Let’s be honest, the playoffs had been a little boring till now. A little too predictable, a little too inevitable. Spurs swept, Thunder swept, Lakers had the Nuggets on the rope, Celtics had the Hawks on the ropes, and the Bulls would fade away into a tragic sunset.
Today changed all of that.
Today the Hawks showed steely resolve beyond all expectations and pulled off the unlikeliest of victories thanks to an epic Rondo brain-fart. Today the Nuggets withstood an all-out Mamba assault in the fourth quarter to take the series back to Denver. Today, Chicago limped over the line and will force the Sixers to close things out at home.
Today, we were granted three game 6’s when I thought we were only going to get 5’s. And when you’ve got a game 6, there’s always a chance you’ll get a game 7. And when you get a game 7? That is playoff heaven my friend.
On to the votes then.
3 votes – JaVale McGee. No I don’t have a man-crush and no I’m not afraid of his mum. McGee was astoundingly good, again, this time cranking it up to the tune of 21 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks on 9-12 shooting. Again, he dominated the Lakers bigs, and again he helped set the tone that the Lakers ultimately could never match. The fact he’s done this in two break-out games in this series proves it isn’t a fluke, and more worryingly for the Lakers, proves it might well happen again. Whatever happens from here, there is no doubt we have another premier center ready to explode onto the scene next season. You watch the McGee bandwagon in next year’s pre-season (wherever he may be). Or just watch him in Game 6. And maybe 7. And maybe… (just remember I did say this series officially reeks of upset).
2 votes – Andre Miller. 24 points, including countless clutch shots, free-throws and assists in the fourth quarter, is not something George Karl would count on from his veteran backup point guard. But having been a big fan of Dre over the years, I know the one thing you can usually count on is him turning up in big games, and always making the right decisions. You know what Andre Miller has achieved? He’s entered the final stage of evolution for a point guard. That elder statesmen floor general we applaud for smart passing and clutch plays, while overlooking things like his 3-inch vertical leap and inability to run backwards. It’s a win-win for Dre from here on. His next phase is actually a fossil.
1 vote – Kobe Bryant. Wasn’t my intention to award all three votes for the Denver-LA game today. Honorable mentions go to Danny Granger, Horford and Deng. But 43-6-5 including a frightening 3-point barrage late in the fourth has to be recognised. Today was quintessential Kobe Bryant. He shot too much at times, he tried to get teammates involved, his teammates were often too passive, he kept shooting, he got hot and scored 9 points in 90 seconds putting the Lakers back in a game when they had no right to be, he put the fear of God into the entire state of Colorado and everyone watching, and then missed a couple right near the end to provide just enough fuel for the “Kobe ain’t clutch” debate. In other words, another typical day at the office for Kobe Bryant.
My quick thoughts on this series…the Lakers are in trouble. They’re in trouble because they have become a completely reactive basketball team. They can raise their intensity, but only when the other team raises it first. They don’t set the tone, they react to it. Guys like McGee and Faried have proved this the last few games. Their wins in this series haven’t been all that convincing, and they would have lost by 15-20 points today if not for Kobe getting hot late. Unfortunately for them, it still comes down to Kobe because guys like Gasol and Bynum just aren’t setting the tone. You can tell that from the way Bynum spoke about easy close out games (which the Nuggets used as motivational fuel), and the fact he admitted to not being ready for the start of Game 4. It’s fascinating to see this play out, and I’m more than happy to be proved wrong by LA in Game 6. But I sure as hell won’t give them a chance in advancing past the Thunder. If they get there.