March 08, 2010
A few things ...
1). That was a fantastic game. Clutch-y and grabby and contested and fantastic.
2). We'll have more on the Lakers later Monday, so this BtB will be Magic-heavy.
3). It truly bums me out that this might be the last time these two teams will go at it this season. Over the last two campaigns we've seen the Magic and Lakers play a litany of close, entertaining battles have us walking away feeling as if we're watching the two best teams in the NBA, and you don't often get that when the big guys collide. These two are made to play against each other.
4). I haven't seen such a big game get away from referees like that in a long time. Long time. I doubt we'll be seeing much of Bennett Salvatore, Mark Ayotte, (and, especially) Tony Brothers as much as we usually do in the late stages of the playoffs. After Sunday, this is not something to which I would be opposed.
And while I'm against the tide (because I'm not a biased-out homer freak with a national pulpit, just a regular NBA freak with a national pulpit) in actually liking Salvatore (I enjoyed the way he cleaned up the game years ago and actually called hand-checks when nobody else seemed to, allowing for a better brand of basketball), he and Brothers (and Ayotte, on the Kobe Bryant(notes) three-pointer that wasn't) lost control of this and missed more than they saw.
5). I like ELO. I had to come up with a fifth.
X-factor Vince Carter(notes) all you want, he's an important part and the Magic will need him to succeed, but the Magic also had the NBA's best record about 13 months ago with Hedo Turkoglu(notes) (the guy Carter, essentially, replaced) just sort of standing around until the fourth quarter. It's Jameer Nelson(notes) and Dwight Howard(notes) that are the two biggest keys, by far, to this team.
And while Howard got in some highlight plays and overall had a fantastic game, Andrew Bynum(notes) (in the first half, though he developed foul trouble) and Pau Gasol(notes) (in the second half, though he developed foul trouble) made life tough for Dwight offensively.
Don't go over the top with your reaction to that, Magic fans, just understand that Dwight had to work pretty hard for his 15 and 16, missing eight of 14 shots along the way. Gasol played him expertly in the Finals, too, and remember that with superstars, getting played "expertly" doesn't mean getting shut down.
Nelson shot even worse (5-14), but he was in the teeth of the Laker defense all game, forcing switches and losing Derek Fisher(notes) just about every time he wanted to (providing the refereeing crew wasn't calling one of their 39 moving screen violations - listen, guys, we know when it's a pre-game point of emphasis, but can you not make it so bloody obvious?). Nine boards and seven assists for Nelson, who kept the Magic moving.
Matt Barnes(notes) should have been thrown out. Simple as that. I like Matt and appreciate what he brings when he's not dribbling the ball off his thigh (there was a sense of palpable fear riding with Jameer Nelson in one first half instance when he realized, on a 3-on-1, that his teammates on hand were Barnes and Brandon Bass(notes)), but the refs were allowing him technical-worthy jerk moves after technical-worthy jerk moves. And, as he should, Barnes took advantage.
Especially with the knowledge and subsequent comfort that Mickael Pietrus(notes) is waiting in the wings. Both seemed to have their way with Kobe defensively, though Bryant made a series of tough shots all game and in that fourth quarter (18 points), he still needed 30 shots to score 34 points, and 16 shots in the fourth to score his 18. That's not a great rate.
Magnified, of course, by the fact that Bryant took 17 more shots than Gasol, who was 8-for-13 shooting. Again, we'll get into the Lakers in greater detail this afternoon.
For now, a reminder that the Magic are more than championship caliber. This is a team that can go all the way, and if the others don't play up to par this spring, the Orlando Magic is a team that should go all the way.
Do not take this as if I am denigrating what Jrue Holliday and Thaddeus Young(notes) put together on Sunday, those moves and that effort would work against any defense. They're just 53 points out of 114, though, and it's clear that the Raptors have taken a huge step back defensively.
Actually, a couple of Young's three-pointers were the result of terrible communication and poor close-outs on Toronto's end. The Raptors were not talking, nor were they taking care of the ball; but you have to at least prepare for the latter against a 76ers team that can sometimes force 20 turnovers in no time at all.
They let the Sixers shoot 56 percent, though, they allowed for heaps of open three-point looks as Phildelphia hit 9-for-12 on the afternoon, and they failed to counter on their own offensive end. Just eight free throws for Toronto, and I don't exactly think they were getting jobbed. And, let's face it, the Sixers are there for the taking. Elton Brand(notes) is an absolute sieve out there right now, and that's half due to effort, not his beat-up body.
Andrea Bargnani(notes) had 11 points and four rebounds in just under 40 minutes, and that's my biggest issue with Toronto. He never got to the line, he hurt the Raptors on the glass (the Sixers had way, way too many tip-ins), and he needed 10 shots to score 11 points (1-4 from long range). Hedo Turkoglu was out, Chris Bosh(notes) still looked a little off (and was pretty terrible on his defensive rotations), but in their Sunday afternoon wheelhouse, this should have been Toronto's.
This wasn't a "score is closer than it looks," situation, because the Nuggets really did have to hold the Blazers off for a good chunk of the game, even though this thing was in double figures for most of the contest.
Portland got its licks in, but Carmelo Anthony(notes) seemed really settled in his approach, finishing with 30 points and getting to the line 12 times. Would like to see more than two rebounds from Melo, though. If Kenyon Martin(notes) is going to be out for the rest of the season, the Nuggets don't need Anthony to emulate Martin's contributions in that way.
The Nuggets had 127 points per 100 possessions, and though this wasn't the close contest I'd hoped for, it was fluid in a way that a 93-possession game with only 21 turnovers should be.
An ugly game, for many reasons. Ugly for the bad shots, the great D (and it was great D, mind you, on both ends) that led to terrible looks and bad decisions for either team offensively. Ugly for the way these giants of our generation, Kevin Garnett(notes) and Paul Pierce(notes), were made to look so old. Ugly the way certain aspects of Sam Cassell's(notes) anatomy were clearly visible every time ESPN cut over to the Wizards bench. Ugly the way the Wizards faded down the stretch.
Al Thornton(notes)? You made two very nice moves (and several very good moves) on Pierce. Crossed him over and scored on a flip shot, very nice, then nailed a jumper in his face. You don't get to talk trash to Paul Pierce, though, because you're Al Thornton, and the Clippers didn't even want you.
The Wizards? Same deal. You've been playing great, as of late; and while this might not be the Boston Garden, and this might not be the can't-kill-‘em 1987 Boston Celtics, you're still on borrowed time.
Watch the game later today, take a look at Kevin Garnett's Orlando Pace impression (2002-era, Pace) on the "screen" that cleared Ray Allen(notes) to shoot. Notice his 42 steps on what is supposed to be a stationary screen. These things happen, still happen, in Boston.
I credit that Boston D. It kept the Boston O in there for the entire game, enough so that a mistake here or free throw trip there allowed for the Celtics to make a two-possession game of it in the fourth quarter.
Ray Allen had 25 points on 15 shots, Randy Foye(notes) (3-14 shooting) couldn't replicate his usual fourth quarter heroics (don't laugh, he's great down the stretch, but missed five of six shots in the fourth), and the Celtics pulled out a toughie.
Another poor defensive effort from Houston, made worse by the team's rebounding flaws.
I know Chuck Hayes(notes) has essentially molded him into a pivot version of Shane Battier(notes), but he can't be that. Not at the center position. I understand that he's boxing out and covering others, but two rebounds in 14 minutes isn't going to cut it. Especially in this rotation.
Because Jared Jeffries(notes) is playing more. And Jeffries has modeled himself on Battier. That is to say, all D, no rebounding. One rebound in 20 minutes for JJ. Luis Scola(notes) had 15 rebounds in 48 minutes, but things were so bad that even Battier was forced to pull in seven in 43 minutes.
Zip, zip, zip for Detroit; the Pistons got into the Houston D and everyone had to move over one spot, which led to chaos, which led to offensive rebounds, which led to open looks on the springs. Will Bynum(notes) was the most efficient force amongst the zipsters, 11 assists in Rodney Stuckey's(notes) absence. Tay Prince had 29 and 10 in the win.
I've seen him do it time and time again. He either leaves his man for an open three, takes a terrible shot just seconds after coming off the bench, or uses that aggression in nastier ways. Like the flagrant foul that kicked the Thunder in the tail and turned the tide.
Russell Westbrook(notes) had 14 fourth quarter points, and the Thunder just looked longer, all game. Just a longer, better team, though the Kings are to be applauded for hanging in there as long as they did.
Six points on six shots, two turnovers, zero rebounds in just under 12 minutes for Noc. He's been in the NBA since 2004. If he doesn't know by now ...