Special Events:
NBA Odds
NBA Extras
More NBA
NBA Gaming
More Basketball
By Andy Roth, Contributing Editor - Archive - Email
The Pulse of the NBA
New York, NY (Sports Network) - I guess you can say there's no place like home in the NBA conference finals.

Let's take a look at each series:

CELTICS-HEAT

The Boston Celtics survived a very ugly second half Sunday night and barely held on for a 93-91 overtime win over the Miami Heat to tie the series at two games apiece.

As bad as the Celtics' offense looked over the final 29 minutes, it was that good in the first half. The ball was moving. The Celtics consistently got good looks and it led to a 61-47 halftime lead. They hit on 8-of-17 3-point shots and had 15 assists as a team.

The Celtics scored 34 points in the first quarter, but couldn't even reach that total with a second half that included the extra session. They scored only 32 points after intermission as the Heat turned up the defensive intensity and their offense turned stagnant.

The Celtics hit just 13 of 42 shots in the second half (31 percent), which included a miserable 1-for-10 on 3s. They also had just seven assists, which was more a result of very bad ball movement and a lot of bad shots rather than just poor shooting.

"Our execution in the first half was flawless," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.

"It was as good as maybe we've had. And then we just got away from it."

Boston led by 16 with just under eight minutes left in the third quarter, but managed to score only eight points the rest of the period and saw its lead trimmed to five entering the fourth quarter.

The Heat got their first lead of the game with just over eight minutes left at 76-74, but from that point on neither team led by more than three points.

LeBron James hit a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left to tie the game at 89 and following an offensive foul by Kevin Garnett, the Heat held the ball for the final shot of regulation, but Udonis Haslem missed a forced jumper at the buzzer.

In overtime, each team saw its leading regular-season scorer foul out as Paul Pierce had to take a seat on the bench just 38 seconds into the extra session and James exited with 1:51 left.

Haslem's dunk was the first points of overtime, but it was Miami's only points. Boston was nearly as inept on offense, scoring just four points in overtime and had to hold its breath as Dwyane Wade's 3-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the front of the rim.

Rajon Rondo, who had 15 points and 15 assists, and put the Celtics up for good with a runner in the lane with 2:32 left, knew the game came down one thing in overtime.

"Stops," Rondo said when asked what was the difference in the hotly contested game. "I think we executed offensively, came up with some lucky plays and we got stops at the end."

As for the Heat, they were pretty unfazed by the tough loss which deadlocked the series.

"At the end, you have a chance to win after 50-plus minutes and losing the MVP. Hey, you'll take that," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

The aforementioned James also took the loss in stride.

"Not stressed the series is tied 2-2," James said. "It's great basketball, great competition. We wanted to get one up here and we didn't."

James had a pretty good stat line with 29 points, six rebounds and three assists in 48 minutes and hit the game-tying shot that forced overtime, but he also turned the ball over seven times and continued to struggle from the line, hitting 4 of 8.

As great as James is and as great a series he's had, his foul shooting has cost the Heat and he still can't be trusted to hit foul shots in crunch time.

He's shooting a miserable 64.7 percent in the series (29 of 46) after connecting on 77.1 percent during the regular season.

I think you can easily make the argument that as well as James has played, the Heat would be up 3-1 if James had gotten the job done at the line.

The series now shifts to Miami for Game 5 on Tuesday.

I thought the Celtics' best chance to steal this series came in Game 2 when the Heat rallied to win in overtime.

If the Celtics are to win a game on the road from here, I think it'll come in Game 7, when the stakes are so high and nerves could very well alter the outcome.

THUNDER-SPURS

The Western Conference Finals is now a best-of-three series as the Oklahoma City Thunder held serve by winning their two home games against the San Antonio Spurs.

It took some perfection by Serge Ibaka and a huge fourth quarter from Kevin Durant for the Thunder to even the series at two games apiece on Saturday with their 109-103 win over the Spurs.

Ibaka was 11 of 11 from the floor en route to a career-high 26 points and Durant scored 18 of his 36 points in the final quarter to hold off the Spurs rally. Ibaka fell one field goal shy of the all-time NBA postseason record for most field goals without a miss, held by Larry McNeill, who was 12-for-12 for the Kansas City Kings in 1975 in a win over the Chicago Bulls.

"He didn't miss a shot? Wow!" Durant said. "He played phenomenal. That's what we need the rest of the series.

"We rode him tonight, he had a phenomenal game."

But it was Durant's fourth-quarter outburst that kept the Spurs at bay and secured the win. He scored 16 consecutive points for the Thunder in a span of just over five minutes and his 18-point quarter came over the final 6:33 of the game.

The NBA's scoring champ gave most of the credit to the other guys on the floor for his late offensive explosion.

"My teammates did a great job always encouraging me," Durant said. "The Spurs, their defense was so good early in the game. ... In the fourth quarter, my teammates set great screens, had great passes."

But Durant did more than score the ball to get the win. He set up his teammates too, racking up eight assists and drawing the praise of his coach Scott Brooks.

"That's outstanding offensive basketball," said Brooks, who credited Durant with becoming a playmaker, too. "That's through the work he puts in with our staff. He comes to practice every day trying to figure out ways to improve his game."

Durant's tremendous play down the stretch and Ibaka's perfect shooting night helped Oklahoma City overcome poor shooting performances from Russell Westbrook (2-for-10 field goals, seven points) and James Harden (4-for-13 field goals, 11 points).

But besides Ibaka, there were two other unlikely sources that helped picked up the offensive load as a result of the off night from Westbrook and Harden. Kendrick Perkins hit 7 of 9 shots and had 15 points, while Nick Collison was 4 of 5 and scored eight points.

So the Thunder's three big men (Ibaka, Perkins, Collison), who combined to average nearly 19 points per game during the regular season, accounted for 49 points in Game 4 and shot a mind-boggling 22 of 25 from the floor.

"Their three bigs - they were great passing the ball. They were the difference in the game," said Tim Duncan, coming back from an 11-point, two-rebound Game 3 with 21 points and eight rebounds.

"They were making some unexpected shots. At the same time, they were cutting to the basket and making dunks."

As for the Spurs, they've now dropped two straight games for the first time in nearly two months when they lost to the Utah Jazz on April 9 and to the Los Angeles Lakers April 11.

"We have yet to play 48 minutes," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of his team's inability to play a consistently good game. "The second quarter has been really bad for us. We've got to recover from that."

Popovich did make one change in his rotation and it seemed to make a difference, as DeJuan Blair got some meaningful playing time for the first time in the playoffs.

Blair, who was a starter for most of the season, but saw his playing time reduced significantly after the trade for Boris Diaw, was on the floor during a stretch that the Spurs wiped away most of a 15-point deficit.

I think the Spurs can use Blair's strength and physicality. As a matter of fact, the 6-foot-7, 270-pounder had one of his best games of the season against the Thunder in Oklahoma City on March 16, when he collected 22 points and 11 rebounds in just 26 minutes and shot 11 of 15 from the field in a 114-105 win.

I'm also reminded that last season the Spurs stumbled down the stretch after Popovich removed Blair from the starting lineup despite how well they were playing.

The Spurs coach also may have to consider tinkering with Danny Green's playing time. The starting shooting guard is mainly shooting blanks this series and I think it's time for Popovich to reduce his minutes and have Manu Ginobili out on the floor more.

Green, who averaged 9.1 points in 23.1 minutes during the regular season and shot 44.2 percent from the field and 43.6 percent from 3-point range, is scoring just five points per game in 21 minutes this series, and is shooting just 28.6 percent from the floor and an even worse 19 percent from downtown, hitting on 4 of 21 shots.

In the end, I think the home-court advantage will be the difference in the series and the Spurs will prevail.

Copyright 2012

NBA News
· TNT's Sager to begin leukemia treatment

· NBA Playoff Preview - San Antonio vs. Dallas

· NBA Playoff Preview - Chicago vs. Washington

More News