4/24/11: Hornets, Sixers, Hawks Win; Celtics Eliminate Knicks

As I always am on Mondays, I’m a little short on time today, so I’ll be keeping this short and sweet.  Yesterday was a very interesting day in the NBA, so I’ll try to cram as much information as I possibly can into this thing.  Here we go…

The Miami Heat have had trouble closing out close games all season long.  They had the Sixers on the ropes in both the game and the series with a six-point lead at the 1:30 mark of yesterday afternoon’s potential advancement game (advancement game?  I’ve never heard anyone use that term before when it comes to NBA basketball… I’m going to roll with it anyway).  However, three young Sixer guards–one of which has had a roller coaster season with more downs than ups–weren’t ready for a fishing trip just yet.  Lou Williams, Jrue Holiday, and the not-so-heralded #2 draft pick Evan Turner scored the final 10 points of the game.  Turner scored four, Jrue nailed a three, and Lou Williams clutched a game-winning triple in the face of Dwyane Wade (who missed twice in the final 30 seconds)…


After Lou gave Philly the 84-82 lead, Elton Brand preserved it with a block on a driving LeBron James.  You can’t be too mad at ‘Bron, though… the dude scored 12 of Miami’s 16 fourth quarter points.  Yeah, he got swatted by Elton on his last-second drive, but I’d hardly call 12 points on 4-7 a fourth-quarter choke-job.  He alone basically created that six-point lead that the Heat probably should’ve been able to hold on to, and it’s not like he made a bad play on the drive… Elton just made a better one.  So, I refuse to call this a choke by James, even though I’m sure he’s being verbally abused by Skip Brainless on ESPN2 right about now.  It was, however, a choke by the Heat as a unit… they gave up a 10-0 run to finish the game.  Am I concerned?  Yeah, a little bit.  Not about this series (they won’t be losing any more games to the Sixers), but I’m worried about future contests as they move deeper into the playoffs.  As the competition improves, games are going to be tight.  You don’t win championships without winning close games, period.  The Heat are now sitting on some 5-27 shooting in the final 30 seconds of the 4th quarter and OT when tied or down as many as three.  My response in the regular season: don’t get down three with 30 seconds left.  Deep in the playoffs?  It’s bound to happen, because you’re playing a great team every night.  Someone is going to have to hit some clutch buckets for these guys at some point.  Anyway, congratulations to the Sixers on a playoff victory.  They’ve been one of the surprise teams of the season, and as I was for the Pacers when they got their win over the Bulls, I’m happy for Philly.  They earned this. 

Stan Van Gundy opted to put the result of a 29 point, 17 board night from Dwight Howard, as well as the best game he’s ever going to get out of Agent Don’t Shoot! (20 points on 9-18), in the hands of Hedo Turkeyglue.  Would it surprise you if I were to tell you that he showed a good deal of regret after the game?  Speak to us, Stanley…

It was actually even uglier than Stan made it out to be.  Hedo was being guarded by a center, Al Horford, in an isolation situation out in three-point land.  He went for his patended swing-through move, or whatever you want to call that thing that he always does out there (you know what I’m talking about), and he just plain got ripped.  He got the ball back and got a half-decent look, but he missed it, and Orlando lost 85-88.  As much as I enjoy bashing Hedo, I have to question SVG’s decision making here.  Yes, Turk has been clutch for the Magic in the (not so recent) past.  Yes, he’s tall, and can normally get a good look at the basket in this kind of scenario.  That being said… he’s just been straight up bad in this series… straight up bad for a few seasons, actually.  Give the ball to Jameer Nelson, or even, dare I say, Gilbert Arenas?  As lame as he’s been for Orlando, Gil played well in this game, and he’s a confident dude.  Hell, try to get JJ Redick open for a look.  At this point… I’d take my chances with pretty much anyone other than Turk.  His series can be summed up pretty effectively by the following clip…

All of that being said, had the Magic been able to hit even a somewhat sh!tty percentage on their threes last night, they wouldn’t have even been in this situation.  Orlando clunked 21 of 23 long-range tries (Well whaddayaknow… Hedo was 0-6.  Great decision, Stan).  Atlanta was able to hit 6-15, as well as a much better percentage from the field, and that was that.  They did do some really silly sh!t in the final minute, and they’re lucky that Orlando couldn’t capitalize.  Remember Jamal Crawford’s lucky, iso-style dagger over Jameer Nelson from a few nights ago?  Well, Larry Drew musn’t have thought it was so lucky, because he gave it another go.  With 51 seconds remaining and a three-point lead, the Hawks had Crawford dribble for 20 seconds, then attempt to create a shot against Orlando’s best perimeter defender, Quentin Richardson.  I love Jamal Crawford, and he’s got amazing ability to create space… but still, I don’t care who you are, a three-ball off of a killer crossover is anything but a good look when you’ve got 24 seconds to work with along with a lead.  This isn’t a video game, that’s a hard f@cking shot to make… and they didn’t even need a three, they were already up three!  Anyhow, Crawford created plenty of space, but he launched an airball.  Gilbert Arenas was able to score a driving layup, making it a one-point game.  Had Joe Johnson not been clutch at the stripe, we could be looking at a 2-2 series.  Fortunately for the Hawks, the reality is 3-1, and I don’t see Orlando making a comeback.  Fun fact: Jamal Crawford is the first bench player to drop 20+ in the first four games of the playoffs since Kevin McHale in 1991.

I used the time I set aside for a Celtics/Knicks recap to whip up a little photoshop instead.  I think it’ll be more entertaining, and just as informative…

I do have to mention one thing about this game: there was an Anthony f@ckin’ Carter sighting that was almost epic enough to make me consider forgiving him for costing the Nuggets a trip to the finals back in 2009.  This dude entered the game with New York down 20, and they would eventually close to within four.  They couldn’t quite get over the hump, but Carter was finding open shooters (four dimes) and giving Delonte West and Rajon Rondo the business (11 points).  Speaking of Rajon Rondo, man, me and Mike D’Antoni could be friends.  Well, no we couldn’t… but I agree with his sentiments on Boston’s overrated point guard: “I’d like to see him play in Minnesota and see how he does. Everyone is tied together, they have three hall of famers out there.”

I can tell you this much, he wouldn’t be any damn Kevin Garnett.  I’m glad someone who’s voice will actually be heard finally said what I’ve been saying for years.

Kobe Bryant had his first scoreless first half in a playoff game since 2004–he went 0-7 (should’ve had one bucket on a goaltend, but it went uncalled)–but LA still had the lead and the momentum… until Emeka Okafor happened.  I want to give you a video here, but NBA.com didn’t even put this in the game highlights, let alone give it it’s own Youtube clip.  Anyway, Okafor emphatically ERASED a pillowy-soft Pau Gasol layup attempt and then proceeded to run the floor and hit a buzzer-beating jumper that gave the Hornets a 49-45 lead.  Kobe started hitting shots in the second half (5-11), and the Lakers had it tied up on multiple occasions, but the Hornets actually appeared to have sh!t under control from that point on.  Normally, even when the Lakers are down a few, they give me this feeling that they’re in control, and that they can just take the game from the opposition as soon as they decide they want it.  I didn’t get that vibe last night… and I think Chris Paul deserves all the credit in the world.  This dude not only put up monster digits (27/13/15), he controlled the tempo and made huge plays down the stretch (14 points in the 4th).  He did get himself into a little trouble with about 10 seconds left, but a teammate made a great play to bail him out.  With New Orleans up two, needing one more bucket to essentially ice it, CP made a mistake: he left the floor without a plan.  He couldn’t shoot the ball because he had a few Lakers draped all over him, and he had no open teammates to dish the ball to.  Jarrett Jack then darted to the freethrow line, which was wide open, and Paul spotted him with just enough time on the shot clock for him to get a shot off.  Jack was yet to score a bucket in the game, but he nailed it, and the Hornets ended up winning 93-88. 

Aside from Chris Paul’s brilliance (LA may want to come up with a new defensive plan… switching the pick and rolls isn’t working at all), the key to this game was the battle on the glass.  The Lakers are the biggest team in the league–their front line is absolutely imposing (when it wants to be)–but these scrappy Hornets have gotten the best of them twice now.  That makes Phil Jackson extremely unhappy… he actually called his Laker players “punks” in his postgame interview.  It gets worse for the Lakers, too… Kobe Bryant left the game on crutches.  Stay tuned.

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