It's Shaq's World – We Just Flop In It
Not a bad first day of NBA playoffs, considering there was no Spurs game to hold my rapt attention. Both 4-5 series look like they’re gonna go at least six and T-Dot vs. Vinsanity looks pretty juicy as well. I watched maybe 2 ¼ games cumulatively, and for me that’s a lot. I don’t see that’s gonna happening tomorrow…
Game 1: New Jersey @ Toronto: Nets 96, Raptors 81
It was already half time by the time I woke up. I was up ‘til the early hours as usual working on a column, in this case the WOAI.com thing. When I went to bed the night before, I could have sworn that Matthew told me that we were in agreement on all eight series. But I check his post of our chat and what do you know, the dude changes his mind on me and takes the Nets in six (I had Raptors in seven).
Yeah, so what if he hit the Submit button when the Nets had a 15 point lead late in the 3rd quarter? That’s not suspicious or anything, right? What a sneaky bastard.
Anyway the Raptors put on a spirited comeback in the end, aided by a classic playoff choke by Vinsanity (5 of 19, 16 points) and managed to cut it to 84-83 late, but just couldn’t push the boulder all the way up that hill. Hindsight is 20/20 and I realize now that I completely forgot about Bostjan Nachbar when going over the match-ups for this series in my head. Damn Matthew rushed me! You all read it; he didn’t even want to talk about this series. Shit.
Nachbar has quietly been the Nets’ MVP in the second half of the season and he was quite good this afternoon, finishing with 16-5-4 and a +9 for the game. He cancelled out the masonry of his starting backcourt (_ason Kidd was 3 of 11, but did have 15 dimes and 10 rebounds). And RJ finished with 28, which is way too many for him.
For Toronto Bosh had a solid second half to finish with 22, and their two point guards combined for 34 and 10 (worth noting that Calderon was the one on the floor during the comeback), and to me it just looked like they need a half to calm down and get settled.
Still, it has to be somewhat concerning for Sam Mitchell that his team lost despite Carter playing so miserably. Besides him and Jefferson, nobody played all that better or worse than one would expect. Suppose in Game 2 the two revert to form and Vince gets 28 and Jefferson finishes with 16. What happens then? 96 points for New Jersey again.
No, the improvement will have to come largely on offense. Even more must be asked of Bosh and they desperately need something from rookie sensation Andrea Bargnani who’s just trying to get back into the flow after missing the last couple of months.
3. Bostjan Nachbar – X-factor came up big.
2. Chris Bosh – 22 points and team best +14 in his maiden voyage. Not too shabby.
1. Jason Kidd – Controlling the game and making Jefferson look good, as always.
Game 1: Miami @ Chicago: Bulls 96, Heat 91
The only contest I watched from beginning to end and I’m glad I did. I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t wind up being the best series of round one when it’s all said and done. This one featured the best and worst of both teams in various stretches. Sorry, but I’m just not sold on the Pistons this year, especially with Flip coaching them and C-Webb in the middle. I have a gut feeling that the winner of this series makes it out of the East.
The sad thing is this simpleton probably makes well into the six figures per year. Enjoy your Leno monologue, dork. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
And despite how incredibly satisfying it would feel to knock them out in the Finals, I’d still prefer to have the Heat knocked out ASAP by the Bulls. I can’t stand Shaq’s whiny bitch ass. Only one game in the books and he’s already going on about the refs and calling everyone a flopper. The dude outweighs most of his defenders by 125 lbs. It’s like he doesn’t understand the concept of physics at all. No matter what he says though, people aren’t going to call him a whiner. Go figure.
As much as I loathe Miami, they had three different stretches where they vaguely resembled the squad who won it all last spring. Shaq dominated early, scoring 17 1st half points on 8-10 shooting. The veteran supporting cast, particularly Antoine Walker staged a courageous rally in the middle segment of the 4th when both O’Neal and Wade were on the bench with five fouls. They played tinyball with Udonis Haslem at center and it somehow worked. Finally, Flash threw a scare into the home fans late and almost managed to send the game into OT with a late flurry. These guys have too much experience and savvy to disappear into the cold night quietly, and I will not discount the will of D-Wade.
All that being said, there was a reason I picked the Bulls to win the East before the season started. They’re the only Eastern team that truly frightens me. It’s relentless how many athletes they can throw at you. Deng, Nocioni, Thomas, Sefolosha, Big Ben, Hinrich. They’re just a bitch to score against when they’re in sync.
Today they managed to outlast Miami despite a nightmare performance from Kirk Hinrich (1-7, 19 minutes). Luol Deng picked up the slack, and then some and Ben Gordon managed to get the ball to the right people when he wasn’t taking horrendous shots. It’s amazing how a team could finish with 27 assists on 35 field goals when they took so many ugly shots. Making the first pass isn’t the problem for these guys, they’re not selfish for the most part, but the second pass is sorely lacking. It’s really their only weakness and one that will probably be cured with more experience.
Can you imagine if they win the lottery with the Knicks’ pick and get Oden or Durant? Good night Aunt Sally.
3. Antoine Walker – Finished with 20 points on 14 shots and was a +13. Also canned all six of his FTs, a shocker considering he was 44% from the stripe in the regular season.
2. Ben Gordon – 24 points and a career high 11 assists, helped the team keep its poise in Hinrich’s absence. Game best +16.
1. Luol Deng – A force of nature out there, 33 points on 14-22 shooting. Nobody Miami threw at him – Wade, James Posey, Eddie Jones – could do anything with him.
Game 1: Orlando @ Detroit: Pistons 100, Magic 92
Saw most of the 1st quarter and that was pretty much it. Looking at the box score, I can’t believe how poorly the Pistons played defensively. Orlando shot 58% from the field and 40% from three. They would’ve easily stolen game 1 had they had just an average night from the line or took care of the ball a little better. If I told you going in that they’d have shot 50% from the free throw line and had 20 turnovers, you’d have guess that they got blown out, right? I suppose Detroit’s defense deserves some credit for forcing the turnovers, but from what I saw in the 1st quarter, I get the distinct impression that most of them were unforced.
The biggest culprit on both fron
ts was that freak, Dwight Howard who finished 3-11 from the line and accounted for a half dozen giveaways as well. While snatching damn near half of his team’s rebounds (19 of 39) in his first playoff showing is certainly impressive, he just killed them in too many other ways (team worst -13) to not wear the goat horns on this day. Tony Battie was just as bad, a -12 in 24 minutes, missed both of his foul shots and a total non-factor on defense.
Really their best big man today was Darko, and as odd it sounds, it was probably due to his previous playoff experience. He played within himself and had quite the good day, relatively speaking. If his foot’s feeling up to it, Brian Hill has to consider giving him more run in Game 2. Also, the team needs more from Grant Hill. They need leadership and guidance out there and he’s the talisman, if only for three more games. I don’t care that Tayshaun’s checking him, it’s not an excuse.
No wonder it never worked out for Darko in Motown. He looks positively terrifed scoring the basketball. It’s like he thinks the basket will swallow his hand or something. What kind of wicked shit did ‘Sheed give him as a rookie? (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
For the Pistons, nobody really stood out. Rasheed started out on fire, scoring 10 points in the first six minutes, but only finished with 16. Chauncey had 22 and 11, but never appeared to be dominating the game. The Pistons’ starters produced 84 of their 100 points and Detroit had a comfortable two touchdown lead most of the way. The Magic cut it to five late with an 11-2 run but a Prince dunk and five Chauncey freebies put it to bed.
Game two might be worth watching, at least for another first quarter. Will the Magic take heart that they can play with this team and come out with more focus early or will their shoulders be sagging with the realization that they let the Pistons get away with a “C-” game? I’m just not in love with this Pistons team.
3. Darko Milicic – 14 points on six shots and a team best +5.
2. Rasheed Wallace – Got Detroit off to a nice 1st quarter cushion and they never looked back.
1. Chauncey Billups – Ho-hum 22 and 11, dominated Jameer Nelson as expected.
Game 1: Utah @ Houston: Rockets 84, Jazz 75
Perhaps my initial enthusiasm for this series was unjustified. It certainly looks like it will be close, competitive and lengthy, but given the two head coaches and the slow down tempo they prefer to play, we might be in for some eyesore basketball here. Whatever, as long as Houston prevails with their two main guys unscathed, I’ll be happy.
It was a game of prolonged offensive slumps and the Rockets managed to land more body blows in the 3rd quarter than the Jazz nailed them with in the 2nd. A nine point deficit became a six point lead for Houston, thanks mainly to McGrady finally rediscovering his stroke after an 0-6 first half and jaw-droppingly wretched shooting from the Jazz’ starting frontcourt. Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur finished 6 of 31 between them and were 0-10 for 0 points in the crucial third. AK-47 played 16 ineffective minutes as well before being chained to the bench by Sloan in favor of Obi-Wan Kenobe.
The guy who bears the responsibility of the game turning play however, is Derek Fisher. With 1:54 to go in the 3rd quarter the Jazz were clinging to a one point lead, 53-52 when T-Mac threw a blind pass right at Okur. He headmanned it over to Fisher and the Jazz had a 3 on 0 fast break. Mr. 0.4 inexplicably missed the bunny with nary a Rocket around him and Okur missed the tip rebound as well. The loose ball wound up in Skip to My Loo’s hands and he heaved it down court to a cherry picking Yao for a dunk, a four point swing, and a lead the Rockets would never relinquish. I couldn’t be more thrilled with how that sequence played out. Derek Fisher could shove a live grenade up his ass and I’d laugh myself hoarse.
The unsung heroes in this one for the Rockets were Alston, who hounded Deron Williams into a 7 of 19 night and still managed to not collapse on the court despite the 47 minutes of playing time, and Chuck Hayes, who made life miserable for Okur and Boozer. Yao and T-Mac did the heavy lifting on offense as one would expect and their combined 51 points was 19 more than the Boozer-Okur-Williams trio, and on 15 less shots to boot.
The funniest part of the night though was McGrady’s over-the-top self-involved interview with Screamin’ A. Smith. He announced that he is ready to take all the blame should the Rockets flame out in the 1st round again with all the gravity of a president admitting that he committed treason.
Smith yelled, “NO!” in the background, begging McGrady to step off that perilous limb, but Tracy wouldn’t budge.
“It’s on me. If we lose, it’s on me.”
No shit knucklehead. Who’d you think the media would blame? The Cookie Monster? Hey T-Mac, Kobe Bryant called. He says you’re taking yourself too seriously.
3. Chuck Hayes – 4 points and 9 rebounds may not sound like much, but he was the defensive star of day 1 of the playoffs.
2. Tracy McGrady – 22 second half points and reclaimed the game for the Rockets in the 3rd.
1. Yao Ming – So this is where we’ve gotten with him? 28 and 13 and nobody bats an eyelash? Interesting.
So that’s it for the first day of the playoffs. Our journey begins tomorrow.
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