The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t have to get a win in Denver to win their first-round series, but championship teams find ways to scrape out W’s on the road and shorten a series. That’s exactly what Los Angeles did last in Game 4, as they beat Denver. With the Lakers, along with the Sixers and Celtics, taking 3-1 leads in their first-round series, it feels like we’re living some early 1980s retro—all we need is Dr. J, Magic and Bird in the house to make it complete. And the fourth game going Sunday, Heat-Knicks, is also at 3-1, although in this case it’s because New York staved off elimination. TheSportsNotebook recaps Sunday’s grand slam and looks ahead to Monday’s doubleheader…
LA Lakers 92 Denver 88: Los Angeles won the rebounding battle and that was enough to win the game. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were decent, combining for 16 boards. But the real factor was Jordan Hill coming off the bench at center to produce 11 rebounds, along with 12 points. With Kobe leading the scoring charge, with 22 points and dishing 8 assists, the Lakers had enough to win the most defensive-oriented game of this series. The Denver backcourt failed to control the pace and make their taller, older opponent really play all 94 feet. Two-guard Aron Afflalo is the biggest culprit—with just six points last night it was his worst game of what was already a forgettable series.
Philadelphia 89 Chicago 82: Media storylines don’t always tell you everything, but the storyline that says this shocking development for #8 seed Philly is all about Chicago’s injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah is pretty much on the button. The Bulls are renowned for their defense, but with these two players out, the 76ers have gone right at the replacement. Point guard Jrue Holiday had 20 on Sunday, the latest in a stellar series for the man who would normally be guarded by Rose. And center Spencer Hawes, not a huge factor in the first two games with Noah on him, looked like Charles Barkley reincarnate in Philly with the opposing starter out these past two games. Hawes scored 22 yesterday. Chicago’s Carlos Boozer played like the season was on the line, with 23 points and 11 rebounds, although his five turnovers contributed to a Philly edge in this category. Taj Gibson had a solid game off the bench, the three guards—Rip Hamilton, C.J. Watson and John Lucas have to hit on all cylinders if the East’s top seed is going to rally and yesterday only Watson was involved in the offense.
Boston 101 Atlanta 79: The Celtics simply shot the lights out. They were 51 percent from the floor, but the figure was up over 60 percent for an extended period in the first half and early second when the game was put away. The C’s hit 11/26 from three-point range. To illustrate how hot they were, Rajon Rondo, for whom a 10-footer is a major challenge, connected on two treys. Passing isn’t a major challenge for Rondo and he had 16 assists. There’s nothing Atlanta can do about a hot shooting team other than just come back stronger, but their own backcourt was appallingly absent last night in the Garden. The Hawks played a three-guard lineup to start, and Joe Johnson, Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich combined for 16 points, well short of Johnson’s 29 by himself in Game 3. Atlanta was not going to win last night no matter what they did, but they certainly made Boston’s job a lot easier.
New York 89 Miami 87: I’ve been dumping all over New York from the time the playoffs began, but I’m going to give them some credit for not mailing this one in, calling it a season and hoping Phil Jackson can be talked out of retirement to coach them. Amare Stoudamire came back and had a 20/10 day, while Carmelo Anthony clearly decided that MSG was his house and poured in 41 points. The backcourt is still terrible—the top four guards combined for 15 points, and now Baron Davis is out with an ugly knee injury. But the team brought the effort and deserves a tip of the hat for that.
The top half of the Western Conference bracket goes tonight…
San Antonio-Utah: The Spurs can close out a series sweep here and the only thing I can think of stopping them is if Utah gets off to a strong start and Gregg Popovich decides to pace his veterans and just close it out at home in Game 5. If San Antonio gets out quick, or at least answers desperation intensity from the Jazz right away, this one will be done.
Memphis-LA Clippers: Memphis has the second of what are three chances to reclaim homecourt advantage. They coughed up a lead in Game 3 to give away their first chance—this after blowing a 27-point fourth quarter lead in Game 1 to put themselves behind the eight-ball to begin with. Who exactly is the team who had playoff success last year and who is the one who’s new to the spotlight? Memphis needs to start acting like the former.