Sunday, May 03, 2009

Playoff Musings

I've received several emails over the past week asking why I have yet to weigh in on the NBA Playoffs. The answer is pretty simple: I've been far too busy watching and enjoying every minute of the first round to take time to write. I know that borders on lame, but let's not kid each other, I'm lame. That being said, this afternoon, I had the opportunity to witness a special piece of history. I joined about 20,000 of my closest friends and watched the Hawks win the first Game 7 in franchise history. So, as you can imagine, I'm pretty excited at the moment. I, however, am going to attempt to temper my excitement long enough to put together some coherent thoughts about Round 1.

  • In reflecting on Round 1, the natural place to start is with the Bulls and Celtics. As you know, many experts are referring to this as the greatest 7 game series of all time. I don't know if we should go that far, but with 7 OT periods, countless huge shots and clutch plays, more than a handful of controversial ("controversial" is a generous term) calls, and no less than a dozen questionable ("questionable" is beyond generous) coaching decisions, there is no doubt this is a series we won't soon forget. And, when it was all said and done, we learned a few things, including:

1) Derrick Rose is a truly remarkable point guard. But, more importantly, he's not even close to reaching his potential. He definitely has room for improvement. After all, we did see him get a little too careless with the ball in key situations, we saw him defer too often to his teammates in key situations, and we saw him resurrect Ghosts of Memphis past with some shaky clutch free throw shooting in Game 6. But, on the other hand, I'm not sure we've ever seen a point guard not named Isiah or Chris Paul that can get to the rim and finish in traffic like this kid. When you stop and consider that this guy can't even buy a beer yet, all you can do is shake your head and wonder. Assuming he continues to work and improve, I honestly have no idea how good this kid can be. All I do know is that I loved watching him play as a high schooler at the Peach Jam in Augusta; I loved watching him in college at Memphis; I loved watching him this year with the Bulls; and I am beyond excited at the thought of watching him for the next decade. There is a real chance Derrick Rose will become my favorite point guard of all time. Is that a bold statement? Yes. Do I have any reservations about making it? Absolutely not.

2) Dictionary.com defines a black hole as "a theoretical massive object, formed at the beginning of the universe or by the gravitational collapse of a star exploding as a supernova, whose gravitational field is so intense that no electromagnetic radiation can escape." I define it as "Ben Gordon". I know he hit some ridiculous shots and came up big in huge moments, but good grief, this guy is either unwilling or incapable of passing the basketball. It's not a problem as long as he's on fire, but if he's off and you have Derrick Rose on the floor, you have to bench this guy. And, don't get me started on his defense. Even in these economic times, some team will manage to pull together enough cash to wildly over pay Gordon this off season. I just pray its not the Bulls. Having a guy like this on the floor will only hinder Rose's growth, and at the end of the day, a guy like Gordon can win you games, but a guy like Rose can win you championships. I'll just leave it at that.

3) Say what you will about his x's and o's, and I could say a lot, no coach in the NBA gets more effort out of his players than Doc Rivers. When you see sure thing Hall of Famers like Pierce and Jesus selling out on every play the way these guys do, you absolutely have to give at least some of the credit to the guy leading the huddle. Doc Rivers is a leader of men, and it's time to start mentioning his name in the same conversations with Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich.

4) About a year ago, I wrote a column explaining why both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are first ballot hall of famers. If you didn't agree with me at the time, and if you still don't agree with me, watch Games 5, 6, and 7 again and then give me a call.

5) Brad Miller doesn't shoot free throws very well when he's missing a few teeth and has a mouth full of blood.

6) Rajon Rondo has asserted himself as an undisputed star in this league. If you happen to be a University of Kentucky fan, you should feel free to immediately light yourself on fire.

Again, I don't know if this was the greatest 7 game series of all time. I simply haven't taken the time to do the research. But, I do know it was a pleasure to watch every minute of this series. Both these teams left it all on the floor and gave all of us our money's worth. Congratulations to them both.

  • I can say with certainty the Hawks and Heat did not play the greatest 7 game series of all time. Considering the average margin of victory for each game was greater than Derrick Rose's age, I don't think I will find anybody that will argue to the contrary. That being said, as a Hawks fan, this was a special series. It's the first playoff series win in a decade for the home team, and as I said above, its the first Game 7 victory in franchise history. More importantly, it's another huge step along the road to redemption for NBA basketball in this great city. The first step was last year's 7 game battle with the eventual champion Celtics, with the climax coming in Game 6 when the home crowd willed the Hawks to victory. Today, the vibe in the arena was much different than it was during that Game 6. Today, the crowd did not will the Hawks to victory. Instead, we cheered, we screamed, we taunted D. Wade, but the victory belongs exclusively to the guys on the hardwood, especially Joe Johnson.

Frankly, had the Hawks not pulled off this series, this season would have been largely viewed as a disappointment and would have likely resulted in a change in the coaching staff. Now, the Hawks have officially built on last season's unexpected success, and they have taken another step towards becoming one of the elite organizations in the Eastern Conference. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, the 2008-2009 Atlanta Hawks' season is a success! And, now, house money in hand, we get to roll the dice in Cleveland and see if we can take another step. Granted, the odds of taking that step are not great, but this year was better than last, and even if we fall to the Cavs, we have something to build on in the offseason. Therefore, no matter what happens in Round 2, we will again roll into the offseason with hope and excitement. When you couple that with the excitement surrounding the Falcons right now; the expectations for Coach Paul Johsnon and the Jackets heading into next season; the excitement surrounding Derrick Favors's looming arrival on the hardwood on the Flats, and the lingering hope that the Braves' starting pitching might keep us in wild card contention, it's a very fun time to be an Atlanta sports fan.

  • I know I'm in the minority on this, but I don't think the Spurs' first round exit signals the end of their pseudo dynasty. If Manu comes back healthy next year, and if they are able to judicially monitor Duncan's minutes in the regular season, I think they can re-position themselves to make one more run in the West. You simply cannot ignore the fact that Tony Parker has morphed into a dominating player. They need to go into the offseason and make one or two savvy personnel moves (i.e. not Drew Gooden!!!) to strengthen their outside shooting and toughness off the bench. If they can couple those moves with improved health, there is no reason Tim Duncan can't have his Billy Chapel "one last moment in the sun" moment.

  • The Lakers have a serious problem. Specifically, they have worse point guard play than any remaining team in the NBA playoffs. Don't believe me? Well, chew on these numbers: Their two point guards, Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown (Can you believe that Jordan Farmar quit the team? What? He's still on the roster?) combined for a whopping 16. 6 points and 4.8 assists/game in Round 1. Now, take a look at the remaining contenders:

Denver - Billups and Carter are averaging a combined 23.2 points and 10.4 assists/game;

Houston - Brooks and Lowry are combining for 21 and 6 a game;

Dallas - Kidd and Barea are combining for 20 points and 10.2 a game;

Orlando - Alston and Johnson are combing for 20 and 7 a game;

Atlanta - Bibby and Murray are combing for 27.3 and 7 a game;

Cleveland - Williams and Gibson are combing for 19.1 and 6 a game; and

Boston - Rondo and Steph are combining for 22.5 and 13.2 a game.

The point? I just don't believe, in this day and age, with the generous perimeter officiating, you can win an NBA championship when you are so clearly inferior at the point guard position. The interesting thing about all this is that the Cavs are actually the best point guard match up for the Lakers, and the Hawks are the worst match up. I, however, hear the Cavs have a guy that might be able to make up for their point guard deficiencies. The Lakers? Not so much. Yeah, I said it!!!