Discussing Wednesday's Game 5s
The Knicks and Thunder are looking to advance to the second round on their home courts, but the Celtics and Rockets hope to continue their comeback efforts. Meanwhile, things are even between the Hawks and Pacers, with the latter trying to get back on track on their own home floor. Our 5-on-5 crew breaks down tonight's Game 5 action.
1. Fact or Fiction: The Rockets can come back against the Thunder.
Jim Cavan, KnickerBlogger: Fiction. Monday's bold comeback featured plenty of positives and silver linings for Houston -- Chandler Parsons' near triple-double being the most noteworthy. Still, the Thunder's combination of home-court advantage, fomenting rage at the loss of Russell Westbrook and some guy named Kevin Durant should be more than enough for them to seal the deal in Game 5.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Fact. The recency bias bites us badly in the playoffs, and it always looks as if the team that won the most recent game has "figured it out." But that's not it. The Thunder lost their second-best player, and the Rockets have a shot anytime Derek Fisher is getting about 30 minutes a night in 2013.
Michael Pina, Celtics Hub: Fiction. The loss of Russell Westbrook is most likely a fatal blow to Oklahoma City's chances of winning the title, but the Thunder should be more than fine with two more games at home against a banged-up, inconsistent Rockets team.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Fiction. Texas might seem like the perfect setting for a team to "cowboy up" and replicate the 2004 Red Sox's historic comeback, but there is no way Kevin Durant -- playing like this -- loses four straight playoff games. Not happening.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Fiction. The Thunder are missing Russell Westbrook, which has obviously forced them to adjust and reinvent themselves offensively. It has weakened their bench, closed the gap in talent between the teams and made OKC mostly a one-man show. But the Rockets will have to beat the Thunder four straight times, including twice in OKC. That's too much to expect.
2. Fact or Fiction: The Celtics can come back against the Knicks.
Cavan: Fiction. Boston needed a laughably terrible performance from Carmelo Anthony, a hotel-bound J.R. Smith and one disaster-saving overtime win -- at home, no less -- just to extend the series. I fully expect the Knicks to come out angry and, with the Garden ghosts and roars at their backs, sail into the second round.
Haberstroh: Fiction. This isn't Yankees-Red Sox from 2004. Not unless Rajon Rondo returns with a bloody sock (or knee brace). The Celtics might push this to seven games, but I don't see green in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Pina: Fiction. The Celtics shot 25.9 percent, 19.4 percent, 46.7 percent and 31 percent in the second halves of Games 1 through 4. Their offense has been historically abysmal and, unless the extremely unexpected happens three games in a row (i.e., Jason Terry turning into a magician in Game 4), they simply can't score enough points to keep up.
Wade: Fiction. It is hard -- really hard -- to look past the multitude of innovative ways the Knicks have discovered to disappoint their fans in the past 13 years. But not even Jim Dolan's franchise can pull off such a calamity. Boston is too old, and New York's offense is too potent.
Young: Fiction. Thing is, the Celtics didn't really do anything all that different in their Game 4 win except build a larger halftime lead. Their half-court offense when things get tight is a major problem, and the Knicks have one of the best crunch-time solutions in basketball in Carmelo.
3. Hawks or Pacers: Who has the edge in the series now?
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Cavan: Pacers. There's a difference between "momentum" and "edge." By dint of their impressive showing at home, the Hawks might have a bit of the former, but the edge belongs to those who hold home-court advantage. Indiana is still in the driver's seat, which means it can still close this thing out in six. With its crowd raucous and its D ratcheted, that should come to pass.
Haberstroh: Pacers. Home-court advantage is a pretty big deal, and so is being healthy. I'm not buying that the Pacers are all of a sudden missing Danny Granger; they won 45 games this season without him. But as long as Josh Smith and Al Horford are on the floor, the Hawks are trouble. Just not enough trouble to give them the edge here, with two games on the road.
Pina: Hawks. The margin is extremely close, but the Hawks' defensive decision to stick Josh Smith on Paul George when the series shifted back to Atlanta has worked wonders. The proverbial ball now lies in Indiana's court.
Wade: Pacers. Barring total collapse (losing four in a row), they will have two more home games. Indiana might be more likely to get a win in Atlantis than in Atlanta, but I still like it to win two of the next three.
Young: Pacers. Playing at home has been a major X factor for both teams so far in the series, and the Pacers get the next one in their building. Assuming they continue the series trend of protecting their own floor, they'll have two chances to close out the series.
4. Fact or Fiction: Rondo would be the difference in the Celtics' series.
Cavan: Fiction. Put it this way: He'd be the difference between the Celtics losing in five games -- as I still think they will -- or losing in six or seven. Rondo's uncanny ability to dissect the defense undoubtedly would've given the Knicks fits. But Boston's issues run far deeper than even Rondo can probe. A big factor? Sure. The difference? I don't see it.
Haberstroh: Fact. The Celtics need a dribble penetrator and Rondo's shot creation in the worst way as the playoff setting has slowed the game to a half-court grind. As I said earlier, unless Rondo pulls a Curt Schilling, it's hard to see the Celtics winning. But at least they'll go down swinging.
Pina: Fact. A fully healthy Rajon Rondo has a trickle-down effect on everything Boston does, allowing players such as Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley to revert back to their more comfortable roles within the team's structure. Also, "Playoff Rondo" is undoubtedly one of the league's 10 best players.
Wade: Fiction. Even with Rondo, the Celtics just aren't as good as New York. Boston does have most of its middling role players locked up on player-friendly contracts for several more years, though. So there's that.
Young: Fact. We're talking about one of the 15 or 20 best players in the world and one of the top five in the league at his position. There's no doubt that having Rondo would've made a major difference for Boston, especially in solving its half-court execution problems.
5. Fact or Fiction: OKC would have swept with Westbrook.
Cavan: Fiction. I predicted the Thunder in five ahead of Game 1 and still think that's how it'll play out. Houston is a young, dangerously potent team that has run some of the league's best squads straight out of the gym throughout the year. That it could have summoned a sizzling shooting night one out of four times seems more likely than not.
Haberstroh: Fact. I suppose the Rockets could have stolen one game if their shooters got hot, but with Westbrook in the fold, we're talking about one of the most dominant regular-season teams in recent history (by point differential). The Thunder were juggernauts with Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka leading the way, but without their quarterback, they're now just a very good team.
Pina: Fact. From the opening tip in Game 1, Houston had no answer for Russell Westbrook. He single-handedly turned the Rockets' strength (quick pace) into a weakness by blitzing them in the open court and likely would have turned the temperature even higher in Games 3 and 4.
Wade: Fact. It took a career game from Chandler Parsons, plus some Carlos Delfino theatrics, for Houston to even beat an OKC team without Russ. No disrespect to the Reggie Jackson who isn't Mr. October, but the play of Westbrook likely would have propelled the Thunder to victory in Game 4.
Young: Fact, but the Thunder were potentially a point-blank Serge Ibaka putback from doing it anyway. Westbrook is the definition of a game-changer and, although the two games in Houston might've still been tight, the Thunder would've been whole and played a lot more like themselves, just overwhelming the Rockets with talent.