3 votes – Pau Gasol. Well, it happened. The nightmare that David Stern was so anxious to avoid is now a reality – three of the four Semi-Conference series finishing in a tragic sweep. I certainly don’t remember that happening anytime during the last 20 years I’ve been following the NBA. And it’s not like these were one-sided match ups either. The Spurs were battle-tested veterans who many picked as likely challengers to the Lakers before the playoffs started. The Hawks were supposed to have bridged the gap between them and the cream of East crop, bringing an extra year of playoff experience (and Jamal Crawford) into the fold. And the Jazz are coached by Jerry Sloan which means they will never roll over and die. But thanks to Pau Gasol, that’s kind of what they did. He had arguably his best game of the post-season with 32 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists. What I loved about Pau in this game – and indeed the entire Utah series – was his aggressiveness. In last year’s playoff run I was puzzled and frustrated (especially in the Houston series) by his lack of aggressiveness – it was there one game, and gone the next. Well he’s brought it for four-straight games now, at both ends of the floor. Watching the Cavs-Boston game on the weekend, I heard Jeff Van Gundy say that he’d put Pau Gasol in the All-NBA First team – he didn’t really pick anyone to make room for him, but he was adamant about it. After this four-game demolition of Utah, it’s easy to see why.
2 votes – The entire Orlando starting five. OK it’s a bit of a cop out, but everytime I watch these guys or look over their box-score I find it impossible to single out players for votes. For 8 straight games now they haven’t looked like losing, and they’ve done it with extreme balance. Just check the list of players who’ve had game-highs in points, rebounds or assists over the first two rounds:
Points - Nelson, Carter, Howard, Lewis
Rebounds - Howard, Gortat, Anderson
Assists - Nelson, Lewis, Carter, Barnes
The question I find myself asking, is are these guys looking in better shape than Cleveland was at this point last year? (they also started 8-0). The answer is simply “yes”. Cleveland beat a hopeless Pistons team that stumbled into the playoffs, then pounced on a 47-win Atlanta team who were – let’s face it – just happy to be in the second round after surviving Wade and Miami. This year the Magic demolished Charlotte who I rated very highly coming into the playoffs (relatively speaking as a low-seeded team, that is), and then a 53-win Atlanta team who were supposed to be more resilient in their third-straight playoff campaign. Not only did they embarrass Atlanta and Joe Johnson, but their average winning margin of 25.3 points was the most lopsided sweep in the history of NBA playoff sweeps. How do you pick out a single guy for that?
1 vote – Kobe Bryant. Here’s an interesting stat, courtesy ESPN. After finishing of Utah today Kobe now owns the record for most consecutive 30-point games on the road to clinch a playoff series (7). That includes Denver/ Utah in ’08, Denver / Utah in ’09, and OKC / Utah in 2010 (poor Utah eh?). That is a great stat that pretty much sums up everything you need to know about Kobe Bryant. Raises his game when it matters, and loves ripping out the hearts of opposition fans. His 32-4-3 against Utah on this day rounded out the series for Kobe averaging 32 points on 52.3% shooting. Just on those numbers alone, I think it’s safe to say Kobe is back to his best.