Friday 27th January 2023,
The Hoop Doctors

Avoiding the Gentleman’s Sweep: Bulls, Hawks, Nuggets Hang On

For those of us who just wanted more basketball squeezed out of this first round, last night was a good night. The Atlanta Hawks survived the Boston Celtics’ every push as well as themselves right until the very end, when Josh Smith’s questionable inbounds pass was stolen by Rajon Rondo with seconds to play, only to see Al Horford deliver pristine perimeter defense on Rondo, causing him the fumble the ball away and send this sometimes grotesque series back to Boston. Also, Horford’s ability to stay in front might have cost us the chance to see what a Rajon Rondo series-clinching celebration would’ve looked like had he made a game-winner. Sometimes, though, our imaginations might be better than the real thing.

In Chicago, the super-glued-together Bulls made everything difficult for the Philadelphia 76ers and earned to scratch and claw another day. It is clear that for the Bulls to advance in this series, or, really, to win any playoff contest going forward this spring, the game must be the equivalent of chewing on rocks or driving through road construction on a humid summer day. It’s going to be brutal basketball if they’re to come back, and based on their experience in the regular season playing below full-strength already well-versed, I wouldn’t put it past them. The 76ers have the feel of a team who could blow this opportunity; the Bulls are a team that will make their own elimination as agonizing as they can for their opponent with their limited resources.

The talk will probably be about Andrew Bynum calling elimination games “easy,” but at this point I think Bynum may be simply trying to outdo himself whenever he gets a chance. It feels too much like he’s writing notes on his hand and reading from his own cues when the media arrives to see what the Brash Young Bynum will say next. As this series heads back to Denver — where both prior games were tight — the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets could find themselves in a Game Seven, and if they do there’s a great chance it will be because of JaVale McGee, to some extent. Both Bynum and Pau Gasol seem too plodding to match McGee’s freakish spring-loaded leaps; within the vaunted Lakers front line, there is a slip-space in the wall perfect for someone like McGee to jump through and wreak havoc.

Andre Miller might be one of the more better-suited point guards to pair with in this situation, as he’s been expertly bumping into good positions and throwing lobs to guys for basically eons. The Nuggets still need so much more to go right, and, as a team full of attackers but without a true alpha-attacker by NBA standards, everyone’s contributions are relied upon to a higher degree — the room for off-nights is smaller than a team who can make up for one’s shortcomings with Kobe Bryant going bonkers. That said, Denver has opened the door for themselves, and though Game Six is another elimination game, deciphering what could possibly happen when the enigmatic likes of McGee and Bynum are involved is anything but easy.

Griffin Gotta contributes to The Hoop Doctors and is a co-managing editor of Straight Outta Vancouver on SB Nation. The story arcs and infinite weirdness of the NBA are addictions he deals with every day. Email him at griffingotta at gmail dot com.

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