Monday, April 23, 2007

"NBA playoffs day 2 summary"

It was fun Sunday night watching the Red Sox sweep the Yankees at Fenway Park for the first time in 17 years (they even won a World Series during that span!), but that momentous event couldn't compare to the upsets that broke up the decorum of the NBA playoffs.

After watching just one home team lose in the first six playoff games (Toronto to New Jersey), Denver and Golden State shocked what I consider the two best teams in the NBA, San Antonio and Dallas, respectively, last night.

First, Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson combined for 61 points as the Nuggets upended the Spurs 95-89, then the Warriors refused to be intimidated by the mighty Mavs (or Mark Cuban), winning convincingly 97-85 in Dallas to improve to 4-0 on the season against the Mavericks.

What a night!

Let's start with Denver.

Entering the playoffs, we knew this. We knew that Denver could score droves of points. We knew Anthony and Iverson could create shots for themselves at anytime. We knew that Steve Blake is one of the most underrated point guards in the league (the fact that he can keep the aforementioned pair happy consistently is very impressive).

But here's what we also (thought we) knew. Denver - outside of Marcus Camby - doesn't play defense.

Until Sunday night. The Nuggets played alike a completely different team. I'm sure if George Karl had been asked how many points he thought his team needed to win, he'd have said at least 100. Granted, San Antonio isn't a high-scoring team. But in the Spurs' two regular-season wins over Denver, they scored 90-plus points. If not for a last-minute flurry of points, they would have ended up in the low 80s Sunday night.

And the game was in San Antonio.

Nene was the key for the Nuggets. He outplayed Tim Duncan. Will this happen again in the series? I highly doubt it. But if he can come close to performing like he did in Game 1, the Nuggets might be able to steal the series. Duncan scored 14 points. Nene had 13. Duncan grabbed 10 rebounds. Nene had 12. Duncan played 40 minutes. Nene played 38.

Overall, it was a superb effort by the often criticized big man who up to this point hasn't lived up to his contract.

Of course the Nuggets are run by Anthony and Iverson, and on Sunday they looked like Jordan and Pippen, Frazier and Monroe, Havlicek and Sam Jones. Both players shot better than 50 percent from the field and they were each 8-for-8 from the free throw line. They were unselfish but assertive. They took several shots, but mostly good shots. And they made the big shots down the stretch to help Denver pull away.

Speaking of hitting big shots, how about Golden State's Baron Davis? The point guard was close to unstoppable in Game 1, lighting up the Mavericks for a game-high 33 points, not to mention 14 rebounds, eight assists and three steals.

Maybe more importantly, Davis is the leader of an absolutely fearless bunch of Warriors whose confidence is sky-high right now. They haven't lost to Dallas yet this season, and until that happens, no one on that team is going to believe it's possible. Their body language is almost cocky, but at the same time, they're a No. 8 seed, so there's no looking ahead.

They have the perfect mindset. They're loose. They have nothing to lose. But they also are hungry, as Davis said after the win, and they're not content to simply be in the playoffs for the first time since 1994.

And their coach, Don Nelson, knows their opponent and most of their opponent's personnel. The Warriors did an excellent job on MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki, holding him to 14 points on a horrible 4-for-16 from the field. Whenever he tried to spin off his defender, another Warrior was there to either knock the ball from his grasp or oppose Nowitzki's shot.

Golden State's defense of Nowitzki exemplified their overall game plan. They wanted to be the aggressors. They didn't sit back and let Dallas run its offense unperturbed. They got in passing lanes - forcing 13 turnovers - and they pushed the tempo. Despite being undersized, their leapers battled Dallas' stalwarts, and they were only outrebounded 50-45. The fact that Davis - at 6-foot-3 - was able to grab 14 rebounds speaks to the kind of intensity the Warriors played with.

And if their play on Sunday night was any indication, they're not going to settle for one win in Dallas. They're going to fight just as hard to win Game 2.

Other insights...

Expect a much larger column on this after the Lakers are eliminated from the playoffs, but Kobe Bryant is becoming the next Wilt Chamberlain. The Michael Jordan comparisons are dead. So it's time to start the Kobe-Wilt comparisons. Yes, they're a guard and a center, but their inability to win and mold well with their teammates is where they're similar

Bryant was explosive for three quarters Sunday in the Lakers' 95-87 loss to Phoenix, but he was a pitiful 1-for-10 in the all-important fourth quarter, which allowed the Suns to come back and steal the victory in a game they didn't deserve.


Much of Cleveland's success in these playoffs will ride on the shoulders of... Larry Hughes. That's right. We all know LeBron James will do his thing, but Hughes needs to be effective in order for Cleveland to advance to the NBA Finals (they could feasibly get to the Eastern Conference finals on LeBron's shoulders because of an easy draw).

Hughes was very effective Sunday in Cleveland's 97-82 pasting of Washington. He scored a team-high 27 points on 9-for-17 shooting from the field and 8-for-8 shooting from the free throw line. He took smart shots instead of ill-advised shots - a vice of his - and let the game come to him.

It was a positive sign for the Cavs.

Monday's game to watch
Utah at Houston, 9:30 p.m., TNT. Expect another hard-fought close game in the 80s. This series personifies what these playoffs will likely be - low-scoring defensive battles. I expect a similar result to Game 1, with Yao Ming asserting himself and Tracy McGrady taking over down the stretch.

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