Atlanta Hawks forward Tracy McGrady has the ball knocked out of his hands by Boston Celtics forward Sasha Pavlovic during the first half Tuesday.
Late Tuesday, Lakers take commanding 2-0 lead on Nuggets
LOS ANGELES — The Denver Nuggets ran the court and drove the lane with all the intensity they lacked in their playoff opener. They double-teamed Andrew Bynum, harassed Pau Gasol and scored relentlessly in the paint.
Nope, still not enough to beat Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Not even enough to get a lead.
Bryant scored 38 points, Bynum followed up his triple-double with a career playoff-high 27 points and nine rebounds, and the Lakers weathered Denver's late rally for a 104-100 victory Tuesday night, taking a 2-0 series lead.
Gasol had 13 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for the third-seeded Lakers, who still haven't trailed in two games despite several dicey moments in Game 2. They survived a much-improved effort by the Nuggets and Ty Lawson, who scored 25 points and led the fourth-quarter charge.
Bryant was too sharp in his 83rd career 30-point playoff game, more than anybody except Michael Jordan. After last season's second-round ouster in their failed quest for a threepeat, Bryant and his teammates are healthier and happier — and they've been too much for Denver.
"I think we're just playing much better," Bryant said. "It's tough to play against us, because there's legitimately three guys you have to double-team."
Game 3 is Friday in Denver.
The Lakers didn't get out of Staples Center without a little drama. Los Angeles' 19-point lead in the third quarter dwindled to four with 3 minutes to play, but Ramon Sessions scored four key points in the final 1:14 before Bryant's icing free throws with 9.4 seconds left.
"I think losing last season, and the way we lost, we're approaching this postseason much more focused," Gasol said. "We're not overlooking any team, any game. We're doing whatever it takes to be successful. ... Overall, I think we played well again. We just allowed them to play their game a little more than in the first game."
Lawson shook his awful series opener with 17 second-half points, but the sixth-seeded Nuggets lost their ninth straight road playoff game despite playing much closer to their preferred speedy tempo after the Lakers muzzled them in Game 1.
Kenneth Faried had 14 points and 10 rebounds while Danilo Gallinari and Corey Brewer added 13 points apiece, but Denver still couldn't consistently defend Bryant or negate Bynum, who played another outstanding low-post game on both ends until disappearing a bit in a three-point fourth quarter.
"It's closer, (but) when you get down 19 points and try to battle back, it takes a lot of energy," Lawson said. "I feel like we learned a couple of things from this game. At one point in the game, we've got to be up. It's tough to be battling back the whole game."
Sessions scored 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter for Los Angeles, which played just enough fast-break ball of its own to stay ahead of Denver — and now the Lakers are halfway to the second round. They have only lost one playoff series in franchise history after winning the first two games, going 42-1.
A 14-5 run in the final minutes eventually trimmed Los Angeles' lead to 98-84, but Sessions hit a teardrop layup with 1:14 to play, and Bryant made a slick steal on the other end. JaVale McGee's tip-in with 30 seconds left trimmed the Lakers' lead back to four, but Sessions and Bryant hit their free throws.
"The only thing I wish is the fight of this game is what we had in Game 1," Denver coach George Karl said. "But we're young, and we're learning. You saw us play a lot of Nuggets basketball today. I think it'll get a little better in Game 3. I think the home court will be good for us. We haven't played a good defensive game yet, so we'll learn from this."
Jordan Hill shook off brewing legal troubles to contribute six points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, who used just three reserves. Denver's bench outscored the Lakers' reserves 35-8.
Bynum blocked just two shots after swatting 10 in the Lakers' series-opening victory, but Denver minimized his dominance with home run passes, speedy outlets and 30 fast-break points.
Karl attempted to help through the media after Game 1, saying Bynum and the Lakers played illegal defense constantly during the opener. Karl tried another gambit before Game 2, saying Staples Center is not a noisy, intimidating road building, but more like "a Broadway stage."
The Lakers were called for no illegal defenses in Game 2, and their fans were screaming for encores.
Denver cut Los Angeles' lead to four points late on consecutive hustle plays by Faried, but Bryant scrapped for a loose ball on one end and led the break to the other, feeding Bynum for a dunk — his first points of the fourth quarter — and a foul with 2:15 to play.
Hill produced another strong performance off the Lakers' bench a day after news broke of a felony assault charge against him in Houston, where he played for the Rockets before a late-season trade. Hill said Tuesday night he was "shocked" by the charges, but thinks he won't miss any time in the Lakers' championship quest.
Notes: Lakers F Metta World Peace served the third game of his seven-game suspension. ... Before the game, Denver announced F Wilson Chandler had surgery Monday to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. He should be ready for training camp in the fall. ... Bryant has never lost a first-round playoff series after winning the opener, going 11-0. ... Fans near courtside included Lil Wayne, David and Victoria Beckham, Poppy Montgomery and Mario Lopez.
ATLANTA — Paul Pierce knocked down the free throws to clinch it, then dropped to a knee near midcourt.
He wasn’t planning on Tebowing, but it just felt right.
With a stunning performance, Pierce single-handedly led the Boston Celtics to a playoff win — even without their floor leader.
Pierce battled through another tough shooting night to score 36 points and the Celtics wiped out Atlanta’s 11-point lead in the second half, stunning the Hawks 87-80 on Tuesday in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference series.
Boston heads home for Game 3 on Friday night tied 1-1. Rajon Rondo will be back for the Celtics in that one, his shorthanded team having claimed the home-court edge even while he served a one-game suspension for bumping a ref in the postseason opener.
Pierce made sure the point guard wasn’t missed, outscoring the Hawks all by himself over the last 15:08.
“I have a lot of experience, a lot of confidence from being in those moments,” Pierce said. “You believe in yourself, your coach believes in you, your team believes in you, it’s a combination of all those things.”
Pierce scored Boston’s first nine points but struggled mightily through the second and third quarters. He came through when the Celtics really needed him, especially with the Rondo-less offense a bit out of sync and Ray Allen sitting out again with an injured right ankle.
Down the stretch, the Celtics simplified things: Give the ball to Pierce and get out of the way.
“Paul was great,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “The only way we were going to win a game like this without Ray and Rondo was if Paul had a game like this.”
After making a couple of foul shots with just over a minute remaining to clinch it, Pierce paused on his way back to the bench to copy the move named after NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, sinking to a knee and bowing his head for a brief prayer in the middle of the court.
“You just want to thank God for putting you in those positions,” Pierce said. “It wasn’t pre-scripted. It just came to me.”
The Hawks appeared to be in control when they pushed out to a 65-54 lead late in the third quarter. But Boston sliced it to 66-61 by the end of the period, and Pierce led a dominating fourth.
In wiping out the double-figure deficit, Pierce outscored the Hawks all by himself, 18-15, including 13 points in the final quarter. That was more than he had in all of Game 1, when Atlanta held Pierce to 12 points on 5-of-19 shooting.
“We expected him to come out and be aggressive offensively,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “He got going early.”
The Celtics were up 74-72 when a quick spurt essentially finished the Hawks, especially when Josh Smith went out late in the game with a sprained left knee.
Joe Johnson turned it over, part of another tough game for the Hawks star, sparking a fast break that ended with a give-and-go from Avery Bradley to Pierce for a dunk. After Jeff Teague missed badly on a jumper, Pierce came down and hit his first 3-pointer of the series after missing his 10, stretching the lead to 79-72 with 3½ minutes left.
The Hawks called a timeout, but no need.
This one was over.
Atlanta’s last hurrah ended when Johnson missed a free throw with a chance to close the gap to two points with 1:35 remaining. Kevin Garnett was hacked at the other end and made both his foul shots, Johnson missed a wild 3 from the top of the key and chants of “Let’s go Celtics!” erupted at Philips Arena while the red-clad fans headed for the exits.
For good measure, Pierce also led his team in rebounding with 14. Garnett had 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Bradley, who shifted over to take Rondo’s spot at the point, chipped in with 14 points but only three assists — a far cry from what the Celtics usually get out of that position.
Johnson had 22 points but never got many open looks, hitting just 7 of 17 from the field. Smith had 16 points and 12 rebounds, the state of his knee now becoming a major concern for the Hawks, who already have played most of the season without Al Horford.
Smith, who went out for good with 4:20 remaining, will be re-evaluated Wednesday. The Hawks surely can’t afford to lose him, too.
“He is one of our go-to guys down the stretch,” Drew said. “We were missing all of the things he brings to the table for us, especially down low.”
Early on, Teague was a force at both ends for the Hawks. He made a great crossover move out beyond the 3-point stripe, split the Celtics defense and went right down the lane for a massive slam. Defensively, he showed off his speed when he got caught on the wrong side trying to double-team the ball, sprinting all the way to the other corner to swat a 3-point attempt by Keyon Dooling into the crowd.
Teague thumped his chest defiantly and was patted on the back by a fan wearing a vintage Hawks jersey. He finished with 18 points but missed all four of his shots in the fourth.
The game definitely appeared to be going the Hawks’ way by the third quarter. When Smith tried to pass the ball inside, Boston’s Greg Stiemsma got a hand on it, but the ball deflected into the corner — right to a wide-open Johnson, standing behind the 3-point arc. With no one around, he swished the 3 to push the Hawks to their 65-54 advantage.
For the longest time, the Celtics struggled to do anything right. They botched a 3-on-1 when Mickael Pietrus tried an ill-advised bounce pass, which was about the only way Atlanta’s Kirk Hinrich had any chance of breaking it up. The Hawks took off the other way, and Smith laid in an easy one.
Rivers stormed out of his seat, livid at his team’s sloppiness, and signaled for a timeout. He was so mad he didn’t even want to stand near his players as they trudged to the bench, remaining out near the foul line until he regained his composure.
He was feeling a lot better by the end. The Hawks made just 4 of 19 shots in the final quarter, missing all four of their 3-point attempts. They also turned it over five times.
“We wanted that one at home,” Teague said. “We’ll have to go on the road and try to get the next one.”
Notes: The Celtics had hoped Allen would be able to return, but his ailing right ankle had a setback after feeling relatively good Monday. … The Hawks shot just 35 percent (29 of 83). … Boston held a 45-40 edge on the boards, even while collecting just three at the offensive end.
76ERS ROUT BULLS IN GAME 2 TO EVEN SERIES:
CHICAGO — The fans gave Derrick Rose a standing ovation before the game. There wasn’t much for them to cheer about in the end.
Jrue Holiday scored 26 points, Lou Williams added 20 and the Philadelphia 76ers beat Chicago 109-92 on Tuesday night to even their first-round series in the Bulls’ first game since Rose’s season-ending knee injury.
The superstar point guard received a standing ovation and waved to the crowd as he limped onto the court to present the game ball, then watched from a suite as the 76ers simply blitzed the Bulls in the third quarter.
They outscored Chicago 36-14 in the period, turning an eight-point deficit into an 83-69 lead, and pulled even with the league’s top-seeded team.
Game 3 is Friday in Philadelphia.
“This game we caught fire and it was pretty hard to put it out,” Holiday said.
All the Bulls could do was shake their heads and vow to do better.
“Disappointed,” Chicago’s Joakim Noah said. “Disappointing effort overall. We didn’t play well defensively. We didn’t play well offensively.”
Holiday was 11 of 15 from the field, and the Sixers shot 59 percent overall. Williams came up big, going 8 of 13 after hitting just 1 of 6 shots in the opener, and Chicago product Evan Turner chipped in with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Noah led the Bulls with 21 points and eight rebounds. John Lucas III scored 15 points, but Carlos Boozer scored just nine and Luol Deng finished with eight. More alarming, the Bulls simply couldn’t stop the Sixers, particularly in the third quarter.
Turner scored 11 points in the period, and Philadelphia wiped out a 55-47 deficit.
“That third quarter we played tonight was as good a quarter as I ever seen our team play as long as I’ve been with them,” Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said. “We were active.”
For the Bulls, that was about as bad as it gets.
They were unable to make any stops, and they couldn’t find a rhythm on offense, either.
“We kind of let our offense affect our defense,” Richard Hamilton said.
The Sixers were leading 68-61 midway through the quarter after a 12-0 run that Elton Brand started with a foul-line jumper. Then, after a basket by C.J. Watson, Andre Iguodala threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk over Deng for a three-point play that drew plenty of oohs, aahs and groans from a crowd that felt this one slipping away.
Things didn’t get much better for Chicago after that.
The 76ers continued to pour it on, with Iguodala delivering another vicious dunk late in the quarter and then hitting Williams with an alley-oop pass that made it 83-69 heading into the fourth.
“For the first time in a long time our defense dictated our offense,” Iguodala said. “We rebounded the ball. Evan and myself pushed it out on the break and we finished pretty well. It started with that in the third quarter.”
It added up to a rough night for the Bulls, who were in a familiar spot with Rose sidelined again — this time after tearing the ACL in his left knee late in Game 1.
He missed 27 games during the regular season because of a variety of ailments, and the Bulls did just fine, going 18-9. Throw in injuries to Hamilton and Deng, and they were able to go with their projected starting five just 15 times, yet they still captured homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs for the second straight season.
That’s why they insist they can still make a run, even with Rose out. They won without him before. They insist their championship hopes didn’t die when he went down.
“It’s different (without Rose),” Noah said. “There’s no excuses, though. We know we can play better. It’s disappointing, but you know what? We live to fight another day. There’s a lot of basketball to play.”
Notes: The Sixers shuffled their lineup from Game 1, with Turner starting for Jodie Meeks and C Spencer Hawes for Lavoy Allen. … Scottie Pippen says the Bulls still are the team to beat even without Rose. In an open letter to the team posted Tuesday on the Bulls’ website, Pippen wrote, “You’re still the best team in the NBA until an opponent proves otherwise.” The Hall of Famer also compared the loss of Rose to Michael Jordan’s first retirement and pointed out the 1993-94 team won 55 games. Pippen said the Bulls “believed in ourselves” and never “felt sorry for ourselves.” … Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau finished second in the Coach of the Year voting to San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich after winning the award last season.