By Ryan Glasspiegel
From now until the end of the NBA Playoffs, I am going to throw in my two cents on the previous night’s games, do a little bit of forecasting, and provide curated aggregation from national columnists and local beat writers.
My Two Cents
- There has been universal criticism of Shaq’s presence on Inside the NBA all season and now that the spotlight is on it is going to become deafening. He is TERRIBLE. Like, Skip Bayless bad. He’s a pure demagogue. He waits for Barkley’s opinion, then combatively and wrongly disagrees with it. Charles will fight back once and maybe twice but Shaq will take the last word and give off a smug vibe as if Barkley’s refusal to continue to engage him means that he won.
Last night, when Inside the NBA was opening, Ernie Johnson was introducing the agenda when Shaq said, “Ernie let me interrupt you for a second.” Ernie sighed: “OK, go ahead…”
“David Levy, CEO of Time Warner: your stock is at $38.07 and it BETTER be there this time tomorrow,” Shaq said as Ernie, Charles, and Kenny looked at him in silent disbelief. “You wouldn’t know nothing about stocks Charles.”
Barkley made a quick comment about how they tried to put stock options in his contract but he refused, Ernie changed the subject back to basketball, and the three made a concerted effort to prevent Shaq from speaking again for the rest of the segment. There will be an unquantifiable amount of Shaq backlash in the next six weeks.
- I feel SO bad for Derrick Rose and the Bulls, whose ceiling went from possibly (although not probably) winning the NBA Championship to losing in six games to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m glad that Rose is expected to ultimately make a full recovery and am hopeful that his injury-riddled season is not an indication of what the rest of his career will be like. Rose is singlemindedly driven to succeed in basketball: he hustles every minute of every game and the rest of the Bulls follow his lead vigorously. Sports fans everywhere will lose if his size and aggression combine to make his career unsustainable.
- The Clippers’ comeback from down 27 in the second half and trailing 95-71 with eight minutes to go left me completely speechless and I’m still not particularly sure how exactly it happened–for the Clippers to have scored 25 points in those eight minutes would have put them on pace to score 150 in a 48-minute game. The statistical improbability of the Clippers’ 28-3 run in that amount of time is staggering and one can’t help but feel for the Grizzlies and their fans. That’s about as bad of a loss as I’ve ever seen in sports. My friend Brad, a die hard Grizzlies fan, could only console himself with the fact that this was not an elimination game.
- The Heat might not be the best team in the league but they have the best chance at winning the title. This is because they are DEFINITELY going to win the East while pretty much everybody except for the Jazz could conceivably win the West if all broke right.
Curated Aggregation (All winners lead 1-0)
Bulls 103, 76ers 91
In the Chicago Tribune, Steve Rosenbloom writes that Carlos Boozer needs to ‘Quiet the Haters’.
Boozer was supposed to be a 20-and-10 guy. That was a lifetime ago. Boozer was supposed to be a low-post presence. That became a guy looking for the La-Z-Boy comfort of the mid-range jumper. He was bad and hurt in last year’s postseason. Geez, he didn’t even see the court in many of the most important fourth quarters. He owes the Bulls. Time to pay up.
ESPN’s Michael Wilbon blames Rose’s injury on the shortened NBA season:
Derrick Rose was doomed the moment the owners and the players’ union signed that agreement. I’ve talked with multiple trainers who work with NBA players. They say very few — if any — athletes in the NBA put the pressure on their joints and move their bodies with the torque Rose does. These opinions weren’t offered Saturday, in the wake of Rose tearing his ACL; they were offered in great detail weeks ago, when Rose was trying to come back from one injury, then the next, then the next. What’s that old song: “The leg bone’s connected to the hip bone … .” Well, it is. Everything is connected, and when Rose hurt his toe, it affected his hip, which affected his knee. And he never had the time, in this compressed season, to condition himself the way he had previously — the way he would have this season. The kid, before now, had played in 280 of 286 games since he left Simeon High School. If not Ripkenesque, it’s still damn good at 98 percent participation. In other words, Rose didn’t miss games — until this winter.
John Mitchell of the Philly Daily News writes that there is no asterisk for the 76ers as their window has opened slightly wider:
No one wants this for Derrick Rose, least of all the players in the Sixers locker room, all of whom prefaced their postgame comments by wishing him well. But as coach Doug Collins has said all season long when the Sixers faced a shorthanded team, there are no asterisks placed next to a game upon its conclusion. And that’s going to be the case in this series if the Sixers can win it.
Heat 100, Knicks 67
Dan LeBatard, Miami Herald, on LeBron:
This one doesn’t count, of course. Doesn’t mean anything. Because LeBron James was great. It would have counted, would have meant something, would have been an echoing national shame and charater-smearing proof of his mental frailty, only if he had failed. That’s where James will reside until he holds up the trophy. That’s what this postseason is about. When you rise from the ground on a stage with music and smoke by way of introduction, and then vanish in fourth quarters while losing in the finals, your next season doesn’t get to be about Game 1s.
But the journey to redemption is clearing for James, bodies crumbling in his path and in his wake. Derrick Rose is done for the year. Dwight Howard, too. Ray Allen says he is playing through an injury that requires surgery. Iman Shumpert had to be carried off the court Saturday, his season also over. James was asked about the Rose injury that has essentially ended Chicago’s season, and he said, “I’m worried about the Knicks, not the Bulls.”
In the NY Daily News, Mike Lupica adds:
He is the biggest star and the best player and that is why he is facing more pressure in this NBA postseason than anybody in his sport has ever faced, moving up on two years since he had his “Decision” special on television and announced he was taking his talents to South Beach. More than ever, it’s on him this time if the Heat don’t win after coming as close as they did last time. This isn’t about fair or unfair. It is just the way things are. LeBron promised all those rings when he and Wade and Bosh had their official dopey “Dance Fever” introduction to Heat fans. Now he is expected to win just one.
In the NY Post, Mike Vaccaro says Mike Woodson needs to wake the Knicks up:
Mike Woodson understands nobody is inclined to feel sorry for him. Iman Shumpert, his best athlete, busted up a knee? Tough. Tyson Chandler, the Knicks’ defensive backbone and emotional foundation, can’t shake the flu? Too bad. Baron Davis’ back looks like one of those soft pretzels you buy on the Boardwalk in July?
“No one cares, no one wants to hear it,” Woodson said yesterday. “This is the big leagues. This is the NBA. You take the hand that’s dealt you and you play it.”
Magic 81, Pacers 77
The Magic are looking for reasons not to be Hoosiers instead of embracing who and where they are. They are the NBA’s version of Hickory — the small-town Indiana high school trying to make an improbable run through the postseason. They are overmatched and undermanned and are led by a volatile coach who has made enemies along the way.
And just like Hickory, the Magic are playing in the heart of Indiana against the Pacers, a team with more size, more depth and more quickness. The Magic’s only hope of winning this series is to play harder, play smarter and play together.
Actually, you could say the Magic are even bigger underdogs than Hickory High. At least Hickory had its best player during the playoff run. In fact, in the movie, the star player — Jimmy Chitwood — shows up at the emergency town meeting and talks them out of firing Coach Norman Dale. “He goes, I go,” Jimmy said. In Orlando, the polar opposite happened. The star player allegedly went to the big meeting and tried to talk them into firing the coach. The conversation probably went something like this, “He stays, I go.”
In the Indianapolis Star, Bob Kravitz says that the Pacers choked away Game 1:
The Magic shouldn’t have a lick of hope in this series. But now they’ve got some. Partially because they seized the moment, especially veteran Jason Richardson, hitting monster shots down the stretch. And partially — mostly — because the Pacers were awful when it mattered.
This was supposed to be the next step in the Pacers’ progression. A year ago, they were the little upstart team that had found its way under Vogel and hoped only to make the Bulls series competitive, and they did that with room to spare.
This year, they are coming into this as not only a favorite, but a prohibitive favorite. Most have them winning in five games. I’m on record saying it will be six.
But this was an atrocious and shocking start to it all.
Thunder 99, Mavericks 98
In the Oklahoman, Darrell Mayberry writes that Russell Westbrook’s shutdown D on Jason Terry in the fourth quarter was as important as Durant’s game-winning shot:
Jason Terry spent 23 of the first 36 minutes in Game 1 torching the Thunder.
Dallas’ sixth man scored 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting to help the Mavs take a 73-69 lead heading into the fourth period. Terry made all four of his 3-point attempts and had five assists.
And then Russell Westbrook slid over and guarded the spark plug of a shooting guard.
From that point on, Terry went scoreless. He missed his lone shot attempt in the fourth quarter and didn’t register any assists in the final period.
On ESPNDallas, Jeff Caplan looks ahead for the Mavs’ keys to Game 2:
1. Stopping Serge: The Thunder’s explosive power forward had a huge Game 1 with 22 points, six rebounds and five blocked shots. His two and-1s in the final 1:47 of the game got OKC within 94-92 and game it the lead 97-96 with 53.9 seconds to play. Ibaka was 9-of-12 from the field with six dunks, a layup and a 3-point buzzer-beater to end the first half. Several dunks came when his defender helped on a driving Durant, leaving Ibaka free to catch the dish and soar for the dunk.
2. Ailing West: Delonte West spent Friday night and Saturday morning vomiting, but he managed to get himself together enough to play in Game 1. He played 27 minutes, but clearly he did not look in peak condition. He had an awful time early trying to stay with Russell Westbrook, who was nailing his mid-range jumper. West was just 2-of-5 from the floor for five points, including a big 3-pointer from the corner in the fourth quarter. He had two assists and a bad turnover. He acknowledged that he wasn’t involved much in the game. That will have to change in Game 2 and the Mavs should get a more spirited effort from West as his body recovers from the stomach ailment.
3. Dirk’s turnovers: Is Nowitzki becoming turnover-prone in crunch time? It was an issue in a couple of games late in the season and his two turnovers in the final 90 seconds of Game 1 were obviously crucial. Nowitzki had three of his game-high six turnovers in the fourth quarter and five in the second half. Several of his turnovers came as he tried to drive into the lane, but was swarmed by Thunder defenders.
Spurs 106, Jazz 91
In the Salt Lake Tribune, Brian T. Smith says that the Jazz need to stop Tony Parker to have any chance at beating the Spurs:
Devin Harris said it’s that simple. So did Al Jefferson. And Utah coach Tyrone Corbin. After watching Parker turn into a Jazz killer Sunday during the Spurs’ 106-91 Game 1 victory, Utah will return to Salt Lake City with “Contain Parker” at the top of its to-do list. The 11-year veteran easily shredded the Jazz’s pick-and-roll and paint defense, scoring a game-high 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting, hitting 8 of 10 free throws and dishing out a game-high eight assists.
In the San Antonio Express News, Buck Harvey talks about Tony Parker’s growth:
But he keeps taking steps, and he admitted to one Sunday. Last summer, he said, Gregg Popovich told him he had played harder for the French national team than he had against the Grizzlies. Parker reacted as he has for a career, finding another way to get better. Harris is unsure if that is true, wondering if the team around Parker is what changed.
But one scout said this Sunday: He can’t remember anyone getting better, year after year, until reaching such a high level when nearly 30 years old. The game has slowed for Parker now, even as he speeds past defenders. He sees the floor and what should come next, and he did that Sunday afternoon.
Lakers 103, Nuggets 88
On Yahoo, Adrian Wojnarowski juxtaposes Andrew Bynum with Dwight Howard:
Bynum is so young, 24 years old, and yet this is his seventh season in the NBA. Habits form. Development slows. Slowly, surely, you become what you will always be: Sometimes brilliant, sometimes detached and forever an enigma. At the trade deadline in February, the Lakers were willing to part with Bynum for Orlando center Dwight Howard. The Lakers wanted an assurance that Howard would sign a contract extension, and he wouldn’t give it, sources in the talks said.
Looking back, the irony is unmistakable now. Howard was the sure thing, the indestructible force who never got injured, never missed games. Bynum was the gamble, with major parts of three seasons lost to knee injuries. Now, Howard is rehabilitating his back after surgery and struggling to sit up straight in a chair. He’ll be back again, but he would’ve gone down with the Lakers, just like he did with the Magic.
In the LA Times, Ben Bolch tells about a key stat in the series:
The number that doomed the Denver Nuggets in their playoff opener couldn’t be found in the box score. It wasn’t the 15 shots they had blocked or their season-worst 35.6% shooting percentage or the measly 14 points they scored in the first quarter Sunday against the Lakers. You really had to look no further than the average age of the Nuggets’ starters: 23.6.
In the Denver Post, Mark Kiszla calls out Ty Lawson:
Lawson, who seemed to be the No. 1 reason to believe the Nuggets might have a shot at an upset in the opening round, didn’t score a point against Los Angeles until 1:56 p.m. local time.
Tip-off was approximately 90 minutes earlier.
This is Lawson’s team. As such he should be responsible for the Nuggets being ready to play rather than teammates wondering where Lawson disappeared.
Hawks 83, Celtics 74
On ESPNBoston, Chris Forsberg examines the broader implications of the Celtics’ loss:
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics put themselves in a tough spot. Not only did they dig themselves a big hole in Game 1 (and were unable to climb out), they might have done the same with the series. Game 2 is a must-win situation — winning four of the next five would be incredibly daunting for the often inconsistent C’s — and they might not have the services of Rondo to aid them in Game 2 after his late-game outburst. Boston certainly played better over the final three quarters, but was simply unable to overcome the damage inflicted by a hot start by the Hawks. The two sides will take a day to work out the kinks before Game 2 on Tuesday night back at Philips Arena.
In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mark Bradley thinks that Rose’s injury opens a door for the Hawks to make the Eastern Conference Finals:
The Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968. While based here, they’ve never won two playoff series in a single season. They may never have a better chance than they do now. They hold the homecourt edge over Boston in Round 1. (Never mind that the Celtics are favored to win.) Should the Hawks beat the C’s, their Round 2 opponent will be Philadelphia, which has the worst record of any postseason qualifier, or Chicago, which just lost its best player for the duration.
Clippers 99, Grizzlies 98
In the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Geoff Calkins tries to figure out what went wrong for the Grizzlies:
And you will hear and read a lot of theories over the next few days about what exactly went wrong. The Grizzlies stopped running their offense through Gasol. They let Nick Young hit three straight 3’s.They didn’t adjust well to the Clippers backcourt of Paul and Eric Bledsoe. All of that is true. But the harder truth is that Clippers outworked the Grizzlies down the stretch. They did what Memphis is supposed to do.
They lost because they didn’t get back on defense. Because they didn’t share the ball on offense. Because they didn’t cover 3-point shooters. Because they decided the game was done. And then, when it suddenly wasn’t so done, they couldn’t get themselves cranked back up. So, yes, the building was quiet in the aftermath. As was the locker room.
In the LA Times, TJ Simers is dumbfounded (in a good way):
There are fireworks, the music louder than anything Lon Rosen tried to introduce to Dodger Stadium, and it looks as if a professional basketball team is taking on well-meaning church league players. This one is over after the first quarter. The Clippers are history by halftime, cooked by the end of the third quarter.
And Chris Paul is telling Coach Vinny Del Negro he doesn’t want to come out of the game. The team’s trainer is telling Del Negro that Paul needs a breather, everyone concerned about his groin injury. But Paul wants back in, telling Del Negro, “There’s a chance.”
His teammates hear him. As Del Negro will say later, “It’s contagious.”
And what happens next is fantastic, and that word still isn’t enough. It’s mind-blowing, shocking, dumbfounding and did I mention shocking?