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NBA Playoff Recap - Tuesday, April 28


Another Bulls-Celtics epic. Another Orlando clamp-down on Philly. Another Dallas romp over San Antonio. Another impressive night for Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge. Its crunch time in the first round, and Tuesday's games created plenty of fodder for water cooler conversations.
In Boston, the classic battle between the upstarts from Chicago and the world champs from Beantown retained its five-star feel. The Bulls and Celtics traded haymakers once again, fighting into overtime for the third time in the series, an NBA record. Vinny Del Negro's boys from the Windy City carried the play for most of the evening, but the Celtics showed the poise of a team that's been through the wars. Powered by the excellence of Rajon Rondo and the clutch shooting of 2008 NBA Finals MVP Paul Pierce, Boston held off Chicago, 106-104, to take a 3-2 series lead.
When the Bulls grabbed an 83-73 lead midway through the fourth quarter, it appeared that a massive series upset was suddenly a likely event, and not just a mere possibility. In short order, however, Rondo--by far the best Celtic on the floor--managed to turn the tide. Three layups, combined with an assist on a Ray Allen 3-pointer, allowed Rondo to lead a 9-0 Boston run that immediately brought the home team within one at 83-82. Having survived the Bulls' best basketball, the Celts steadied themselves for the stretch run, when their 2008 hero finally regained the form of last year's championship run. Pierce had been enduring an awful series, but in the final minutes of regulation and throughout overtime, the one they call "The Truth" became honestly unstoppable. In rhythm with his mid-range jump shot, Pierce confidently faced up against a smaller John Salmons and knocked down multiple 16-footers to save his teammates from disaster. One of these jumpers tied the score at 93-all with 10.5 seconds left in regulation, sending the game into extra time. The next two jumpers gave Boston a 104-101 lead with 36 seconds left in OT. After Chicago's Ben Gordon tied the contest with three free throws, Pierce hit one more shot near the right elbow--his sweet spot on the floor--with 3.4 seconds remaining. When Bulls center Brad Miller missed two free throws with two seconds left, following a controversial foul by Rondo that wasn't deemed to be flagrant, the Celtics had survived. Game 6 is Thursday at Chicago's United Center, where the Bulls will try to stay alive.

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In Orlando, the Magic used more determined defense to stop the Philadelphia 76ers, 91-78, and take a 3-2 series lead. The story of this series has been very simple: When the Magic defend, they win; when they don't, they lose. Orlando's offense has been shaky throughout the first five games, so it's on defense where Stan Van Gundy's club sinks or swims. In their two losses to Philly, the Magic have allowed an average of 98 points. In their three wins over Tony DiLeo's team, the boys from north Florida have conceded an average of just 82 points. This Game 5 triumph was enabled in part by Orlando's ability to hold Philly's Thaddeus Young to just 9 points. Young had scorched the Magic earlier in the series, scoring the winner in Game 3, but as the pressure has intensified, the lefty shooter hasn't been able to break free at the offensive end of the floor. On the other side of things, Orlando forward Rashard Lewis is finding the touch. This gifted scorer--probably the second-best point-producer on the floor, second to Sixer stud Andre Iguodala--broke loose for 24 points, four of them late in the game, to carry Orlando to the finish line. The Sixers cut what had been a double-digit lead to six (82-76) with 3:11 left in the fourth quarter, but two baskets by Lewis pushed the lead back to 10, ending any doubt about the winner of this crucial confrontation. Game 6 is on Thursday in Philadelphia. When tip-off time arrives at the Wachovia Center, the Magic might be without the services of star center Dwight Howard, who could be suspended for an elbow thrown on Tuesday at Sixers post player Samuel Dalembert.
In San Antonio, the Dallas Mavericks' confident shooting continued. Jason Kidd went 4-of-9 from 3-point range, Dirk Nowitzki threw down 31 points, and Jason Terry chipped in 19 points off the bench, as a liberated and free-flowing sixth seed knocked out the third-seeded Spurs, 106-93, at the AT&T Center in the Alamo City. Dallas won this series, 4-1, by offering more healthy bodies than the Spurs could handle. While Tony Parker (26 points and 12 assists in this game) and Tim Duncan (30 points and 8 rebounds) once again did their level best for Gregg Popovich, the NBA's most consistent franchise over the past decade--with three league titles and 10 straight 50-win seasons--just couldn't cope with the quickness and energy of Rick Carlisle's Mavs. The series often felt like a 5-on-2 competition, and as terrific as Parker and Duncan might be, two men just aren't going to take down a complete team. The Spurs will look to get Manu Ginobili healthy in the offseason, while also finding a credible center who can take pressure off Duncan inside. The Mavs now await the winner of the Denver-New Orleans series, with Game 1 possibly coming as early as Sunday.
In Portland, at least one Western Conference first-round series was extended to a Game 6. The Blazers, down 68-64 with just under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, reeled off a 15-0 run to beat the Houston Rockets, 88-77, to stave off elimination. LaMarcus Aldridge--who went for 27 points and 12 rebounds in a sensational Game 2 performance--nearly did the same thing when his team's season hung in the balance. Aldridge exploded for 25 and 7 this time around, giving coach Nate McMillan the inside scoring punch he so desperately needed. Brandon Roy, the heartbeat of the Blazers, struggled for much of the evening, but when the fourth quarter arrived, Portland's preeminent player helped out Aldridge by scoring 14 of his 25 points. With the 1-2 combo of Aldridge and Roy doing their thing, the home team delighted the Rose Garden crowd and frustrated Rick Adelman's bunch, which earned only 10 free throws and found itself unable to pound a smaller opponent into submission. Yao Ming and the rest of the Rockets will try to close out Portland on Thursday night, when the series returns to Houston for a pressure-packed Game 6.

By Matt Zemek
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer

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