Day 30 – Where Orlando ‘10 looked like Cleveland ‘09
3 votes – Ray Allen. Ray was real smooth in this one. Smoothly draining 8-16 shots on his way to a team-high 25 points, smoothly sneaking into the key to grab 7 rebounds (an equal-playoff high for Ray), and smoothly sinking two free throws with 6 seconds left that iced the game. Worth noting that the Magic were making a furious comeback at that point (down 16 points earlier in the fourth), and if it wasn’t for Ray sinking at least one of those FTs, there’s every chance the Celtics would have lost. That’s what great players do, step up and make big free throws. Vince Carter.
2 votes – Paul Pierce. To say Pierce struggled in the Cleveland series is an understatement. He completely stunk. He averaged only 13.5 points that series, connecting on a very lame (by his standards) 34% of his shots. Yes he was guarding Lebron James for a lot of the time, and he did a pretty good job at it too. But the Celtics were never going to win the championship unless The Truth got back to his scoring ways, and that’s exactly what he did in Game 1 against Orlando. Kind of. Paul only took 8 shots, made 6 of them, and shot 8-10 from the charity stripe. But he also grabbed 9 rebounds and dished 5 assists to make it a “comeback” of sorts for Pierce, though not one dramatic enough to involve a wheelchair.
1 vote – Rasheed Wallace. Sheed continued his good form from the Cleveland Game 6, hitting some timely shots in the fourth quarter and finishing with 13 points and 4 rebounds. Where Sheed was truly instrumental though, was his defense on Dwight Howard. I’ve said this a couple of times before, but Rasheed Wallace is the best one-on-one defender of Dwight I’ve seen. Bar none. I don’t know why – probably a combination of the fact he’s simply faced Dwight far more than most (Pistons faced Orlando in two-straight post-seasons), and that Detroit completely owned Orlando during that time. But the tradition has continued here. He won’t always be able to stop Dwight, because Dwight is a better player than he was during those Pistons-Magic playoff battles, and also because Sheed has lost a couple of steps. But you can guarantee he’ll make him work for every point, while keeping him honest down the other end.
Day 31 – Kobe has knee drained, fluid is found to contain miracle cure for aging
3 votes – Kobe Bryant. Talk about a statement game. With the general consensus being that the Suns were a new, defensively improved, multi-pronged, 10-man deep team, the Lakers went about completely shredding those arguments apart and reminding us of some basic facts. 1) They are a pretty good team themselves, and 2) Kobe Bryant is pretty good at basketball. I only watched the second half of this game, and really you only needed to watch the third quarter to understand what happened in this game. The Suns missed a lot of shots they would normally make. Kobe was in a hot streak that Hill / J-Rich / Dudley looked helpless to stop. While Lamar and Gasol got rebounds at will and toyed with the Suns inside. Bynum wasn’t even much of a factor, and the Lakers still won comfortably. Ominous.
2 votes – Lamar Odom. Nearly stole the three votes off Kobe, that’s how good he was today. 19 points and 19 boards in 31 minutes is ridiculous. I found it amusing after the game when Amare said he was perhaps too focused on Bynum and Gasol, that he forgot to box-out Lamar. He later said that Lamar was “lucky” to have a game like that. Here’s what amuses/annoys me. Boxing-out is not something you do to certain individuals on the basketball court. It’s something you just do. All the time. This is why Amare Stoudemire will never amount to be anything more than a mediocre defender because he has to channel his focus into basic tasks like boxing out, and considers the job done if his direct opponent doesn’t grab the rebound. He grabbed only 3 rebounds in this game himself. Steve Nash had more rebounds. If I was a Suns fan, I’d be mighty pissed with Amare right now. But I’m not, so I’ll just pardon him with an “off game” and a mandatory HTFU.
1 vote – Pau Gasol. The true playoff MVP for the Lakers? Maybe so. Has Pau played a bad game so far this post-season? I’ll tell you, the answer is “no”. His lowest scoring output was 9 against Oklahoma in Game 6, but he also pulled down 18 rebounds in that game, with 3 assists and 2 blocks to go with it. So no, Pau hasn’t played a bad game yet, including his 21 points in this game on a sublime 10-13 shooting.
Day 32 – The day Boston made a mockery of the regular season
3 votes – Paul Pierce. The one thing the Orlando Magic needed after their shock loss in Game 1 was a good start. A boost of adrenaline to motivate them and get the crowd enthused. Paul Pierce single handedly prevented this from happening, and thus has to be the Celtics hero of Game 2. Pierce scored 22 in the first half and looked like he would get 40, with an assortment of moves that make you use adjectives like “savvy” and “cagey”. Pierce’s offensive effectiveness still amazes me sometimes, because to the human eye he appears to be moving about as slow as a water buffalo. His first-step is slow, his head-fakes are slow, and all his jerky pivots, turns and fadeaways are slow. But he’s so methodical and he’s got all these moves so down-pat that they still work – his schooling of Vince on the baseline late in the third, where he drew contact and went to the line, was particularly amusing to watch. He also made the game-sealing free throws with 34 seconds left that put the Celtics up three. That’s what great players do, step up and make big free throws. Vince Carter.
2 votes – Rajon Rondo. There was one play in this game that typifies everything Rondo has come to mean for the Celtics. With 1:54 left in the fourth quarter, Garnett secured an offensive rebound, Celtics up by 1. He eventually passed it to Rondo on the wing. Rondo dribbled a couple of times, 17 feet from the basket, and noticed his defender giving him a little bit of space. With KG, Pierce and Ray on the floor, and with the shot clock winding down, I was expecting Rondo to dish it off – it certainly would have been the “smart” thing to do. But no. Rondo eyed-off his defender and raised up for the 17-footer. SWISH. It was a deflating bucket because the Magic were making their charge, and they had defended that possession perfectly. That shot spoke volumes about Rondo in this post-season. Two years ago, even one year ago, Rajon Rondo does not take that shot. Not only has he improved his game to the point where a 17-footer is a comfortable make for him, but his confidence and leadership has grown so that he can make a decision like that – effectively waving off three future Hall of Famers – and have the full support of his coach and teammates. I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but he is the reason I would be tipping the Celtics if they run into the Lakers in the Finals again.
1 vote – Glen Davis. I thought Big Baby played a hell of a game today, which doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet (8 points, 6 rebounds). He did a great defensive job on Dwight when asked (and that is a serious height mismatch there), and he hustled on the boards all night. Go watch Vince’s second missed free-throw again. Watch how Davis wrestles with Dwight, facing away from the basket, and grabs the rebound while almost falling out of bounds. That right there, might be my favorite rebound of the playoffs. Vince Carter.