Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Detroit Pistons
Holy cow. This is certainly the longest document created this season breaking down the Detroit Pistons. Lots of beat writers and bloggers contributing. Most interesting: No where in there is there any real optimism about the Pistons doing well in this year's playoffs.
Basketball can seem complex. For instance, consider some of what David Thorpe tells us about the Cavaliers' offense: "Shuffle cut, post, double ball screen (with LeBron James as a screener). Four around one, with Anderson Varejao roaming inside. Ball-screen action opposite LeBron (who keeps defenders home around him). Staggered screens for Mo Williams, again with James spotting up in the opposite wing. The list is endless, and it comes in beautifully random order early." Stopping all that seems really complex, right? One thing I love about Rasheed Wallace: From his mouth, basketball is delightfully simple. Chris McCosky of the Detroit News quotes Wallace about what it will take to slow Cleveland. Wallace's response: "Knuckling up, bottom line. There are no tricks we're going to add. Just straighten on up."
John Krolik of Cavs the Blog describes how LeBron James is handling his critics, and the Pistons, so far: "From the opening whistle to when he sat down, LeBron was absolutely relentless. He was looking to get to the basket at every possible opportunity in the half-court and blowing right by his man. He was looking to get out in transition at every opportunity. He was firing laser-beam passes with either hand when they doubled him. He was forcing contact and getting himself to the line. He was making hard cuts off the ball and finishing at the basket. He was in full on loot, pillage, and destroy mode, and sending a clear message to anyone watching that he fully intends to take the championship by force this season. Most frighteningly of all for the rest of the league, LeBron flashed a midrange and a post game tonight, going 6-9 from midrange (although a few of those were unorthodox floaters and runners) and posting Aaron Affalo whenever he got the opportunity, getting easy looks from about 8 feet and flashing an absolutely ILLEGAL spin move to beat him at one point, although he couldn't finish. LeBron went 8-10 in the first half, and I was most excited about one of his two misses. We're used to LeBron scrapping and MacGuyvering in the playoffs, or feeling out the game and pouncing when he feels the time is right. Tonight, he made the game his, and never gave the Pistons hope."
Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls
The idea that Kevin Garnett definitely won't play in these playoffs gets just a little squishier, with a sighting of him in workout gear, and talk that he might not schedule surgery yet because "you never know."
A thought about home court advantage, that applies to all those home teams that lost: While it's common and correct to point out that the Celtics had fought all season for homecourt, and have now given it up ... I see that a little differently. One of the things they fought for, and still have, was the ability to have a bad game cost them a game at home, and still be very much in the series. That's a lot tougher for the lower-seeded team, which can easily end up down 0-3 with such a slip.
Along those lines, John Hollinger (Insider) notes: "One stat we've heard nonstop over the weekend is that 78.8 percent of teams that win Game 1 go on to win the series. That's perhaps a less telling number than you might think. A great many of those series were one-sided, predictable affairs, so the advantage wasn't 'winning Game 1' so much as it was 'having a better team.' The real differentiator is being up 2-0. Those teams are 192-12 in playoff history, whereas series that are tied 1-1 go to the winner of Game 3 75 percent of the time. Thus, it's imperative for the Game 1 losers to come out of things with a split in Game 2, particularly the four road teams that lost their openers but could find themselves with home-court advantage for the pivotal third game."
Jessica Camerato of WEEI's Green Street: "On any given night, Big Baby can be seen sauntering down the halls of the TD BankNorth Garden singing Jason Mraz or offering his own rendition of Celine Dion in the Celtics locker room. Davis has an explanation for his unexpected song choice. 'I'm an emotional player and when I'm mad or I'm thinking mad, I'm not thinking at all,' Davis said. 'But when I'm smooth and I understand what's going on, the rhythm of the game, I'm having fun, that's the way I am.'"
Bryan Roy of Celtics Hub: "Playoffs last year was all about ubuntu, destiny and a sense of urgency for the Big Three to win a title before they began collecting social security. Suddenly, the epic Celtics-Cavs Eastern Conference Finals clash would be considered just a huge achievement to make that series. This year, I haven't heard the word ubuntu mentioned once."
Putting Derrick Rose's playoff debut in perspective. Matt from By the Horns ranks it just ahead of: "8. Democracy defeats Communism, wins the Cold War. 9. Alexander the Great takes over most of the world (as known to the ancient Greeks). 10.Meat Loaf does 'anything for love' without also doing 'that.'"
Orlando Magic vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Credit Tony DiLeo. Since taking over the Sixers, he has fed Andre Iguodala the royal jelly. It seems like just about every time the team has had to have a bucket, Iguodala has been the man with the ball, dribbling and probing and usually falling away for a long, muscled two. He has had some failures, and some successes. But mostly, he has had the consistent confidence of his coach, who has trusted that isolation again and again. It's not hard for me to believe that confidence feeds Iguodala's gun-slinging attitude, and might just make him a slightly better shooter.
Also credit Andre Miller. A lot of point guards wouldn't have even passed the ball to fresh-from-mothballs-and-famous-for-missing-big-playoff-shots-as-a-Cavalier Donyell Marshall. But down 98-95 on the road, with the game on the line, he fired the pass to that open man, and the rewards were significant.
Somewhere Shaquille O'Neal is high-fiving people, telling them that he told them Stan Van Gundy would have some kind of playoff meltdown. (UPDATE: Although, John Hollinger points out the Magic were 52-1 when having a lead in the last five minutes, so cou
ghing up a lead is hardly typical.) And that probably does not matter one little tiny bit. But what might matter ... you see this on Dwight Howard's website, from a couple of weeks ago? He was asked if he got sick of Stan Van Gundy's screaming, or if he found it motivating. "Sometimes it's motivating, but 90 percent of the time it does upset me. But he has a way of saying all of the right things. But when you are on the court, in the heat of battle, you don't [sic] somebody getting on you. But that's just the way it is with him."
Zach McCann's instant reaction at Orlando Magic Daily: "I really can't believe what just happened. An 18-point easy victory turned into a stunning, come-from-behind victory for the Sixers. Andre Iguodala hit a fallaway 18-footer in Hedo Turkoglu's face for the decisive bucket. The Magic imploded in the fourth quarter and couldn't get any stops when they had to. Donyell Marshall scored 11 points in the fourth quarter. Yes, Donyell Marshall."
Ben Q. Rock of Third Quarter Collapse: "It's hard to imagine a worse start to the postseason for Orlando. If the Magic can't beat the 76ers when they have an 18-point lead, at home, on the first game of the postseason ... when exactly are they going to beat them? Understand that this game was in the bag for Orlando. A double-digit victory appeared to be at hand. But when Dwight Howard ... headed to the locker room to have his eye examined with 1:12 to play in the third, Philly scored on its next two possessions, not counting Iguodala's halfcourt heave at the buzzer. 38 seconds into the fourth quarter, Royal Ivey drilled a trey to bring Philadelphia to within 11. And that, right there, is when I knew the Magic were in trouble."
Marcus Hayes of Philadelphia Daily News: "They call him 'Big Homie,' after the degenerate clown, and 'Secret Weapon,' and a couple of other things, all in good fun. The young Sixers squad loves Donyell Marshall in general, his pleasant acceptance of their nicknames, his 15 years of wisdom, his willingness to share his knowledge, his upbeat nature despite having played a career-low 189 minutes this season. Last night, they loved his shooting stroke."
Here's Marcin Gortat saying ... what is Marcin Gortat saying? Something about Shaquille O'Neal and Stan Van Gundy. Love to have some translation help.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Miami Heat
Is there a player in this world who more visibly enjoys winning basketball games than Al Horford? That man was full of life on that court yesterday.
The X's & O's of Baskebtall: "The Hawks devised their gameplan around 2 things. Double team Dwyane Wade on the catch to get the ball out of his hands and let his teammates try to make plays instead. And go under all ball-screens, to prevent penetration first and close out second ... if the Heat cannot show they can consistently hit that outside shot, the Hawks will continue to go under, stop penetration and make it extremely difficult for the Heat to gain points in the paint."
The Hawks are famous for having various snafus with the scorekeeping and timing team (and there were some garden variety referee corrections of such things yesterday -- and at least on my TV, the clock never ran for the last 6.4 seconds of the game. It was still and still, as the players dribbled out the clock, and then the horn sounded and it was at zero). But a couple of new complaints: Did you notice the strobe lights in a luxury box behind one of the baskets? Really? Strobe lights? It was like some kind of dance party. And then ... of course ... there was a leak? In the roof? Right on to the court where the NBA playoffs are in progress? You get one such party foul, Hawks. Another one, and David Stern's paratroopers will be securing the building before Game 5.
I often complain about unimaginative plays in big moments (the Sixers' big win, for instance, coming on Andre Iguodala's dribble dribble dribble fallaway) but I'll tell you what, both teams ended the first half with very imaginative plays. The best was the Heat's lob to Udonis Haslem, who immediately dished to Jermaine O'Neal for the bucket. Most teams handle lobs by hoping they are never passed. If caught in the lane, they are simply too dangerous. So, once caught, a defender has been beat already, and it's the most natural thing in the world for another defender or two to slide over and help. Which is exactly what makes the lob-catcher such an effective passer. He's in the lane, and has just drawn the defender who should be guarding his nearest teammate. Nice pass to O'Neal and bingo.
Knickerblogger.net's reaction to watching Game 1: "If you thought the Heat were a Wade explosion from potentially beating the Cavs ..."
Michael Beasley took some quick and ill-advised long jumpers during Miami's key second quarter meltdown, but that's the kind of thing that happens when you play young scorers. But what was surprising to me is that there were some other moments when he got closer to the hoop, but then appeared to have a very low point of release. It appeared like he wasn't getting his feet under him to finish strong. Your youngster might make a bad decision or two ... but you sure don't want to him lacking explosion.
A word that describes Dwyane Wade's general style of play, to me: "Jugularrific."
Is it just me, or is Erik Spoelstra's hair a little thinner than when he took the job mere months ago?
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Utah Jazz
ESPN's Shelley Smith reports: "Andrew Bynum's knee brace looks like the Ferrari of knee braces, painted shiny metallic purple and yellow. He says it is awkward and doesn't allow him to rotate, which affects quick jumps and turns. He said it's 'just something I have to deal with for a little while,' and feels grateful he was able to come back from his injury in time for the playoffs. 'I'm lucky the injury wasn't as bad as everybody had thought," he said. "I'm able to play with the brace -- that's an even trade I'd say.' ... Phil Jackson fired the first salvo of sorts at the referees. "Guys are moving on screens," he said, "take for example game we played at the end of the season (against Utah). There must have been seven or 10 offensive fouls not called. That's the type of thing that's going on whereas you couldn't do four or five years ago. On a high screen-roll, now guys can take two steps, you weren't allowed to move once you planted (back then) and you had to have your feet down to set a pick, so some of that evolved as game has evolved. That's because screen rolls have become so prolific."
The Lakers' second half performance was lackluster. They still won quite easily. So ... is that a sign of their strength (they didn't even play all that hard and won) or a source of worry? Broderick Turner writes in the L.A. Times: "The Lakers limited Utah to 35.4% shooting, which helped the Lakers open a 62-40 lead at halftime. 'But we knew that even though we had them down big, they would come back,' said Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen, who is in charging of scouting the Jazz. It was the way the Jazz came back that upset Hamblen. The Lakers had been warned that the Jazz would try to get to the free-throw line and that it would look to score inside. Well, when the Jazz made it's second-half push, it had seven layups and two dunks. The Jazz went to the free-throw line 28 times in the second half, making 24. Utah, which was 29 for 35 from the free-throw line, was third in free-throw attempts per game (28.6) during the regular season. 'They got layup after layup after layup off penetration,' Hamblen said. 'Then they got to the free-throw line a lot in the second half.'"
John Hollinger has a candidate for the worst defensive play of the playoffs: "It started when the Lakers' Trevor Ariza went in on two Utah defenders and missed a shot. After it came off the rim, the ball was tipped in the air by Kyle Korver, and retrieved by L.A.'s Shannon Brown, who took a dribble, pivoted and threw an underhand pass to Ariza, who then gathered, took a step and dunked. All this time, no other Jazz player entered the picture. In fact, none of them crossed half court. Deron Williams, Ronnie Brewer and Carlos Boozer all stayed in the backcourt and watched as Korver and Andrei Kirilenko tried unsuccessfully to get a stop. If you look closely at the replay you can see that Williams was holding a sand wedge, Brewer had a fishing rod and Boozer was on the phone with his agent."
Denver Nuggets vs. New Orleans Hornets
Dime: "All this time we've been arguing Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams vs. Tony Parker for Best Point Guard in the League, and no one ever seems to remember Chauncey Billups. It makes sense; all Smooth does is bang home threes, dole out forearm bruises, win more games than almost anyone at his position, cash those playoff bonuses and go home. He acts like he doesn't care who gets the hype, but try and tell us CB didn't look like he had a point to prove last night."
Did you hear Chauncey Billups getting MVP chants?
Hornets247: "I know Billups was blistering from deep, but I give the game ball to Nene. The Big Brazilian took the ball into the post and punished the Hornets, getting easy shots or fouls or both with a myriad of very nice moves. His work down low put most the Hornets big men in foul trouble, which in turn made that third quarter run possible. Never have I seen 12 points matter more in a game. His boardwork was also stellar."
San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks
Longtime Spurs admirer Joey from Stright Bangin' worries the Mavericks might end something special: "San Antonio's triumph has been the elevation of basketball professionalism. The Spurs' culture dictates that each member of the team understands his job and consistently performs its duties at a high level. They might as well give out Dharma Initiative jumpsuits embroidered with titles like 'Shooter' or 'Defender,' because that's what you are on the Spurs. To wit, the shooters find their prescribed spots, balance the halfcourt sets, stretch the defense, and make their shots. That's the job. Do the job, trust in the system, and watch your jewelry collection grow. One might argue that Duncan, Manu, and Parker break this mold by doing much of many things, but I'd argue each simply has a more nuanced and demanding role commensurate with his distinct, elevated capabilities. Along with competitive wages, San Antonio job perks include: spending time among a brilliant CEO (Pop) and a modest, funny, worldly all-time great (Duncan); coming to a drama-free work environment; being treated as a grown-ass man; and, perhaps most importantly, not being asked to do more than you can. On the Spurs, you'll be challenged, for sure, but you won't be asked to work above your pay grade."
Rob Mahoney of the Two Man Game: "With almost nine minutes remaining in the second quarter, Dirk Nowitzki picked up his third foul, and immediately subbed out. The Mavs trailed by nine, and things were going from bad to worse. But a decidedly Dirk-less lineup didn't seem to mind; Brandon Bass, Josh Howard, Erick Dampier, and Jason Terry managed to not only jack up Dallas' defensive intensity, but actually trim the lead against the likes of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. The Mavericks forcibly removed the Spurs' boot from their throats, rose to their feet, and started swinging. Every punch didn't connect, but the fact that the Mavs sans Dirk were able to stand their ground and then some against a clicking San Antonio squad is very indicative of how this Maverick team has evolved. A few months ago, maybe the Mavs folded in that second quarter. Maybe the sight of their own shots clanging off the rim would discourage them from bringing the appropriate defensive focus, and the Spurs would go hog wild on a team crippled by the loss of its star due to foul trouble. That nine minute stretch would be the kiss of death. Yet here we are, and here the Mavs are, standing tall on their 1-0 series lead."
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Houston Rockets
Jason Quick of the Oregonian: "One rotation change McMillan said he is contemplating is using centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla together. He used the twin-tower combination with some success earlier this season against Boston."
Dwight Jaynes: "I can go all the way back to the first NBA coach I covered, Dr. Jack Ramsay, and remember him preaching to his players, 'Against a shot blocker, you've got to take the ball right at him. Don't take it away from him, take it AT him.' When Portland had success against Yao, Roy was taking the ball right into him. Don't worry if he blocks a shot or two. He's going to foul or let you go most of the time."
Blazers Edge's Benjamin Golliver: "I'm not sure I fully got across Brandon's appearance after Game 1. On a normal night, Brandon moves around off the court like he does on the court: not in a hurry, entirely at ease, full of confidence. Last night his eyes were focused on the ground, his movements laborious, his tone flat, his shoulders slumped. It was a different Brandon. His most assertive declaration today was: 'I'm calling [game 2] a must win.' I think we would all agree on that but it was re-assuring hearing those words coming from the mouth of the team leader. He was more or less back to his usual self, even cracking a few jokes
as the media session went on.'"
Brody Rollins of Rockets Buzz: "Aaron Brooks played his best game of the season. Everyone on the Rockets played exceptionally, which normally has to be the case for Brian Cook to get any playing time, but Brooks mastered his role better than anyone else. His stat line is undoubtedly inflated by Yao's performance in the first half and his teammates success in the second, but that's exactly the way it should be ... A lot of people saw Brooks as being a key element to the Rockets success in this series and he showed why tonight"
Tracy McGrady doesn't think the Cavaliers are so special, and picks the Lakers to win the Finals ... The Lakers who may well play the Rockets in the next round ... The Rockets who pay McGrady's salary.