Chicago Bulls v Indiana Pacers Series: Bulls lead 3-1 Even though the Bulls are one home win away from sending the Pacers packing, this series has been a lot tighter than the record suggests. After close wins in the first two games, where Point Guard Derrick Rose became the first Bull in the post-Michael Jordan era to record consecutive 35-point playoff games, Game 3 offered up much of the same. With the Pacers defenders delivering hard fouls and employing strong-arm tactics every time Rose got into the paint, the determined PG stood up when it mattered most. With a 13-of-15 night from the line making up for a 4-of-18 night from the floor, Rose did what he has done all season long for the Bulls, and closed the game out with a tough lay-up with 17 seconds left in the game. In Game 3, with Rose being well defended by the Pacers’ trio of Paul George, Dahntay Jones and Jeff Foster, who seemed to be playing with the mentality that they each had 15 shots to take at the more athletic Rose, the Bulls’ roster stood up, as underrated Luol Deng and sharpshooter Kyle Korver combined for 33 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists, making the Pacers pay for being so Derrick focused. The Pacers hit back with a win in Game 4 on the back of Danny Granger, who is averaging a burly 22 PPG this series. Being hobbled by an ankle sprain that occurred in the first quarter, Rose wasn’t able to steal this game at the end, as he’s done all series. Despite a furious fightback in the fourth quarter, the Bulls had trouble establishing any sort of offensive rhythm in this one, and shot just 38% from the field, their lowest percentage so far in the 2011 postseason. On the back of poor shooting and Granger heroics, the Pacers were able to hold on and secure their first postseason victory since the 2006 playoffs. The biggest advantage the Bulls have had so far in this series is on the boards, where they lead 214-154 over four games. Along with this, the spread of Chicago’s scoring is a telling sign for the series so far. While Danny Granger is the only Pacer averaging more than 11 PPG so far in the series, the Bulls showcase 4 players who are scoring more than 11 points per contest. With another Bull in Kyle Korver shooting .800 from the arc (8-of-10), look for the Bulls to close this one out in 5 in another hotly-contested battle.
Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers Series: Miami leads 3-1 Despite the best efforts of Elton Brand, averaging 14 PPG to go along with 9 rebounds and tea leader Andre Iguodala, averaging a career playoff-high 7.5 APG, this series has showcased the three-headed monster that Pat Riley envisioned when he conspired to bring the talents of LeBron James and Chris Bosh down to South Beach. Against a young and playoff-inexperienced 76ers, the Heat’s Big Three has dominated. From alley-oops between Super-Friends James and Dwyane Wade, to Chris Bosh averaging 19 PPG, more than his regular-season average in his first season as a franchise’s third option, the Heat’s vision is becoming a reality. This is all happening despite very limited bench production. Despite experts spurting off about backups Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony producing off the bench, the 76ers, over 4 games, are averaging 35.5 bench points per contest compared to a measly 16 from the Heat, with a high of 18 bench points in games 1 and 2. With this series all but over on the back of a combined 45.6 PPG, 27.1 RPG, 11.6 APG from the “Big Three”, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra still has his work cut out for him to fix the season-long problem of bench production, with the defensive-minded Boston Celtics resting up and waiting to prove doubters wrong in the second round.
Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Series: Boston won 4-0 Playing against a depleted New York Knicks outfit that played three games without PG Chauncey Billups and three games with superstar Amar’e Stoudemire battling back spasms, the Celtics were able to sweep the series. Going into this series, the same questions that have been asked about the original Big Three were being asked again; Can they sustain it? Will they get hot? Can they manage without the loss of a big man? But, from the tough series against the Bulls that the No. 7 seed had no right being in, to a mediocre late-season record going into last year’s playoffs, the Celtics always find a way to get it done. This series was no exception. Vintage performances by Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, averaging 14 more points per game as a trio than Miami’s younger Big Three, at a rate of 59.8 PPG, were the catalyst in this one, as the C’s recorded their first playoff sweep in the Big Three era, and first since the Larry Bird-led C’s in 1992. After coming close in the first two games, with Carmelo Anthony, matching and recording career playoff-highs in points and rebounds in game 2, with 42 and 17 respectively, the defensive-minded Celtics were able to effectively shut down the Knicks’ shooters, who shot just .386 from the field, down from their season average of .457. The last two games of this series became the Rajon Rondo Show, with the pass-first point guard finally battling through his late season slump to completely take over the series, averaging playoff-highs in PPG at 19 and APG with 12. Going against the aging Billups and then back-up Toney Douglas, Rondo made his Hall of Fame teammates look ten years younger, dishing open dimes that any NBA shooter could hit, including a ridiculous 32 assists in the final two games. All that’s left now is for the C’s to wait out the remainder of the first round, while resting up for a likely series against the Point Guard-challenged Miami Heat.
Orlando Magic v Atlanta Hawks Series: Atlanta leads 3-1 What a difference one year can make. After getting swept by the Orlando Magic in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Hawks seem destined to not only bounce the Magic in the first round, but perhaps stamp Dwight Howard’s ticket out of town. With the Magic’s Superman averaging a ridiculous 32.3 PPG to go along with 17.5 rebounds per contest, including a truly superhuman 46 points and 19 rebounds in a game 1 loss, the inconsistency of Orlando’s role players has proven to be Dwight’s kryptonite. Although point guard Jameer Nelson is averaging 14.75 PPG, that number is padded by 27 points in the first game, as the 6-foot facilitator has failed to score more than 13 in the other three contests. With a mere 4.75 assists per game, Nelson’s inconsistency has been a key to Orlando’s woes. Unfortunately for Howard, the inconsistent Nelson has been the Magic’s best performer besides himself. Hedo Turkoglu, reacquired during the season to help recreate the chemistry that took the franchise all the way to the Finals in 2009, has been nothing short of atrocious, having recorded double-digit points only once in the series, while being dominated by the more athletic Josh Smith on the glass. Talking about the inconsistent Magic isn’t meant to take away from the ultra-consistent Hawks line-up. 6th-man Jamal Crawford has been lights out so far in this series. Crawford’s ability to come off the bench, provide a scoring punch that the Magic’s shooters cannot counter has been just as impressive as Dwight’s one-man show. Crawford’s series has so far been the performance of the first round, and has made the Hawks’ trio of J-Smoove, Joe Johnson and Al Horford look like legitimate title contenders.