I'm not going to shovel dirt on the Pistons because a giggly Rasheed Wallace had the wrong angle and blew a short bank jumper. Detroit could win out, sweep in the next round, dispatch the Celtics and the Western champ after that and I wouldn't be surprised. Neither should you. This team is that good.
But all the signs are there. They were there while the Pistons were trashing the Bucks in the first round back in 2006. They were around even as Orlando barely gave Detroit a problem in the first round last year. The results barely matter - but the attitude and style of play does. Something within the Pistons was lacking even in those two first round wins, and whatever it was revealed itself as they lost in the conference finals both years.
Something was lacking yesterday, and you saw what happened. 0-1. To the Sixers, man. To a team that should have woken Detroit up with this game, a close loss for the Pistons that actually saw Detroit play its starters, work for the win, and ultimately fall short. Don't let them tell you differently - Detroit tried in that game, and lost.
They tried for parts of this loss, but Philadelphia tried for 48 minutes. Simple as that. Reggie Evans (who, all season long, has been in incredible shape) offered 11 points and 14 rebounds off the bench, great help defense (his major failing with the Nuggets in years past), while Willie Green continued his very un-Willie Green-like play with 17 points on 11 shots with just one turnover.
Again, Detroit could romp from here until the end of June. But the signs, the same things that popped up even as the wins piled up against Milwaukee and Orlando in 2005 and 2006, the signs are there. Bummer. This team should be trying to get to the Finals for the fourth straight season, and they might not even make the second round this year.
T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon combined to play exactly 48 minutes, dished 14 assists, and turned the ball over exactly zero times. That's remarkable. That doesn't happen a lot - maybe once or twice a year for even a good team with a great point guard and good backup - and there's a reason why I'm bringing it up. That's an accomplishment.
Also, the duo's inability to finish on jumpers, lay-ins, and chippies cost Toronto the game. Yeah, Toronto's defense was crummy early on, the team should have been quicker to recognize Dwight Howard's (25 points, 22 rebounds, five blocks, not fair) rhythm, Chris Bosh should have been smarter with his fouls, and Orlando hit some tough shots - but if Ford and Jose don't miss 16 of 20 shots, Toronto is right there.
Orlando won't shoot that well from long range again, but Rashard Lewis (who, I was told yesterday, is nigh on unstoppable in the latest version of NBA Live) will make up for Maurice Evans and Jameer Nelson's drop-off with improved play of his own. Orlando has it in them to make the Finals, and Toronto's only hope is what allowed them to down the Magic in years past: the Raptors have matchup advantages and are able to dominate the guard pairings.
Toronto isn't going to beat the Magic based off ability alone. The Raptors are going to have to run plays that the Magic, despite their best efforts, cannot stop. If that sounds annoyingly simple, then I apologize, but Toronto's pick and roll can down Orlando in four straight.
We knew it going in, the Nuggets played right up to stereotype, and lost a game they could have had.
Denver cannot win by trying to trump the Lakers offensively. Denver isn't good enough offensively. They have a batch of names that you recognize as being only worth a lick on the offensive end, but at the end of a game (in spite of 114 points), Denver isn't good enough offensively to hang with the Lakers, Suns, or Mavericks. They aren't efficient enough.
I didn't see this game with the volume on, so I don't know how much the ABC crew focused on the Kenyon Martin-guarding- Kobe Bryant sideshow, and it's a typical George Karl move. If it works, he's a genius. If it doesn't, the defender in question gets to play the martyr: "I thought Kenyon worked hard. Kobe is Kobe. Blah blah blah. Excuses, excuses. I wear funny ties."
You know what? I'd work hard guarding Kobe. You'd work hard guarding Kobe. We'd rise to the occasion, move our feet, and try to shut the guy down. It doesn't mean you let us guard Kobe.
Karl's done this before. Even with all-world defender Gary Payton on his team, he put Detlef Schrempf on Michael Jordan for the first three games of the 1996 NBA Finals, and the results were what you'd expect. Karl claimed that he didn't want Payton worn down on offense from all the effort it took to guard MJ. Fine. You know what? Let Detlef handle the shooting. Let Shawn Kemp shoot a little more. Let Hersey Hawkins bring the ball up. Sic GP on MJ.
These Nuggets don't have a GP, and J.R. Smith fouled out, but you can do a little better than Kenyon Martin.
Pau Gasol (36 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks) likes to finish, Kobe was Kobe (32 points after a slow start), and Lamar Odom had a terrific and active all-around game (17 points, 14 rebounds, six assists). The Lakers are hot stuff right now.
Boston held the Hawks to a pro-rated 94 points in a hundred possessions, and it's only going to get better from here on out. This is a Celtic team that was essentially resting for the bulk of March and April, they haven't played since Wednesday, they haven't played big minutes together in weeks, and they were still solid enough to come out and dominate defensively in spite of the extended break.
The Hawks will improve as well, and might carry a lead through the first half of Game 2, but it won't be nearly enough to make up for a Celtic team that the rest of the NBA should be scared witless about.
Kevin Garnett, first playoff win in four years. Feels good, don't it?