April 27, 2009
Another classic, there's no way around it. Just an unyielding, if not unexpected, treat. These two teams played a fun one midway through March, but for this sort of even ball to sustain into the playoffs?
And while I could prattle on all day about the health and roster limitations that led to this, the bottom line through four games is that the Bulls and Celtics have afforded us a classic series thus far. And for anyone who doesn't think that a classic playoff pairing can't include a blowout like Thursday's Game 3, I'd direct you over to basketball-reference.com to look some of your favorite classics up. Go ahead. Just about any of the warm and fuzzy ones you recalled from your youth included one or more lopsided wins.
In the end, Chicago should have won Game 4. Perhaps by quite a bit more, without the aid of overtime. As your dour narrator and your friendly BullsBlogger have been pointing out for quite a while, a talented Chicago team has made its hay since February dumping all over horrible-to-average teams, with a few triumphs over injury-plagued top squads mixed in, alongside a "wow, a strong win over a great team" garnish or four.
And, with the ghost of Stephon Marbury pressed into significant service, with Brian Scalabrine actually on the court toward the end of a close NBA playoff game and into the overtime periods (again? Twice in my lifetime? Who did I push into a puddle in a previous life?), the Bulls should have had that at home a bit easier than they did. But the old bugaboos popped up.
Derrick Rose can't guard anyone. Kirk Hinrich is the worst interior finisher with actual NBA guard talent that I've ever seen. John Salmons still thinks he's healthy, and shoots like it. Brad Miller fancies himself a Bill Walton-type with a J.R. Richard-type fastball that actually rivals Jamie Moyer's. Tyrus Thomas still makes colossally-dumb plays. Ben Gordon can't be trusted with the ball for more than two dribbles after he is forced to turn his back to the basket for half a second.
That said, for having watched Gordon for years, nothing that happens when that ball leaves his hands (for a shot, mind you) surprises me. Actually, a lot of the misses surprise me. He missed a banker toward the end of overtime that goes in more often than not. None of the other should-be (to people besides me) jaw-droppers make me even blink. That's the truth. He's put in the work. His shooting is that strong.
And Salmons saved his Sunday with stout defense down the stretch on Paul Pierce. And Kirk Hinrich's non-interior stroke was there, along with his nearly always-there defense. And Brad Miller came through with 12 and five rebounds before fouling out in 25 minutes. Joakim Noah was the MVP of the second OT, not the easiest thing for a big man to pull off. And Derrick Rose is 20 -- dude is 20 -- and he managed 23 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists in a playoff game.
Of course, Rajon Rondo had another stunner with 25 points, 11 boards, 11 assists, two steals, and one (ONE!) turnover in 55 minutes. The moment he brings that live dribble up to the Boston play, it's madness ... it's as if the world tilts in his favor. Not in terms of luck, but actual tilting. Like he's a marble on a giant, windy track that eventually finds its way into creating marble points for his marble team in ways both direct and semi-direct.
I don't think he's had the best postseason of any of the 2009 participants (something about the difference between being defended by Derrick Rose, or Tayshaun Prince), but his work has been top of the line. Dangerous, dangerous stuff.
And Ray Allen? 28 points on 17 shots? No blinking, there. None. Paul Pierce was a little less efficient, he got his 29 points on 24 shots, but he has game for years. Kendrick Perkins lost his nerve a little late in the proceedings, but his 15 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks helped. His six turnovers hurt, but he's really turning into a swell player. And speaking of no surprises, anyone who has followed his per-minute stats and his relatively recent birthdate should have seen this coming. Toss an Al Jefferson or Kevin Garnett out of the lane, and these things spin out.
Glen Davis? He shot 4-16, missing a lot of close ones that he'd like back. And while those 12 misses hurt, Celtics fans, understand that these things even out. Or, that they've already evened out. His white-hot touch from the perimeter was the unexpected difference in Boston's Game 2 win. Sure, he'd been improving that stroke all season, but even the best bigs from that spot aren't that money that often. 17 and 8 in about 40 minutes on the series, from a second round pick in his second year. Lay off.
From here we head back to Boston, for Tuesday's Game 5. And while you'd think it would be Boston's turn to dominate, understand that they did outscore the Bulls by exactly one point over 101 minutes of play in Massachusetts over the first two games of this series, and that the Bulls really do have that 1-7 rotation edge in terms of talent.
But it's up to Chicago to do something with that talent. And what they've done so far is win two close ones, just miss on another close one, and toss up one of the biggest playoff stinkbombs we've seen in years. And with coaches like these (Doc Rivers is fantastic, but how can he not have his team foul up three points with seconds to go? Vinny Del Negro is the coach of the Bulls, but how can he not have his team foul up three points with seconds to go?), who knows what awaits?
Two-to-three more games like Game 4, if we're lucky.
A fittingly dominant turn from the Cavaliers in a one-sided series, the lone sweep of the first round. Cleveland continues to grow.
The Pistons never really had a chance, in this game or overall. They tried on Saturday, they really did, but the effort and execution just didn't match the talent this time around, though Antonio McDyess (26 and 10) had a fittingly classy and potent end to his season.
Then again, there was Rasheed Wallace missing all seven of his attempts from the floor, scoring zero points, and pulling in five rebounds in 30 minutes (or, about what Thabo Sefolosha averaged this season per minute) before leaving the stadium without talking to the media. I'd call that a fitting end to a pathetic year from Rasheed, but he didn't get a technical foul, so that can't be right.
After shooting 1-18 in Game 3 (though the screen and roll defense was there), Delonte West and Mo Williams combined to shoot 14 of 24 on the way to the win in Game 4, with half of their three-pointers going down. Meanwhile, the Cavs out-rebounded Detroit by 11, and scored a brilliant near-118 points on 100 possessions.
Let's talk about LeBron James for a second, if you wouldn't mind.
32 points per game on 51 percent shooting, 11.3 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 turnovers. Three blocks overall in the series.
Now, those are astonishing numbers. Let me toss something else at you. The average amount of possessions per game in this series was 84. 84 possessions per game. The Blazers and Pistons averaged about 87 possessions per game during the regular season, and they were by far the slowest teams in the league. Those stats are a-ma-zing. Consider this, the next time you or I (and I'm often the one doing it) complain about getting LeBron on TNT or ESPN instead of getting a closer 4/5 matchup.
Detroit will have a ton of cap room this summer, so it'll be interesting to see what happens from here on out, and you can't help but have faith in Joe Dumars. That said, that level of faith lessened a bit when he decided to bid against himself last fall to pay Rip Hamilton until 2013.
A fantastic game, expertly-played for the most part and well-intentioned. Different little heroes from quarter-to-quarter, a good home crowd, and a whole lot to appreciate.
Like Brandon Roy. The man could only seem to get a good screen once in every three tries (and this could be Roy's fault, for all I know, as often a poorly-stationed big is only poorly-stationed because the guard is freelancing), but he still wormed his way to 31 points on 17 shots. Past that Houston D. Past Ron Artest, a 7-6 guy, and loads of helpers.
In fact, though I had some issues with a few perimeter looks, scoring about 107 points per 100 possessions on the Rockets in Houston is quite the feat. Even for a knockout offensive team like the Blazers.
(And that late-game charge on Roy, when he supposedly bowled over Chuck Hayes? Total, modern-NBA, bollocks. Shane Battier was fantastic in forcing Roy into a tough shot, and then blocking it from behind. Houston earned a stop and would have gotten the ball back. Shane didn't need the help.
To me, it comes down what I think is a pretty significant question. What, exactly, did Roy do to knock Hayes down? Because having parts of his body inadvertently touch Hayes' certainly did not do the trick. And if Roy's move -- a foul, it was called -- wasn't enough to knock Hayes down, then why was it a foul? Because Hayes fell down?
Nothing against Hayes. He's one of my favorite players, honestly, and he's only doing what works in today's NBA. What the officials have rewarded, time and time again.)
The real difference in the game was turnovers. Portland had 13 of them, a good chunk in a game this slow, compared to nine for Houston.
The difference that led up to it being a close enough game for there to be a difference like those few turnovers? Offensive rebounds.
And this is why I appreciate Daryl Morey's work so much. He found players that were completely and utterly undervalued by those who should have known better -- in this little run of transactions, offensive rebounds -- and pulled the trigger. And though the stats don't bowl you over, extra possessions glommed from offensive caroms taken in by Kyle Lowry, Carl Landry, and Luis Scola (17 and eight, spacing, so, so needed) gave the Rockets' offense (already-iffy, even before Tracy McGrady lost his legs) chance after chance to get it right.
Without that, Portland probably has the edge. It wouldn't have been easy, but the team is incredibly potent offensively. But if it can't even grab the ball to start a possession? Good luck.
As you're often told, and is nearly as often the truth, a 3-1 deficit isn't the end of the world, but it's awfully close. And while I love watching the Rockets play, and appreciate the team's work ethic, quite a bit has to go right for this team to win. So a few bad breaks, ducked in a row for three different spins, could allow Portland to pull back into things.
If Travis Outlaw becomes Travis Outlaw again ... If Greg Oden can stay on the court (he still gets the shaft, overall, from the refs; but quite a few of those whistles were deserved) ... If Roy goes for over 40 again ... If LaMarcus Aldridge would ever earn a few more trips to the line ... It could happen.
If it doesn't, no worries. These teams have so much to be proud of; I'm cool with what we've gotten so far.
These close games ... the mind boggles as to which direction they can lead us down.
Let's say Andre Iguodala misses that bad shot at the end of Game 1. Some small thing worth a point goes Orlando's way. Let's say the same thing happens in Game 3, like, one more shot goes down, and Thad Young misses his good look from in the paint.
The Magic would have swept. And we would be talking about how the team is managing it without shooting (20 a game, down from 26 in the regular season) or making (31 percent, down from 38 percent) as many three-pointers as they did in the regular season. All while -- with the exclusion of the fourth contest -- shutting down Philadelphia's transition game.
Or, let's say Hedo Turkoglu's bad'ish shot from Game 4 doesn't go in. It wasn't as bad as Iguodala's shot, and Ben Q. Rock was correct in writing that the play that led up to it was pretty damn good, but it was still a 25-footer with the game on the line from a guy who had come into the game having missed 23 of 30 looks from the floor. Imagine the "die by the three!" outcry.
What I'm getting at is that these close games don't turn the winners into heroes or the losers into goats. What I'm saying is that things average out, over time. That a guy who usually makes 7-of-8 from the free throw line might walk up to the line having made 7-of-7 with a win on the line, and miss it. And, unless he airballed it or nailed the back iron, you can't call that a choke. Unless you want to tell me that his "choke" made the, literal, centimeter-long difference in turning that potential make (hero!) into a miss (chump!).
The Magic and 76ers are two teams that, for this entire season, have done a lot of things wrong, and a lot of things right. The Magic, for all their wins, were still pretty up and down at times, and despite the sterling offensive reputation of their two forwards and Jameer Nelson, they still made you wonder if they could top 16 in a quarter some nights.
And that wasn't "dying by the three." That was good defense catching up. Those were turnovers. Those were bad screens set with 19 seconds in the shot clock that led to a tough shot with three seconds left on the shot clock.
The 76ers, to a less prominent audience, had bigger extremes. This team looked fit to topple potential champions by 30 one night, and they'd look like the worst offensive team in basketball on others. So far, this postseason, they've been brilliant. Covered shooters, worked hard on screen and roll, done as best a job as they could on the boards, made good decisions with the ball ... it's hard to know where to stop, but I ‘ave to.
And yet, should everything fall into place and the Magic sweep? I'd have written the same thing. Because I know that sometimes a win is not a win, but merely a scoring advantage held at the NBA-determined game time of 48 minutes.
And yet, should Hedo's Game 4 turn had spun out and the 76ers won another close one (history tells us it should be a close contest) in Game 5? I'd have written the same thing. About either team.
Not many surprises in this one. Philly hit a good portion (42 percent) of its threes and re-found its transition touch, but the Magic countered by finally finding its stroke from within the three-point line. Baby steps.
The 76ers destroyed Orlando on the offensive glass (pulling in about 23 percent of its chances in that area, a huge advantage), but the Magic's solid shooting from all who were counted on was enough for the three-point win.