If he wanted to stick with a growing club with playoff potential, Greg Monroe could have re-signed with the Detroit Pistons in 2015. If he wanted to work out of a big city, New York’s Knicks were always an option – Phil Jackson reportedly had Monroe near the top of his free agent list that summer. And if the guy needed a quick playoff fix, we’re sure there were several squads at the top of the East and West that could have found room and a reasonable contract.
Instead, Monroe chose the Milwaukee Bucks as a free agent in 2015. Milwaukee had just come off a first round lost but its postseason permanence was no sure thing, as evidenced by the plexiglass Principle that hit in Greg’s first year with the club, as it missed the playoffs. Monroe’s (now) seven-season wait for a playoff berth would have to roll over into 2016-17.
By Sunday, though, Monroe was ready for his first postseason run, and it showed: 14 points and 15 rebounds (five offensive) with two assists in nearly 26 minutes off the Milwaukee pine. The Bucks won handily by a 97-83 margin, and Monroe proved his mettle even on an afternoon that saw MKE coach Jason Kidd limit his rotation to the fleetest of feet in the deciding second half.
Monroe won’t be mistaken for Maury Wills anytime soon, but he did have his wits about him in the win over a too-slow Toronto club in Game 1 (though Greg did foul four times). You’d expect as much from someone so clearly ready to break through, to play past mid-April for the first time in his basketball career. The center/forward unhurriedly discussed his outlook prior to the series in a talk with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Charles F. Gardner:
“I’m excited but we’ve got to play the games,” Monroe said. “This is what I’ve wanted. This is what we’ve wanted and we’ve worked for.
“We know what comes with it. We’re not done; we’re just starting. I think guys realize that. Now it’s trying to turn it up even more.”
The move to Milwaukee hasn’t gone exactly according to plan, but there was some guesswork involved from the outset as to whether or not Monroe’s throwback, low-post heavy attack would fit in with whatever the hell coach Kidd is doing in Wisconsin with do-everything star Giannis Antetokounmpo and his cast of interchangeable parts.
Monroe started 67 of 79 games in his first year with the club and 401 out of 457 games to start his playoff-less career. He did not, however, start on Sunday or in any of the 81 contests he dutifully suited up for (averaging 11.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and an assist rate above 17 in a career-low 22.3 minutes per game) during the regular season. If he’s bothered, that news is not for public consumption:
“It was just making sure I’m ready whenever I’m on the court,” Monroe said. “At this point in my career, [coming off the bench] doesn’t matter.
“Obviously I’ve been starting my whole career, so it was different. But other than that, it’s all about doing what I can to help the team win.”
So far so good, for the 27-year old, who hasn’t had it all that bad in comparison to Joe Ingles, who showed up for work this week at 29 years of age. Ingles is only in his second NBA year, but the Utah Jazz swingman had to wait until his professional prime to make this league’s postseason, after a career spent working in China, Spain, and the Israeli league.
The Australian native missed five of seven shots in his playoff debut during Utah’s Game 1 win over the Clippers, but an off-shooting night won’t be enough to sway the two-way guard. He’s going to stay a bit of a [expletive deleted]:
“Joe is an (expletive),” Jazz forward Derrick Favors said, laughing. “No, no, no. Joe, he’s a good guy, a funny guy. That’s just how he is. He’s a guy, he likes to talk a lot of trash. He just likes to get up under people’s skin. … That’s just his personality, period.”
“It just kind of happens,” Ingles said. “It’s part of the game. We’re not trying to fight, but it’s chippy. It’s always going to be chippy this time of year.”
In the past two weeks, Ingles has found himself toe-to-toe with Minnesota’s Omri Casspi and San Antonio’s Pau Gasol, whom Ingles considers a friend. Off the court, anyway.
“I don’t like anyone from any other team,” Ingles said. “Even the Aussies. Once you get on the court, it is what it is.”
“It is what it is.” I love those quirky, Aussie colloquialisms! At the end of the day, you put another shrimp on the barbie.
From there you have 27-year old Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon, a minor league and/or Orlando Magic veteran, contributing 12 points and two blocks spread out over 28 starting minutes in his playoff debut with San Antonio, helping drive Memphis coach David Fizdale batty with Dedmon’s impressive ability to defend without fouling.
Myles Turner? The second-year, 21-year old Pacer big man will do plenty of that if you find him in the wrong headspace, but though he’s been whistled for six infractions in the postseason thus far against Cleveland his fouling rate has actually gone down in comparison to his regular season marks.
He’s just not dominating what could be a wide-open lane, in the face of that porous Cleveland defense. Paul George, veteran of 63 playoff games including Monday night’s loss to the champs, would like to remind the playoff rookie that breakfast is over:
“We just need him to challenge Tristan [Thompson], keep him off the boards,” George said of the 21-year-old Turner. “He needs to make himself available down low in the post. He needs to know at this point he has to take it to the next level. We’ll continue to work with him.
“I’ve been in his ear all the way up until this point — you know, that next step. And growth for him. In this league, you’ve got to find it. He’s still young. He’s still learning, so it’s a good thing. We’re going to work with him.”
Turner has contributed five steals and four blocks to his team’s cause in two losses to Cleveland thus far, but he’s averaging just 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds after a 14.5-point, 7.2-rebound regular season. His 36-percent showing thus far has been the most disappointing playoff debut of the bunch, though Turner (especially when playing at home, starting in Game 3 on Thursday) certainly has the capabilities to make this two-game swoon a lowlight of the past.
If you can name a regular season highlight from Bobby Portis in 2016-17, then you’re in a different place than I. All was forgotten (we had no choice), though, by the end of the second-year Chicago forward’s Game 1 performance, when he contributed 19 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 29 minutes spread over the Bulls’ upset win over Boston.
ESPN said the guy stole the show. Bobby Portis said this guy didn’t steal the show:
“I didn’t steal the show,” he said after the game. “I just went out there and tried to play my role. Just tried to go out there and give some energy and I feel like I did that tonight.”
Rajon Rondo says he saw the show coming from miles away, which is usually Portis’ role:
Said Rondo: “I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Bobby’s a very confident player. He works extremely hard. What he’s doing right now, he deserves it. He put in the work, staying humble. He always wanted to play. At the beginning of the year, he wasn’t playing as much, but he stayed with it and things are happening for him.”
Good news, after a capricious regular season that saw the 21-year old Bulls colt average just 6.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in 15 minutes a contest. Sometimes an active mind is all the (sometimes terrifying) playoff setting needs, to meet its mate:
“It was crazy,” Portis said. “Going in there it was loud in the beginning. I’m like, ‘Whoa,’ because I was a little nervous at first. Once the game started going, I kind of settled down and it was fun being out there playing with these guys and us getting the win.”
It’s fun to play basketball in late April. It’s even better to play in May.
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