May 01, 2009
Chicago 128, Boston 127 (3OT), series tied 3-3
The emotional element of this game, the sheer impact it had on me and us as fans and as lovers of this sport? It's hard to properly articulate and eventually put into words just how gobsmacked I am, reeling from Game 6. I hoped I did a so-so job of that on Thursday night in this post. From here on out, though, I just have to ramble.
My personal leanings are well known, and even though things turned out the way that I preferred in the end, there weren't any Jordan-style fist pumps, or Sprewell-style right hooks tossed with Rajon Rondo's desperate heave missed at the end of Game 6. There was nothing left. Just spent energy.
If adrenaline and competitive spirit carried these men as they played deep into a third overtime somewhere on the west side of Chicago, well, somewhere in another state, I have to state, my legs felt like I had run up and down the court for 63 minutes. I mean that. When the game ended, I felt like you do when they give you the gas and ask you to count backwards from 100.
And, on the other side of the fence, it turns out that I'm not alone.
What an amazing, amazing game. One that, if I'm honest, I'm not sure I can even qualify as the best game of this series.
I mean, Game 2 didn't go into overtime, but was it any worse? Games 1, 4, and 5 gave us some extra frames, but what sets Game 6 apart? I guess the fact that Game 6 had a couple of defining moments (Joakim Noah's steal, dunk, free throw, and banishment of Paul Pierce; Derrick Rose's block on Rondo) that didn't end with a player having to spit out blood, I guess that sets it apart. I guess. If I'm left to guess.
I'm all out of answers with these two teams. All I can do is thank them.
From now, with just about every narrative exhausted and a near half-a-day since the final buzzer (finally) sounded, I have to head to the bullet points.
*Ray Allen scored 51, and I don't think he's being dramatic or cloying or self-deprecating when he spoke after the game of standing in the shower, and thinking about all the "pretty good looks" of his that didn't drop. When one point would make a winning difference at the end of regulation, overtime, and double overtime (along with a tying difference in triple overtime), it's only human nature.
But Ray -- and I'm not writing this because you dropped 51 -- you were just fine. Time after time again Allen would rise up over near-perfect defense from Kirk Hinrich or Joakim Noah, and nail an impossible shot. So, those things evened out. Believe me.
*The Bulls nearly lost the game a hundred different ways, but the biggest, most sustained reason for a potential loss late in regulation was the way the coaching staff had the team switching defensively on every single play. This resulted in all sorts of confusion and matchup issues that the Celtics took advantage of time and time again.
It's nice to think that you have a team full of interchangeable parts, and it's a good luxury to have in a pinch, but to rely on it? To steal a page from Mike Woodson's playbook? To see Brad Miller having to follow Ray Allen to the corner or Kirk Hinrich waste his defensive talents on Glen Davis (nothing against Davis, but Hinrich is better served on his original man)? It was pathetic. And it nearly cost Chicago the game until they decided to stop.
Vinny Del Negro? I know you were with Phoenix last year, and that much of your coaching staff hasn't been in Chicago long. But you inherited the pieces of a great defensive team. Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas were pivotal members of a team that was first in defensive efficiency in 2006-07. This is a team that can defend, if you'd let it.
*More VDN nonsense? Foul the guy, Vinny. Foul Ray Allen when the Celtics have no timeouts, have the ball, and are down three. Foul him, foul him, foul him. What part of a person's brain makes it so they keep trying the same course of action, time and time again, while expecting a different (and, in this case, positive) result every time out? The part that isn't thinking. Foul him.
*Also, Lindsey Hunter to inbound the ball, coming in cold, after not playing the entire second half, overtime, and 4:30 of the second overtime? Hunter was put in a nigh-on-impossible situation, but he came through. Luckily for Chicago. Then again, Boston didn't even pay attention to Hunter (an offensive zero, at this point, save for inbounding the ball apparently) on the important and eventually impotent final play of the second overtime, one that didn't even see Chicago get the ball off.
Vinny, you played the guard position, and I'm not being mean when I point out that you were also a 11th or 12th man who had issues shooting the ball toward the end of your career. Could you imagine if you had to make a play in the situation you put Hunter in? And did you see how Boston treated Hunter? Huge handicap for your team, there.
*Boston did the same thing by bringing Tony Allen in toward the end of the fourth quarter, and not going out of their way to get him off the court when it came time for an offensive possession. Allen is one of the most turnover-prone players in the NBA, easily the most turnover-prone wing or guard in this league, his knees haven't been the same since 2007, and the Bulls did well to force him into two bad shots late in the fourth quarter.
*Glen Davis looked to be near tears (seriously) after fouling out in the third overtime. And while his overplay and hack on Brad Miller was the wrong move, and a bad move, that kid has NOTHING to be ashamed of.
23 points and seven rebounds (with four turnovers) in a game where absolutely nothing was called for him. For a guy his size to be forced into making decisions, and shots, on the fly like that? And connecting on 10-18 tries? Huge. Especially huge for a -- say it with me, ‘ere - second round pick playing in his second NBA season.
*Ben Gordon has no lift anymore, likely due to his hamstring issues that (from what we've been told) are only going to get worse. And calling the final play of for a guy that was 4-12 at that point, regardless of his history, is playing the reputation, and not the player. The Bulls need to be reminded that Ben's reputation is no salve for a strained hamstring.
*Rajon Rondo's elbow thrown at Kirk Hinrich? Complain all you want, but the letter of the law states that he should be suspended for Game 7, no questions asked. He threw an elbow at another player's head, and that results in a mandatory one-game suspension. At minimum. Just pointing it out.
*Derrick Rose does not have the ball enough down the stretch for Chicago. Rondo's done a fine job on Rose despite Derrick's nice stats, and Rose still makes mistakes and defers a bit too much, but he's the best chance Chicago has for a high percentage shot.
And though John Salmons (35 points on 22 shots) was brilliant in the first half and incredibly important down the stretch, a lot of those late points for Salmons were aided ("aided," not "due to") by the fact that Paul Pierce was working with five fouls. If Game 7 is close near the end, Gordon is still hobbling, and Pierce isn't in foul trouble ... Rose needs the ball.
*Brad Miller has 19 turnovers to seven assists in this series. He still forces way too many passes into traffic that have no chance. He tried to give off a cool three-pointer celebration late in regulation, but couldn't lift his arms over his head. Several times this year, I've seen him toss up an "I can't feel my face" move after hitting a shot. He has an AND1 tattoo. He's a Cubs fan. I've been around him while he's chewing tobacco, clad only in a towel.
But I'll be damned if I don't respect the man, and his game. 23 and 10, and those two clutch shots down the stretch. The three-pointer was nice, but do you know how hard that flip shot was with less than 40 seconds left? That's a fingertip shot, way under the rim, with nothing left in the tank, shot by a man who is about to fall down. That's no typical layup.
And all those emailers that were ripping me for having teams take him in the first round of my 1998 OnHoops.com mock draft? Where are you now, huh? Moved on to well-paying jobs and fulfilling lives, huh? Good for you, huh.
*I'm not going by playoff PER (which, heading into this game, I think he was leading the team in), or handing him the pub because I'm grading on a curve. Joakim Noah has been the most important, toughest, strongest, most impactful part of the Chicago Bulls during this playoff series. You might only notice him when he's missing a dunk or flailing at a Ray Allen perimeter bomb. I'm seeing the guy as he sets screens away from the ball, works out of the high post, kills it on the glass, and easily acts as this team's most impassioned teammate. There is offense, and there is defense, and no Bull has combined to play both ends of the court as well as Noah has.
Nine points, 15 rebounds, three assists, a steal, a block, a turnover, a game-winner. I have Noah idea why he only played for 3:13 in the fourth quarter, sitting for the final six minutes of regulation. I just Noah that he didn't mope, he kept his head on, he was the first chest-bumper off the bench, he won all the overtime jump balls (seriously, those extra possessions are huge), and that he's growing up before our very eyes.
*We get another game of this on Saturday. Damn. That feels so good.
Orlando 114, Philadelphia 89 (Orlando wins series, 4-2)
I'm not trying to take credit, or even claim that I called a winner (I didn't), but I tried to get anyone who would listen to understand that this sort of thing could easily be expected. Nobody should be surprised that the Magic won in Philly, while missing Dwight Howard and Courtney Lee. It's the Philadelphia 76er way.
That's not to say that the team is a bunch of chokers, or that they don't rise to the moment. They're just a team with a horrid, horrid downside. We learned that over this team's first 87 games, understanding that the pendulum can swing both ways, and rarely rests in the middle.
The 76ers just don't have any go-to moves to bank on, on either end of the court. On defense they gamble for steals, which (well, you've seen their record) worked in about half the games they played this season. On offense, they took long bombs, and tried to get to the front of the rim. Little else. And that worked, if the shots were falling, and the defense couldn't keep up.
But on Thursday, with the Magic only turning it over on 13.5 percent of their possessions (12 times in total), and the 76ers shooting under 41 percent, it wasn't to be. Sometimes the team can pull a win off without getting the easy buckets, or without causing havoc in the passing lanes, but rarely while falling short in both areas at the same time. And certainly not against a good team like the Magic.
And, make no mistake, the Magic are a good team even without Dwight Howard, or Courtney Lee.
There will be a lame kerfuffle about Andre Miller's postgame comments about how the Magic moved the ball better with a suspended Dwight miles away from the arena, and he wouldn't be wrong in that bit of analysis. But that was for one game, and it's not as if Dwight's presence precludes the Magic from swinging the ball and making quick decisions when Howard is in the game.
We know, because we've seen it from them. And we've also seen what happens to the Magic when they don't make quick decisions, when they don't pass quickly, and when they hold the ball.
(These are three things Rafer Alston is known for, by the way.)
I was right there with Stan Van Gundy imploring the Magic to make quick decisions (pass, shoot, drive ... something!) while stacked on the perimeter in Games 1-5, but the ball just wasn't moving. That's not Dwight's fault. That's Orlando's, and to a lesser extent Philadelphia's, fault.
With a sense of urgency in Game 6, they moved the ball, and a 25-point win is the result. Nothing to do with Dwight Howard. Do not let them tell you otherwise. That was in spite of Howard's absence.
In the Game 6 win? 31 assists. 31! And I wrote the proceeding paragraphs about the team's ball movement even before looking up Orlando's assist totals in the box score. Promise.
Great offense. 128 points per 100 possessions, lots of activity, Rashard Lewis (29 points) came out of the gate determined to get at least 25, Alston had 10 dimes, and the team shot 54 percent.
Defensively, they were there as well. Great perimeter defense, as even J.J. Redick could be seen moving his feet and staying in front of the quicksilver Lou Williams in the first half, helping the Magic build up a lead they'd never let go of.
I like the 76ers. I have no idea what to make of their team or where they'll go from here, but the effort is there even if the smart play takes a backseat.
It's hard not to get excited about players like Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights, and if the team can find a coach (or influence the current coach) to pass on depending on guys like Willie Green and Sam Dalembert so much, we might have something. Then you figure out roster spots 8-12. Then you figure out what to do with Andre Miller. Then you determine if Elton Brand has anything left after two tough injuries. You know what? Sixers GM Ed Stefanski still has a lot of work to do. Tough gig.
The Magic will move on, and get to either play a Boston team missing its best player, or a Bulls outfit that they dominated during the regular season (including a one-sided win after Chicago's trade deadline moves). Good time to get things right, the house in order, and the ball movement back.
Oh, and the 6-11 guy who can kiss the rim. Get him back, too.
Houston 92, Portland 76 (Houston wins series, 4-2)
I know I'm not alone in wishing that this game had been televised in the continental US by either TBS or NBA TV while the Boston/Chicago contest took over TNT, because I really have next-to-nothing to offer you. And considering TNT's usual decision-making when it comes to situations like, it was pretty shocking to see them pass on throwing this game up on TBS. By the time I saw a second of Houston's series-clinching win, it was a blowout, and the Blazers were all but finished.
Playoff legs had a bit to do with it, but I can't help but send huge heaps of credit over to the Houston defense.
Portland led the NBA this year with a mark of about 114 points per 100 possessions, beating out the Suns and the Lakers with a late offensive push in April, but the team flamed out to only 96 points per 100 in this loss (by comparison, the Clippers were last in the NBA with 102 per 100 during the regular season), and they only matched their regular season number once in this series' six games. Even Game 5's win saw the Blazers hovering around Clipper territory per 100.
Youth plays a role, no doubt, but I have to hand it to this Houston defense. In this game, they piled up the stops, forced turnovers (15 miscues in a game this slow is a ton), and made redundant regular season Blazer stars like Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez. Together, the two combined to shoot 3-16, and with Brandon Roy hobbling and LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points) doing all he could, a comfortable Houston win was in the offing.
I just wish I'd been able to see more of it.
Going out in six games, seeing a series that quite a few (myself included) saw going seven games, hurts; but the Blazers are on the verge of absolutely owning things. It stings not to play in May, but soon enough that sting will turn to June, and after a while the pain will go away altogether. And as someone who went through it with his hometown team, believe me, the whole ride is so, so worth it. My memories from 1989 are just as fond as the ones from 1996.