April 13, 2009
I know I should come over all grain of salt'ish, but really, what does this game tell us that we already didn't know?
First off, the Cavaliers have been a good step ahead of the rest of the East for about three-quarters of the season, if not longer. Some might want to look at this game as the turning point, but Cleveland's point differential suggested they were playing better than the Celtics prior to that, even if the record didn't ably represent just how dominant the Cavs were.
Secondly, the Celtics are passable without Kevin Garnett, but only against teams that don't know what they're doing, and get blown away by all the savvy. The Cavs know what to do with savvy. They make it their own. I have no idea what that means.
Last? Playing in Cleveland is bad, bad news. And because Hue Hollins won't be refereeing any games in Ohio soon, the Cavs are well on their way toward matching Boston's legendary 40-1 mark at home.
So while the final score and the thorough domination could be a bit surprising at times on Sunday, it probably shouldn't have been.
This game was great fun, and while I expected Jason Terry to play up to his usual standards down the stretch (we get typical JET, and we could have had overtime, or a classic gone down to the buzzer), it still was nice to see certain aspects of either team go off.
For Dallas, let's be honest, there was one certain aspect, and the Mavericks acquired him for Tractor Traylor. Dirk Nowitzki, as is his custom, was customarily brilliant, finishing with 29 points on 23 shots with 14 rebounds and (wait for it ...) ZERO turnovers in almost 43 minutes.
That's why Dallas stays in a game like this. Look at this team's box score. Look at the poor shooting from all the players who can't afford to shoot poorly. That's why this was a close one until the final minute, a guy who can score that efficiently without wasting a single possession with a miscue. The man has had a hell of a year.
On the other end, Chris Paul turned it over once. Bastard.
It was on an offensive foul, so no resulting fast break bucket for the Mavs, and Paul was MVP-good all afternoon. Coming on the heels of a 42-point, nine rebound, seven-assist outing against the Mavericks on Friday, Paul went off to the tune of 31 points (on 15 shots), 17 assists, two steals, and nine rebounds in this win. Geez.
In April? With his team on the ropes, Tyson Chandler out, Peja Stojakovic and James Posey mostly out and (save for this game) ineffective? When it's mattered most? Paul is averaging 31.4 points on 55 percent shooting, 12 assists to three turnovers, with 6.4 rebounds, 2.9 steals, and a 46 percent mark from behind the arc (11 makes).
Those are jaw-dropping stats, but because he's been so good for so long, I didn't really notice that he'd taken it to another gear until this weekend. Sadly, some people haven't even a clue that he's been this good for this long. Much less that shift to (we assume) top gear.
I mean, Marc Stein doesn't even have Paul listed on his MVP ballot, which you'd think would be ridiculous to no end, until you see that he chose Chauncey Billups over Paul. We've found another "end," apparently.
18 points per game, 6.4 assists, three rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 2.3 turnovers on the 6th-fastest team compared to 23 points, 11.1 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 steals and three turnovers on the third-slowest (i.e., fewer chances to put up numbers) team in the NBA.
But it's not about stats, Kelly. It's not about stats. It's not about stats.
Well, what is it about, then? I've been obsessing over this game for years ... what the hell am I missing? What am I not getting? What is everyone else seeing that I'm not seeing? How could anyone rank Chris Paul out of the top two or three players in this game anymore? Why aren't these people laughed at when they trot out Kobe or Dwight Howard or ... Chauncey Billups?!?
To say that this guy isn't even in the top five? And these are the people with votes. And these are the people who shape the way you view the game. Because these people didn't know that Marcus Camby was a sieve defensively last season, even though he put up plenty of ESPN-worthy blocks, and somehow Denver's expectations lower, butterfly flaps its wings, and Chauncey Billups is now considered a better player than Chris Paul?
And even if you take the hackneyed, "where would they be without him?" argument, which is pointless for an individual player award, doesn't Paul come out way, way ahead? David West was on fire on Sunday, but this is a sub-20 win team without Paul. The Timberwolves have a better roster surrounding Al Jefferson. Without Billups, the Nuggets would be pretty solid. Maybe not playoffs-solid, but right there.
(Now, I use the "where would they be without him?" argument for Executive of the Year choices, mainly because execs kind of get to pick the players that play on the team in question, while players don't. Sort of a big distinction, to these eyes. Maybe I'm nuts.)
I'll stop. No, I won't. Stein also complained about Brook Lopez's rebounding, so here is a list of players that Lopez has out-rebounded this year in terms of rebound rate (the pace-adjusted per-minute amount of rebounds you pull in per rebounds available when you were on the flippin' floor):
Zach Randolph, Nick Collison, Chris Bosh, Jeff Foster, Anderson Varejao, Pau Gasol, Udonis Haslem, Shawn Marion, Jermaine O'Neal, Nene, Rasheed Wallace, Mehmet Okur, Tyrus Thomas, David West, Amar'e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Smith, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Jason Thompson.
A solid list, comprised of seven or eight players whose main gig, more or less, is to go out and rebound. And Lopez beat them as a rookie.
Now, I'll stop. BtB is a house of mirth, dammit. Marc Stein is a helluva reporter who constantly breaks stories. He's damn good at his job. I mean that. He's just off, ‘ere.
Six three-pointers for Dwyane Wade. So, you spot him those 18 points, you figure he's playing the Knicks at home, and that New York turned a guy named Mike Taylor into a world-beater a few weeks ago. So where does Wade finish? 45? 50? 55. 55 points. This year has been one big "welcome back" for D-Wade, and I've enjoyed every second of it.
Just working on the slight hunch that the Knicks could make a game of it and throw a loss into an April list of expectations that had Miami banking on a win all along, Wade was quite determined. All over the place, really, pulling in nine rebounds and only turning it over three times despite the fast pace and 39 minutes spent on the court.
19-30 shooting, 6-12 from long range, four assists, a block, 55 points. What a year this has been. Easily tied with Paul for the finest undeserved MVP year in NBA history.
Think about that. Think about the times we live in. Two players are going to get royally screwed out of MVPs in the midst of legendary years, and it's not because MVP voters are screwing up. It's because they don't deserve it, because someone's been better. 2008-09, cats and kitties.
28 and 16 for Michael Beasley, and I don't care who gets healthy as the year moves on, you need to start this kid. Play him at point guard, for all I care.
If the 76ers had the whiff of an overachiever as they threatened for home court advantage in the first week of April ... yeah, it's because the team was overachieving.
Five losses later, here we are. Sixth in the East, threatening to fall all the way to eighth in the conference. The hope here, and it is a reasonable one, is that the Celtics (who Philadelphia plays on Tuesday) and Cleveland (Wednesday) won't have much to gain or lose by trotting out the big guns in the remaining games. In fact, you can be fairly sure that the 76ers will get the B-team on both occasions.
But I've seen nothing from the 76ers over the last week that suggests they'll be able to do much against either squad's B-team, and that's not me overreacting. This team has looked pitiful at times on both ends, culminating in a game that saw them turn the ball over on 21 percent of its possessions against Toronto. The Raptors. Toronto Raptors.
27 assists on 42 field goals for Toronto, and while Andrea Bargnani pulled in just two rebounds in 33 minutes (that's some Eddy Curry stuff, kids), he did block six shots. Six! 17 points on 14 looks for Bargs.
We can whine about Michael Finley needing a break from the officials and an obviously-wrong call that allowed his late-game three-pointer to go in, but ... well, let's complain about it. It was a horrible call.
But people, I implore you. Look at what the Spurs have become. A week before the playoffs, no less.
They needed a three-pointer that shouldn't have counted to beat the Sacramento Kings, a Kings team playing without its leading scorer in Kevin Martin. So, yell at the Spurs, Kings fans, but also pity them. They've been to the top of the mountain, and now they're running plays for Mike Finley in the final seconds. At least you get to go to, I dunno, Spencer Hawes (24 points, eight rebounds, three blocks).
The joke is that, yes, Andrew Bynum made it through a game against the Grizzlies without getting hurt. And it's not very funny. Don't make fun of the joke, though, or Jamie Kennedy will come after you.
The scary bit, for the rest of the league, is that the Lakers took in a little rest and a win and put that up-and-down bench through the paces. 28 bench minutes from Lamar Odom (eight points, five rebounds, four assists, a steal, two blocks, zero turnovers), and while he wasn't offering eye-popping stats, he was bringing the sort of guidance that made him my Sixth Man of the Year for the first few weeks of this season.
Odom does so much for that offense and defense off the bench, but you just have to watch the games to know, because he's often the most important player in a play that won't give him a point or an assist, and help defense doesn't show up in the box score unless he rejects the shot.
The Grizz, meanwhile, were pitiful offensively 85 points per 100 possessions. Just two more games, kids.