Saturday, April 28, 2007

Friday Night Wrap-Up

It was a wild night of NBA hoops as the unpredictability was back in a big way. The Heat didn't garner the inevitable Game Three win, the Warriors trounced the Mavs, and the Nets threw a pair of brilliant performances at the poor Toronto Raptors. Let's get to everything.

Beatdown in the Bay

It is hard to pick a lead story on this night, but I should probably go with the throttling that the Warriors put on the Mavs in (as E-40 would say) the Yay Area. Despite committing 31 fouls, going 6-for-23 from three, and giving up 17 offensive rebounds, Golden State crushed Dallas 109-91. The energy in the crowd was ridiculous, to the point that it was one of the primary storylines all game long. In fact, there was one play in the third quarter in which Monta Ellis blocked a shot, pushed the ball ahead, batted a loose ball to a prone Jason Richardson, and then received a no-look pass back from Richardson (who was still on the ground), and then was fouled attacking the hoop. It was as wild of a play as you can find in basketball and apparently it even brought ESPN's Mike Breen to his feet. I bring it up because on that play, the crowd very nearly blew out ESPN's audio feed. It got so loud that the signal actually distorted. Insane.

The Warriors won this game because they were faster, more athletic, and played harder. The thing that stood out to me - and this will come as no surprise to fantasy owners who watched their teams lose to Richardson and Baron late in the season - is that their undersized lineup produced 7 blocks and 46 rebounds to 3 and 44 for Dallas. Golden State's entire starting lineup, plus Pietrus and Harrington, all blocked a shot. Those super athletic swats changed the entire game as they led to fast breaks and, more importantly, made Dallas aware of a defensive presence near the rim. Throw in the Richardson looking Kobe-esque going for 30 and 8 on 12-for-19 shooting and G-State was on its way.

All of which means that we've got a huge game on tap for Sunday. As Bill Walton noted, whoever wins that game is probably going to win the series. To be honest, even after watching them run around looking like extras in 28 Weeks Later I still think it will be Dallas. Not for anything special they are doing (the 2006 Pistons comparisons appear very apt right now), but rather a few things that I believe are going to come back to haunt the Warriors:

1) Outlet passing. As in, they don't do it much. It is great to have a lineup full of guys that can bring the ball up the court, but both Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes have a tendency to grab boards and then weave the ball into the frontcourt via the dribble, which is squandering fast break opportunities. Even though everyone can dribble doesn't mean they all should. Baron and Ellis both excel at flying down the floor and making good, aggressive decisions. If the Warriors don't start doing a better job of getting them the rock, they will lose out on crucial easy baskets.

2) Fouling. I still contend that the officials were a tad generous with the Mavs in Game Two, but am willing to admit that part of the issue is just that the Warriors foul a lot. That comes, of course, with playing this reckless, emotional style of ball on both ends of the court. In fact, their willingness to challenge every pass, dribble, and shot seems to have transformed them into a legit playoff team. So I can live with the amount of fouls. It is the timing that concerns me. Those of you who read this blog know that I am obsessed with tracking non-shooting fouls early in quarters. Because the NBA awards two free throws starting with just the fifth team foul in a quarter, it makes the bonus situation a huge factor. Golden State gave up a TON of easy points today by fouling early and often and putting the Mavs in the bonus. If Dallas had stroked free throws better and tacked on a few open shots, they had a few chances in both the second and third quarters to get back into the game, pretty much solely because Golden State had put them in the bonus after just three or four minutes. They need to find a way to stay aggressive without committing dumb fouls so early in the quarter, or they will pay.

3) Stephen Jackson. I hate to pick on him (for fear he will physically hurt me), but this guy is the ultimate wild card. At times his enormous ego (courage?) and legit scoring skills make him unguardable and capable of carrying the Warriors. Throw in his extensive playoff experience with San Antonio and he has a lot of the attributes of a real leader on this team. Except that he's a lunatic. Right before he got tossed in Game Two, I could read his lips after he drew a foul on a drive and he shouted at, well, everyone, "Who can guard me, b****?" This is not the mentality the Warriors need Jackson to have right now. They are thriving on ball movement, exploiting matchups, and attacking off the dribble, and pretty much every guy on the roster is perfectly in sync. Baron, J-Rich, and Ellis, in particular, are in total harmony. The only guy that seemed slightly off today was Jackson and I think that is because he sees himself as singularly unstoppable. He will stop ball movement to jack a tough three just because Diop is switched onto him, as if it is some kind of mismatch rule. He tries to get isolation so he can deploy his sketchy dribble right into the teeth of the defense, which often leads to a turnover and a fastbreak the other way. Not only that, but I think he has some of his teammates convinced that he can be The Guy. He's not The Guy. That would be Baron or Richardson. So if the going gets tough on Sunday night and Stephen Jackson gets going ... that spells trouble for the Warriors.

Anyway, what a tremendously entertaining first round series.

People Wanna Know What the Kidd Did

I don't know if you remember it, but Jason Kidd had the most amazingly hilarious rap song back in the mid 90s. It was part of a compilation called something like "B Ball's Finest" that paired rappers up with NBA players like Ced Ceballos, Gary Payton, Dana Barros, and a host of others. It was pretty fantastic. Anyway, I couldn't help but think of it today as J-Kidd put together an absolutely dominant performance. Let me put the line up on it's own, so it can glow on the page:


Are you kidding me? By scoring 16 points, grabbing 16 boards, and dishing out 19 assists, Kidd joined just Fat Lever (1985) and Wilt (1967) on the list of players that have posted that kind of line in a playoff game. Just sick. And let's not forget, Kidd was a "game-time decision" with his sore knee. I have to credit Henry Abbot of True Hoop for insisting that Kidd would not only play, but have a great game. I hope nobody bet Henry that "jillion dollars."

The amazing thing about Kidd's ridiculous game is that it was somehow overlooked while the action played out. How is that possible? Well, Vince Carter was busy going 11-for-13 in the first half and tormenting the Raps with 37 points, most of them on insane scoop shots and deep jumpers.

This was probably the best I've seen a duo play in the postseason since the Kobe-Shaq and Nash-Dirk days. That might be stretching things, but I don't think so. Kidd and Carter were just toying with Toronto today.

Bulls = Too Good

After all the talk (by me) of referees and free throw attempts, none of it mattered tonight in Miami. The officiating did go the way I expected it for most of the game as Miami had a healthy advantage in attempts before resorting to the Hack-A-Ben and "stop the clock" strategies late in the game (not to mention Posey just deciding to start hammering people in the backcourt with three minutes to go). The problem was that the Heat didn't make any of those freebies. Which just proves that while the refs may very well be influenced by either home crowds or "knowledge of that which is ideal," they can't actually win the games for teams. This was something accurately pointed out in comments here and on True Hoop today during the great conspiracy debates and is a very valid point. Even if you are getting favorable whistles or being allowed to get your hack on, you still have to make plays. Or, in this case, make free throws. Miami was an atrocious 16-for-35 from the line. 46 percent! And while Shaq (3-for-12) was certainly a culprit, it was Wade going 4-for-10 that really hurt Miami.

And of course, it hurt the Heat that Chicago is simply a much better team.

Whether my theory about "games of interest" was disproved, or merely thwarted by the Bulls, I could care less, because Chicago winning that game was the ultimate shocker. Even though I fully expected them to win the series, I never imagined they could get this to 3-0. And that is what made it great. It cut against the script.

The MVPs for the Bulls were the usual suspects. "Leo Dong" went for 24 and 11 and Gordon had 22 of his 27 in the second half. Nobody in a Miami uniform can guard those guys which tends to make things tough. Credit also goes to Ben Wallace for more good D, Hinrich for his best game of the series, and Nocioni for giving them big minutes off the bench (including a few big ones in relief of a foul-plagued Deng).

I personally don't think the big story here is Miami being on the ropes, because it seemed pretty likely that Chicago could beat them, but rather that the Pistons' supposed big "rest" advantage might not enter into things. The common thinking was that Detroit would roll (as they have) and then kick back and watch as the Bulls and Heat beat each other up for six or seven games. This would provide the Pistons with a big advantage over the winner of that series. But, if Chicago can deliver the knockout punch, that advantage will be completely negated. And if both teams are healthy and rested, I like the Bulls' chances.

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