Day 11 – The day we said goodbye to the Spurs
3 votes – Paul Pierce. On Day 9 regarding the Bulls-Celtics series I said “Surely the remaining games of this series won’t be able to top Game 4? Right?” Impossibly, you could very well argue that Game 5 did. There have been enough crazy shots and last minute heroics in this series for the NBA to make another 50 of those “Where Amazing Happens” commercials, and on this night, all those commercials were about Paul Pierce. I know Rondo played the better game, but Pierce’s relentless clutch shooting down the stretch was something else. The guy looked absolutely buggered in this game, as he has all series, and even halfway through the fourth it looked like Pierce simply didn’t have it on this night. But then he nailed his last five shots including three daggers in OT, and let me tell you something about those shots – they were completely predictable. Everyone in the gym and watching on TV could tell what Pierce wanted to do, including John Salmons. And yet, there was literally nothing Salmons could do as he watched those shots sail in.
It was the most routine, business-like, unspectacular clutch-shooting performance I’ve seen in years. But that’s what you get with Paul Pierce. No frills. Lebron is a superhuman force of nature leaping tall buildings in a single bound and faster than a speeding bullet. Kobe is an assassin that hunts you down like a snake and can strike with deadly accuracy from any angle. Pierce is just a guy in a suit carrying a briefcase, who opens it up in front of you, shows you the gun, then shoots you in the face.
2 votes. Dwight Howard. The elbow that earned him a suspension takes the gloss off it a little, which is unfortunate, because this was one of Dwight’s best ever playoff performances. 24 points, 24 rebounds, and again, another solid night at the free-throw line shooting 8/12. Since 1991 there have only been five players who have registered a 24/24 game in the playoffs: Charles Barkley twice (44/24), Shaq (40/24), Tim Duncan twice (34/24 and 34/25), Charles Oakley (25/24) and Dwight – very rare company indeed.
1 votes. Rajon Rondo. Roy and Aldridge were deserving and so was Dirk for sending the Spurs home (which is always cause for celebration), but you have to give it to Rondo because the guy is probably having the best first round out of any player – including Lebron and Kobe. He is averaging a triple-double in this series which is ridiculous in itself, but what impresses me most is how he’s become the on-court leader and heart and soul of this team. It’s gotten to the point where we’re saying the Celtics will only go as far as Rondo will take them – that would have sounded ridiculous a couple of months ago! Think about it people, Rondo is supposed to be the fourth best player on this team – and when they’re all healthy that is EXACTLY what he is. Yet he’s the guy that’s keeping the Celtics in this series while KG sits, while Allen fades in and out of relevance, and while Pierce hobbles around choosing when to show up. I just cannot fathom the guy playing at this level beyond the first round. It’s not humanly possible. He’ll burn out. But while the fire still rages, it’s a helluva lot of fun to watch.
Day 12 – The day the Hornets only lost by 21
3 votes – Carmelo Anthony. Welcome to the second round kid. Another brilliant, controlled effort from Carmelo that finished off the Hornets and is making people confused about the Nuggets. Confused because we’re not sure if their utter destroyation of the Hornets was due to New Orleans having everything go wrong simultaneously for several games on end (if that even makes sense), or if the Nuggets are just playing insanely good basketball right now. I’m leaning 75% towards the latter, and I am trying really hard to resist the voices in my head screaming “this team could win the championship!”. Because that’s what the voices are saying to me. I know that championship teams need a whole bunch of things, a prime-time scorer, clutch shooters, great three point shooters, great defenders, a deep bench, a couple of X-factor players who can turn games in one or two plays, a smart coach, and lots of hunger. I’m pretty sure the Nuggets get a tick next to each of those boxes right now.
Carmelo is one of the games most gifted one-on-one players who now doesn’t have to force everything, Chauncey has point-guarded more playoff games than anyone the past seven years, K-Mart’s defense continues to impress me as has Dahntay Jones’ and Chris Anderson’s, Nene is a beast, JR Smith is a sparkplug off the bench who responds well to taunting, Kleiza can also heat up in a hurry, Carter is a dependable backup, George Karl suddenly has a team that listens to him… and perhaps the most remarkable thing is that all these guys are clicking RIGHT NOW. When we look at the Lakers on paper we know they have all the pieces to win a title, but they’re not all clicking RIGHT NOW – Bynum was largely useless in round 1, and outside of Shannon Brown the Lakers are getting very little from their bench. From following the Pistons in recent years I can tell you that the teams that knocked us out of the playoffs never had us beat on paper - Detroit was always a complete team – but they did have all those ingredients come together at the right time when we had one or two question marks above ours. The Nuggets look like one of those teams.
2 votes – Joe Johnson. This series is getting more brutal and more nasty as it goes on. “Now we’ve played five games against each other. I don’t think anybody on either side likes each other anymore”, actual quote from coach Spoelstra. Horford got whacked by James Jones and ended up hobbling off the court with a sprained ankle, Wade was called for a flagrant on Maurice Evans, and four players were given techs for almost starting a wrestling match. In fact it got so physical that at one stage “Wade got fouled so hard he stayed on his feet” (fan-submitted quote by Ham). You know its getting rough when that happens. This game was pretty much put to rest in the second quarter when Joe scored 13 and the Hawks ran out to a 23 point lead. It was the first decent game Joe has played all series, which is amazing when you think how dependent the Hawks were on him last playoffs against Boston. I think the Hawks have this series in the bag, but here’s hoping we still get a game 7 out of it.
1 vote – Chauncey Billups. It’s official. The Renaissance of Mr Big Shot is complete. He did what few have done before, and that is completely out-play the best player in the league at his position (CP3) and send him packing. As a Pistons fan it’s interesting watching Chauncey operate within the Nuggets dynamic – it’s very different to the Pistons teams he played in. The one major difference is that the Nuggets have a go-to scorer in Melo, and the Pistons, as was widely publicised, severely lacked this. This has the effect of heightining Chauncey’s impact on the floor while simulatenously making his job easier. He doesn’t have to balance the shot-taking load of a team full of offensive talents – as he did with Sheed, Prince, Rip and Dyess – and he doesn’t have to spoon-feed players who can’t create shots for themselves (again, you could list those four Pistons players here). I think it lets Chauncey play more freely and makes some of his decision-making a lot easier. What is of course so frustrating as a Pistons fan, is that this is a sneak preview of what COULD have happened had Detroit drafted Melo in ‘03 instead of Darko. Let’s not dwell on that thought for too long though, ok?