Now, to be clear, one thing I’ve cautioned about this offseason is not to get caught up in saying a series is over or you’re screwed after two games. Losing the first game only means you’re a 4 to 1 dog (80% of all teams to win game 1 win the series). And there are a ton of things that can happen, and more importantly, there are a ton of ways to lose a game, that doesn’t necessarily indicate you’re in trouble. For instance, Washington doesn’t need to panic. They lost a tight one because King James does what he does. Then they lost a blowout in a game where their heads were obviously not in the right space, and Cleveland was lights out. They can recover. However, for other teams…
It’s time. Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, you all need to put the finger on the button at least. Toronto, you’ve got one game. You win game 3, and you’re fine. But there better be some changes damn quick. And by changes, I mean Rasho Neterovic becoming a legitimate threat or Andrea Bargnani remembering how to play basketball. Oh, and Coach Mitchell? Little hint. Anthony Parker’s time in the sun? It’s. OVER. Put Kapono in there and tell him to fire at will. You need firepower and you need it now.
Houston: Duct tape. Superglue. Magic. Whatever it is that you need in order to get Rafer Alston back on the court? That’s the plan. It’s one thing to not be able to stop Deron Williams. It’s another to not be able to do anything to disrupt his game in any way, shape or form. This matchup has been indicative of the series. It’s not that there are things that Deron is able to do against Bobby Jackson and Aaron Brooks, it’s that there’s not a lot Williams can’t do against those two. Houston’s three point shooting will eventually show up, but if they can’t stop Williams from wreaking havoc, it’s all for naught. That said, game three hinges on the reserve front court players, Chuck Hayes, Mike Harris and Carl Landry. If you want to claw your way back into this? You better come up with some points. Anywhere, anyhow, and in a hurry.
Washington: Next time, let sleeping Kings lie. All you had to do was go out and execute. But you awoke the beast, and now this team looks like it’s been baiting teams for the last three weeks, even though we know they have legitimate holes. You’re just not able to plug them.
Dallas: All of those matchups that should favor you? They don’t. All those little things you’re supposed to do that show your experience and poise? You’re not doing them. The biggest issue for the Mavericks is not just a matter of a failure to execute on their end, though that’s evident as well. It’s that New Orleans is legitimately better than you right now. Why?
On one key possession late in the first quarter Tuesday night, Paul gets the ball on a rebound. As soon as the Hornets see Paul has the ball, they immediately break and run. Paul pushes the ball to center court, and the Hornets kick into fast break. As they’re getting out in front of him, Pargo immediately gets to the left corner. At the same time, West and Peja are running parallel to one another, as Peja heads to the wing and pulls up. Now, Dirk is on the left side. He needs to get to West, but when Pargo got to the corner, Dirk is the only man to cover the shooter, since Terry has to focus on Paul. Eddie Jones is late to get back, but his primary goal is to cut off Paul from getting into the lane. Now, the Mavs are trying to get back, but they only have three back, against a four prong attack. Bass momentarily steps up to cut off Paul, but seeing that Terry has him, he heads to cut off Peja to prevent the three. Unfortunately, during all this, David West has pulled up at the free throw line, and then sliced right in behind where Bass was. Terry lets him go by, because he has to stop Paul at all costs. However, with Dirk on the wing, and Bass running to the perimeter, all West has to do is rotate to the paint, and turn. With Terry guarding him, the lob is open, and that’s an easy dunk. That entire sequence, from start to finish, is why the Hornets are just better than the Mavs right now. The Mavs didn’t know what to do to stop the attack, and even if they did, there are too many weapons to guard.
I could talk about how the Spurs have needed a Tim Duncan three, a Manu game winner, Amare fouling out in game 1, and a horrendous cold shooting second-half to sink the Suns. But all of that belies the main problem. The Spurs know that somewhere along the way, this team turned into two guys. Steve Nash, and Amare Stoudemire. And there’s no one else left. Shaq’s going to get a fair share because of his size and savvy. But Xs and O’s layed it out perfectly. For reasons beyond my comprehension, with the game on the line, with their season on the line, against their biggest rival, the Suns are turning to… Boris Diaw. Throw in D’Antoni’s refusal to accept that Leandro Barbosa is completely outmatched in every way by this team, and you have abject disaster. This team needed any small measure of a hot streak to put this game out of hand in the third. And they couldn’t find it. Because they’re relying on guys that aren’t built for that kind of work. Shawn Marion was. Steve Nash is. Amare Stoudemire is. And Grant Hill is, but his groin won’t let him. At some point in this series, D’Antoni is going to have to realize that Diaw and Barbosa are not going to give them the lift that they need. He gambled this entire season with a 7 man rotation, and now he’s finding that if you have competent defenders that can limit Nash and Amare (notably with the use of defense that borders upon personal assault), you can eliminate any firepower this once mighty offense brought. And yet not once has he turned to Giricek for long stretches. Not once has he brought Skinner in to provide a counter for Francisco Oberto, who is making a living off of uncontested layups. Not once has he gambled with DJ Strawberry, despite Leandro Barbosa going 20 minutes tonight for 0 freaking points. I cannot stress this enough. Leandro Barbosa is a terrific player that is unable to produce against competent playoff defense that forces him to outrun his own layups, effectively eliminating 70% of his offense. And whatever is wrong with Raja Bell, it’s time to face facts and switch him to someone else. Because right now, Manu Ginobili has bought him, and owned him, lock stock and barrel. Ginobili had 22, 19, and 9 points against the Suns in their three regular season matchups on an average of 29% shooting. This series? 47.5% so far. So far. You can point to that as the series.
One thing I did finally catch on to. I always wondered how Tony Parker got so many layups. I mean, I know he’s fast, but lots of guys are fast. What was it? Then I saw it tonight. Parker will actually hit 5th gear up court, then slow down, and enter the paint in between 3rd and 4th gear. When the defense picks him up at the top of the key, he immediately bursts into 5th gear. Most guys will try and take you top speed from the wing. Not Parker. He actually shifts his speed which allows him to get people off balance and create easy layups. Pretty genius. In a “sickening, I hope I never, ever have to see you again” kind of way.