Monday, April 20, 2009

Playoffs 2009...Brace Yourself

With so much happening in the few days before the playoffs involving the defending champs I chose not to do a playoff preview. Instead you will be getting playoff analysis throughout the first round with some picks later down the line. As bad as things appeared for the Celtics last week before game one referring to KG’s injury and Danny Ainge’s minor heart attack (he is comfortable and out of the hospital) they got worse once the game started on Saturday. After a full Saturday of clinics, practice and workouts Coach returned home to the Gramercy Estate to watch the game which thanks to DVR was awaiting me. I really had idea what I was in for. Let me say this before I speak on the outstanding performances, the Celtics lost that game early, I mean first half early. When you are a home favorite and your motto is intensity and defense, you have to come out with those two things as the PRIORITY. The Bulls were able to get into the paint with ease and played harder than the Celtics in the first half, hence their continued rise in confidence throughout the game . Paul Pierce can’t take 4 shots in the first half of any playoff game especially one as significant as this one.

Derrick Rose. Wow. That is all I could keep saying which each possession. While his confidence grew his calm stayed as steady as Harry Callahan preventing a bank robbery while chomping on his lunch time frank. When the Celtics went under the screen on pick and roll he’d calmly nail the mid range jumper. When Rondo or Marbury came out to pressure him he’d patiently wait until the floor was spread properly and then drive it to the tin. When body contact came from the help defense he’d take it and make the Celts pay from the line. Wow. Wow. Wow. His explosiveness not only on the break but also in traffic is something we have not seen in a while from a point guard. I am not saying he is on par with CP3 or Deron, but his game one performance leads me to think that is the fast track he is on.
The third quarter of that game was a track meet as Rajon Rondo and Rose simply went at it. Going up and down like juiced up race cars attacking the basket at every opportunity and taking the crowd to a very exciting level in Boston. KG was unable to handle sitting on the bench for the second half as his level of anxiety was just too much, he chose to watch the 2nd stanza and OT from the locker room. With or without KG on the bench there was nothing to stop Ben Gordon and Tyrus Thomas as they started hitting late which signaled doom for the Celtics in game one. Pierce played a terrific second half but Ray Allen, Ed House and Leon Powe did very little to help the Captain in the scoring department as the Bulls earned, not stole, earned their victory in game one. Game 2 should bring some desperation from the Champs as it is a MUST win. (Just a side note, KG was reportedly was in full practice gear on Sunday as I am sure he is mentally willing his knee to reach a level where he can run, we all wish it were that easy.)
In the east the series that many including myself would be most intriguing got started in blowout fashion last night in Atlanta as the Hawks dismantled the Heat 90-64, which included a 35 point 2nd quarter and then held the Heat to a seven point 4th quarter, really? Seven points? Seven? Really? The Heat have their work cut out for them as the Hawks look like a team that is real locked in. Atlanta took last year’s first round experience and applied what they learned from that seven gamer against Boston to growing this season and now look like a team that could potentially give anyone a headache (most likely Cleveland) in the second round. Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Mike Bibby, Al Horford and Marvin Williams are going to be too much for the Heat to handle. Atlanta needs to keep the pressure on and keep running. Miami does not have the size, length or experience to stop the Hawks if they are playing at the top of their game. Yes, I know how great Dwayne Wade is, and yes, he is battle tested in the post-season but this Miami team is not. Atlanta needs to get this series over with in 5 games so they can get ready for thy King and Co. from Cleveland.
The first real onions shout out goes to Andre Iguodala as last night in Philly he made one ridiculous buzzer beater that felt like the final seconds of a Bauer rescue. Not only did AI recue his team, he rescued himself from a world of criticism as just moments earlier he missed a pair of free throws with Philly trailing by one point. The Philly comeback itself was down right unbelievable as they trailed the heavily favored Magic by 18 points with one minute to go in the 3rd quarter before a furious rally. As well as the Sixers played in the 4th (which included 3 three pointers by non other than Donyell Marshall, Bob Horry like last night, anyone?) are the Magic serious? You are the #3 seed, you have Dwight Howard, you are home up 18 and blow the game? A perfect example of a few things: 1) Dwight Howard is not yet an elite player. 2) Stan Van Gundy is not a great coach. 3) Orlando is no threat to win the East. If you need more reasons, leave a comment and I’ll help you out.
Out west the Lakers did what was expected, handled their business in Game one against Utah. Every time the Jazz seemed to be on the verge of making a run the Lakers would make that staggering play. A Trevor Ariza reverse dunk on the fast break, a Kobe dagger, a Gasol put back. That is what the great teams do, they don’t let visitors especially in the first round make runs on their home court. You hear that Celtics? Magic? Spurs? Blazers?
The Spurs seem tired and somewhat overwhelmed entering yet another series against Dallas, this time without Manu Ginobilli. The Mavs, who were in danger of not being in the playoffs mid way through the year are surging as there is a fine balance and a new level of confidence they are now playing with. After a full season you can see the benefits of Jason Kidd’s leadership, Dirk Nowitski’s efficiency (I know he did not have a big game one but he had a terrific season under Rick Carlisle) and backcourt depth featuring Jose Berea and Jason Terry. The Spurs are the first round favorite in the most trouble right now after one game. Yes, more than Boston and Orlando, and though Portland has home court many favored the Roc kets including the Coach. Houston man handled the Blazers in game one as Yao Ming and Luis Scola combined to go 16-18 from the floor, showing just how strong the Rockets are upfront. Combine that with Aaron Brooks’ 27 point 7 assist effort from the 1 and the Blazers didn’t stand a chance. As talented as the Blazers are they are facing a veteran team who is starving for a playoff series victory. Houston has not moved on in a series since their line included Charles Barkley, Matt Maloney, Clyde Drexler, and Hakeem Olajuwon. One prediction I will make now and stand by is the Rockets will give the Lakers all they can handle in the second round, you can count on it.

Many hoop heads found themselves doing double takes when Denver grabbed the two seed in the west. When the Nuggets acquired Chauncy Billups earlier this season most thought it was to get rid of Allen Iverson and remain respectable. Well that was not Chauncy’s goal as his leadership, toughness and game gave so much to Denver this season. It took needed pressure off of Carmelo Anthony on the court and George Karl on the sideline. Karl had not had an extension of himself on the court since he coach Gary Payton and Billups finally provided that. Plain and simple Billups must be mentioned in that second tier of MVP candidates behind LeBron, D Wade and Kobe this season, he is the reason Denver had the year they had and his eight three pointers made in game one remind everyone of what a money player he is in the post season. The Hornets are wishing they drew the Spurs in the first round.
Lets hope the Bulls beat the Celtics tonight so tomorrow can be a positive recovery day for Danny Ainge...

No comments: