After the opening weekend of the playoffs, NBA fans were bracing themselves for a first round devoid of drama and even one compelling series. Bad match-ups and unfortunately timed injuries seemed to have set us up for a bunch of four- and five-game series.
But the past 10 days have been kind to NBA fans. Two of the first round series were sweeps, but the others have gotten interesting. And now we can look forward to six Game 6s in the next two nights. The last time six or more first round series went six games or longer was 2003, the first year the NBA used the best-of-seven format for the opening round.
Wednesday evening the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets – two teams that had trailed 3-0 – won road games to close their respective series to 3-2. The Celtics took advantage of an uninspired performance from a New York Knicks team that had dressed in black funeral wear before the game in anticipation of burying the Celts (which, you know, they didn’t). Boston was a perfect 17-for-17 from the free throw line. Only seven Celtics players saw action Wednesday night, but Boston got all the bench production it needed from Jason Terry, who is (finally) starting to look a little bit like the Jason Terry we knew and loved in Dallas.
Houston upset the Oklahoma City Thunder behind 31 points and eight rebounds from James Harden, who was playing with flu-like symptoms (what is it about flu-like symptoms and basketball players?). The Rockets are now 2-1 since the Thunder lost Russell Westbrook to a torn meniscus last week.
Kevin Durant did his best to compensate for Westbrook’s absence, leading the Thunder with 36 points and seven assists in 45 minutes. But Durant also hit only just one 3-pointer on eight attempts. Kevin Martin, the Thunder’s third leading scorer (and the principle piece that OKC received in exchange for Harden when they traded him to Houston last fall), went 1-for-10 from the field, scoring just three points in 23 minutes.
Only three teams in NBA history have forced a Game 7 after falling behind 3-0: the 1951 Knicks (lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals to the Rochester Royals), the 1994 Denver Nuggets (lost Game 7 of a Western Conference semifinals to the Utah Jazz), and the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers (lost Game 7 of a first round series to the Dallas Mavericks). Tomorrow the Celtics and Rockets, both playing at home, will attempt to become the fourth and/or fifth team to accomplish such a feat. No team has ever come back from down 3-0 to win a series.
Meanwhile in Naptown, the Indiana Pacers pulled away in the second half to beat the Hawks 106-83. Indiana out-rebounded Atlanta 51 to 28 and held the Hawks to 33 percent shooting. The home team has won all five games in this series by double figures. The closest game was Atlanta’s 11-point win in Game 4.
Here’s a fun fact: never in NBA history has the home team won all seven games in a seven-game series by double figures. The Pacers and Hawks are two-games away from being the first pair of home teams to do it.
Tonight the Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors look to close out their respective series at home against the Brooklyn Nets and Nuggets. On Friday the Memphis Grizzles have a chance to finish off the Clippers at home, while the Celtics and Rockets each will try to force a kind-of-historic Game 7, and the Hawks will attempt to continue the trend of home teams winning by double figures in their series against the Pacers.