by Russ Bengtson
The Rockets-Jazz game tipped off at 10:50 Eastern tonight (last night?), perfect for a series that no one on the East Coast could bring themselves to care about anyway. Masterful scheduling work, David Stern. Nothing like halftime after midnight.
Even better, the telecast was delayed thanks to even more timing issues in Atlanta, as the Wal-Mart shotclocks failed, delaying the start of the second half by roughly three years. The routine-obsessed Ray Allen must have been going crazy. Well, crazier.
So early on we get a little bit of useless (at least on my throwback 27”) split-screen coverage so I can’t even tell you who’s winning as the Hawks finish off (and taunt) the Celtics.
It’s 10-9 with 6:03 to go in the first when we finally join the Utah/Houston game for good, unless Paul Pierce kills Al Horford and we need to go back to Atlanta for bonus coverage. Apparently Tracy McGrady already has been to the locker room and back in order to get his knee re-taped, which isn’t what the Rockets want to hear.
I think I’m gonna just straight notes this thing since I haven’t done that this series yet. I promise not to note ALL the minutia, and I’ll also try to get off-topic as much as possible.
• Williams finds Kirilenko with an alley-oop, which is probably the best thing for Drei’s fragile psyche. And his scoring totals, which have fallen off the face of the earth since Game One. That’s seven straight points for the Jazz, I think.
• “Dees Dikembe Mutombo. Dees basket for Houston Rockets.”
• The semi-unheralded Jazz youngsters—Ronnie Brewer and Ronnie Price—are really good.
• If I worked at a company where some sluttily dressed secretary walked around stapling things while eating a KFC wrap with an orgasmic look on her face, I’d probably post my resume on Monster. But I’d get her number first.
• And about that Meatloaf Gophone commercial—I had no idea that the kid wasn’t his actual kid (it’s not) and that the wife was actually Tiffany (it is). What’s alarming is that she doesn’t look much older than Mr. Loaf. His name is Robert Paulson.
• Tracy McGrady on not winning a playoff series: “You’re aware that basketball isn’t a one-on-one sport and I’ve only had home-court advantage once, right? You know that Grant Hill has been in the League longer than me and never won a playoff series either, right? Can you please ask me about something else?”
• Rick Adelman should have grown a luxuriant playoff mustache.
• Bobby Jackson fouls Ronnie Price with 6.9 seconds and a foul to give, which is smart. Bobby Jackson fouls Ronnie Price with 1.8 seconds and no fouls to give, which is stupid.
• Of course then Battier gets fouled by Matt Harpring with 1.3 seconds left, which is REALLY stupid. Rockets by two after one.
• In-game interviews with coaches need to stop.
• The role of Matt Harpring is being played tonight by Matt Damon.
• Aaron Brooks may be able to handle the truth, but he can’t handle Deron Williams. Two fouls in as many minutes.
• There are an awful lot of scrappy (third time I’ve used that word in talking about this series), blue-collar rebounders in this game: Carl Landry, wild-ass Chuck Hayes, Paul Millsap, even Carlos Boozer (although he falls into the Bruce Springsteen pseudo-blue-collar group since he’s making a zillion dollars).
• Full-court (or at least 3/4 court) bounce passes don’t happen nearly often enough. Thank you, Magic Williams.
• Shane Battier looks awfully fuzzy tonight.
• You can run double-teams at Mac all you want, but when his shot is on it just doesn’t matter. He’s 6-9, gets elevation on his jumper, and gets on those runs when he can hit dead-center every time. From anywhere. It’s scary.
• The Jazz have decided they don’t need Carlos Boozer anymore. Apparently.
• If McGrady had any more tape on him he’d be marching and playing a fife.
• When Kyle Korver is taking a shot inside 20 feet, does he yell “LAYUP”? Probably not, he seems too polite to do that.
• AK-47 is playing aggressive (pronounced like Teddy KGB would say it) tonight, which is good news for the Jazz.
• Oh, hey, Boozer’s back.
• Things are a little physical, a little testy. And Houston is over the limit. Pretty sure there’s an “MVP” chant for Deron Williams right now, unless KG/Kobe/CP is at the game and I just don’t see them. Supporting your guys is one thing, being pathologically delusional is quite another.
• With the exception of McGrady, Houston more or less can’t score. Yet they’re still only down nine with under a minute left in the half. It’s 46-37 Utah with 24 seconds to go, and I can’t believe I have to watch another half of this. Can we pick up the tempo? Maybe hit some shots? Carl Landry hits one of two from the line.
• Ronnie Price isolation. He’s only one of two players who’s averaging a point a minute in the postseason—the other being Kobe Bryant. Kobe’s played a couple more minutes, I think.
• Midnight Eastern. I’m getting overtime for this, right? Sometimes I wish real life had TiVo.
• Stephen A. Smith has been speaking in a normal tone of voice all night tonight, and I’m starting to get seriously confused.
• There’s the Stephen A. Smith I know and despise. Jalen Rose looks like he wants to kill him. And Jalen knows people who knows people. Heck, Jalen probably knows people, period.
• If some strangely dressed person came up to me and offered a Heineken Light I’d pour it on their head. So stay away, weirdos.
• The Def Leppard “Are You Tough Enough?” song may be the worst thing about the playoffs.
• The Rockets main problem can be summed up in one word: offense. As in, they don’t appear to have one.
• Ronnie Brewer opens the second half with a personal 4-0 run that would have been five, but free throws aren’t free.
• Good: Mehmet Okur rarely gets called for three-second violations. Bad: It’s unsure that Mehmet Okur knows where the lane is located. That said, he already has a double-double with 10 and 12.
• The Jazz already have four of five starters in double figures, the exception being Deron Williams who just hit a pair of free throws. Utah by 14.
• Luis Scola, the Rockets second-leading scorer and leading rebounder tonight, picks up his fourth foul with eight minutes to go in the third. And Okur hits a jumper. Battier comes back with a three as Rick Carlisle reels off a list of injury woes and faxes his resume to the Bobcats.
• Mac cuts the Utah lead to 10, Kirilenko is fouled by Battier. It’s hard to tell who Mutombo is guarding—he sure isn’t running around after Okur.
• “Dees Dikembe Mutombo dunking.”
• Okur gets blocked AND levelled by Battier. Somewhere Superfly Jimmy Snuka is smiling.
• A Skip three (he’s their “most charismatic player” according to Carlisle) and the Utah lead is down to six.
• Utah is 0-8 from three tonight, which isn’t helping their cause.
• Your game LVP right now is Luther Head. In 3:33 he took and missed two shots, both threes, and committed a foul. He’s a –5. (Scola is low man at –11, but he’s played 21:45 and has a team-high seven rebounds.)
• Jerry Sloan’s tie is sageriffic.
• Ronnie Brewer has 12 points on 6-9 from the floor, and I’m not sure whether I even mentioned him in the series preview.
• McGrady cuts the Utah lead to five, The Harpring Ultimatum puts it back to seven, and gap-tooth Landry picks up an and-one to make it four. He needs to get a gold tooth up front like Larry Johnson used to have.
• Five-point Jazz lead after three, as the scrappy Rockets scrap their way back into this. Apparently Jerry Sloan is going to talk to Heather Cox when we come back. Lovely. One gets the feeling that Cox should fear for her life.
• “Maybe you thought I picked Kwame Brown first overall and traded Rip Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse and hired Leonard Hamilton to be an NBA coach.”
• The Jazz are shooting an abysmal 41 percent. They should not be winning this game. Except for the fact that the Rockets are shooting a whatever’s-beneath-the-abyss 37 percent.
• McGrady starts the fourth on the bench, and Korver starts with a deuce.
• Gotta love playoff fouls. Williams drops Landry—if that had been LeBron, Deron would have been charged with a felony. Sorry, Carl. Gonna have to wait ‘til you make more commercials.
• Skip to My Basket. One-point Utah lead with McGrady getting rest. Wild. Williams gets it back (all the Jazz starters are now in double-digits).
• Deron Williams, again. Boozer’s on the sideline too, so we have dueling point guards. Skip misses a three, Okur with another board.
• It’s 72-67 with 8:13 to go in the 4th. Denver-L.A. this ain’t.
• BOOOOOZ with the rainbow. And wild-ass Chuck Hayes runs over Good Will Harpring. Offensive foul.
• Korver misses from deep, Okur comes up with a great board (his 16th), but Korver can’t convert close in.
• Scola picks up his fifth foul scrapping with Boozer for a loose ball. Scrappy! He yells and shakes his long, flowing locks in the ref’s general direction.
• Kyle Korver, again. Utah by nine with 5:42. Mac comes back with his 21st point on a driving layup. First bucket of the fourth, ending an 8-0 Jazz run.
• Mac to the line, goes one of two, W.A. Hayes gets the rebound, but throws it away. Yao Ming is not wearing a tie.
• Neither team can buy a field goal, but I’d appreciate it if they’d start shopping for some. The Talented Mr. Harpring fouls McGrady, sending him to the line to deafening chants of “OVER-RATED!” One of two again.
• Boozer goes glass, is fouled by W.A. Hayes. Mac’s on the three-point line, hands on his knees. He looks tired. Scola checks back in for Hayes, Booz hits both.
• Kirilenko literally blankets McGrady, and the Rockets can’t get him the ball. Alston can’t convert, Jazz ball. Korver misses a three, Jazz are 0-12 from deep.
• Carl Landry! On the baseline (assist, McGrady). 78-73, three minutes to go.
• Holy crap. Deron Williams with a drive past Rafer straight down the center of the lane and a surprising dunk on Battier. Gonna be a popular replay in Salt Lake this week. Kirilenko with the stop, and Williams with another basket. Nine-point game.
• Okur misses a three, Mac gets his eighth board, finds Scola. Still, he’s only taken one shot in the fourth.
• Battier with a deep three, and it’s a five-point game under a minute. Williams up top, Korver misses a three. And Skip hits one off the dribble, which means it’s a two-point game with 13.6 seconds to go, and I don’t even know what’s going on anymore. The Rockets WILL NOT DIE. Unless they do. Korver’s fouled immediately on the inbounds. Hits both. Four-point game.
• The giant head cutouts are creepy. Who started that anyway?
• Jackson misses a layup, Landry dunks the follow, and Skip fouls Williams with 7.3 to go. Ice, ice baby. Nope. Misses the first. Leaving that door wide open. He misses again, but Okur gets his biggest rebound of the year—maybe of his career—and goes to the line himself with 5.5 seconds. One. Two. Four-point Utah lead.
• Jackson misses a corner three, Kirilenko blocks the Landry follow (turnabout is fair play), and that’s the game. 86-82, Jazz.
• The Jazz finish with six guys in double figures (led by Williams’s 17) and a pair of guys (Okur and Boozer) with animal-style double-doubles. For Houston, McGrady finishes with yet another near triple-double: 23 points, 10 boards and eight assists, but he shoots just 9-25 from the floor (which is worlds better than Bobby Jackson’s 1-10, but still), and is again not a big factor in the 4th.
They say a playoff series doesn’t truly start until the home team loses. It’s possible that this one didn’t start until the home team won—and now it’s most likely over.