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The NBA Closer is written by Matt McHale, who is becoming increasingly grumpy as the playoffs continue. When he's ruing losses by his favorite teams and wins by the teams he hates, he can be found sulking at Basketbawful. Enjoy!

The Nuggets have officially become the French army. They meekly surrendered to the Lakers during their 108-84 defeat. At least, that's what Carmelo Anthony thinks. "In a game like tonight, on our home court, us giving up as a whole is uncalled for. Yeah. We quit. Everybody. From the coaches to the players, we quit. And I said it."

The La ... wait a sec. Sorry. Melo wasn't done. "I'm not blaming anyone. I'm not pointing fingers at nobody. I didn't play worth a (poop) tonight, and I can accept that. But as a competitor, there's no way that I should lay down and quit and lay down on my team like we did tonight."

Nope. He wasn't done. Anthony further accused his team of quitting as early as the fourth quarter. "You could just sense it. I'm saying 'we,' because I'm part of this, too. I'm saying I quit. We all just gave up."

That's certainly one way to look at it. As for Kobe — who led L.A. with 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists — he thinks the Nuggets gave up only after the Lakers beat 'em. "Well, they're down 20-something points with two minutes to go. But (they didn't give up) until that point."

Mamba was joined by Luke Walton (15 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists), Pau Gasol (14 points, 5 assists), Derek Fisher (14 points, 4-for-5 on threes), and Lamar Odom (12 points, 7 rebounds) in pouring dirt on Denver's grave. On the other side of the coin, 'Melo and A.I. combined for almost as many missed shots (10-for-38) as points (31). And try as they might, Linus Kleiza (15 points, 9 rebounds), Kenyon Martin (12 points, 7 rebounds), J.R. Smith (11 points) and Marcus Camby (zero points, 12 rebounds) couldn't pick up the slack.

This...this wasn't supposed to happen. The Boston juggernaut slipped and fell on a Hawk-shaped banana peel last night, and the dirty birds revived the hopes of their 27 faithful fans with a 102-93 victory. The win was orchestrated by Josh Smith, who went all Dominique Wilkins on the Celtics by jumping and dunking his way to a team-high 27 points ... two of which came after he soared from 10 feet out and dunked on Ray Allen.

Said Smith: "My heart was racing, I was so excited. I wanted to give the city of Atlanta something to cheer about." Hey, if they don't cheer about the team's first playoff win since 1999, they won't cheer about anything.

The Hawks got flat-out physical with the Celtics. Smith stuffed a Rajon Rondo layup attempt, Al Horford (17 points, 14 rebounds) bloodied Kendrick Perkins' nose, and Atlanta's backs-to-the-wall aggression left Kevin Garnett (32 points, 10 rebounds) looking woozy and exhausted, kind of like a character in Mortal Combat right before he/she gets hit with a finishing move.

Mike Bibby had a mini-redemption game with 12 points and 8 assists, and Joe Johnson added 23, 7 and 6. Paul Pierce (17 points), Ray Allen (13), Rajon Rondo (10) and Kendrick Perkins (10) all reached double figures, but they didn't play the spirited defense the Celtics have become known for this season. I bet they will in Game 4, because as if the loss itself wasn't motivation enough, I'm guessing they're going to be pretty fired up after the way Horford got all up in Pierce's mug at the end of the game. (Big mistake, rook.)

This one was almost Deron Williams' fault. With all due respect to Tracy "The Martyr" McGrady, Williams almost blew the game by bricking two free throws with 7.3 seconds left and his team leading by only two points. Fortunately for Deron and the Jazz, Mehmet Okur grabbed the rebound of Williams' second miss, got fouled, and then sealed Utah's 86-82 victory by hitting his foul shots with 5.5 seconds left.

Said Williams: "Memo saved my butt. I ought to give him something. I ought to buy him a car or something." Uh, I'm pretty sure Okur already has a car. And a smokin' hot wife. So please, Deron, send me that car. I'm pretty sure my irrational enthusiasm was at least partly responsible for that rebound. E-mail me.

Anyway, Williams did score eight of his 17 points in the final period to help the Jazz build an 8-point lead with under a minute to go, but Shane Battier and Rafer Alston hit a couple gut-check threes to cut the lead to two before the freethrow roller coaster. Tracy McGrady (23 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists) had another one of "those" fourth quarters, scoring only four points and getting serenaded by a chant of "OVER-RATED!" by the Utah crowd. For the record, T-Mac has scored 12 fourth-quarter points in this series ... seven of which came in Game 3. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

The Jazz got double-doubles from Memo (14 points, 18 rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (14 points, 14 rebounds), which helped offset their misguided three-point shooting (0-for-14). Rafer Alston scored 15 and Carl Landry added 13 points off the Houston bench, but the Rockets are still heading home with 3-1 series deficit. But at least they're going home.

It's a Jameeracle! Jameer Nelson - who after Game 3 collapsed with back spasms as he was walking to the locker room - scored 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, helping Orlando conjure up a 106-94 win and a 3-1 series lead. And rumor has it that NBA custodians are already clearing a space for the Raptors in the league's 2008 Playoff Museum ... right next to the displays meant for the Suns' fun-and-gun offense and the Nuggets' shriveled heart.

Chris Bosh played Captain Marvel to Dwight Howard's Superman, going all SHAZAM!! for a career playoff-high 39 points and 15 rebounds. But Howard's Justice League was greater than Bosh's Legion of Doom: Nelson, Rashard Lewis (27 points, 13 rebounds), Howard (19 points, 16 rebounds), and Hedo Turkoglu (18 points) outlasted Bosh, T.J. Ford (12 points, 13 assists), Anthony Parker (12 points, 7 rebounds) and Jason Kapono (12 points). It didn't help that Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon both shot 1-for-7. And Ford (6-for-16) wasn't exactly on the mark, either.

Still, Ford is trying to empowerize his team's personal growth potentialities. "It's not over yet. It's the first one to four. We got ourselves in a hole and we just have to continue and stay positive." Good luck with that, T.J.


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