The Chicago Bulls: Last night's 106-104 overtime loss is what you'd call a "missed opportunity," but only if you were trying to keep from using really offensive language that might offend most women and frighten small forest animals. The Bulls had their hoof on the Leprechaun's throat. They were THIS CLOSE to stealing his lucky charms and enjoying those pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, green clovers, blue diamonds, purple horseshoes and red balloons...I'm getting all hungry just THINKING about it. But instead of stomping down with that hoof and crushing the life out of their injury-riddled and increasingly weary foe, they backed off and let the C's work their playoff magic.
It didn't help that Ben Gordon gunned his way to an awful 6-for-21 shooting performance. BG was playing bravely on an strained hamstring, but the last time I checked, that sort of injury shouldn't affect shot selection. Derrick Rose continued to struggle with the concept of holding onto the ball, and his 6 turnovers were a game-high. (He now has 20 turnovers in the last three games. Ouch.) Kendrick Perkins (19 points, 7 blocks) and Big Baby (21 points, 7-for-11 from the field, 7-for-8 from the line, about 29 brutal picks) dominated the paint. Vinny Del Negro refused to call for time until a Boston run had cut his team's 11-point fourth-quarter lead to just two. He also failed to capitalize on the absence of Ray Allen (who fouled out after only 26 minutes of airtime) to trap or even apply a little added pressure to Paul Pierce, who hit a 15-footer to force overtime and then knocked down three straight long jumpers in the extra session to stab the Bulls in the heart, El Matador-style.
But even after all that, the Bulls still had a chance to win, except for...
Iffy officiating: Matt Moore has asked us all to lay off the officials, and for the most part, I'm totally cool with that. But come on, now. Brad Miller got straight-up clubbed at the end of the game. The NBA’s official rule on flagrant fouls states: "A flagrant foul-penalty (1) is unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent. A flagrant foul-penalty (2) is unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent. It is an unsportsmanlike act and the offender is ejected immediately." Well, Brad Miller was bleeding from the mouth, had a tooth knocked loose and looked like he would have had trouble spelling his name. Brad needed stitches to close the wound and, for all we know, he might have even thought he was the Batman. That sure sounds like "unnecessary and excessive contact" to me. But it wasn’t a flagrant. Also, notice the closed hand that looks almost fist-like.
It's funny. Back in March, Trevor Ariza hit Rudy Fernandez in the head from behind and got treated like some sort of deranged serial killer. But I guess that play was different because Rudy, who was airborne at the moment of contact, got injured, and because Ariza is bigger than Fernandez. In this case, Miller was the big man, and he's certainly not a threat to leave the ground unless launched from a very sturdy catapult. Oh, and the Ariza-Fernandez incident occurred during the regular season, whereas this is the postseason, which made Rondo's mugging of Miller just a good, hard playoff foul, right? Riiiiiiight. And I'm sure that seeing double at the line didn't affect Miller's free throw shooting, either. I mean, 80 percent career foul shooters usually wobble up to the line and shank their first attempt while putting it up cross-eyed. Happens all the time.
Look, I understand there's no guarantee that the game would have turned out any differently had the officials made the correct call. But still.
Kevin Garnett: Did anybody else notice KG tongue-lashing an impassive Ben Gordon last night (as beautifully illustrated below)? Way to stay classy, Kevin. Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure there are rules prohibiting a player on the bench from verbally abusing an opponent who happens to be strolling by. But you know, the refs have a history of turning a blind eye to Garnett's "intensity" in Boston. Just ask Jose Calderon.
"I wanna eat you. I wanna skin you alive and eat you."
Stephon Marbury: Rough late-game sequence for the Artist Formerly Known As Starbury. Doctor Hank Pym explains: "First he fakes the wide open three, and gives it to Rondo, who promptly airballs a floater, then he plays such piss poor defense on Ben Gordon, who hits the easy jumper. Doug Collins is ripping on the guy, and rightly so! What the hell was the point of signing him if he's going to waste the perfect opportunity to shoot a wide open jumper?" I'm telling you, it's that upcoming alien invasion I've been warning everybody about. How much more proof do you people need that Marbury has been replaced by a poorly-programmed doppelganger?
Dwight Howard: He had a MAN-type game and finished with an "Animal Style" double-double (24 points, 24 boards). He also blocked two shots, shot 8-for-14 from the field and even hit eight out of 12 from the line. But Dwight was swinging a little free with the elbows. In fact, you could even say he tried to kill Samuel Dalembert with one:
That's a seriously dangerous play. If Howard had connected with that "Macho Man Randy Savage" move, Dalembert's remains would have been carried out in a bucket. Think I'm kidding? Just ask his teammate Courtney Lee, "who took an elbow to the head from Howard early in the first quarter and never returned. He was taken to the hospital for precautionary tests." And that swing Dwight took at Sam wasn't an accident. Like it or not, Howard has a history of "What?! I didn't do it!" elbow smashes. The Sixers have a legitimate beef, since the NBA rule book makes it fairly clear that Howard should have gotten the boot for that play. I wouldn't be surprised to see David Stern ask Superman to stay in the phone booth for Game 6 in Philly.
Cat Coach fights: Remember back in the 1990s when Phil Jackson and Pat Riley would verbally spar with each other in the press? Well, Tony DiLeo versus Stan Van Gundy is JUST like that...only 20 times wussier. After watching Howard pitch his tent (not THAT kind of tent, you sickos) in the paint, DiLeo said: "Dwight Howard had a great game, and he's a great player, but he just lives in the three-second lane on offense and defense. I'm just saying he's standing in the three-second lane on offense and defense. He's a great player, and he doesn't need any advantages."
Van Gundy, who's used to this sort of sniping, was quick to retort: "Am I supposed to come up here and talk about the game. Or am I supposed to come up here and lobby for the calls I want the next game? Is that what it's about now? We're supposed to lobby for the calls we want the next game? Let's just play the games. I guess that's the only reason Dwight's having success in this series. It has nothing to do with the fact that he's good."
Seriously, the minute one of these guys calls the other a poopy head, I'm done. (But not really. That would be awesome.)
Marcin Gortat: Nomination from Czernobog: "Marcin Gortat deserves a mention. Last Magic possession of the first half, Sixers ignore him on defense and Alston catches him with a cross-court pass under the basket, and he banks it in. Not a Sixer within the three point line, he's right under the rim, he's 6'11", you'd expect a dunk, wouldn't you? Lazy bastard." I love the beach. I always fantasize that, if I lived by the beach (in an always warm climate), I'd be there every day. But you always hear stories about how the folks who DO live by the beach rarely go because, well, it's always there. Likewise, I always imagine that, if I could dunk, I would ramjam (yes, I have seen The Wrestler, and yes, it rocks) the ball home at every possible opportunity. But there are an awful lot of giant white dudes who would rather lay it in off the backboard. Why? It feels like a cruel taunt every time I see it.
The San Antonio Spurs: Well, I kind of expected this series to be a one-sided affair, I just got the side wrong. Last night's 106-93 home loss made it official: The "They're always in the mix!" Spurs have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2000...when they lost to the Phoenix Suns in a series in which Tim Duncan never even played (due to a knee injury).
The Manu Ginobili-less Spurs got 30 points out of Duncan (14-for-21) and 26 points (11-for-21) out of Tony Parker, but none of the support staff was able to reach double-figures. As TD put it: "They had more firepower than us. They played better than us. However you want to put it, obviously they were the better team this year. That's all you can say." He's not wrong. And, in fact, Dallas thoroughly outplayed San Antonio in this series that, at times, I actually wondered whether Ginobili's presence would make that much of a difference...which could mean bad news for next year's Spurs.
Note that, in addition to his game-high 12 assists, Parker also had a game-high 7 turnovers. (Only three fewer than the entire Dallas team, as a matter of fact.)
The Houston Rockets: It's not like they conceded the game or anything -- they fought back to take a small lead in the fourth before collapsing -- but from arch-supporting comfort of my desk chair, it sure looked to me like the Rockets had a bad case of letsjustfinishitathomeitis. How else can you explain the fact that Aaron Brooks led the team with 20 shot attempts, eight more than Yao Ming (who went 7-for-12) and 11 more than Ron Artest (who quietly faded away with a 3-for-9, 4-turnover performance). They also struggled mightily in getting to the charity stripe, as observed in the AP game recap: "The Rockets went to the free-throw line just 10 times in the game and made eight attempts. But coach Rick Adelman, earlier in the day fined $25,000 for criticizing the officiating during the playoffs, kept his silence."
Lacktion report: Chris weighs in with some phat lacktivity:
Bulls-Celtics: Lindsey Hunter aimed for the on-screen dog with his Zapper and sniped out his second consecutive Mario, a 45-second stint that strangely enough included a board. (This shout out to video gaming's greatest plumber is the first productive sub-minute stint in the Association this postseason).
Meanwhile, Eddie House resides firmly in the lacktion report tonight with a 9:39 stint that included one brick from the Tobin Bridge, one rejection, and a foul for a +3 suck differential.
Sixers-Magic: Royal Ivey put on a princely performance as the Sixers' key lacktator, fouling once and tossing a brick from downtown for a +2 in 5:53. On the other end of the court, Tony Battie went picking for fire-flowers with a 15 second Mario.
Mavs-Spurs: Ryan Hollins finishes out the first round the same way he started: by putting on the plumbers' overalls for a Mario, in this case taking 32 seconds to celebrate the Mavs' escape past the first round for the first time since 2006.
Rockets-Blazers: Houston's Brian Cook and James White tossed spiky shells at each other for 54 seconds as synchronized Mario Brothers! (Cook actually made one shot and also garnered a board in only the second overall productive Mario so far.)
And despite Portland defending its home court to force a sixth game, Nicolas Batum provided ineffective play as a starting forward by giving up the rock once in 5:47 for a +1, his second suck differential in the series.
This damn recession: Want to hear a sad story? Well, here you go (via Chris): "Now a little piece of that victory is up on the auction block. In a testament to the far reach of the recession, former Bulls guard and assistant coach to the Sacramento Kings, Randy Brown, has declared bankruptcy, and his three championship rings will be for sale to the highest bidder via online auction at WestAuction.com. ... These hard financial times have impacted everyone, and Brown is no exception. 'It's a tough situation,' says Dennis West, of West Auctions, the company charged with auctioning the rings. 'Randy seems like a really good guy, and he was a great player. However, these are tough times for a lot of people from a variety of backgrounds. People are making difficult financial decisions, and for some that means bankruptcy.' With bankruptcy rates rising rapidly across the nation, you can expect many more auctions in the future."