Thoughts on the Second Round So Far--and Kobe's Game Seven Performance RevisitedDetroit leads Cleveland 2-0, but the San Antonio-Dallas, Phoenix-L.A. Clippers and Miami-New Jersey series are each tied 1-1. What have the first two games shown about these teams?
It is no mystery that Detroit is clearly a superior team to Cleveland. It will be very surprising if the Cavaliers win more than one game--but I think that it is important that Cleveland wins a game and avoids being swept. Sometimes when teams realize that they have no chance to win a series they take the "easy" way out and get swept, rather than win a home game and then take a final road trip for a loss before beginning their summer vacation. It is important for the development of this Cavaliers team that they win at least one game in Cleveland and force the Pistons to close out the series in Detroit. We know that the Cavs are outgunned and the Cavs surely know it as well but if you are trying to put together a championship caliber team then you want to push yourself constantly and never take the "easy" way. If Detroit can come into Cleveland and win two nail biting games that are decided on the last possession, then the Cavs can simply tip their hats and try to improve their roster for next season--but the Cavs should not allow Detroit to march into Cleveland and blow them out.
San Antonio narrowly won the first game versus Dallas and got waxed in game two. Dallas clearly is in the better position at the moment since the Mavs play the next two games at home. The funny thing about the playoffs, though, is that momentum changes from one game to the next. The Spurs are a veteran laden team that is defending a title and they are more than capable of winning a game (or two) in Dallas. I still expect San Antonio to win this series.
The Suns beat the Clippers 130-123 in game one despite Elton Brand scoring 40 points on 18-22 shooting. I have to admit that after watching that game I thought that Phoenix would have an even easier time than I had thought before the series started; scoring a lot of points is normal for Phoenix, something that the Suns can do game after game, but shooting 18-22 in a playoff game is a tremendous feat that is unlikely to be duplicated--and Brand's team lost anyway. I figured that in game two the Suns would play the same way, Brand might "slump" to 14-22 or something like that and Phoenix would be up 2-0. Instead, Brand, Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley each scored 20-plus points and the Clippers routed the Suns 122-97. Phoenix has to play with a very high energy level to combat the Clippers' superiority in size; they have to scramble around on defense, force turnovers, control the defensive glass and push the ball up the court. Those are the things that they did when their backs were against the wall versus the L.A. Lakers in round one and those are the things that will ultimately win this series for them.
New Jersey thumped Miami in game one, grabbing away home court advantage, and then looked very lethargic in a game two loss. As TNT's Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley noted, it is human nature to get complacent in game two after obtaining home court advantage in game one, but that type of thinking makes me cringe because good playoff teams can win on the road. Miami could very well get a split in New Jersey, forcing the Nets to win another game in Miami. If that happens, the Nets will face a must win in game five. Game sevens on the road in the NBA are death--just ask the L.A. Lakers.
Speaking of the Lakers, it has been suggested that Michael Jordan would never have played the way that Kobe Bryant did in the second half of game seven versus Phoenix. Chicago Tribune columnist Sam Smith, who wrote the book The Jordan Rules, periodically answers readers' questions about the NBA and recently discussed this very issue:
A lot has been written and said regarding Kobe's three-shot performance in Game 7 of the Phoenix series. Kobe and Phil Jackson claim that they wanted to win the right way, employing the pass-first mentality that won them three games earlier in the series. While Kobe's tendencies to sabotage have been well documented, I think it's unlikely that Kobe would actively sabotage things at such a key juncture in his career, having come so far this year. What are your thoughts? --A. Arain, Lombard, Ill.
This is what I think happened and it is Jordanesque. I don't buy that sabotage thing. Bryant had 23 by halftime and was on the way to 50 and the Lakers were in trouble, down 15 and going nowhere. So knowing Phil Jackson, he told Bryant the first four games they went inside and distributed the scoring and got up 3-1, that was their only chance. Kobe has been buying in and did so early in the series. So he does in Game 7 and the plan doesn't work and they're down 30 and can't guard the mop kids. It's over, so Kobe packs it in. If he shoots crazy now they lose and he's blamed for being selfish. So he shuts it down. Jordan did something similar in the 1989 conference finals against the Pistons. The Bulls were losing and the Pistons were double and triple-teaming Jordan, so Doug Collins told Jordan to move the ball and not shoot so much. OK, you think those guys can win! Jordan took eight shots in 46 minutes. Michael Jordan could get eight shots off on anyone getting off the bus. The Bulls couldn't recover and Jordan just stopped shooting. It was Game 5 of a six-game series loss. But Kobe is a villain and lightning rod too, so much of the blame goes to him. I don't think he was deserving of so much criticism.
One more Kobe note: Kobe received 22 first place votes in the MVP balloting, second only to Steve Nash, but only finished fourth overall because more than 20 voters left him completely off of their ballots. I was glad to hear Barkley, a frequent critic of Kobe's, say that those people should lose their voting privileges. Approximately one sixth of the voters picked Kobe as the MVP of the league and approximately one sixth of the voters did not even place him in the top five. I don't have a big problem with Nash winning but anyone who left Kobe completely off of the ballot either does not understand basketball or is motivated by factors other than what happens on the court.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:24 AM