wow. i think its my first time to visit this thread. big hands to a determined effort, zoman! you should write for a sports mag here in the phil.
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The Meralco Bolts relied on speed and heavy defense to shock the Barangay Ginebra squad and win 100-87.read more
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The UAAP Season 76 volleyball tournament ushered in fresh faces with impeccable talent. Just who are the rookies to watch out for?read more
wow. i think its my first time to visit this thread. big hands to a determined effort, zoman! you should write for a sports mag here in the phil.
2012 NBA Playoff Postmortem: Utah Jazz
By all accounts, the compressed 2011-2012 season should be viewed as a successful one for the Utah Jazz.
- They returned to the Playoffs.
- Enes Kanter, the #3 pick from Turkey, didn’t turn out to be that bad for someone who hasn’t played high-level ball in a year, though his numbers aren’t spectacular,
- Veteran pick-ups Josh Howard and Jamaal Tinsley made good use of their “second chances.”
- They returned to the Playoffs.
- Gordon Hayward has improved dramatically, despite a significant dip in his postseason numbers.
- Derrick Favors seems very promising.
- They were in league’s top 5 in scoring, blocks, and rebounds.
- They returned to the Playoffs.
And the future doesn’t look too bad, too.
All they have to do is choose: build for the present, or build for the future.
Utah GM Kevin O’Connor says he’s looking to improve, hinting that some players might not be coming back after what should be an interesting free agency.
Potentially, his most critical choice is whether he keeps his overachieving frontline of Jefferson and Millsap, or trade one or both of them for more pieces that can complement a promising, young core.
I think both Favors and Kanter have a lot of upside to them, and, well, Hayward has the moxie to be much better than Utah’s version of Mike Dunleavy, Jr. I say keep those three young guns, get maybe Millsap on the trading block along with CJ Miles and see what happens.
Still, even if Ty Corbin went into the 2012-2013 campaign with this same group, or an almost intact group, they’ll still have a lot of fight in them. To quote, Gregg Popovich after Game 4, “They (the Jazz) don’t quit.”
SAS over UTA, 87-81
There will be no embarrassing first- round exit for the Western Conference's top-seeded team this year. A year after a spectacular collapse to the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round of the playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs completed a first-round sweep of the Utah Jazz with an 87-81 victory at EnergySolutions Arena Monday. Manu Ginobili led the way with 17 points off the bench while Tony Parker and Tim Duncan contributed 11 apiece for the Spurs in an effort that was not efficient, but nonetheless was effective. Neither team shot over 38 percent from the field, but San Antonio connected on 10-of-22 three-point tries, while Utah missed all 13 of its attempts from beyond the arc. The victorious Spurs may have a shot at avenging their 2011 defeat, as they advance to face the winner of the Memphis/Los Angeles Clippers series. LA holds a 3-1 series lead after winning, 101-97, in overtime later Monday. Utah's Al Jefferson paced all scorers with 26 points and 10 boards, Derrick Favors -- who replaced Josh Howard in the starting lineup for Game 4 -- finished with 16 and 10, and Paul Millsap donated 10 and 19 in the Jazz's final game of the season.
LAC over MEM, 101-97 (OT)
Chris Paul had just two points in the fourth quarter and was unable to get a shot off before the final buzzer in regulation, but his mastery in overtime has the Los Angeles Clippers on the brink of advancing to the West semifinals. Paul netted eight of his 27 points in the extra session to go with nine rebounds and seven assists as the Clippers downed the Memphis Grizzlies, 101-97, in Game 4 of this tightly-contested NBA first-round series. Blake Griffin added 30 points, seven assists and five rebounds for Los Angeles, which took a 3-1 series edge with Game 5 slated in Memphis on Wednesday. Mike Conley had 25 points to go with eight assists and seven rebounds for Memphis. Rudy Gay poured in 23 points.
*Game recaps were compiled and compressed from Reuters, the Associated Press and the Sports Network.
Playoff Postmortem: Orlando Tragic
From Magic to Tragic.
I remember a time when the Orlando Magic figured in the conversation, together with Chicago, Miami and Boston, about the prospective team that could come out of the East and challenge for the NBA Championship.
Now, literally and figuratively, they’ve been replaced by the Indiana Pacers – those overachievers who have no business going into a second round Playoff encounter against the deep and dark Miami Heat (as of this writing, the Heat just clobbered the Knicks in Game 5).
But the Pacers’ success is for another time.
This time, let’s talk about the Magic’s failure.
It’s funny if you’re a Magic fan.
This past season saw Dwight Howard defying almost everyone’s expectations by sticking with Orlando. Well, for one year at least.
At the same time, however, this past season saw how Dwight Howard became not just the focal point of Orlando’s on-court play, but also the embodiment of its off-court struggles.
Howard’s dilly-dallying and bouts of teeny-bopper schizophrenia regarding his relationship with Orlando’s management and coaching staff has hampered and distracted the Magic so much so that they dropped off the East’s Top 4 – the first time after making Top 4 in 5 straight years.
And now they’ve been booted out of the first round the second year running.
What happened here?
They stopped listening to the only man who really gives a damn about winning – Stan Van Gundy.
Ironically, SVG might not even be renewed for next season.
Why? Because, and he won’t admit it because he’s probably the most self-conscious 7-footer on the planet, Dwight Howard will be happy when that happens.
Of course, Dwight also wouldn’t mind if the Magic get a top-flight PG. Apparently, Jameer Nelson isn’t top-flight enough.
Here’s a guy complaining about to the high heavens about not getting help so he can get the crown he’s entitled to.
Or at least he sounds like one.
So when November comes along, Dwight will still be in a Magic uniform. I’m not so sure about Nelson. I’m not expecting SVG to be back.
But at least Dwight will be happy.
Happy in his tragic kingdom.
And change what you read earlier if you’re a Magic fan.
You shouldn’t find it funny after all.
IND over ORL, 105-87
Darren Collison scored 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday and the Indiana Pacers pulled away for a 105-87 victory over the Orlando Magic to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Indiana will play the winner of the series between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Danny Granger added 25 points for Indiana, while George Hill had 15, David West contributed 12 with eight rebounds and Roy Hibbert finished with 11 points and seven boards in Game 5. Jameer Nelson connected on 5-of-8 three-pointers en route to a game-high 27 points to go along with five assists for the Magic, who won the first game of the series before dropping the next four.
ATL over BOS, 87-86
Al Horford and Josh Smith shook off injuries and posted double-doubles to keep the Atlanta Hawks' season alive with a hard- fought 87-86 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Horford, battling through a still-bothersome pectoral injury that caused him to miss most of the regular season, totaled 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Smith chipped in 13 and 16 despite dealing with a sore knee. Smith nearly threw away a chance to seal the win when his inbounds pass with 10.9 seconds remaining was stolen by Rajon Rondo. Down by one, Rondo pushed the ball up the court and dribbled into the left corner. Smith and Horford switched defensive responsibilities, and Horford disrupted Rondo's dribble as time wound down. By the time Rondo recovered and threw to Kevin Garnett at the top of the key, Smith tipped the ball away as the buzzer sounded, pulling the Hawks within 3-2 of a series that continues Thursday back in Boston.
CHI over PHI, 77-69
The shorthanded Chicago Bulls avoided elimination on Tuesday, riding a strong defensive effort to a 77-69 win over the 76ers in Game 5 of their first-round series. The Bulls, playing without star point guard Derrick Rose and starting center Joakim Noah, limited Philadelphia to just 32.1 percent shooting. Luol Deng made four three-pointers and led Chicago with 24 points while Carlos Boozer added 19 points and 13 rebounds. The 76ers had won three straight in the series since a Game 1 loss, which saw Rose go down for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. They still lead the series 3-2 and can become just the fifth No. 8 seed in NBA history to knock off a No. 1 seed with a win in Game 6 on Thursday in Philadelphia. Jrue Holiday scored a team-high 16 points on 5-of-17 shooting in the loss.
DEN over LAL, 102-99
The Denver Nuggets can breathe a sigh of relief. Kobe Bryant went on an offensive onslaught in the fourth quarter, and with his team trailing by as many as 15 in the final frame, Bryant had a chance to tie the contest with a three-pointer in the waning seconds, but his shot from the left wing was too strong. Following a Steve Blake offensive rebound, Ramon Sessions then had an opportunity to send the game into overtime, but his right-wing trey clanged off the rim and the Nuggets escaped and staved off elimination with a 102-99 triumph in Game 5 of this Western Conference first-round series. Andre Miller scored 17 of his 24 points in the second half to pace Denver, which heads back to the Pepsi Center for a Game 6 on Thursday. Bryant netted 14 of his 43 points in the fourth.
*Game recaps were compiled and compressed from the Associated Press and the Sports Network.
2012 NBA Playoff Postmortem: New York Knicks
I’m sure this is not how Tyson Chandler envisioned his 2011-2012 Playoff experience to be like.
Not after winning the NBA Championship last year.
Not after knowing he’d be teammates with Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
Not after being named Defensive Player of the Year.
And getting kicked out by the team he helped beat last June?
Well, at least the team he helped win the Larry O’Brien trophy got KO’d before his new team did.
But still, that’s little consolation, if any.
And still, despite getting ousted in 5 games, this condensed season should be one of the most memorable for the Knicks – and that’s a good thing.
- Tyson Chandler signed up. (good)
- Iman Shumpert turned out to be pretty good. (good)
- Melo and Stat got injured. (bad)
- Jeremy Lin happened. (good)
- JR Smith signed up. (good, I guess)
- Melo returned. (bad – he didn’t click with Lin)
- Lin got injured. (good, I guess – he didn’t click with Melo)
- D’Antoni, uhm, resigned. (I still think this is bad)
- Mike Woodson gave Melo all the possessions he wanted. (turned out to be good)
- The Knicks finished the season on an 18-6 run, which catapulted them to 7th spot. (miraculously good)
- Lost to Miami in 5. (bad, but did anyone really expect otherwise)
As good as this past year has been, however, the future might actually not be as bright.
Melo, Stat, and Chandler take up most of New York’s salary space, which really doesn’t leave a lot left to build a serious contender. With Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert and only a couple of other not-so-key pieces guaranteed to return, the Knicks will have to do a lot of reimagining to reenter the East’s Top 4 conversation the way they did before December 2011.
Jeremy Lin isn’t guaranteed. Same with JR Smith. Baron Davis is done. Ditto with Mike Bibby. Steve Novak will have a wealth of suitors. Mike Woodson isn’t even the head coach, yet. Technically, he’s still in interim status.
Don’t be surprised if New York will look very different next season.
In reality, the only thing constant will be this(especially if Woodson is named head coach, which is a probability): Melo will still take a truckload of the shots.
Whether that’s a good thing or nor, well, I’ll just leave it up to you.
MIA over NYK, 106-94
LeBron James had a solid all-around effort with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and the Miami Heat dominated the shorthanded New York Knicks, 106-94, to win their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series in five games. The Heat, seeded second, will play Indiana in the conference semifinals. The third-seeded Pacers finished off Orlando in five games Tuesday night. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh each tallied 19 points, while Mario Chalmers scored 10 for the Heat. But it was James who forced the action all night, going 13-of-15 from the foul line. Overall, Miami missed just five of its 34 foul shots. Carmelo Anthony had 35 points on 15-of-31 shooting for New York. J.R. Smith went just 3-of-15 from the field and had 12 points. Amare Stoudemire ended with 14 points, but he fouled out.
MEM over LAC, 92-80
The Memphis Grizzlies held on for a 92-80 win over the Clippers on Wednesday and managed to avoid elimination in Game 5 of this best-of-seven series. Memphis, which squandered a 27-point lead in a Game 1 loss, was up by as many as 24 on Wednesday before Los Angeles pulled within single digits late in the fourth quarter. The Grizzlies, though, closed the game on an 11-5 run to send the series back to Los Angeles for Game 6 on Friday. Marc Gasol had 23 points in the win, Zach Randolph added 19 and 10 rebounds and Rudy Gay finished with 14 points. The Clippers, who had won the previous two games of this series and were looking to advance to the second round for the first time since 2006, were led by Mo Williams' 20 points. Chris Paul scored 19, but re-aggravated a groin injury late in the game. Blake Griffin, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds, appeared to injure his left knee in the third quarter but remained in the contest.
*Game recaps were compiled and compressed from Reuters, the Associated Press and the Sports Network.
2012 NBA Playoff Postmortem: Chicago Bulls
This is the alternative ending to a Cinderella story.
Cinderella, in her desire to be with the one she loves, and partly because she’s missing a glass slipper, trips and breaks her leg (ACL tear or twisted ankle take your pick). She falls to the ground, and breaks her crown (yes, that’s from ANOTHER story). And all the Bulls come tumbling after.
You know the rest.
Of course, we can also say the Bulls (ahem, CJ Watson) didn’t make the clutch plays that would’ve propelled them to a seventh game at home.
But how can we fault these guys for playing just one way all season – hard!?!?!
How can we fault these guys who had to tough it out without their MVP (and Rip Hamilton) for much of the truncated season.
Once again, they topped the East.
Once again, they did it without the star power of Miami, New York, or the LAs.
This time, however, they fell by the wayside a lot sooner than EVERYONE had expected.
And all because of the past week or so.
Damn those injuries suck.
And, damn, if it were the Bucks at the 8th seed, the Bulls would’ve probably advanced.
Instead, Chicago is left wondering and wandering.
Will Derrick Rose ever be the same player?
Can they pull off another work-your-***-off-and-we’ll-get-top-seed season next year?
How healthy will Luol Deng be after the 2012 Olympics?
Will they pull the trigger on an amnesty clause regarding Carlos Boozer?
Will this Bulls team ever meet get the just rewards of which they’re worthy?
Because this is a team that doesn’t play the lying game. They don’t play to the media hype.
They just play hard.
They are the good guys.
They will be back.
Because nobody can ever really keep the good guys down.
PHI over CHI, 79-78
At least for one night, Andre Iguodala is in the city of Philadelphia's good graces. Iguodala drained two free throws with 2.2 seconds to play, lifting the Sixers past the top-seeded Chicago Bulls, 79-78, and into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a Game 6 victory. Chicago, buoyed by a staggering 56-33 rebounding edge, rallied from a 12-point deficit to seize the lead late, but Omer Asik missed a pair of free throws to set up Iguodala's dash to the rim and subsequent free throws. The polarizing figure galvanized for his late-game play rung the bell this time, making both shots and then watching as C.J. Watson's desperation halfcourt heave hit off the back rim. Iguodala scored a game-best 20 points to go along with seven assists, while Jrue Holiday joined Louis Williams in double figures with 14 points. The Sixers became the fifth eighth-seed to knock off a top seed and now will face Boston in the next round. Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton each posted 19 points, while Deng grabbed 17 rebounds as well. Taj Gibson scored 14 points off the bench for the Bulls, who couldn't find enough offense without the services of last season's MVP Derrick Rose, who tore his ACL in a Game 1 injury that altered the series' landscape. Joakim Noah dressed but didn't play again, missing his third consecutive game with an ankle sprain.
BOS over ATL, 83-80
Atlanta was fortunate to avoid elimination after a series of mental mistakes in the closing seconds of Game 5, but the late- game hijinks tilted Game 6 in Boston's favor on Thursday. Kevin Garnett swished a turnaround jumper with 30.4 seconds remaining to put the Celtics in front and they held on for a dramatic 83-80 series-clinching victory at TD Garden. Trailing 81-79, with possession and 3.1 seconds remaining, the Hawks found Al Horford -- who had erupted for 10 points in the fourth quarter to that point -- in the paint on an inbounds pass. He was promptly fouled. He missed the first free-throw, and with so little time on the clock, the strategic play appeared to be to miss the second and try for an offensive rebound. But Horford converted the second at the stripe, Paul Pierce hit 2- of-2 at the line a few moments later and the Celtics escaped to face Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Garnett finished with game-highs in points (28) and rebounds (14) in the victory, while Josh Smith led Atlanta with 18 points in the season-ending defeat.
DEN over LAL, 113-96
The Denver Nuggets set the tone early, responded to a dirty play in the middle stages with a furious rally, and battled until the end of a wire-to-wire Game 6 victory over the LA Lakers, 113-96, on Thursday. Facing elimination in the best-of-seven set, Denver opened the contest on a 13-0 run and never looked back, leading by as many as 28. Ty Lawson netted 5-of-6 three-point attempts en route to a playoff career-high 32 points, Corey Brewer poured in 18 off the bench and Kenneth Faried continued his strong rookie campaign with 15 points and 11 boards. Kobe Bryant missed the pre-game shootaround because of a stomach illness, but started and performed admirably nonetheless; he tallied 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting. He teammates combined for just a 22-of-60 mark from the floor, however. The decisive Game 7 will take place on Saturday in Los Angeles, with the winner advancing to play the Oklahoma City Thunder.
*Game recaps were compiled and compressed from the Sports Network.
2012 NBA Playoff Postmortem: Atlanta Hawks
Did you even notice?
I almost didn’t.
Because these are the Atlanta Hawks – the poor man’s San Antonio Spurs of the East.
The big difference, of course, is that the Spurs have won 4 titles starting in 1999. The Spurs, as boring as a lot of people make them out to be, are damn good.
Good, but not THAT good.
Even now, when they were good enough to have the 4th-best record in the East despite not having 2011 All-Star center Al Horford for all but 11 games.
Even now, when Josh Smith put up All-Star-worthy numbers and when he figured in quite a few highlight reels.
Even now, when Jeff Teague seems to be coming into his own, albeit slower than a lot of people expected.
The thing about the Hawks, especially the post-Dominique Wilkins Hawks, is that they just don’t have a lot of appeal. They’re good, but not remarkable. They’re efficient, but not entertaining.
You’ll care about whether they’re winning, but you won’t go out of your way to watch them on NBA TV or Basketball TV, if their games are being shown at all.
Remember how good the 90s Hawks were? The ones with Dikembe Mutombo, Christian Laettner, Steve Smith, and Mookie Blaylock? That was a damn good team that gave Reggie Miller and Michael Jordan some headaches.
But nobody picked them when playing NBA Jam.
This most recent iteration of the Hawks seems to have everything a basketball fan is looking for – on paper.
AL Horford is the tough guy.
Zaza Pachulia is the enforcer.
Josh Smith is the high-flyer.
Joe Johnson is the dependable shooter.
Kirk Hinrich is the backcourt defensive stopper.
Jeff Teague is the streaky young gun.
They should be nice to watch, right?
Yeah, but, somehow, they’re just not.
Which is really why hardly anyone will miss them.
And the not-so-good thing is that the immediate future promises much of the same.
ATL’s big three of Horford, Smith, and Johnson enjoy a lion’s share of the franchise’s salary space, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for added help (and appeal) for next season.
UNLESS, and this is a BIG unless, they make a blockbuster deal before November comes along.
They almost did in February, when Josh Smith made no bones about the possibility of switching uniforms. Given Johnson’s bloated contract, Smith is really the Hawks’ best bet at trading for new talent, but do they really want to part with the one player who can really get them the fans’ adoration? The one player who really carried them when Horford was in sick bay?
I don’t think that’ll happen, unless they get a couple of young, promising guns like, say, a Josh Smith-and-Jeff Teague-for-Danilo Gallinari-and-Ty-Lawson deal or something to that effect.
So if you’re a Hawks fan (really, how many of you are there?), then you can rest easy in the fact your team will still be a borderline title contender, but if you’re one of the millions of “Yah, the Hawks, I know them, they’re good, right?” people, then you probably won’t even care.
MEM over LAC, 90-88
Mike Conley hit the go-ahead three-pointer, Marc Gasol poured in 23 points and the Memphis Grizzlies lived to fight another day with a 90-88 victory over the LA Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. Conley finished with 13 points, Zach Randolph had 18 to go with 16 rebounds and Rudy Gay chipped in another 13 points for the Grizzlies, who have forced a decisive Game 7 in consecutive seasons. Memphis took Oklahoma City to a Game 7 in last season's conference semifinals, but was routed by 15 points. Blake Griffin netted a team-high 17 points for the Clippers despite spraining his knee in Game 5 on Wednesday. Chris Paul had 11 points and seven assists while dealing with a strained right hip flexor, also suffered Wednesday. Game 7 is set for Sunday in Memphis. The West's No. 1 seed, San Antonio, awaits the winner in the Western semifinals.
*Game recaps were compiled and compressed from Reuters, the Associated Press and the Sports Network.
2012 NBA Playoffs: Second Round Quick Picks
Miami Heat (2) vs Indiana Pacers (3)
As of this writing, Miami is up 1-0 in this series. As of this writing, Chris Bosh has also been declared “out indefinitely” because of an abdominal injury. And now, suddenly, things get pretty interesting. The Pacers have always been a threat, mind you. They have a bona fide All-Star in Roy Hibbert, two borderline All-Stars in David West and Danny Granger, and a potential All-Star in Paul George. It’s a very good team. They’ve also been very opportunistic. Indiana’s rise to the 3rd seed is the result of a confluence of events – the condensed season giving them fewer games against West teams, and injuries everywhere have crippled the depth of other “stronger” teams. Now they find themselves in the second round for the first time since the Miller-time era. Sadly, even without Bosh, Miami will stop the Pacers here. After being crowned the MVP for the 3rd time in his career, I’m pretty sure LeBron James will take this chance to dominate Indiana. Both he and Dwyane Wade will get more possessions than usual, and they should be more productive. Like what some people say, the Heat, at this point, may actually be more dangerous without Chris Bosh. Now, for the Pacers to extend this series to a 6th or even 7th game, they have to make every game a statement game. But that won’t happen. Miami in 5.
Boston Celtics (4) vs Philadelphia 76ers (8)
Like Indiana, Philly has benefitted from the condensed season and a relatively healthy roster. Yes, Spencer Hawes went down for most of the season, but they were still able to keep abreast of the East’s top teams and, for a while, even seemed like they had a lock on the Atlantic Division pennant. They also benefitted from a crazy spate of injuries that befell the Chicagi Bulls, which eventually helped the Sixers free throw their way into the second round. A fellow blogger has billed this match-up as a battle between youth and experience, which I agree with. I believe, however, quite naively perhaps, that this is also a battle between great young players and the heroes they watched/worshipped growing up. For guys like Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday, Nikola Vucevic, Jodie Meeks, and Thaddeus Young, watching guys like Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce must have been some sort of pastime in their adolescence. Now, they get a chance to play against, or maybe even oust, their childhood heroes from playoff contention. Will it happen, though? I don’t think so. I believe Boston believes it still has one really good run in them, and they won’t let some upstarts from Philly take that away. I also believe Rajon Rondo and his boys know they’re the only legitimate threat standing between Miami and the Eastern Conference title. So, for all that is good in this world, I’m rooting for Boston here. Celtics in 6.
San Antonio Spurs (1) vs LA Clippers (5)
The Spurs should win Game 1 because they’re a deeper team, they don’t have any serious injuries of note, and the Clips are still recovering from their 7-game Calvary against Memphis. And the Spurs should basically not let this last for more than six games since, again, they’re a much deeper team, and Lob City is just hobbled by a handful of ailing starts. We all know Chauncey Billups is out, Caron Butler has a fractured left hand, Blake Griffin strained his left knee, and Chris Paul strained his hip flexor. Even with a technically intact roster, LA would be hard-pressed to beat San Antonio four times out of seven. Now that many of their key pieces aren’t 100%, the Clippers’ chances fall even further. Still, it should be interesting to see how MVP candidate Tony Parker will match-up against Paul, and how LA’s younger bigs try to tackle the four-headed beast that is Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, and DeJuan Blair. And if they do solve that puzzle, can they solve yet another one – the sniping squad composed of Stephen Jackson, Gary Neal, Danny Green, and a healthy Manu Ginobili? San Antonio in 6.
Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs LA Lakers (3)
This could be the official changing of the guard, or another addition to Kobe Bryant’s ever-expanding lore. It’ll be OKC’s big three (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden) against LA’s big three (Kobe, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum), with OKC having its kicker in Serge Ibaka, and LA having its own defensive demon, Metta World Punch (yes, that’s gonna stick). Yes, Derek Fisher will play a big part, too. I predict he’ll be hitting at least ONE BIG SHOT against the Lakers. I also predict Metta and Harden are gonna have a melee before we have a Game 4. By all indications, this series should the Thunders’ for the taking, but if the Lakers can manage to make its big three click simultaneously for four games, then maybe an upset is in the making. But, well, with Mike Brown calling the shots, my confidence in LA is muted. Unless Metta picks a different target and gives either KD or Jet Zero some elbow music. Boom, talk about a series-changer. OKC in 6.
BOS over PHI, 92-91
Rajon Rondo recorded his eighth career playoff triple-double on Saturday and guided the Celtics to a 92-91 win over the 76ers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Rondo finished with 13 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds and helped Boston overcome a 10-point fourth quarter deficit. Kevin Garnett added 29 points and 11 rebounds for the fourth-seeded Celtics, who defeated the Hawks in six games to advance to the second round for the fifth straight season. Andre Iguodala, who sent the eighth-seeded 76ers into the second round with a pair of last-second free throws on Thursday, scored a team-high 19 points in the loss. Game 2 is set for Monday in Boston.
LAL over DEN, 96-87
It took seven games and a series of trials but the Los Angeles Lakers finally put away the Denver Nuggets. On the cusp of elimination, the sixth-seeded Nuggets stormed back with two straight wins and held a lead in the fourth quarter on Saturday, but the Lakers persevered, getting 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists from Pau Gasol en route to a 96-87 victory. Los Angeles, seeded third, will visit the second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday in the Western Conference semifinals. Al Harrington and Ty Lawson scored 24 points apiece for the Nuggets, who fell just one victory short of their first-ever series win over the Lakers.
LAC over MEM, 82-72
Chris Paul set the pace with 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists, and the LA Clippers ousted the Memphis Grizzlies, 82-72, in an intensely physical Western Conference quarterfinal Game 7 on Sunday. It was the first Game 7 victory, and just the third playoff series win, in the franchise's 42-year history. The Clippers' reserves were critical down the stretch, posting all but two of the team's 27 fourth quarter points. Kenyon Martin, Mo Williams and Nick Young combined to finish with 33 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol scored 19 points apiece, but Mike Conley shot just 2-of-13 from the floor and the team managed a dismal 25-of-77 mark, including missing all 13 of their three-point attempts. The Clippers advance to face the top-seeded Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals beginning on Tuesday night in San Antonio.
MIA over IND, 95-86
Newly-minted NBA MVP LeBron James had 32 points, 15 rebounds and five assists on Sunday and the Heat grinded out a 95-86 win over the Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The game was tied after three quarters, but Miami opened the fourth with an 8-2 run and never relinquished the lead after that. Dwyane Wade added 29 points for the second-seeded Heat, who defeated the Knicks in five games to advance to the second round. They have won 13 straight playoff home games versus Eastern Conference opponents. Chris Bosh scored 13 points but suffered a lower abdominal strain shortly before halftime and did not return. David West and Roy Hibbert both recorded a double-double for the Pacers, who also won their opening series in five games, downing the Dwight Howard-less Magic to reach the second round for the first time since 2005. Game 2 is set for Tuesday in Miami.
*Game recaps were compiled and compressed from Reuters, the Associated Press and the Sports Network.
2012 NBA Playoff Postmortem: Denver Nuggets
After the Nuggets traded for Javale McGee, I sincerely thought they were off their medication.
It turns out, maybe I was off my medication instead.
What, on paper, looked like a boneheaded transaction, turned out to be quite golden for the Nuggets. McGee has helped the team with his athleticism, and there hasn’t really been any of his trademark knucklehead moments since he moved up to the Rockies.
The irony, however, is that Denver might just part with him in the offseason. Heck, he might already be in another franchise’s roster not even 6 months removed from the end of their playoff run.
Not because McGee is a bad player. On the contrary, he has shown that, given the right kind of players around him, he can actually be very effective. Of course, that’s so long as all you expect is for him to get rebounds and block shots. McGee won’t score in the 20s on most nights, but, at his worst, he’s a much younger, better version of Chris Andersen. Last I heard, McGee also isn’t suspected of involvement in child pornography.
But the former Washington Wizard isn’t really the biggest reason the Nuggets finished 6th out West and pushed the heavily-favored Lakers to the brink.
The biggest reason is the smallest guy on Denver’s starting unit – Ty Lawson.
In 34 minutes per game, Lawson averaged about 19 points and 6 assists against LA. He was a bona fide whirling dervish who hounded and pounded Steve Blake and Ramon Sessions repeatedly. It would’ve been awesome to see him square off with Russell Westbrook had the Nuggets pushed through to the second round. He’ll be awesome next season, and Denver would do well to offer him a contract extension.
If that does happen, the Nuggets will probably have locked in their core for the foreseeable future. Picture this as Denver’s strong five: Lawson at the point with Arron Afflalo at the 2, Danilo Gallinari as the swingman, Kanneth Faried as the PF, and McGee manning the slot. That can be a top 4 team in the West as early as next season – a top 4 team in the same breath as Memphis or the Clippers, not necessarily like San Antonio, Oklahoma City, or even the Lakers.
Truth be told, it would be wise for Denver to stick with this promising group of young ‘uns and bet their fortunes that as these kids continue to grow, so will the strength and projection for the team. If there’s anything they should tweak, though, it’s this: unload veterans Andre Miller and Al Harrington for maybe two or three more young guys who can contribute more athleticism off the bench. Get some more guys who can play at the starting five’s pace, and the Nuggets might just get over the hump.
PHI over BOS, 82-81
Evan Turner scored the go-ahead layup with his back to the basket Monday night and the 76ers survived a frantic finish to beat the Celtics, 82-81, and even their semifinal series at a game apiece. Jrue Holiday scored 18 points, Andre Iguodala had 13 and the Sixers nearly let another double-digit lead go to waste before pulling away in the final minute. Kevin Garnett hit a 3 at the buzzer for the one-point margin. He was called for an offensive foul on a key Boston possession in the final seconds. Game 3 of the Eastern Conference series is Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
OKC over LAL, 119-90
The Oklahoma City Thunder made an emphatic statement Monday, annihilating the title-tested Los Angeles Lakers, 119-90, in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. The Thunder, well-rested following an opening-round sweep of the defending champion Mavericks, led by as many as 35 in the rout thanks to 53 percent shooting and productive games by their All-Star duo and Sixth Man of the Year. Russell Westbrook totaled 27 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, while Kevin Durant added 25 points and eight boards for Oklahoma City, which got 17 points off the bench from James Harden. Andrew Bynum led the Lakers with 20 points and 14 rebounds, and Kobe Bryant also netted 20 points, but Los Angeles was already looking forward to Wednesday's Game 2 by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. Two days after winning a deciding Game 7 against the Nuggets, Los Angeles trailed by 15 at halftime and was outscored 39-24 in third.
IND over MIA, 78-75
With the game on the line, All-Stars LeBron James or Dwyane Wade didn't take the final shot for Miami, and Indiana held on to even their Eastern Conference semifinal series after two games. David West scored 16 points and George Hill added 15, including a big free throw with 14.1 seconds left, as the Pacers earned a 78-75 victory Tuesday night. The Heat had a chance to tie at the buzzer, but a three-point try from Mario Chalmers hit off the rim. James had 28 points and Wade scored 24 for the shorthanded Heat, who shot just 34.6 percent and were outscored 28-14 in the third quarter. The Heat captured the opener on Sunday with a 95-86 triumph, but lost forward Chris Bosh to a lower abdominal strain. Miami will likely not have Bosh back for the remainder of this series. Game 3 of the best-of- seven series will be in Indianapolis on Thursday.
SAS over LAC, 108-92
The San Antonio Spurs tied a franchise playoff record with 13 three-pointers and never trailed in the second half of their series-opening 108-92 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. There were 12 lead changes in a tight first half of this Western Conference semifinal, but the well-rested Spurs opened up a 19-point lead in the third quarter and never looked back. Tim Duncan led the way with 26 points and 10 rebounds while Manu Ginobili chipped in 22 points in San Antonio's 15th straight win dating back to the regular season, which included an opening-round sweep of the Utah Jazz. The Clippers, two days removed from a Game 7 win in Memphis, were led by Eric Bledsoe's 23 points. Caron Butler and Blake Griffin each chipped in 15, while Chris Paul netted just six on 3-of-13 shooting. Game 2 of the series will be in San Antonio on Thursday.
*Game recaps were compiled and compressed from Reuters, the Associated Press and the Sports Network.
2012 NBA Playoff Postmortem: Memphis Grizzlies
By all intents and purposes, this season’s edition of the Memphis Grizzlies was better than last season’s. Mike Conley continued his stellar play, Rudy Gay was back, and Marc Gasol had an All-Star year. Even if you consider that Zach Randolph missed most of the season, the “net” product was still very very impressive. So impressive, in fact, that Memphis finished as the fourth seed in the Westertn Conference. They enjoyed homecourt advantage in the first round for the FIRST TIME ever.
What’s not to love, right?
Well, losing in the first round.
In seven games.
To an LA Clippers team that was incomplete and hobbling.
Now, it’s the Grizzlies’ turn to sit on their couches and watch as the team they tormented last April (San Antonio) torments the team that tormented them last week (the Clips).
Still, considering everything, this season should still serve as a rallying point for the team, provided they make the right decisions, and there will be critical decisions to be made, in the offseason.
The only real big player commitments they have are with Gasol, Randolph, Gay, Conley, and, at least till next year, Tony Allen.
That’s the first five, right there.
But how about the rest of the team?
Arguably the biggest name who might come out of the offseason in a different jersey is one of the team’s most explosive scorers – OJ Mayo.
Mayo has shown he can play through the 1-3 positions for the Grizzlies, and he has repeatedly displayed his shooting touch (just discount the last game they played, he shot 1-of-11). Yet, this team has been aching to shop him to the highest bidder since he was drafted in ’08 (interestingly, that was Mayo’s most productive season with 18.5ppg, 3.2apg, and a 38.4% clip from range). And because the contracts of Memphis’s first five alone don’t leave a lot of space for a deep supporting cast, I won’t be surprised if Mayo gladly signs elsewhere.
Ditto with versatile big men Darrell Arthur and Marreese Speights. Both Speights and Arthur have shown they can mix it up with other teams’ tier-1 bigs, but will they stay knowing they probably won’t get what they’re worth while playing behind Gasol, Gay, and Zeebo?
I just don’t think Mayo, Arthur, and Speights will all be back. At least two of those guys will be gone by November. I’m sure of it.
Still, if you’re a Grizz fan, losing any or all of those guys shouldn’t rock the boat too much. A solid first five, and Memphis’s first five is SUPER SOLID, should be enough to tow the team to the Playoffs again, and maybe past the first couple of rounds, too.
But that’s the other thing – can ALL of these guys stay healthy long enough for them to make another magical run? With Zeebo turning 31 soon, time might be running out faster than many think.
Memphis undoubtedly has the potential to be another example of a team that develops its draftees and combines them with stellar acquisitions (read: OKC Thunder), but, if the Grizzlies aren’t careful, they might just be the West’s version of an above-average team that will never be a contender (read: Atlanta Hawks).
OKC over LAL, 77-75
Kevin Durant scored the go-ahead basket with 18.6 seconds left Wednesday night and the Oklahoma City Thunder closed on a 9-0 run to beat the Lakers 77-75 in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series. Durant snaked his way to the baseline on the right side and dropped in a one- handed floater over Pau Gasol for the lead. Earlier in the game-ending run, he leapt in the LA backcourt to steal a pass from Kobe Bryant, racing down for a fastbreak dunk. Indeed, the Thunder may have stolen a win. Despite trailing 75-68 with just two minutes left, they will go to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Friday with a 2-0 lead in the series. Durant scored 22 points, Russell Westbrook had 15 and James Harden added 13 off the bench for the second-seeded Thunder, who were coming off Monday's 29- point win in Game 1, when they led by as many as 35. Durant and Harden scored all nine points on Oklahoma City's 9-0 run at the end. Bryant and Andrew Bynum scored 20 points apiece to lead LA and Gasol had 14.
BOS over PHI, 107-91
Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce all recorded double-doubles by the time the fourth quarter began, as the Boston Celtics rolled over the Philadelphia 76ers, 107-91, in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. The upstart Sixers, after earning a split in Boston, came out Wednesday poised to take a series lead, but the Celtics outscored the defensive-minded club by a 61-33 count in the second and third quarters to win going away. Garnett finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds, Rondo added 23 points and 14 assists and Pierce put up 24 points and 12 boards despite dealing with an ailing left knee. Boston committed just seven turnovers and shot 52 percent from the floor against a Sixers club that allowed the third fewest points (89.4 ppg) during the regular season. Thaddeus Young had a team-high 22 points off the bench for Sixers, whose starters combined for 36 points on 30-percent (12-of-40) shooting. Wells Fargo Center will again be the setting for Game 4 on Friday.
IND over MIA, 94-75
Roy Hibbert had 19 points and 18 rebounds Thursday night and the Indiana Pacers rolled to a 94-75 win over the Miami Heat to take a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series. George Hill scored 20 points, Danny Granger added 17 and David West had 14 for the Pacers, who took control with a 26-12 third quarter and led comfortably in the fourth on the way to their second straight win. LeBron James scored 22 points for the Heat, but Dwyane Wade had just five -- all in the second half -- while Mario Chalmers led the way with 25. Game 4 is Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis. James scored 16 of his 22 points in the first half and came out of the game, along with Wade and Chalmers, with 2:43 remaining and the Heat trailing by 20. Miami is still smarting from the loss of forward Chris Bosh, who went down in Game 1 with a lower abdominal strain and isn't expected to be available for the series. Wade played, but his scoring was absent for most of the game. He didn't hit his first shot until the third quarter and was seen having a testy exchange with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra during a timeout. Miami trailed by 14 entering the fourth and never got closer than 11; the Pacers led by as many as 21.
SAS over LAC, 105-88
Unbeaten in more than five weeks, the San Antonio Spurs don't appear to be slowing down or wearing out. Their 16th win in a row has them one step closer to the Western Conference Finals. Tony Parker had 22 points, Tim Duncan scored 18 and the Spurs beat the Los Angeles Clippers 105-88 Thursday night to take a 2-0 lead in their semifinal series. Game 3 is Saturday afternoon in LA. The Spurs' 16-game winning streak dates back to April 12 and includes a sweep of the Utah Jazz in the first round. Boris Diaw added 16 points for top-seeded San Antonio, Danny Green scored 13 and Manu Ginobili had 10 off the bench, all in the first half. Blake Griffin led the fifth-seeded Clippers with 20 points, Randy Foye scored 11 and Chris Paul had just 10 with five assists.
PHI over BOS, 92-83
Lou Williams scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half as the Philadelphia 76ers overcame a dismal first half to take a 92-83 victory over the Boston Celtics and even their Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games apiece. Andre Iguodala added 16 points, including the go-ahead jumper within the final two minutes, to go along with seven rebounds and four assists for the Sixers, whose bench outscored Boston's 44-12. Evan Turner also dropped in 16 points while Thaddeus Young had 12 and Jrue Holiday netted 11 in the win. Paul Pierce scored a game-high 24 points and Rajon Rondo had 15 points and 15 assists in a losing effort. Game 5 of this best-of-seven set will take place Monday in Boston.
LAL over OKC, 99-96
Kobe Bryant scored eight of his team's final 10 points on Friday and the Lakers willed their way to a 99-96 win over the Thunder in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals. Bryant finished with 36 points on 9-of-25 shooting and made all 18 of his free throws, including a pair with 33.8 seconds left which put Los Angeles on top for good. As a team the Lakers, who were blown out in the series opener and fell in Game 2 despite leading by nine in the final minutes, made 41-of-42 foul shots. Andrew Bynum added 15 points and 11 rebounds and Pau Gasol chipped in 15 and 11. Steve Blake, who missed a potential game-winning three-pointer in Game 2, chipped in 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting. The Thunder suffered their first loss of this postseason after sweeping the defending NBA-champion Mavericks in the first round. Kevin Durant had 31 points in the setback but missed a potential tying three-pointer on the game's final possession. Game 4 will take place Saturday in Los Angeles.
SAS over LAC, 96-86
Tony Parker scored 23 points, Tim Duncan had 19 and the San Antonio Spurs came back from 24 points down on Saturday afternoon to beat the Los Angeles Clippers, 96-86, for a 3-0 lead in their Western Conference semifinal. The Spurs used a 24-0 run in the third quarter to climb out of their biggest hole this postseason and won their 17th game in a row dating to the regular season. Blake Griffin had 28 points to lead the Clippers, but an eight-minute drought in the third quarter has them on the brink of elimination. Game 4 is Sunday night in LA.
OKC over LAL, 103-100
The Thunder stole another game from the Lakers on Saturday, getting a go-ahead three-pointer from Kevin Durant with 13.7 seconds left en route to a 103-100 comeback win in the Western Conference semifinals. The Thunder, who scored the final nine points to snatch a victory in Game 2, trailed by as many as 13 in this one but closed with a 25-9 run to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Durant finished with 31 points, Russell Westbrook had 37 and the Oklahoma City franchise earned its first road playoff win over the Lakers in its last 15 tries. Kobe Bryant, who scored eight of his team's final 10 points in Friday's Game 3 win, had 38 to pace Los Angeles. Game 5 will be Monday at Oklahoma City.
*Game recaps were compiled and compressed from Reuters, the Associated Press and the Sports Network.
2012 NBA Playoff Postmortem: Team Los Angeles
Would’ve been really different had David Stern not pulled the plug on the Chris Paul-to-Lakers deal, right?
Would’ve been different had Lamar Odom stayed with the Lakers, right?
Would’ve been different had Chauncey Billups not gotten injured, right?
Would’ve been different had Brian Shaw been the Lakers’ coach, right?
Would’ve been different had Derek Fisher stayed, right?
Would’ve been different had Paul and Blake Griffin not been hobbled by injuries, right?
Now the whole City of Angels can spend the long summer thinking of how things would’ve been different had this or that happened or not happened.
Now the whole City of Angels can watch while sitting on sun-soaked couches as someone else (please just not the Heat) takes the grandest prize on the grandest stage of basketball.
And then ponder on what to make of the remains, and what they’ll have to shake up to make things better next season.
Both the Clippers and the Lakers really went through a tough, truncated season – a dramatic season.
There was the CP3 thing, the Odom thing, the Fisher thing, the Metta World Punch thing, the Mike Brown-can’t-stand-up-to-Kobe thing, the Billups injury, the Andrew Bynum-is-a-brat thing, and a handful of other things that distracted and derailed both franchises from the true north – an NBA Championship.
Instead, both teams were bounced by the most ironic of pairings – an over-the-hill San Antonio squad defying its collective age, and an up-and-coming Oklahoma City quintet hungry for championship glory.
So where to now, Los Angeles?
Let’s start with the Clips. The really essential (superstar) pieces are still there – Paul and Griffin – but a host of other guys might not come back. Randy Foye, Nick Young, Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups, and Reggie Evans are all certainly going to be courted (okay, maybe not Evans) by other teams when free agency begins, and, given how, at $7.2M, Blake Griffin is just the fifth-highest on the Clips’ payroll next season, there’s not a lot of cap space left with which to play. Still, with DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler, Eric Bledsoe, and Ryan Gomes locked in to back-up CP3 and Griffin, things don’t look too shabby. And if Mo Williams does exercise his player option (he won’t get paid higher elsewhere anyway), then the Clippers can still play at a really high level.
But who’ll coach them? Chances are, current coach Vinny Del Negro is on his way out, especially with the Spurs sticking a broom up his, but can the Clips find someone else? Do they have enough money to throw at someone else for that matter? I still think the Clips should be a playoff-level team next year, but don’t count on them crossing over to become a title contender.
And now with the Lakers. Here’s what will happen. Somehow, some way, it’ll all be blamed on Pau Gasol. They’ve been wanting to cut him loose for two or three seasons now, and his on-again-off-again performance in the past few weeks hasn’t left much love left between him and Kobe, the fans, and the organization. But will he have any takers? He’s set to make $19M, and I doubt any team would be willing to pay that much for any European big guy not named Dirk Nowitzki. Despite this, expect LA to still find a way to say goodbye to the Spaniard.
So with him out, Bynum gets to have more shots. Kobe, too. Kobe will take more shots, you say? Yes, he will. Nobody will stop him. Not Metta. Not Bynum. Certainly not Mike Brown.
The only significant guys who aren’t guaranteed to return for the Lakers are Matt Barnes, Jordan Hill, Troy Murphy, and Ramon Sessions (unless he exercises his player option). That leaves the Lakers’ biggest weaknesses (PG and SF) still glaring weaknesses. The good news? A familiar friend named Lamar Odom might be available. They can make a play at him, but will he even consider going back? I say make Sessions sign his option, then dump him with Steve Blake and Gasol for a borderline-star PG on a non-playoff team like, say, DJ Augustin, Kyle Lowry, or maybe even the sidelined Ricky Rubio (yeah, terribly far-fetched). Of course, they could also trade away half their roster for Deron Williams and settle for spare parts thereafter.
The key is, for the past two seasons, it’s clear that the Lakers cannot remain an elite team without filling in their roster holes. And with Kobe entering his mid-30s, the window of opportunity is really closing down fast.
MIA over IND, 101-93
Facing the prospect of a third straight loss, the Heat were picked up by their two remaining stars. Instead of going home in a two-game hole, they'll head back to Miami with some much-needed mojo. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade scored 38 straight points in the middle of Game 4 on Sunday afternoon and the Heat battled for a 101-93 victory over the Indiana Pacers to even their Eastern Conference semifinal. James had 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists while Wade added 30 points, nine boards and six helpers -- their best performance since Chris Bosh went down in Game 1. James and Wade scored 48-of-50 points for the Heat between the latter stages of the second quarter and early in the fourth. Udonis Haslem picked up some of the slack down the stretch, scoring eight of his 14 points in the final quarter. Game 5 is Tuesday night in Miami. Danny Granger led the Pacers with 20 points, Darren Collinson had 16 off the bench, Paul George scored 13 and Roy Hibbert chipped in 10 with nine rebounds. Hibbert and David West, who scored eight, both played in foul trouble.
SAS over LAC, 102-99
Tim Duncan led six Spurs in double digits with 21 points and nine rebounds as San Antonio completed the series sweep of the Los Angeles Clippers, 102-99, in the Western Conference semifinals. Tony Parker added 17 points, Danny Green and Gary Neal finished with 14 points apiece and Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter each contributed 11 points for San Antonio, which earned its second consecutive series sweep in these playoffs and won its 18th straight game overall, including the regular season. The Spurs will next face the winner of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers series in the Western final. Oklahoma City holds a 3-1 advantage in that series. Chris Paul had 23 points and 11 assists to pace the Clippers, while Blake Griffin, who received four stitches in his lip at halftime after colliding with Ginobili's shoulder late in the second quarter, finished with 21 points and five rebounds.
OKC over LAL, 106-90
By the time the "Beat LA!" chants picked up in the fourth quarter Monday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder had all but accomplished what fans at Chesapeake Energy Arena were urging them to do. The only matter in question was the final margin, and it was already clear it wouldn't be close. Indeed, the Thunder are headed back to the Western Conference Finals after knocking off Kobe Bryant's Lakers in five games. Russell Westbrook scored 28 points, Kevin Durant had 25 and the Thunder beat the Lakers, 106-90, in the semifinals clincher. Proving what Bryant and others had said -- that they were the quicker team -- the Thunder survived 42 points from the Lakers star and moved on to face the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. Bryant scored 15 of his points in the third quarter, but none of his teammates had that many in the game. Pau Gasol finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds, Metta World Peace scored 11 and Andrew Bynum had 10 points. The second-seeded Thunder needed just nine games to knock off the defending champion Mavericks and the battle-tested Lakers, but their next opponent is even hotter. The Spurs have swept the Jazz and Clippers for an 18-game winning streak that is nearly six weeks old. Game 1 of the conference finals is set for Sunday in San Antonio.
BOS over PHI, 101-85
With about two minutes left, and his team safely in line for the win, Brandon Bass walked off the parquet floor at TD Garden to a standing ovation. Needing a big performance to wash away the taste of a bad loss, the Celtics got one from an unlikely source. Bass scored 18 of his 27 points in the third quarter and the Boston Celtics beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 101-85, Monday night to take a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Celtics, behind a 14-2 run led by Bass, turned a six- point deficit into a six-point lead in about five minutes in the third quarter and rolled the rest of the way to earn some revenge for Philly's comeback in Game 4 last Friday. Kevin Garnett added 20 points, Paul Pierce had 16 and Rajon Rondo scored 13 with 14 assists in the win. Game 6 is Wednesday night in Philadelphia and Game 7 would be Saturday back in Boston, if necessary. Elton Brand led the Sixers with 19 points, just seven in the second half, and Lavoy Allen scored 12 off the bench.
MIA over IND, 115-83
The unpredictable Miami Heat orchestrated another dominating performance Tuesday to take a 3-2 series lead over the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. After losing consecutive games with star forward Chris Bosh on the bench, the Heat have rebounded the last two games to look like the vaunted title contenders they were constructed to become. Two days removed from a herculean series-tying performance, the duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade went to work again in Game 5, combining for 58 points in a 115-83 thumping of the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers will look to slow down a Heat team that made a franchise playoff record 61 percent of its shots on Tuesday when the series shifts back to Indianapolis for Game 6 on Thursday. James scored 30 points to go with 10 rebounds and eight assists while Wade added 28 points in the rout. Shane Battier was an unlikely spark with 13 points and also helped limit David West to 10 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Danny Granger, Indiana's leading scorer in the regular season, scored 10 points before leaving with an ankle injury early in the third quarter.
*Game recaps were compiled and compressed from Reuters, the Associated Press and the Sports Network.
The NBA Playoffs: Day 26: Sixers Extend the Series
This game was devoid of any offensive execution and it was lacking scoring punch. Both teams played excellent defense in the first half or both teams played lackluster offense. The score at half time was 36-33 for the Celtics. Then the Sixers made their run in the 3rd quarter as they "exploded" for 27 points to take a 60-56 lead into the last 12 minutes. The Celtics could not make any comebacks as they shot an abysmal 33% and had 16 turnovers. Meanwhile, the Sixers had Andre Iguodala connect on powerful dunks while Jrue Holiday finished off the Celtics with timely baskets. Holiday (20 pts, 6 assts) outplayed Rondo who had only 9 points and 6 assists plus 4 turnovers. Brandon Bass was unable to duplicate his Game 5 outburst as he managed only 8 points while Ray Allen has continued to struggle with just 9 points.
There will be a Game 7 in Boston on Saturday which gives the Celtics two full days of rest. Three of their starters (Pierce, Rondo, Garnett) logged more than 41 minutes each and the extra rest should give the Celtics an advantage. Avery Bradley will probably not play which gives the Sixers an advantage since Ray Allen cannot cover the likes of Evan Turner or Lou Williams. No team has won consecutive games in this series. Each team has made adjustments after a loss and this stat favors the home team. The Celtics have a playoff history of going 17-4 at home during Game 7s. Their last playoff loss at home in Game 7 was versus the Magic in 2009 when Kevin Garnett did not play in the series due to injuries.
The Celtics only got 5 points from their bench while the Sixers got 16 points. Not much scoring from the Sixers but their role players played more minutes which could lead to more chances to play and score during Game 7. Coach Doc Rivers shortened his bench drastically with Pietrus getting the most minutes at 35 and Hollins at 11. No one else played significant time after that. The Sixers received balance scoring from their roster with 5 players scoring more than 10 points each. The Sixers had better ball movement as they finished with 22 assists to the Celtics who had just 14. Normally, the Celtics win this battle due to the superior passing and playmaking skills of Rondo but tonight was different. The Celtics were not hitting their shots so assists rarely came. The Celtics also shied away from the post and the paint as they managed only 16 points in the paint (42 for Sixers). Garnett, Bass and Pierce opted to shot long jumpers all game long and those shots were not falling in a consistent basis.
For the Sixers to win Game 7, they need to continue attacking in transition and be aggressive early. The Boston crowd will be wild, rowdy and noisy so the Sixers need to neutralize the crowd's energy at the start. The Sixers also need to pound the ball in the post and attack the interior defense of the Celtics. The Cs dont have the threat of a shot blocker and that should be exploited. They need to attack and initiate contact to force the referees to call fouls. If any of the starters need to sit due to foul trouble, the Celtics are in danger since they have shortened their rotation. For the Celtics to win, they need to utilize more pick and rolls/pops and less isolation plays. They also need to limit their turnovers because the Sixers are a decent transition team. Kevin Garnett needs to mix up his game and avoid settling for long jumpers. The Celtics will finish the Sixers on Saturday with Rondo having his triple-double.
#Tweet/Quote of the Night
"Game 7, that's all we wanted was to win tonight and give ourselves a chance to go into Boston and see what happens on Saturday" -Doug Collins, Sixers coach.
• Haslem was suspended for 1 game and Pittman got 3 games
• Hansbrough received a flagrant-2 foul upgrade but no suspension
• Celtics are 2-13 on closeout games on the road since 2008
• Ray Allen is 7-27 from three-point range in this series
• Allen Iverson came out wearing #23 of Lou Williams
• Defensive 1st Team: LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Serge Ibaka, Tony Allen, Chris Paul
• Defensive 2nd Team: Garnett, Bryant, Rondo, Chandler, Deng
The NBA Playoffs: Day 27: Big Two Hot 2 Handle
After Game 4, I wondered if Wade and James could sustain their dominant play to help the Heat advance to the Eastern Finals. They needed to play 2 more games of superb ball to help the Heat advance to the next round. Guess what? They achieved that feat with D-Wade averaging 33 ppg, 7 rpg, 4 apg with 62% shooting while LBJ got 32.7 ppg, 11 rpg and 8 apg. The Big 2 came to play in the last 3 games as the Heat went 3-0 to win the series convincingly. Wade was masterful in providing the scoring in the first half as he exploded for 26 points (20 in the 2nd) while LeBron put the dagger to the Pacers in the last two minutes of the game as he made three straight baskets. The Pacers could not overcome the barrage of attacks from Wade as he split double teams and sliced pick and roll rotations. The Pacers even resorted to removing Roy Hibbert from the floor because he could not defend Wade through screens and defensive switches. LeBron started the attack during Game 4 and he is still their best player but if D-Wade plays like the 2nd best player in the NBA, the Heat are unstoppable.
The best thing to happen to the Heat and Wade was that abysmal Game 3 (5 points, 2-13). D-Wade had his knee drained afterwards and things got so much better. Hard to believe that game was only a week ago. Dwayne Wade blitzed the Pacers in the next 3 games with an astounding 62% shooting from an array of tough shots that ranged from floaters, fadeaways, layups and jumpers. His free throw shooting was still wonky but he made up for it with incredible shot after shot. There's no one in the NBA better than Wade when it comes to using the glass. He made 17-25 shots in Game 6 and probably half of those went in with the use of the bank shot. The bank shots are part of his repertoire and Wade showed us a full display of his talents. He looked like 2006 Finals MVP, D-Wade out there as he slashed to the hoop and split double teams with ease. Wade was on fire and everyone on the floor knew it including LBJ who played a supporting role with "only" 28 points 6 rebounds and 7 assists.
The Big 2 have been amazing in the last 3 games but without the help from their bench and supporting cast, the Heat could still be playing a Game 7. Udonis Haslem was suspended for Game 6 but that did not matter as the Heat got a good performance from Mike Miller (12 points, 4-7 treys) and Joel Anthony provided superb defense upfront. Would you believe that the Heat bench outscored the Pacers 19-13? Mario Chalmers was impressive as well with his 15 points. The role players have stepped up in the last 3 games with Haslem scoring in Game 4, Battier in Game 5 and now Miller in Game 6. If the Heat can get consistency from their role players in the Eastern Finals, it wont matter who they play (Celtics/Sixers) and it wont matter if Bosh plays or not. Now, the NBA Finals is a different matter because the Heat have NO chance it Bosh sits or is hobbled immensely.
The Pacers fought well but they were erratic in Game 6 with 22 turnovers that lead to 26 points for the Heat. The Heat only had 10 turnovers that gave the Pacers 13 points. Some of the turnovers were forced by the great defense of Miami but the Pacers committed unnecessary technical fouls from taunting and thrash talking too much. Those were just dumb and stupid. Still, the Pacers could end up being the 2nd best team in the East after the Heat since the Bulls are reeling without Derrick Rose and the Celtics are old and weary. The Pacers will have most of their starters together for next year with Roy Hibbert being a restricted free agent and the Pacers will probably match any offers presented to their center.
#Tweets/Quotes of the Night
"Chris Bosh is an awesome basketball player, but when he goes down, that just means more touches for LeBron and Wade. That's not exactly an advantage."- Frank Vogel, Pacers coach
"After being down 2-1, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James averaged 33.0 pts and 32.7 pts, respectively, to clinch the series." -Tom Haberstroh @tomhaberstroh, ESPN & Heat Index
• Wade and LeBron outscored the Pacers's starters in the last 3 games, 197-184
• 26 points in the first half for Wade tied a Heat record with Tim Hardaway
• 10 turnovers for the Heat is the fewest of the playoffs
• Wade found his shooting stroke at the line 7-8
• Game 7 of Sixers-Celtics in on Saturday at Boston
The NBA Playoffs: Luck of the Irish (or Rondo)
If you want defensive basketball, the Celtics and Sixers gave us 7 games of excellent defense and a thousand of missed shots and ugly basketball. The Sixers had a chance to pull off an upset but the Celtics showed their poise and clutch-shooting even after Paul Pierce fouled out with four minutes left. Rondo made some clutch (lucky) shots and Garnett played great again. Game 7 did not have a lot of points but it still delivered on the excitement level. The Celtics led most of the way but the Sixers were always in striking distance. Again both teams struggled shooting (Celtics 42%, Sixers 35%) but the Celtics shot their free throws (20-22) a lot better and Rondo even made his foul shots to clinch the victory.
Rajon Rondo took over the ball game when Pierce fouled out. He made one deep two (almost a three) and then a long three that was all net. He even made 4-4 free throws (60% ft) and scored 11 points in the fourth quarter including 9 straight as he outscored the Sixers 11-7 down the stretch. By the way, Rondo also got a triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He is the 2nd player to get a triple-double in a Game 7 after Larry Bird. The Sixers let Rondo shoot from the perimeter and they fouled him intentionally because those are his weaknesses. On this night, Rondo came to the rescue and made sure that the Celtics will visit Miami on Monday night.
The extra rest day surely helped Kevin Garnett prepare and get ready for this game. He started strong getting 9 points and 7 rebounds in the 1st quarter. He made a buzzer-beater jumper at the end of the third to keep the Celtics ahead. He finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds for another double-double. He was good defensively and KG was superb with his screens to get Ray Allen going in the fourth quarter. Allen still struggled with his shot but he made two threes in the 4th quarter to help the Celtics keep the lead.
The Sixers played with great intensity and effort. Their defense was excellent but their offense needed a lot of fine tuning. They shot poorly again and they had many turnovers which disrupted their chance to cut the lead. The Sixers threw the ball away a couple of times with Iguodala forcing the issue by throwing alley-oop passes that did not connect. The Sixers were probably nervous and jittery playing a Game 7 on the road and their roster was fairly inexperienced in pressure situations. Lou Williams and Thad Young were unable to provide enough scoring from the bench (13 total points). Still, the Sixers had a great playoff run and many people did not expect the Sixers to even compete against the Celtics but they were there at the end but just could not get over the hump. Maybe next year.
• Rondo 1-10 in threes in the series before Game 7
• Celtics started 0-14 in threes before making their last 3 attempts
• Celtics had all 5 starters in double figures
• Evan Turner was -23 for the game
• Brand was the only Sixers' starter who played a Game 7 before
• Game 1 of West Finals start Sunday night, East finals on Monday night
The NBA Playoffs: The Spurs are Still Undefeated
The scoring and exciting playoff basketball was on display in the Western Finals. The Thunder and the Spurs took jabs at each other before Manu Ginobili delivered the knockout punch. The pace was fast, sometimes too fast as the teams combined for 30 turnovers. The Spurs showed some rust early with a bunch of miscues and bad shots while the Thunder were probably jittery and maybe too excited as they missed layups and a couple of dunks. Still, the Thunder were leading by 9 going into the fourth quarter. I guess that's where the Spurs wanted them as they took over in the last period to outscore the young Thunder 39-27 and escape with the Game 1 win. The old, nasty veterans took over with Stephen Jackson and Manu Ginobili leading the attack.
The Spurs were downright nasty in notching their 9th straight win in the playoffs and 19th overall since the regular season. The Thunder kept the pressure and an upset was looming but the Spurs kept their poise and Ginobili made clutch baskets. Coming into this series, the consensus was that the Thunder 3 were better than the Spurs 3. The Thunder would win this game and the series by outplaying the Spurs. That did not happen in Game 1. The old Big 3 had a good overall performance with 60 points, 24 rebounds and 11 assists while the young Big 3 had 63 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists. Since the Big 3 match-up was a tie, the Thunder needed their bench to outplay the Spurs and that's quite unlikely since the Spurs have the best bench in the NBA. Gary Neal, Stephen Jackson and Tiago Splitter all did decent jobs while the Thunder only had Derek Fisher provide help from their bench (Harden and Ginobili are "starters").
There was a great in-game battle between Ginobili and Harden as the best sixth man in the NBA. Manu was a multiple winner of that award and when healthy, is still the best sixth man in the league. His Game 1 performance further solidified his slight advantage over Harden. The gap is not very large but for one game, Manu was better and the Spurs have a 1-0 lead. Manu started aggressive making 3 baskets in the 1st quarter including a fadeaway trey at the buzzer. He came in shooting around 40% in the playoffs but he was hot last night and ended up 9-14. Ginobili then finished strong with 11 points in the fourth quarter and a couple of clutch baskets that had the Thunder players shaking their heads in disbelief.
The Thunder had less turnovers than the Spurs 13-17 but they were unable to capitalize fully on transition with a couple of missed dunks (Durant and Westbrook) and missed layups. They need to make all of these transition chances count because the Spurs are very efficient and smart in their offensive sets and those turnovers will likely be lessened in Game 2. The Thunder need to get Durant more shots because he has the best advantage against any Spurs defender. Westbrook was neutralized by Parker plus Ginobili outplayed Harden. This leaves Durant the chance to take over offensively, granted that they pass him the ball. Finally, Serge Ibaka needs to play more, especially in the 4th quarter. Coach Scott Brooks went Perkins or a smaller lineup and opted to bench Ibaka. That move took away any weak side help and left the Thunder with no rim protection as Manu continued to attack the paint without any fear.
#Tweet/Quote of the Night
"I want some nasty!" - Gregg Popovich, Spurs coach
• Harden did not attempt a free throw, first time that happened this season
• Fisher started the game 5-5 (finished 6-8, 13 pts)
• Westbrook blocked a couple of Parker's jumpers
• Splitter airballed a free throw and went 1-5
• Jackson led Spurs with +11, Sefalosha +11 for Thunder
The NBA Playoffs: Boston T(ech) Party in Miami
The Miami Heat have won their last 4 playoff games with defense and great games from Wade and James. The occasional boost from their supporting cast also made an appearance in Game 1. The dynamic duo had modest numbers as they combined for 54 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, 2 steals and 5 blocks. LeBron James started strong as he outscored the Celtics in the first quarter 13-11 and then Dwyane Wade had an amazing fourth quarter with 10 points and a couple of nice passes and 2 blocks. The Heat never trailed in this game and they toyed with the Celtics interior defense with Wade and James making ridiculous fadeaway bank shots. Still, this was just one game and the only thing the 1-0 Heat lead guarantees is that the Celtics cannot sweep them.
Shane Battier has been inconsistent with his shooting but his defense and effort have been consistent all season. Battier started at power forward and he delivered a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He still played excellent defense but the scoring surely helped too. There was a sequence where Battier blocked a layup by Pierce or Rondo then he raced downcourt for a transition three which he made. Mike Miller also had a splendid second quarter where he had 8 points and 3 rebounds. Joel Anthony had a couple of blocks and a nice dunk from a nasty left-handed pass from Wade. The supporting cast did their jobs and more while the Celtics only got a good game from Greg Stiemsma (6 pts, 4 rebs in 12 mins).
The Heat dont have a dominating center who can block shots but they have a team full of athletes who can defend and block. The Heat blocked 11 shots (Boston had 1) and some of those blocks resulted into transition chances for the Heat. A sure basket for the Celtics suddenly gets blocked then the ball goes the other way and the Heat score. That's a 4-point swing there which was very crucial for the Celtics who have so much trouble scoring. The Heat also out-rebounded the Celtics 48-33 which was weird because Miami got 13 offensive rebounds (10 for Celtics) even though they shot 50%. The Celtics were limited to jumpers and they were not making most of them. Anytime they went inside, a plethora of Heat defenders were waiting to defend the rim.
The Celtics could not buy a basket. They shot below 40% from the field and missed 10 fts. Only Kevin Garnett shot a decent 9-16 from the field and the rest of the team was at 30%. Ray Allen missed four free throws and Pierce got outplayed by James (12 points only). Rondo played good but with Allen and Pierce struggling, he needed numbers similar to LeBron and that was not happening. It did not help at all that the Celtics got whistled for 5 technical fouls. Not all were warranted especially the one called on coach Doc Rivers. The officiating was bad but not a direct reason for the loss. This was tough for the Celtics because the Heat had 5 more turnovers, 10 fast break points and missed 20 threes yet they still lost by 14. On a positive light, they managed to compete in the first half (46-46) and they had a 35-point 2nd quarter. Can they do that more often? They still have a chance to steal one game. Game 2 is on Wednesday.
#Tweet of the Night
"LeBron was tremendous tonight. Miami missed 15-16 wide open 3's and still won by double digits. Not a good sign for the Celts." -Bill Simmons @sportsguy33, ESPN & Grantland writer
• Last time Allen missed four free throws was in 2006. He is a 92% career ft shooter
• James was the first 30+ scorer the Celtics have allowed in this playoffs
• Wade and James played together for 36 minutes, Heat were +17 in that time
• Battier had his first double-double in his playoff career
• NBA Draft Lottery is on Wednesday
The NBA Playoffs: Spurs Roll into 2-0 Lead
These Spurs are not boring. They can run the fast break, they shoot threes and they can score a bunch of points. In fact, they are exciting to watch and they play excellent TEAM basketball. Their ball movement is crisp and their shot selections are products of executing extra passes. In Game 2, their unselfish was beautiful to watch that even their defenders got caught watching them, thus leading to uncontested shots and layups. The Thunder were helpless on defense as the Spurs executed their offense to perfection. The pick and rolls resulted in open jumpers or back cuts to the hoop and ball reversals to the open three-point shooter. The Spurs shot a blistering 55% from the field, made 11 treys and had 27 assists.
So the Spurs have not lost a game in more than 5 weeks. They are 9-0 in the playoffs and have won 20 straight games overall. I picked the Spurs in 7 and believed that the Thunder would give them problems. So far, it's been all Spurs. The Thunder never led in Game 2 and were down by as much as 22. The Thunder Big 3 combined for 88 points but they still lost and it was not that close of a game. The Spurs were so hot during the third quarter that coach Scott Brooks had to use a Popovich strategy: intentionally foul a bad free throw shooter. The Thunder fouled Tiago Splitter 4-5 straight possessions and he made about half of them. That strategy worked as the deficit shrunk to around 10 points near the end of the third quarter. The problem was that the Thunder could not use that strategy all game long and Splitter was removed from the game.
The battle of the point guards took center stage in Game 2. This round and game belonged to Tony Parker. TP sliced and diced the Thunder defense to score 34 points on 16-21 shooting plus added 8 assists. Parker made minced meat of Westbrook's defense and exposed him as a mediocre defender. Tim Duncan had vintage game, another ho-hum double-double with 11 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 blocks. Timmy had a monster slam over Serge Ibaka before half time. One of his best dunks of late. Manu Ginobili continued his stellar performance in this series with 20 points and clutch shooting. As added bonus, Kawhi Leonard chipped in 18 and 10, Danny Green had 10 and 5 while Boris Diaw had 9 points and 7 rebounds.
Im not sure the Thunder Big 3 could have played any better. They scored 88 points, had 19 rebounds and 17 assists. They got to the free throw line (22-26) and 2 of the 3 shot efficiently (not Westbrook 10-24). The problem lies in their defensive rotations and overall team defense. It's true that the Spurs played magnificent team ball but the Thunder could have done better defensively. Their Big 3 need to step up defensively especially Westbrook who loves to loaf around on defense which results in free shots for Parker. On offense, the Thunder need to execute more ball movement. They need to get the Spurs to rotate and make defensive mistakes, hopefully get people into foul trouble.
#Tweet of the Night
Timothy Legler @LegsESPN, ESPN NBA analyst
"Absolutely one of the greatest offensive displays ive ever seen in the playoffs. #Spurs are embarrassing the #Thunder"
• Duncan is now 2nd in all-time blocks in playoff history
• Thunder had 26-10 fast break points
• Teams with 2-0 leads in conference finals result in 94% success rate
• Splitter went 6-12 in free-throws
• Durant has shot a combined 1-5 in the 2 fourth quarters
• Westbrook has had more attempts than Harden and Durant
Source: Written by Rolly Mendoza for HoopNut.blogspot.com
2012 NBA Playoff Postmortem: Indiana Pacers
Nobody expected the Indiana Pacers to be among the top three teams in the East at the end of 66 games.
That spot should’ve been up for grabs among the Orlando Magic, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, and even the Atlanta Hawks.
Not the Indiana Pacers.
But somehow, some way, they were able to quietly slide into third spot on the strength of an unheralded roster.
Heck, they were but two games away from the Conference Finals!
It was, for all intents and purposes, a great season in Indianapolis.
Still, that might not be enough to guarantee any amount of success next year.
Roy Hibbert, George Hill, Leandro Barbosa, and Dahntay Jones might all bolt and play elsewhere, UNLESS Indiana rolls the dice.
Match any offers on Hibbert and Hill.
Make Barbosa a juicy offer.
Pick up the option on Jones.
And spend whatever is left on getting a top-grade PG.
Last I heard, Deron Williams and Steve Nash are both available. Either one has enough skills to jettison Indiana’s overachieving tag, and either has more than enough star value to make those season tickets sell like hotcakes. It’s a no-brainer to make a play on either of these guys.
But Deron might stay in Brooklyn, or go to Orlando because of Dwight Howard, or go to Dallas because of hometown ties.
But Nash might stay in Phoenix, or go to Dallas because of Dirk Nowitzki, or go to Toronto because of home-country ties (nah, that won’t happen).
Or either might go to Miami and sell out like so many have done.
In case any or all those things happen, there are still some possibilities.
Make a play on Kyle Lowry, or Goran Dragic, or DJ Augustin, or Mo Williams, or Jeremy Lin, or Eric Gordon.
Just get a step-up PG because, really, that’s the only thing missing.
Hibbert and David West are solid. Ditto with Danny Granger and Paul George.
Tyler Hansbrough, Hill and Barbosa are spitfires off the pine.
Darren Collison is fine, but he won’t get this team going the way a top-tier playmaker can. I mean, 4.8 assists per game with an All-Star Center, a 2012 Slam Dunk contestant, and three All-Star appearances between West and Granger? That just won’t cut it.
Cut Collison. Package him with one or two more expendables (that Lance “Mr. Choke” Stephenson seems like bad news), and get an upgrade at the 1.
Do that, Larry Bird (oh, yeah, re-sign with Indiana first), and nobody will be surprised if the Pacers land third (or even higher) again.
2012 NBA Playoff Postmortem: Philadelphia 76ers
For a time, the Sixers looked locked as the top team in the Atlantic Division. The Knicks were struggling, the Celtics were aching, and the Nets and Raptors were being themselves, which is to say they were horrible.
Philly had its best start since 2001, winning 20 of their first 29 games, including wins over Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana, Orlando, and the Lakers. And then they went on a horrendous 10 game gauntlet that saw them win only twice. They eventually wound up 8th in the East with a 35-31 slate.
Not bad at all.
And to think Spencer Hawes was injured for most of the season.
If you really look at this team, it’s no wonder they entered the Playoffs and it’s not a stretch to understand why they beat the Bulls. This is a loaded team.
Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand are both solid frontcourt specialists. Andre Iguodala is an All-Star. Jrue Holiday could’ve made a convincing case for an All-Star selection this past season. The wing combo of Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks, and Evan Turner is money. And Thaddeus Young remains to be athletic as hell.
This is a great team of youngsters (mostly) that can continuously make life tough for the Miamis and Chicagos of the next few seasons.
They were also pretty lucky.
The injured Hawes returned just in time, while the Bulls saw their top player and top big guy sidelined in the first round. They also had to contend with a Boston five whose Big Four was playing with a 50%-strength Ray Allen.
And with 7 Playoff wins to its name after getting ousted in Game 7 by Boston, Philadelphia has a lot to look forward to in October.
Holiday should finally be a bona fide All-Star next year, Evan Turner should play at least 30 minutes in a lot more games, and Spencer Hawes could be the East’s version of Nikola Pekovic.
Still, with all those positives in the Sixers’ horizon, they still lack that one big thing all big-time teams have – a SUPERSTAR.
Many thought Andre Iguodala would be the face of the franchise, especially after his career-high 19.9ppg in 2007-2008, but his offense has slowed down significantly in the past few seasons, and he has resembled Scottie Pippen more than Michael Jordan. He has repeatedly shown that he prefers to be the all-around guy Jack-of-all-trades, instead of the man who owns this team and principally steers it to new heights. AI just isn’t The Man.
Same with Jrue Holiday, Elton Brand, and practically the whole roster.
Except for one.
The guy I can see really taking the mantle of stardom is Turner, but will he see enough daylight to actually blossom into the go-to guy the Sixers need?
Turner is the kind of player whose production seems to be directly proportional to his playing time. He played 23.0mpg last season, and normed 7.2ppg, 3.9rpg, and 2.0apg. he averaged 26.4mpg this year, and his numbers jumped to 9.4ppg, 5.8rpg, and 2.8apg. Play him, and he plays well.
Another key is despite being solid, Philly’s frontline will need an upgrade if they want to scale the higher tiers. Trade Hawes or Brand for someone like Kris Humphries, Marcus Camby, or even a re-do with Samuel Dalembert and this team can really jump the fence. An upgraded frontcourt coupled with the improving Lavoy Allen and Young can make the Sixers even stronger defensively, and, of course, this should give them better chances when guys like LeBron James, Derrick Rose, or Carmelo Anthony try to make a beeline to the basket.
In a nutshell, Philly fans can look forward to an even better team next year, but they should also temper their expectations unless the Sixers get lazy and simply stick with what they have. There’s some progress to be made here, but it is not without necessary risks.
OKC over SAS, 108-103
The Oklahoma City Thunder weathered a late San Antonio Spurs storm and are a win away from reaching the franchise's first NBA Finals since 1996. James Harden netted 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and nailed a game-deciding three-pointer in the final minute as the Thunder hung on for a 108-103 win over the Spurs in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. Kevin Durant scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half while Russell Westbrook added 23 points and 12 assists for the Thunder, who took a 3-2 series lead and can close out the Spurs in Game 6 on Wednesday in Oklahoma City, a place in which they haven't lost this postseason.
BOS over MIA, 94-90
Paul Pierce pulled up in front of LeBron James and drained a clutch three-pointer in the final minute, helping the Boston Celtics fend off the Miami Heat, 94-90, in Game 5 to take their first lead of the Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics became the first team in the series to win on the road and can advance to the NBA Finals with a win in Boston on Thursday. They pulled out the swing game despite Pierce and Rajon Rondo combining to hit 9-of-34 (26 percent) from the field. Kevin Garnett picked up the slack with 26 points, including two clinching free throws with 8.8 seconds left, to go along with 11 rebounds. Pierce wound up finishing with 19 points, Rondo had 13 assists and Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus each chipped in 13 points to help the Celtics rally from a double-digit deficit early on. James recorded 30 points and 13 rebounds, while Dwyane Wade added 27 points for the Heat, who lost despite the return of All-Star forward Chris Bosh.
*Game recaps were compiled and compressed from the Sports Network.
The NBA Playoffs: Thunder vs Celtics???
The young and athletic Oklahoma City Thunder are one win away from their first NBA Finals. They have a great chance to finish the San Antonio Spurs at home where they are 7-0 in the playoffs. The Thunder have won 3 straight and the Spurs have lost 3 straight after winning 20 consecutive games. All the momentum is on the Thunder and all the doubts are with the Spurs. It's not over for the Spurs yet and they can definitely win tonight and win Game 7 at home but the Thunder appear to be the better team and they have 3 players who can take over the game. Even the role players (Thabo, Perkins and Ibaka) have improved their play while the Spurs bench have sputtered. Coach Poppovich even started Manu because he felt the series slipping away. It helped in Game 5 when Ginobili was on fire but it was not enough.
It's very possible that Kevin Durant will win his first championship (maybe more) over LeBron James. Im sure LBJ would love to trade his MVP trophy for another shot at a ring. The Thunder 3 are all playing magnificent at this time. Sure, Westbrook still takes too many shots but that is needed so that he remains engaged and focused. When Russell shoots, that forces the Spurs and Parker to keep guarding him which leaves Durant and Harden single coverage. KD has been super efficient with his shot selection and his uncanny clutch shoothing in the 4th quarter have propelled the Thunder to 3 wins. Meanwhile, their best playmaker, Harden has fought Manu Ginobili to a standstill and he even delivered the clutch shots in Game 5. This could very well be the changing of the guard in the West. This is just the beginning for the Thunder.
The Conference Finals have mimicked each other until game 5. If the Thunder win Game 6, then it's quite possible that the Celtics finish the Heat on Thursday. Even if the Spurs force a Game 7, the Celtics have a bigger chance of closing the Heat since Miami has only won once in 8 games over the last two seasons in Boston. That lone win came last year in the playoffs when Rondo was playing with one arm. Rondo is obviously healthy and dismantling the Heat so the odds are not favoring the Heat. The Celtics have taken over the series and they are doing it with teamwork, intensity and effort. The same cannot be applied to the Heat who settled for jumpers when KG was on the bench, jogged back on defense (Wade a lot), chirped at officials for fouls and played too many isolation sets (coaching staff). The Heat are falling apart and it's quite possible that this team will be broken up next season. So much potential but very little success.
Rajon Rondo owns the Heat. On a night where he scored very little, he still dished out more than 10 assists. He handled the tempo very well and he orchestrated their plays to perfection. He pounced on every loose ball going his way and he showed hustle in his 44 minutes. If only the Heat could do the same, then maybe they would be up 3-2. The Big4 of the Celtics have outplayed the Big 2 of the Heat and it's no surprise that the Celtics are almost in the Finals. Kevin Garnett has defied his age and is playing spectacular. His perimeter shots are falling and his defense has bothered the Heat. Ray Allen is playing hurt but he can still make the occasional trey and his foul shots were flawless in Game 5. Paul Pierce is clutch. His dagger three probably finished the Heat. Im not so sure that Miami has the mental toughness to bounce back. All the pressure is on Miami, just like last year in the Finals. We all know what happened there.
2012 NBA Playoff Postmortem: San Antonio Spurs
Yes, once again, we all thought the Spurs were done.
And then, in their trademark under-the-radar-bordering-on-boring way, they supplant OKC as the West’s top-seed, and win their first 10 Playoff games.
Of course, we all know how it all unceremoniously ended with a four-game losing streak to the eventual Champions of the West.
But, still, to deny the fact that these Spurs were awesome this year is nothing short of a travesty.
Just look at it this way: TD, Manu, and Tony all won their first title in 2003 and now, 9 years later, they’re still in the thick of the fight. Contrast that with, let’s say, MJ, who won his first O’Brien in ’91, and then fast-forward to 9 years later in 2000 – he’s in his second retirement.
This is a Spurs team that just won’t quit. They just keep on coming, and I’m willing to bet it’ll be much of the same next year.
Despite their collective age, I would, if I could, recommend to the whole Spurs organization to keep on riding this core – quite possibly the second-oldest Big Three in the world (Boston has the oldest, wouldn’t you agree?). Duncan won’t make the All-Star team again, but he’ll outplay any All-Star big in the Playoffs anyway. Manu will probably not play much in the regular season due to yet another injury, but he’ll be plenty tough in the postseason. Parker, again, will have to carry much of the load, and perhaps earn some MVP glances here and there, provided he doesn’t get too sapped by the London Games. And Popovich’s army of unheralded helpers will be all too happy to quiet the sneers of other bigger-named teams.
There is, however, a caveat.
With a full 82-game schedule on-hand, I’m not sure San Antonio has the inside track to repeat as the West’s #1 team by April 2013. And then there are the requisite power teams of the Conference. Oklahoma City, whether or not the Thudner walk away with the 2012 Championship, will continue its meteoric rise. Both LA teams should improve, with the Clippers benefitting from experience, and the Lakers benefitting from a few roster changes (who’s out: Gasol or Bynum?). Ditto with Memphis and a recharged Dallas five, which might see a new PG in Deron or an old friend in Nash.
But, there we go again, doubting the Spurs, and, before we know it, their magic kicks in and they make believers of all of us again.
MAI over BOS, 98-79
LeBron James quieted TD Garden with a 30-point first half and crushed the Celtics' spirits badly enough that he didn't need to close down the stretch. With Miami facing elimination, a stone-faced James carried the load with game- highs of 45 points and 15 rebounds. He shot a sensational 19-of-26 from the field and never saw the bench until Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra decided a 22-point lead with a little over three minutes remaining was enough breathing room to give the superstar a rest. Dwyane Wade chipped in 17 points and eight boards for Miami, which had lost three straight after taking the first two meetings. The Celtics shot just 1-of-14 from three-point range, and their leading scorer, Paul Pierce, was held to nine points on a porous 4-of-18 performance from the field. Rajon Rondo scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half and added 10 assists, while Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett each netted 12 points in the one-sided setback.
MIA over BOS, 101-88
Game 7 wasn't a one-man show. LeBron James, coming off an iconic performance, was aided by Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on Saturday and the Heat turned it on late to defeat the Celtics, 101-88, and earn a trip to the NBA Finals for the second straight season. The game was tied entering the fourth quarter, where James, Wade and Bosh combined to score all 28 of Miami's points. James finished with a game-high 31 for the Heat, who lost to the Mavericks in last year's finals and are looking to secure their first NBA title since 2005-06. They will visit the Oklahoma City Thunder for Game 1 on Tuesday. The Celtics, meanwhile, are facing the potential and seemingly inevitable end of an era. Rajon Rondo led the way with 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds while Paul Pierce scored 19. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, both set to become free agents, finished with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
*Game recaps were compiled and compressed from the Sports Network.
The 2012 NBA Finals: Thunder Strikes First
The Thunder is still perfect at home in the playoffs with a 9-0 record and they have won their 5th straight game. They look unbeatable right now. They spotted the Heat a 13-point lead in the first half until they took over after intermission to outscore the Heat by 18 points. The Thunder has constantly shown us that no lead is safe at home and they proved it again in Game 1. The Heat lead for three quarters until Kid Clutch took over in the 4th quarter and erupted for 17 of his 36 points. The Heat scored 21 in the 4th and had 40 points in the 2nd half while Westbrook and Durant had 41. LeBron and Wade used to do that in the previous rounds but the Thunder just showed us that they could simply do the same to the Heat. Just imagine if the Thunder got a lead early, does the Heat have enough energy and firepower to come back? On a positive note, the Heat still has another chance to steal a game in OKC. If they lose that one too, then this series could be over.
Russell Westbrook almost had a triple-double. He had 27 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds with only 2 turnovers. He gave the Heat problems similar to what Rondo did in the last round. The main difference with Westbrook was his overall athleticism and strong drives to the hoop. Russ also has a better jumper and free-throw shooting than Rondo. Russ totally outplayed Dwyane Wade who had modest numbers (19 pts, 8 assists and 4 rebs) but the Heat needs more from Wade to win. Westbrook continually attacked the paint and he was able to beat Wade off the dribble consistently. Meanwhile, Wade has continued to struggle with his jumper and he forced threes that were not even close. Westbrook had an easier time with his penetrations while Wade seemed passive and lacked the aggression. Wade just found out how hard it was to guard the 2006 version of himself.
The battle of Big 3s was a lopsided win for the Thunder. The Young 3 had 68 points, 16 rebounds and 18 assists while the Heat 3 had 59 points, 18 rebounds and 12 assists. James Harden didnt play much (22 mins) and only scored 5 points but Durant and Westbrook combined for 63 points. Kevin Durant was scoring with ease and his jumper was money especially in the 4th quarter. In contrast, D-Wade's jumpers looked horrible and most of them werent even close. LeBron James had troubles with his jump shot too and so was Chris Bosh. Durant just toyed with the defense of Battier and he killed Wade whenever a switch occurred. The Heat need to double team Durant next time or they need to have James on him early and often. Fatigue will be a major factor for James if he guards Durant often so coach Spo has to tweak his rotations and defense for Game 2. Ultimately, LeBron needs help offensively so that he can provide more on defense. Wade and Bosh need to step up their scoring because they cannot afford three more losses to the Thunder.
Heat coach Spoelstra decided to use mainly 6 guys against the Thunder while coach Brooks went with 8 players at least playing 21 minutes each. That strategy worked wonders for the Thunder as the Heat players were gassed and stormed off the court by the younger, fresher and quicker Thunder. The Thunder had 6 days of rest while the Heat had only 2 yet Coach Spo played his main guys big minutes and that did not work in their favor. The Thunder dominated the transition chances and fast break points with a 24-4 advantage. That's a very surprising stat since the turnovers were fairly even (11-10 OKC). Hustle plays and loose balls were constantly won by the Thunder. Heat players were caught standing around after missed shots and being slow on their rotations, both byproducts of fatigue. Coach Spo needs to find a way to get his main players some rest or the Heat will never win one game in this series.
The Heat needs Chris Bosh to be a major contributor for them to be competitive and have a chance to win. Bosh was a non-factor in Game 1. He managed only 10 points and 5 rebounds in 34 minutes plus he has fallen in love with the threes (1-3) and the perimeter game. He barely posted up and he hardly attacked the paint. He was not able to give the Heat a different look in their offense. To make matters worse, Bosh got outplayed by Nick Collison who had 10 points and 8 rebounds in just 21 minutes. Bosh was slow in his rotations and he was ineffective on defense. Even Serge Ibaka had similar numbers to Bosh with 10 points, 6 rebounds in 27 minutes. The Heat needed Bosh to score and rebound more than the other forwards/centers of the Thunder and Bosh needs to improve in Game 2.
#Tweet of the Night
Sekou Smith @SekouSmithNBA
Thunder roasted Heat in the second half behind Durant and Westbrook. They combined for 41 points. The Heat scored 40. Heat got Thundered Up!
• Westbrook had 18 points in the 2nd half, Durant had 23
• Thunder out-rebounded the Heat 43-35
• Thunder with 56-40 edge in points in the paint
• Battier's 17 points is his highest in the playoffs
• Chris Bosh did not start in Game 1
The 2012 NBA Finals: The Heat Steals Game 2
For the second straight game, the Heat was able to start strong early as they built a commanding 17-point lead in the first half. The game started with the Heat up 18-2 and they led for the whole game. The Thunder made their expected run and was able to come as close as 2 points but Durant missed his tying jumper in the last 10 seconds. The Thunder lost at home for the first time in the playoffs and the series shifts to Miami for the next 3 games. There was no comeback for OKC in Game 2 as the Heat 3 and Battier came up big all game long to keep the Thunder at bay. No lead is safe when Durant and Westbrook are on your team. KD erupted in the 4th quarter again to score 16 points but his team fell a little short on their comeback bid. The Heat was lucky to escape with a win because the Thunder was right there at the end.
Chris Bosh started for the Heat and he produced great numbers with 16 points and 15 rebounds. He had a double-double by halftime. Bosh also did not settle for perimeter shots as he attacked the paint more (got blocked more too) and he was more active on defense. Dwyane Wade played better overall and he was more aggressive at the start as he had 11 points in the first half. Wade did not get outplayed by Westbrook and that resulted in a Heat win. LeBron James still scored his 32 points but the help from the others and the additional rest allowed him to make clutch free throws at the end. Meanwhile, Shane Battier was on fire from downtown again. He made five treys and had 17 points for the 2nd straight game. Battier also played decent defense as he guarded every position.
Miami was fortunate that Kevin Durant missed his tying jumper with the score at 98-96. The Heat was luckier that no foul call was called on LeBron. Most people believe that it was a controversial missed call by the referees. When I was watching that play in real time, I did not see LeBron bump/hit KD as he made his move towards the hoop. On the replay, there was some contact from James but it was more incidental and the bump hardly had an effect on Durant's jumper. The shot was very make-able for KD and he missed it. Maybe the referees wanted to make it up for the Heat because Durant escaped an offensive foul call for his 6th foul earlier in the game. James was perfect at the line, going 12-12 and he made a tough bank shot too. LBJ was clutch tonight and so was Durant with his 16 points. Even D-Wade made clutch plays with a fadeaway and nice assist to Bosh but Wade had a crucial turnover that led to a Durant trey.
Russell Westbrook had another great game when you look at his stats. He had 27 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists with just 2 turnovers. The bad part about his game was his shot selection and floor leadership. Russ jacked up 26 shots and made only 10. It was not a very efficient game for him because his other teammates should have shot the ball more compared to him. Durant was on fire in the fourth but he took 22 shots while James Harden took 11 shots for 21 points. Westbrook started slowly again in the 1st half, just like Game 1 and he was erratic with his handling of the plays and he took difficult shots that were not falling. In contrast, Dwyane Wade had a more controlled game and was more efficient, thus a Heat victory. The main match-up is Durant vs LeBron but the Wade vs Westbrook competition might be the more important.
#Tweet of the Night
J.A. Adande @jadande
Kevin Durant: "I just missed the shot." *drops mic*
• Ibaka had 5 blocks in Game 2 after getting zero in Game 1
• Thunder are 9-1 at home and 4-3 on the road
• Westbrook is 20-50 while Durant is 24-42 in two games
• Battier is 9-13 in treys in two games
• Second time the Thunder never led in a game for the whole season
• Bosh has 7 offensive rebounds
The 2012 NBA Finals: Free Throws Help the Heat Win
LeBron James and the Miami Heat started strong and aggressive. They were very physical in attacking the paint in the first quarter. The Heat got an early lead on the Thunder again due to all the layups and dunks that the Heat received due to their spectacular ball movement. The Heat started the game with 3 dunks and 2 layups as they were relentless in their penetrations and low post plays. They finished the first quarter scoring 20 of the 26 points in the paint and only getting one jumper. It was a good start for the Heat but they were in a funk when it came to outside shots. They could not make any jump shots at all. LeBron finished with 2 shots made outside the paint while Bosh and Wade did not make any jumpers. If the Heat made some of their outside shots, this could have been a blowout.
For the 2nd straight game, Kevin Durant battled foul trouble as he picked up his 4th foul midway of the 3rd quarter and he finished with 5 fouls again. Some of his fouls could have been avoided by resisting reaching in during fast breaks. His fifth foul was the right call by the referees because Durant was just a tad slow in drawing the charge and he got called for a blocking foul. Durant needs to play smarter and safer to avoid being stuck on the bench on a crucial time. The Heat made their comeback run when he and Westbrook were on the bench. Meanwhile, the Heat feasted on fouls and free throws. They made 31-35 foul shots and they were shooting at around 85% as a team in the Finals. The Thunder is tops in free throw percentage but they have struggled in the Finals shooting in the low 70s. In Game 3, they missed 9 FTs, going for 15-24.
This was an ugly game for both teams, filled with missed shots and turnovers. The Heat shot a measly 38% while the Thunder shot 43%. The teams combined for 29 turnovers with most of those happening in the fourth quarter. Miami alone had 9 turnovers in the 4th as Wade (mosthly him) and James started piling up the miscues due to isolation plays and too much dribbling. Kevin Durant did not explode in the 4th quarter as he managed only 4 points in the final frame while Chris Bosh missed his last 8 shots. James Harden struggled all night long with his shot, going 2-10 plus he committed a bad foul during the last 15 seconds of the game. The low-scoring games favor the Heat since they are a "grind it out" team and they have superb team defense. The Thunder will have a very difficult time trying to win games if they don't score over 90 points.
LeBron played better than Durant, Wade was more effective than Westbrook and Bosh outplayed Harden. The Heat 3 scored the last 15 points for Miami in the fourth quarter. When the Heat 3 outscore the Thunder 3, it's a good bet that the Heat would win the game. Wade and James played heavy minutes (45 and 44) but they were still able to play excellent defense albeit they committed a bunch of turnovers. Wade played the whole second half and he shot a low percentage going 8-22 and he made 4 turnovers during the 4th quarter. He almost lost the game for the Heat at the end, again. Luckily, Westbrook could not hit an open trey. Shane Battier continues to be hot from three while Chalmers played awful going 1-8 with 2 points.
#Tweets of the Night
Israel Gutierrez @IzzyESPN
If Harden didn't try to flop there, that would've been a no-call. He did it to himself.
Metta WorldPeace @MettaWorldPeace
No brain All beard
• Bosh had another double-double while Perkins had his first in the finals
• Thunder shot 4-18 in treys, Heat 4-13
• Heat with the edge on rebounds +7 and fast break points +7
• Battier 11-15 in threes for the series
• Durant is the only player shooting over 50% in the series
(writing credit: Rolly Mendoza)
2012 NBA Playoff Postmortem: Boston Celtics
Right now, with the Oklahoma City Thunder down 1-2 to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, I am really, REALLY, missing the Boston Celtics.
I am missing their swagger. I am missing their grit. I am missing their “these old bones can still hack it” aura.
Most of all, I am missing their heart.
And what stinks is, by this time next year, the Boston Celtics might not even be the Boston Celtics we have now.
Because after the grand championship of 2008, and strong Playoff runs each year thereafter, it’s inevitable (yes, I used the word inevitable) that Danny Ainge is going to have some shaking up to do.
And while some might contend that this group still has one more run in them (the past two years have each been this group’s “one more run”), I just cannot find it in myself to agree wholeheartedly.
This squad, this iteration of the Big Green, is done, and is about to be undone.
Ray Allen is too old. Kevin Garnett, though he had several awesome moments in these Playoffs, is barely staving off Father Time. Paul Pierce might still have some juice, but it’s also running out fast. We all saw how it was sheer desire and will, not the pump in their legs, not the speed in their step, not the strength of their aching muscles, that enabled the Cs to push Miami to the brink of an early summer.
We won’t see that again.
It was a great run. Magical comes to mind. Mickael Pietrus hit some big shots. Missed a ton, too. Brandon Bass was highlight-worthy at times, but cringe-worthy on certain moments. Keyon Dooling could shoot the lights out in one 5-minute stretch, then go colder than ice the next 10. Greg Stiemsma was half rock-solid and half marshmallow-mush.
The only really, constantly, good, riveting thing about Boston (even in the games where he struggled) was Rajon Rondo.
Him. Right there. He’s the franchise of this team.
I say make a mess out of it all this summer, Danny. Blow up Boston. See what’s out there, and see who comes back.
Maybe Bass can pick up his option and choose to stay. Maybe Pierce can still score in the 20s (he’ll stay anyway). But don’t be afraid to let go of KG and Ray-Ray. You’ll have to at some point, and, honestly, that point is now.
It’ll be, it SHOULD be, a new Boston five who’ll grace our screens come November.
The only thing is… damn… I’ll be missing these Celtics.
2012 NBA Playoff Postmortem: Oklahoma City Thunder
Even for a team that has two Team USA members (one of them is the scoring champ AGAIN), the Sixth Man of the Year, and the NBA’s leading blocker, one cannot blame the OKC Thunder for feeling a little down.
They, after all, lost in the 2012 NBA Finals to the consensus most hated basketball team in the world. And how, too.
It’s a feeling that’ll be hard to escape from, even if the litany of teams they beat to get to this point is quite unparalleled.
It’s made extra-difficult because there were a few games in their series with the Miami Heat that could’ve easily gone the other way had the Thunder made a couple more free throws or had they taken care of the ball a little better.
Or had Kendrick Perkins played less, despite how he might advocate for the contrary.
Still, having said all those things, and with everything turning out the way they did, the 2011-2012 season will be remembered as another milestone year for this young and promising core.
They got bounced by the Lakers two postseasons ago, they got bounced by the Mavs last postseason. They beat both teams AND the indefatigable San Antonio Spurs this postseason, promising the dawn of a youthful dynasty-in-the-making.
That’s not all smoke and mirrors.
The Thunder are great. Sam Presti has built an awesome group of talented players who can go play at the level they did this year, and a bit higher, for the next five seasons – AT LEAST.
The question now, however, is the same question that faces every other team that is not the NBA Champion – what can be done to improve? What or who should be retained, and what or who should be changed/unloaded?
Some might not be wrong in saying, “Why change anything? Why fix what’s not broken?”
Well, because there’s always something to fix. No team is “not broken,” especially a team that blew its homecourt edge and lost by a MILE in the championship-clinching game.
Something must be changed, lest the Thunder fall into the plateau of unfulfilled promises also known as mediocrity.
And speaking of plateauing and mediocrity…
Both James Harden and Serge Ibaka, at least in my opinion and how it looked on a flat screen, underperformed in the Finals relative to how they were so effective in their the regular season and their Western Conference run. Harden never scored below 11 points in OKC’s first three Playoff series this year, and then he scored 5 in Game 1, 8 in Game 3, and 9 in Game 4 against Miami. He shot 44.4% from the field in the regular season, but it dropped to just 37.5% against the Heat, including shooting just 29% from beyond the arc in Games 1-4 (he did himself a favor by shooting 3 of 8 in Game 5). He was supposed to be the third wheel Miami had to deal with, but he got outplayed by Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, and Mike Miller.
We can say something similar about Serge Ibaka. Ibaka normed 9.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, and a whopping 3.7 rejections per game in the regular season. He was hovering around the same level in OKC’s first three series, but he also fell flat against what was perceived to be a generally weaker Miami frontline. Ibaka averaged just 7 points, 5.2 rebounds, and just 2 blocks per outing in the Finals. The guy supposed to reprise Dikembe Mutombo looked more like Samuel Dalembert. Thisis not to say Ibaka (or Dalembert for that matter) was terrible. He was just not as defensively dominant as he was supposed to be.
And why talk about these two guys so much? Because they are the two keys to whether OKC can sustain its furious form for the foreseeable future. Both will be restricted free agents in the 2013 offseason, and it’s pretty academic to assume they’ll get courted by other teams. Whether OKC can, or wants, to match whatever offer is put on the table is still in the realm of uncertainty. Better yet, OKC can push both to sign extensions THIS offseason to nip the problem in the bud.
If that happens, though, then Presti will have to contend with a team in the luxury tax territory. This might not be as bad of a problem, however, if OKC continues deep runs in the Playoffs. Barring any fortuitous events, OKC should be able to afford paying luxury tax with the help of postseason gate receipts and added merchandise revenue.
So things should be spick-and-span, right?
There is one wrinkle in all of these seemingly panned out issues – even if the Thunder continue to run roughshod with a solid core, who is the coach who can get them over the hump and deliver a championship to title-hungry Oklahoma City?
Presti seems to stand by Scott Brooks, despite all the hits he’s taken in the Finals. Some other floaters are Van Gundy (which one?) and, whoa, Phil Jackson (Yoda himself).
What that leaves us is the certainty that the Thunder will be good, along with the lingering uncertainty of whether they will ever be great.
The 2012 NBA Finals: Super Mario to The Rescue
There was no slow start for the Thunder in Game 4. They started strong with Westbrook hitting jumpers and Collison getting 6 points early. They ended up with the lead in the first quarter for the first time in the finals. The biggest lead was 17 points but the Heat managed to get back in the game by going on a 16-0 run. The Heat defense woke up in the second quarter and Miami had the lead at the end of the third. Russell Westbrook was a scoring machine and Thunder offense relied on him while the Heat had more balance with James scoring 26 while Wade and Chalmers had 25 each and then Bosh chipped in 13 points and 9 rebounds. The Thunder ran so many isolation plays for Westbrook since he got to the basket with ease and he was making most of his jumpers. Still, it was not enough for the Thunder since they missed crucial shots at the end and had some mindless mistakes. Their inexperience showed and that cost them a chance to win Game 4.
With LeBron James on the bench due to leg cramps, Super Mario unleashed his best performance in the playoffs and the finals. Mr. Clutch delivered the final 5 points for the Heat and they escaped Game 4 with a win. Chalmers scored 25 points on 9-15 shooting and he had a great 4th quarter where he scored 12 points coming from threes, floaters and daring layups. With Kevin Durant often guarding him, Super Mario was active and more aggressive with his drives to the basket. This was such a big game from Chalmers who had struggled in the finals as he came in scoring 17 combined points in the first 3 games. Extra credit to Heat rookie Norris Cole who had a productive 8 points in 7 minutes. His timely baskets allowed the Heat to get back in the game and his contribution probably ignited Chalmers' competitive spirit. Mario did not want to lose his minutes to Cole so Mr. Clutch stepped up real BIG.
Midway in the fourth quarter, LeBron slipped to the floor without any contact and he got up slowly. On the next trip, he made a bank shot but he limped after the basket. He collapsed to the floor and he was grimacing in pain. He had to be removed from the game because he was unable to move properly. At first, I thought he sprained his ankle or pulled a muscle. Either injury could have been a serious setback for the Heat. Luckily, it was just a leg cramp for LeBron and he should be ready for Game 5. James almost got a triple-double and he missed it by one rebound. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade hurt his lower back in the 2nd quarter when Serge Ibaka blocked his shot and then they collided. Wade hit the floor hard with his tailbone and he was on the floor and in pain. He was not removed from the game and he was able to continue. The Heat got lucky that nothing major bothered Wade and he still ended up playing 42 minutes.
Westbrook played superb and he kept the Thunder in the game. He almost got them the win with his 43 points on 20-32 shooting. Russell was on fire and he was making difficult shots with ease and his jumper was on target last night. The Heat could not stop him and his foul after the jumpball was not the reason the Thunder lost. It was a stupid foul and that could be due to a misunderstanding among the Thunder players and their coach. In fact, Westbrook kept them in the game since James Harden was a no-show for the 2nd straight game. The Beard came up with 8 points on 2-10 shooting and he had 4 turnovers. Most of his shots were open looks and he simply did not make them. Things were so bad for Harden offensively that he missed a non-contested layup on a fast break. On defense, Harden was getting pounded by LeBron in the post or by Wade in the perimeter. The Thunder only had their Big 2 last night and it was not enough to upset the Heat who had contributions from everyone.
The Heat is in good shape to win their second title in 6 years. No team has won in the finals after being down 3-1 and only 8 teams have won a series in the playoffs after being down 3-1. The history is on the Heat's side but nothing is guaranteed especially against the OKC Thunder who is very capable of coming back and winning the series. The Thunder won 4 straight against the Spurs and winning 3 straight versus the Heat is not an impossible task. The Heat is also capable of losing 3 straight games in the finals since that happened to them last year when Dallas beat them 4-2 after the Heat had a 2-1 advantage. The hardest game to finish is the closeout game and this will be the toughest of them all. The Heat cannot relax now and they need to be calm and poised to overcome all the punches that the Thunder will deliver in Game 5. A loss on Thursday brings back the series to OKC and that would give the Thunder confidence that they can still win the series. The Heat definitely dont want that.
#Tweet of the Night
J.A. Adande @jadande
Chalmers has GOTS to go to the podium tonight. #podiumgame
Westbrook's 43 points is his playoff career-high, same with Chalmers and his 25 points
Wade made 2-3 three-point shots, his first two of the finals
Heat finally made jumpers: 10-26 from downtown
Heat won the rebounding battle for the 3rd straight time, all resulting in wins
Heat is 8-0 after trailing in a series
Heat is 3-1 in closeout games
Thunder is 4-6 on the road
The 2012 NBA Finals: LeBron Has Been Crowned
After 66 games in the shortened regular season and then 2 months of playoff basketball, the Miami Heat is the best team in the NBA. The Heat managed to win their 4th straight game in the Finals as they defeated the OKC Thunder in 5 games. The Thunder barely led in this game but they were within striking distance midway through the third quarter down by only 5 points. That was when the Heat decided to throw their best punches to deliver the knockout blow. The Heat bombarded the Thunder with a barrage of threes and drives to the hoop as the Heat went on a 27-8 rampage to end the third quarter up by 24 points. At that time, the Thunder looked beaten and demoralized. Everything was clicking for Miami while OKC labored on both ends of the floor. This was the Heat's game for the taking and the Thunder knew it. The Thunder would not recover and they hardly made a dent at the big deficit. The Thunder got blown out in the closeout game and the fourth quarter was just a formality.
Was there any doubt on who the Finals MVP would be? LeBron James was unanimously chosen as the best player in the Finals. LBJ dominated the game from start to finish and he ended the Thunder's season with a triple-double: 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists. The King finally earned his first ring to go along with his three MVP awards. The best player in the NBA and the world was spectacular during the playoffs and he displayed his amazing talents
Mike Miller has been injured for the whole season. He probably has multiple ailments that impede his productivity on the court and his minutes and numbers show that. You can even see the pain and grimace on his face whenever he steps on the court. But for one night and one game, Mike Miller was money from three. He made seven treys out of eight shots in game 5 after not making any during the first four games. The Heat made 14 treys as a team which tied the NBA record in a playoffs game. No one was going to beat the Heat when they shoot from outside like that. No one.
The Heat 3 played well together for their last game of the 2011-12 season. All 3 of them scored at least 20 points for the first time in the playoffs. Wonderful timing on a closeout game. James was passing the ball effectively and dominating the post while Bosh was playing good defense and making his shots. Dwyane Wade undressed Westbrook during one sequence where Wade blocked a Westbrook layup then Wade went the other way for a Eurostep layup plus a foul from Russell. The role players stepped up again as Chalmers and Battier scored over 10 points and made treys. The Heat dont win the finals without the help of the others and they played more as a team during the playoffs. They evolved during the finals and they were rhe better team. #OKC #nextyear The Thunder is a young and athletic team that will be back in the finals next year. They were inexperienced and quite possibly not ready for the big stage. They have the best scorer in the league in Kevin Durant and Westbrook is an elite player. James Harden needs to find his game again plus he needs to tone down his flopping. It has been said that the Heat learned and grew from their loss last year to Dallas and that helped them prevail this year. The same thing could happen to the Thunder and hopefully it will be the Heat and Thunder again next June. I cant wait for next
2012 NBA Champions: The Miami Heat
Okay. Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way.
The Miami are the new NBA Champions. No denying that. They blew out the Thunder after outscoring them by just FIVE POINTS total thru the first four games.
Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade both came to play, combining for 44 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 3 steals.
Mike Miller hit SEVEN effin’ THREES. It’s hard enough to beat the Heat when both Bosh and Wade play well, but when Miller (or someone else) starts getting hot, too, then why even play?
And, of course, even I cannot deny it, LeBron James was hands down the best player in Game 5, and the best player in the series, too. A triple-double line to clinch his first title? A blowout win against a higher-seeded team?
Objectively speaking (please appreciate this, it won’t happen often when I write about Miami), this title romp dispels LBJ’s image as a crunch time choker. After the Game 1 loss in Oklahoma City, he owned up to the responsibility of guarding Kevin Durant. He did well. He made things happen. Clearly, he is the most talented player on the planet today.
And (gripe gripe gripe) now he has a ring to show for it as well.
And, no, I will not refer to this as an *asterisk* championship.
I will count it.
Yes, it was a truncated season.
Yes, both D-Rose and Big D, arguably the biggest stumbling blocks in Miami’s way out East, were out of commission in the Playoffs.
Yes, there appeared to be some bum calls.
BUT, still, Miami won. They earned this title.
They showed that, at least for now, they are the best team in basketball.
Now, LeBron James is not just a super-scorer, not just a high school phenom, not just the self-styled King, not just an MVP.
He’s also a winner.
So there. Congratulations to you, Mr. James, and your posse.
The only silver lining, really, is Coach Spo winning one. The first Fil-American to win an NBA title. Awesome.
Now if we can only get him to come home, bring the Larry O’Brien, and maybe have a go at coaching the Philippine Team.
Having written all those things (and, trust me, my mouth was frothing as I wrote them), I still cannot say I’m a Heat convert. I will still not cheer for them. I will still hope the Charlotte Bobcats and/or the Washington Wizards beat them at least once each next season. I will still revel in every humiliating defeat in South Beach.
Because, and you should know this faithful reader, I dislike them with a passion.
Not on the level of talent, because they’re uber-talented. Not because they’re a bunch of criminals running around selling drugs or abusing ladies. They’re not that.
I dislike them on the level of principle.
Because I still believe they represent the biggest thing I don’t like about pro ball – that a player is ultimately defined/judged on whether he wins a title or not. It’s title-chasing or bust.
It used to be more than that. It used to be how you left everything out on the floor. It used to be how you respected your opponents, teammates, coaches, organization, and fans. It used to be about playing for a purpose much higher, much more intangible than a trophy, or an endorsement, or even worldwide recognition or validation.
It used to be about being a great role model.
I guess fans will see Miami winning as an example of triumphing against all the backlash and hate stemming from a mishandled 2010-2011 campaign. For them, for James, this title is redemption. The Heat are now role models for a lot of people. In many places, LeBron is a hero. Just not for me.
Winning won’t change things much. I still see them with the same eyes.
When Kobe won his titles, I respected him as a winner, but I never really did, or ever will, put him on a personal pedestal reserved for people I hopelessly admire.
Same for LeBron. Respect as a winner – given.
But nothing more. (yet)
I’m looking for heroes, and he just doesn’t do it for me.
After all, not all winners are heroes.
Still, congratulations Miami. You won this fair and square. My heroes will come back and beat you next season.