NBA Finals: Game 3’s Most Important Top 10

June 10, 2010

by Jack Maidment

1. The Rim

In a career that lasts 10 years, 15 if you are super lucky/talented/lazy, all NBA players make plans for taking care of themselves after retirement. Game 3 of the NBA Finals was proof of where Kobe has invested a small portion of his considerable wealth.

Take a look at the under side of the rim on both ends of the floor in Boston and there, clear as day, a stamp: Kobe Inc.

Some of the bounces that 24 got in Game 3 can only be explained by favours; favours that the CEO of any company can expect.

2. Garnett match-up against Gasol and Bynum

Garnett dominated Gasol all night, having his way wherever he wanted, evidence that his first step and canny face up game are still potent. The same can not be said for his time against Andrew Bynum who gave the Big Ticket fits. His length allowed him to contest every shot Garnett made, forcing at least one air ball and many a hopeful rainbow. Lesson? Keep Garnett the hell away from Bynum.

3. Gasol touches

Pau Gasol is basketball’s best big man. No doubt. Every time he got the ball in Game 3 he was causing Boston no end of problems: drawing the double team and utilising his unsurpassed passing ability, shooting the angled fifteen footer (unbelievable reliable) or driving to the hole. So when Kobe was doing his best impression of a greedy child the Lakers struggled; balance gone and Gasol frustrated. Just give the man the ball. More.

4. Kobe being selfish

Kobe is the best player in the game but that shouldn’t give him the license he currently has to shoot the ball at the expense of his team. He needs to take over the game in his spots for sure, but stepping in front of a pass meant for Shannon Brown and hoisting a 3 doesnt seem like the way Los Angeles will repeat.

5. Big Baby Davis

The man is untrue. If he is 6’8 then Nate Robinson is at least 6’1. But it doesn’t matter. In Game 3 he was fearless, relentlessly attacking the rim and challenging the huge Laket frontline. He was backing down Bynum with some success but it is example that is worth the most going forward. The Lakers are the school yard bully with their length and Baby is showing his team mates that their lunch money is not pre-destined to end up in the Lakers’ collective pocket.

6. Fisher

Easily the most likeable member of the Laker team, especially after his emotional ‘my team’ post game interview, Derrick Fisher won Game 3 for the Lakers. When the offense was stuttering in the third and fourth he came up big time after time.

One play stands out: after a Laker defensive rebound and outlet pass Fisher took the ball to the basket over three Celtics getting obliterated but converting the lay up and hitting the foul shot.

7. Odom 5 for 5

Odom turned up. Lakers win. Simple as.

8. Artest and Kobe defense

Aside from a hint of selfishness, Kobe was an animal on defence, as was Artest. Pierce is having a hard time against Ron Ron and his ‘in your shirt’ D is a major reason for The Truth’s lack of production so far this Finals.

9. Replay Rule

Three times in the last 2 minutes of the game the officials went to the monitor after making out of bounds calls. All three times they got it wrong and all three times they reversed their original decision. Just so important. Technology is good.

10. Vujacic free throws

Possibly the most hated man in American sports (discuss…) came into the game in the last minute having played 20 seconds at the end of the first half. He entered, was fouled, hit both shots. The Lakers were up 6 at the time. If he misses both (conceivable given the pressurised situation) the game is on. He was money and he closed the game out, much to Kobe’s delight: how much Sasha will cherish that little head pat.


NBA Finals: My Name Is Pau Gasol. Adios Orlando

June 8, 2009

pauby Jack Maidment

Against the very best you may only get one opportunity. One chance to turn the tide, to take advantage of the single time that your opponent slips just a little.

Sunday night the Orlando Magic did not get one opportunity to switch the momentum in the NBA Finals, they got two. As Game 2 built to its climax, the Los Angeles Lakers left the door slightly ajar for Dwight Howard and co on two occasions.

Despite excellent platy calling from Stan Van Gundy, the Magic failed to convert two golden looks, both falling to Courtney Lee. Instead of taking the Lakers back to Florida all tied up, they return home in a 2-0 hole.

Ominous? Yep. The Lakers are 37-1 in series where they have won the opening two games.

Before this Finals began the focus was placed firmly on the Lake Show. If Orlando ended up Champions it would be because the Lakers had gifted it to them.

Regardless of the fact that such a point of view entirely belittles the accomplishments of a very strong Orlando team, it forgets how dangerous the magic can be. Look up potent in the dictionary. There’s a picture of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis right next to that of Hugh Hefner.

However, if you were one of those people who believed in the Magic, you understood that they had a legitimate chance at rings if they ticked the right boxes.

1. Big games from Lewis to fully justify the amount of money that Florida’s finest (sorry Mr Wade) has committed to his lucrative contract.

2. Continuing clutch play from Turkey’s finest export (?).

Check on both counts. In Game 2 Lewis and Turkoglu combine to go 9-18 from down town. 50% from beyond the arc? Yeah, that could help.

3. Dominance down low and on the glass from Dwight Howard.

He may not have had 40, but Game 2’s perfomance saw Howard grab 16 rebounds to go with his 17 points. That’s pretty good going considering he is rebounding against Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, 1 on 3.

4. Contain Kobe.

Easier said than done for sure, but 29 and 8 for KB24 is a vast improvement on the 40+ he took in the series opener.

The Magic did all these 4 things in Game 2 but still roll out of town on a downer. Why?

Pau Gasol. The Spaniard is absolutely the key to Los Angeles’ victory and Orlando’s defeat.

24 and 10. Gaudy numbers from a player who is making the people calling him ‘soft’ look pretty silly.

It was Gasol that powered the Lakers to Game 2, 3-3 from the field and 5 of 5 from the line in the 4th quarter and the overtime period.

The City of Angels climbed aboard and he carried them to 2 and 0.

The Lakers record in this situation might be scary, but the combination of Pau and Kobe is scarier. Spanish. English. Telepathy? Their communication is simply infallible.

Game 3 is the biggest in Orlando’s history and anything other than a win will spell the end of their season.

Perhaps it is time to say goodbye to Orlando?

Or as Pau would say:

 

‘Gracias por todo, hasta luego. Adios.’


NBA Finals Preview: Orlando Magic Promise Problems for Los Angeles Lakers

May 31, 2009

05HowardDwight02by Jack Maidment

The Los Angeles Lakers.

The Orlando Magic.

Two teams. Two vastly different histories.

The Lakers are heading to The Finals for the 30th time. They hope to win their 15th title.

In dramatic contrast, the Magic will be appearing in The Finals for only the second time. Since sampling the delights of The Big Dance with Shaquille O’Neal back in 1995, Orlando has very much been an ‘also ran’ when the Playoffs role around.

But the emergence of another All-Star, All League Center in the shape of Dwight Howard, has powered the Magic to the Promised Land despite the prevailing sense of doubt that has emanated from the media all season long.

Boston, LA, San Antonio, Cleveland. They were the ‘real’ contenders.

Yet here we are. Two teams with vastly differing pasts will meet in The Finals for the NBA Championship. And both deserve their spot.

The Lakers may be the Jekyll and Hyde of pro sports, but their talent cannot be questioned. Nor can their heart, which has been shown numerous times.

When the Lake Show was seemingly in a hole, even if they had put themselves in it, they came out firing and ultimately are still standing.

Character, like tea, reveals itself in hot water and you better believe that’s true. As the water boiled around them, the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant, made the plays that mattered to get the W.

Meanwhile, regardless of commentators’ love of the phrase ‘live and die by the 3 pointer’, Orlando has progressed and shows no signs of changing their style.

And why would they. You can’t stay hot all the time. True. But when you have a team with more long range threats than the US Navy it doesn’t matter if 1,2 or 3 of your guys goes cold. You still got the other 3.

Combine the shooting of Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Rafer Alston, Mickael Pietrus, JJ Reddick and Courtney Lee with the inside presence of Dwight Howard and the grossly underrated Marcin Gortat then you have a recipe for success.

So where will the Championship be won and loss?

1. Home Court.

The Lakers must be secretly excited that they avoid the Cleveland Cavaliers and thus an extra road game. Their regular season hard work has paid off with the Magic needing a win at the Staples Centre to have any chance at the Gold.

Both teams have maintained a constant disregard for home court this post season. Both have had disappointing losses at home only to follow them up with huge road wins to recover the advantage.

If the trend continues then we have a rollercoaster 7 game stretch ahead of us.

But. If the Lakers can stamp their authority on the series with victories in the opening two games the Magic will face a huge task to wrestle the trophy from Phil Jackson’s hands.

2. Front Court Vs Front Court

The respective 3,4 and 5s of these teams would leave just about every team in the NBA green with jealousy. Both are extremely talented.

The way in which they match up in The Finals will go some way to deciding who prevails.

The difficulty for the Lakers falls on the defensive end where the Magic will provide the same match up problems as they did the Cleveland Cavaliers.

3 guys, all 6-10 or bigger. All Mobile. 2 of them will kill you off the dribble despite their size.

Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom will have their hands full. Whoever isn’t trying to contain Dwight Howard will be tasked with sticking to Lewis and Turkoglu.

Odom is the best equipped to deal with the outside threat of the Magic big men, but who picks up the other guy? Pau or Bynum on Lewis? That could get ugly.

All this to worry about while simultaneously trying to keep Howard off the glass.

3. Kobe Bryant

Kobe’s importance to LA is huge. The Magic will unlikely allow him to score 1 on 1 while they take care of his team mates, but such is his ability out of the double team that doubling up can allow Kobe to get his entire team scoring, boosting the feel good factor and mood of the crowd.

In a series that will undoubtedly be tight, Kobe down the stretch could be the difference. The Magic will look to hustle and hurry him all series long but he will get his. You just have to live with that.

Lakers in 6.


NBA Playoffs 2009 Western Conference Finals: Lakers Win, Taunting Kobe Unwise

May 24, 2009

 

by Jack Maidment

Do not annoy, provoke, taunt or shout at Kobe Bryant when he is playing on the road.

Apparently people do not learn.

Bryant has been in the League long enough for the entire world to know that any sort of abuse away from home only makes him play even better.

Let us ask the Denver Nuggets.

Returning to the Mile High City the Nuggets held the advantage in the Western Conference Finals after stealing home court in LA. 1-1 and the safety of the building in which they have not been beaten all post season.

Unfortunately for Denver, the Lakers All-Star, future Hall of Famer, kinda likes ruining parties and he marked game 3 with his 3rd plus 40 point outburst of this post season and with it brought tears to a Denver team who were firmly on the charge to the Big Dance.

No Encouragement Needed

No Encouragement Needed

Bryant said after the game that he had nothing in his legs in the 4th when he stepped to the line for free throws, but that the booing and taunts from the Denver faithful reminded him of what was at stake. Re-focusing a tired mind if you will.

So, here is an idea.

Just shut up.

Why antagonise the closer in The Game when you already know that he will play to a higher level just to spite you.

Shhhhhhh. No, really. Put down the foam fingers and the little bat ball things and just let silence reign. Take away some of his ammunition.

It’s like you are Jack and you just climbed the Beanstalk only to find the Giant asleep.

“Hey! Wake up! You’re supposed to be eating me right now. Come on!”

Just. Be. Quiet.

Regardless of the fact that Kobe came up big, he must have been mighty grateful that some of his team mates turned up last night, unlike the Cleveland Cavaliers the other night who left their Star stranded and alone. 1 V 5? Only LeBron.

Just a quick aside. Conference Finals. How about teams learn to run an inbounds play? Especially in the last minute of the game.

Admittedly LeBron’s rainbow miracle is a little hard to criticise defensively because it was simply an amazing shot from an amazing player. But, you think that the Magic will leave a guy close to the inbounder if their happens to be a second on the clock again?

Unlikely. Two men, both on LeBron.

In the same vein, the Nuggets need to realise that there is this guy who plays for the LA Lakers called Trevor Ariza whose middle name happens to be ‘hustle’.

Twice in 3 games he has stole the ball on an inbounds play in the 4th effectively ending Denver’s hopes.

Read the scouting reporting and quit being lazy when the game is on the line.

Or just do what Chauncey Billups does. Inbound the ball of off Kobe’s back and lay it in yourself. Cheeky.

Perhaps that is the real reason that Kobe went big in Game 3. Either way, just don’t annoy the man.

He is a Giant.


NBA Playoffs Conference Semi Finals: Lakers Face Houston, Hold The Ace

May 2, 2009

lakers_bench1

With the utter insanity of the Chicago Bulls – Boston Celtics match up out East it is easy to forget just how good the first round series have been elsewhere. Even the ones with consistent blowouts offered something wildly entertaining.

 

Man it was ugly, but watching the Denver Nuggets humiliate the New Orleans Hornets was sure fun. Same goes for the Atlanta – Miami series where both teams have shared a powerful commitment to blowing out the other on alternate nights.

Watching Dwayne Wade and Joe Johnson go to work makes the 30 point loss kind of redundant. It’s just good.

So while Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon plot the downfall of Paul Pierce and his Celts, and Miami and Atlanta decide whose turn it is to get blown out in their game 7, the 6 teams who have already secured progress are busily preparing for what promises to be monumental semi final match ups.

Only 4 teams, all out West, know for sure who lies between them and the Conference Finals.

The Los Angeles Lakers are undoubtedly a little more troubled by their second round opponents than they may have been.

Houston’s progress means that LA face a team of hungry veterans with a splash of youthful arrogance thrown in that promises more problems than a Portland team who would have been far more likely to succumb to the flashing lights of Hollywood than Yao and Co.

You can bet all the tea in China that Yao Ming is not just happy with finally getting out of the First Round. Tasting post season success for the first time will have given the man from the Orient the impetus to drive his team even deeper, toward the Finals.

Yao is the major problem for the Lakers. 7 feet 6 is just hard to guard. Andrew Bynum, the Laker big man, was perhaps unwise to call for a match up with Houston so that he can take down Mr Ming.

If Yao discovers a new ‘domination’ level of play that his stature should make possible, the Laker frontcourt will have their work cut out to stop themselves getting steam rolled.

The problems do not stop with Yao. On paper, the Houston Rockets are one of, if not the, best defensive team in the League. With Ron Artest and Shane Battier locking down the LA perimeter players and Luis Scola’s hustle providing the perfect accompaniement to Yao’s length inside, the rockets are tough.

Kobe going at it with Battier promises to be a lot of fun. As does Bynum/Yao and Scola/Gasol. So many key match ups.

As good as the Rockets might be defensively, no other team in the NBA possess the same amount of fire power as the Lake Show. Kobe, Pau, Lamar, ‘Drew, Fisher, Ariza, Shannon Brown, Vujacic, Farmar.

Pick. Your. Poison.

There is no way that the Rockets can outswcore the Lakers, but the fact that giving up leads is sort of what LA does, Houston have a chance. Especially with Aaron Brooks on point.

Of all the men on the floor, Brooks poses the most problems for Phil Jackson. He is a match up nightmare. Too fast. Too dangerous. Too confident?

The speed that he has to burn will cause Derrick Fisher all kinds of trouble. 30 year old ankles are not designed to withstand Texas Tornadoes.

The Lakers may have to sacrifice the steady hand of the Fish Man for the zippier Jordan Farmar. Although his lack of minutes recently hardly prepares him too well for going toe to toe with one of the quickest players in the game.

Defense meets Offense. Grit meets Finesse.

Such a summary would ordinarily point toward a dead lock. A 7 game slog. The Lakers do however have an ace up their collective sleeve.

Kobe.


NBA Playoffs First Round: Fouls, Referees and Contenders

April 29, 2009

The first round is almost done and the NBA is preparing to say goodbye to eight more teams. Some have already gone: apparently the Pistons had something better to do than play against the Cavaliers this post season. Same goes for the Jazz: you can’t really make excuses if you are letting a team as offensively talented as the Lakers beat you without making them play at least a little defense.

Others, like the Hornets, are just prolonging the departure of their fishing trip. Losing by a playoff record 50 plus points is not exactly contender form, is it? Their loss to Denver was just embarrasing. If Byron Scott had any hair you could have bet he would have pulled it out by now.

(Who would have thought that the Denver Nuggets would be legitimate title challengers this year. Before the Chauncey Billups trade they were just another talented Western team that might eventually bow down to King Kobe in the Conference Finals. Now though? Their match up with the Mavericks in round 2 will go some way to showing if they are truly legit or not, but they look damn good so far.)

However, for most of the playoff teams the immediate future is far from decided, with seedings and home court apparently counting for little. All the series are almost guaranteed to fluctuate and change.

In any other year the first rounder between the Bulls and the Celtics would be THE match-up of the year. 3 overtimes, 1 double overtime, 5 games. Madness. Neither team appears to know when they are beaten. And luckily or unluckily, depending on if you bleed red or green, all of the referees have forgotten how to call a foul.

Maybe it is catching because Dwight Howard basically Bruce Lee’d Samuel Dalembert last night. Elbow to the Face. But Sam didn’t go down. Apparently Canadians are made of tougher stuff. Ask Steve Nash and the Spurs I guess.

The Sixers still have a chance, so do the Heat, Hawks, Blazers and Rockets. Anyone of these teams could go through. Let us hope that the first round has not used all of the NBA’s magic.


NBA Playoffs: Home Court Is Far From Sacred

April 23, 2009
Rose is Scary

Rose is Scary

Who would have thought it? Despite the fact that, with the exception of L.A and Cleveland, this years first round match ups were some of the most widely anticipated and closest to call, nobody would have expected there to be this many twists already. And each team has only played 2 games this post season!

 

While the Lakers and the Cavaliers take care of business by destroying the Utah Jazz and the Detroit Pistons, the rest of the playoff hopefuls have clearly been listening to David Stern showing the world that the NBA really is where amazing happens.

 

Just ask Boston. Literally the day before they are due to begin their title defence against the written off Chicago Bulls they receive the news that their reigning Defensive Player of the Year will be missing for what could be the entire post season. Ouch.

 

Even so, the Celtics still boasted two more All Stars than the Bulls. And they had a fit Rajon Rondo a player who makes the champs tick. So regardless of Garnett’s forced absence, the good folk of Boston still would have expected an easy first rounder. The playoffs start in the semis right?

 

Que Derrick Rose who clearly had not attended the meeting when NBA rookies were told how they are supposed to play in their first season. He decided that the Bulls belonged on his shoulders, and with a little help from Ben Gordon, proceeded to snatch home court advantage from the Cs. Oh how the mighty can fall.

 

Meanwhile, Josh Smith and the Atlanta Hawks did what few have; silencing Dwayne Wade only for Wade to find his team and his stroke, leading his Miami Heat to victory to even the series and grab home court.

 

Apparently home court is no longer sacred as the Magic also decided to make their lives much harder by letting the Sixers back into a game that they should have killed at half time. Superman can only do so much.

 

Out West things were much the same with home court also counting for nearly nothing. Dallas marched into San Antonio and Dirk plus JJ Barea turned the Spurs over, taking the series back across Texas with home court and the series tentatively balanced at one apiece.

 

It could be a Texas thing. The Houston Rockets defeated the Trailblazers in Portland. It seemed that only Brandon Roy came to play with the rest of his team hiding like children, scared by the Big Bad Yao. This series, also at 1s, goes to the Lone Star State with everything to play for although their will be no more finger wagging with Dikembe Mutombo forced into an ‘early’ retirement after twisting his old old old knee. Damn shame.

 

Pretty sure that Mr Big Shot might have been hired by a certain Jason Kidd to exact brutal revenge on the point guard who shouted at anyone who would listen that ‘this guy can’t me!’ Dont anger veterans Chris Paul. They are a protective bunch who maintain a pack mentality if threatened. Billups proceeded to shoot the lights out in Paul’s face going a Denver Nuggets franchise record 8-9 from down town. In. Your. Eye. The Nuggets are looking pretty darn good right now. They couldn’t. Could they?

 

Nevermind amazing. The NBA is where ANYTHING can happen. Unless you’re on a team with Kobe or LeBron. But they’ll have to play eventually. Unmovable force against Unstoppable force?

 

There are no ties.