After blogging on that dream on the morning of game 1, I walked downstairs to find my house mate watching the ESPN pre-game show, wearing a Ray Allen jersey and a green shopping bag on his head. He explained to me he’d just bought the jersey yesterday, and he was clearly very excited about it. I thought I may as well spice things up, so I went back upstairs to my room, pulled on an old Kobe jersey that belonged to my friend (I do not own a Kobe jersey) and a yellow headband, and came back downstairs to sit on the opposite couch. There we were, in Celtics green and Lakers yellow, hollering at each other about a rivalry we were too young to fully understand, huddled around the television on this freezing cold Friday morning in Melbourne. The NBA Finals had officially begun.
After recovering from seeing Mike Breen’s horrific facial hair (that gray goatee makes him look like a homeless person), we finally had tip off. Every one was clearly nervous, including me. It’s hard to swallow the fact that after 82 games and 20 playoff games, we’re finally at the round that counts for everything. As important as those Pistons v Celtics or Lakers v Spurs games seemed to be, they were nothing compared to this. The Celtics unlikely upset in Detroit in game 6 was completely meaningless. Kobe carrying his team to a game 5 victory against the Spurs was already history. The only thing that really mattered, was now.
I thought both teams had their positives in the first quarter. D-Fish was shooting the ball well, and was really the only guy from either team that didn’t look extremely nervous. Ray Allen looked sharp, as did KG (I’m understating things a bit here – KG was sensational early). Kobe was trying to do a little too much – we all know he wants to make the Finals his stage, but it seemed like he was intent at achieving this in the first five minutes. Kobe eventually adjusted and starting hurting the Celtics with his passing, but his first few shots seemed a little forced. Credit must be given to the Celtics though. Ray was doing a great job on Kobe (backing up the success he’d had in their previous encounters), not once falling for Kobe’s head fakes that are the source of so many easy points. My house mate joked that Ray wasn’t falling for those head fakes because he physically can’t – his ankles are so shot they only allow him to elevate for threes. Whether this is true or not, the fact remains he forced Kobe to shoot over him and those shots didn’t go in (asked in the post game interview about whether he thought they were good looks, Kobe said he was “frothing at the mouth” about taking those shots again… so I think we can take that as a “yes”)
The game didn’t really heat up until the Paul Pierce drama. Man, I was a little spooked when Pierce went down because it was exactly the same image I saw in my dream, except it was Pau Gasol. Freaky… I mean, really freaky. But thankfully Paul was “visited by angels” (as Phil Jackson put it) during the half time break, because he was back on his feet in the third quarter and instigated a complete emotional turnaround. I won’t go into the whole incident in too much detail (Bill Simmons has you covered there), I just wanna say three things:
1) Pierce was legitimately hurt and could barely walk, then came running out of the tunnels five minutes into the third with as much energy and emotion as a cheerleader. That positive and passionate demeanor is what I’ve come to love about Paul Pierce throughout his career, and it ceremoniously lifted the Boston crowd enough to give me goosebumps a million miles away. The Finals may have been the stage where Kobe was supposed to be doing his heroic MJ impersonations, but on this day, Pierce completely robbed him of the spotlight. On this day, Paul Pierce was the hero.
2) Having talked about this scene with a few of my mates, we all came to the same conclusion. NBA players need to harden the f–k up (HTFU). There’s no way Paul Pierce needs a wheelchair if he can walk 10 minutes later. I’m sorry, but there’s just no way. He could have probably hobbled off with the help of a trainer, and I do concede that hearing a “pop” in your knee would probably frighten the shit out of you. But still, I feel a HTFU is in order.
3) Pierce didn’t actually need to do anything once he came back into the game – his mere return was uplifting enough, and his team mates (notably KG) seemed to be carrying the load sufficiently thus far. But when he hit those back-to-back threes his return officially went from “courageous” to “heroic”. His 6-6 shooting over the second half is the stuff that makes legends, and if they win this series you can add Game 1 to his already famous Game 7 vs Lebron amongst Pierce’s steadily increasing legacy. As I’ve stated so many times this whole past year, if the Celtics are going to win the championship it will be because of Paul Pierce, and what we saw yesterday was everything a Celtics fan (and a Pierce fan like myself) could have dreamed of.
The fourth quarter was pretty flat. The Lakers couldn’t knock down their open shots, players (on both teams) got in foul trouble and started playing more timid, while Kobe never fully stepped into takeover-mode. KG’s emphatic put-back slam sealed the win and may have also emotionally crippled Pau Gasol who got crunched like a little school girl. And that’s probably what was the difference in this game. The Celtics were tougher. They played with attitude. They never looked threatened despite the Lakers having the most dominant player in the game. They were courageous. And you know what? They didn’t even play that well.
I tipped the Lakers to win this series in five, but if every game has as much drama as game 1 did, I’m more than happy for that prediction to be wrong.
Game 1 – Finals MVP Votes
3 votes – Paul Pierce. His return, those threes.
2 votes – Kevin Garnett. Awesome in the first half. Made Gasol look completely out of his league.
1 vote – Ray Allen. A solid defensive effort from the guy I once said was “hopeless defensively”
CATCHING UP ON DAY 38-41
Day 38’s Playoff Votes
3 votes – This was the game the Lakers escaped with the W thanks to the no-call on Brent Barry at the end. It seems like even more of an escape when you consider the Spurs probably had three of the best four players in this game, which makes the voting a bit difficult. But as a general rule for Lakers games, if they get the “W” you give the three votes to Kobe, and he did deserve them in this one. 28 points and 10 rebounds, shooting 14-29 in a game where no other Laker took more than 10 shots.
2 votes – Pau Gasol. 10 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks and was completely outplayed by Tim Duncan, but I remember one thing standing out while watching this game: on the offensive end at least, Pau Gasol rarely makes mistakes. If there’s a “right” pass to make, he’ll make it. If he gets enough space to the point where you start yelling at your TV “take the shot Pau!” then he usually takes it. He’s very reliable when the ball is in his hands.
1 vote – Tim Duncan. 29 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks will get you a vote even if you are on the losing team.
Day 39’s Playoff Votes
3 votes – Another game 5, another mental scar for Detroit fans. In 2006 it was watching D-Wade zip through the lane making a mockery of the two Wallace’s interior defense. In 2007 it was Lebron’s historic 48 points and two giant slams over a helpless Tayshaun Prince. In 2008 it was Ray Allen, not only answering his critics with a big offensive outburst (29 points) but also sinking the dagger with a minute left and making the free throws that sealed it. While I’m fully aware awarding 3 votes to Ray will inflate the ego of my house mate, I really have no choice. Ray won Boston the game today.
2 votes – I was going to give these votes to KG for his solid 33 points-7 rebound performance, but I while watching this game I don’t remember KG doing anything out of the ordinary. It was a “good” game by his standards, but not “great”. So instead I give them to Kendrick Perkins because his 18 points and 16 rebounds were a lot more surprising, and ultimately a lot more damaging than KG’s 33-7. We had no answer to KP in this game, and he confirmed my suspicions that the Boston role player’s were in a much better position to step up and make a difference this series than Detroit’s role players.
1 vote – Kevin Garnett.
Day 40’s Playoff Votes
3 votes – Kobe Bryant. Tore the Spurs apart and made the big shots down the stretch, all in a fashion that seemed so …inevitable. I watched this game from a food court in the city. There were about 15-20 people eating lunch around the TV that was showing this game, and each time Kobe his a shot late in the fourth someone would either raise their arms or shake their head in disbelief. Every now and then I’d catch a glance from someone else watching the game, and we’d share a little smirk. We knew we were watching something pretty special, a little bit of history, even if it was while eating cheap Mexican food on a one-hour lunch break.
2 votes – Pau Gasol. 12 points, 19 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocks. Another massive yet measured game from Pau.
1 vote – Again I have to give one to Timmy. In his last game of the season he finishes with a triple double: 19 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists. Every time Duncan bows out of the playoffs early, he usually does it in extremely classy fashion like this.
Day 41’s Playoff Votes
3 votes – Paul Pierce. The Truth finished off Cleveland in game 7 and he finished off Detroit in this one. 27 points including 14 in the fourth when Detroit went completely to sleep. What’s more, he did it on an insane 8-12 shooting.
2 votes – Kevin Garnett. For a guy often criticized as not being clutch, KG didn’t miss a shot in the fourth where he had 8 of his 16 points.
1 vote – James Posey, for that steal. Detroit were roaring back thanks to a Chauncey Billups three point play. Rondo missed a jump shot and the Pistons had a chance to cut the margin to 1 or 2. But Posey makes that steal and the rest is history. That play should be ranked right up there with Tayshaun’s block on Reggie back in ‘04. Unfortunately for Tayshaun, he was on the wrong end of this one.
Playoff MVP Leader Board
So we’ve come to the end of our playoff MVP voting. The Finals have their own MVP so we don’t need to keep the tally going. Obviously, players from the final four teams (Boston, Detroit, LA, San Antonio) have the best chance of leading since they played the most games. But the final tally is interesting (number of 3-vote games in brackets):
29 votes – Kobe Bryant (8)
15 votes – Lebron James (3), Kevin Garnett (3)
14 votes – Tim Duncan (1), Pau Gasol (1)
13 votes – Chris Paul (3), Rip Hamilton (3)
12 votes – Tony Parker (3)
10 votes – Manu Ginobili (2), Paul Pierce (2)
9 votes – Deron Williams (1)
Unsurprisingly, Kobe is head and shoulders above everyone else. He was the most consistent and his team was simply the best through the first three rounds. Of the fifteen games the Lakers played, Kobe polled votes in 11 of them which is amazing when you think a lot of those games came on days when there were two or three other playoff games happening. The Celtics demonstrated their balanced team play with no real standout vote-getters – remember, they played a lot more playoff games than any other team and thus had a chance to get more votes. It was also interesting to see that the Pistons highest vote getter was Rip on 13 and the next best was Chauncey on only 6. For a team that went as far as the ECFs, they clearly didn’t have anyone playing in outstanding form throughout the playoffs. The other thing that’s obvious is what a spectacular playoff campaign both Lebron and CP3 were having before they were bumped out of the semi-finals in 7 games – these guys sitting at equal second and equal fourth in the tally.