Monday night's three playoff games extended each series a little bit longer, as the Nets and Rockets staved off elimination with wins on their home floors and the Hawks evened up a series that had looked decidedly Indiana-friendly at first at 2-2.
Here's a look at each of Monday night's games:
Serge Ibaka was wide-open for a late tap-in attempt that would have forced overtime, but he just shortarmed it a bit, and like so many unsuccessful attempts to wipe out someone's score in a playground game of "21," it wouldn't fall. Ibaka, incidentally, did fall:
The exciting finish suited a game that was brilliant from start to finish. Without Jeremy Lin in the lineup, the Rockets rode a barrage of threes -- Chandler Parsons, Francisco Garcia, playing in lieu of Lin, and Carlos Delfino all drilled threes -- and an amped Toyota Center hoping to stay alive. Parsons' game was on full display, as he finished with 27 points, 10 boards, and eight assists, drilling jumpers and adopting a point-forward role with Lin out and James Harden in the midst of a 10-turnover game.
Oh, and let's not forget Kevin Durant's team. The Thunder were the early aggressors Monday night, jumping out to a seven-point halftime lead. Houston seemed to be playing above its heads -- it was 5-of-9 from three in the first quarter -- but Oklahoma City calmly answered, and after winning games that had remained close until the final minutes in two of the first three matchups, they seemed to have everything under control. Russell Westbrook's replacements each had strong nights -- Reggie Jackson had 18, Derek Fisher camped outside the three-point arc and went 4-for-5 -- and the Thunder kept the Rockets at bay.
But Houston exploded in the third quarter, turning a seven-point hole into a seven-point advantage in one quarter. It was forcing turnovers, it was hitting threes, it was dunking in transition. It had build a 104-98 lead, and then Durant started heating up. He had five points, including a monster dunk, and after all was said and done, his team had an opportunity to tie with the shot clock off.
Durant was forced to give the ball up by Garcia, whose defense on Durant should draw accolades, and Reggie Jackson's off-kilter drive to the rim ended in poor attempt, but Ibaka was all alone to put it back. He couldn't, and Houston stayed alive.
The series heads back to Oklahoma City Wednesday night, where we'll see if this is a gentleman's sweep or if the Rockets have life.
The score line here really doesn't do this one justice. This one was close until the end, but turned into a rout in the game's closing minutes, the absolute reverse of a triple-overtime war where the Bulls came back from 14 down in the fourth quarter.
Deron Williams and Brook Lopez each had strong nights in a game the team needed to stay alive. Williams had 23 points and 10 assists as the Bulls couldn't find someone to match up with him defensively with Kirk Hinrich out. Lopez was cooking in the first half, heading into the break with 17 points as he used his full array of post moves to best Joakim Noah and Nazr Mohammed.
But Brooklyn's best friends were the offensive boards and a Bulls team that seemed fatigued late. The Nets had 17 offensive rebounds on 42 misses, a rate of over 40 percent, killing Brooklyn with second -- and third -- opportunities. And without Hinrich, Tom Thibodeau's bench was even thinner than usual. Nate Robinson, who came into the year as the third-string point guard behind Derrick Rose and Hinrich, played 44 minutes, and that's not including the final few as the game turned into garbage time. He still played streaky successful offense, but was defensively outmatched the whole time.
The Bulls cut an eight-point halftime deficit to one point on several occasions in the fourth quarter, but over and over again, Andray Blatche of all people, had answers, driving to the hole to show off his sometimes-brilliant, sometimes-abhorrent offensive repertoire. That pushed the lead, a Gerald Wallace three and transition dunk got it to double digits, and soon the benches could be unloaded.
They play again in Chicago Thursday, with the Bulls trying once again to close out -- and risk heading back on the road for Game 7 if they can't.
We've got ourselves a series here, thanks to Josh Smith playing a very Josh Smith game. Twenty-nine points and 11 rebounds for the uber-athletic small forward, who showed why we put up with his maddening spells.
The Hawks were only up one after a quarter, but a 35-19 advantage in the second quarter gave this one the impression of an early blowout. The Hawks went on a 22-3 run, fueled mainly by great shooting, hitting seven of eight threes, including six in a row at one point. Kyle Korver finished with 5-of-8 threes, which you can expect, and Anthony Tolliver drilled all three of his attempts from downtown, which you really can't. It was a shocking lack of perimeter defense from Indiana, which allowed the fewest threes and the lowest three-point percentage of any team in the NBA.
Indiana would rally, a 15-1 roll led by spats of zone defense causing Atlanta turnovers and holding the Hawks to just 3-of-21 shooting in the period. But Smith came up big, hitting a three, assisting on one by Korver, and dunking in transition to get Atlanta back up by a healthy margin.
Paul George was the star for Indiana, with 21 points -- 18 in the second half -- and 12 rebounds.
We're back to Indiana on Thursday for Game 5 in a series that's turned intriguing. Although the old adage does say that it's not a series until someone wins on the road, which has yet to happen.