April 28, 2010
If you didn't see this coming, man, then you've never watched a game of Laker basketball in your life.
There was a distinct chance that the Lakers would continue to play like knuckleheads in Game 5 -- why stop now after two months of the stuff? -- but a massive blowout on the home court was just straight from the script.
What made it watchable for me was the return of what the kids call the "triangle offense," and what the fogeys like me call "the triple-post offense."
The ball went inside, first. There were cutters off the ball, off the apex, and there were screens and then curls off those cutters. My sinuses are getting sneezy just thinking about it. It was glorious to see. There's a reason we thought this team could win 70 games this year, and the ball movement we saw Tuesday night is the reason why. It was gorgeous.
Kobe Bryant took to Russell Westbrook early, and mostly forced him into 2-8 shooting with five turnovers in the first half; 4-13 with eight miscues all day. Kobe was fantastic. Kobe gave up the ball. Kobe acted his age.
Pau Gasol was how Pau Gasol, in his prime, should be treated: 25 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, one turnover in under 30 minutes. Andrew Bynum had 20 and 11 in 28 minutes. This could have happened all year. I have no idea why it didn't.
I went into this game expecting a blowout in Game 5, and a Thunder blowout in Game 6. Not sure what to expect, now, following what I was supposed to have seen coming. And that's why I keep coming back to this game. Every night, you learn something new.
Dallas 103, San Antonio 81; San Antonio leads series, 3-2
Apologies for giving this game the short shrift, but perhaps a second watch will reveal something beyond the obvious. San Antonio relaxed a bit, Dallas played desperate. Not sure what I can add beyond that.
Sound adjustments from Rick Carlisle, getting Caron Butler into quick and easier scoring opportunities and San Antonio is no gimmie for a Game 6 take down.
I really like Rick Carlisle as a coach, but I've always had issues with his rotation choices. From nasty team to nastier team to Dallas. With that said, he really had his team ready to play, and ready to execute in Game 5.
Cleveland 96, Chicago 94; Cleveland wins series 4-1
This is moving down a clichéd route, but it seems clear to me that the Cavs sort of breezed through their first-round series, in an iffy way. Not a bad way, but with a gait that leaves me concerned.
Not to take away from Chicago -- who, as it is with the Heat, we'll discuss at length in another post -- because the Bulls played their rear-ends off. Really brought the effort and enthusiasm. I'm just wondering if the Cavs took this series as spring training, so to speak. Only coming through with the dominant turn when it had to.
And after that, I'm left wondering if that's actually a bad thing.
Because the Cavs have been working on trying to develop a rotation all season. And because it took a while for Shaquille O'Neal to get acclimated, before the O'Neal/Zydrunas Ilgauskas/Antawn Jamison injury/trade/newness factors hit over the course of the last 30 games, the Cavs haven't really reached a peak yet. And that's pretty good for a team that won the most games in the NBA this year.
That said, the defense wasn't great in this series. Chicago's a very poor offensive team, and though it gave off the whiff of a great offensive team in the playoffs last season, it also preceded that with a fantastic offensive run to end the 2008-09 regular season. It didn't flip a switch, but in this postseason, it appeared to. And because I'm clearly a Bulls hater, I credit poor defense from Cleveland for this and not the Chicago offense.
Seriously, though, Cleveland could have done better. I picked this to end in five, but I also assumed four blowouts would surround one awful outing from Cleveland that Chicago took advantage of. I certainly didn't assume two close wins for the Cavs on their home court -- especially one that saw Chicago lose out on call after call, saw two spinning floaters from Derrick Rose miss by an inch, and a "finally, we got one" three-point continuation waived off.
This was a rough game for a Bulls fan. I'm not going to tell you that the Bulls should have won because we've no way of knowing how the Cavs and LeBron James would have responded had Rose's shots spun in or the continuation been allowed. And though the pathetic stretch that saw Brad Miller and Joakim Noah earn fouls for not letting Shaq walk to the basket untouched was about as bad as NBA refereeing gets, it really didn't hurt the Bulls in terms of penalty/non-shooting fouls or Miller's eventual foul-outs.
No, Cleveland earned this series. And while James' stats (32 points, over nine rebounds, over eight assists, 3.6 combined blocks/steals) were amazing, you always got the feeling he could have done more. That he picked his spots.
That's not hate. That's appreciation. This is a giant that hasn't really had to wake up yet. Cleveland had to deal with the same thing in the first two rounds last year, and though those were blowouts, my glass half-full take is that they need this time to suss out the rotation and get others involved. For instance, against Boston? Wake Mo Williams up. Because Antawn Jamison got his act together in this series.
And a bit of fandom, if you wouldn't mind, before I put together the Bulls post telling you how bad things are.
I grew to love this Bulls team. They play a brand of basketball that flies in the face of everything I've learned from watching this league, but they work their tails off, they've clearly rallied around their rather beleaguered coach and they play hard enough to let you forget the misgivings. Even though all that work leads up to my beloved 20-foot jumper, this was still a team to root for. This was still a team that never gave up on its season and this was still a team that defended. And if you can't love inspired defense, then you can't love this league.
So, thank you, Bullies. I got to watch five more games from you as spring sprung and I appreciate the work you put in to make that happen. I don't know what you'll look like next fall, but understand that I really dug the way you looked down the stretch. This sounds a bit like goodbye, in a way it is, I guess; so take care.
Boston 96, Miami 86; Boston wins series, 4-1
We'll have more on the Heat as we move along, but it's become clear that the C's are playing their best ball of the calendar year. Out of nowhere, Ray Allen is playing like an All-Star after registering as merely "pretty good" throughout the season, Kevin Garnett can still help like mad defensively and Paul Pierce knows how to make his offense work.
Doc Rivers' rotations have shortened to the extent that Rasheed "The Sniper" Wallace doesn't have to contribute too much and that Glen Davis' energy is all the team needs to put it over the top. Only six guys played double figure minutes in this game, and even with Boston's veteran legs, you'd have to guess that this is how it's going to be moving forward. Wallace, Marquis Daniels, Tony Allen and Michael Finley just aren't contributing at a level that would make them any more than bit players in this.
Boston had to weather another late storm from Dwyane Wade in Game 5, but the team acquitted itself quite nicely throughout the series. It handled Miami's zone competently enough, it looked to find Allen in spurts, and the team showcased a relative brand of mistake-free basketball that I'm sure the team's followers have been begging for, for months.
This is a good turnaround. I don't know how it will last, for all I know the C's could be turned on their ears in the next series, but at the absolute least this was a solid last stand.