NBA@2: This Year’s NBA Postseason Surprise
When the Chicago Bulls lost Derrick Rose in their first postseason game it was widely believed that the team would still get past the Philadelphia 76ers, and that they might even have enough to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Sixers, of course, had another plan. Instead of knuckling under, they stepped up to the challenge and sent the injury-laden Bulls home after six games.
They were toast, though, at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
Well, maybe not. The Sixers are turning into this year’s surprise postseason story, a role the Memphis Grizzlies enjoyed a season ago. Seemingly overmatched and absolutely underappreciated, they are about to play Game Seven in their second round series against the Boston Celtics, looking for a chance to take on the Miami HEAT in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics have been here before, and while head coach Doc Rivers wouldn’t mind a little cushion, he understands that his team sometimes likes to do things the hard way.
“Well I just think that is who we are,” Rivers said in a recent interview with WEEI in Boston. “Some teams have the ability to close teams out in four like the San Antonio Spurs. We just don’t right now. We don’t have a huge margin of our error. I’ve said that all year about this team and it shows in games, at times.”
The Sixers lost the first game of the series by just one point after seeming to be in control for much of the game, but then came back to get Game Two and grab home court advantage. The Celtics responded by blowing out the Sixers in the first game back in Philly, again causing many to think the Sixers were finally out of luck. But again, the Sixers bounced right back with a nine-point win over Boston to send the series back to Bean Town tied at two Games apiece.
Another attempted knock-out blow from Boston was countered with a gutsy Sixers counterpunch and here we are . . .just hours before what promises to be another classic NBA game seven.
“The first thing for us is getting back,” Rivers said of his team’s strategy. “When they run and play in transition it’s very difficult for us to beat them. They’re faster. They’re quicker. We have to get back. We have to take care of the ball and then on our end we have to play with advance and that means moving the ball.”
Keeping pace will be even more difficult for Boston given that they are expected to be without budding young star Avery Bradley, who will require shoulder surgery.
“We’ll probably find out more here in the next few hours, but it’s looking that way,” Celtics President Danny Ainge said, also to WEEI. “I think these reports are accurate — at least the reports I’ve read. Someone said it was a 90 percent chance that he’s done for the season, and it’s looking that way.”
As with most every Game 7 that has ever been played in the NBA playoffs, there will be plenty of drama when the Celtics and Sixers take the court tomorrow. The Celtics may be playing their last game together, as Ainge is expected to blow up the aging core and begin an aggressive rebuilding process over the summer. The Sixers will be the underdogs, looking to prove the world wrong again.
You won’t want to miss the fireworks as Boston and Philly fight it out for a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals, starting Saturday evening at 8:00 PM Eastern on ABC.
NBA Draft: John Lucas
NBA great John Lucas talks about training the next wave of NBA draftees, the biggest challenges facing young prospects, which players have impressed him the most this year and more in this HOOPSWORLD exclusive!
One of the more intriguing names in international NBA prospect circles this summer will be that of Donatas Motiejūnas, whom the Houston Rockets chose with the 20th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He’s currently playing in Poland, helping Asseco Prokom defend their championship. He recently spoke with Jakub Wojczyński of Przeglad Sportowy about his immediate future.
“My goal was to be in a team, which would use me, where I can show my skills and grow up as a player,” Motiejūnas said of his decision to sign with Poland. “I couldn’t expect that I will get a lot of space on the court. I’m really happy that coaches – starting from Pacesas, now Adamek – saw my abilities. They keep on playing me. They know I can bring the team up from the bottom of the game and make them win.”
Motiejūnas received several offers to play in the Euroleague long-term, but opted not to because he anticipates that he will be coming to the NBA for next season.
“I did (consider offers). I was talking with my family, especially my dad. I’m leaving to the NBA next year, so going somewhere for three months was not a very smart thing to do. I know these guys, we have very good relation in the team, we understand everyone on the court and off, joking and things like that. And now I would go to new team, adjust to the rotation for one month, so it’s really two months left to the end of the season. I don’t see the reason to do this, so I decided to stay.”
Since joining the Polish team, Motiejūnas’ strong play has made him the focal point for opposing team’s defensive schemes. He believes that experience will help prepare him for the next leap, to the NBA.
“In NBA the game is more open. Here in Poland teams know how I play, so every game for me is harder and harder. They double-team me, triple-team me. Right now it’s even harder to play here than in NBA. And why you say ‘from Polish league?’ I played Euroleague with European teams all year. This is just two months at the end of the season. And still – we don’t have that kind of the team that we can relax, play the game tight and still get the win. We have to be ready for every game.”
Motiejūnas grew up watching a great NBA center, but in Lithuania Hakeem Olajuwon was not all the rage. As a kid, Motiejūnas spent much of his time watching another NBA big man.
“That time in Lithuania everybody was watching Arvydas Sabonis playing for Portland Trail Blazers. I was cheering like others. I was happy how he played. When I grow up I started to watch more Euroleague games. I found Luis Scola, who played incredible back to the basket. He is one of the under the basket playing guys, he is not jumping or something, but he is very hard worker and know how to play basketball.”
The plan is for Motiejūnas to join Luis Scola and the Houston Rockets, and he can sign a contract in July. Before he does that, however, he wants to know he’s going to have an active role on the team.
“It’s not 100%. I told them: if you don’t see me in rotation, I don’t want to be someone who sits on the bench. I would prefer to go to strong Euroleague team to take myself a challenge, fight for position. They said that they see me, but I have to show them. Every time, wherever I go, I have to prove everybody what I’m capable of. This is the life, this is basketball. Nothing is easy.”
His long-term goal for his time in the NBA isn’t easy, either, though it’s the kind of goal that has to make Rockets fans and front office personnel alike break out in a big smile.
“To be the best player of the year. You know I want to reach the most that’s possible… but that’s nearly impossible in your rookie year. So this is the thing. I’m never satisfied. If you are satisfied that means you will not improve any more. For me there are no limits. Every game I miss some shots, don’t see opportunity to pass to my teammate. I don’t see people to have perfect game.”
For their part, the Rockets very much expect to have Motiejūnas on the roster next season, and they also envision him being an important part of the nightly rotation. There are many things up in the air for Houston this summer, but the arrival of Motiejūnas appears to be one of the few things they’re absolutely counting on.
Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to insure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @jfleminghoops, @TheRocketGuy, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNYC, @SusanBible, @DPageHoopsWorld , @stephenlitel , @stevesraptors, @TommyBeer and @YannisHW.
NBA Chats: There is one NBA chat today, with Yannis Koutroupis dropping his weekly chat at 11 a.m. EST. You can always find the next upcoming chat here: Upcoming NBA Chats or if you are looking for a chat that already completed try here: Previous NBA Chats