Thursday, April 26, 2007

"NBA playoffs day 5 summary"

After being shocked by Denver in Game 1 of their first round series, one might have thought the San Antonio Spurs would change their game plan heading into Game 2.

After all, another home loss to the Nuggets, and the Spurs would be in deep dodo.

But, no, there was nothing different about the Spurs who lost Sunday night and the Spurs who won Wednesday night, 97-88, to even the series at 1-1. Except that they were better. Except that their Big Three - Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli - came to play. Except that their defense held Denver's dangerous duo - Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony - to a miserable 17-for-46 shooting performance.

Sorry, folks, these were the same old Spurs.

When Denver made a valiant run in the fourth quarter, Ginobli embarked on one of his characteristic drives to the basket - between at least three defenders - to extend San Antonio's lead to six. When Iverson responded with a 3-pointer to make it a one-possession game, the Spurs didn't panic (despite Robert Horry's wild arm gestures toward coach Gregg Popovich). Instead they simply threw the ball into Duncan, who backed down Nene and hit one of his very characteristic bank shots.

Game over. Series tied 1-1.

Don't get me wrong. This is going to be a great series that lasts at least six games, and I’m guessing seven. But Wednesday night had to be refreshing to San Antonio fans, because the team they saw in front of them was basically the same team that won an NBA championship about 23 months ago.

After being outplayed by Nene in Game 1, Duncan responded (like he usually does), scoring an efficient 22 points on 9-for-17 shooting. Parker still struggled a bit from the field, hitting six of 15 shots, but an 8-for-8 performance from the free throw line gave him 20 points, and he dished out six assists. Ginobli, coming off the bench, contributed 17 points, including eight in the fourth quarter.

San Antonio's chances of getting back to the Finals rest on Ginobli's shoulders. He's always the X-factor. When he's on his game, he can get to the rim - or free throw line - on any possession. It's just a question of how aggressive and hungry he is. As he said after Wednesday's game, he was playing with a sense of urgency.

And that's the other thing about the Spurs. That's what made Sunday night's loss so confounding. No matter who they're playing in the playoffs, the Spurs always play with energy and passion. There are no letdowns, no letting up on the gas. They methodically beat one team, then the next, then another... and they're in the NBA Finals (where they're 3-0).

If Wednesday was any indication, the Spurs are back. After a one-game reprieve, they're ready to show why they've been the best team in the NBA over the past half-decade.

Duncan's steadiness. Ginobli's slashing drives. Parker's mid-range jumpers and teardrops in the lane. Bruce Bowen's virulent defense.

We saw it all Wednesday night.

Which has to have the Nuggets a bit concerned heading into Saturday's Game 3 in Denver.

Other insights
LeBron James looking (for the most part) like himself isn't the only big positive Cleveland can take out of its 109-102 Game 2 win over Washington Wednesday night.

How about the play of Drew Gooden? The power forward scored 24 points - three less than James' 27 - on nine fewer field goal attempts and also grabbed 14 rebounds.

The first two games of the series have been very encouraging for Cleveland not just because they've beaten the atrophied Wizards, but because of the contributions of their non-LeBrons. In Game 1 Larry Hughes broke out for 27 points, and on Wednesday it was Gooden's turn to share center stage with James, scoring 19 of his 24 in the first half to help Cleveland grab a double-digit lead that would just barely hold up at the end.

Hughes didn't have a bad Game 2 either, scoring 19 points in 44 minutes of action, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas also was solid, contributing 16 points and nine rebounds.

If James can get this kind of help on the offensive end on a consistent basis, Cleveland shouldn't have a problem making it through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

We'll see how the non-LeBrons fare on the road, however. That's where true playoff warriors earn their stripes.


What was Baron Davis thinking?

With Golden State trailing Dallas by a manageable 11 points with 0.2 seconds remaining in the third quarter Wednesday night, Davis picked up his second technical foul for arguing - and laughing, and clapping his hands about - a call against him. He was ejected and Dallas went on to win 112-99 to even the series at a game apiece.

Sure, it would have been difficult for Golden State to come back in the fourth quarter of a game Dallas needed. But Davis, the Warriors' audacious leader, should have checked himself. He knows his team has the firepower to make up 11 or 13 points in a matter of minutes. He shouldn't have lost his cool.

With that said, the Warriors have to feel good about themselves heading back to the Bay Area for Game 3 Friday night. With the exception of a 15-2 third quarter run by Dallas, Golden State played the Mavericks evenly. It's pretty obvious, now, that this series will be no cakewalk for Dallas.

As long as the Warriors' stars are able to stay in the games.

Thursday's must-see game
Houston at Utah, 9 p.m., NBA-TV
I am real interested to see how this one goes. Before the series, my thinking was that the home team would win every game, and so far that's held true. But Utah has looked really bad. Can the Jazz turn it around?

It will have to start with Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams, whose play was mediocre in Houston. Utah needs this game to stay alive. Expect a dogfight.

I'm out. Enjoy staying up late to watch Kobe vs. Raja.


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