The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Tuesday's ActionThe Toronto Raptors narrowly avoided an 0-2 hole versus New Jersey, while the Miami Heat and L.A. Lakers could not do likewise in their respective series. While you often hear that winning the first two games at home is just "taking care of business" and that the other team can get back in the series by winning the next two on their home court, the reality is that in NBA history teams that won the first two games of a seven game series eventually won that series 182 out of 193 times (.943).
The Score: Toronto 89, New Jersey 83
The Key Stat: Each team shot 31-76 (.408) from the field and the Nets actually made more three pointers than the Raptors did (10-6) but Toronto won the game at the free throw line, shooting 21-25 (.840) compared to 11-14 (.786) for the Nets.
The Bottom Line: Vince Carter finished with a team-high 19 points and 11 rebounds but he had a second consecutive poor shooting game (8-24). Jason Kidd matched Carter's rebound total but also did not shoot well (5-14). Look for the Nets to come out blazing when the series shifts to New Jersey. They earned a split in Toronto and can take over the series simply by shooting more accurately at home, which teams tend to do.
The Score: Chicago 107, Miami 89
The Key Stat: Chicago outscored the defending champions 52-37 in the second half. The Bulls shot .551 from the field overall, while holding the Heat to .466 shooting. Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade each had seven turnovers.
The Bottom Line: The Heat are in trouble, pure and simple. Yes, the series shifts to Miami for two games now and, yes, Miami came back from a 2-0 deficit in last year's NBA Finals--but this Heat team is a year older and banged up, plus they do not match up well with the Bulls. Even if the Heat win the next two games--hardly a sure thing--they still will have to win at least one game in Chicago at some point. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the 15th time that the defending NBA champion has faced a 2-0 deficit; only three of the previous 14 teams came back to win that series: 1969 Celtics, 1993 Bulls, 1995 Rockets.
The Score: Phoenix 126, L.A. Lakers 98
The Key Stat: Phoenix shot 50-92 (.543), while L.A. shot 36-87 (.414). Most of the other stats were pretty even (other than assists, for obvious reasons).
The Bottom Line: The Lakers' defense was atrocious, as you might expect when a team yields 126 points on .543 shooting. All five Suns' starters scored in double figures, as did Sixth Man Award winner Leandro Barbosa, who poured in a game-high 26 points on 11-18 shooting. Kobe Bryant finished with a team-high 15 points on 5-13 shooting and he also led the Lakers with five assists. Bryant had been on the bench for quite some time when Coach Phil Jackson inexplicably put him back in with 8:52 left in the fourth quarter and the Suns ahead 107-76. Bryant almost immediately sprained his right ankle, but stayed in the game a few more minutes before Jackson took him out and Bryant went to the locker room to receive treatment. This game provided an interesting test of the theory that Bryant should pass more and shoot less. In game one, Bryant scored 28 first half points and the Lakers had a ten point lead before they crumbled in the second half. In game two, Bryant scored nine first quarter points (and had two assists) as the Lakers only trailed 31-25. In the second quarter, Bryant added two more assists as he accepted double teams and passed the ball to get his teammates involved--and the Suns rocketed to a 68-47 halftime lead. Bryant shot an efficient 4-8 from the field for his 13 first half points and had four assists--and the game was all but over. Bryant shot 1-5 from the field in the third quarter but by that point even if he had gone 5-5 the Lakers would have still been down by double digits (they trailed 90-65 when he attempted his last shot of the night). Bryant attempted 33 shots in game one, so what did the Lakers do with the extra 20 shot attempts in game two? They combined to shoot 31-76 (.408). Lamar Odom, the main player who Bryant is supposedly holding back, shot 4-12 from the field, finishing with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 0 assists. Assuming Bryant's ankle is reasonably healthy by game three, the Lakers' only chance--slight though it is--is for Bryant to be very aggressive offensively from the start of the game. Don't think for a second that the Suns don't realize this. Even with a big lead and even with Bryant clearly not shooting as much as in game one, the Suns still double-teamed Bryant throughout the game: they do not want him to get into any kind of scoring rhythm that could carry over to the next game and are perfectly happy to see him pass the ball so that one of the other four Lakers can fire a brick at the hoop.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:33 AM