Boston Celtics 93 Miami Heat 91 (Overtime): Series tied 2-2
- Stat: LeBron James was assisted on eight of his 12 baskets last night, a rate of 66.7%. That percentage is his highest individual mark in the playoffs by almost 10%, and 30% higher than his regular season number of 36.7%.
- Take: Last night’s was a strange game by any measure, fraught with runs of offensive ineptitude, scarcely-used on-floor units, individual foul trouble, and awesome performances from bit players for each side. This truly was a tale of two halves, too, as Boston ran circles around the hapless Heat to the tune of 61 points in the first before regressing to the mean in the second stanza and overtime. Miami, meanwhile, couldn’t score all game but managed to stay competitive and almost steal a win by playing the type of defense the last 29 minutes of the game that was so absent in the first 24, and has become a staple of the James/Wade/Bosh era. So there are positives and negatives for both teams, obviously, but – even discounting the game’s final outcome – Boston should be feeling better than Miami today. James got his 29 points on 25 shot attempts for 1.16 points per shot, far below both his regular season and playoff averages. That’s not what is most troubling for Miami going forward, though, it’s how he got those points at all. LeBron tied his postseason high by making 10 (out of 15) shots at the rim, a great sign for the Heat on the surface as a seemingly sustainable source of offense. But look closer, and you’ll notice that James got the vast majority of those buckets off passes from teammates and offensive rebounds for layups. While the latter is an encouraging sign and no doubt something Miami should continue to exploit given his extreme physical gifts, the former’s the opposite. James is his team’s de facto scoring point guard, facilitating for others first and looking for his shot a close second. And while he – plus the ever-struggling Dwyane Wade, for that matter – is a better and more active off-ball cutter and mover than ever, the number of his baskets which were assisted last night won’t be approached again the remainder of 2012. So, basically, this game would not have been close if James hadn’t found some shallow points off the dump-offs from teammates of which he’s normally on the other end. And considering he’s been the Heat’s only consistent offensive force throughout this series, that’s something that should worry Erik Spoelstra and company. If LeBron isn’t his usual supernova self and Wade remains so puzzlingly disconnected, how can Miami score? They won’t be able to, and as inconsistent as their defense has been against an offensively-challenged team like the Celtics, that’s a sobering thought for their hopes of winning a championship. Of course, they might not even get the chance if game 4′s trends continue.
Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs (8:30ET on TNT): Series tied 2-2
- Stat: With Stephen Jackson on the floor the Spurs outscore the Thunder by 3.0 points per 48 minutes. When he’s on the bench, the Thunder outscore the Spurs by 8.1, a swing of 11.1 points.
- Take: Game 1 showed what a great influence Jackson could have in this series, as he was game for defending Kevin Durant and gave Gregg Popovich the choice of playing small without sacrificing too much toughness or physicality. Though his impact in the box score hasn’t been as stark in games 2, 3, or 4, his presence no doubt has an overwhelming impact on both San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Interestingly enough, though, it’s not flushed out the way you probably think it is. The Thunder’s offensive rating when Captain Jack’s on the floor is 116.2, 9.8 points better than when he’s off it. And on the other end the numbers are similar – OKC’s defensive rating is 117.8 with Jackson on, and 97.5 with him off. Explained for the non-statheads, Jackson – despite his game 1 success defending KD – yields much better offense for the Thunder and much, much better offense for the Spurs. For all of you that are fed up with the inevitable trends of better defense, slower pace, and lower scoring of the postseason, Jacko is your saving grace; his presence in this series means offense, offense, and more offense. As far as checking Durant goes, his early success obviously hasn’t carried over to the previous three games, as KD shoots 56% when he’s on the floor compared to 52% when he’s on the bench. That shouldn’t bother San Antonio, though, as by now it’s obvious that Durant is going to get his points and get them efficiently. The Spurs have been content playing offense-first all season long, and Jackson turns them into a total offensive juggernaut that the Thunder just can’t keep up with.