Kyle Soppe also writes about the NBA for Pickin’ Splinters. Follow him on Twitter.
Hopefully you had some time this weekend to enjoy some great NBA action. Here is how the action broke down statistically, and where we stand in the 2012 postseason.
Hawks @ Celtics – Celtics win 90-84
MVP: Rajon Rondo
The Celtics may have been able to win without Rondo in Game Two, but the team’s MVP proved his value with a monster performance in Friday’s victory. He recorded his seventh career postseason triple-double (17 points, 12 assists, and 14 rebounds), and became the first player to add 4 steals to such a triple double in postseason history. Often a stereotypical PG who prefers to distribute, Rondo looked for his shot against Atlanta, something that is directly correlated to Boston’s success. Due to the pressure he puts on a defense when he swoops into the lane, it is not a matter of his shooting percentage (31.8%), but rather his shot total. The Celtics improved to 3-0 when their leader takes at least 20 shots in a game, as even his misses often lead to put back efforts for Kevin Garnett and the other Celtic bigs. Rondo had a hand in 47.8% of Boston’s points, with his assists led to 26 points. Boston’s most valuable point guard is unquestionably the best floor general left in the Eastern Conference, and his potential to be the best in the NBA gives the Celtics a chance to win any game they play.
Bulls @ 76ers – 76ers win 79-74
MVP: Spencer Hawes
Hawes isn’t the first name, maybe not even the fifth name, you think of as a scoring threat for the well balanced 6ers, but with Joakim Noah ailing, Philadelphia’s big man seized control of this crucial Game Three. His +11 plus/minus ratio led the team, and he keyed the fourth quarter rally with 10 points. He was the only 76er to connect from downtown, as the rest of the team shot 0-13. Pop quiz: Fill in the blank. Spencer Hawes makes one three pointer every ___ games. Not that he is exactly a play maker by design, but it is worth noting that he had a better assist to turnover ratio than Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner.
Lakers @ Nuggets – Nuggets win 99-84
MVP: JaVale McGee
McGee is the butt of every basketball IQ joke in the book, but can we give the man credit when he does things the right way? He shot 66.7% from the field against the intimidating front line of the Lakers, grabbing 6 offensive rebounds in the process. He totaled 15 boards for the night to go with his 16 points, as the Nuggets led from start to finish in a must win game. Denver was +30 with McGee on the court and -15 when he was out, proving his value even further. The statistics backed his importance in this game, but I look at his toughness as a defining factor. He (along with Kenneth Faried) have the mindset it takes to bang with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol inside, something few teams can say. He swatted a Bynum hook shot, a play that clearly got into the head of Bynum. As was the case with Hawes, McGee didn’t give the other team opportunities, and finished with a better assist to turnover rate than Kobe Bryant.
Grizzles @ Clippers – Clippers win 87-86
The Clippers starting back court filled up the offensive stat sheet, and held the Memphis guards in check all night long. The duo registered 40 points, as both players scored more points individually than the entire Utah starting back court did (13). They shot an even 50% from the field and made more three pointers than Memphis did as a team. When they weren’t draining triples, Foye and Paul attacked the rim, playing a big part in LA’s 14 point edge in the paint. The leaders of the Clippers’ offense tallied 13 assists (compared to 6 turnovers), grabbed 8 rebounds, and had 5 thefts. Paul made 7/8 free throws while the rest of the team shot a putrid 6/22, further magnifying the importance of these two guards. The Clippers weren’t efficient, had nearly as many turnovers as assists, and committed more fouls than two point field goals made, but their starting back court led a gutty performance that resulted in a 2-1 series lead.
Pacers @ Magic – Pacers win 101-99
No team in the NBA has the depth that the Pacers have, and never was that advantage more prevalent than on Saturday. In Orlando, 80% of the Pacers starters combined to shot a mere 40%, yet the visitors led for most of the afternoon. How were they able to overcome ineptitude from their starters? This quartet of reserves combined for a plus/minus ratio of +54! They scored 26 points, led by Collison’s 11, on only 17 field goal attempts, providing the most efficient bench game of the postseason thus far. Dig even deeper, and you’ll find that they handed out 52.2% of the Pacers assists, while accounting for only 12.5% of the teams turnovers. The Pacers ability to rely on their bench in the late second quarter allowed their starters to gain some rest, leading to a predictably big third quarter. The starters turned the ball over often and were generally inefficent, but the bench picked up the slack, allowing the visitors to regain the home court advantage.
Thunder @ Mavs – Thunder win 103-97
On a night where Kevin Durant couldn’t hit a three pointer and Russell Westbrook couldn’t find a way to get that orange ball into that round cylinder that hangs 10 feet in the air, the Thunder were able to complete the sweep of the defending champions behind the performance of their reserve guards. Trailing by 13 points heading into the fourth quarter, Harden nearly outscored the Mavs by himself, and in a far more efficient manner. The Thunder duo recorded a 84.1 eFG% and outscored every Dallas starter not name Nowitzki added together. They had as many assists as the Thunder’s starting back court on their way to recording the best two plus/minus ratios in the game. When Harden and/or Fisher was on the court, OKC was +37, while they were -31 with them both on the bench. Keep in mind that, in most cases, if these two players are on the bench, the starters are on the court. Any team with an elite point guard and the games best scorer is going to be tough to tame, but if they can get bench production like this, then Thunder fans should plan on games in June.
Spurs @ Jazz – Spurs win 102-90
San Antonio took Utah’s best punch in the first half, and thanks in large part to their stars, were able to withstand the surge, outlasting the Jazz in the Saturday nightcap. In a first half where the Jazz attempted to create a frenetic pace to discombobulate the superior talent/coaching of the Spurs, the “Big Three” proved themselves to be the three best players on the court. They combined for 53.8% of the teams points and an amazing 90.9% of the teams assists, as the Spurs managed to take a 52-50 lead into the locker room despite the tempo the Jazz had created. Once San Antonio was able to slow down and discuss how to stop the Utah attack, they dominated the second half. The final stat line for the “Big Three” read: 50 points, 19 assists (of the teams 21), 14 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots. It is important to point out that the stars from San Antonio shot 85.8% from the free throw line, meaning that they don’t need to change the focus of their offense if the game is tight down the stretch. Free throws almost cost the Clippers a game last night, and if Duncan is making his freebies, this Spurs team has one less way to lose a game. Some say old, I say experienced and hungry when discussing the 2012 version of the San Antonio Spurs.
Heat @ Knicks – Knicks win 89-87
MVP: Carmelo Anthony
It’s tough to tell if the Knicks can win a title with Melo as the head honcho, but Sunday’s matinee was proof that they are far from a push over with him in the lineup. The pride of Syracuse poured in 41 points, as he became on the only the third player in NBA history to score 40+ points in a playoff game with two different teams. Miami’s forwards are a big reason why they are favored to win a title this year, but they were severely outplayed by Melo and the Knicks front line. LeBron James, Udonis Haslem, and Chris Bosh combined for a -23 plus/minus ratio, while Anthony paced the Knicks with a +13 mark. He managed to score 46.1% of the teams points despite taking on 38.7% of the shots, a very efficient game for a volume scorer. His 4:1 assist to turnover ratio was equally as crucial due to the Heat’s ability to turn bad passes into two quick points. The turning point in this game was the third quarter, where the Knicks turned a six point deficit into a three point advantage behind 11 points from Anthony. New York may not win this series, but Melo gave the home crowd something to remember the season by in what will likely be their final game at the Garden this season.
Hawks @ Celtics – Celtics win 101-79
MVP: Rajon Rondo
Another day, another dominating performance from one of the best in the business. Rondo dished out 16 assists and found time to score 20 points despite hardly playing the in fourth quarter, as the Celtics dominated the ailing Hawks. Boston’s point guard had a hand in 56 points (points assisted on + points scored) while committing only a single turnover. He made multiple three pointers for the second time in nine games: prior to the nine game stretch, the last multi three pointer game came on 4/25/2010 for Rondo. His 16 dimes were 66.7% of the teams assists, and no other Celtic had more than three. Boston was once seen as a “Big Three plus Rondo”, but now they are “Rondo plus the Big Three”.
Bulls @ 76ers – 76ers win 89-82
MVP: Spencer Hawes
Whodathunkit? Philadelphia defended home court with back to back wins, and Hawes was the main reason why. The incredibly efficient big man once again knocked down a three pointer, helping his eFG% reach elite territory (86.4). With Joakim Noah sidelined with a bum ankle, the paint was controlled by Hawes, whose 22 points and 8 rebounds allowed the home team to win the battle in the paint by four points, and second chance points by six. He established himself in the early going, connecting on 4/5 first quarter shots, as the 76ers jumped out to a 24-15 lead. Hawes won’t be game planned for, and if he can continue to produce at a high level, there is no telling how far this 76ers team can go.
Lakers @ Nuggets – Lakers win 92-88
MVP: Jordan Hill
The Lake Show will only go as far as Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum will take them, but they’ve got a special piece to the puzzle in Hill. He is a more refined version of Kenneth Faried, but equally as furious on the glass. Athletically speaking, there is no play Hill can’t make, and his nose for the basketball is uncanny. He managed 12 points, but it was his 11 rebounds (including a game high 7 offensive) that impacted the game. His solid play doesn’t need to last 48 minutes, as he is called on to spell a tired Pau Gasol or Bynum for 5 minute segments. That being said, he led the game in rebounding, as he averaged nearly one rebound every two minutes of action. On an off night for Bryant, Hill’s value was magnified, as he continuously hustled to gain LA extra possessions. His work paid in the form of a +10 edge in rebounding and in second chance points. The Lakers appear destined to finish this series off in five games, and they are playing as well as anybody at this point.