Wednesday, May 26, 2010

NBA Conference Finals heating up!

A day after the Suns evened up their series with the Lakers 2-2 and two days after the Magic kept their title hopes alive with a Game 4 victory in Boston against the Celtics, both conference finals series which started 2-0 just became a heck of a lot more interesting again.

I'll start with the Suns, who claimed after the Lakers jumped out to a 2-0 lead that all they did was what they were supposed to do by winning at home. Phoenix held up their end of the bargain by winning their two games at home to tie the series, thanks to outstanding play from Amar'e Stoudemire in Game 3 and their bench in Game 4.

Stoudemire scored 42 points on 22 shots in Game 3 and added 11 rebounds to help Phoenix to a 118-109 victory. while the Suns bench scored 54 points in a 115-106 Game 4 win. Channing Frye woke up in a big way after starting the series 1-20 and 1-14 from beyond the arc. He hit four three-pointers to score 14 points off the bench, while Jared Dudley hit three triples and Leandro Barbosa added two. They combined for nine of the Suns' 11 three-pointers on the game.

Lost in the past two games has been the amazing play of the game's best player, Kobe Bryant. Yes, he's scored 78 points but he also dished out 21 assists and grabbed 16 rebounds. And people say he doesn't have the complete game to match LeBron James?

This series, Kobe is averaging 33.8 points, 9.8 assists and 6.5 rebounds, including three straight games with at least 10 assists. For those who say Kobe isn't a good passer with above-average vision, I give you these stats as proof that when he wants to be, he can make other players better just like James can. And last I checked, he's the leader that LeBron may never be.

I think this series goes the distance, as it will be extremely tough for the Suns to win on the road with minimal contributions from their role players. But those players historically play much better at home, and I think Phoenix will defend their home court in Game 6 to force a deciding game. And all they need is one road win to move on. I'm not saying it's likely, but it's well within the realm of possibility.

As is the Magic coming back from a 3-0 deficit. Call me crazy, but that spirited Game 4 victory led by one of my favorite little guys in Jameer Nelson inspired hope in a city that had none of it after three lackluster performances. The Magic return home for Game 5 and if they hold home court, the series is 3-2 and still far from over.

The Magic proved they could win in Boston in Game 4 and a repeat performance in Game 6 (if it gets there) would force a Game 7 in their own arena. I know I'm getting very far ahead of myself, but most teams fold after losing two of the first three games at home and being down 3-0 on the road.

Orlando proved they aren't most teams, however, as the combination of Nelson and Dwight Howard was just too much for Boston, even without notable contributions from either Vince Carter (3 points) or Rashard Lewis (13 points, but just 15 in Games 1-3). Lewis has been playing with a viral infection, which explains why he has been unable to do the only thing he actually does well, shoot the three (just 3-16 in the series, but 2-3 in Game 4).

Boston has already seen a 3-0 postseason collapse this year with the Bruins in hockey and, while basketball is a much less random game (no team barely makes the playoffs like the Flyers and runs into the championship) than hockey is, Game 4 was the biggest hurdle for the Magic to get back into this series. Now that they know they can win with their backs against the wall on the road without their leading scorer doing much of anything, they assume they can win at home in a similar situation.

It's still an uphill climb for Orlando, but there is reason for optimism that they can at least make it a series against a rejuvenated Celtics team. I know that I'm very intrigued by Game 5 (and hopefully beyond) tonight and the Lakers-Suns battle out in the West. Either way, it looks like the NBA Finals will be an epic showdown.

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