It was only last Sunday afternoon when the NBA was getting ready for yet another Finals matchup between the Celtics and Lakers, as both legendary franchises were seemingly on their way to sweeps in their respective conference finals. The Celtics trounced the Magic 94-71 last Saturday night to take a commanding 3-0 lead over the Magic in the East (teams down 0-3 in NBA playoff history are 0-93 all-time!), while the Lakers were preparing to take on the Suns in Phoenix that night, after averaging 126 PPG on just under 58 percent shooting in taking a 2-0 series lead in the West. Look what's happened in just four days!
Amare Stoudemire 'woke up' after two non-efforts in LA, scoring 42 points in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. He, along with the Suns switching to a zone defense, gave Phoenix a nine-point win. Monday, the Magic didn't "spit out the bit" as many had predicted, but instead gutted out a 96-92 OT victory in Game 4. That Phoenix zone defense was back in Game 4 plus the Suns' bench suddenly found themselves, outscoring their Laker counterparts 54-20 in a second straight nine-point win. All of a sudden, that series was tied 2-all.
Back in Orlando last night, the Magic finally displayed the type of effort and talent which allowed them to open the 2010 postseason with consecutive 4-0 sweeps over the Bobcats and Hawks (not to mention taking a 14-game overall winning streak into the Eastern Conference finals), routing the Celtics 113-92. Howard had 21 and 10 (plus five blocks) while Nelson added 24 points. Redick (14) had his second straight solid game off the bench (had 12 points in Game 3) plus the Magic finally found their range from behind the arc. Orlando had made just 30.6 percent of their three-pointers in the series' first four games but last night connected on 13-of-25 (52.0 percent).
The Celtics looked 'old' last night, much as they had during the second half of the regular season. Pierce had 18 points but made just 3-of-8 FG attempts, KG had a mere 10 points (5-of-14 shooting) and Allen scored just nine points (3-of-11 FGs). Rondo had a 'quiet' 19 points and six assists and Rasheed led the team with 21 meaningless points. Is this really a series again? No team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit in the NBA playoffs (just three have forced a seventh game, after falling behind 0-3) but the Magic have now won four straight elimination games vs the Celtics, Games 6 and 7 last year plus Games 4 and 5 this year. Game 6 is set for Boston on Thursday.
Getting back to the West, it's that "all-important" Game 5 of a seven-game series that is tied at 2-all tonight from LA at 9:00 ET on TNT. The NBA record book tells us that Game 5 winners in this spot have gone on to win 129 of 155 previous series all-time (that's 83.2 percent!). The questions surrounding this game are many. Will the Lakers be able to finally adjust to the Phoenix zone? Will Kobe (he's topped 30 points in EIGHT of his last nine games) take control of the game plus will Gasol bounce-back after a rare poor effort in Game 4 and can Odom return to the form he showed in Games 1 and 2 (combined 36 points and 30 rebounds)? Can the Phoenix bench possibly match its Game-4 production? Has Alvin Gentry really molded a 'different' Phoenix team, one which can actually win a "big game?"
Tune in, as the Lakers are favored by 7 1/2 points (total is 217 1/2). The early numbers on Game 6 in the East have the Celtics favored by 2 1/2 or three points with a total of 189. Orlando's win makes home teams 47-25 SU (.653) this postseason, going 43-29 (59.7%) ATS. Last night's game easily went over, giving us 36 overs, 33 unders and three pushes for those playing totals. "Zig-Zaggers" lost again (on Boston) and are now in a 5-16 slide the last 21 opportunities, falling to 24-34 (minus-13.4 net games) since the start of the playoffs.