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NBA Playoff Recap - Friday, April 24

 

Cleveland gained a strangehold on its first-round series, Philadelphia has Orlando sweating bullets, and Houston held on for dear life. An intriguing mix of storylines filled the latest night of postseason basketball.
 
At the Palace of Auburn Hills, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled away late to top the Detroit Pistons, 79-68, and take a commanding 3-0 lead in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal clash. The top-seeded Cavs prevented Detroit from scoring 20 points in all four quarters, proving that an impregnable defense can compensate for a mediocre offensive showing. The star of this contest was Cleveland reserve Joe Smith. The 33-year-old veteran popped in 19 points, seven of them early in the fourth quarter, to break open a 58-all tie and give the visitors a 65-60 lead. With a small but real cushion, the Cavs regained form and flow at the offensive end to cruise to the winner's circle. What will be overlooked in this game is that the Cavs--while scoring just nine points in the third quarter--managed to hold the eighth-seeded Pistons to only 16. By playing quality defense even when LeBron James couldn't put the ball in the bucket, coach Mike Brown's club was able to remain in good position, setting up Smith's heroics in the final period. Cleveland will be favored to sweep away the Pistons in Game 4 on Sunday.

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In Philadelphia, the homestanding 76ers blew a big lead but triumphed in the end, nudging the Orlando Magic, 96-94, on a Thaddeus Young layup with two seconds left. The folks from Philly took a 2-1 lead in this Eastern Conference series despite coughing up a 17-point advantage midway through the third quarter. Given that the Magic squandered 18-point leads in each of the first two games, it's clear that neither team can stand prosperity. Fortunately for the sixth-seeded Sixers, a blown lead didn't translate into a blown game against their third-seeded foe from Florida. The difference in this game could be a source of extended debate, but considering the sloppy and nervous nature of a mistake-filled fourth quarter, it's Orlando's miscues that have to be given top billing. Despite the fact that the Sixers missed five of seven free throws in the final period, Magic forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis--who have been very inconsistent in this series--missed key layups in the final five minutes of regulation. Those missed opportunities mattered when Young, Philly's third scoring option, corralled a loose ball and beat Dwight Howard for the game-winning score. Andre Iguodala tallied 29 points for the Sixers, while teammate Andre Miller added 24. Game 4 is on Sunday at the Wachovia Center, as the Magic will try to avoid a 3-1 series deficit.
 
In Houston, the hometown Rockets edged Portland, 86-83, to take a tenuous 2-1 series lead. Guard Aaron Brooks hit five free throws in the final minute to give Rick Adelman's team a victory that should have been far easier. Portland's offense struggled mightily for most of the night, but a batch of 3-point plays--including a trey by Rudy Fernandez--allowed the fourth-seeded Trail Blazers to slice a 78-69 deficit to 81-80 with just 18 seconds left. Brooks, however, hit a pair of foul shots to push the Houston lead to 83-80. On the Blazers' ensuing possession, guard Steve Blake--who helped spark a second-half comeback for Nate McMillan's club--was well short on a three with 9 seconds left, and when Brooks added two more free throws, it was all over but the shouting. Portland star Brandon Roy labored through a difficult 6-of-18 night from the field, and yet the Blazers almost stole a win on the road. The Rockets might have their nose in front at the moment, but the West's No. 5 seed will have to be much more consistent if it wants to take a 3-1 lead back to Portland. A high-stakes Game 4 is set for Sunday night at the Toyota Center.

By Matt Zemek
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer


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