May 20, 2008

Spurs best Hornets, ticket to LA

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

With a 91-82 victory, the San Antonio Spurs have finally put away the pesky Hornets in New Orleans for Game 7. It took 7 games and three tough losses in New Orleans for the champion Spurs to regain form on the road to steal a game. Ultimately, they played like this in the other games too but folded in the third quarter for whatever reason. In game 7 tonight those lapses were not there, and despite shooting a terrible percentage the Spurs managed to control the game and certainly the tempo.

Key reserves were contributing for the Spurs as well. Ime Udoka, Michael Finley and Big Shot Bob Horry all hit 2 three pointers, and they were at key times. Bruce Bowen missed a few open three pointers but managed to knock down two of them. He was also playing lock down defense on Peja Stojakovic (3-11 from the floor, 1-5 from threes).

Throughout the series the Hornets managed to hit threes at home in transition. The Spurs did a terrific job of transition defense and hounding players like Stojakovic before shots got off. Jannero Pargo had a few open looks and missed but he managed to at least his 2 out of his 6 three pointers. But the 4th quarter showed the problems for New Orleans. The offense looked out of sync, CP3 could not create shots at will like he could in past games, and Jannero Pargo was chucking up a ton of shots. He hit some of them but they were ill advised and not high percentage. That said without his offense in the late 4th the NO Hornets would not have been even close to the Spurs.

New Orleans was playing from behind all game and their inability to hit shots was troublesome and had not been seen at home yet this playoffs. Could the pressure and inexperience finally have caught up to them in this pressure-packed game 7 situation? It is likely but playing a playoff stalwart like the San Antonio Spurs adds to this.

Heading into the 2008-2009 season, few teams have a brighter future than the New Orleans Hornets. Many believe Chris Paul was the best player this year with his ridiculous assist totals and his efficient running of that offense. New Orleans is lacking in the bench with only 6 total players in Game 7 logging more than 5 minutes. Also, only Chris Paul and David West can create shots. This usually isn't a problem because Chris Paul can seemingly always create shots but even he runs into problems when double teamed and the ball is forced out of his hands.

Heading forward we have the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday in Los Angeles. A classic matchup between two teams that have matched up 6 times in the past 10 years in the playoffs (LA winning 4 times SA winning twice). But they have not played recently so the makeup of the teams is completely different. The Lakers are going to have issues inside without Andrew Bynum. Pau Gasol has been a solid addition to make the offense flow and have good help defense, but he is too thin to handle Duncan alone. Bynum would have provided that beef but the Lakers must make do. Home court has proven to be important in these playoffs but at the same time the Spurs just took a Game 7 away from home. How about the MVP Kobe Bryant? The Spurs have always brought out the worst in him and the best in him at the same time.

May 4, 2008

Boston Celtics Atlanta Hawks Game 7


It is hard to believe there had to be a game 7 in the 1st round series between the #1 seed Boston Celtics and #8 seed Atlanta Hawks. Nearly all the pundits had the 66 win Celtics take this series in 4 games against the lowly, sub-500 Hawks.

But then a strange thing happened. Or not so strange. Clearly regular season records are not necessarily relevant when playoff time comes. The San Antonio Spurs prove this yearly by sleepwalking through the regular season with their top starters playing 30-35 minutes a game. Playoffs are more about which teams are playing hot and particular matchups within the game.

Matchups are what made the Celtics / Hawks series so compelling. While the Celtics have three absolute studs in Kevin Garnett Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, overall the Hawks are brimming with athleticism. Josh Smith, Al Horford, Josh Childress and of course Joe Johnson have taken it to Boston physically. Much like Golden State did to Dallas last year, The Hawks made the older more experienced team look slow and unathletic.

Also home court was pivotal with each home team winning each game. So having the better regular season record helps in that regard definitely as both teams were completely different based on the venue. The Hawks were overwhelmed in Boston, getting blown out in all the games and the last one by 40+ most of the game. Meanwhile the Hawks still had a ton of confidence when playing in a packed Phillips Arena in Atlanta. And the Celtics were the ones who looked nervous and did not knock down their shots.

The other factor with home court is foul calls (Lakers in early 2000's anyone?) The Hawks shot a ridiculous 47 FT's in game 6 but have shot a fraction of that when playing in Boston. Part of this is a lack of aggressiveness to the rim and better team defense by Boston. But a lot of the calls Atlanta was getting going to the rim against the Celtics, these were no calls in Boston.

Amazingly this was the only 7 game series in round 1 yet it was supposed to be a sure fire sweep. Still this is the best thing to happen to the Atlanta Hawks franchise in quite some time and could propel this young team to greater heights in coming years. Energizing the Philips Arena was a plus as they normally are not known for their crowd noise. Performing more consistently in the regular season especially on the road will allow this team in the future to grab a higher seed and put themselves in a more realistic situation to make some noise in the playoffs.

But Kevin Garnett and friends closed them out and it's time for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have been resting since their game 6 victory in Washington. The Cavs took the Eastern crown last year and we all saw what The King LeBron James can do in the playoffs. Only Kobe Bryant can take over a game like James did against Detroit. Was the Atlanta series a wake up call for the Celtics or a harbinger of things to come for a team that does not look as playoff ready as their record would indicate. Remember, Garnett / Allen / Pierce have failed numerous times to take their teams over the top, so they will need to prove themselves even if they are the veterans. Garnett in particular will need to be more efficient and take charge in fourth quarters as he is a significant matchup problem for the slow bigs in Cleveland.