NBA Playoff Recap -
Friday, May 8
Two teams playing without dependable starting guards were able to win anyway on Friday night. Orlando didn't miss Rafer Alston, while the Los Angeles Lakers compensated for the one-game suspension of Derek Fisher. The NBA Playoffs took a significant turn, as Boston and Houston missed golden opportunities to gain leverage in the conference semifinals.
The evening began at Amway Arena in Orlando, where the Magic didn't needed Alston to break down Boston's defense. Stan Van Gundy's club received well-rounded contributions in an emphatic 117-96 romp against the sagging Celtics. Orlando now owns a 2-1 series lead because unheralded reserves answered the bell in Alston's absence. Anthony Johnson held his own against Rajon Rondo, scoring 13 points while handing out 3 assists. Courtney Lee--back on the floor for the East's No. 3 seed after missing the past three games with an injury--provided 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting to help the Magic solve the defending champions' defense. Orlando shot a whopping 59 percent from the field while going 30-of-36 from the foul line. Johnson and Lee gave form and flow to the Magic's halfcourt sets, earning them a substantial share of credit for the Game 3 masterpiece. However, the man who really emerged from the shadows was Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu. After failing to match his season average (16.8 points per game) in seven of his team's first eight playoff games, Turkoglu busted loose for 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting. In a contest where Orlando was extremely efficient at the offensive end, no one personified precision more than Turkoglu.
On the other side of the divide, the Celtics--who briefly made things interesting early in the fourth quarter before fading at the end--had to scratch their heads after a substandard effort that was somewhat similar to Game 1. Ray Allen went just 3-for-13 from the field, while Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins, dogged by foul trouble, were non-factors. On defense, Boston gave the Magic entirely too many free throw attempts, and lacked the clamp-down consistency of Wednesday's Game 2. The series stays in north Florida for Sunday's Game 4. The Celtics will need to play their best game of the series if they want to avoid a 3-1 deficit.
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In Houston, yet another ballclub shrugged off the suspension of a key backcourt performer. Minus Derek Fisher, the L.A. Lakers didn't flinch, as they ran away from the Rockets, 108-94, to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals. Kobe Bryant wasn't terrifically efficient in Game 3 of this best-of-seven set, but the Black Mamba did score 15 of his 33 points in the final 12:15 of play. In the meantime, Kobe's teammates were able to knock down the shots that missed the mark in Game 1. Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom combined to go 5-of-6 from 3-point range, while Jordan Farmar--spelling Fisher at the point--played 33 gutsy minutes and hit a 17-foot jumper with 3:54 left to stymie a Houston rally. Farmar--who finished with 12 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds--best exemplified the rally-round-the-flag spirit that carried a shorthanded Laker lineup past the Rockets, who were burned by a familiar bugaboo: turnovers.
For the third time in as many games, Houston finished with a negative assist-turnover margin. While the Rockets used 16 assists on 35 made field-goal attempts, Rick Adelman's club coughed up the rock on 17 occasions. With L.A. giving away just 6 turnovers, the Rockets' 56-43 edge on the glass didn't mean much of anything. Unless or until Aaron Brooks (3 turnovers in this game), Ron Artest (4), Yao Ming (3), and Luis Scola (3) can value the basketball a little better, the Lakers will continue to get steals and transition buckets, making life even easier for the West's top seed... with or without Derek Fisher. Game 4 of this series is Sunday, back at the Toyota Center in Houston.
By Matt Zemek
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer
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