Links: Day Three Playoff Thoughts

by April 20, 2010

by Lang Whitaker

Here’s what you need to know from the Cleveland/Chicago Game Two…

Sure, Derrick Rose played well, and Joakim Noah backed up his talk with 25 points and 13 boards over 41 minutes. But they ran into the best player in basketball. Like, they literally ran into the best player in basketball. At least, James Johnson did.

Video Game James returned tonight, dropping 40, 8 and 8 on Chicago. And when it mattered most, with the Bulls pressing in the fourth and the game close, LeBron hung in the air and hit a lefty layup, then hit a jumper over Luol Deng, and then another one over Kirk Hinrich.

Which is really Chicago’s entire problem: You’re not going to even slow down the best player in the NBA with Deng and Hinrich trying to single-cover him. To Chicago’s credit, they did finally double Bron, and he passed it to an open Jamario Moon, who drained the back-breaker. Cleveland won, 112-102.

I know the Cavs are able to mix-and-match with whoever they want, but a part of me wonders if they shouldn’t be the ones dictating to the other teams.

Maybe it’s not as cool to be the team making the adjustments, to be the reactor instead of the actor, but the wins count no matter how you rack them up. Right?

As impressive as LeBron’s performance was, if you stayed up for it, the Denver/Utah game was better, the best game of the Playoffs thus far. Utah shot about 70 percent in the first half and had a big lead, then Denver went on a run in the third and took a lead early in the fourth. But Utah stayed right there with them, getting huge shots from guys like CJ Miles and Paul Millsap.

Game on the line, three from Korver, offensive foul on Melo (nice foul drawn by Miles), back-to-back offensive fouls, and then Melo fouled out and Utah went up 3 with 25 seconds left. Utah drained their free throws down the stretch and stole home court advantage with the 114-111 victory. Deron finished with 33 and 14, but strange as this may sound, it was a true team effort for Utah, with everyone chipping in.

This Jazz team reminded me so much of the Jazz teams from about five years ago that we used to celebrate here on The Links, back when everyone was injured and they used line-ups of guys nobody had heard of and they still almost made the Playoffs.

Sure, Utah made some tough shots, but Denver just couldn’t sustain the urgency that carried them for so long last season. Even though they had a huge personnel advantage on the Jazz, the Jazz had a heart advantage. Denver seemed like they felt they could flip a switch and turn on the effort, but they couldn’t summon it when it mattered. I don’t know if it’s because George Karl is gone or what, but the Nuggets just didn’t seem to have any juice tonight. And if there’s one team in the Playoffs you don’t want to get home court advantage, it’s Utah. Denver just handed it back to them tonight.

And I think Kyrylo Fesenko might be the new official player of The Links. With Okur and Kirilenko out, Fesenko played 20 minutes and actually played respectably. He rumbled and bumbled around and, most importantly, didn’t screw anything up. Also, he doesn’t have a lot of skills, and he looks like he’s 12 years old, so that’s fun.

• Tomorrow night we got Atlanta/Milwaukee Game 2 at 7:00 PM EST on NBA TV, and then Miami/Boston at 8:00 PM on TNT, then Portland/Phoenix at 10:00 on NBATV, and then Oklahoma City at Los Angeles at 10:30 PM on TNT.

Big, big night.

I gotta get some sleep.