April 29, 2009
This might be something for later this summer, depending on how the Spurs do in the offseason, but there were issues in this game that can't be fixed by a healthy Manu Ginobili and a healthier Tim Duncan.
Now, that's been the case since the beginning of the season for San Antonio. All sorts of holes, all sorts of obvious reasons for tough losses (poor production from significant positions, tons of minutes and possessions used up by lesser players), but it still didn't make Tuesday's season-ending loss worth glossing over.
127 points per 100 possessions for Dallas, and for comparison's sake, the Mavs put up about 140 points per 100 possessions in that late-season Sunday afternoon win over the Suns. And the best offense in the NBA averaged about 114 per 100. That's a huge, un-Spurs'y mark on defense; and though Dallas' offense is a force to be reckoned with, that doesn't make their play against San Antonio's D any less surprising. Even if the Spurs slowed a bit defensively in 2008-09.
San Antonio had a hell of an offensive game of its own, but that's not something you can bank on. George Hill (nine points) and Tony Parker (26 points, 12 assists, seven turnovers) will continue to improve, but Mike Finley won't continue to score as many points (nine) as he took shots. And Kurt Thomas, Roger Mason Jr., and Ime Udoka will all take a step back next season as they get older, and a year away from their prime.
Tim Duncan was brilliant. 30 points and eight boards with ZERO turnovers in 41 minutes, but it's over. Unless San Antonio can bring someone big in, or several (and I do mean "several") other rotation contributors. Trust the Spurs, I do, but also expect things from them and understand what it's going to take for this team to move back into the league's elite.
Like we're supposed to expect anything more from these teams? Another overtime? Geesh.
I've been called a homer and anti-homer (expecting to be called a homer, so I purposely cook the homer books regardless of outcome, apparently) with these Bulls, but the fact remains that this team can do better. Ben Gordon may have a bum hammy, and Luol Deng's length would have worked quite well on Paul Pierce last night (as we saw in Bulls games from 2004-2007), but this is a squad that still can do better. Why anyone would think that this is a preconceived notion, only offered as a way to dissuade criticism of my writing, is beyond me.
Boston, meanwhile, is playing its tail off. Chicago did as well. The effort was there, from both sides. I just think one side, given a few more set plays that involve something more than one on one play, can do a bit more.
The Celtics won because Paul Pierce was hitting down the stretch. No other reason. Chicago seemed quicker to all the loose balls, but that's not a reason to dump on the C's, as most long caroms and freak flips and twists turn out to be coin flip situations. John Salmons did as much as he could on the taller Pierce down the stretch, and in retrospect a double-team may have helped (though I didn't think that upon my first viewing of the contest), but Boston's spacing was too good for that, and Pierce went off.
26 points on 22 shots, seven rebounds for Pierce. Brilliant, go-to play down the stretch; without trying a batch of up-and-unders to try and get to the line. Not that those free throw trips are cop-outs, far from it, but that's usually his modus operandi.
Chicago, meanwhile, was helped by Kirk Hinrich's 14 points in the first half, but he didn't hit the court for the first eight minutes of the second quarter (I can't believe the team is at a state where I'm actually calling for the dreaded three-guard lineup), and Hinrich was pretty reluctant to shoot down the stretch.
Ben Gordon had 26 points, and while I respect his game quite a bit, and understand that rookie Derrick Rose continues to be turnover-prone (after a not-very-turnover-prone rookie year), I don't understand why Rose isn't the go-to guy.
He made two bad plays at the end of regulation, and he missed several potentially game-winning shots during the regular season, but he also can get a good percentage shot when the play is there. And though Rose was bailed out with a call down the stretch, for this guy to shoot zero free throws as much as he was hit in Game 5 ... pretty bad. The late game foul on Brad Miller? It could be called a flagrant, but I'm not going to blame the game on that call. Chicago had its chances.
Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis combined for 37 points, 25 rebounds, and seven blocks. I know that Celtics fans used to expect that sort of line from Bill Russell on his own, but to get that from two unheralded, young bigs? Good on them. And good on Danny Ainge.
Rajon Rondo? 28 points, eight rebounds, 11 assists, four turnovers, two steals. If he did that in February, I'd be beside myself. Now? Expected output. Not bad.
Watching the play live, it looked like a tussle situation, and I was surprised to see Samuel Dalembert "escape" with no technical foul alongside Dwight's. Watching the replay? Howard should have been thrown out. I know that talented big men are subject to all sorts of dirty tricks and unseen defensive maneuvers over the course of a game, and that Howard may have been fed up. No excuse. Howard could have knocked Dalembert out ... for good.
Nobody wants to see the best player on either side thrown out in the opening minutes, but Howard deserved an ejection. And with that in place, the game felt a bit odd from that moment on.
As if it shouldn't have counted. I should be above this, in the moment, in a vacuum, not bringing that context into my observations; but Howard's elbow tainted things. Especially as he went off for 24 and 24. Call me what you want for that, I understand that at some point you have to move on (and it's not as if I give a rip which side wins), but it was a strange game to watch with that early play in mind.
Andre Iguodala was sublime, not just lucky and/or workmanlike. 26 points on 17 shots, helping to hold Hedo Turkoglu to 3-14 shooting (one was a silly three-pointer that drew rain and still dropped in). Rashard Lewis, however, was a side that Philly couldn't counter. 24 points on 16 shots, and that's all you need when the Sixers are falling short offensively.
It really is as simple as not being able to keep a good team down. Houston did just about everything correctly, and a late-afternoon re-watch may tell me more, but at this point you just have to chalk this up to a very good Portland team playing as expected, even against a stout defensive outfit in the Rockets.
Well, the turnovers helped. 16 miscues for the Rockets, in a slow game. Those stood out, and they hurt. The five-turnover advantage for Portland didn't create the ‘W', but it helped, as did Portland's advantage from the free throw line and Houston's 3-15 mark from behind the arc. Those last two things, though, are to be expected. Portland can score, Houston can go cold. No biggie, bring on Game 6. And possibly, 7.
25 points for LaMarcus Aldridge. I'd like to see him pull in more than seven rebounds, but three years into his career, I've got to stop asking for these things. 25 points on 20 shots for a sickly Brandon Roy. Travis Outlaw missed nine of 13 shots, but he brought his typical fourth quarter production, and Portland stayed alive.