NBA Playoff Recap -
Wednesday, May 6
The Boston Celtics made their arena the "Garden of Even," while the Lakers also knotted up their series with Houston in a chippy chirpfest out West. Two conference semis just got a lot more interesting as the NBA Playoffs continued.
In Boston, one good smackdown deserved another, as the defending champions responded to a horrible Game 1 effort by thumping the Orlando Magic, 112-94, in Game 2 at TD Banknorth Garden. In Monday's series opener, the third seed from Florida opened up a 65-37 lead in the third quarter. The humiliated Celtics answered on Wednesday by rolling up a 75-52 advantage with 3:23 left in the third period, and didn't allow Stan Van Gundy's group to climb within single digits the rest of the way.
The anatomy of this Boston blowout, which tied the series at 1-1, could be found in the resurgence of the Beantown backcourt. Rajon Rondo--who slogged through his worst outing of the playoffs in Game 1--roared back with an imposing performance this time around. The gritty point guard threw himself into the fray with renewed relish, snagging a team-high 11 rebounds while handing out a whopping 18 assists. By adding 15 points to his scoreline, Rondo achieved a triple double that accurately measured his impact on the floor. It has to be noted, though, that a big reason for Rondo's 18 assists--a remarkable total for a second-round playoff game--was the ability of his backcourt mates to knock down shots. Indeed, the other hero for Doc Rivers' club was the same man who saved the Celts in Game 7 of the sensational series against the Chicago Bulls: Eddie House. The supreme sniper who can produce lethal shooting streaks did his thing against the Magic, hitting 11 of 14 field goal attempts (4-of-4 from 3-point range) on his way to a game-high 31 points. That level of long-distance proficiency will carry Boston on almost every occasion; with their House happily on fire, the Celtics coasted to the finish line first. Game 3 of a newly intriguing series is set for Friday night in Orlando.
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In Los Angeles, the Lakers also climbed to a place of parity in their conference semifinal series. Kobe Bryant tallied 40 points to lead the West's top seed to a 111-98 win over Houston in Game 2 at Staples Center, tying the best-of-seven set at one game apiece. While the Lakers scored and shot the ball appreciably better than they did in Game 1, the biggest key for L.A.'s bounce-back win against the Rockets came at the defensive end of the floor. Pau Gasol and the Lakers' other low-post performers held Houston's Yao Ming to a modest 12 points, many of which came after the home team had established a decided second-half advantage. The Lakers also forced 19 turnovers from the Rockets, whose casual passing and weak ballhandling caught up with them. For the second straight game in the series, Houston left Staples with a negative assist-turnover ratio, but in this particular tilt, Rick Adelman's team allowed those turnovers to translate into fast-break buckets for Phil Jackson's club. All told, the Lakers snared 10 steals on their way to 20 fast-break points. In a contest that ended with a 13-point margin, L.A. scored 23 points off Houston's 19 giveaways. That was the difference in Game 2, and it's going to continue to be a central factor in this series.
The night's other big story, beyond the Laker win and any box-score revelations attached to it, emerged from the emotions that spilled out on and off the court. L.A.'s Derek Fisher was ejected for a "flagrant 2" foul in the third quarter, a vicious elbow that decked Rocket forward Luis Scola. Houston hothead Ron Artest flipped in the fourth quarter, and was summarily tossed by referee Joey Crawford for getting in Bryant's face. Houston reserve Von Wafer, who has been miserable in this series, got booted off the Rockets' bench by Adelman in the fourth quarter after a heated exchange with his head coach. It's clear that these teams have already worked up a healthy hatred for each other, with the volatility often boomeranging back to sabotage the efforts of each team's reserves. When the series shifts to Houston for Friday's Game 3, the team with greater discipline and self-control will stand a very good chance of taking a 2-1 lead in a hotly-contested battle.
By Matt Zemek
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer
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