Avery Johnson: The Little General has made many mistakes during his stewardship of the Mavericks. But his biggest mistake this season was pulling a "plug and play" after the team traded for Jason Kidd. Despite having one of the best passing point guards in the history of the league, not to mention one of the game's best transition players, Avery continued to run the same one-on-one, isolation-heavy offense he'd already been using. That's hardly the way to take advantage of a player like Kidd.
And while you all know I'm not a fan of advanced stats, Kidd's usage rate with Dallas (16.1) was easily a career-low (his career average is 21.0). Kidd is at his most valuable when the ball is in his hands, yet Avery's rather one-dimensional offense didn't put the ball there. Now, I realize it's not easy for a coach to change his team's offensive style on the fly, but I never got the feeling that Avery tried all that hard to do so. Nor am I confident that he can do so. His schemes look like a modified version of Nellie Ball with a little more discipline and (at times) a lot more defense. I'm not sure he knows any other way. I'm also not sure he should be given a chance to find out. It's time to move on.
Erick Dampier: The big lug played only seven minutes, recording 1 missed shot and 1 personal foul. Note that Ericka didn't grab a single rebound while he was on the floor. To put that into perspective, little Tyronn Lue played only 57 seconds, and even he grabbed a rebound. This seems as good a time as any to remind you all that Mark Cuban utilized the money he refused to pay Steve Nash to buy Dampier back in the summer of 2004. The chain reaction of that one event led the Mavericks to up on the young and up-and-coming Devin Harris and mortgage their future on the old and down-and-going Jason Kidd. Good call, Cubes.
Jerry Stackhouse: A few days after blasting Coach of the Year Byron Scott and saying he "was about ready to" beat up Scott during the second game of the series, Jerry blew his stack (get it?!) at the worst possible time. With 1:47 left and the Mavericks trying to claw their way back into the game, Stackhouse picked up his second technical foul for slapping the ball out of Chris Paul's hands well after play had been stopped. Yet another reason you can never totally believe in a team that's relying on Jerry Stackhouse for veteran leadership. Here's the video, courtesy of Odenized:
Josh Howard: He completed a disappointing series by scoring only 12 points on 6-for-14 shooting and tying Stackhouse with a team-high 3 turnovers. And like it or not, his poor performance will always be linked to his admission of marijuana use. But at least he'll be very relaxed about it during the offseason.
Hilton Armstrong: From Basketbawful reader Justin T. "Not only does he have the neck of a giraffe, but tonight, Hilton Armstrong achieved the always noteworthy three trillion. For those about to suck...Weeee saluuuuteeee yooouuuu!!" Does Hilton really have the neck of a giraffe? You be the judge.
Peja Stojakovic: Sacramento Era flashback!! Peja shot 2-for-12 in an elimination game. Somewhere Chris Webber is nodding his head and saying, "Yup, that's what I thought."
Samuel Dalembert: Dear merciful Zeus! Did Sam lose a bet or something? Why else would he knowingly make a damned fool of himself like this during the playoffs? Dalembert showed up for Game 5 in Detroit with a wide mohawk and the words "SD" cut into the side of his head. And those initials don't represent his name, either; they stand for "Strong Defense." Seriously. The Great Hair Adventure must have acted like a game-long stat curse, because Sam's man, Rasheed Wallace, scored 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Here's a new suggestion for the "SD": Silly Dumbass.
Willie Green: Not only did he shoot 3-for-10, it was his barber that carved the abomination on top of Dalembert's poor head. So if you live in Philadelphia and are about to get a haircut, make sure you aren't using Willie Green's barber before you let him trim a single hair.
The Philly defense: Apparently the Sixers watched an instruction video on defense by the Denver Nuggets prior to last night's game: Detroit shot a blistering 58 percent from the field. Too bad the Piston's hot shooting didn't burn the rest of the hair off of Dalembert's head.
Mike D'Antoni: This is from Basketbawful reader Andrei. "If anyone had any doubts about how incompetent Mike D'Antoni is, it should have evaporated tonight. I just caught one of those 'wired' segments and they showed D'Antoni kidding around with Tim Duncan in the first part of the segment. Would you ever see Popovich kidding around with the other team's star in an elimination game? This of course was followed by the capper: As Gordan Giricek runs into the game, D'Antoni tells him: 'Ugh...you guard Oberto, alright? Keep him off the boards.' Sounded like he was guessing and also asking Goran f***ing Giricek to rebound, good stuff. Also, sticking with Shaq as he clanks free throw after free throw was good too."
Remember early in the season when D'Antoni freaked the hell out over a few extra timeouts called by Phil Jackson? In retrospect, that's when Mikey Boy lost me. We all know about Phil Jackson and his stupid head games, but letting D'Antoni let Jax get to him in the late stages of a meaningless, early-season game. That's hardly the mark of a coach who can instill calm and confidence in his team.
He got mind-banged by Gregg Popovich all series long. Actually, Pop has checkemated him for the last four seasons. I really and truly appreciate what D'Antoni brought to the Suns -- fun, run, and winning -- but, as with Avery Johnson, it's well past time to try something new.
(Also, no offense to Grant Hill, but it's pretty obvious now that Boris Diaw would have been a much bigger asset throughout the season had he been the starter instead of the reserve. Yeah, it's 20/20 hindsight, but the coach probably should have noticed that. Plus, had Grant played fewer minutes, he might have been healthy for the playoffs. I'm just sayin'.)
Leandro Barbosa: The Brazilian Blur shot 1-for-7 last night. Which pretty much sums of his up-and-down season to a T.
Steve Nash: You know you're my boy, Steve, but you cost your team last night's game. The 4-for-16 shooting -- including 1-for-6 from three-point range -- I could have lived with. But the three turnovers in the final minutes? And let's face it: Those were bad passes in heavy traffic. And they broke the team's back at a critical time.
I have consciously avoided mentioning this all season, but I'm going to talk about it now. Nash took a step back this season. It was so tiny that, to a lot of people, it was almost imperceptible. But Captain Canada transformed from a superstar MVP-candidate to merely an All-Star-level player. Don't bother checking the numbers, because the evidence isn't there. John Hollinger won't be able to really explain it to you. Honestly, it's something you have to watch, to feel. Say what you will about Nash's two MVPs, but he earned them. He was dominant and he willed his team to a lot of big wins. But there was something different about him this season.
I tried to convince myself that Nash was taking a step back so that Amare could develop into a superstar. And later I told myself he was just trying to work Shaq into the mix. But what I knew in my heart is that Steve has begun that inexorable slide that all players must go through. It happened to Larry. It happened to Michael in Washington. It happened to Charles and Karl and Hakeem. The league is tough, real tough, and Bird said it best once when he observed that, "It's hard fighting your way to the top of the pile, but it's even harder to hold your ground."
For the first time since he arrived in Phoenix, Nash really couldn't hold his ground any more. He's getting passed by the younger point guards. He's aging. His body is breaking down. Slowly, maybe, but it's happening. And it's a bummer.
The Suns' freethrow shooting: They missed an unthinkable 17 freethrows in a 5-point loss. And, naturally, Shaq was responsible for 11 of those misses (although he did start hitting them in the fourth). So, yeah, okay, maybe the loss wasn't all Nash's fault.
Officiating: Don't get me wrong. The Suns definitely deserved to lose. But there were still two calls that really pissed me off. And of course they both happened in the final five minutes. First, Duncan tripped over his own leg and would have turned the ball over...had the nearest ref not called a tripping foul on Shaq. The Big Cactus had barely brushed Duncan's leg, and it happened a full step before Duncan tripped himself up. It was a bogus call, especially considering it was a hard-fought elimination game in which a lot of contact was being let go.
The second atrocious call came a minute or so later, when Tony Parker drove to the hoop and got "fouled" by Amare Stoudemire. They showed the slow-mo replay, and Stat clearly tried to jump away from the contact, but Parker intentionally dropped like a stone and of course got the call. Revolting. Again, I'm not blaming the Suns' loss on these calls...but that doesn't make me hate them any less.
Gregg Popovich: After all his Hack-a-Shaquery in the Suns-Spurs series, I really, really hope missed freethrows come back to bite his team in the ass at some point.
Manu Ginobili and Kurt Thomas: Awful shooting: Manu was 2-for-11 and Kurt was 3-for-11. Way to come through in a big game. (Although Thomas did pull down 12 boards.)
Robert Horry: This isn't for anything Ben Gay Bob did last night, it's for the fact that -- as Basketbawful reader Lipsome123 pointed out -- Horry's Wikipedia entry feataures a photo of him aping the Duncan face. I can hardly imagine a picture more fitting.
Utah Jazz: I'm not even going to single anybody out. Everybody was equally terrible. Clearly the Jazz were suffering from a bad case of Wecanwinitathomeitis. And they probably can. But that lack of mental toughness bodes ill for them should they make it to the next round. Because the Lakers aren't taking any prisoners right now.
David Stern and the NBA: Here's an e-mail from Basketbawful reader Stephanie G. "So yeah, last year Stoudemire and Diaw got suspended for leaving the bench during an altercation and they were suspended for a critical playoff game. It's a stupid rule because it's so strict and they didn't actually do anything and they just wanted to see what was happening. But a rule's a rule, so whatever. This year, Kevin Garnett shoves a ref who is trying to restrain him and Kendrick Perkins and Marvin Williams step onto the court during an altercation in game four and the NBA doesn't suspend anyone. THE NBA IS FAAAANtastic."
And a little more from Vinny Gorgeous. "Let's not let the day go by without throwing David Stern into WotN, shall we? Regarding the non-suspensions of Perkins and Williams for Game 5: The best part of all this is that when the Suns suspensions went down last year, the media (not just the Phoenix media, either) was all over Stern asking why he couldn't show a little leniency. And his response was basically, 'The rules are the rules and there's absolutely no gray area or room for interpretation whatsoever here. Even though I'm the commissioner and thus responsible for making the rules in the first place my hands are tied.' This man is horrid. I'm a Spurs fan. I wish we could've shown we were the better team last year like we did this year, without help from the refs. But it doesn't change the fact that Stern is a flip-flopper of the highest magnitude and is capable of changing rules on a whim. I'm not saying that the walking on the court rule should be enforced, but if you're going to do it in one instance and make such a huge deal about it, you damn well better apply it to other teams as well."
Update! Yahoo caption writers: Here's some captiony fun from anne. "Hey Bawful, I was looking at the photos from the Suns/Spurs game, and noticed the caption on one of them: 'Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs congratulates Steve Nash #13 the Phoenix Suns after Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs as Tony parker #9 looks on at the AT&T Center on April 29, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas.' So, just what is Timmah congratulating him for? For the five turnovers? For being incredibly good looking? (Ok that is just me doing that.)"