NBA Playoffs: Sixers & Lakers Win Survival Tests

The Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers each faced virtual must-win spots on their home floors—in both cases a loss would have moved them to within a game of elimination with two more road dates ahead of them, in Boston and Oklahoma City respectively. But the Sixers and Lakers got it done and kept their conference semi-finals series alive. TheSportsNotebook recaps both games and looks ahead to Saturday’s doubleheader…

Philadelphia 92 Boston 83: The Celtics had big lead early—they scored the first 14 points and led by 15 at the half, before the Sixers showed the kind of all-heart, refuse-to-lose effort you normally expect from battle-tested teams, not those that “should” be just happy to be in this round. Philadelphia dominated the glass, with a 52-38 edge in rebounding and nowhere was their advantage more pronounced than on the bench. The Philly bench combined to produce 44 points and 24 rebounds, with Lavoy Allen and Thaddeus Young being the key players. By contrast the Boston bench submitted a 12/9 number.  Then add the terrible the Celtic bench play to the continued non-showings by Ray Allen and a cold shooting night by Kevin Garnett—the center came to play, with 11 rebounds, but at 3-of-12 from the floor just couldn’t get his offensive game going. Eventually Philly took over and won and knotted the series two games apiece. One bad sign in the Sixer win—Evan Turner shot of 5-of-22 from the floor. Unless Evan suddenly reappeared to play for Ohio State again, there is no reason for him to ever take 22 shots in a game, particularly when he’s cold.

LA Lakers 99 Oklahoma City 96: I’ll admit my conspiracy radar is going off right now, as the Lakers got 42 free throw attempts to the Thunder’s 28. This isn’t quite at the level of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, where LA was all but gifted a win over Sacramento, but it’s an awful lot of foul shots for a marquee team in a must-win game. I’m not saying the NBA is insistent that Los Angeles win this series as they were back in ’02, but the prospect of Kobe and Durant going a long way surely has some appeal in a postseason were key players are dropping like flies and the Eastern Conference doesn’t have anyone left who can run an offense. Anyway, give the Lakers their due for making an astonishing 41 of those free throw attempts. We can further add that they got to the ball to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, who combined for 27 points and more importantly, for 22 rebounds. It gave Kobe the support he needed to knock down 36 and help produce a win. Oklahoma City meanwhile is getting killed by the non-performance of Kendrick Perkins. As a Boston fan, the no-show of Perkins is hurting me on many levels—on a night where the Celtics & Red Sox each lost close games in Philadelphia, the continued failures of Perkins hurt the C’s excuse for losing the 2010 Finals after he went down with a torn ACL in Game 6.

It’s a big day in Los Angeles today as both games on the NBA docket will be at the Staples Center, giving this the feel of a second-round NCAA Tournament day with its doubleheader at each venue. The Clippers host the Spurs in a 3:30 PM ET tip. Right now we’re really just looking for Chris Paul to prove he get his shot going and Blake Griffin to prove he can get more than one rebound a game. Until that happens there’s no reason to even speculate on San Antonio getting beat. Then in the nightcap, the Lakers and Thunder are right back at it. This makes for a great day in Los Angeles sports—one that continues tomorrow when the Kings play at Staples to try and clinch the NHL’s Western Conference title—but it’s lousy and unfair scheduling in the NBA. The compressed schedule favors the younger Thunder to begin with and like a doubleheader in baseball, it favors the team who only needs to split two games. This happens while Boston’s veterans get the entire weekend off to gear up for a crucial Game 5 against younger Philadelphia. This whole circumstance leads me to suspend my conspiracy theories noted above and give the Lakers the benefit of the doubt. For now.