April 26, 2008
Orlando really turned the corner Saturday, it may have been an anonymous Game 4 on basic cable (and not worth Bill Simmons' time, apparently), but this win was a huge step forward for the entire franchise.
A few things happened that rarely take place:
*Rashard Lewis didn't shoot the ball well early on, he didn't let it bother him, and decided to take over the game in ways beyond chucking perimeter bombs. By the time his shooting came back in the fourth quarter, he was able to help put the Raptors away, and finish with this sterling line: 27 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals, a block and just one turnover in almost 41 minutes.
*Jameer Nelson didn't let a slow start, and the great play of his Toronto counterparts, get to him. Though he wasn't contributing as much as Lewis in other areas, he did take over in the fourth quarter and finish with 19 points on just 10 shots.
*Dwight Howard had eight blocks. That rarely takes place.
Toronto tried, it tried hard, and gave itself a chance to win in the way you'd usually expect: Sam Mitchell's team turned the ball over nine times, half as many cough-ups as the Magic threw out there. Still, the Raps shot 43.5 percent and had at least a dozen makeup chippies or open perimeter jumpers that could have gone in. It's a bit of a bummer but it remains the truth: Toronto had its chances, in spite of Orlando's ever-improving play.
In the end, it was Orlando's afternoon. Pardon the that sort of cliché, but this was a team that appears to want to be a bit more than the sort of squad who only pulls out close series because they have more home games than their opponents have.
And even if the Pistons turn it around and make the second round of the playoffs, you have to like this team's chances going forward. Or, even if the Raptors (who aren't out of anything, assuming they go back to the pick and roll attack that won them games against Orlando in previous regular seasons) come back and win the series, the Magic still look like a few bench parts away from getting back to the Finals for the first time since 1995. It'll happen in 2009, if ever, but that's something.
I don't mean to get overly simple with this, and I sincerely hope this doesn't come across as sloughing off Atlanta's inspired play, but this was the worst I've seen Boston play in a long time, and not a lot of that was of Atlanta's doing.
Pay attention to this, though: this was the best I've seen the Hawks play, maybe all year (and they've had some really one-sided wins), and that was all Atlanta.
Boston did not get back well, the team (both its starters, reserves, and the combo platters) had some communication issues once the Hawks came down with a defensive rebound, and Atlanta took advantage. Boston also missed more shots than I could count around the basket, I can only count to 18 so you'll get an idea of how bad things were, and these were chippies that the Celtics had no excuse for missing.
And yet, Atlanta
won this game on its own merits. It attacked well in transition and made the
extra pass (a shock for Atlanta,
or anything other team, 28 assists on 36 field goals Saturday), the Hawks
set great screens and concentrated long enough to make what are usually tough
jumpers for this crew.
Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford (who, and I'd never thought I'd say this about Al Horford, should watch his mouth) all had the jumper flowing tonight, and there wasn't a lot the C's could do about it. Though the Hawks had trouble at times scoring on the interior (whether Boston was in a place where they could disrupt the shot or not, those Hawks heard footsteps), the team's perimeter aptitude was enough to overcome the missteps in the paint.
There wasn't a whole lot more the Celtics could do beyond figuring out who to send out early to defend the fast-break, and rebounding more. Kendrick Perkins and Paul Pierce combined for just four rebounds in 55 minutes, and that's not going to work.
The Nuggets have been the most overrated offensive team in the league outside of these parts, constantly mentioned by mainstream media to be amongst the league's top offensive teams because the outfit is always at or near the top in points per game, without realizing that the only piles those points up because they have more possessions to pile with.
Because the team shoots so early in the shot clock, Denver averaged almost 111 points per contest this year, but the team was below average in terms of free throw and three-point percentage, while turning the ball over way too much, though it did finish a respectable sixth in field goal percentage.
The final result was a ranking of 11th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, though that was overlooked by other media too intent on focusing on the team's 110 points in a hypothetical game while ignoring the 45 percent mark from the floor, the 19 turnovers, and the 3-14 shooting from long range.
The Lakers should be applauded for sticking it to the Nugs defensively Saturday, but it wasn't a huge shocker. Denver finished with 84 points, a pro-rated 87.5 per 100 possessions, and basically treated a pivotal Game 3 like it was their third game in five nights back in February.
Los Angeles wasn't that great offensively by the team's own standards, and they were dominated (53 to 39) on the boards, but it hardly mattered. Denver didn't care, and the Lakers ball movement was spot-on: 26 assists to eight turnovers.
I'm guessing that probably seven Nuggets show up for Monday's Game 4. Not "show up" as in "play hard," but literally show up.
... will be updated tomorrow after I watch the tape. If I don't take my girlfriend out tonight, she's going to stab me with a fork. Again.