Day 24 – The Day the Cavs Swept… Again
3 votes – Dirk Nowitzki. This was an absolutely epic game, one of the best so far these playoffs. Dirk scores 19 in the fourth on his way to 44 points (his fifth career 40-point game in the playoffs), Melo scores 41 and a last second three that almost made you feel the Nuggets might steal the game again, AND more importantly we got a combined 236 points scored in an up-tempo hugely watchable game. It’s a shame we had the Game 3 Screwjob otherwise these teams would have served up at least another two or three of these games.
2 votes – Lebron James. From most entertaining to least. Like I Tweeted while watching this game, the two Cavs series so far have been the worst to watch these playoffs. Without doubt. It’s not just the one-sidedness, or the lower scoring contests. It’s the Cavaliers opponent’s complete inability to provide any resistance whatsoever down the stretch of a close game. Both the Pistons and Hawks caved over the final minutes of every game when Cleveland started to make a run. Sure, the Cavs are simply better than those teams and Lebron is unstoppable, but all an impartial observer like myself can ask for is a team to show some fight and some pride, and to give me a reason not to turn off the TV while the clock runs out. That never happened. Against Detroit I wasn’t surprised, because that team had lost all of its fight during the regular season. But the Hawks really did surprise me. Contrast this Hawks team to the one who battled the Celtics last year in the first round. Forget the difference in series result. Remember how much heart and hustle those Hawks showed against Boston? If you don’t, here is an excerpt from my playoff diary last year on Day 14:
Much has been made of the Hawks “athleticism”, and it’s cited as a supposed advantage they have over the Celtics. Ok, I can handle that, I can handle that Smith, Childress, Johnson and Horford all have a little more hops and speed than Pierce, Posey, Allen and Rondo. But athleticism is not the reason they are keeping this series alive. They are alive in this series because at home they are playing with an extreme amount of passion and pride. They aren’t being rattled when they go down by double-digits, and they have never backed down from a challenge. This is the one thing that’s surprised me most. You’ve got guys like Horford and Pachulia getting in the face of KG and Pierce – these are future Hall of Fame players who have proved themselves for years over their long careers, but the Hawks are forcing them to prove themselves again. You saw what Horford did to Pierce late in game 4 when Pierce ended on his ass and Horford made the bucket. He got fined for that little outburst, but when you step back and look at that sequence, it was effectively Horford bullying Pierce and to use a phrase one of my friends likes using, “mentally dominating” him. The Hawks have carried that swagger, at least at home, for the full 48 minutes. They have not rolled over like an inexperienced 8th seed is supposed to do. It’s surprising the Celtics, and they’re struggling with it.”
Where did those Hawks go? I miss that team. The team that made me jump out of my sofa cheering for the underdog. Sure, blame injuries if you want to, but you can’t sprain your swagger. That Hawks-Celtics series was one of my personal highlights from last year’s playoffs. This year they barely registered in my memory. As for Lebron and the Cavs, I will stop short of showering them with praise until I see them beat a decent team – both Boston and Orlando fulfill that criteria.
1 vote – Carmelo Anthony. Haven’t given out many votes to losing teams so far, but Melo deserves it for this one. Had 11 rebounds and 5 steals to go with the 41 points, and as of writing this I’m very pleased to see Melo get named to the All-NBA Third Team. It’s been a career-year for him, but something tells me he has his eyes set on something a little bigger than an All-NBA team selection.
Day 25 – The Day the Rockets Crashed
3 votes – Kobe Bryant. Kinda gets this by default. No one else had a big game on this day, and Kobe did enough through three quarters to seal this one for LA. Kobe needed to come out strong in this game. After Game 4′s shock loss Kobe talked about how former championship teams have made “this same dumb mistake before”, i.e. losing games they shouldn’t have (he even mentioned the Bulls teams of the nineties). That would have looked mighty silly if the Lakers didn’t come out and make a statement in this game. Winning by 5 or 10 points wouldn’t have been enough – it would have brought even more criticism upon the Lakers, about their inability to beat down a severely wounded opponent. But winning by 40 will silence the critics, at least for a couple of days.
2 votes – Glen Davis. When Big Baby started draining jump shots early in these playoffs I couldn’t help but feel it was a fluke. Every time he’d let one go I’d wince. Now we know, it’s clearly not a fluke. A Big Baby jump shot is now a regular feature in the Celtics offense, and after winning Game 4 off his own hand, he was again instrumental in the win in Game 5. Hell, instrumental is understating it. He was clearly the Celtics best player on this day. 22 points on 8-16 shooting to go with 7 boards, as well as the game-winning free throws in the finals seconds.
1 vote – Paul Pierce. Was everywhere in this game, without necessarily looking for his shot a lot (which surprised me – since when does Pierce only score two points in a fourth quarter?). 19 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists for The Truth – a game he spent a lot of time deferring to Marbury and Davis (never thought I’d say that). Honorable mention to Stephon Marbury who was huge in the fourth, and finally stepped up with the game Celtics fans had been waiting for all playoffs. Marbury playing like that takes this Celtics team to another level – a level they need to be at to deal with Mo Williams, Delonte West and Daniel Gibson in the next round (if they get there).