Cleveland vs. Boston, Game 1: Cavaliers 103, Celtics 95
LeBron James – If you would like to know why he is the back-to-back MVP and the unquestioned best player in the game, simply look at his scoring totals per quarter: Q1: 7; Q2: 7; Q3: 9; Q4: 12 for a total of 35 points. Unlike many players, he doesn’t fall off in the 4th quarter, but actually increases his output. In this instance, he put a dagger into a resilient Boston Celtics’ team with a three-pointer from the left wing after coming off a screen that left Paul Pierce flailing like a runaway kite in a tornado. That trey capped off a run of 3 straight scoring possessions for The King. He had his usual all-around game by chipping in 7 rebounds and 9 assists, as well. Furthermore, we have yet to mention the fact that he was limited by a sore right elbow. In actuality, it might be that injury that led to his decision to drive to the basket more frequently than had been the norm in the first half, as he didn’t trust his outside jumper, which he has a habit of falling in love with. By the time the game was nearing its end, he had it loose enough to unleash a few deep jumpshots that managed to find their target, propeling the Cavs to victory.
Kevin Garnett – After a somewhat lackluster first round series, the Big Ticket got things going early and often in this game. He finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, a total that was once the standard stat line for him, but had been a rare sight in recent games. Mr. Intensity was looking like Da Kid of old as he scored in a variety of ways, including a play where he blew by his defender on the dribble and finished with a ferocious slam. KG took advantage of every mismatch that was presented before him, whether the defender opposite him was shorter, slower, or simply less experienced. He was also a heady rebounder, grabbing loose balls in traffic and outpositioning bigger foes for the ball. If he can continue to play at this level, Boston will have a chance to win this series as long as he gets some additional help.
Mo Williams – The Cavs’ PG and best outside threat finally had a big game as he relied on his naturally aggressive instincts, rather than falling back on becoming a spot-up shooter. He drove to the rim when possible, but also shot well off the dribble and coming off some screens. He tallied 17 points and 6 assists, as he provided LBJ with a solid sidekick in a game where Antawn Jamison was somewhat limited due to his matchup with KG.
Glen Davis – Big Baby, the Ticket Stub, Uno-Uno (the single dumbest nickname I can recall hearing this season, by the way), whatever you want to call the youngster from LSU, don’t ever call him “The Cerebral Assassin”. He is a physical presence and can bang and jostle with the best of them when he is in the zone; however, it was his lack of smart play that caused him to spend a lot of time on the bench due to some absurdly dumb fouls he committed in the first half. If he cannot get a leash on his rough-and-tumble level of play, he might find himself in Doc Rivers’ doghouse very quickly.
Boston’s bench – Davis was the most egregious offender, but Boston’s bench as a whole didn’t give the starters much support in this contest. For the money that they are paying these subs, and the pedigrees that many of them have, I think that they have a right to expect more — especially if they expect this series to end in their favor.
Atlanta vs. Milwaukee, Game 7: Hawks 95, Bucks 74
Al Horford – The former Florida Gator might not be remembered as the player selected immediately after Kevin Durant, but his output in the first half of this contest was a key reason why his team made it to the second round, while the scoring champ’s team is sitting at home right now. Horford racked up 12 points and 11 rebounds through the first two quarters on his way to 16 points and 14 boards for the game, helping the Hawks to establish a lead that they would never come close to relinquishing. He took advantage of mismatches time and time again, abusing poor Ersan Ilyasova for the most part. He made the paint his territory for this game, and Atlanta will go on to face Orlando because of it.
Joe Johnson – Little Rock Joe has made his reputation on his offensive versatility, but it was his defense that was key in this matchup. He limited John Salmons to a dreadful output when the Bucks needed their swingman the most by locking him down on defense for most of the game, only allowing him to score on a few broken plays and transition opportunities. After a very shaky shooting performance in the first half, Johnson got it going in the second half to round out his exceptional level of play in this closeout game. Many people have forgotten that he is a free agent this offseason, but I guarantee you that all of the GM’s out there know that he is and are salivating at the thought of signing him for their teams.
Jamal Crawford – The Sixth Man of the Year did what he does; namely, he scored in bunches, finishing with 22 points in this contest. Not many teams have a guy that can come off the bench and consistently reach 20 points per game, but the Hawks have made good use of theirs this past season. He is an integral part of their success.
Also of note: Mike Bibby, Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks’ frontcourt (17 offensive rebounds)
John Salmons – Milwaukee needed a big game from Salmons, and he was unequal to the task on this day. Joe Johnson simply shut him down and put him in a hurt locker all game long. That might bring up the issue of why JJ wasn’t able to do that from the beginning, but mostly it brings up the issue of what could have been in this series if Michael Redd and/or Andrew Bogut had been healthy. His totals of 10 points and 4 rebounds should have been the result of one half’s worth of work, not an entire game.
Carlos Delfino – Joining Salmons on the list of underachievers is Delfino, who only managed to tally 3 points in this contest as he was never even close to being a factor. Josh Smith and Marvin Williams kept him on a tight leash, as they have been known to do many other players, and he was little more than a warm body out there for this game.
The Result – I’m not upset that Atlanta won, especially since they were clearly the better team, but this game was very anti-climactic for a Game 7. It was reminiscent of some Game 7′s in recent memory where a hard-fought series is decided in a blowout where there is no drama by the time halftime arrives, much less in the 4th quarter. The Hawks ease in dispatching the Bucks showed how this series should have been over with in 5 games, rather than going the distance.
Atlanta - The Hawks go forward to meet a red-hot Orlando Magic team that just swept the Charlotte Bobcats. Atlanta will need steady play and big games from their primary players, namely Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford, if they hope to derail the Magic who seem destined to meet the Cavaliers in the Conference Finals.
Milwaukee – The Bucks got a little taste of what might await them next year if they can find a good luck charm that keeps them a little bit healthier. If Jennings improves as much as I’m expecting, and Redd and Bogut return to the starting lineup, joining Salmons and either Mbah a Moute or Ilyasova, then they could be a serious contender for the 5th or 6th seed again next year, if not potentially the 4th seed. They are a young, talented team on the rise, and people should be discussing them as this year’s version of the Atlanta Hawks of 2 seasons ago.
Los Angeles vs. Utah, Game 1: Lakers 104, Jazz 99
Lakers’ shooting – The boys wearing Forum blue and gold shot 79% in the first stanza on their way to tallying 61% for the half overall. Then they came out and shot 60% in the third quarter as well. That helped to establish a lead that they would be in need of when the Jazz made a furious charge in the 4th quarter. Their red-hot shooting allowed them a little bit of breathing room in conjunction with their impressive defense throughout the game.
Deron Williams – He might just be the best PG in the league. There, now I’ve said it along with every other broadcaster, pundit, writer and blogger in the world. What else do you say about a guy who is quick as a hiccup and is built like a mini-tank? His great first half (17/4) kept Utah in the game every time it looked like the Lakers would establish a big lead. He finished with 24 points and 8 assists, which is somewhat misleading, since he spent a good chunk of the second half on the bench as Ronnie Price and Co. led a comeback that resulted in Utah having the lead late in the game. He is far better than anyone the Lakers have to defend him, since he shredded Ron Artest throughout this game, so he will need to remain dominant in order for the Jazz to knock off the defending champs.
Pau Gasol – Early in the game, the Spaniard and Kobe Bryant were clicking on all cylinders, helping the Lakers get out to an early double-digit lead. He finished with 25 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks and 4 assists in a performance that left the commentators gushing about his all-around ability. His passing is what truly sets him apart from most other big men, but it is his ability to finish with either hand that makes him so dangerous around the basket.
Kobe Bryant – The Mamba did what he always does: he scored when he wanted to in a variety of ways. Bryant tallied 31 points in this game with an assortment of dribble-drives, pump-fakes and pull-up jumpers. His best weapon in this game was his slashing ability though, as Utah left the lane open to him far too often, which led to several easy buckets on his part.
Also of note: Carlos Boozer (18/12), Utah’s bench, Lamar Odom
Utah’s defense – Their on-ball defense was pretty good for much of the game, but early on their dribble-drive denial and paint protection was abysmal, which led to too many easy buckets for the Lakers, most notably Kobe Bryant. They got lost on picks and screens, which is somewhat ironic, since their coach has fed the league a steady diet of that for the last 20 years. This will have to change if they hope to topple the Lakers.
The “foul call” – If you were as irate as I was about this call, then you don’t even need me to tell you which one it was. For the rest of you, it was the play where Kobe Bryant drove to the hoop, his defender flopped, and then, as his defender regained his feet, Bryant rose up, buried the shot and was awarded with a foul call despite there being no apparent contact. Up until that point, and even afterwards, this was a very well-officiated game. Unfornately, this one call helped change the tide somewhat, as it gave the Lakers a three point lead that they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game. The official who blew his whistle was actually behind Bryant, thereby being completely unable to see where the contact allegedly took place, which is simply unacceptable, no matter which team you might be a fan of.
Mark Jackson’s pink suit – Thank you ESPN and ABC for showing us that blast from the past. It was very much appreciated.
Phil Jackson – This is an exact quote from the Zen Master: “This team is a bunch of strippers and hackers…” Need I say more?