And so we say goodbye to the Orlando Magic, mindful of and unsurprised by the limitations that are sending the team home in the second round, but hopeful that the learning process and improvin' season has just begun.
And we're also going to say "t'ank you" to the Detroit Pistons, who are playing the most determined and efficient brand of postseason basketball that we've seen from this outfit in years, not since the 2004-05 turn that saw them end up with a Game 7 to win it all in the NBA Finals.
With Chauncey Billups sidelined for the second consecutive game, the Pistons managed to actually win their second consecutive game, and you need to keep reminding yourself of that fact. The Magic were talented enough to drop the Pistons outright, even given the home court disadvantage and Billups' absence, and yet Detroit still stuck it out; winning four games in five despite missing their best player for nearly three of those contests.
Xs and Os aside, the win for Detroit was based mostly on effort, and we haven't been able to say that for years. We couldn't say that when the team dispatched the Magic and Bulls last season, nor the Bucks and Cavaliers the year before. Detroit worked, the team moved the ball and crashed the boards to the best of its ability, and tried to find the open man.
The Pistons could still fall apart at any instance, I'm still frightened by the team's approach to the first few games of the opening round series with Philadelphia, and wouldn't trust the squad to carry out a takeaway order ("NO CHEESE, ‘Sheed, geez..."); but the signs are the brightest that they've been in years. And I'm saying that regardless of the mess that's 2-2 in the other Eastern bracket.
Orlando has myriad issues. They start one small forward too many, the team turns the ball over way too much (that's an understatement, actually, more later), it can be muscled out of games, and Jameer Nelson needs to be a backup point guard. I'm not convinced that age will act as a panacea when it comes to aiding his decision-making, though I appreciate Nelson's instincts most of the time.
The turnover issues are so, so significant. They were around even when Brian Hill was making life miserable for Magic fans, and they've somehow influenced Rashard Lewis (six cough-ups on Tuesday night) who was far from turnover-prone in his time with Seattle.
21 turnovers for Orlando in Game 5, which is bad enough; but in this slow-down game, understand that they turned the ball over in 25.3 percent of their possessions. That's a ridiculous amount. That number would probably lead off a BtB in the middle of February, it's so bad, and it happened in a playoff game.
Making a miscue in one of every four possessions is awful enough, but dig this - Detroit turned it over in 3.6 percent of its possessions in Game 5. That, and I'm not trying to be cute, might be the best mark we've seen all year from any team.
That sort of disconnect - possibly the worst mark of the year coming in a game against possibly the best mark - cannot be sloughed off. Orlando is always in danger of ending up with those numbers, and even with the squad's major promise, an overhaul is needed. J.J. Redick, you have to believe me, needs more minutes. The team needs more low-turnover/high-yield players getting big minutes.
Orlando has to pull in a rebounder for the four spot, the Magic were dominated on the glass by the ancient Antonio McDyess late in Game 5, and if it means selling high with Hedo Turkoglu (he'll never be better than this season) or dumping (they wish) Rashard Lewis' contract, then do it. This team is a move or two away from a Finals appearance.
GM Otis Smith cannot bank on internal development with this crew. He has to be proactive, though I'm pretty much resigned to the idea that he overestimates his team and will use the squad's cap inflexibility (Orlando is over the cap next year with just ten players on the roster, once all the likely player options are exercised) as an excuse to stand pat.
Still, great year for Orlando. I can only hope that the team understands that it needs to work harder and get more creative if it wants to keep climbing that ladder.
Things went exactly as should have been expected and almost entirely according to plan in Game 5, but as you'll notice in last night's liveblog, that doesn't mean things weren't dicey and a bit scary for a spell.
San Antonio covered all angles for the first half of this game, holding a potent Hornets team to 44 points while nailing several three-pointers and generally making life a mess for the assembled observers. The Spurs led by only three points at the break, and yet it felt as if they were up by double-digits. Low-possession games tend to feel that way.
And then it started to go exactly as planned, O us of little faith, as the Hornets started getting stops (Coach Popovich was spot on when he pointed out that the New Orleans did the Spurs in) and leaking out in transition. A 28-point quarter is pretty significant in a game between two defensive powerhouses like these two teams, and San Antonio's 11-point third quarter was enough to put New Orleans comfortably ahead and for good.
Of course, the Basketball Gods are unrepentant bastards - New Orleans lost David West to a pinched nerve (passable, if not quite painful and/or annoying at times), and what appeared to be either a stress fracture or case a of turf toe for Tyson Chandler. That last injury, whatever it is, is incredibly scary, especially for a Hornets team that looks downright amateurish up front when Chandler sits.
Game 6, as Skeets hinted at about 1200 times last night, will also go according to plan. The Spurs, their role players especially, will get in the swing and shoot better from close range. San Antonio shot quite well from long range (9-23, 39 percent), but managed just 37 percent from inside the arc, and Coach Pop will find ways to send helpers back defensively once shots go up to try and mitigate any transition advantage the Hornets might have. Don't expect a lot of 3-on-2 breaks in Game 6. Manu Ginobili will be embarrassed by his two rebounds in nearly 38 minutes. The bench will hit perimeter shots. Expect a Game 7.
That said, if the Hornets keep up that defensive edge, if David West continues to make quick decisions with the ball offensively, if Julian Wright stays on the opposite end of the court when Manu has the ball, and if Jannero Pargo has a hot night, then the Hornets can move on to the Western Conference finals on Thursday. I just don't expect it.
Add-on: I try to stay away from the obvious with these posts, which is why I link to the wire service reports in the URLs that correspond with each game. These aren't by-the-book game recaps, which is why you won't often read about the team's leading scorer, rebounder, et cetera.
But I have to update with this point: David West scoring 38 points in an 83-possession game is a remarkable and impressive accomplishment. He may have had the best game of the postseason thus far, and it's worth a re-telling.
38 points, 14 rebounds (four offensive), five assists, two steals, five blocks, just two turnovers. In a low, low possession game. Tell your friends.
I'm pretty confident when I call this the best performance of the 2008 Playoffs.