Like I said I would on day 2, I waited till the Lakers v Nuggets game finished and checked only the Denver box scores to figure out who won. Chucko emailed me Denver’s stats and my immediate thought was: 31 points for Iverson, a big defensive game from Camby (17 rebounds, 4 blocks), and a great game off the bench from JR Smith (21 points). All good signs. But then I saw Melo’s 5 fouls and 32 minutes, as well as K-Mart’s foul-out, so it was pretty easy to guess the Nuggets lost this game. Still, I maintain that not many other teams in the league could have a leading scorer drop 31 points, their centre go for 17 rebounds and 4 blocks, and have a bench player score 21, all while ending up convincing losers.

Let’s take a minute to appreciate Kobe in this game. I’ve seen him score 40 in a lot of games, but I don’t remember many where he shot 66% from the field. Checking basketball-reference I can tell you he’s only done that five times before (out of 92), but in none of those games did he have 10 assists to go with it. You know when Kobe’s had a good game when Allen Iverson says things like this: “Tonight, the way he was going, we probably could have put 10 people on the court and probably wouldn’t have been able to stop him”. I’ve never heard AI praise an opposition player for their scoring ability, let alone Kobe of all people.

The highlight of this game for me though was the lob pass from Gasol which Kobe threw down with authority for his 30th point (number 3 on NBA’s Daily Top 10). Gasol made that pass look easy but in reality that is a ridiculously hard pass to make. Gasol caught the ball with his back to the basket and Kobe halfway through the key. In less than one second he turned, saw Kobe cutting to the hoop and threw the one-handed pass that not only had to make it over Najera’s reach, but had to be travelling really fast cos Kobe was already at the basket. That is a play a few of the best point guards in the league could make – 7-footers doing that stuff should be illegal.

Detroit won, thank God, and Sheed once again set the tone early with 11 first quarter points. Sheed coming to play in the first round is a good sign for this Pistons team. Over these first two games he’s averaging 20 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks. That might be enough to get him a playoff MVP vote today… maybe..

In Boston the “Fig Tree” combined for another craptastic 9/30 from the field, which they should be pleased about because it’s an improvement on their 12/42 from Day 2. At this rate, in game 4 we’ll see them shooting at around 36% combined, which should give them a chance to lose by less than 20 points. I don’t remember a series in recent times where the lower seed just winning one game would totally shock everyone. I mean, I would genuinely be stunned if Atlanta won a game back home. It wouldn’t make sense to me. I’d have to see it to believe it. And thanks to ESPN, I believe we will.

I’ve been meaning to talk about the DPOY award, which was handed to KG earlier today in front of his home crowd. I’m not so sure this was the right result. Yes I’m aware of the defensive influence KG had on the Celtics, turning them into the best defensive team in the league (even though the Pistons had the lowest ppg against), and improving all the players around him on the defensive end. But since when was the DPOY a team award? It’s bad enough the MVP has become totally about “making your team mates better”, do we now need to award the DPOY based on the team? KG recorded his lowest blocks per game average (1.3) of his entire career this season and his lowest rebounding average (9.2) in a decade. You pick any year of KGs career from the past 10 years and his defensive numbers are better. I can hear you, “it’s not all about numbers”, and I’m willing to take into account the intangibles, help defense, intensity, etc. But to me, the Defensive Player of the Year award really should be defined on the following criteria:

1. A player’s ability to lock down their man one-on-one, whether its on the perimeters or in the block
2. A player’s ability to “own” the paint, block shots, alter shots, intimidate opponents, inhale rebounds
3. A player’s defensive awareness, their help defense, the ability to funnel their man towards teammates, antipication, reading the passing lanes, hustling for loose balls, etc.

Last year Camby won based on point (2), he completely owned the paint. Ben Wallace won his four awards for being consistently great across all three criteria. Ron Artest won his award (to my disgust) for being an exceptional lock down defender, as has Bruce Bowen been the past few years. This year, I don’t think KG was a great lock down defender (certainly not in the Boston games I’ve seen – I saw Drew Gooden smoke his ass). I don’t think he owned the paint like Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler or Marcus Camby. I’ll admit he passes point three with flying colors, but in my opinion it’s not enough to be named the Best Defensive Player. I think the main reason KG won it, was because this season there was a lack of real convincing candidates for the award. Dwight and Chandler aren’t smart, lock-down defenders yet, Camby was inelligble by default because the Nuggets get way too many points scored against them, and guys like Bowen and Battier didn’t have enough notable games shutting down the Kobe’s, T-Mac’s and Lebron’s of this world.

Who would I award it to? In all seriousness, the three guys I rate extremely highly this season are Tim Duncan, Rasheed Wallace and Kobe Bryant. TD for being brutally consistent on the defensive end, and for making the Spurs yet again one of the best defensive teams in the league. Rasheed for being the smartest big man defender in the league – when he’s locked in, in my unbiased opinion (difficult to accept coming from a Detroit fan), he is the best defensive power forward in the league. Sheed can shut down anyone when he wants to, key phrase being “when he wants to”. Kobe seemed to inject a little more focus into his defensive game this season, and still defends with as much intensity and energy as he did 7-8 years ago. There’s a lot of guys in this league, when you watch them, you can’t tell their playing defense. They’re just going through the motions, sticking their arms out, crouching down, “acting” like their playing defense. Kobe is one of the few who defends like his life is on the line. He zeros in completely on his man. I remember watching him against the Mavericks a few weeks back, pressuring Jason Kidd who had just passed half-court. Kobe was hounding him like a rabid dog, ten feet away from the three point line, the Lakers in no real urgency at this point of the game. Kidd tried to turn his back to Kobe, but still couldn’t move where he wanted to. He ended up back-peddling to the corner near half-court, then threw the ball to his team mate in relief. Kidd looked genuinely uncomfortable. He didn’t know it, but without even touching the ball, Kobe just owned him.

Today’s Playoff MVP Votes
3 votes – Kobe Bryant
2 votes – Luke Walton (don’t even argue: 18 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists including 10 points during the game-winning run late in the 3rd. Lamar who?)
1 vote – Rasheed Wallace

Playoff MVP Leaderboard
Chris Paul – 6 votes
Dwight Howard – 4 votes
Pau Gasol – 3
Deron Williams – 3
Lebron James – 3
Kobe Bryant – 3

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