Before we get into it today, some quick exciting news. The folks over at NBA.com have kindly asked us to help them promote this game we so dearly love by showing their Daily Zap video here at NBAMate. We of course obliged. We’ll be including the Daily Zap video within our latest Playoff Diary post which is a great way to recap the day’s activities.
Two crazy results today, and one somewhat predictable. The Celtics gave the Knicks a bath and embarrassed them on their home court 10 years after their last playoff victory there. The Hawks fought (literally) Magic off and thanks to some JC magic on Easter (no, not Jesus Christ) escaped with a 4-point win. And the Lakers settled into a groove eventually, dominating the Hornets with size and seemingly awakening Pau Gasol from his postseason slumber. On to the votes then.
3 votes – Rajon Rondo. The Celtics box-score was a feast on this day, but Rondo was the main dish. It was quintessential Rajon Rondo. Not a lot of pretty offense (he shot 5-13), but absolutely dominated the game everywhere else. His 20 assists were a Celtics playoff-record – which is amazing when you think about how successful this franchise has been in the post-season. He also had 11 rebounds, 6 of them offensive, giving him his 6th playoff career triple-double. His first seven minutes of the third quarter was sublime. He had 6 assists and 4 points, including a stretch where the Celtics scored on 7-straight possessions. Their lead went from 9 to 19 and the Knicks were visibly shaken. When he scored the final bucket of the term with 4 seconds remaining the Celtics lead was 23. Game over.
Very few players in the league can impact a game end-to-end without being dominant scorers, the way Rajon Rondo can. It’s Jason Kidd combined with Scottie Pippen, that really is the only way I can describe it. And if that sounds scary, it should. Rajon Rondo got the 3 votes today when Paul Pierce had the best offensive game of his entire playoff career – no mean feat. It left me shaking my head and feeling stupid for doubting the Celtics as much as I did coming into this postseason. They were incredible today.
2 votes – Paul Pierce. Like I said, probably the best offensive game of his playoff career. Certainly the most efficient – 14/19 from the field (73%) and 6-8 from three-point range. In the last 20 years there have been only 9 players to shoot 73% while hitting 6 threes, and Pierce is number #1 on that list for total points with his 38 today (#2 is Kenny Smith with 32). Pierce looked great today. I haven’t seen him move that well and score so effortlessly in a long time. In fact, and I was pretty surprised to learn this, he hasn’t topped the 30-point mark in over two-months (a 30-game span). It’s an ominous sign to the other Eastern Conference teams that The Truth might just be warming up.
1 vote – Andrew Bynum. Could have easily given it to Ray but that would be a Celtics clean-sweep which is boring. Bynum was the difference-maker in this game and absolutely killed the Hornets inside. I was so impressed with his aggressiveness and his polish around the basket. His offensive rebounding gave the Lakers the chances they needed to put away this game. I couldn’t believe I was watching a guy who supposedly isn’t 100% because for stretches of this game he clearly looked like the best player on the court. The 14-11 doesn’t look all that impressive, but Bynum is what allowed Gasol to find his testicles today and Kobe to score freely from outside.
Slight tangent. While watching Bynum at his peak today, I had a flashback to Shaq when they showed a slow-mo replay of Bynum powering to the hoop on a quick spin move. The resemblance was uncanny. The thought dawned on me – as it has several times before – that Andrew Bynum could absolutely be the best player on this Lakers team in the very near future. The Lakers are starting to look most dangerous when they pound the ball inside to their big man, just as they did 8-10 years ago. There’s no reason Kobe can’t settle into the sidekick role again and extend his career another 5-6 seasons while Bynum starts commanding the double-teams.
As I said, this is nothing new, I’m sure the thought has crossed the minds of countless people watching the Lakers the past few years. But I’ve just got a hunch that it might be happening a little earlier than we all think, that the process is already underway. That perhaps these playoffs Bynum might start earning just as many votes as Kobe and Gasol do.
Watching him today, you can understand why the Laker nation collectively holds its breath every time there’s a turn or tweak of that knee. It’s not just the game on the line, or the 2011 NBA Championship. It’s potentially another entire dynasty waiting to take command.
Ray Allen – Made a lot of three-pointers.
Kobe Bryant – Had the 80th 30-point game of his playoff career. Second to MJ. Of course.
Chris Paul – Played a brilliant first-half that was so brilliant I knew it couldn’t be sustained. That the Hornets have been as competitive as they are is directly attributable to this man.
Jamal Crawford – Did this…