Monthly Archives: April 2008

An Addendum To My Suicide Note, Previously Posted

Via the Corndogg…

If you want to read about the positive impact the Suns and D’Antoni have made to the NBA (which you can be sure I am very well aware of, as well as supremely appreciative), then go check out this wonderfully written piece at Truehoop. In fact, you probably stopped by there before you got here. And, if that was the case, you are smart. Forgive my tirades, or as Matt would like to say, “assassinations,” on the team over which he and I built our great friendship. I had to say those things, because I am hurt so deep and needed to get them out. I love the Suns and what they have done for the NBA. I wouldn’t be writing a blog or funneling off 90% of my work duties so I could follow the league if it were not for them. I just wanted to be honest. For this time (and it surely won’t be the last), I didn’t want to be a journalist. I wanted to speak as a fan.

Requiem For The Suns: A Note From Matthew Cornelius

Unlike myself, Corn describes himself as a “tried and true Suns fan.” He has lived and died (mostly died, given his profoundly negative nature), with this team for the past twenty years. And while I have sworn myself off of any further discussion of the Phoenix Suns outside of any coaching changes that are imminent, it wouldn’t be right for Corn not to weigh in on the “death” of the Suns last night. And while there are about a million things I disagree with about this particular piece, we’re partners, and when his team suffers arguably the most painful loss in its history, he deserves a take. Here are his thoughts. Take it away, Corn…

These are my definitive opinions and if you have a problem with them, feel free to email me at matthew.t.cornelius (at) gmail (dot) com.

D’Antoni should not be fired. Matt and I talked about it last night and neither of us are foolish enough to believe that it was D who lobbied so profusely for the Shaq trade. This guy was raised on Euro ball and built the most dynamic offense ever seen in the NBA (with regards to Showtime) and was prepared to live and die by his gun. Instead, he died by the arrogance and short-sightedness of the Suns owner (a banker) and their GM (an analyst and former sidekick to Duncan and Jordan), both of whom seem to know very little about building a championship team from the front office.

That being said, I am tired of D’Antoni’s arrogance as a coach. One of the announcers noted that D had said pre-game that if the Spurs were gonna do Hack-a-Shaq, he would not take Shaq out. His plan was to trust Shaq to hit his free throws. This is one of D’s characteristics that has kept him from winning a championship. I finally convinced Matt last night that the only changes D makes in a game are telling his team to play harder and to do what they normally do, only better. The Suns do not have either the personnel, the competence or the willingness to make crucial in-game changes that affect the outcome of games. They just try to impose their own will with more force. That is a George W. Bush attitude. And he is a bigger loser than the Suns.

I am not trying to bag on Nash for having a bad game. Everyone has one. He just had his during an elimination playoff game. So what if he hit that big 3 to tie the game? It was just a make up for the 2 awful turnovers he had. But he is not NASH anymore. You can see it in his eyes, in his gait, everything. I truly believe that it was the combination of D’s system and Nash’s powers, at their peak, that made Phoenix that exciting team we used to know. Put Nash in a more conventional, plodding game and all you notice is how bad his defense is, how he can no longer separate from defenders and how he tries too many hard passes. I don’t care if he was held all night by Bowen or constantly being beaten up by the Spurs’ defense, sometimes you can’t just turn the other cheek and try to outperform other people. You have to step up, be a man and fight. I am not saying he didn’t try to do that, but he failed at it. Same as he has failed at it the past four years. Nash is unquestionably a great player and one of the hardest working men in the NBA. But really, after watching him lose some of his faith after the Shaq trade (and he did, I am 100% sure of it) and try to run a more conventional offense, you realize that he is/was the perfect fit for D’s system, but that system is extinct. So too, might be Nash’s significant contributions to this team. He and D were made for each other.

Why in God’s name did D not just put Sean Marks in that game for two minutes last night and tell him to stand under the basket, wait for Tony Parker and then deliver a jaw shattering, legal foul that sent him to the floor head first? What is it gonna hurt? They make you pay for playing Shaq and Skinner; you make them pay for Parker getting to the rim all the time. So what if he gets hurt or the Spurs’ bench clears? We have seen that before. But seriously, you are on your last legs, so at least go out swinging. Instead, D just tried to execute the game plan harder and more effectively. You see where that got them.

The Suns brought in Shaq to stop Tim Duncan. Not only did that not work, but what it showed is that the Suns have no idea how the NBA works and how teams prepare for them. The Spurs didn’t give a crap about making sure Duncan was involved. They were already one step ahead, giving Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili the green light to attack the basket whenever they wanted. That was why the Suns lost. They just never had an answer…

Except Phoenix fans will tell you that they did have an answer. And the answer was wearing street clothes. Grant Hill is the epitome of the Suns’ gambling ways (even to a greater extent than Shaq). Keep in mind that I am not blaming Hill for being hurt. I love the guy and think he had a tremendous year. But, when it counted, he was hurt. This series, he was hurt. The Suns thought their amazing training staff (and they are amazing!) could keep him healthy and give him back years on his career, the same way they did with Nash and the same way they brought Amare back from microfracture surgery. And they did, except Grant’s body failed them when it counted.

The Suns tried to get better on interior defense (hey, how about teaching Amare to give a crap? That would be a better start than trading for freaking Shaq.) and in doing so forgot that if you don’t let people get into the lane, then your interior defense looks a lot better. The Spurs knew that and exploited it to a huge advantage. Good for them.

Speaking of gambling, that is all the Suns have done since Sarver took over. They gambled on building a winner now and selling off draft picks. They gambled on Barbosa being able to be a great back up point and defensive presence (HE IS NOT). They gambled on Hill. They gambled big on Shaq. They gambled on shipping off Kurt Thomas (guess that worked out real nice). All in all, the Suns have made an absolutely dizzying array of bad personnel moves and still are a 55-win team, which give credence to D and the drive of Amare and Nash. But they are still a playoff punchline, so what does it matter?

There really is no future in Phoenix. Yep, I said it. No future. It’s like the Sex Pistols song. Nash is only going to get worse. So is Shaq. So is Hill. They only have 2 guys on their roster that they should even consider building a team around, Amare and Diaw. Those two are their future, so deal with it. And I am not even convinced that Amare will be as astronomically good as he is now without that system and without Nash putting the ball in his hands perfectly every time. I am NOT saying he is not great, but that he is not the leader of a team.

Amare’s offensive skills are beautiful, but his defense and lack of motivation at times are inexcusable. Amare, when not being made the absolute focal point of the offense, can sometimes completely disappear. Last night was a crucial example. I have never seen anyone suffer and get so off their game just because they didn’t get the first pass when the ball comes across half court. It is pathetic and weak. Diaw, with his tremendous array of skills, should be a great compliment to Amare at the small forward position. He too needs to get better at his perimeter defense and get quicker, but his skill set plays very well off Amare. Unfortunately, Diaw cannot be effective without being the focal point of the offense either. Maybe the can’t co-exist. Keep Amare and blow up the rest. Good luck with that, Stevie Kerr.

The rest of the team should be gone within two years. Nash and Shaq will retire. Bell will get picked up by somebody like San Antonio, who can use his perimeter defense and spot up shooting to its greatest effect. Leandro Barbosa is a one-dimensional player who is incapable of running an offense or playing defense. He is a scorer deluxe, but the Suns don’t need that. Giricek and Skinner will be out of town. If you really want to see Kerr’s mettle as a GM, let’s see what he does when this hulking shell of a Phoenix team needs to be remade in full. Cause, you know, D’Antoni won’t be around to direct it.

If you really wanted to get rid of Marion, there was sooo much more you could have done to help the team rather than go get Shaq. Of course, Kerr and Sarver just wanted the biggest name possible and wanted to make a splash, but don’t you really feel that if they truly wanted value for Marion, they could have gotten a combination of players, each of which did the following: Person 1 – an SG/SF who focused solely on playing great perimeter D and making open 3s; Person 2 – a tall, strong PF/C who could rebound, block a shot and play solid perimeter D; Person 3 – a legitimate backup PG with a defensive mindset who can initiate an offense and not make stupid turnovers. Instead, the Suns sent Marion and Banks away for Shaq: One fewer person in the rotation and a liability in almost every facet of the game. Brilliant move.

Oh, and one more thing, why in the world wasn’t Hill/Diaw/Giricek/any freaking person who is NOT Leandro Barbosa guarding Finley when he hit that backbreaker three in Game One? I don’t even care about the Duncan three (because, after all, real champions make plays when the game is on the line). I care about that one. Awful coaching and even worse execution by the smallest guy on the team. Well done, Suns.

Last night, even though the Spurs had awful mental lapses and failed to execute as well as they normally do, how can you possibly forgive Phoenix for 17 missed free throws and SEVEN(!) fourth quarter turnovers? Most of those turnovers were not even a result of superior San Antonio defense. They were just mental lapses from a team that has never been able to successfully come back and close out tight playoff games. Never. So why should it have been any different last night? I mean, the Suns had to try hard, and I mean really hard, to lose that game last night. I don’t understand how a team with that much pride can just implode like that when it means the most.

The reason posts like this are happening and the reason the Suns are no longer in the playoffs can come down to other simple adjustments and arrogant misgivings they have had throughout the season. Ever since the trade, players and coaches alike have said that didn’t give a flip about home court advantage. They were not worried about whomever they met in the first round. Well, you know what? That same insouciance led to them practically giving away that game to the Rockets late in the season. That same poor effort and big attitude told them not to care about that game. That one game was the difference between home court in the first round against the Jazz and the awful massacre that just occurred. I bet they would like a mulligan on that game.

It basically all boils down to Sarver. Why did he run Bryan Colangelo out of town? Why couldn’t he just accept that he didn’t know anything about running a basketball team and leave it up to someone who had the NBA in his genes and had been intimately involved in it his whole life? It is the bane of many a new owner in the NBA to be far too caught up in “names” on their team, former players in the front office, and in wagging their own proverbial cock all over the team just to show that they are now the boss and whatever they want, they get. And in the end, he gets exactly what he wants: a distraught fan base, a team that doesn’t believe in itself, a Knicks-style soap opera in his brain trust, a legacy of losing and a reputation for being an irrefutably boorish owner who has no idea how to build a winning team. But boy, did Shaq ever boost those merchandising sales! On second thought, you are a winner, Robert. It’s only your team that had to be sacrificed.

Corn will likely be a bit quieter for the rest of the playoffs since he’s since been admitted to the North Carolina Institute For The Completely Batsh*t Insane. Donations to the Shaquille O’Neal Buyout Retirement Fund can be made in lieu of flowers.

Playoffs 08: Round 1, Game 5s

  • Steve Nash gets this one. I hate it more than anything, because he brought the joy of the game back to me when I had just about given it up. But it’s on him. This loss. Not the season, but this one.
  • Like I said, Boris Diaw should not have the ball with under a minute remaining. I’m not saying he didn’t have a great game. He did. But if Amare Stoudemire had scored 28 and thrown away that pass, he would be getting hammered, even though he’s had a much better season than Diaw. Diaw doesn’t get pass from me just because he was the Little Engine That Could for two games. Also, like I said, Barbosa should have been trade bait a year ago, he should be trade bait now.
  • Tim Duncan deserves to be in any argument for best basketball player since Michael Jordan. And he deserves strong support. There have never been any questions about whether he shoots too much, whether he benefits too much from a supporting cast, whether he plays in a tough enough conference, whether he can win the big one. And while I still maintain that the Spurs get calls which boggle the mind (Duncan tripping over his own feet, anyone?), Tim Duncan will hit any shot that he needs to, whenever he needs to. He will fight for rebounds over stronger, younger players with fewer injuries, and will outwork anyone on the floor. It’s only after he’s eliminated one of my absolute favorite teams for the second year in a row that I am reminded of how truly great he is.
  • Dear Rockets: I apologize for underestimating you. Again. Thanks for battling back, and giving the Lakers an extra day of rest. Just kidding. Good luck in Game 6. Don’t Stop. Believin’.
  • Well, howdy, there, Deeeetroit! Fancy seeing you here! Where ya been? Nappin’? This ain’t no time for nappin’! Get to work, ye young whippersnappers!
  • Hey, Andre Iguodala finally showed up for a game! With 6 turnovers! Good to see you, Andre.
  • Things I’m hoping for: Kerr to fire D’Antoni and for everyone to realize in a year that it was Kerr that crashed this beautiful hang-glider we called the Suns and not D’Antoni, for D’Antoni to go take the Bulls job with Hinrich, Noah, Thomas, Gordon, and Deng, for the Suns to do the right thing and trade Steve Nash to the Blazers, for the Rockets to win Game 6 to force a Game 7, for Amare to work on his free throw shooting and his fadeaway, for Shaquille O’Neal to agree to a buyout, for Avery Johnson not to get fired, for Joe Johnson to silence the fake Garden tomorrow if only to bring back some unexpected joy, for the Wizards to make this the series it deserves to be.
  • Corn asked me this question after Game 4 of Suns-Spurs. “Do you honestly believe that Greg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA?” and I answered, without hesitation, “Yes.”
  • There are a number of terrible coaches in the NBA. One of them is currently coaching the #1 seed who’s locked up with an 8 seed. There are mediocre coaches, like Rick Adelman, who can do some good things but can never be good overall. Then there are great coaches. And it seems that the only fanbases that really want to fire their coaches are the teams with great coaches. In the next several weeks, we’re going to see Sam Mitchell, Avery Johnson, and Mike D’Antoni fired. And they’re all great coaches. They are good tacticians, great motivators, excellent managers of talent and ego, and have produced that most precious of commodities. Wins. And they’re all going to get canned. And yet it took years to get rid of Isiah Thomas. Wow. I think more and more that good coaches are underappreciated and bad coaches are overappreciated.
  • I’m not entirely sure of this, but I think the Utah Jazz might want to, I don’t know, hit their freaking free throws.
  • Detroit has finally regained momentum but faces a dangerous and confident Sixers team on the road next. The Celtics are at home and reeling from a disastrous loss. The Spurs have endured a short but grueling series. The Jazz are having a hard time dispatching the 5 seed without their best player, again. And somewhere… the Lakers are resting.
  • I won’t lie. The Spurs win was painful for me. This season has been a tremendous learning experience for me, since being closer to the Spurs organization and just learning so much more about the game has made me so much more aware of how terrific they are as a team, and organization, and a basketball entity. But I loved these Suns, and if you ask me one player I most identify with, it’s Nash. He’s goofy, he’s intellectual, and he’s committed to making opportunities for his teammates. So to watch him fail so miserably is hard. But I will legitimately try not to mourn these Suns any longer, not with so much fantastic basketball yet to be played.
  • I’m not even kidding when I say that when Jerry Stackhouse got up in CP3′s face, I think David West honestly was thinking about cutting his throat right there. West’s quiet intensity is terrifying. Terrifyingly awesome. Go Hornets.

Sometimes, Even The Sports Guy Gets It Right

It’s true, we can be a bit too harsh on the Sports Guy. After all, he did put us in the pantheon of best “Bucks” bloggers on the web. Every now and again, he can pull out some good stuff. And even though his links are normally a week or three old and he forgets that none of us find unintentional comedy with the Real World gang and LC of the Hills, we still have to appreciate that he has so many impassioned readers who love to give him a piece of their mind.

Scott (see below) certainly classifies as one of those guys. We really need this kid to be a featured commenter here on HP or with Brett over at Queen City Hoops. All of my frustration with pulling for the Bobcats can be encapsulated in this one succinct paragraph. And besides, he saved me a couple hours worth of verbal/writing vomit that I was ready to spew over this awful organization and their ridiculous actions (hiring Larry Brown is just one common example). Thank you, thank you, thank you.

“A day after Charlotte’s largest employer, Wachovia Corporation, announced troubling first-quarter earnings and ensuing layoffs, Bobcats owner and all-around (expletive) Bob Johnson had the unmitigated GALL to slam the Charlotte business community for not backing his failing franchise. Are you freakin’ kidding me!?!? This clown can’t do his job, so he decides to contact the newspaper himself to blame everyone else (that’s right, he called them). If I saw him or his invisible partner Michael “Isiah in Training” Jordan on the streets of Charlotte I’d punch them in the back of their arrogant heads, but hey, I don’t have to worry about breaking the law, since they ARE NEVER HERE. Luckily local writer Tom Sorenson put Charlotteans’ justified anger nicely into words with his commentary on the situation. Hey Seattle, you guys need a team? Make an offer!”Scott, Charlotte

Also, if Seattle wants this steaming pile of filth, they are far too desperate for a basketball team. Just spend all your energy e-mail bombing Clay Bennett and his investors. Or pull for the Blazers. It’s a much better use of your time and hatred.

(HT: The Sports Guy, because not only did he read this guy’s email, he put it in his links this week. A great find.)

Joe Johnson Goes Nova

“‘Going Nova”-v: To accelerate your game in an explosive manner, to the point where you are shining so bright it’s hard to see anything else happening on the floor.
(Ex. “Well, the Blazers hung in there, but then Kobe went Nova, and it was all over.”)

The Atlanta Hawks were hanging, but that’s not enough versus a team like the Celtics. With Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo, along with the best defense in the league this season, just chipping along isn’t going to get it done. They needed someone to go off, someone to push the Hawks over. After all, this was essentially a matchup of individual athleticism versus team concept and concentrated veteran star power. So naturally the only way Atlanta was going to even the series was if a player were to raise his game, to explode. And someone did.

Joe Johnson went Nova.

Scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter is the stuff of legend. To do it in the playoffs, on an 8th seed against a #1 seed, no, THIS #1 seed, is EPIC Nova. And it wasn’t a quiet, Tim Duncan Nova, either. It was a stunning combination of floaters, jumpers, and mid-slash faders. All of this punctuated, of course, by the absolutely sick, mind-melting, ankle-breaking, tell-Daddy-you-love-him-now-sit-down-and-let-him-roll-them-bones, crossover into the step back three.

This kind of offense is rare, it is beautiful, and it’s part of what makes this game so transcendent for small moments in time.

Joe Johnson just went from “that guy on my friend’s fantasy teams who scores all those points for Atlanta” to “the always-deadly Joe Johnson.”

That’s Nova, baby. That’s Nova.

I Lookz Into Ze Eyez Of Deth And He Turnz Hiz Bald Hed. He Scarz Of Me!

The following is a public service announcement from The Corndogg.

“You talkinz to me? You talkinz to ZaZa? Didn’t fink zo. HAHAHAHA!”

KG might just be Mr. Intensity in 10 Cities, but I’ll be damned if Atlanta is one. Leave it up to Zaza Pachulia to launch the first counterattack for the Hawks. He’s mad as hell and he’s not gonna take it anymore.

To be fair, the Hawks have always believed in themselves. Sometimes, to the point of delusion. Even when they were the butt of jokes since making that big trade, and bigger gamble, with $70 million for Joe Johnson, while the Suns got Boris Diaw and some excellent runs in the post-season. Even still, the Hawks felt they were on the right track. At their core, they are fighters and feel justified in being where they are right now. However, the simple act of resistance, pictured above, and fortitude shown by Pachulia in this picture was the start of something special for the Hawks last night.

In Game 3, they seemed to just barely be able to run away from the Celtics. In Game 4, they decided to plant themselves in the middle of the court and say “If you want a piece of us, you got it. Bring it on.” Unfortunately for the Celtics, the only people who brought it were Joe Johnson and Josh Smith (who is going to be P.A.I.D. this summer).

I thought about this last night and realized that this series could really go seven games. I don’t even mind being wrong (as I predicted the Celtics in 4 or 5, don’t remember which), especially when being wrong is this much fun. Perhaps the Celtics are like that other deified Boston sports team this past season. Everyone feels they are unbeatable and unbreakable, until a bunch of upstarts no one believes in (and who, in case you forgot, provide some god-awful match-up problems for the C’s) bust out the kryptonite and start beating down the warlords.

But then again, maybe its just another ploy by the most intense player to ever don a jersey, hoping to show his team that they can be punks too and if they don’t bust their freaking butts every single night that all their hard work can be stripped from them like the Sonics from Seattle. Maybe that is what some people will have you think. Personally, I just think the Hawkz cames ready for tha big fightz!

The preceeding was a public service announcement from The Corndogg.

Just For A Night

Earlier today, I wrote this:

But the bigger issue is this, and it’s something no one else is really touching on, because of the foregone conclusion this series results in. Boston’s not playing great. They’re just not. They’re playing well. And that’s enough to obliterate the Hawks at home. But this team is not nearly as frightening as we may have thought they would be.

And over at FanHouse, this:

But I feel like it’s my duty to inform the Celtics nation that things aren’t perfect so far. Of the Boston Big Three, only Kevin Garnett has scored more than 20 points in a game, and that was 32 points in the loss in Game 3. The Celtics are only shooting 2.8% better than the Hawks so far in this series, and the Hawks are hanging with them in rebounds and blocked shots. I’m just saying, this is the 8th seed. Boston needs to play like it, blowouts or no blowouts.

Now, I also said tonight the Celtics would blow them out of the water. I know better than to go out on a limb and predict upsets. Ask my partner in crime, I’m a worse jinx than Jessica Simpson. I wasn’t about to go ruining it by talking about a Hawks’ upset. In fact, I begged my FanHouse compatriot Ziller not to to post about it, I was so worried about it. Little did I know, there was no way to jinx Joe Johnson, and no way to unjinx Paul Pierce.

Yes, this one falls on Pierce. I’ve supported Pierce the entire season, saying how important he was to this club, and how he’d produced so diligently. When Al Horford barked at him in Game 3, I thought for sure Pierce was going to follow up on what the Celtics fans barked about, and annihilate Horford personally. Instead? 5 of 14 from the field, including a layup that would have altered the score, the momentum, and forced a very young Hawks team into gutcheck time. Instead?

This series is 2-2. 1 versus 8, tied 2-2. And despite the joy this has brought to so many of us whose blood does not run green, simply for the unpredictable nature of it and the amazing act by Joe Johnson (who we’ll get to in a few minutes in another post, it deserves such acclaim), none of this changes the fact that this series is still tied. There are still three games left, and two of them are in the zoo of Boston, who, after being sleepy and unimpressed with the competition in Games 1 and 2, will be rabid like never before this season. They have to protect this team, or else, well, the sting of 18-1 is not so far removed. They know embarrassment. On top of all that, this Celtics team is simply better, in every way, than the Hawks. They should win this series, but it may take seven games, I kid you not. This Hawks squad is ornery, excited, and confident. And that means they’re dangerous. Whether it ends in two or three, this has suddenly become the series to watch. This, amazingly, shockingly, has become fun.
*****************
I said that this Celtics team is simply better, in every way, than the Hawks. That’s only true if I mean on the court. Because now would be an excellent time to go ahead and clear this up so no one gets confused again.

Doc Rivers is a terrible in-game coach.

All season long I’ve put up with this line of thinking.

“Doc Rivers is the coach of the best team in the NBA, so he must be the best coach in the league.”

Are you kidding me?

“He’s done such a good job managing egos and getting the big three to play together.”

No, seriously, are you (expletive) kidding me?

And then tonight, when it mattered, when the overwhelming talent advantage that the Celtics have with three of the best players in the NBA on one roster wasn’t getting it done alone, Doc Rivers went and coached… like Doc Rivers.

He didn’t call for adjustments on Joe Johnson. While Johnson was breaking Leon Powe’s ankles, Doc wasn’t making any shift to get the ball out of his hands. He got beat by two players tonight. Two! You think Byron Scott’s letting that happen? Byron Scott is saying “Josh Childress can score a dozen points, Johnson doesn’t keep the ball.” Finally Garnett had to do what he’s done all season, coach this team, and he went out to double Johnson, when it was too late.

And oh, yeah, when your team is on the road, facing a dangerous athletic squad and you have reliable veteran shooters like, oh, say, Sam Cassell? You know what you need? Timeouts. The Celtics used their last full one with 2:12 remaining in the fourth.

Constantly down the stretch, he designed plays for Eddie House, Powe, people other than Kevin Garnett. Garnett, to his credit, tried to take over and do his thing. But that’s the limitation of Garnett being Garnett. He’s a power forward, and in crunch time you need shooters and slashers. Still, this team has more than enough talent to put together a crushing series of possessions and put this game away. Doc Rivers didn’t know how to do it. When the talent couldn’t match Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, Rivers didn’t have an answer. Because, he’s not an answer guy.

He’s a spokesperson. A figurehead. Someone that won’t rub against the big three the wrong way. Someone who won’t try and mess with what minutes they decide they want to put in. But not being in the way doesn’t make you a great coach. Saying the right things to the media doesn’t make you a great coach. And having Kevin Garnett doesn’t make you a great coach.

Doc Rivers is still Doc Rivers. He just has three of the best players in the league on his side (and I’m talking about Rondo, not Allen). And I still believe that will be enough to win a championship. But it won’t be because of Doc Rivers.

Thoughts on Round 1, Game 3s and 4s Through 4.27

  • I think a lot of us expected the Hornets to have a “Wow, isn’t it great we’re here!” feel to them. We expected the bench jumping up all the time, and unbelievable role players hitting shots we’d never imagine them hitting. That’s the prototype of a team that’s new to the playoffs. This team has nothing to do with that concept. They are cold, hard, killers. This team has an off shooting night Friday, and instead of getting rattled and questioning themselves and their strategy, they went right back to work. And executed to perfection. Which should be no surprise, given this team’s M.O.
  • There was something I realized late this season. I was marveling at the Lakers’ huge swings. When they’re hot, they’ve been nearly unstoppable. But then they’ll slump for several games, and look like they couldn’t defend against a Shriners’ convention. I truly believe that the Lakers are the best team in the Western Conference right now, and will end up in the Finals. That said, the point of this is when I was considering their swings, I asked if there was a team that was as good as the Lakers have been, but without the swings. And there was. It was the Hornets. Their performance doesn’t waver at all. They go out and consistently perform with the same level of execution, intensity, and precision. Sometimes the shots don’t fall, but they always come ready to play. They don’t possess San Antonio’s idling Borg-like drone, either. They hum at a high rate, ready to unleash a lethal combination of plays which put you down for the count. That’s been readily apparent in this series: The Hornets can hit you four or five times in the span of two minutes on both ends of the floor, and you won’t know you’ve been hit till you see the scoreboard. Again, Lakers fans, your team is the best in the Western Conference, and are playing better ball than the Hornets right now. I’m just saying that while LA depends on upswings and high momentum to carry them to victory (which they have loads of), the Hornets are able to consistently go out and execute everyone in the room at a moment’s notice.
  • Speaking of the Lakers, it’s time to give credit where credit is due. For years I have shrugged off talk of Phil Jackson as worthy of “best of all time” discussion. “How can you really judge a man that’s never had anything but the best players in the history of the game?!” I would yell. And while I’m still a long way from even saying he’s the best current coach in the NBA, I have to say h e’s impressed the hell out of me in the last three months. Anyone could win with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, surrounded by shooters. But Pau Gasol is a seven foot Spaniard with a history of offensive mastery and not exactly easy to miss. Yet the Denver Nuggets never seem to really notice him unless he’s in the post. I watched the Nuggets come out with fire and passion in Game 3, led by Kleiza who was producing at both ends of the floor? And what happened? Kobe dribble, Kobe dribble, Kobe penetrate, Kobe pass to Odom, Odom touchpass to Gasol. Open. Two points. To be able to engineer plays and spacing to create open shots around the basket, even against the defensive sieve that is Denver, is a masterful job. Throw in his ability to finally get Odom to understand how to best capitalize on his talents, and Jackson is leaps and bounds above everyone else right now.
  • Not enough is being made of Game 3 in Atlanta. Yes, the Celtics will blow them out of the water tonight. Yes, the Celtics will do so easily. But here’s a little run-down of teams that would have swept the Hawks in the Western conference. Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, Jazz, Suns, Warriors (yes, even though they didn’t make the playoffs. The matchups would annihilate Atlanta. And no, Denver, you would have no chance. They might sweep you. Rockets fans, sorry, but Atlanta would at least get one on you, maybe two.). There is no excuse for Boston letting them have that game. But the bigger issue is this, and it’s something no one else is really touching on, because of the foregone conclusion this series results in. Boston’s not playing great. They’re just not. They’re playing well. And that’s enough to obliterate the Hawks at home. But this team is not nearly as frightening as we may have thought they would be. I have every reason to suspect they’re just having motivation issues, and Horford’s little mouth-run will get them in gear. But no one on the Celtics is really just blowing it up, they’re all just having nice, quiet, good games, and winning. Except they lost. The Celtics better realized that whichever team comes out of the 4/5 matchup (most likely the Cavs) will be running on adrenaline and will be looking to fight. Rajon Rondo is ready. I’m not sure the rest of the Celtics are.
  • It was nice of Greg Popovich and the Spurs to give the Suns one. You know, for their pride. Downright decent of them.
  • Speaking of Popovich, I love the comments he made defending D’Antoni. Now, Spurs fans and D’Antoni detractors are both going to come out saying this is another evil genius move by Popovich to try and get D’Antoni to be able to stay so he can continue beating the crap out of him. But that’s outright ridiculous. These guys have a tremendous amount of respect for one another, and Popovich is just not like most other high-profile coaches. He doesn’t care about getting in sniping fights with other coaches, doesn’t feel the need to degrade them, and honestly, if he loses to them, he doesn’t mind. This is a job to Greg Popovich, with long term goals and a long term vision. And while he’s done more than his share of accomplishing those championship goals, he also understands how easily it could change. Both coaches are aware that if Tim Duncan’s three-pointer goes the same way that it has gone 4 out of 5 times in his career, this series is knotted at two-a-piece. Likewise, if the Suns hadn’t gone completely frozen in game 2 in the second half, this is likely a different story. And for Popovich to come out and recognize that, for a guy across the scorer’s table, shows why this organization is considered so classy, Robert Horry and Bruce Bowen not included.
  • The current over-reaction of the day is that “clearly, D’Antoni should have started Boris Diaw instead of Grant Hill earlier in this series.” To that I say, anyone that suggest that should try examining a sample of games larger than “yesterday’s game.” Because that is the only way you come to that conclusion. Hill’s banged up with a groin injury that limits his abilities, that much is clear. But with an injury that you can’t evaluate until you actually get on the floor, I’ll still take Grant Hill with half-a-groin over Boris Diaw. Diaw has proven time and time again that he is unable to consistently perform. He had a wonderful game yesterday. Good for him. There is still a 70/30 chance that in Game 5 he’ll completely meltdown again and try backing down Tim Duncan. Let’s be clear. Boris Diaw can be effective at the 3 spot as long as Amare Stoudemire or Shaq are on the floor. But the second he finds himself in the post against any player with size or athletic ability (like, oh, say, 90% of the forwards and centers in this league), he becomes completely useless. To blame D’Antoni for trying to go to his star veteran with defensive presence over an inconsistent performer who many have said needed to be traded long ago is ludicrous.
  • Next up, how about this “the big difference on defense was just effort.” That’s patently not true. The Suns were trying in the last three games. They just had no answer for Tony Parker. At all. Or Ginobili on the left. In Game 4, however, as much as this was a complete “we’ll give you this one” by the Spurs, it was also a tremendous defensive adjustment. In Game 3, Tony Parker was obviously the killer. But he had been doing the same thing during the first two games as well. The high wing pick and roll with Duncan. The situation forced Shaq to either try and speed out to defend Duncan, where he obviously can’t, or stay at home and try and cut off Parker, which again, allows Duncan to do what he wanted. The Suns countered in those first three games by trying to have Parker’s man cut under the screen to stay with Parker. Unfortunately, in an amazing development, Tony Parker is really, really fast. Throw in the fact that his jumper was falling like crazy, and you have Game 3′s rout. But yesterday was different. Van Gundy remarked that Tony Parker’s jumper is not good enough to consistently fall like it did in Game 3. But instead of overreacting to Parker’s jumper, the Suns tried something different. They created an interior triangle with Amare, Shaq and Diaw. That play isolates the right side for the Spurs, to allow Parker room to operate. When the pick and roll happened, Shaq stayed home on the baseline. Parker’s defender went over the screen in pursuit, and Diaw or Amare came from the weakside to cut off the drive to the middle. Parker was flummoxed, blocked, and eventually had to settle for jumpers, which didn’t come to his aid this time. Now, Popovich will of course respond in Game 5 by presenting Parker with perimeter shooters instead of the ISO, and none of this has anything to do with Bell and Diaw’s complete inability to prevent Manu Ginobili from driving left on them every single time, but for one game, it was a nice adjustment.
  • Fear The Magic. I’m not kidding. No one is paying attention to what may have been the most exciting first round matchup in Orlando-Toronto, but it’s been terrific basketball, even with the 3-1 lead the Magic take into Orlando tonight. The other teams have significant leads thanks to a lack of efficient, smart play by their opponents. Toronto has actually played really well. They got everything they wanted out of their players in Game 4. Bosh had 39. TJ Ford was actually passing the ball. Kapono came to play. No good. The Magic are just better right now. Not enough can be said about the way Dwight Howard is playing defense right now. He’s consistently making plays. While his one on one game still needs work, he’s able to create key defensive plays which suck the life out of the crowd better than any player in the league right now. I’m telling you. Fear the Magic.
  • The Rockets just need one more weapon. One. More. Seven foot. Chinese. Weapon.
    But they don’t have it right now. And that’s this series. I am NOT impressed with the Utah Jazz, though. If they were the legit contender they like to make themselves out as, they would have wiped the floor with a team led by Tracy McGrady, without Yao Ming, without a healthy Rafer Alston, and wouldn’t need key official’s calls to secure wins. I keep desperately searching for a way to believe that this Jazz team is real like everyone keeps telling me they are. That annihilation of the Spurs? I think we can convincingly prove that was a rope-a-dope. The home court advantage? Where was that in Game 3? Let’s be clear. Houston is hanging with Utah in every single game with former D-Leaguers, Luis Scola, and Carl Landry. I love the work AK has done in this series. That’s it for the Jazz.
  • Corn’s been telling me all year about the Sixers, because he landed Andre Iguodala on his fantasy team and fell in love with him. I am not impressed, nor have I ever been impressed, with Andre Iguodala. But when Philly won game 1, and then game 3, Corn came out shouting about how the Sixers were going to possibly beat the Magic and make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Click. That sound was the Pistons flipping the switch. Game over. Nice try, fellas. I do love Samuel Dalembert’s energy, though.
  • Favorite energy guys this round: Julian Wright, Jannero Pargo, Linas Kleiza, Keyon Dooling, Reggie Evans, Brandon Bass, Ime Udoka, Luke Walton (cherry picker that he is), Carl Landry, Delonte West.