EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
#5 Chicago Bulls vs. #1 Miami Heat
With no Hinrich, Deng or Rose, Chicago took Game 1 from Miami in the biggest surprise of the playoffs thus far. The Heat’s reaction in Game 2 was a 115-78 destruction of the Bulls, led by LeBron of course. The undermanned Bulls must deliver the energy, effort and tenacity they displayed in Game 1 to protect their home court against the defending champs in Game 3.
#3 Indiana Pacers vs. #2 New York Knicks
Behind incredible defense that helped limit Carmelo and J.R. to 14-43 from the field, Indiana won at MSG in Game 1. In Game 2, Smith still couldn’t shoot straight, but New York used a 30-2 run to even the series. Knicks could get a boost from the anxiously awaited return of Amar’e Stoudemire in Game 3, which should be a very physical battle.
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
#5 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #1 Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder escaped with a W in Game 1, barely. In Game 2 the Grizzlies’ front line dominated, and Mike Conley helped the Griz take over the fourth quarter to knot the Westbrook-less series at 1-1. Oklahoma will face a very difficult assignment in Game 3 at the Grind House, where the Griz have played outstanding basketball the entire season.
#6 Golden State Warriors vs. #2 San Antonio Spurs
After an 18-2 run to tie the game in regulation, Manu hit a 3 with 1.2 seconds left in the second OT to win a classic Game 1, despite 44 from Steph Curry. In Game 2, second banana Klay Thompson went for 34 points and 14 boards, and Golden State came out on top in SA for the first time since 1997. Spurs must establish themselves on D and control the tempo to slow down the Warriors’ freewheeling offense and contain their outstanding backcourt duo.
The Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls take the court tonight in Game 6 of their first round series with a swarm of questions buzzing about.
Will Bulls PG Kirk Hinrich miss his second straight game with a bruised left calf? Will Luol Deng and Taj Gibson be healthy after skipping yesterday’s practice due to illness?
Whose plantar faciitis will affect his production more, Joakim Noah’s or Joe Johnson’s? Will PG Deron Williams perform at an All-Star level or revert to his form in Games 2 and 3 wherein he shot a combined 6 for 23?
Will we see the return of Derrick Rose either tonight or in a possible Game 7 back in Brooklyn?
Only eight NBA teams have ever come back from a 3-1 deficit. After winning by 17 in Game 1, Brooklyn then lost a lackluster Game 2 at home, shooting 35% from the field and 19% from the arc. Games 3 and 4 in Chi-Town were extremely close, with the Nets coming out on the losing side in both hard-fought battles.
Game 4 was a true heartbreaker for Brooklyn. They held a 14-point lead with just a few minutes left in regulation and wound up losing 142-134 in triple overtime.
Bulls backup PG Nate Robinson was the hero for Chicago, scoring 34 points (the most ever for a Bulls reserve in a playoff game) and almost singlehandedly winning the game. 29 of his 34 points were scored in the fourth quarter and subsequent overtimes.
Brooklyn can be buoyed by their performance at home in Game 5 on Monday. They shot 50% from the field and outrebounded Chicago 44-33. C Brook Lopez finished with 28 points and 10 boards, and D-Will added 23 and 10 dimes in the 110-91 victory.
The Bulls didn’t play badly on Monday either. All five starters scored in double figures; their bench contributed 20 points; and they shot 49% as a team. Chicago simply wilted down the stretch, getting outscored by Brooklyn 33-18 in the fourth quarter.
With Hinrich almost certain to miss tonight’s action, Coach Thibodeau may mix up his lineups with Marco Belinelli at the 1-guard, athletic SF Jimmy Butler checking Deron Williams, and the electric Nate Robinson returning to his role as super-sub.
Tune in to YES or TNT at 8PM ET to see if the Nets can get their first W of the year in Chicago and take this series back to Brooklyn for Game 7.