5 Takeaways from Friday Night's Action
It was do-or-die time for two of the six teams in action on Friday night.
For the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, a loss means a three-game deficit; an uphill climb never successfully ventured in league history.
The Celtics returned to Boston for the first time since the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, and the hero welcomes were dished out like Rajon Rondo feeds throughout the night.
But the battle-tested New York Knicks finally had a reason to be thankful for their aging roster; an assembly of veterans who knew a thing or two about playing in hostile territory.
As for the Lakers, they were hardly the same team the Staples Center remembered. An injury-depleted group battled as well as they could, but an April meeting with the San Antonio Spurs is always a daunting task.
The night ended in Oakland, and the success-starved Golden State Warriors were granted yet another thrilling matchup in what's shaping up to be the most entertaining series of the opening round.
But the Denver Nuggets had a chance to regain control of this series and made every effort to do so.
Were the Lakers and Celtics able to shake off a season of disappointments in front of their home fans? And how did the Warriors fare in their first home playoff game in six years?
Read on to find out everything you need to know about Friday night's action.
1. True Grit
No one knew exactly what to expect from the New York Knicks on Friday night, or their Eastern Conference rival, the Boston Celtics, for that matter.
New York had pieced together a pair of victories to open its seven-game series, but both contests followed a familiar pattern. The Knicks and Celtics battled on even ground for the first 24 minutes, but Boston's offense never made it out of the locker room after the half.
Boston needed a spark and figured to get one from an electric TD Garden. The franchise manufactured life in the arena, honoring the city's finest for their courageous efforts in last week's tragedy at the Boston Marathon.
But that energy couldn't carry over onto the court, as the Celtics sputtered to a mere 31 first-half points. Despite a rough start for Carmelo Anthony (he missed five of his first seven attempts), the Knicks jumped out to a 16-point edge at the break, 47-31.
New York's perimeter players picked up the offensive slack, with Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith and Steve Novak pouring in multiple triples. By the time Anthony found his stroke, this game was all but over.
Anthony poured in a game-high 26 points in 37 minutes, but this was the type of team effort Knicks fans had been waiting for.
New York converted 50.0 percent of their field goals and 40.7 percent of their long-range attempts, tallying 90 points despite hitting just 3-of-8 from the free-throw line. The Knicks racked up 22 assists on 38 field goals, led by Raymond Felton's 10 dimes and Jason Kidd's six off the bench.
In an emotionally charged rival arena, the Knicks imposed their will and stormed out to a commanding three-game lead with their 90-76 victory.
2. Barely Broke a Sweat
Even San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich may have had a tough time mapping out his strategy for Friday night's Game 3.
The injury-riddled Los Angeles Lakers were hard to recognize.
No matter the opposition, though, Popovich had his time-tested strategy to fall back on. As long as Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were donning the black and silver, that's all he had to worry about.
Duncan dominated the interior, disposing of whatever defenders the Lakers threw his way. He poured in 26 points in an efficient 31 minutes, connecting on 12-of-16 from the field and adding nine boards, three assists, a block and a steal to his stat line.
Parker did enough on the perimeter to help San Antonio coast to a 120-89 win and a commanding 3-0 series lead. He had no problems with his scoring, pouring in 20 points on a 9-of-14 performance from the field. Perhaps thrown off by the unfamiliar faces standing in his way, he racked up five turnovers in just over 27 minutes.
With the game well in hand early on (San Antonio went up by 12 after the first and stretched its lead to 22 by the end of the third), DeJuan Blair got a rare audition for potential future employers. The impending free agent made the most of his 14 minutes on the floor, hitting all six of his field-goal attempts en route to 13 points, snaring seven rebounds and tossing out three assists.
The Spurs shot 61.2 percent from the field, getting 50 percent or better shooting nights out of every player other than Tiago Splitter (five points, 1-of-5) and Gary Neal (seven points, 3-of-10).
This was the worst home playoff loss in L.A. Lakers franchise history.
3. Who Are These Guys?
If this is what an NBA superpower looks like, I think the league can afford to ease up at the next collective bargaining negotiations.
The mighty, star-studded Lakers were reduced to a D-League All-Star squad in their injury-depleted backcourt on Friday night. No Kobe Bryant (Achilles), no Steve Nash (hamstring), no Steve Blake (hamstring) and no Jodie Meeks (ankle).
If that wasn't bad enough, the over-matched duo was actually one of the few positives in another deflating loss for L.A.'s former finest.
The pair contributed 44 points on 17-of-32 shooting, while D'Antoni tasked the seven-foot Pau Gasol with orchestrating the offense. He did as well as any point-center could be expected to do (10 assists against two turnovers), but it may have cost him any legitimate chance at otherwise impacting the scoreboard (11 points, 5-of-10).
Dwight Howard was an offensive weapon when he was on the floor (25 points, 9-of-16), but he battled foul trouble throughout the contest. Metta World Peace didn't have any answers (no points, 0-of-6), and neither did Earl Clark (four points, 2-of-9) nor Antawn Jamison (five points, 2-of-5).
D'Antoni couldn't find any offensive solutions, perhaps struggling to communicate anything to his players over the deafening "We Want Phil" chants resonating throughout the Staples Center.
There was one sliver of relief for Lakers fans, though, as Friday night brought this frustrating, wildly disappointing chapter in the franchise history book one step closer to being closed.
4. The Roaracle Gets Jack'd
The cliche "Act like you've been there before" can't apply to these Golden State Warriors.
Playoff basketball has avoided a majority of Golden State's roster and had been enjoyed only from a distance in 18 of the last 19 seasons by Warriors fans.
That inexperience reared its ugly head late in the contest. Jarrett Jack had the chance to build on a three-point Warriors lead over the Denver Nuggets with a trip to the free-throw line with less than 22 seconds left in regulation.
He split the pair, but after Wilson Chandler buried a triple five seconds later, that lead shrank to a single point. Jack then unthinkably gave the Nuggets the ball back on a five-second violation that followed a Warriors timeout.
But Ty Lawson gave it right back, dribbling the ball out of bounds just four seconds later on a play that helped up during an official review. Rookie Harrison Barnes was fouled on the next Golden State possession, but he split his pair of free throws and the scoreboard read 110-108 with just 3.7 seconds left.
With no timeouts at their disposal, the Nuggets were forced to go. Andre Iguodala raced up the right sideline then threw up a desperation heave from half court that clanged off the front of the rim as time expired.
Stephen Curry was a game-time decision with a sprained ankle, but he looked anything but limited. He scored 29 points and tossed out 11 assists, while his backcourt mate Jarrett Jack chipped in with 23 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Harrison Barnes and Carl Landry did their best David Lee impression (Lee's out for the playoffs with a torn hip flexor), combining for 38 points and 12 rebounds.
Lawson did what he could for Denver, erupting for a game-high 35 points (which included a perfect 12-of-12 night at the free-throw line) and 10 assists.
But the Warriors eked out the victory, giving them a 2-1 lead in the series.
5. Lost in Boston
The Celtics brass did a masterful job of honoring the first responders throughout the night.
But whatever energy those ceremonies created was lost amid a sluggish effort that started earlier than usual (via Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com):
The Celtics were shooting an NBA-high 54.2% in the first half of the 1st two games vs. #Knicks. They're shot 35% in the 1st half of Game 3.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) April 27, 2013
The deafening cheers faded to polite applause, which eventually gave way to boos and later "MVP" chants for Carmelo Anthony.
It was almost as unbelievable as Boston's woeful offensive numbers.
The Celtics shot 40 percent from the field, with reserve Courtney Lee finishing as the only Boston player to shoot 50 percent (1-of-2). Paul Pierce and Jeff Green combined for 38 points but took 31 shots and turned it over 10 times. Jason Terry, inserted in the starting lineup to provide an offensive spark, had 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting but gave away any offensive gains in droves defensively.
Boston scored 45 of its 76 points after intermission, when the outcome had already been decided.
No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit.
This series isn't going to change that.