Links: Day Four Playoff Thoughts

by April 21, 2010

by Lang Whitaker

It’s that time of year again. When I stay up until about 2:00 AM seven nights a week writing updates for the site, then have to wake up early and get to the SLAM Dome to crank out new issues.

(Actually, tonight while I was watching the Celtics/Heat debacle, I edited the cover story for the issue of SLAM that’s going to drop in about three weeks, and the story is so good and really different than what we normally do. Really, the entire issue is awesome. I can’t wait to finish it and get it out there for you guys to devour it.)

Back to the lesson at hand. Lots of games, not enough time. Wifey wants to hang out and watch some light fare, but I can’t. I’ve been so sequestered since Saturday afternoon that my Mom actually emailed me yesterday to ask if I was doing OK.

There was a full slate of games tonight, but they were all scheduled at weird times, with more crossing over than Tim Hardaway as a member of the Warriors. I monitored as much as I could on Twitter, but it turned out I didn’t really need to watch the Celts/Heat game — Boston destroyed Miami, 106-77. It’s funny because on the subway home tonight after work, I was talking to Tzvi and I said it would be funny if the Celtics, playing without the suspended KG, suddenly came out and looked incredible. And they did. Now he’ll return for Game 3 and they Celts won’t look as good, and everyone will wonder if they’d be better off without him slowing them down. As I didn’t watch much of the game, I don’t know the answer to that, or if that’s even a valid question. I’m just saying.

Also, Dwyane Wade wore the worst suit of the postseason thus far. Not a great advertisement for the app that helps him pick his clothes.

I watched some of the Portland/Phoenix game, but every time I flipped over there, the Suns looked to be in control and playing like they’re supposed to play, the way they didn’t play in Game 1. They knocked off Portland, 119-90, and Steve Nash finished with more assists (16) than Portland (12).

The Lakers/Thunder game was a doozy. Both teams played with urgency, and neither team seemed afraid to get physical. The Thunder, in particular, were playing aggressively, flying around and swatting shots into the seats. (OKC finished with 17 blocks, a Playoff record against the Lakers.) Even though they’re so young, playing on the NBA’s coolest stage, they never looked overwhelmed.

But the Lakers managed to stay a step ahead. The Thunder tied the game with 10:42 to go, and for the next few minutes, every time I looked up, the Thunder would score but still be a point or two behind.

Fisher fouled out with the Thunder leading 88-86, and the Thunder turned in three consecutive scoreless possessions (offensive goaltending, offensive foul on Durant, turnover by Durant) while the Lakers subsisted on a jumper from Kobe and a couple of free throws. OKC had the ball down 3 with 30 seconds to play. Jeff Green made a tough two. The Thunder fouled Kobe, who missed the first and made the second, giving the Lakers a 94-92 lead with 15 seconds left, and Kevin Durant missed a tough three off a screen and over Ron Artest. After Gasol made one free throw, OKC went to Durant to tie it, but he got triple-teamed and he found Jeff Green for a final three that missed. Lakers win, 95-92.

Kobe finished with 39, and the Lakers didn’t seem to win the game so much as they outlasted OKC. The Thunder felt like a younger, less-skilled version of the Lakers — lots of athleticism and length, with an alpha-dog on offense taking most of the shots, just lacking the experience and firepower to overcome the Lakers.

The reason I didn’t watch much of that Celts/Heat game is because I was watching the Hawks/Bucks game. My Hawks hung on and won Game 1 by ten after opening up a 20-point halftime lead against the Bucks. They ended up also winning Game 2 by 10, although the Hawks were even more dominant tonight than they were in Game 1.

During the regular season, the thing that killed the Hawks consistently was their consistency. While there were quarters they looked dominant, there were just as many quarters where they were outscored by dozens of points. While every team has bad quarters from time to time, great teams can’t have at least one a game and survive over the long-term. Tonight the Hawks finally strung four really good quarters together.

Mainly, the attacked and attacked and attacked. With Bogut out, the Bucks just don’t have the size and speed to stick with Atlanta’s bigs, so Atlanta began the night pounding the ball in to Josh Smith and Al Horford, who moved the ball from the post and found cutting players. Horford finished with 20 and 10, while J-Smoove nearly messed around and got a triple-double; Josh finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. In the fourth quarter, Joe Johnson took over, hitting an array of smooth runners and jumpers to finish with 27 points. The Hawks finished with 26 assists on 38 field goals, which is pretty much unheard of for a team that relies so heavily on the isolation offense.

As good as Atlanta was on offense, they were better on defense. Milwaukee couldn’t get anything going from the perimeter, largely because Atlanta has such an unparalleled collection of long, athletic guys who are good at running out on three-point shooters. The Bucks tried driving inside, but the Hawks did an above-average job of blocking shots (the Hawks had 8 of ’em) without fouling. Salmons lead Milwaukee with 21, but the other four starters only went for a combined 25 points (Kurt Thomas went scoreless in 26 minutes). The Bucks starters combined to shoot 1-16 on threes and only managed to get to the free throw line 5 times. By far, the best Buck was Ersan Ilyasova, who had 13 points and 15 rebounds and was the only Milwaukee player to match Atlanta’s hustle and drive. To slow down Jennings, the Hawks faked double-teams, mostly hid Bibby on Delfino and used Joe Johnson and Josh Smith on Jennings. They blocked Jennings’ shot on layups four separate times and he finished a forgettable 3-15 for 9 points.

The Hawks have their first 2-0 lead in a seven-game series since 1970. They don’t play Game 3 until Saturday.

• My Dad emailed me about yesterday’s wrap-up. I thought he had some good points. He writes…

This year I have watched much more playoffs than I usually do, and it has been fun. I agree with the fellow that said you missed the best game Sat between Bos/Mia. It was like a war. Game 2 should be good. I could not see much intensity in the Lakers Sun. I missed some of it, but the part I saw, it looked like they were still playing in the regular season. While watching the Chi/Clev game last night, I kept thinking there was no way Chi was going to beat Clev as long as James was anywhere around, and sure enough, he took over. I’m surprised that you gave no ink to Noah. I have never liked him mostly because he looks so weird. But, watching close the last 2 games, he fights like a tiger, and he always seems to be around the action. And, 25 points and 13 boards is not bad in a losing effort. To me, Chi looks better than an 8th seed. I’m looking forward to both early games tonight. I have to wait until later in the playoffs to watch those late Laker games, that is if they are still around.

• Only two games tomorrow night. Orlando and the BETcats at 7, then Dallas and San Antonio at 9:30.