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Boston Must Rely on Ability to Forget

June 15, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02204141 Boston Celtics

Source: Yardbarker.com

It all comes down to this: a monumental Game 7 in Southern California pitting the two sides of the greatest rivalry in the history of professional basketball — and things couldn’t appear worse for the Boston Celtics.

Momentum swings of this magnitude don’t come along very often, but the immediate evaporation of hope between a pivotal Game 5 than the Celtics took and the Lakers’ tactical thrashing of the Green on Tuesday night is absolutely palpable. Lakers fans were biting their lips; now they’re screaming their lungs out. It’s not a great site for Celtics fans.

But before the two teams suit up and take the court Thursday, looking on as Kobe Bryant ruthlessly salivates — looking for the kill and and tasting his fifth championship ring — Boston must come to grips with something: they can still do it. If they don’t have that positive attitude going in, they might as well sit the game out. Starting fresh and forgetting about the past is the only way to even conceive of taking this title. The Celtics forgot in 2008.

They forgot the years of being the laughingstock of the entire league. They forgot the times of inferior personnel, poor game execution, and ineffective coaching. They went in with the sentiment that it’s just another year. They brought on Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and they didn’t miss a beat. They were a powerhouse again, and they won the title.

The Celtics forgot in the 2009 playoffs. Garnett, their rock, couldn’t play. They didn’t dwell on that. They didn’t sulk. They put it behind them and fought with toughness and grit to the very end. They may not have won the championship last year, but they nearly ousted the heavily favored Orlando Magic thanks to great bench play and a focused mind.

The Celtics forgot in 2010. No one expected anything of Boston by midseason. They weren’t playing with heart, passion, or inspiration the squad had become anonymous with. They were washed up. The days of their domination were over. They were nothing. They had no chance. They limped into the playoffs with a mere No. 4 seed. Then they forgot. They didn’t care what they did or didn’t do during the season. They made the corrections when the time was right, getting back to the core principles that made them winners in the first place. They shocked Cleveland. They shocked Orlando. And they were on the way to shocking L.A.

With an over-the-back foul and an awkward step it was all gone. Kendrick Perkins went crashing down to the floor with the weight of Bill Russell, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Larry Bird on his shoulders. It was a demoralizing moment. The key to an unforgiving defense and an unquestioned embracer of defense was gone, writing in pain the locker room. Boston took to heart the absence of their big man, and Kobe took advantage, surgically dismantling the champions in front of his eyes.

Now it’s Game 7, and the Celtics have two choices: fold and go home or put up a fight.

I’m betting they decide to forget.

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NBA Today: June 16

  • Kendrick Perkins and Andrew Bynum, the two teams’ starting centers, both left Game 6 with knee injuries. Perkins is not expected to return for the final game.
  • The Knicks are getting desperate: they’ve asked Donald Trump, Chris Rock, and Spike Lee, among others, to help will LeBron to New York.
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Gasol is not the League’s Best Big Man

June 10, 2010 - Boston, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES - epa02196015 Boston Celtics player Rasheed Wallace (R) fouls against Los Angeles Lakers player Pau Gasol (L) from Spain during the first half of game four of the NBA Finals at TD Gardens in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 10 June 2010. The Lakers lead the series over the Celtics 2-1.

Source: Yardbarker.com

Over the course of the playoffs, a case has begun to surface that the Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol is the best offensive big man in the game. Some even go as far as to say he’s the best big man overall. I will concede this: Gasol’s play has been markedly great over the course of this postseason, and the suggestions of 2008 that he’s soft are long gone — the Lakers would not be close to where they are without his constant support.

Accordingly, it makes sense that people are crowning him the best right now, when he’s playing at his best. Unfortunately, a few playoff series make up too small a sample size to serve as a significant basis for the argument at hand. Let’s look at the comparison between Gasol’s postseason and regular-season numbers.

During the regular campaign, Gasol was solid on both ends of the ball. Injuries limited him to only 65 games, but he still gathered averages of 18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds while shooting 54 percent from the field and 79 percent from the stripe. On defense, his length proved a solid deterrent to opposing power forwards, and he registered 1.7 blocks per contest.

In the playoffs, Gasol has been closer to inhuman. In the second round and the conference finals, Gasol dazzled spectators with a wide array of post moves, tip-ins, and an automatic mid-range jumpshot. During the first three rounds, Gasol could have made an argument for the best big man in the league, at least on offense. But take a look at Gasol’s matchups in those three rounds and some questions begin to arise.

In the first round against Oklahoma City, it was Jeff Green. Against Utah, it was Carlos Boozer. And against Phoenix, it was Amar’e Stoudemire. What do those three guys have in common? They’re all 6-foot-9, and Gasol has a three-inch height advantage on all of them. No wonder he was so dominant. He had a significant length advantage on all his defenders. It puts a damper on any nomination that he’s the best big man.

So when Boston came around, Gasol did hold his own in the first two games in Los Angeles. But when the series shifted to Boston, it was a different story. In Games 3, 4, 5, Gasol averaged only 15.6 points and 9 rebounds while shooting a measly 44 percent. It goes to show what effect a good defender can have on the supposed best big man.

But just looking at Gasol’s numbers doesn’t decide this. There needs to be some comparison. On the defensive end, the discussion starts and stops with Dwight Howard. He’s the best defender in the game; there’s no question. He blocks so many shots, but that doesn’t do him justice. The number of shots he effects or discourages has a profound impact on Orlando’s defensive game. Think of it like a big slugging hitter chasing a home-run record. If Barry Bonds didn’t get walked all the time, he could hit a lot more home runs. If opposing players took shots indiscriminately without considering Howard’s swat, he’d rack up a lot more blocks.

On the offensive end, you have to look at both Chris Bosh and Stoudemire. Bosh averaged six more points per game this year than Gasol. He’s much more athletic, his post moves are just as good, and his perimeter game’s even better. Some may argue that Gasol’s a better passer, and he is, but to whom is Bosh going to pass the ball? Sonny Weems? C’mon. As for Stoudemire, he may not have a back-to-the-basket game, but his face-up skill set is fantastic. He’s significantly more explosive than any top-tier big in the league not named Howard, and he has a better shooting touch than Gasol does.

So Gasol is clearly not the league’s best big man. And NBA fans shouldn’t let a few solid playoff games misguide them into thinking he is.

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Izzo to Remain with Michigan State

After a few days of contemplation over whether to take a coaching job with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tom Izzo has decided he will remain the head coach of the Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball program:

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Tom Izzo is staying at Michigan State, turning down a chance to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers and perhaps LeBron James.

In a statement released by the school on Tuesday, Izzo said, “I’m pleased to say I am here for life at Michigan State.”

For the past nine days, Izzo had been trying to decide whether to leave the place that has been his home since 1983 and jump to the NBA to perhaps make $6 million — doubling his salary — and possibly coach one of the best basketball players in the world.

“Throughout the entire process, Dan Gilbert and the entire Cleveland organization has been nothing but class. His professionalism and caring nature for me, my family and Michigan State have been impressive. I wish him nothing but the best in his quest to win a world championship,” Izzo said in a statement released by the school. “Just as I decided to stay home, I hope a 6-8, 270-pound forward in Cleveland decides to stay home.”

The Spartans have scheduled an 8:30 p.m. ET news conference with Izzo, school president Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis.

The Cavs are now caught amid quite a quandary in terms of their next team leader. Reports have former Hornets and Nets coach, Byron Scott, as their next choice.

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Kerr Dismissed as Suns GM

According to an ESPN.com report, Steve Kerr is no longer the Phoenix Suns general manager:

A source told ESPN The Magazine’s Ric Bucher that the move has to do with Kerr feeling unable to adequately do the job with the financial limitations imposed by Sarver. The Suns have both Amare Stoudemire and Channing Frye as potential free agents this summer.

Kerr, 44, became part of the Suns’ leadership in 2004 and became a minority owner and adviser for Sarver, who eventually named him GM after Bryan Colangelo and coach Mike D’Antoni first held the job under Sarver.

Sarver told the newspaper the Suns will conduct a search for Kerr’s replacement and consider in-house candidates. Kerr will stay on board for the June 24 draft and keep his ownership stake in the team.

“It’s definitely been an interesting three years for both of us and the organization,” Sarver told the newspaper. “Overall, I think he did a very good job to put us on solid ground with players and coaches, getting a defensive emphasis and got the ground laid on teamwork and chemistry. We’re in a pretty good spot moving forward, and a lot of it has to do with moves he’s made. There were some good moves and bad moves, which goes with the job. But overall, I think he’s done a very good job.”

It seems questionable to pin the team’s failure to win a championship on Kerr. The Suns exceeded expectations this year and came within striking distance of uprooting the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Therefore, this move looks like one that is aimed at retaining Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire for next season.

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Rajon Rondo’s inconsistency

Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett (L) celebrates a basket with Rajon Rondo (2nd L) during play against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Boston, Massachusetts June 8, 2010.  REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Source: Yardbarker.com

The Boston Celtics now improbably lead the 2010 NBA Finals 3-2 over their perpetual rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. They can attribute their series lead primarily to a tenacious defensive effort, an energetic bench that features Shrek and Donkey, and to a lesser degree, the generally aging starting lineup.

In the various games, Boston has welcomed outstanding efforts from Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and, of course, Rajon Rondo.

Rondo has been a true magician for this team, bobbing in weaving in between opposing seven footers, making crisp pick-and-roll and alley-oop passes, and providing the pesky defense we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the Kentucky alumnus.

One of the most important parts of Rondo’s game is his ability to run the break. It seems like in every game of the series, right out of the gate Rondo is charging down the floor in transition. He snags the long rebound, sprints down the floor, and finds one of his teammates for the easy layup or dunk.

But he makes it look much prettier than it is sometimes. On occassion, he’ll come charging down the floor and try to get too creative — he’ll thread a pass between defenders that has no chance, applying too much english, thereby making Ray Allen reach for the ball and miss catching in clearly; there goes the space for an open jumper.

This hasn’t happened just once. He has been a repeat offender over the course of the five games. In fact, in Sunday’s Game 5, Rondo had only eight assists but seven turnovers, most of which came on the break.

This poor decision making on the fast break shows two things about Rondo: first, that he’s trying to take his game to the next level by making more dangerous passes and (2) that he’s still young — he doesn’t yet have the discipline or the recognition to know when to hold off on that pass. In the coming years, that will come for Rondo.

Overall, it’s a good sign that he’s making this development because it looks an awful lot like what Steve Nash does. And Nash isn’t exactly careful with the ball, but he minimizes his mistakes while still taking risks. Clearly, Rondo is trying to imitate the master. And should he take the next step, he’s going to be very dangerous.

With the series’ shifting back to Los Angeles for the final two contests, Rondo needs to be careful. The Celtics’ winning is certainly no sure thing. And seven turnovers on fast breaks can be extremely catastrophic, considering the high field-goal percentage of transition attempts.

Rondo needs to contain his anxiousness and not blow those opportunities for his team. He needs to take his time and decide whether or not it is best to let go of that pass. If he can manage, he’ll have his second championship in only three years starting in the league.

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NBA Today: June 14

  • As if it weren’t obvious, Dwyane Wade’s looking to recruit another top-flight free agent to join him in South Beach.
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Welcome back!

Hello, NBA Fans,

After a couple weeks of downtime, Saving the Skyhook has completed its transition to the Fansided.com blog network. Thanks a million to the administrators for seeing that this change went smoothly and effectively. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy this wonderful new design as much as I do, and continue to expect the same daily content that I provided you on the previous site starting tomorrow.

Enjoy the remainder of the Finals!