Friday, April 25, 2008

Game 2 And 3 Thoughts Through 4/25

  • I love it. Just when everyone is all good and settled in to start naysaying and being pessimistic about all the hype these playoffs have gotten, every series that played tonight switches momentum. The Wizards obliterate the Cavs, and suddenly, you don't know which Cavs offense will show up. The anemic mess that splattered all over the floor tonight like a slasher film's victim, or the high octane bullet-proof SUV that ran over the Wiz in games 1 and 2? Likewise, which Wizards team will show up, the running and gunning, high flying, limousine-ridin', wheeling and dealing funslingers that trounced the Cavs tonight? Or the gentle surrenderers that oozed off the floor in Cleveland after Game 2? The unpredictability is back in all these series, and like I said over at FanHouse, it's amazing.
  • Tracy McGrady somehow managed to make the fiery debate of his microcosm of relevance more compelling tonight. He drops 20 through three quarters, helping his team into position. Then he vanishes for the majority of the fourth, completely unable to separate from Kirilenko. Then he drains two of his "so picture-perfect you should mount them on canvas with a frame made of silk" jumpers, and makes a huge block. Then he completely misses rim on what would have been a soul-killing J. Then on the other end, he snatches a crucial rebound like it's his birthright. He literally showcased the best and worst of himself tonight. He teased us still with his potential, while still managing to leave you infuriated with his inability, or refusal, to ascend to true greatness. Every jumper he fired at the rim I prayed would go in, if only to relieve some measure of the weight from his back, just so we can get back to basketball. And every time, I realized that not only was I not confident of them going in, but if I'm the Jazz, I'm fine with him taking that shot. I'm not scared of him. That's a big separation.
  • The best players are the ones you're terrified of as a coach, player, or fan of the other team. Kobe. LeBron. Paul. Hedo (yeah, I'll put him there). Nash until this season. Ginobili. DWade when healthy. Horry. DeShawn is getting there. Zero when healthy. Garnett. These are guys that if they have the ball, you start shaking uncontrollably if it's a close game. You are legitimately terrified of every dribble and every shoulder shrug. McGrady has simply not reached this point. Or maybe he did, and regressed once he finally made it to a playoff contender. And part of me wonders if it's not mental, if it's physical. And if it's genetic.
  • You see, Vince Carter used to be that kind of guy. He used to be the sort of scorer that struck fear into the hearts of men. He could slice right through your heart with a viciousness that would leave you stunned and speechless. Then the injuries. And more injuries. And the pressure. And the breakdowns. Then the "half-man, half-season" comments. Then the ridicule. Does his cousin's path not follow the same trajectory? And it has less to do with the pressure I think, than it does the injury. The more injuries you sustain, the more you realize you can't take it to the rack effectively. T-Mac more than once will have the edge on Kirilenko in this series. Finally, like a man coming up for air in the ocean, he can taste oxygen ripping down into his lungs. The lane! Sweet freedom! But down low is Boozer. Down low is Okur. Down low is Millsap. And it's not fear. It's realism. It's knowing that if he lands funny, he's going to tweak something. Talk all you want about playing through injury. For a pure scorer, injury changes everything. Your entire body has to be fine tuned to carry through with the motion to perfection. A slight twinge of pain, and your jumper is off, you floater carries, your dribble is too soft or too hard. For a pure scorer, you're left with constantly thinking about your body, and the only way to score, purely, is to get your brain out of your body and into the game. So T-Mac resorts to jumpers. And rest assured, he's a terrific shooter. But he's not unstoppable. This is the gap between him and LeBron, him and Kobe. Those two have bodies that will uphold the contact, will bounce back from twinges. They can take a smack and head back to the rack. T-Mac will forever be labeled soft, because his genes simply aren't made of the superhuman bonds that LeBron and Kobe's are. And that may be the biggest tragedy of all. Tracy doesn't know how to change in order to succeed. He's stuck, like his cousin, in between worlds. A pure scorer's talent with a role player's body.
  • It's funny, I loathed the Nuggets during the final two weeks of the regular season. I absolutely hate that they got the 8th seed over the Warriors. I can't stand their failure to live up to their potential, and I hate George Karl for being a good coach that suddenly can't figure out how to motivate his guys. The parallels between Karl and that team are stunning, in that both have such vast potential that is utterly wasted when actually applied. Yet, I find myself more entertained thinking about LA vs. Denver than any other. I think it stems from my resounding obsession with the idea of matchups. Because LA is not a team you can shut down. You have to measure it. You have to control it. You literally cannot stop it, you can only hope to contain it. And watching Karl bungle it constantly is so enticing, because in streaks, I see it happening. Here's the most insane part. Game 2 was exactly what you wanted if you're a Nuggets fan.
  • The only way to stop the Lakers is to limit their new weapons. If you turn them into a Kobe Bryant-fueled engine, you can manage the game, 7 out of 10 times. Wednesday night was the 3 out of 10 night. There are certain nights where no matter what you do, Kobe will annihilate you. He will. I'm actually more glad that Karl stuck with Najera and his pathetically overmatched attempts at guarding him than if he had done what I'm clamoring for him to do: put Kleiza on him. Because Kleiza would have gotten assassinated just the same. This was "one of those nights" and there's really nothing you can do about it. But consider this.
  • Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar combined for 0-4 from beyond the arc. That's an incredible feat at Staples Center. Sasha Vujacic was the only Laker who could be considered to have had a good night from beyond the arc. Gasol was held to 18 points and 3 assists, Odom to 4 and 6. That's a good night defensively. Not only that, but I'll do you one better. Take away Bryant and the Lakers are just 28/64 for .438 from the field. The Nuggets were .440. So essentially, in this game, Bryant was literally the reason they won. I can't think of a better argument for why he's the MVP than that, and I am loathe to add anything to that discussion from the playoffs. The truth is that the Nuggets followed a pattern that was perfect, right up unto the point where A. the Nuggets decided to mouth off at Kobe and B. George Karl thought that Eduardo Najera had any place on the floor for this series. So I will make the plea once more. George, please. Put Kleiza on Kobe, let KMart handle Gasol, and let Camby float to where he needs to in man-help. Kobe will still score. But Kleiza will get up the floor enough to wear on him to even a small degree, and it maintains an even matchup elsewhere on the floor. Plus, this frees you to put Melo on Luke Walton. And that's actually a defensive matchup that favors Melo. One of like, three. Again, the theoretics behind this series, which is probably going to end in a sweep, are still fascinating, and it speaks to how amazing these playoffs are.
  • I feel like Boston and Atlanta is like watching the star act you paid $200 to see come out and play with the crappy opener. It's nice of them and all, and you can appreciate the talent, but all you really want to see is him destroying his hits.
  • Conversely, I love how this year's playoffs have completely changed the tone for some teams. Every year there's an attitude adjustment made that's completely the opposite of what we previously thought. Last year it was "The Spurs are the bad guys?!" and this year it's "The Suns are the slow ones?!" and "Detroit is the style team?!" but it's true. The Sixers won game 1 because they were able to make it into a scrapping, streetball, dirty game. The Pistons won in game two with outright professionalism and touch. Now, these guys are no Cinderellas, but it does definitely signal a shift in the Pistons' mystique, if only for a series before the turn to the tough ones against Orlando.
  • Speaking of, the Toronto-Orlando series is entirely centered around four players. Jameer Nelson, Keyon Dooling, Jose Calderon, and T.J. Ford. Those four players will determine how the next three games go. Game seven is where it gets dicey and it turns into Bosh, Moon, and Kapono versus Howard, Hedo, and Rashard. And that doesn't end well for the Jurassic Park kids.
  • With the recent re-issue of the Replacements catalog, I found myself thinking of playoff teams in terms of the band, and the only comparison I could find was Washington. I can totally see that team freaking out to "Beer For Breakfast."
  • I finally found the primary difference between Chris Paul and Deron Williams. It's spacing on penetration. Paul will drive, and suck the defense in with his (lack of) size, and then make a perfect pass to the appropriate weapon that puts them in the best position for an open shot. Williams uses his speed and size to create an equal distance between the defenders and him, and the defenders and his target. So that whichever way they choose to commit, they're screwed. It's in this way that they are different, but not necessarily equal. The biggest issue being that Paul's versatility in such situations outweighs Williams'. This is not to say that Paul is a better player. No, they're about equal in talent. But Williams is handcuffed by a certain set of abilities and maneuvers he's able to accomplish, versus Paul, who at times seems to stretch what's possible. The drawback is, of course, that Williams is a much more capable defender, because of his size, and that helps contribute to the consistent beatdown the Jazz are able to hand him. When you have so much length and athleticism on the wings, how is Paul supposed to get past you and into the second layer. Conversely, the Mavs are attempting to combat this with Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Bass. Which is kind of like bringing a nunchuk to a gunfight. It's not that you can't do some damage, it's that you're at an extreme disadvantage to the other weaponry in the room.

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