Podcast: And Then There Were Eight

Mark and McNeill jumped on the mic to break down the NBA Conference Semifinals. Some of the topics include the impact Chris Bosh’s abdominal injury will have in the Miami Heat, Kevin Garnett jumping into his Delorian, the Lakers not playing with any passion and the epic roll the Spurs find themselves on.

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Garnett’s Remarkable Resurgence

LL Cool J once said, “Don’t call it a come-back. I’ve been here for years, rocking my peers and putting sucka’s in fear.”

Well, the same could be said for Kevin Garnett, who has enjoyed a resurgence in the playoffs. 

This postseason, Garnett’s player efficiency rating has improved to 23.82, compared to last season’s 17.3.  In the first round series against the Atlanta Hawks, Garnett averaged 18.7 points, and 10.50 rebounds. These numbers are reminiscent of his days on the Minnesota Timberwolves, when he was affectionately known as The Big Ticket.

So far, Garnett has produced on par with his 2008 playoff campaign with Boston, which was above his career averages.

Since Doc Rivers shifted Garnett to center, he has played like he is 25, as opposed to the 35-year-old veteran with bad knees. As a center, he is posting up more in the post, rather than shooting jump shots on the perimeter.

Since the All-Star break, Garnett has failed to reach double digits in points scored in only two games. To put this into a broader view, in the first week of the season, Garnett had two games in which he failed to reach double digits in points.

Also worth noting, Garnett recorded thirteen double digit rebounding outings after the break and he pulled down eight or nine boards in nine other games.

The defense that Garnett provided on the opposing team’s center proved to be just as much of a nightmare as it was for the opposing team’s center trying to cover Garnett and his mid-range jumper.

One downside to Garnett playing center on a consistent basis is injuries; in particular his history of knee injuries. He has the length but not the girth to defend the likes of Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, day in and day out. The continuous banging in the paint would take a toll on him and that would make him less effective in every aspect of his game. Furthermore, it would wear him down a lot faster. For example, former Celtic center, Kendrick Perkins suffered numerous shoulder injuries due to the constant battles in the paint. His shoulder was a problem by the end of the year, almost every season, due to the pounding of being backed into the post or from backing into the post. Garnett, with his small frame, would be back on the injury report sooner than expected.

The consensus around the NBA from writers and fans is that it is a two-horse race, between the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Andrew Bynum, for the best center in the NBA. Statistically, Howard has a strong case. But anyone who knows anything about basketball knows that the stats sheet does not tell the whole story of Dwight Howard. In his eighth season in the NBA, Howard has yet to develop a true offensive post game and simply does not hit free throws; making him nearly impossible to go to late in games. He has, to this point, unsuccessfully run two campaigns: one for being traded out of Orlando, and another to have head coach, Stan Van Gundy fired.

Garnett’s defense is undeniable, but the health concerns he faced this season, the drama off the court, and his inability to close out games makes him a more viable option at the center position. Garnett just capped off his sixth consecutive season shooting over 80% from the line, has a well-established offensive game on the block or from the elbow, and has a certain fire that Howard does not seem to possess.

Most importantly, Garnett’s team feeds off of his fire while it looked like Howard’s team was feeding off of his childish antics at times. The advantage goes to Kevin Garnett today. It was like a switch was turned on and the Kevin Garnett of old came back for one last run as the big men went down one by one for the Boston Celtics. Only this time, Garnett is doing it in a different role but with the same mindset.

It’s time for the certifiably insane, chest-pounding, lockdown-defending, 6’11” big man to get the love he deserves; this time, as the best center in the NBA.

World Peace Helps Lakers Advance

While the Lakers “bigs” got all the credit from ESPN and the major media outlets Saturday for stepping up in a 96-87 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 7, it’s clear defense was the difference.

Specifically Ron Artest, or Metta World Peace, who completely shut down whoever he was guarding Saturday in his return from a seven-game suspension.

World Peace also did plenty of damage at the offense end, scoring 15 points and hitting four big threes in the Laker victory.

Steve Blake, who struggled at the defensive end, made up for his lack of D with a playoff career-high 19 points.

Kobe Bryant played a more passive role, getting his teammates involved with 17 points and eight assists.

Pau Gasol also came to play at both ends, fishing with 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists. But after the game, he gave the credit to the return of World Peace at the Staples Center.

“(Metta) had a great impact,” Gasol told TNT afterward. “Metta does a great job. He just gets into guys. He forces things. He makes things happen for us on the defensive end.”

While Denver’s guards blew past Blake and the Lakers front line for much of the night (Ty Lawson scored 24 points, Arron Afflalo had 15), typical go-to’s such as Danilo Gallinari and Andre Miller struggled against World Peace. Gallinari was 1-9 from the floor, finishing with three points and four turnovers. Miller was 1-10, finishing with three points and five turnovers.

Arguably the difference in the series for Denver, Miller’s only field goal came against, you guessed it, the Lakers “bigs.” The 6-foot-2 Miller upfaked Gasol and then scored over the slacking, 7-foot Bynum to cut the the Lakers lead to 78-77 with 6:51 to go … a play ESPN.com’s headline writers obviously missed.

“It’s defense, defense,” World Peace said. “It’s the little things you can’t really see. … It’s about the intangibles that I bring to the table.”

Especially when it comes to the NBA playoffs, and a team with aging super stars that don’t have the defensive presence they once had.

A year ago, Tyson Chandler converted Dallas from a soft, aging team of offensive-minded veterans, into a scrappy, gritty defensive squad that suffocated LeBron James and the Miami Heat to win their first NBA title.

This year, with Chandler gone (he still won the Defensive Player of the Year award), the Mavs are already gone from the playoffs.

Same thing for the Lakers. With Metta World Peace, the Lakers have a chip on their shoulder and play a suffocating defense that translates into team basketball at the offensive end as well.

Without him, the Lakers get pushed to seven games by a Denver Nuggets team that’s void of a superstar.

Luckily for the Lakers, they get World Peace back just in time for their showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Artest’s old friend James Harden. And while Harden – who suffered a concussion courtesy an Artest elbow the last time these two teams played – will certainly be looking for some revenge, you know the Thunder will be thinking twice about taking it right at World Peace this time around.

It’ll be interesting to see how Mike Brown sets the matchups heading into the second round, but it appears he’s finally starting to realize just how important World Peace is to the Lakers’ success.

“Obviously, we all played well, but I’d be remissed if I did not talk about Metta,” Brown said in the postgame press conference. “He was huge tonight. … His presence helped out a lot. I didn’t realize Miller and Gallinari were a combined 2-19. That is our team defense, but Metta had a lot to do with that.

“I mean, he made plays tonight that won’t show up in the stat sheet that were absolutely, freaking amazing for us defensively.”

Evans Is Leaving His Mark In Los Angeles

Every year there is a player or two that step out of obscurity to become a big part of their teams’ success in the playoffs.

For every Michael Jordan there is a Steve Kerr, for every Dirk Nowitzki there is a Tyson Chandler or Ian Mahimi, for every Kobe Bryant there is a Sasha Vujacic. A player that contributes more in a playoff setting then they may have during the regular season.

For the Clippers this year that player appears to be Reggie Evans.

He’s a banger.  He grabs rebounds he has no business getting, makes himself a pain in the rear on the defensive end and moves around the floor grabbing loose balls and missed shots like he isn’t 250 pounds.

Raptor fans know how valuable Reggie Evans can be to a team, and now the rest of the NBA is now getting a chance to see it as well as he has been a difference maker so far in the playoffs.

Evans is a game changer, an X-factor and in a series as evenly matched as Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers, he might just be the difference maker in this series. A player that tips the scales in his Clippers favor.

Evans has been putting together a nice run in the postseason.  He’s increased his minutes to 22.6 per game and he’s chipping in with 8.7 boards while shooting 50% from the field.  This from a player that averaged 5 rebounds in 13 minutes during the regular season.

His sudden playoff turnaround has come as a major shock south of the border.

Of course, while the rest of the US have been amazed with Evans’ sudden good play, the Raptor faithful in Toronto aren’t surprised at all.  That’s just how he always played the game while he was here. During his two years in Toronto he made himself a fan favorite with his endless effort.  Raptor fans weren’t used to seeing a player haul down rebounds on a regular and consistent basis.  He did.  He earned himself a starting spot during the 2010-11 season mainly because of his rebounding prowess.

Fans here couldn’t get enough of his effort.  He wasn’t a shooter or a flashy player , by any stretch of the imagination, but no player endeared himself to the fans more than Evans.

In fact, on a number of occasions during his time playing on the court and before he came back from injury in 2009 the fans at the ACC regularly chanted “Reg-gie, Reg-gie.” It now seems to be catching on in Los Angeles.

This year he found himself in LA playing a much less important role.  He didn’t get much time and was only able to make a marginal difference with 4.5 rebounds in limited minutes. He played off the bench behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and eventually Kenyon Martin, too.  He had to make the most of his minutes and, for the most part, he did.  He was the same hardworking player he was in Toronto but the results weren’t as noticeable on the court as they were the year before.

That is, until now.

The playoffs have been a totally different story and it seems like Reggie Evans was built for this time of year.  In the NBA playoffs players with his skill set become king.  Look at how Tyson Chandler exploded last year or how important Joel Anthony was during the Heats’ run last year.  Reggie Evans can be a difference maker in this series.  He may even become a difference maker in the playoffs in general if the Clippers are fortunate to make it beyond Game 7 in Memphis on Sunday.

Then again, Raptor fans already know how valuable Evans can be.  We had him for two years and were fortunate to watch him beat up opposing offenses.  Now while the Raptors prepare for an important offseason fans can sit back and enjoy watching Reggie get up to his old antics.

Hopefully we will get to see a little more after Sunday.

Pivotal Game 7 For Lakers, Bryant

Tonight the 16-time NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers will seek to avoid a first round playoff exit at the hand of the Denver Nuggets.

After a Game 6 loss in which Kobe Bryant (playing with stomach ailment) couldn’t pull a Michael Jordan, the boys in yellow and purple have their back against the wall and are going up against a very confident Denver team.

Denver had all the momentum in this series, but after being down 3-1, the Nuggets have come roaring back into this series.

This has been one of the better playoff series in recent memory and everyone seems a bit anxious for this highly anticipated Game 7, even George Karl, the Nuggets veteran head coach.

“I’m nervous already,” Karl said Friday before the Nuggets caught another flight to Los Angeles. “I am 61-years-old and I haven’t been nervous for a game this early in a long time.”

Denver’s Ty Lawson has been the key in this series. The former North Carolina Tar Heel has been using his immense quickness to drive into the lane and get the Lakers’ big men in foul trouble. Lawson had 32 points and six assists in the Nuggets Game 6 win on Thursday night.

Danilo Gallinari has been a nightmare for the Lakers once vaunted defense. Look for Lawson and Gallinari to step their games up to a whole new level tonight.

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol can’t stop Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee. These are facts that are hard to dispute. As long as McGee learns to use his head once in awhile, it shouldn’t be any different in Game 7. Gasol is soft and he doesn’t take to contact well. For the Nuggets to be successful in this game they will need exploit the Lakers every weakness.

If the Lakers two big men do decide to stand their ground then the Lake show should have no trouble advancing. However, if the rest of this series is any indication, that is a very big if.

Some good news for the Lakers, however, as Metta World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest, will be starting tonight. World Peace missed the first six games of this series due to a suspension for an elbow to the head of Thunder guard James Harden.

That’s the good news, the great news is that they still have a man on their team named Kobe Bryant. Arguably the most clutch player in NBA history, a five time NBA champion. If anybody knows how to win it’s Bryant as he is 4 and 1 in his illustrious career in Game 7’s.

Hawks Narrowly Avoid Elimination

Every year during the NBA playoffs, there comes a moment where a team has a choice to lay down and allow their opponents to get some rest before inevitably heading to the next round, or choose to keep fighting in hopes of pulling off an improbable comeback.

Faced with a “win or stay home” scenario, the Atlanta Hawks nearly handed the Boston Celtics a win but hung in to earn a 87-86 victory in Atlanta.

After a successful but tough season, Hawks coach Larry Drew felt that his team was ready for the challenge of fighting out there way out of a 3-1 hole.

“I think we have had a really good season up until this point. We have overcame a lot of adversity through the course of the season,” Drew said before the game. “This team that has shown that they can take the challenge, especially when you talk about dealing with adversity and tough times.”

The Hawks definitely did their part to keep things interesting, as they made several runs but the Celtics responded at the end of every quarter, making it a back-and-forth battle all the way until the final possession.

After being down as much as ten in the second quarter, the Hawks made a furious run to close the half, making four consecutive three pointers, including two from Marvin Williams. In most cases this would leave a team with a bit of momentum going into the second half. However, a couple of free throw makes and a big dunk from Celtic big man Brandon Bass kept the Hawks from running away. To make things worse, Rajon Rondo drilled a three at the buzzer to send the teams to the Locker-room tied at 40.

In the third quarter, the Hawks played some of the best basketball they’ve played all series. Sparked by a fiery Al Horford who was playing in his first game in Philips arena since undergoing season ending surgery back in January, the Hawks soared to a 12-point lead with less than three minutes to go in the third. Then Rondo struck again.

Rondo closed out the quarter with six points, one assist, one steal and one rebound in the last two minutes and 42 seconds of the third to cut the lead to two.

In the final period the Hawks got the lead back up to seven, but the Celtics crept their way back getting the lead down to one with 10 seconds left to play.

Then Rondo struck. Again.

A Josh Smith inbound bounce pass was intercepted by Rondo giving the Celtics one last crack at closing the series in Atlanta. Luckily for the Hawks, the Celtics seemed so caught off guard by Smith’s blunder that they were unable to get off a good shot.

With the series heading back to Boston for Game 6, the Hawks will once again have their backs against the wall as they go against a pesky Rondo, a hot Paul Pierce and bustling away crowd.

Clippers Playing With Mental Toughness, Grit

The Los Angeles Clippers rose to prominence this year due to a flashy style of play which earned them the team the nickname Lob City. With Chris Paul throwing alley-oops to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the team was constantly being featured on highlights reels and endeared themselves to fans.

That style of play, while flashy and exciting, isn’t one that normally allows a team to win a playoff series. With the Clippers playing the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, it was expected that injuries, inexperience and lack of toughness would result in a quick exit from the playoffs.

Los Angeles appeared to be in over their heads in Game 1 until they orchestrated one of the classic rallies in the history of the NBA playoffs. With only eight minutes left in the game, the Clippers rallied from a 27-point deficit to steal a win from the claws of the Grizzlies.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact Paul had to beg his head coach, Vinny Del Negro, to stay in the game. The all-star point guard and MVP candidate showed a ton of intestinal fortitude by wanting to fight in a fourth quarter that many people had stopped watching.

“Unfortunately, that’s how we play,” Paul lamented to the media. “We get killed in the first three quarters and in the fourth quarter we like to try to stand up for ourselves, and we found a way to win tonight.”

Memphis was able to recover to win Game 2 at home and appeared ready to steal home-court advantage back in Game 3. However, once again the Clippers showed a lot of resiliency and toughness as the Grizzlies offence went nearly 10 minutes with only one field goal to start the fourth quarter.

The Grizzlies had gone on a 25-14 run to take a 71-64 lead late in the third quarter when then the Grizzlies fell into a nasty shooting funk that extended into the fourth quarter. All-Star big man Marc Gasol made a field goal with 7:10 left to push the Grizzlies lead to 77-71, but that was Memphis’ last basket until the first of Gay’s two three-pointers in the closing seconds that added a bit of drama to the end of the game.

“We shut down and only scored 15 points in the fourth quarter,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins vented. “We took too many quick shots and gave up second-chance points. We gave them the back door and Blake (Griffin) took advantage of it.”

If you take out those six points by Gay in the final seconds then Memphis would have only had one field goal in the entire fourth quarter.

The reason Memphis was shut down in the fourth quarter is because the Clippers used a physical style of play that caught the Grizzlies off guard and put them on their heels.

That physical style of play has originated from a couple of the team’s veterans setting a painful example by playing through an assortment of injuries while still playing with reckless abandon on the court.

Caron Butler played through a broken hand on Saturday afternoon. When he injured it less than a week ago, the team’s medical staff thought he would be out four to six weeks, not four to six days. Butler played through the pain on Saturday, and while he didn’t contribute a lot to the final box score, just being on the court seemed to inspire his teammates.

Chris Paul has been playing through a groin injury this entire series that has slowed him down. He broke through in Game 3 for a double-double by scoring 24 points and dropping 11 dimes.

Reggie Evans, while not injured, has been a complete beast on the glass this series and he did a great job in Game 3 with 11 rebounds.

Heading into this series, Memphis was supposed to be the franchise which would thrive on their toughness and grit. But, three games into this series it’s Los Angeles who has a 2-1 advantage thanks to their grit and mental toughness.

If this gritty style of play keeps up then the Clippers may be on their way to shedding the Lob City nickname moniker that they despise.

Injuries Continue To Take Their Toll

This NBA playoffs have been littered with injuries, and they’re not just minor ones. These injuries are, or could be, career ending injuries that top players have endured.

Last year’s playoffs did not see the amount of injuries, severe or not, that we are seeing this year. Some analysts are questioning the shortened season that combated the late start to the season, in December, due to the lock out. The back-to-back games with little time to rest could be the reason why we are seeing players suffering from major injuries, not only in the playoffs, but throughout the rest of the season as well.

During the playoffs alone we’ve seen Derrick Rose go out with a torn ACL, which means last years MVP will be out for up to 10 months. During the same day we saw Iman Shumpert go out for an ACL injury as well, so the struggling Knicks lost a second guard for the remainder of the season.

The Knicks are hoping that Jeremy Lin will be ready to play in Game 5, but they risk him injuring himself even further with the increased intensity that these games are bringing.

Later in the first round, we have now seen Joakim Noah sprain his ankle, and insists he’s day-to-day, but when you watch the replays, Noah is likely to be out for at least a few more games. If he does attempt to play, his minutes should be very limited to prevent further aggravation to the ankle.

Then in Game 4 as the Miami Heat were expecting to sweep away the New York Knicks, the Knicks lose their third point guard, Baron Davis, as he’s stretchered off the court with a dislocated right patella, and will be out for at least a couple of months.

The 2011-2012 season was already shortened to 66 games from its normal 82 to help with the limited time in the rest of the season. However, without having a proper off season for teams to practice, the back to back-to-back games, and increased travel, in some cases, has proven to be a strain on the players bodies. Without the proper rest that explosive players need, many of the top flight players within the league have been out, at some point or another, this year.

Rose, a player who missed only about five games in his career prior to this season, has been out 27 games in the regular season due to injury, and is now out for almost a whole season with a torn ACL. Doug Collins, coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, commented on Rose’s injury in an interview, stating “that thing [a torn ACL], took my career.”

Collins was injured during the 1978-79 season with the 76ers, and then missed a year recovering from his knee injury. He only played 12 games the next season before deciding to end his career. It was Collins who was the first on the court after Rose planted his feet from a jump and fell to the ground with no contact. Collins knew immediately what had happened and said in an interview that he “felt sick.”

It seems like our stars of the game need an extended off season to be able to recuperate from the strenuous season they just played. Hopefully with all the advancements in medicine, players like Rose, will be able to make a full recovery and have many years ahead of them in their NBA careers.

Anthony Erupts For 41 Points

This is why the New York Knicks brought Carmelo Anthony into the mix.

The debate over whether Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire can co-exist was put on hold for at least one game as Anthony erupted for 41 points while Stoudemire added 20 points in his first game since his “incident” with a fire extinguisher.

The tandem combined for 61 of New York’s 89 points and allowed Knicks fans to temporarily forget that their season was on life support.

Stoudemire did a great job on the glass with a game-high 10 rebounds.

Anthony broke a tie game by connecting on a three-pointer with 54.5 seconds left. Then, with one of the elite defenders in the NBA draped all over him on New York’s next possession, he missed a three-pointer but was able to trick Shane Battier into committing the foul.

“We gave it our all tonight,” Anthony said after the win. “We rallied the troops and we weren’t ready to go home yet.”

The main reason why New York isn’t going home is the terrific play of Anthony. He went a solid 15-29 from the field in the win, but he is still only shooting 39% from the field in this series. Anthony went 3-15 from the field in Game 1 and 7-23 in Game 3. Those kinds of shooting nights are what did in his team and prevented them from winning any of the games earlier in this series. The key moving forward for Anthony is only attempting quality shots while getting good looks for his teammates.

Things weren’t all sugar and spice for the Knicks this afternoon, though. When Davis dribbled through the middle of the paint during a fastbreak with 5:15 left in the third quarter, his right knee buckled in what appeared to be a gruesome injury. He lay on the court grimacing in pain for nearly 10 minutes until a stretcher arrive to carry him off the court.

The Knicks PR team would later report Davis had dislocated his right patella. That diagnosis is just temporary as the official diagnosis will be given on Monday after he has an MRI.

Between Stoudemire’s bulging disk, Jeremy Lin’s small chronic meniscal tear in his left knee and Iman Shumpert’s torn left ACL and lateral meniscus, the injury bug has struck often this season.

Still, thanks to Anthony’s heroics, the Knicks live to fight for at least one more day.

Mavericks Falter In Cliché Must-Win Game

The Dallas Mavericks faced quite a few issues with the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first two games of their playoff series, both of which they lost.

Surprisingly, one of those issues was not Kevin Durant. Durant still scored 25.5 points per game, but all of that came on 34% shooting. Superstar caliber players like Durant will always get their points, but it’s just a matter of making them work for it and Shawn Marion was making him do just that.

For the Mavericks, the frightening part about Durant’s sluggish start was that the Thunder were still able to win both games in Oklahoma City.

With an already tough task in front of them, the Mavs were hoping to keep Durant in his mini-slump just to make their series deficit surmountable.

Fat chance.

Not that the Thunder are unbeatable when Durant plays up to his normally high standards, but his 15 quick points in the first quarter shocked the Mavs who found themselves back on their heels in the blink of an eye. Going into the series, the Mavericks actually expected these vintage Durant performances while hoping to keep talented, but easily frustrated point guard Russell Westbrook’s scoring down. Their plan could not have been more opposite as Westbrook was the one with the hot hand coming into Thursday night averaging 28.0 points per game with a sterling 50% shooting percentage.

If both Durant and Westbrook are performing at a high rate, their opponent faces quite a climb no matter who they are.

Despite being down 0-2 and not technically facing an actual elimination game Thursday night, all teams down two games to none in the playoffs essentially face an elimination game considering a team has never come back from that 0-3 hole in the history of the NBA playoffs. That’s a feat that the Mavericks came into tonight having no interest in trying to overcome.

Unluckily for the Mavericks, the Thunder didn’t care.

After Kevin Durant (31 points, 11-of-15 shooting) quickly jumped back into his elite form, Westbrook (20 points, 8-of-19 shooting) followed suit with his highly effective mid-range game and the Mavs had no answer in the crushing 95-79 loss.

They had no answer from Dirk Nowitzki, no answer from Jason Terry, and no answer from anyone else.

The 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder are simply a better team than the 2012 Dallas Mavericks, meaning the Mavs would have to play nearly error free to have a chance of winning the series. Games 1 and 2 followed that pattern even though the Mavericks fell just short, but Game 3 was a pure comedy of errors.

Whether it was the combined 34% shooting, the porous defense of their three-point line, or the inability to force the Thunder to commit any more than six turnovers, the Mavs had plenty of problems tonight that they could point to for their demise. While all of that is true and had a hand in the Mavs falling into an 0-3 hole, the main reason is because the Thunder are simply the more talented team. The series between these rivals last year aren’t even comparable due to the roster turnover and the improvements Oklahoma City’s young stars have made.

There is obviously still the chance of a miracle from the Mavs, who now have the unenviable task of have to win four straight games against the Western Conference’s two-seed in order to take the series. Considering the Mavericks are now an amazing 1-8 against the Thunder this season counting the preseason, it may not be a good bet to make.

Pierce, Celtics Steal One In Atlanta

After jumping out to a sizable lead early and weathering the storm late to beat the Boston Celtics in game one of their Eastern Conference matchup, the Atlanta Hawks found themselves in trap game heading into the second game of the series Tuesday night.

The Hawks had a lot of things in their favor. Ray Allen has yet to return to action for the Celtics, as he has been plagued with an ailing ankle. Rajon Rondo was forced to sit Tuesday’s contest out because of the infamous bump heard ‘round the world. To top things off, the Hawks again had home court advantage.

Perhaps the most interesting thing of it all is that the Hawks knew exactly what they were getting into.

“We can’t come out thinking that [with] no Rondo that it’s going to be an easy game,” Larry Drew said before the game. “We have to bring our A-game, because our B-game isn’t going to get it done. “

But pre-game coach preachiness was not enough to prevent Atlanta from suffering one of the most embarrassing collapses they have had all season to the tune of an 87-80 loss.

One would think the team missing their starting point guard would be the one to struggle offensively, but with the game on the line, a stellar performance from Paul Pierce and tough Celtics defense left the Hawks looking dazed and confused.

After struggling the entirety of Game 1, Pierce looked like a man on a mission. The 2008 Finals MVP scorched the Hawks for game-highs 36 points and 14 rebounds. In the fourth quarter Pierce knocked down 5-of-7 from the field for 13 points. Atlanta struggled connecting on just 4-of-19 attempts from the field and only managed to outscore Pierce by one.

“The only way we were going to win the game is if Paul played like that,” Doc Rivers said during the postgame press conference. “He knew that. So did [the Hawks], yet he still did it. It just tells you how special he is.”

Avery Bradley, who told HOOPSADDICT.com before the game that he had knocked of his playoff jitters in game one, did a solid job filling for Rondo. The second-year guard scored 14 points while shooting 50 percent from the field. He also contributed on defense with three blocks and three steals.

On Friday, the series shifts to Boston with a completely different tone. The Celtics now have home court advantage, Rondo is set to return from his suspension, and the Hawks may have to go without Josh Smith who left Tuesday night’s game early with a sprained knee. In order for the Hawks to get back in this series Atlanta will have to take a page out of the Celtics book and overcome some major adversity.

“I told our players, ‘this is what playoff basketball is all about,’” Drew said. “It will be a chess match. It’s about adjustments. It’s about when you are on the other end of the stick—really seeing what you are made of.”

In The Scrum With David West

David West talks about his disappointment with Game 1, Indiana’s strong response in the third quarter, he tries to explain why it takes until the third quarter for the team to get rolling, his passion setting a ton for his teammates and why Indiana still needs to play with a sense of urgency.

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Here’s the MP3 if you want to download it.

West Leads Pacers To Game 2 Win

A dominating third quarter performance helped the Indiana Pacers pick up a 93-78 Game 2 victory over the Orlando Magic to even the series at 1-1. Indiana outscored Orlando 30-13 in the quarter, including 13 second chance points.

“I thought we did a good job of making some adjustments in the locker room,” Pacers power forward David West said following the game. “As a group, we just have to be aggressive. Ultimately, that’s what carried us tonight.”

West, an eight-year veteran, was one of three Pacers to score 18 points. The former All-Star also hauled down 11 rebounds and dished out a game-high four assists. West recorded four of his 11 boards in the third quarter as the Pacers outrebounded Orlando 16-4. During the regular season, Indiana was one of the best third quarter teams in the league, ranking second behind Philadelphia in third quarter margin at +2.8 points.

“I thought we were more ourselves in terms of the tempo and aggressiveness level of each individual guy,” West added.

47 of the Pacers 93 points were a result of second chance opportunities or fast breaks.

“A lot of it is that our starters are coming out of the locker room with nothing in terms of energy,” Orlando head coach Stan Van Gundy said following the loss. “They beat us with their effort and energy tonight and that’s not acceptable.”

Indiana head coach Frank Vogel accredits his team’s high energy level and aggressiveness to West, who the Pacers signed as a free agent in the offseason.

“He’s leading our team right now in competitive spirit, will and desire, and those are things that don’t show up in a box score,” Vogel said. “He’s a playoff tested veteran and we are hopeful that he is going to lead us very far in these playoffs.”

West advanced to the postseason four times during his eight years with the New Orleans Hornets and understands the Pacers can’t become complacent after the commanding win.

“There’s room for us to improve,” West said. “I think we just need to come out focused. It’s going to be a tough environment down there in Florida.”

Game 3 will be played on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. EST in Orlando.

Podcast: 2012 NBA Playoffs Preview

After nearly a year, the Hoops Addict Podcast is back on a regular basis. I’ve linked up with Mark Cheel with the intention of bringing back the Podcast on a weekly basis and we started with a preview of the 2012 NBA Playoffs.

Mark and I break down why Atlanta can give Boston a scare, we debate if Utah’s frontcourt can muscle San Antonio out of the playoffs, we lament that the Clippers lack of a strong coach will result in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul not lasting as long as they should in the playoffs as well as the rest of the first round match-ups.

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Here’s the MP3 of the Podcast if you want to download it.