Friday, May 04, 2007

Thursday Night Wrap-Up

Another wild night of NBA basketball, thanks to the Golden State Warriors and the remarkable Oakland crowd. Oh, and Houston and Utah played.

Warriors Mania

I'm quite certain that I will need follow-up posts to capture what happened tonight and in this series, but here is some immediate feedback.

- The fourth play of the game was about as big of a play as you can have that early. Possession #1 saw Dallas win the tip and Jason Terry come out confident by nailing a three, while Possession #2 had Baron dribbling the ball off his leg. 3-0 Mavs right away and I'm thinking, are the Warriors tight and nervous? Had the pressure truly shifted? The next two plays seemed to indicate the opposite, as Dirk short-armed a jumper and then Matt Barnes made a leaping one-handed catch and throw (all in one motion) from the corner to Richardson for a three. That play by Barnes (and J-Rich) did more than tie the score 3-3. It proved to everyone in the building that Golden State would play their game. It was such a wild and risky play and it showed no fear. I thought it was enormous.

- It will probably be overlooked, but Monta Ellis' stint with Baron in the locker room was huge for the Warriors. Ellis had been brutal ever since going 5-for-5 in the first quarter of Game Two, and considering that all the air had come out of Oracle Arena with Baron's hamstring pull, it was a risky time of the game for the Warriors. They wound up winning by 25 so it is easy to lose perspective, but this was a game in which it was imperative for G-State to keep the Mavs within striking distance. They needed the crowd in the game and the biggest risk was falling too far behind at any point. That stretch late in the first quarter could have been a disaster, but Ellis came in and made a couple of big hoops, a great feed, and two steals. He played some critical minutes.

- Boy, what to write about Baron Davis? It's hard to say that his performance ranks with Willis Reed and the MJ Flu Game, since those took place in the Finals, but his effort was heroic. It was obvious that he was in tremendous pain, but he got by on shooting, smarts, grit, and by picking his spots to explode through the discomfort and attack the rim. When Davis came back into the game and could hardly move, I figured he would get the hook at the next TV timeout. But he just stayed in and kept trying and the next thing you knew, he was scoring 11 straight points, hitting fadeaways off of one leg, making miracle threes, you name it. Just unbelievable. He won this game for Golden State and he did it through the sheer force of his infectious personality and will to win. You could just tell that he believed that this was his series to shine and that he wasn't going to be denied. The crazy thing is that as big of a story as his hamstring was tonight, it looms even larger going forward. The Warriors can keep going, especially if they get the Rockets in the next round. Utah would be a tough matchup for them and, looking even further ahead, the Spurs would be a rough draw, but if they get Houston and Phoenix (who they dominated on national TV about a month ago), they could actually reach (and win) the Finals. How insane would that be? But it all hinges on Baron's health. If his knee is hurting and is hammy is hurting, the Warriors are going to have a hard time keeping this train going.

- Stephen Jackson's crazy ride continues. From the first time he came on the scene as the Spurs' X-Factor, it has been a constant good/bad with Jackson. He's a fearless shooter: good. He can hardly dribble: bad. He is a hot head: bad. He is clutch: good. He charges into the stands to fight fans: bad. He is fiercely loyal: good. He shoots guns into the air: bad. He is one of the most underrated defensive players in the league: good. And on and on. Tonight it was just good all the time. He was the most confident Warrior in all the interviews leading up to this game and he backed up the talk. When he couldn't get calls early, he looked for the deep jumper and then went 7-for-his first 7 from behind the arc. When Dallas started trapping out of the zone, he took the ball to the rim and finished. His defense on Dirk was outstanding and in the zone was even better. He only committed one turnover. He tallied 33 points. The guy was just a beast and you know what, I'm guessing Mike Dunleavy wouldn't have been able to provide that. Just a hunch.

- How about Matt Barnes? This is a guy that was never all that great at UCLA, couldn't find a home in the NBA, and is suddenly an indispensable player on the most exciting team in the NBA. Go figure. Part of this is because the Warriors are so unique and also have a very thin roster. But there is something else at work and it is this: players like Matt Barnes are just more valuable in this new NBA. Coaches like Larry Brown and Mo Cheeks should have been able to see the writing on the wall the last two seasons and held on to Barnes, but instead, he got jerked around and only got PT when his coaches wanted to put in the token "hustle guy" and send a message to the more talented players. So nobody valued him. Well, Don Nelson values him. Barnes is an athletic player with a handful of skills, a ton of desire, and supreme (shocking?) confidence. Most importantly, he's lanky and versatile. I can think of 20 teams in the NBA that need a 6'7" G/F that can make some shots, rebound, run the floor, and guard a variety of positions. That's Matt Barnes. A guy that nobody wanted and that everybody needs. Ironic. Tonight he played 42 minutes on a bum leg, threw up a 16 and 11 with a team-high 7 assists, and had a huge play when he started the "attack the hoop" phase of the game with a drive down the lane and hammer dunk with the left hand.

- There are things to say about Nelson's coaching, Richardson's great play (the "senior" Warrior was fantastic), and Biedrins' terrific game, but I'll end with the crowd. They got a little uneasy when Baron went down, but otherwise, the Oakland fans delivered in a huge way. Steve Kerr, who was a collegiate All-American and played on multiple teams that won the NBA Finals, said it was probably the best crowd he'd ever experienced in his entire basketball career. That is high praise. They got in Dirk's head early, lifted Baron to great heights, brought tremendous noise, and then finished things off with wonderful ovations for all the key guys as they left the floor. After Baron, the Warriors fans were the MVP of the series.

Jazz Knot Series

Every game in this series has been won by the home team, and Houston better hope that remains true on Saturday. Once again they fell behind and, as in the previous games in Utah, they couldn't make up the difference in the second half. For a while it looked like Houston might make a big push when they closed to 68-64, but then Utah got four big points on a couple of weird plays. First Kirilenko went charging into Luther Head trying to make a pass and not only didn't get called for a charge, but was awarded two shots as the ref ruled it was a shooting foul (racist!). Then, after a Yao three-second call (continuing his unprecedented turnover binge), the Jazz scored on a very strange play in which Kirilenko lost the ball three separate times and nearly went over and back before getting it to Deron Williams for a tough jumper. Dick Stockton said that AK-47 appeared to be "on ice skates" and that you had to consider the play to be a "great omen" for the Jazz, which pretty much sums it up. (And no offense to Dick, who was properly moved off the Warriors-Mavs game, that was pretty much the only time he's summed something up correctly this postseason.)

Anyway, now things go back to Houston and the pressure is all on T-Mac and the Rockets to win and advance. It is totally unfair that McGrady is under this type of scrutiny as he not only has a glowing individual resume in the playoffs, but is currently carrying a bunch of stiffs against a very good Utah team (and that stiffs comment includes Yao, who looks downright robotic out there). In fact, I guarantee that the Warriors are hoping that Houston wins this series, because they really don't want to face Utah in the second round. The Jazz have plenty of scoring punch, are well coached, and if the refs aren't calling fouls, can turn what seem to be glaring defensive deficiencies into a strength by just grabbing and shoving. Golden State would have a much better chance against a Houston team that is becoming increasingly inflexible and reliant on McGrady.

(By the way, I thought it was a pretty poorly officiated game. There was a three-minute stretch in the fourth quarter in which both teams were just blatantly hacking and there wasn't a single call. Kirilenko was mauling McGrady and Hayes was just battering Boozer. No whistles. I know they want to let the players play, but this isn't rugby. Is it that hard to ref this new fast and physical brand of basketball? Do we need three-man crews at each end of the court? Laser sensors?)


Crow said...

very interesting blog

Josh Stump said...

Baron was amazing last night. Just awesome. Of course, if that injury is significant at all, GS can celebrate their win by getting swept in the next round.

Seeing him play like this just makes me feel even more cheated at how much he has been watching games with injuries.

Good stuff as always.

Adam Hoff said...

I agree about Baron and the feeling of being cheated. That series so long ago when he dominated Orlando and the series in 2003 when he nearly beat Philly despite hardly being able to walk ... those were just amazing performances. It also seems like the combination of Nellie and the natrual maturation process that comes with getting older have made Baron more effective as well. I don't doubt that injuries are the biggest factor in derailing his career, but even when healthy, he didn't seem to have this fantastic feel for winning and lifting his team. I'm just glad this season and this series happened, because now we saw it all come together, even if just for a moment.

I think Baron's hammy is the story of the playoffs right now. With the right matchups, they could possibly run the table (although it is obviously unlikely). In fact, I had a Baron injury as #6 on a list of those that would send the biggest shockwaves through the playoffs. He needs to get a hold of T.O. right away and get access to that hyperbaric chamber. Baron's hamstring could become the "Schilling's Ankle" of this postseason.

Branden Higa said...

Unfortunately for me, I was only able to catch the 4th quarter of last night's game. So instead of watching the most anticipated game of the year, I was watching a high school musical. Strangely enough, there were a lot of parallels between the game and the musical.

1. They both took place is gyms.
2. I had floor seats (NBA or HS, that's how I roll)
3. The crowd in that HS barn was a raucous as the fans in Oakland last night.
4. The star of the play and the star of the Mavs were both having horrible evenings.
5. The supporting cast of the play and the supporting cast of the Mavs were not talented enough to fend off the tide of that counter clockwise swirling feeling.
6. Just like that lone Mavs fan in the #41 jersey, I wanted my money back. Also, half way through the event, I wanted to shoot myself.

Bummed to miss the game, but fortunately, I have at least 4 more opportunities to watch everyone's new favorite team.