isn't to say that the Hawks were making mistakes with their possessions, far from it. It's just that this team is so loaded, you feel as if they're able to coast, skimming the best from the rotation and still winning by double-figures.

***

Denver 126, Utah 113

You probably watched this game, did you see anything go wrong?

Some extra passing may have gone awry. Carmelo Anthony(notes) somehow leaked open in the Denver half court attack, a few times. There were a few bad three-point rotations defensively, for either side. There was a bit of foul trouble. Mehmet Okur(notes) hurt himself. So did C.J. Miles(notes). Carmelo Anthony tweaked an ankle. OK, a few things went wrong.

But beyond that, a sparkling back and forth between two of the better offensive teams in this league. Two teams that play each other four times a year, and know each other quite well. Despite all that, the execution was just about flawless offensively for both sides.

Carlos Boozer(notes) overcame an oblique strain to post 19 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three (!!!) blocks. And Deron Williams(notes) was all over, finishing with 26 points and 11 assists. Just two turnovers combined for the Jazz duo.

This was Carmelo Anthony's gig, though.

Anthony staged his own personal tribute to Nuggets head coach George Karl by making quick decisions with the ball while in the pinch post, rising up for dead-on jumpers or getting to the rim (ish) with the drive. It was fabulous to watch.

42 points on 18-25 shooting, and five assists. A couple teammates hit open shots, and he may have had eight or nine assists. And I don't want to hear about how the Jazz missed Andrei Kirilenko(notes) on Anthony, because Melo busted him during the regular season.

And I have no issues with Nuggets coach Adrian Dantley keeping Chauncey Billups(notes) keeping Chauncey Billups on the bench for the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter. Never mind that Lawson, for all his rookie issues on both ends, is still a much better player than Anthony Carter(notes); the guy's been a better player for huge chunks of the season than Chauncey Billups, because CB's shot hasn't been there much in 2009-10.

Of course, Billups hitting a three-pointer in his first shot off the bench in the fourth didn't hurt, it gave the Nuggets a 14-point lead that they wouldn't relinquish.

This was a blowout, no doubt, but I think we'll see a few tweaks, and I think we'll continue to see some fantastic offensive basketball. Both of these teams have had defensive issues this season, and I'm looking with a leery eye, but I think this was all offense in a good way. A fun way.

The playoff way. Finally.

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