One game still remains tonight, but I figured I’d go ahead and recap the first three finished games.
Barring a mind-numbing Clippers/Grizzlies contest, Day 2 of the NBA Playoffs featured less excitement than a can of paint. The lower-tier teams offered little resistance to their powerhouse counterparts; and in the end the usual suspects stood tall – IE, the Lakers and San Antonio.
Utah vs. San Antonio
Final Score: 106-91 (San Antonio)
Series: 1-0 San Antonio
Today started out on a rather lackluster note. Sure no one truly believed Utah could face off against the number one seeded Spurs, but we all carried with us a small glimmer of hope. In truth, the game offered few surprises. San Antonio jumped out to a 14-13 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. Utah fought back (and bless the commentators for cheering the Jazz on throughout the afternoon), chipped the score down, but then the Spurs would hit the gas and speed away again. It was kind of like having an horrific thirst quench whilst tied to a chair with water only inches out of your reach – in other words, the game was torturous.
The Spurs are a good team (I still don’t think they would’ve beat Chicago with Rose and they wont be able to stop Miami), but also irritating in their perfectionism. Everything they do feels mechanical (and true to form, Michael Wilbon likened them to a machine in his post-game comments): from the offense (devised to spread defenses, thus allowing Parker and Ginobili to penetrate and/or kick out to an open defender/draw foul), to the stifling defense; to the way G-Pop uses his seemingly endless timeouts to huddle after every basket made by an opponent … San Antonio wreaks of perfection.
Utah showed signs of its versatility -Favors in particular looks awesome in a brief second quarter stretch – but also looked slightly out of their league. Where is the toughness that once defied this organization? At one point I was willing to fly to San Antonio just so I could knock Parker on his arse with a good old fashioned HARD foul, so tired was I of seeing the little Frenchman drive the lanes without suffering any sort of consequence. Seriously, guys. I never expected you to win this series, but try to show a little pride!
The key to the game was Devin Harris’ lackluster performance. The sprightly PG closed out the regular season shooting well from beyond the arc, and averaging close to 20 ppg in the final regular season stretch. Tonight he went a paltry 3-of-9 from the field and dished out only two assists. For the Jazz to win at least one game (and make giving up those two draft picks worth it), Harris must attempt to match Parker in offensive efficiency. No, he doesn’t have to put up MVP-ish numbers, but he should at the very least execute Corbin’s offense.
Speaking of which, Utah really needs to change its offensive strategy. There’s a reason tonight’s game resembled those horrific bouts against LA so many moons ago (not to mention Utah’s match-up against the Spurs in the 2007 Western Conference Finals) – Corbin continues to utilize Sloan’s old playbook. IE, no threes. No athleticism. Just boring, half-court basketball. By now G-Pop knows Utah’s plays like he knows Tim Duncan’s eye color. Doesn’t it seem a bit absurd to attack an opponent using the same strategies that never worked in the first place? I understand Corbin didn’t have a lot of time to establish a new offense, but at least throw in a couple of new plays. Everything Utah did tonight was preconceived by San Antonio. Every pass, shot, cut, defensive rotation … San Antonio knew our plays better than our players did. In the off season the Jazz need to worry about updating their now age-old, one-dimensional offensive attack if they want to compete with the elite teams (yes, that means respecting the 3-ball).
Hopefully Utah can muster some level of competitiveness, otherwise this might be an excruciatingly short series.
Nuggets vs. Lakers
Final Score: 103-88 (Lakers)
Series: 1-0 Lakers
The Nuggets ran into LA’s size and immeasurable strength and had absolutely no way to counter. Bryant scored 31 points, and looked quite relaxed in the series opener (imagine if they still had Odom!) thanks to supporting efforts from Gasol (13 points) and Bynum (10 points and 10 blocks!). Denver entered the contest having won only once against LA this season – and it showed. LA’s superior defense mixed with Denver’s disappointing offensive showing (just 4-of-14 from downtown and 35-percent FG shooting) made this game almost unbearable to watch for anyone not sporting a
Jordan Bryant jersey.
Boston vs. Atlanta
Final Score: 83-74 (Atlanta)
Series: 1-0 Atlanta
This one didn’t really surprise me. Well, I didn’t expect Boston to drop behind 31-18 in the first quarter, but I didn’t expect the Celtics to win Game 1 either. Doc Rivers’ squad likes to do things the hard way. And so this series will become more and more physical (and hopefully more interesting) as it goes along.
Tonight saw Atlanta clicking on all cylinders. Hell, even Jason Collins scored six points! Josh Smith lit it up from all over the court, while Boston failed to establish anything resembling offensive momentum (0-for-11 from 3-point land … really). Of course they didn’t have Ray Allen, probably their most reliable outside shooter. In point of fact that’s how Boston operated all season (well, the second half anyway): stellar defense but practically no offense. Tonight Boston gave up 31 points in the first quarter, but just 34 in the entire second half. They made the necessary stops, but Garnett, Pierce and Bass don’t have what it takes to counter on the other end. (Throw Ray Allen in there and things will get interesting.)
This series remains far from over, but lets hope the rest of the games provide a little less blowout and a little more action.
Grizzlies vs. Clippers
Final Score: 99-98 (Clippers)
Series: 1-0 Clippers
Wow. I really put the big hurt on my teams this year. I’ve carried around what we like to call The Ames Curse since I was a wee lad, and so none of my teams ever win a championship. They might get close (Seahawks, Utah, Mariners), but they never win the big hurrah.
Sometimes said curse literally puts peoples lives at stake: I was rooting for D. Rose and the Bulls and the man tears his ACL making an easy jumper … And sometimes the curse can make a team completely fall to pieces. Hence the Memphis/Clippers game where the Grizzlies held a 21 point lead heading into the fourth quarter and ended up losing by a point thanks to a tremendous 26-1 Clippers run in the final period.
I’ll be honest: I walked away from this game, as I had most of the games prior (too many blowouts) and was immediately sorry I did. I watched the opening quarter, saw Memphis leap out to a 34-16 lead, and then checked back periodically just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I watched the third quarter – Memphis went up by 27! – decided the Clipps were done and retreated to play the Boston Celtics in the 2K12 playoffs. I checked the score at one point and saw that Memphis still held a 12 point lead. No big deal, right? Well, the next time I checked LA had won the game by a single point. Seriously. A 27-point comeback.
So I should probably say, “Sorry Memphis. I was cheering for you and look what happened: the same thing that happened to Dallas the night before. And the same thing that’s happened to Utah for two decades now – a disappointing, utterly horrific loss to a more superstar-savvy team.
In this case, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Oh and some guy named Nick Young (who scored a team high 19 points coming off the bench to replace the injured Caron Butler). Memphis scored just 13 points in the fourth quarter after scoring 85 in the previous three. Paul and co. scored 35 points in the final period.
At this point we’ve seen three teams mentally collapse at the end of the game: Indiana (due to youth), Dallas (due to forced shots) and now Memphis (due to arrogance). I know for sure Indiana is a better team than Orlando, while Dallas remains perhaps a few notches below OKC (in terms of athleticism); but is Memphis a better TEAM than LA? I’d like to think so, but CP3 and the gang know how to share the rock. You can’t play team ball for three quarters and then resort to jacking up necessary 3-pointers in the fourth period – that’s not gonna cut it against Chris Paul.
I still say Memphis wins this thing, but they’ve learned a valuable lesson: no lead is big enough. Especially with The Ames Curse draped all over your back.