The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Thursday's Three Game ThreesThe Detroit Pistons are poised to sweep the overmatched Orlando Magic, while the Utah Jazz and L.A. Lakers each won at home to pull within 2-1 in their respective series against the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns.
The Score: Utah 81, Houston 67
The Key Stat: The Rockets set an NBA playoff record by only having four players score : Yao Ming (26 points), Tracy McGrady (24 points), Shane Battier (11 points) and Rafer Alston (6 points). They also set franchise playoff records for fewest points, fewest field goals made (21) and fewest points in a half (25)
The Bottom Line: This game was U-G-L-Y unless you are a Utah Jazz fan; in that case, it was a gritty, defensive struggle that gives the Jazz an opportunity to tie the series with one more home win.
The Score: Detroit 93, Orlando 77
The Key Stat: All five Pistons starters scored in double figures. Detroit won the rebounding battle (47-39) and committed fewer turnovers (13-8).
The Bottom Line: Detroit is simply better than Orlando and should certainly sweep the Magic. Still, the Pistons have hardly played with much sustained intensity or focus so far; they trailed 8-0 at the start of game three, not scoring until Chris Webber's putback at the 8:24 mark. The Pistons did not tie the score until the waning seconds of the first quarter and did not take the lead until the 11:45 mark of the second quarter. Perhaps the Pistons believe that they can simply "turn it on" in subsequent rounds, but championship level teams are not generally this careless or lackadaisical.
The Score: L.A. Lakers 95, Phoenix 89
The Key Stat: Kobe Bryant scored 45 points on 15-26 shooting from the field (.577) and 13-13 free throw shooting. He also had six rebounds and a team-high six assists. Kwame Brown had a playoff career-high 19 points, while Lamar Odom added 18 points and 16 rebounds.
The Bottom Line: Phoenix took an 11-0 lead before Kobe Bryant even attempted a shot. Bryant then made two straight shots to bring the Lakers to within 11-4. Still, the Suns built up a 31-14 lead near the end of the first quarter and seemed to be well on their way to a 3-0 series lead. Bryant had just six points at that time. He nailed a three pointer to cut the margin to 31-17--and proceeded to score 36 of the Lakers' 78 points in the final three quarters while shooting an extraordinary percentage from the field. He kept his teammates involved along the way--particularly Odom and Brown--and he was active defensively and on the boards but the main thing that Bryant did was what this team needs him to do: put the ball in the hoop repeatedly.
Game Four on Sunday should be very interesting. The Lakers have led at the end of three quarters in two of the three games in this series. They are clearly the vastly inferior team talent-wise, but if Kobe Bryant plays exceptionally well and the rest of the Lakers do their part then the Lakers have shown that they can be competitive with Phoenix. Whether or not fans, writers or others want to acknowledge it, what Kobe Bryant did in this game was remarkable. He carried a team that just two days ago seemed to be broken mentally and physically to a win against a team that has the two-time reigning MVP, two other All-Stars and this year's Sixth Man Award winner. The Lakers got nothing from the point guard position offensively but Jordan Farmar, Shammond Williams and even Smush Parker played good defense. Kwame Brown provided a presence in the paint, as did Lamar Odom. Really, that is all Bryant needs: decent offensive games from two other guys and a solid defensive effort from the team overall. He is more than capable of providing the balance of the points, while also doing his share of the defensive and rebounding work.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:08 AM