Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Mates, mugs, and anyone in between: another BDL liveblog takes place tonight. Time? 9:30, on the island of Manhattan.

Atlanta 97, Boston 92

For the first three quarters of this game, I found it hard to worry about the Boston Celtics, regardless of whether or not they were up or down at whatever point I found it hard to worry at.

The C's are great, they might be in line for at least an Eastern title, and I didn't think it a problem for the team to lose one of two down in Atlanta, while pulling out a close one in the lone win.

After all, it's hard to compare first round pairings of the past, mainly because the onset of the seven-game series has changed everything. When the NBA went best of five with these things, it was easy to forget how close some of these three-game sweeps were for the winning team.

Think back to 1997. The Bulls swept the Washington Bullets in three games, you'll likely remember, and you might recall that Michael Jordan had 55 points in one of those games. Solid recalls, thus far. But do you remember how the Bulls needed every one of those 55 points in Game 2 (at home) to pull out the win?

Or how the Bulls shouldn't have even sniffed a win in Game 3, and how some timely defense and a tough last-second dunk from Scottie Pippen ended Washington's hopes?

Were that a seven-game series, I've little doubt that Washington would have pulled out a Game 4 win, mainly because it's so damned hard (no matter the talent level of the favorite) to work out four consecutive wins over a team that cares, and is enthused about making it a series. So comp the two, throw the Hawks one win and one close loss (assuming, of course, the Celtics actually won on Monday), and we're about even, right?

There's a pretty significant difference, however. Those Bulls had Phil Jackson, the finest coach this sport has ever seen.

The Celtics, however, have Doc Rivers; an affable sort who is a year removed from the ability to read several "Which limb would you give up to see Doc fired?" threads on the Celtics message board of his choice.

Really, that's what it comes down to. The Celtics aren't as good as those Bulls, but these Hawks aren't as good as those Bullets. And Doc?

Hawk wing Joe Johnson thoroughly dominated Ray Allen in the second half of the Atlanta win, and he should have. Ray Allen can't hang with Joe Johnson. Ray Allen can barely hang with Chris Duhon, so it's not as if we should pile on Allen for giving up all those points to the Hawk All-Star.

We should pile on Doc, however. Rivers had Paul Pierce to switch onto Joe. He had James Posey, a more preferable choice to these eyes, as well. At times, the Celtics had Allen, Pierce, and Posey on the floor at the same time in the fourth quarter, and Doc never made the switch.

Actually, it doesn't matter who the other options are - the Allen option wasn't working, make the damn switch. Makes no difference who you throw on him. This Johnson cat is single-handedly beating your team.

Listen, these Hawks are better than their 37-45 regular season record. Joe Johnson had absolutely no lift for the first 45 games of this season, and Mike Bibby's essentially average play is a huge increase over the Tyronn Lue and Anthony Johnson. Atlanta, for intents and half-hearted purposes, started playing for keeps in mid-February.

This is a pretty good team that is playing its best offensive ball of the season while slowly sneaking back to the defensive ideal that won it so many games earlier this year. I was too flip in saying that the Celtics would win "in two," and there's no shame in Boston splitting two in Atlanta.

But there was shame in that loss last night. Tactical maneuvers could have been made. Spacing could have been created. Defensive pairings could have been questioned. There may have been a better way to include Sam Cassell rather than keeping him on the bench for the entire second half until 90 seconds remained in the game, and expecting him to be part of the lineup that would shoot Boston back into things.

This should scare the hell out of every Boston backer. This team is stacked, and this series might go seven. LeBron James might await.

Enough about the Boston missteps, so as not to take away from how brilliant the Hawks were. Joe Johnson was dominant. It wasn't a mind-blower, he used to do this sort of stuff near the end of the 2005-06 season and for the first 30 games of the 2006-07 season, but those performances were in front of 7500 fans, and years away from national TV.

20 fourth quarter points, 35 points on 14-24 shooting, six assists, and it was some incredibly smooth work. There were no desperate heaves, no off-kilter jumpers, and no lucky bounces. Each of those shots should have gone in, because The Amarillo Cowboy created his own luck tonight.

*Laughable Chris Webber "analysis" of the night: crediting Dominique Wilkins for "turning this thing around."

"This thing" meaning "the Hawks."

Love Nique, but he was hired by Atlanta for PR purposes, and he moonlights as the Hawks second color analyst in a very good three-man team with Bob Rathbun and Steve Smith.

And he's also wielding absolutely zero control over the personnel moves that shape the Hawks, and deserves no credit for the turnaround down in Atlanta. Sorry to say, and Wilkins is one of the more underrated players in this league's history, but C-Webb's off his rocker step again.

Comparing his work with the Hawks with the brilliant job Joe Dumars has done in Detroit since 2001 is incredibly insulting to Dumars

Los Angeles 107, Denver 101

I just don't know how to offer any sort of cogent breakdown regarding the whys and wheres and hows behind trying to guard Kobe Bryant with Eduardo Najera and Kenyon Martin. It does more than boggle the mind, it hurts my freakin' brain.  

"Hey Kelly, why was it stupid for that guy from San Diego to get high on crystal meth, steal a tank, and slowly go on a car-smashing rampage around a few suburban cul de sacs?"


"Yeah, it's your job. Tell me why it was stupid. Tell me how dumb it was. Actually try to explain to me why this guy ended up getting caught."

"I don't know where to start."

"Pick something."

"I don't want to."

You really want me to tell you why the Lakers won and why Kobe scored 31?

You want to know why? Because the dope who stole the tank while on dope gets caught every time.

It's stiflingly stupid. And likely grounds for committal, because you know what one definition of insanity is, righto?

Doing the same thing over and over and over, and expecting a different result every time.

Apparently Denver coach George Karl thought this would be the time and the game that Eduardo Najera would be able to hold his own against Kobe Bryant. And we saw how that turned out. Bryant's second quarter outburst put Los Angeles in charge.

Karl did go to Carmelo Anthony and (eventually) Martin in the second half as a way to try and check Bryant, and I supposed that's better on the surface, but it's also like walking onto the grounds of your local army base and asking if you can merely borrow one of their tanks. For a spin.

Denver is done, and I wouldn't mind being done with them for a while. The team can defend when it wants to, but it stopped wanting to after January, and was amongst the worst defensive teams I've ever seen over the last two months. Meanwhile, the team's isolation-heavy offense never stopped being overrated.

The Lakers appreciate the chance to move on. They must feel like a well-off bunch of pensioners who just emerged from a country club-endorsed scavenger hunt through a trailer park. Yeah, they found the out-of-state license plate, but at what price?

*Did anyone notice Reggie Miller in the second quarter? "Kobe is garnishing, er, garnering attention there." Nice catch, Reg. Getting better every day (he can't get much worse).

Orlando 102, Toronto 92

There wasn't much intention on making this "Pick on the Losing Coach Tuesday," nor was a lot of effort put into that description, but Toronto coach Sam Mitchell really dropped the ball in this loss.

Instead of pulling a Mike D'Antoni (like, I'm guessing, his boss Bryan Colangelo would prefer) and putting the ball in his point guard's hands down the stretch, Mitchell chose to go the orthodox route, went from the inside-out, and Toronto's season is over, perhaps as a result. Perhaps. Dwight Howard (21 points, 21 rebounds, three blocks) may have had something to do with it.

In the fourth quarter of Toronto's Game 5 loss, Jose Calderon or T.J. Ford (who didn't play any fourth quarter minutes) should have had the ball in their hands. They should have been probing the defense, using up clock, keeping the dribble, and making the decisions. They should have been the ones to decide this game. Not Keith Bogans' help D. Not Carlos Delfino. Not Chris Bosh's right hand. Very frustrating.

Instead, with Chris Bosh having difficulty scoring on the low block against Dwight Howard, Carlos Delfino ended up making a lot of the late-game decisions, and nobody wants that. Nobody should ever want that.

Toronto's done, and I'll miss them quite a bit. The team came in to training camp before the 2006-07 season talking a great game about wanting to get up a hundred shots a game, which was ludicrous, and yet it managed to turn on its ear in 2007-08: winning fewer games due to injury, but managing one of the NBA's more efficient offenses while slowing the tempo and moving the ball. It was a gas.

Things will likely have to change. Andrea Bargnani looked like a high schooler out there in the opening minutes of the Game 5 loss, and that's just on the offensive end (picking up two fouls in 20 seconds against Dwight Howard, that could happen to anyone). Parts have to be worked with. Frantic frustrations have to be assuaged and set aside. Sam Mitchell might not be the guy to do that. I don't think he deserves to lose his job, not in the slightest, but it might not be the worst thing for this franchise.

They'll have time to figure it out. Until then, thanks for the run. 'ppreciate it.

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