How does that AM / PM slogan go? Too much good stuff? Well that could pretty much sum how most people are feeling about the NBA playoffs thus far. Well, unless you’re a Lakers fan. Let’s hit the Reset button and see where we stand…
The Starting Five:
1. Where Amazing Happens
If you missed the Grizzlies – Thunder triple overtime thriller on Monday evening… shame on you. Between Facebook feeds pumping in, Twitter exploding and your grandma calling you wondering why reruns of Bones were being preempted by ‘some silly sports thing’ then there are no excuses for not getting to a TV. I mean, hell, the game was only like 15 hours long. Not that it was the prettiest display of basketball ever… far from it.
Flawless execution was not the order of the day. There were ton of free throws. Key players fouled out. It was an absolute war of attrition. The teams combined for 90 (90!) attempts from the line. However, despite the herky jerky rhythm to the game, as the venerable Rasheed Wallace would say, “both teams played hard, my man.” Grit, determination and timely shooting made up whatever aesthetic beauty was missing and made this quite simply the best game of the 2011 NBA post season.
The deciding factor in the game was that even with a lack of execution and far too many instances of poor decision making, the Thunder have something that the Grizz do not. Durant and Westbrook, it turns out, have unlimited turbo and when the Grizz started fading at the end of the third overtime the dynamic duo simply ran right past them.
If you missed it, here’s the short version via NBA.com. Game 5 tonight ought to be epic.
2. Proba bull-y Seven Games
If I had told you before the playoffs start the the two best series of the second round would be Bulls – Hawks and Grizz – Thunder, you probably wouldn’t have laughed in my face. First, for implying that the Spurs and Magic would fold. Second, for thinking that of out of all the narratives and matchups in the league, these four teams would be providing the best basketball. But its true. Both series are most likely headed to seven and while it may not have been what we were all expecting headed in the playoffs, fans will take it.
A word of caution, however for the Bull’s faithful. Assuming Chicago does manage to move past the Hawks, can they keep winning with Rose being as terribly inefficient as he’s been thus far? Yes, he’s scoring 30 points per game but its coming on averages and 24 shots and 41% shooting. And the Bulls opponents thus far are not exactly defensive juggernauts. What happens when an elite defensive team figures out a way for basically get him down to 1 point per shot. Will Boozer show up? Is Luol Deng going to a prime-time second option? The defense is there, but it still feels like the Bulls might be a scorer away from getting over the hump.
3. Cred where Cred is Due
In sports, there is a subtle difference between a team that is “playing better than you” and a team that is better than you. But you know what, I fail to see the distinction here. The Lakers got rolled. They blew a 16 point lead in game one. They constantly left shooters open off of weak or confused rotations had no rhythm or consistency in terms of offensive execution and Pau Gasol looked, at times, like a lost puppy.
As I listen to the exit interviews given by the Lakers I hear a lot of excuses about fatigue, about lack of practice time or familiarity with the triangle. But you know what? Occam’s razor, that’s what. The simplest explanation is usually the most correct one. In this case, the simplest explanation is that the Mavericks are just a much better team. And after watching them buzzsaw through L.A. like the Lakers were a piece of plywood, I’m apt to agree.
4. Broken Wing and a Prayer
Its admirable what Rajon Rondo has done, playing with essentially one arm in trying to gut it out for the Celtics. The bad news is as significantly impaired as he was, he still outplayed his teammate Kevin Garnett who scored on 7 points on 1 for 10 shooting in Boston’s game 4 loss. The fact is, even against the likes of Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh, Garnett cannot hold down the middle on his own. How much do the C’s miss Perk? In a key sequence down the stretch of the game, Garnett got switched out on a pick n roll to contest a 3 pointer at the top of the key. Chris Bosh’s subsequent tip in was a death kneel for Boston. Would this have happened had big Kendrick been there to eat up the glass? Who knows. Well, actually, I do. And the answer is no.
Of course all that said, it doesn’t help when the Heat are getting non-calls like this.
5. More on Pau
Based on Ramona Shelburne’s article and the corroborating testimony of Lakers players during exit interviews, it seems like a lot of the rumors circulating in regards to Pau Gasol’s struggles were just that, rumors. Yet that doesn’t seem to be changing the mood of many fans in L.A. who seem irate over his lackluster performance.
When I hear L.A. area talk show callers phoning in to label Gasol a skirt or question his manhood or even just openly wonder if he’s washed up, I cringe. The fact is the Lakers don’t have back to back titles without Gasol in the fold. Shouldn’t that buy him even just a smidgen of leeway here?
Yes, Gasol stunk it up in the playoffs. His precipitous drop off was one of the primary reasons the Lakers got throttled and he certainly deserves a lion’s share of blame. But the guy is hardly washed up, and if anything, the psychological beating he’s taking now may actually make him stronger coming into next season. As Brian Kamenetzky writes, bury Pau at your own risk.
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