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NBA Playoff Recap - Sunday, April 26

 

 
The Celtics are in for a long series, while the Cavs are done with theirs. Meanwhile, the Magic regained home-court advantage, and the Rockets preserved it. Three nailbiters defined a high-drama Sunday in the NBA.
 
In Chicago, the Bulls showed remarkable resilience by shrugging off Thursday's Game 3 stinker to outlast Boston in double overtime, 121-118. A series marked by epic battles returned to form at a raucous United Center, where both teams danced with defeat before playing well into the afternoon. At the end of regulation time, it was the Celtics who survived, as Ray Allen nailed a 3-pointer with 9.8 seconds left. In the first overtime period, Chicago sniper Ben Gordon--who conducted a memorable duel with Allen in Game 2--fired in a triple of his own to tie the score at 110-all with 4.5 seconds remaining. Those two plays transformed this game into one of the NBA's greatest postseason passion plays. The crowd was giddy, and a national TV audience had to love what it was seeing, but the Bulls and Celtics had to decide a winner, and in the second overtime period, it was Chicago guard John Salmons who stepped forward to settle the issue. Salmons hit four free throws in as many attempts in the final 26 seconds, and blocked Paul Pierce's tying 3-point attempt at the final horn. A 2-2 series heads back to Boston for Tuesday's eagerly-anticipated Game 5.
 
In Detroit, the Pistons' run of six straight Eastern Conference finals came to a quick and merciful end. The Cleveland Cavaliers, with many of their fans roaring from the stands at The Palace of Auburn Hills, romped to an easy 99-78 win and a 4-0 series sweep of Michael Curry's club. LeBron James poured in 36 points while snagging 13 boards and handing out 8 assists for the Cavs, a performance that enabled the supreme superstar to average 32, 11 and 8 for the whole series. Only Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson have also averaged at least 30 points, 10 boards, and 7 assists in an entire NBA postseason series. Will Bynum and the untiring Antonio McDyess chipped in 22 and 26 points respectively for the Pistons, but the longtime beast of the East simply didn't have enough grit or commitment on this year's roster. Cleveland will now take at least a week off to wait for the winner of the Atlanta-Miami series.
 
In Philadelphia, another long series took shape, but this time under different circumstances from those found in Chicago. While the Bulls stayed alive to extend the Celtics to at least six games, the favored Orlando Magic were merely trying to dig out of trouble against the upstart 76ers. While it took a long while to get the job done, Stan Van Gundy's team ultimately achieved its mission in the City of Brotherly Love, nipping the Sixers, 84-81, on a 3-pointer by Hedo Turkoglu with 1.1 seconds left. Turkoglu had been struggling throughout the series, and had been the main reason why Orlando lacked Magic at the offensive end of the floor. But with one clutch shot, the veteran provided the lightning bolt that likely saved his team's season. Philadelphia used a late 12-2 run to tie the game at 81-all, and if coach Tony DiLeo's lineup had managed to pull this game out of the fire, it would have been hard to imagine Orlando finding the will needed to climb out of a 3-1 series deficit. But now that this confrontation is tied at 2-2, the third-seeded Magic have to like their chances going into Tuesday's Game 5 in north Florida.

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In Houston, the homestanding Rockets, in a near replay of Friday's Game 3, held off Portland, 89-88, to take a 3-1 series lead. Rick Adelman's team hardly dominated, but just the same, the West's No. 5 seed did just enough to grab another win and move that much closer to claiming the franchise's first playoff series in more than a decade. Houston has lost its last six playoff series, so while success isn't coming easily against the Trail Blazers, the Rockets will gladly take any positive result.
 
As stated earlier, this contest felt a lot like Friday's contest. Just like Game 3, Houston forward Shane Battier banged in a huge 3-pointer to give his team crucial forward momentum in the final few minutes of regulation time. Just like Game 3, Portland fired blanks from long distance in the final minutes, giving Houston guard Aaron Brooks a chance to seal the game from the foul line. As was the case on Friday, Brooks hit some of his foul shots, but not all of them, giving Portland an extra chance that the Blazers simply couldn't convert. In the end, the game's single biggest play came with 10.7 seconds left, when Houston held a tenuous 87-85 lead. Defensive substitute Chuck Hayes, freshly inserted into the game by Adelman, drew a charge on Portland star Brandon Roy to thwart Nate McMillan's plans. Brooks would go 2-of-4 at the line in the following 10 seconds, but Portland couldn't hit a triple until Rudy Fernandez scored with just 2 seconds left to make the score 89-88. Portland had no timeouts at that point, so even though Houston's Kyle Lowry missed both of his free throws with one second left, the Blazers couldn't set up a set play at the Rockets' end of the floor. Houston, now one win away from finally escaping the first round, will try to close out the series in Tuesday's Game 5 at Portland's Rose Garden.

By Matt Zemek
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer


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