1. Joe Johnson ignites late
It might sound impossible, but Atlanta has Boston’s number in the playoffs. After taking a 97-92 victory over the top-seeded Celtics, drawing the series to a 2-2 tie, the Hawks have now won five out of their previous six games against the Cs in the postseason. Joe Johnson posted 20 points in the fourth quarter for a game-high 35 points while Josh Smith played out of his mind with 28 points, six rebounds and seven blocks. Everyone and their momma figured this of all the series would end in a sweep, but after taking a 2-0 lead in Boston, the Celtics are winless on the road in the postseason. The Big Three combined for 59 points, but Boston could only muster 17 points in the final period when Johnson and the Hawks exploded for 32. Game 5 will be back in the friendly confines of Beantown on Wednesday.
2. Bust out the brooms
After busting their asses to make the postseason, the Nuggets’ hard work was for not following a four-game sweep at the hands of the Lakers. Denver didn’t roll over and die, but they died none the less, falling 107-101 in their own arena thanks to Kobe Bryant’s 31 points, including 14 in the final six minutes. Bryant’s playoff average this season is now up to 33.5 points per game after he was good for 28.3 during the regular season. LA is now waiting on the winner between Utah and Houston who play Game 5 tonight. Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony both fouled out of the game in the final minutes, allowing Bryant to do his thing without Denver’s superstars on the court. J.R. Smith was the Nuggets high-scorer with 26 points while Allen Iverson and Anthony combined for 43 points. The Lakers look primed to make their first Western Conference finals since Shaq Daddy was in town behind the big efforts of Bryant, Lamar Odom (14 pts, 12 reb) and Pau Gasol (21 pts).
3. Orlando moves on
The kid did it again. For the third time in the series, Dwight Howard recorded at least 20 points and 20 rebounds by tallying 21 of each in Orlando’s 102-92 win at home over Toronto, advancing to the second round for the first time since in 12 years. The Magic dominated 4-1 behind Superman’s super play. Following postseason career-highs of 39 points and 15 rebounds in Game 4 Saturday, Chris Bosh finished with just 16 points and nine rebounds in the Raptors’ playoff finale. Orlando is now waiting on the winner between Philadelphia and Detroit, currently tied at 2-2 following a pair of disappointing performances from the Pistons. All five starters for Orlando and sixth man Keith Bogans finished in double-digit scoring, led by Howard’s game-highs and Jameer Nelson’s 19. Rashard Lewis was impressive as well, going off for a double-double of his own with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Monday’s Player of the Day: Josh Smith vs. Boston 37 min, 28 pts (FG: 8-16, 3FG: 0-6, FT: 12-13), 6 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl, 7 blk
Buzzer Beater: After 24 seasons, 2,186 games, 1,381 victories and five championships, Pat Riley’s coaching career appears to finally be ka-put. The Hall of Famer is coming off the worst year of his career, winning just 15 games with the heatless Heat who has replaced Riley with the now-youngest coach in the league Erik Spoelstra. It was obvious Riles was on edge all year, so it’s not surprising he wants to end the suffering. However, he will maintain his position as president, overseeing Miami’s immediate future which could include the drafting of Michael Beasley if the ping-pong balls bounce right.
Ironically enough, on the same day Riley retires, a key contributor from his Laker days was named NBA coach of the year. Byron Scott led the Hornets to the West’s second best record (56-26) and their first postseason appearance in four years.