Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Finally, Pondering About Some Pretty Good Pieces Of The Last 8* Survivors

*Ooops, that number dropped to 7, after the Magic were eliminated 1-4 by the mighty Pistons.

Some things that really really interested me in these conf-semi-final battles:

Yes, the Pistons caught some breaks in their series, but there’s no doubt that they’re better than the up-and-coming Magic - even without their floor leader Billups. Remember when four of five from Pistons starting five were chosen for the All-Star Game? And what about that one guy coming short? He’s now the best overall player for Detroit. Tay Prince has a two-way game as good as only a few guys in the world have.

Tayshaun Prince is a long, lean robot, a super cyborg sent from the future, as one of beat writers has written. He is already cut at sharp angles, neck to shoulder, shoulder to elbow, as if metal were welded just beneath the flesh. He rarely shows emotion. He doesn't sweat easily. And if you could crawl behind his eyes during crucial moments, I swear you'd see those flashing screens that give you digital info about everything in front of you.

Here’s Tay’s take of his series-altering hook in Game 4: *When Rasheed passed up the shot and started driving I just kicked out to the corner. Once I recognized Dwight was on him, I told him to come set a pick and roll to see what they would do. Would they switch it? Or would Dwight leave Rasheed and could I kick it back to him for a wide-open jump shot?* All of this, in microseconds, ran through his head. None of it ended up happening. Instead, Tayshaun dismissed hypotheticals 1, 2 & 3, and took No. 4 - he drove the paint himself. He floated a hard one-hander and put the Pistons up to stay.

Yup, even the experts are saying that make no mistake - the Pistons are where they are largely because of Prince. Against Philly, he all but undressed its star player, Andre Iguodala. Prince shot an insane 66% for that series, averaging 16 points and five rebounds. He shot around 50% vs. Orlando and averaged even higher stats. His numbers are up in every significant category from the regular season - a sign he is rising to the occasion. Oh. And we didn't mention defense. In Game 4, he stopped Turkoglu in the remaining seconds, in Game 5 he sealed the victory with another monstrous block.

Not that all people care about him that much. ESPN rather interviews Hamilton than Tay, one of the most unusual, multi-functional and valuable players in the league, who went quietly to the locker room.

It’s kinda stunning with him, because last postseason his numbers dwindled in each of the four consecutive losses to Cleveland. He couldn’t buy a basket. This time, it’s reversed. So far, Prince has been playing point guard as well as both forward spots, extremely well. His game has expanded every way except in ego. He is the same soft-spoken man who admits, laughing, that if Billups had been in the game, *I highly doubt I would have taken that last shot.* For ‘em, God bless that he emerged.

The Lakers, meanwhile, have a tougher task. The Jazz are a team that noone is expecting to advance. Being tied 2-2, tonight’s game (and the series) hinges on Kobe and his health. Is he too hurt to shoot without spasms? What bummed me after that scintillating and flattering Game 4 overtime loss for LAL, is that people immediately went after Bryant and dissing him for his performance in the added time. It's the story of his career: Bryant finishes a game any ordinary player would have left with a sore back, but his overtime performance draws criticism. What the hell? He can’t win all games! Kobe will play today. One writer has written that Kobe would play if they had to wrap him from head to foot like a mummy. Bang! Two things are certain with Bryant: A) he's the gamer of gamers and B) he'll never take a breath without creating a controversy, as he did once more Sunday. If the Lakers had won, then Kobe would have been hailed as a Jesus Christ. Yes, only one thing kept Bryant's performance in Game 4 from rising to the mythic level of Willis Reed limping out for Game 7 in 1970 and the flu-ridden Michael J. beating the Jazz in 1997 - the Lakers didn't win.

Just the fact that he played in OT, in a situation where his body belonged to the hospital, is amazing. An ordinary player wouldn't have even seen the fourth quarter, much less found a way to lead the rally that forced the overtime. And, after all the soap operas he has starred in, he's perceived more as a cartoon character than a person. The all-timer was last week's most-valuable-player ceremony when one unnamed TV guy was apparently surprised to learn Bryant actually knew his teammates.

Since Phil Jackson's return in 2005, Bryant's leadership of, and involvement with, his teammates has been unquestionable. Actually, since Bryant tried to trade this set of teammates for another in Chicago last fall, we should say since Kobe's return in 2007, his leadership has been unquestionable. This is Kobe on Top of His Game, not only willing to play with teammates but be brilliant at it and as excited as anyone in the Lakers' organization at their future.

So if the offense broke down and/or Bryant took too many shots, he was still great Sunday, playing 46 minutes with a back that seized up on three separate occasions. On the last, Bryant charged into Andrei Kirilenko and sank to his knees in pain, looking as if he couldn't stay in, although, of course, he did. *I don't know how I made it through the game to begin with, to be honest with you,* Bryant said.

He was even trouper enough to go to the interview room after the game although he couldn't sit down, and conducted the interview standing up, talking into a hand-held microphone. Cool. *Even talking about him possibly not playing,* said Derek Fisher, *I mean, I'll entertain questions, but it's not an option, really. I mean for him.*

One things is sure - Kobe will score tonight. And it might be enough, for sure, even against this superb Utah team.

The next thing to ponder... the Celtics harrasing LBJ to a shooting percentage that is as unreal for James as Larry Brown coaching three years in Charlotte. And even more shocking, and I mean SHOCKING, is that Boston’s uncapable of taking the reins of this series. It’s even worse for them, ‘cos today is Game 5, yes in Boston - at home, but don’t forget, Mr. James hasn’t had a monster game yet against the Celtics. Don’t be surprised if he scores 50% of the Cavs points today - with a 50% shooting percentage. What the hell’s with Boston?

What happened to the Celtics everyone loved this year? Do they have anything going for them other than their own Boston Garden? Are the 2007-08 Celtics fated to melt down at home and watch their title dreams go down the drain?

In the wake of Game 4's fourth-quarter fold (12 points), which led a 2-2 series draw with the Cavaliers, it's hard to see the Celtics as anything other than front-runners. Nobody looks better when they have it going. But when the going gets tough on the road, the Celtics collapse. It looked like they might finally win a road playoff game last night. Boston trailed by a mere 3 points after three. But the New Three (Of Desperation?) vanished in crunch time. Garnett and Ray Allen swallowed fourth-quarter donuts and Pierce forced a bunch of shots while scoring 6 of the paltry dozen.

It was the latest chapter in an annoying postseason in which the Celtics suddenly can't win on the road. (Not that the Spurs or someone else can...) The NBA's best regular-season road team is 0-5 away from home in the 2008 playoffs. They resume tomorrow night at the Garden and, of course, they are expected to win. Then they must return to Cleveland Friday. *We can play better at home, then break the road streak and get everybody to stop talking about it,* said Pierce.

The talk will not stop until the Celtics win one away from home. Does any Celtic fan feel good about this team now? Nope. Going a combined 0-5 in Atlanta and Cleveland does little to inspire confidence. And a glass-half-empty person might say that, sooner or later, somebody (read Mr. LeBron-ski) is going to crash the Party and walk out with a win. And then what?

Everybody then James broke loose for a backboard-shaking dunk (the image of 2008 Playoffs so far) to make it 84-75 with 1:45 left. Exploiting a Joe Smith pick, LeBron blew past Pierce, Posey, and Garnett en route to the royal flush. What about tonight? Boston has to play better, that’s the bottom line. (Leaguewide, home teams are 17-1 in this round. How does Commish Stern feel about a league in which it seems the home team is guaranteed to win every playoff game? *That's what people play the regular season for.*)

I’m not going to write about Spurs-Hornets. Simply, I’m embarrassed after that ass-kickin’ Game 5. I’ll wait ‘til after Game 6. Hmm... I might be in a much worse condition.

My early predicition for the Draft Lottery winner:

My gut-feeling that with the odds of winning the lottery 19.9 percent, the Seattle SuperSonics will cash in. Really, somethin’ good must happen after such filthy things.

In March, we were salivating over the idea that the Sonics could land both Durant and Beasley in back-to-back years. A few of the GMs thought it would be an amazing combination. Beasley and Durant are close friends and, together, they could give the Sonics the most potent inside-outside, young scoring duo in the league. However, the Sonics, too, have become enamored with Rose, and a source close to the team said the idea of matching an elite point guard next to Durant would be too good to pass up. So with the first pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, the Sonics pick Derrick Rose! Oklahoma City Sonics...

p.s.: *Gregg Popovich’s got this bully pulpit up there, and he tells you what he likes and dislikes,* Brent Barry said jokingly. And he asks you, ‘OK, what do you think?’ And before you have time to answer, he’s like, ‘OK, let’s get started.’ That’s not fair. That’s what my wife does.*
p.s.2: *What's crazy about life is when things happen, even what you perceive to be negative at a certain point, it's all preparation and practice for what's to come next,* said D. Fisher.
p.s.3: As reporters waited to interview Ginobili at his locker after the game, a mouse jumped out of his laundry bag as a clubhouse attendant picked it up. *I guess I’ve got to do laundry more often,* Ginobili joked.
p.s.4: If the Celtics think that the Cavs will automatically go belly-up in Boston, then their season won't survive the weekend. (-Charley Rosen)

p.s.5: *I tried to flex like Lebron did [after LBJ’s tomahawk], but I didn't have any muscle to flex,* Cavs coach Mike Brown said. *So I flexed my jaw and said 'Game 5.'*
p.s.6: Okay, the Knicks have D’Antoni. The tougher homework is to bring LeBron James to The Apple. And would D’A & LBJ work? *I think it'll work,* Donnie Walsh said. *If it can't, I guess I'll be down in Indiana hanging out with the cows.*

Posted by Foreigner in CS - May 14 2008 6:01PM

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