20110428-carl-landry-lamar-odomThe continuing saga of epic playoff man love

Here's an interesting link Skeets passed along on Twitter: What would Dwight Howard look like in other teams' jerseys? Because after Orlando's performance this year, this isn't looking too farfetched.

Worst of the Night in Pictures:

20110428-monty-williamsMonty Williams contemplates revenge while doing chin-ups on an invisible bar

20110428-kryptoniteA Green Man without his mask is Dwight Howard's kryptonite? Who knew?

20110428-jason-terry-mark-cuban"We did it! We didn't choke in the first round!"

20110428-stan-van-gundy"Man... Guess this means I get an early start this year on my off-season ritual of picking up ladies by convincing them I'm Ron Jeremy"

20110428-ted-turner"Haw haw haw! I'm rich as hell!!"

20110428-willie-green-chris-paulThis picture makes me seriously sad

Nationally Televised Friday Games:
Spurs at Grizzlies, ESPN, 9pm (Grizzlies lead series 3-2): What'd Shane Battier have to say about tonight's game? "Ah, pressure, shmessure." Seriously. So you know this game's going to be severely intense. Will ESPN cut away if Pops loses his cool and throttles someone in the post-game press conference?

* * *

Nationally Televised Sunday Games:
Grizzlies at Thunder, ABC, 1pm (Series tied 0-0): And here we are. I wouldn't be surprised if Zach Randolph has some trouble in this game. He's going to be on edge after waking up in the middle of the night only to see Tim Duncan's stare. And I mean that in the literal sense. Tim Duncan will be standing over Z-Bo's bed, contemplating smothering him with a pillow for ending his last shot at playoff glory.

Celtics at Heat, ABC, 3:30pm (Series tied 0-0): Here is the only preview you need for this game.

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Artest flex
Your 2010-11 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award winner, everybody!

The Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard once again left his Tyrannosaur-sized footprint on the game -- 25 points, 8-for-13 from the field, 9-for-12 from the line, 15 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, 2 assists and a steal -- but that's pretty much where the good news ended for the Magic. Orlando was revealed, once again, as an experiment in shoddy team building.

It's hard to believe that, two short seasons ago, the Magic made it all the way to the NBA Finals. Of course, after that success, they compounded the error of having given an obscene contract to Rashard Lewis by ditching key cog Hedo Turkoglu in favor of Vince Carter. Then, when that didn't work out, they shipped out Lewis and Carter -- along with Marcin Gortat, who was Howard's only real backup -- in return for Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Turkoglu Part 2.

Richardson made sense, I guess, because he was a three-point shooter and as far as anyone could tell a consistent scoring threat. But Arenas is finished as an elite player -- that should have been obvious to anyone -- and The Return of Turkoglu seemed destined to prove that sequels are never as good as the original.

Oh, and I haven't even mentioned how the Magic outbid the Bulls for the services of J.J. Redick. Who got injured. And doesn't play defense.

On that subject, none of Orlando's key players ever played much defense, except Howard. In fact, Howard earned his Defensive Player of the Year award for making every single defensive play for the Magic all season. I may need to double-check that number, but it feels right, doesn't it?

Defense and overall ability aside, the Magic were built on the strength of Howard's outside game and the outside shooting ability of his teammates. If Mike D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns teams had a Seven Seconds or Less offense, then Stan Van Gundy's system should have been called "Dunk or a Three." Only this year's squad wasn't a great three-point shooting team. They were decent, I guess, ranking 10th at 36.6 percent.

Still...that made them only 0.1 of a point out of 15th place. So, in reality, they were somewhere between average and above-average when shooting threes. And that really wasn't good enough. Not with how their offense is supposed to work. Sure enough, outside shooting doomed Orlando against the Hawks. For the series, the Magic shot 26.2 percent from downtown. Last night, in an elimination game, they went 5-for-19 from beyond the arc.

To make matters worse, they were outrebounded 39-31 including 14-7 on the offensive glass. That's significant considering their season came down to an offensive board. The Hawks were up 82-81 with 12 seconds left when Marvin Williams bricked a three. Had the Magic simply gathered in the rebound, they could have won by making any shot. Unfortunately for the Orlando faithful, Joe Johnson came up with the board and got it to Jamal Crawford. Arenas was forced to foul, after which Crawford calmly knocked down both 'throws.

Credit the Magic (and an illegal pick by Howard) for getting Redick wide open for a potential game-tying three-bomb with three seconds left. But the shot was even wider left than it was open. Atlanta came up with the rebound but landed out of bounds, setting up a final opportunity for the Magic with one second left. But it was no chance at all: Richardson's shot was blocked by Josh Smith.

Game over.

The future doesn't look so bright for the Magic. They're locked into long-term deals for Arenas and Turkoglu, and Howard can bolt after next season. I'd say "Maybe the front office can make a canny move" but, if they could do that, the team might not be going home early.

Update! Jameer Nelson: This stat curse has to go right up there with Devin Harris' infamous "I knew we were going to be a playoff team" and "Playoffs, baby" stat curses.

Hey, Jameer, you can still make this prediction come true. Chicago could always use another ball boy. You're certainly the right height for the job.

Stan Van Gundy, quote machine: "A team that fights as hard as our guys did, and I couldn't get them over the hump to win this series, that really is disappointing to me and the job that I did as a coach. I'm just disappointed not to be able to get my team over the hump."

I'm not sure what more Van Gundy could have done. Make Jameer Nelson taller? Use faith healing to fix Arenas' knee? Shoot his players' threes for them?

Experts: Basketbawful reader stephanie g provided the following images of fail:



Not that I have much room to talk. While talking to BadDave on Wednesday night, I guaranteed Orlando would come back and win the series. Last night, pretty much as the final buzzer sounded, BadDave started blowing up my phone.

So, yeah, I was wrong. Grumble, grumble, grumble.

The New Orleans Hornets: It stuns me that so many people fooled themselves into thinking this was an actual, you know, playoff series. Yes, the Hornets won two games, but it took two absolutely superhuman performances by Chris Paul plus step-up games from guys like Aaron Gray and Jarrett Jack to pull off those victories.

Honestly, it's a testament to CP3 that some people -- make that "many people" -- really thought he could single-handedly destroy the Lakers any time he wanted. That it would be that easy. The extent to which those two wins changed perception about Paul was astounding. He went from being generally considered one of the best (if not the best) point guards in the league to possibly the greatest ever. I was honestly prepared for a "It's God disguised as Chris Paul!" quote from somebody, and some of the comments on ESPN's recent Daily Dime Live chats were damn close.

Here's what I want to know: Have people not followed the Lakers for the past decade? Or, more accurately, have people not followed Phil Jackson's coaching career?

Look, lots of players have burned Jackson's teams for a game or two. Especially guards. Tony Parker is an example that springs to mind. And then, after some adjustments are made, those players usually get shut down. It happened when Jackson was in Chicago and it's happened during his two stints in L.A.

And it happened again last night. Paul had a double-double (10 points and 11 assists) but shot only 4-for-9, attempted only one free throw and committed a game-high 5 turnovers. He never took over the game for any stretch of time and finished with a co-game-worst plus-minus score of -17. Jackson designed a defense that almost completely took Paul out of the game. With predictable results: New Orleans fell behind by as many as 21 points and eventually lost 98-80.

The defining moment of last night's game, the instant I knew the series was truly over, was when Paul grabbed a rebound and then got knocked over by Ron Artest, who stole the ball, laid it in, and then flexed for the crowd. The Hornets never really recovered from that play.

There was more at work than L.A.'s defense on Paul or Artest's Hulk Hogan impression. The Lakers' size advantage finally squashed the smaller Hornets. To wit: L.A. had a 43-30 rebounding edge, including a 14-7 on the offensive glass, which in turn led to a 21-4 advantage in second-chance points. Andrew Bynum, who had 8 offensive boards, was particularly devastating.

Said Hornets coach Monty Williams: "Every time he got an offensive rebound, it was deflating. You don't really realize how good he is until you face him in a series. Kobe's Kobe, but I thought Bynum decided the series. He was that good."

Added Phil Jackson: "The size and depth of our team wore them down in the end."

That it did.

Reggie Miller, possibly unintentionally dirty quote machine: On the relationship between Jackson and Bynum: "I think they had a coming of the minds after the All-Star break." When I heard this one, I immediately jotted it down in my notebook, but Basketbawful reader Wormboy also e-mailed it in.

The Portland Frail Blazers: This game down to execution and hitting shots. The Mavericks did those two things. The Blazers did not.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Dallas went 31-for-55 (56.4 percent) in their half-court sets after the first quarter. I don't mean to oversimplify things, but the Mavs played like a veteran team that's been there and done that. The Blazers didn't.

Dirk Nowitzki (33 points, 11-for-17, 11-for-11 at the line, 11 rebounds, 4 assists) played up to his reputation instead of down to it. LaMarcus Aldridge (11-for-25 from the field, only 2-for-4 at the line) did the opposite.

Said Jason Terry: "We're such a confident team. We have so many veteran guys, starting at the top with Jason Kidd on down to Dirk, that we believe. Especially in close ballgames, we've been winning them all season long. So we're confident."

Added Aldridge: "I think everybody played their hearts out tonight. I thought everybody gave it their all, we put it on the line. They just made more plays than us."

That's the thing, you know? The Blazers played okay. The Mavs just played better.

As for the Mavericks' chances against the Lakers, let me put it this way: According to Hoopdata, Dallas ranks 28th in the league in FGA at the rim and 5th in three-pointers attempted. The Mavs are a jump shooting team. L.A.'s size is gonna wear 'em down, just like it did to the Hornets.

Chris' Playoff Lacktion Report:

Magic-Hawks: As the dirty birds took out the alchemists from Florida, wealth was handed down on both sides of the table, with Orlando's Quentin Richardson cueing up a 5.45 trillion (5:28) and Atlanta's Hilton Armstrong receiving a final voucher for a 2.25 trillion stay (2:15).

Jason Collins went 100% from the field (on one attempt) in 16:41 as starting big man, even gathering up two boards...only to foul and lose the rock thrice each for a 6:4 Voskuhl.

Lakers-Hornets: Remember when this series was...interesting? Seems so long ago, doesn't it? At least Joe Smith and Patrick Ewing Jr. each became the proud holder of a 1 trillion bank note.

Mavs-Frail Blazers: Brendan Haywood burned out four boards in 15:18 with three bricks, a turnover, and four fouls for a 5:4 Voskuhl.

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second thoughts copy
Thank you AnacondaHL and ESPN for this man love/man love title combo.

The San Anto...holy shit...make that the Grizzlies: Speaking as someone who has lived through Derek Fisher's 0.4-second shot, Robert Horry's eruption, Duncan's three-pointer and Z-Bo's "Z-Pointer" in this seres...I'm used to seeing crazy shit happen in Spurs playoff games.

But I still wasn't prepared for the final 1:44 of this game.

First of all, TNT basically said, "Screw this exciting Nuggets-Thunder game. We're showing the end of Grizzlies-Spurs no matter what. It felt like the kind of coverage a TV station would give to a natural disaster. The whole thing felt surreal.

Anyway, let me set the stage. Shane Battier had gone 1-for-2 at the line to give Memphis a 91-86 lead. Then Manu Ginobili did Manu Ginobili things and drew a foul on Marc Gasol. Manu, cold as ice, knocks down both foul shots. Griz 91, Spurs 88.

Memphis milks the clock which leads to an end-of-possession 21-footer by Z-Bo. Despite his three-bomb from earlier in the series, not the shot the Grizzlies wanted. Tim Duncan rips down the rebound. Outlets to Ginibili. Manu drives into a crowd and for a split-second I'm absolutely certain he's going to either hit one of his patented Laws-of-Physics-changing layups or draw the foul. Instead, he turns it over. This, to me, feels like the nail in the Spurs' coffin.

Memphis again milks the clock and their possession ends when Tony Parker blocks Mike Conley's running jumper. Only Conley gets the ball back! But the shot clock! Sam Youn rushes a three! No good! Duncan with another clutch rebound!

Seconds -- yes, literally, seconds -- after Duncan's rebound, George Hill converts a tough layup with 37 seconds left. Griz 91, Spurs 90. Unconsciously, I start clenching my fists, possibly due to Phoenix Suns playoff flashbacks. Memphis calls timeout.

The Grizzlies run a full 24 seconds off the clock and their possession ends when Z-Bo calmly sinks an 18-footer and then puts his finger to his lips to silence the crowd. Zach Randolph: Clutch Shot Maker. My mind if fucking blown. Griz 93, Spurs 90, 13 seconds left.

Gregg Popvich calls timeout and makes some offensive substitutions: Matt Bonner for Antonio McDyess and Gary Neal for Parker. The chunk of my brain that contains my pettiness almost explodes with glee. Ha ha! Suck it, Tony. No clutch time for you!

Instead of forcing a three, Manu swoops in for a layup. Bonner fouls Randolph. Four seconds come off the clock. Griz 93, Spurs 92.

Z-Bo, a 75.8 percent foul shooter, sinks both freebies. Griz 95, Spurs 92. Pop calls a 20-second timeout.

During a Spurs possession in which seemingly every single Memphis player could have stolen the ball, Ginobili heaves a desperation three from the corner with 2.2 seconds left...SPLASH! GAME TIED! GAME TIED!

Or not.

Video review reveals what the Grizzlies bench already knew: Manu's toe was on the line. Richard Jefferson fouls Randolph with 1.7 on the clock. Griz 95, Spurs 94.

Z-Bo again steps to the line. Now, I'm thinking, this guy hits three-fourths of his foul shots on average. He hit his last two, which means he's going to miss one of these, right? Wrong. Zach hits 'em both. Griz 97, Spurs 94. Only 1.7 seconds left.

Popovich calls another 20. Spurs line up for their last-second gambit. Suddenly, and I'm not making this up, this moment crosses my mind and I think: "The Grizzlies must know Gary Neal is a 42 percent three-point shooter. They must know that. Mustn't they?"

Now, it was a good play, with a good moving pick by Duncan, a good move by Neal to get Tony Allen on roller skates, and finally a great clutch bucket. But, damn, the one thing you can't do in this situation is give up a three-pointer. You only have to play 1.7 seconds worth of defense. Unbelievable.

Said Randolph: "They're down by three, you've got to run them off the 3. You can't let nobody shoot an open 3. You've got to contest the 3, you've got to deny the ball."

Added Shane Battier: "Come on, we're on the road. It wasn't going to be easy. And we needed 48 minutes. We didn't need 47 minutes and 59, 58 seconds and three-tenths. We needed the full 48 to get it done."

But they didn't get it done. Memphis succumbed in OT. Final score: Spurs 110, Griz 103. And, once again, the Spurs live to fight another day. As Basketbawful reader Brian put it:

I'm not sure what to make of this victory. I mean, all things being equal, the Spurs should have lost this game. Does this win mean they're going to stage a comeback? Or was it a final, desperate gasp? I guess we'll find out in Game 6.

Shane Battier, quote machine: "They are like vampires. You gotta drive the stake through their heart. And we missed."

The Philadelphia 76ers: The backdrop for this game was a rather laughable War of the Words between LeBron James and Spencer Hawes.

It began when LeBron referred to Game 5 against the Sixers as "Just finishing our breakfast." Which, admittedly, was pretty dismissive and characteristically douchy. But can we really be surprised by anything King Crab says anymore?

Update! In all fairness to LeBron, here's the full quote (via kazam92): "We're just finishing our breakfast, honestly. Just finishing the 76ers off, we’re not looking ahead into the next round. Just finish these guys off. This is a very good team we're playing against, it's going to take a collective group, all of us, to close this series off."

I guess that wasn't so bad.

Hawes took offense anyway: "We not only took exception to the quote, but to the analogy. A lot of times people don't finish breakfast. It's kind of one of those deals where you're not very hungry in the morning, and you might take a couple of bites to get you going, and then you roll out the door ... Not a great analogy, I don't think."


Okay. I preferred Lou Williams' response. From SBNation: "Williams reportedly went around the Sixers locker room assigning breakfast food roles to each player, dubbing Marreese Speights 'Fruit Salad,' Andres Nocioni 'Huevos Rancheros,' Hawes 'Over Easy,' Thaddeus Young 'Hash Browns' and himself 'Flapjacks.'"

I've gotta give it to the Philadelphia players: They tried to make LeBron eat his words. Ha. Ha. Anyway, the Sixers fought to the bitter end and got to within a single point (92-91) with 36 seconds left. But they didn't score again and Dwyane Wade, rather than just dribbling out the clock, decided convert Philly's final, hopeless miss into a last-second (and utterly needless) dunk.

Way to stay classy, Miami.

Said LeBron: "Now we're preparing for lunch."

You do that, 'Bron. I hope you choke on it.

In the final analysis, what cost the Sixers this game was their group decision to completely ignore Mario Chalmers. I get why they did it...but it doomed them. Chalmers drilled six three-pointers and finished with the highest plus-minus score of the night (+20). And although Super Mario erupting for six triples seemed about as likely as me announcing a secret love affair with Kobe Bryant, the fact is Chalmers is an NBA player and can hit wide open shots on occasion.

As Philly discovered.

Said Chalmers: "They kind of forgot about me. I made them pay."

Elton Brand, quote machine: "That was a long buffet. We kept coming. We didn't give up."

Spencer Hawes, quote machine: "Four out of five games, it came down to the last minute, down to the wire. It sounds cliche, but a couple bounces here and there you don't know which way it can go."

The Denver Nuggets: And the dream ends.

You've gotta give those Nuggets some major credit, though. They weathered countless months of 'Melodrama and still managed to win 50 games and actually played better without their departed superstar. And let's face it: This series was close. Three of Oklahoma City's wins came by a combined total of 10 points. This was one of the closest 4-1 series I've ever seen (much like Chicago's series against Indiana).

But, for all their scrappy, can-do spirit, the Nuggets needed a superstar down the stretch. So did the Thunder. Only they had one.

Mind you, Denver was leading 91-82 with about three and a half minutes to go. It really, really looked like the Nuggets were going to force a Game 6. Then, over those final 210 seconds, Kevin Durant scored 14 points on 5-for-6 from the field and 3-for-3 from the line while the Nuggets scored only 6 points. During that stretch, Denver was 1-for-7 from the field and Ty Lawson bricked two foul shots.

The Nuggets got had two chances to tie the game in the final 10 seconds, but J.R. Smith had his three-point attempt blocked -- by Durant of course -- and Aaron Afflalo misfired on a three-ball at the buzzer.

Said Durant: "I just tried to seize the moment and take advantage of it. They kept feeding me the rock, I was able to get to some good spots and fortunately I made some shots."

Added Nick Collison: "Kevin just took over. It was a pretty unbelievable performance."

That's superstardom for you. Talent can clean up a lot of messes. And it's why the Thunder won despite shooting 36.6 percent from the field and going 6-for-24 from downtown. Of course, it also helped that they forced 18 turnovers, grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and had a 42-21 advantage in free throw attempts.

Free throws, rebounds and turnovers. The silent killers. Glancing at the four factors, it's amazing Denver nearly won. They turned the ball over 17.1 percent of the time while the Thunder rebounded 32 percent of their missed shots and had a FT/FGA% of 41.5 percent.

Said George Karl: "We didn't close out this game, we didn't close out Game 1 and ... they're both very difficult to swallow right now. We will somewhere in the next week or wake up and realize that we had a hell of a season."

They really did. Too bad the dream had to end.

Bonus Video: The Durantula's highlights from last night:

Chris' Playoff Lacktion Report: Hamed Haddadi stepped in for Z-Bo with 0.7 seconds left in the 1st half...and played only to the end of the 2nd quarter, earning himself a SUPER MARIO GALAXY!

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20110426-brian-scalabrineBrian Scalabrine comes off the bench! ...to give a high five
(Still the most contributory thing we've seen from him in weeks)

Keith Smart has been fired by the Golden State Warriors. I guess that hiring wasn't so smart, now was it?

/ducks flying tomatoes

Worst of the Night in Pictures:

20110426-josh-smith-and-benchJosh Smith's face is the visual representation of the Sad Trombone

20110426-keith-bogansOh, Keith Bogans, what would we ever do without you?


Nationally Televised Games:
76ers at Heat, TNT, 7pm (Heat lead series 3-1): Per the STATS LLC game preview: "The 76ers say they're loose, playing with nothing to lose." Yeah, nothing to lose except, you know, the series!

Grizzlies at Spurs, NBA TV, 8:30pm (Grizzlies lead series 3-1): How nice of the TV scheduling gurus to put this one on NBA TV so I don't have to personally witness the end of the Spurs era. A blessing in disguise.

Nuggets at Thunder, TNT, 9:30pm (Thunder lead series 3-1): You must watch this commercial starring Danilo Gallinari:



sad pacer
Don't be sad, Roy. There's always nex...oh, wait, you're on the Pacers. Nevermind.

The Atlanta Hawks: Let's see, despite being savaged by Dwight Howard for four straight games, the Dirty Birds managed to build a 3-1 series lead. With a chance to finish the Magic off in Game 5, they (and foul trouble) limited Howard to 8 points on 1-for-4 shooting and 8 rebounds in only 29 minutes.

Said Joe Johnson: "I'm looking forward to playing in the second round of the pla..."

Wait. Hold on a second.

Atlanta trailed by as many as 32 points and lost 101-76? Ooooooooo...I feel a "they are who we thought they were" coming on. Must. Resist.

But, honestly, the Hawks were bawful in so many bawful ways. They scored only 13 points (on 3-for-19 shooting) in the first quarter and finished the half down 58-35.

And, just like that, the game was over.

Atlanta's offense was, in the words of Patches O'Houlihan, like watching a bunch of retards try and hump a doorknob. The Hawks shot 36 percent from the field, shanked 12 of their 16 three-point attempts and bricked 10 free throws. The committed 13 turnovers to only 6 for Orlando, which was a franchise playoff record for the Magic.

Getting back to Atlanta's first quarter of fail, check out this snippet from the AP recap: "The Magic were leading 10-8 when Howard picked up his second personal foul of the night with 5:40 left in the first, but Orlando closed with a 16-5 run without him. Redick had the hot hand, going 5 for 5 in the period and scoring the Magic's last 11 points."

Yes, you read that correctly, Redick shot the Hawks right out of the air.

Quick impression for you: Caw! Caw! Bang! Fuck I'm dead!

(I assume everybody's seen The Crow. If not...what the hell?)

Said Atlanta coach Larry Drew: "We're in a situation where we still feel good about ourselves. We'll go back home. We still have an opportunity. Our fans are gonna be behind us, just as their fans were behind them. So we're gonna put this game behind us as fast as we can."

I have no idea how the Hawks could possibly feel good about themselves. They won Game 3 thanks to an unintentionally banked three by Jamal Crawford and Game 4 thanks to Jason Richardson's suspension. Then they didn't even bother to try in Game 5. Plus...they're the Hawks. They have a long and storied history of playoff chokes. If any team in this postseason was going to surrender a 3-1 series lead, my money would be on Atlanta. It's in their franchise DNA.

Stan Van Gundy, quote machine: On his team's shooting: "We're a good shooting team. This is more of us than what we showed in the first four games. ... This isn't an aberration. We've been doing this for four years. The first four games were the aberration."

Stat check: The Magic shot 41 percent (34-for-83) for the game.

Joe Johnson: The 119 Million Dollar Man finished with 5 points on 2-for-12 shooting. And the Hawks were outscored by 28 points when he was on the floor. Only Jamal Crawford (-30) had a worse plus-minus score.

The Indiana Pacers: It happened. It finally happened. The Bulls started doing Bulls things, and the Pacers became the Pacers again. After a reasonably competitive first half, Indy got outscored 62-43 over the final 24 minutes. As a team, they shot 39.2 percent from the field and gave up 34 points off 21 turnovers. They also gave up 17 fast break points and got their eyebrows singed off as the Bulls shot 14-for-31 from downtown.

The beating truly began thanks to an MVP-like stretch from Derrick Rose, who erupted out of the slump he was in during Games 3 and 4.

With 5:52 left in the third quarter and the Bulls leading 61-57, Rose dished to Taj Gibson for an 18-footer. On Chicago's next possession, Rose drilled a three-pointer to push the lead to 66-57. On the other end, Rose made an amazing block on Roy Hibbert (see below). With 4:31 to go in the third, Rose nailed another three. Five seconds later, he stole the ball from Darren Collison, sprinted the other way, drew a foul from Tyler Hansbrough, and converted one of two free throws. Then, with 2:47 left in the quarter, Rose lobbed in yet another three-bomb to make it 75-60.

And the rout was on.

Rose wasn't the only slump buster. As a team, the Bulls pulled out of the dreadful offensive funk they were in. Well, everybody except Carlos Boozer, that is. To wit: Boozer, who suffered a turf toe injury during the second quarter, finished with fewer points (2) than Rasual Butler (3).

Boozer aside, the Bulls literally blew the lid off the rim. Not figuratively. Literally. There was an actual explosion. With fire. And stuff.

Luol Deng scored 24 points on 7-for-14 shooting, adding 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals for good measure. With his grandfather and hot sister watching from the stands, Joakim Noah had 14 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 steals. Chicago's Bench Mob added 36 points and 15 rebounds. Taj Gibson in particular delivered a strong performance (10 points and 7 boards) in relief of Boozer.

And Keith Bogans -- yes, that Keith Bogans -- went 5-for-7 from downtown and finished with 15 points. For those who enjoy random stats: The Bulls are now 27-2 when Bogans scores at least 6 points.

Oh, and did I mention yet that Kyle "The Four-Inch Vertical" Korver dunked?

Yep. It was that kinda night for the Bulls. And that kinda loss for the Pacers.

I have to tip my hat and offer a firm handshake to Frank Vogel and his boys, because Indy really gave the Bulls all they could handle. But, in lieu of TNT's "gone fishin'" act, I must nonetheless present "The Lonely Man" theme:

Ah, now, if only the Pacers could have lost with a little more dignity...

Josh McRoberts, lover: Okay. I have no real proof that McBob is a lover...but I have to assume he is because he sure ain't a fighter. Case in point: Watch him try to punch at Joakim Noah and hit...nothing but air.

Said McRoberts: "I was trying to shove back to defend myself."

Uh huh. Right.

For his shadowboxing efforts, McBob was booted and Noah got free throws. That probably should have been the end of this embarrassing spectacle. But it wasn't...

Danny Granger, whine machine: After the game, Granger couldn't let the McRoberts-Noah skirmish go. Couldn't or wouldn't.

Said Granger: "[Joakim Noah] pulled a cowardly move. He cheap-shotted a couple of my teammates, and one gets thrown out ... The refs never catch what he did ... it's cowardly. And I'm going to say something about it. I wanted to say something about it all the way to the game was over. I just don't think the game should be played that way. You can play hard and fight and battle, but when you start cheap-shotting people it gets out of hand."

Uhm, okay. As Shakespeare might say, the lady doth protest too much, methinks. Or did Granger forget about this:

Or this:

Or this:

The Pacers kept this series competitive by making it extremely physical and, at times, dirty. They grabbed. They pushed. The hacked. They threw elbows and committed fouls that were borderline flagrant (or deemed flagrant by the league after the fact) in every game. The Bulls finally retaliate and...they're the dirty ones?

As Stacey King said: "Now, the rabbit's the one holding the gun, and the Pacers don't like it."

Granger continued: He's a dirty player, honestly." What's more, Granger apparently had to be restrained from going after Noah as the teams exchanged handshakes on the court after the game.

Really, Danny? Really?

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau's response? Whatever.

Said Thibs: "It's just heat of the battle stuff."

Added Noah: "I played dirty? Ok. I'm just trying to win basketball games, man. It's the name of the game. I'm just out there trying to do what I gotta do. Like I said, I give a lot of credit to their team. The play hard as hell. They were competitive. I don't have anything bad to say about them. Everybody saw what happened out there. Now you want to call me a dirty player? I don't think I've ever been a dirty player. It is what it is. It's ok."

Look, the Pacers wanted the games to resemble urban warfare when it benefitted them, and they made a mess in their panties when, after four games, the Bulls started using their tactics against them. I'm just sayin', if you live by the sword, you don't get to complain when somebody runs you through with one.

What makes Granger's sniping worse is that, despite the showering of cheap shots and hard fouls, the Bulls took the high road all series long. They refused to call Foster dirty even after he pulled a Randy Savage on Deng's head. Thibodeau's general response to Indy's bullying tactics: "They're just playing hard. Period."

Then, in defeat, Granger takes the low road with accusations of "cowardly" and "dirty" play. Not Danny's finest hour.

Carlos Boozer: He finished off a nightmarish series by getting outscored by Rasual Butler and suffering a turf toe injury. Now even his own teammates won't high five him. Fail.

H/T to Dan B. for the link.

Roy Hibbert: The officials are bringing out the chains. Okay. The measurements are: Derrick Rose 6'3", Roy Hibbert 7'1". This is important because...

Paul George, layup master: Basketbawful reader gf provided the video for this great moment in Pacers playoff history:

Bulls fans: For whatever reason, the bloggers (other than myself) and commenters at ESPN's Daily Dime Live chat really love to give Bulls fans crap. Because, apparently, only non-Bulls fans get to talk crap.

Anyway, pictures like these aren't going to shift the paradigm:

bulls fans
This shouldn't happen. Ever.

The New Orleans Hornets: Look, we all knew the Hornets were going to have to play another perfect game to win in L.A. last night, and it didn't happen. They some things right, shooting 49 percent from the field and going 10-for-21 from three-point range.

But two things went wrong: They committed 19 turnovers and got outrebounded 42-25. That rebounding deficit included a 15-3 drubbing on the offensive glass. Between the TOs and the offensive boards, the Lakers got eight more field goal attempts and nine more foul shots.

Want more stats? I've got more stats.

From ESPN Stats and Information: "The Lakers finally took advantage of their size inside, outscoring the Hornets 42-30 in the paint. The Lake Show held a 15-3 advantage in offensive rebounds, 22-2 advantage in 2nd-chance points and 7-3 advantage in blocked shots."

Yes, it's true. The Lakers are tall.

Moreover, L.A. got balanced scoring, with six players in double figures: Kobe (18), Andy Bynum (18), The Spanish Marshmallow (16), Derek Fisher (13), The Candy Man (13) and Mr. Citizenship (11). L.A.'s bench outscored the New Orleans reserves 29-14. The Lakers weren't exactly overpowering, but they assumed control in the second quarter and semi-cruised to a 106-90 win.

And, more importantly, a 3-2 series lead.

Said Trevor Ariza: "They got 15 offensive rebounds. They were in the paint all day. They were more aggressive, and they took it to us. They played well. There's nothing that we can say."

Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry, poster boys: One of the most ridiculous and overblown subplots of this game was the status of Kobe's ankle and how he bravely refused an MRI because he doesn't want to know how badly he's hurt. The way Lakers fans were talking, Mamba needed his entire leg amputated, but he was gonna play through it through sheer force of will.

"He's Kobe Bryant! All he cares about is winning! Winning! WINNING!!!"

Reality check: No amount of will power would allow anyone to do this on a broken ankle. The human body doesn't work that way.

Said Hornets coach Monty Williams: "All this talk about his ankle. Did it look like his ankle was hurting? OK then."

Added Kobe: "I just had a lane to the basket. It looked like he was going to challenge me at the rim, and I decided to accept the challenge. ... It's a message for us that this was important. It's time to raise up and do what we've got to do. They're not saved dunks. I don't have much of those left."

I'm not saying Kobe's ankle wasn't sore. But I also think he likes to, ahem, help craft his legend.

Chris' Playoff Lacktion Report: Sorry, folks. Forgot this on the first pass.

Hawks-Magic: Jason Collins collected a board and assist in 14:04 as starting big man, only to brick once and foul twice for a 2:1 Voskuhl.

Pacers-Bulls: Jeff Foster's last playoff game of the year managed to generate two boards in 9:44, but also three fouls and two turnovers for a 5:2 Voskuhl.

Hornets-Lakers: Jason Smith soured a field goal in 8:01 with three fouls for a 3:2 Voskuhl.

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If things ended well, they wouldn't end.

This may be hard to believe considering how many years the Spurs spent tormenting Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns, but San Antonio's Game 4 loss to the Grizzlies really bummed me out. It's not like I ever hated the Spurs. Well, okay, in 2006-07, when Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the scorer's table and precipitated the Game 5 suspensions of Amare "I hadn't added the apostrophe yet" Stoudemire and Boris Diaw...that year I hated the Spurs. Between the mad floppery of Manu Ginobili, the rampant Duncan faces, and the many crimes against humanity committed by Bruce Bowen, the Spurs (for a time) began to embody a quality I hate in certain NBA teams: The willingness to do anything, be it bending rules (such as flopping or whining to the officials) or taking cheap shots (see the collected works of Bowen and Horry), to win.

Still, for the most part, the Duncan era teams actually represented much of what I love about basketball. The Spurs (usually) were a model of character and consistency. San Antonio played basketball the right way: Emotionally, intellectually and physically. Based in no small part on the demands of coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs stressed the fundamentals of sports and life, focusing on loyalty and teamwork above all else. Management sought out smart players and built nothing but success on a strong foundation. That foundation being Tim Duncan.

The Spurs won their fourth NBA title in 2007...and haven't been back to the Finals since. There were mitigating circumstances, of course, specifically injuries to Ginobili in 2008 and 2009. But last season, when a reasonably healthy and restocked San Antonio team stumbled (by their standards) through the regular season and then got swept by (of all teams) the Suns in the Western Conference Semis, the Duncan era seemed essentially (if not officially) over.

Then something unexpected happened.

With the professional basketball world focused on the Celtics, Bulls, Heat and Lakers, the Spurs came tearing out of the gates. They got off to the best start in franchise history and had a stranglehold on the league's best record for most of the season. Popovich finally relented and let his players go all out to earn the top seed in the Western Conference. They got it. The Spurs finished the 2010-11 campaign with 61 wins and homecourt advantage in every series barring a matchup with Chicago in the NBA Finals.

But we can all admit something was wrong, can't we? The Duncan era champions (and championship contenders) were characterized by relentless defense, near-flawless execution and a grind-it-out style of play that wore down their opponents. This is why San Antonio served as the perfect foil for the Seven Seconds or Less Suns. And they proved to many people, beyond any shadow of doubt, that offense wins MVPs and regular season win-loss titles, but defense wins championships.

That's why it came as such as shock when this year's Spurs team became a sort of zero-calorie version of the SSoL Suns. Instead of slowing the game down, they sped it up, finishing 8th in fast break points per game (15.2). They became one of the league's best offensive teams, ranking 6th in PPG (103.7) and 2nd in Offensive Rating (111.8). On defense, they were adequate but no longer elite, finishing 11th in Defensive Rating (105.6).

Now, remember that 2006-07 Suns team I mentioned? You know, the one that may have been one bush-league move by Big Shot Rob from overcoming the Spurs and possibly going all the way to the NBA Finals? That Phoenix squad won 61 games. They finished 1st in PPG (110.2), 1st in Offensive Rating (113.9) and 13th in Defensive Rating (106.4). But the Spurs slowed them down, beat them up, and sent them home early.

History is repeating itself. Somehow, in some way, the Grizzlies have metamorphosed into the Spurs and the Spurs have transformed into the Suns. Last night, Memphis slowed the pace down to a near halt (87.4) and gradually pounded San Antonio into meek submission. The run-and-gun sprint-and-score Spurs finished with an Offensive Rating of 98.4. The Grizzlies had an O-Rating of 119.1.

You know what else is wrong with the Spurs? Tim Duncan. Oh, I saw his decline coming and watched it happening, noting it (some would say harping on it) repeatedly on this blog. Some people called me (and people who agreed with me) a naysayer. They pointed to advanced metrics. After all, they reasoned, Duncan's PER, eFG%, TS%, rebounding percentages and Wins Shares weren't all that far off his career numbers. He was still just as (or almost as) efficient...just playing fewer minutes. Staying fresh. Saving himself for the playoffs.

Still, he had quite a few un-Duncan-like performances this season. Out of the 76 games he played, Duncan scored in single figures 21 times. By comparison, that happened only seven times in 78 games the previous season and only four times in 75 games the season before that. Timmy had not one but two games against the Lakers in which he finished with a mere 2 points on 1-for-7 shooting. He had another game against L.A. in which he managed only 8 points on 3-for-12 from the field. He had a 5-point game (on 2-for-9 shooting) against the hapless Wizards. He had a 3-for-7 outing against the Clippers and a 2-for-10 night versus the Hornets. There was a 5-for-14 night against the defenseless Knicks and...I could go on, but you must see my point.

Duncan's bad nights were becoming more frequent and more, well, bawful.

Here's where we have to talk about hard realities. During his career, Duncan has logged 37,733 minutes in 1,053 regular season games. On top of that, he has put in an additional 6,877 minutes in 174 playoff games. He has carried a franchise on his back for 13 long seasons. That takes a serious toll.

You know what else takes a toll? Being an old school big man in a little (or smaller) man's game. David Stern has successfully legislated into existence an NBA in which perimeter players like Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, et al. really can't be touched, relatively speaking. But big men are still allowed to push and shove. And let me be clear: The pounding that perimeter players absorb during their forays to the hoop is nothing -- I repeat nothing -- compared to the constant beating big men take on a nightly basis. Duncan rarely gets a play off from being grabbed, held and knocked around, and (in all fairness) dishing out the same punishment to his defender (or defenders).

As Kevin McHale once put it, being a big man means always having "an elbow in your back and a knee up your ass."

To be a big man is to be under constant assault. It wears people down. Take Karl Malone. During his prime, there wasn't a more physical or more physically imposing player than the Mailman. But as his career moved painfully toward its ragged close, Malone became increasingly weary of being Utah's only true big man. It changed his game. For most of his 19 seasons, Malone loved to mix it up. Then, almost overnight, he didn't anymore. Karl started taking fadeaway jumpers instead of muscling his way to the hoop. He openly pined for help, rejoicing when "big man" Donyell Marshall was traded to the Jazz in August of 2000. (Sadly, Marshall turned out to be a small man dressed in big boy clothes.)

I can't find the quote, but during his final years in Utah, Malone said something to the effect of: "I dream about being able to throw the ball to somebody down low and say, 'Go ahead, big fella, you take it this time.'" Malone never got the help he wanted. He got Greg Ostertag. Which makes his final, desperate (and ultimately failed) run for a title with the Lakers kind of understandable, even if it still makes me throw up in my mouth a little.

Still, it was hard (at the time) to clearly mark Malone's decline because, as with Duncan now, his numbers remained fairly stable and the Jazz continued cranking out 50-win seasons with the regularity of an atomic clock. But if you looked closer, you would have seen (as I did) Malone being outclassed and overwhelmed by younger power forwards like Duncan.

The first sign of trouble came during the 1998-99 season, when the Jazz were one year removed from a Finals appearance and favored (by some) to finally win that elusive championship, thanks to the second retirement of Michael Jordan. Only Malone -- who was named MVP of the league that season by the way -- struggled mightily in the first round against an up-and-coming Kings team. In the second round, he finally succumbed to the persistent defense of Briant Grant, scoring only 8 points on 3-for-16 shooting as the Blazers eliminated the Jazz in Game 6.

The following years brought more of the same. In 2000, the Blazers again bumped the Jazz in round two as Malone went 11-for-25 in a Game 5 elimination. In 2001, the Jazz got upset in the first round by the Dallas Mavericks, and Malone went 9-for-28 in the fifth and final game in Utah. (In all fairness to Karl, Dirk Nowitzki went 3-for-11 and grabbed only 4 rebounds in that game.) By the time the favored Kings took out the underdog Jazz in the first round of the 2002 playoffs -- Malone went 7-for-20 and made only one trip to the foul line in the finale -- it was painfully (even awkwardly) clear that Utah's time had passed. It was even more clear that making the 1998 Finals had been the team's zenith and everything after that was a (somewhat sad) sunset.

And here we are again. Watching Duncan relive the closing act of Malone's career. Younger players like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are now outclassing and overpowering Duncan. Did you ever, in a bajillion years, think you'd read a line like that in any human language? Or that it would be true?

The Grizzlies' big men didn't have a statistically dominant game last night -- they combined for 20 points and 18 rebounds -- but poor Timmy looked spent. He would finish with only 6 points (3-for-7) and 7 rebounds in 29 minutes. This was supposed to be Duncan's time. He averaged a career-low 28.4 minutes per game specifically for this moment...so he could be fresh and ready for the rigors of the postseason.

Yet, last night at least, he looked like a man with nothing (or very little) left. And, just like when Malone was getting worked over by the Grants and Duncans and Webbers of the world, something hit me with absolute clarity...

...2007 was Duncan's, and San Antonio's, zenith.

It's over. It's really and truly over. We never felt totally safe counting the Spurs out because Duncan and the team had been too good for too long. Look! They keep winning 50 games a season! Look! Duncan's numbers are still on par with his prime! They still look and act like the Spurs. They must still be the Spurs.

No. No, they aren't.

I'm sad. Really and truly sad. It feels like something is passing away. I am a fan of NBA basketball. Over the last decade-plus, I have followed the Association as closely as almost anybody. Duncan and the Spurs -- sometimes heroes, sometimes villains -- have defined (or helped define) a full third of my life on this planet. Now they're fading away. Not only that, I realize now they have been fading right before my eyes. For years.

If you read through the archives, I've actually been saying this for the past two or three years. But now I feel it. I feel it in my bones.

Almost 10 years ago, I had this experience with Malone and the Jazz. It hurt and, in many ways, I was never quite the same. My heroes were exposed as mere mortals and my own mortality was revealed in that truth. Last night, Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies dealt another blow to how I perceive the world and my own mortality.

It doesn't feel good.

But it feels like the truth. And we all have to face it some day. Even basketball legends like Tim Duncan.

Thanks for the memories, San Antonio Spurs. Thanks for everything.


64432492Down 3-1, Stan Van Gundy gets ready to fly north for the summer

FYI, as I noted earlier in Friday's WOTN comments, I attended the Derby Festival Basketball Classic at Louisville's KFC Yum! Center. (No, I did not eat any KFC. I did, however, eat fresh-cut potato chips topped with the following: beef slathered in barbeque sauce, nacho cheese, chives, tomatoes, bacon bits, and jalapenos. So that was nice.) It was a last-minute "Hey, I have free tickets for tonight's game, you wanna go?" deal, so I didn't get a chance to grab my D-SLR camera, but I did snap some pictures and video with my iPhone. I'll put together a post about it sometime in the next couple days when there's less to talk about. In the meantime, lots of pictures to get to in today's post!

Worst of the Weekend in Pictures:

64432686The saddest thing about the Knicks' early exit -- this is the last time we'll see Mike D'Antoni for quite awhile

64432305Ball, meet face. Face, meet ball.

64433786Don't believe in magic? these guys would like to have a word with you. These guys too.

Magic Hawks BasketballUmm...

64433508"Do you really think I'm scared of a guy named Zaza?"

64440966But not '99? You're lucky Prince isn't here. He'd might get pissed and punch you in the shin or kneecap (because Prince is short, you see)

64443200Zach Randolph dancing? You know we have to post that

64444190Maybe having a talented superstar is important after all

Celtics Knicks BasketballIf the Knicks want to somehow blame the loss on Spike Lee's wardrobe, I'm cool with that

Heat 76ers BasketballNo, Erik Spoelstra, you can't blame your loss on Spike Lee

Nationally Televised Games:
Spurs at Grizzlies, TNT, 8pm (Grizzlies lead series 2-1): It took me eight tries to type "Grizzlies lead Spurs." My fingers just wouldn't let me do it no matter how hard I tried.

Frail Blazers at Mavericks, NBA TV, 8:30pm (Series tied 2-2): It's easy to shake your head at the Mavericks' annual postseason meltdown, but you have to remember who they're playing. If there is another team that's shown it's capable of blowing a first round matchup the past few years, it's Portland. I don't mean to offend fans of either team, but really, these two teams are just infuriating in April.

Thunder at Nuggets, TNT, 10:30pm (Thunder lead series 3-0): Fun fact: the Nuggets are shooting 68.7% from the charity stripe in this series. In related news, Thunder fans have their brooms in hand and are ready for the potential sweep.


fucking insane

The New York Knicks: All the talking heads said Knicks-Celtics could be the most intriguing series of the first round. The Knicks were surging! The Celtics were slumping! The situation was ripe for an upset. And after Games 1 and 2 were decided by Boston's clutch plays (or, conversely, New York's clutch fails), those same talking heads were saying the Knicks "should have won" one or both of those games.

If only 'Melo had shot better in Game 1.

If only Amar''''''e hadn't been gimpy in Game 2.

If only Mike 'Antoni had coached a little better.

So on and so forth.

Then the Celtics came out and just bitch-slapped the Knicks in Game 3 in New York. Paul Pierce dropped 38. Ray Allen scored 32. While those two guys were combining to shoot 14-for-19 from beyond the arc -- no that's not a typo -- Rajon Rondo was setting a new Celtics playoff record by dishing out 20 assists. Rondo also had 15 points and 11 rebounds, joining Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and LeBron James as the only players in NBA history to record six career playoff triple doubles.

Dear Knicks defense: The Celtics thank you.

Anyway, New York fell behind by as many as 23 and lost 113-96, earning boos from the crowd as MSG.

Said 'Melo: "It's tough knowing that Amare's not 100 percent, Chauncey's not 100 percent and we're just trying to find our way on the fly right now. That's a tough situation but I think that would be making excuses if I sit here and say that they beat us because we're not at full strength. We've still got guys that have to go out there and play and that is going out there and playing, so I don't want to use that as an excuse."

Of course not. We all know 'Melo doesn't make excuses.

Meanwhile, Stoudemire scored only 7 points on 2-for-8 shooting, and he looked like he'd rather be pretty much anywhere other than on the court. Said STAT: “I was very ginger, didn't really want to draw any contact."

Didn't really want to draw any contact...the story of his career.

Anyway, Game 4 was more of the same. the Celtics went ahead by as many as 23, the Knicks tried to make a fourth quarter rally, and the combination of Boston's defense (the Knicks couldn't get a good shot if their lives depended on it) and New York's defenselessness (the Celtics literally got whatever shots they wanted) defined the final five minutes. The Final score: Boston 101, Knicks 89.

Said 'Melo: "Tonight was one of those games that we have to leave it all out on the court. Wasn't no need to take anything home with us, and we did that. So I'm pretty sure that we gained a lot of respect from a lot of people right now, but this is the first step of something great."

Reality check: New York finished with 89 points on 34.1 percent shooting and got outrebounded 53-42 at home in an elimination game. The only thing they left on the court was feces. Which the Celtics kindly swept away.

And so, despite being considered the most vulnerable team heading into this year's playoffs, the Celtics are now the first team to advance to the second round.

Some final numbers: Allen shot 57.4 percent from the field and an incredible 65.4 percent from beyond the arc (17-for-26) in this series. Pierce went 10-for-20 on threes. Jermaine "The Drain" O'Neal shot 61.1 percent (11-for-18). Oh, and I almost forgot, Ray-Ray had an Offensive Rating of 144.

Again, Knicks defense, the Celtics thank you.

Mike D'Antoni, sour grapes machine: Sometime during the gap between watching Rondo deal out 20 dimes (and compile a triple-double) and then helping the Celtics finish of a sweep of the Knicks with 21 points and 12 assists, Mike said: "I'd like to see him play on Minnesota and see how he does."

The Chicago Bulls: I'm not going to sugarcoat this: The Bulls played like complete and total ass against the Pacers in Game 4. Actually, they played like ass in Games 1 through 3, too, but Game 4 was their assiest performance of the playoffs: 37.8 percent shooting, 3-for-20 on threes, 21 points given up off 14 turnovers, 18 second-chance points surrendered off Indy's 15 offensive rebounds, no fast break points and a deficit as large as 18 points.

And yet...the Bulls trailed by 16 points with under three minutes to go but got to within a point with 15 seconds left. Danny Granger knocked down two free throws off a forced foul, giving Chicago a chance to tie it with a three-pointer.

Enter a play straight out of Vinny Del Negro's playbook: The ball was inbounded to Joakim Noah, who held it for nearly 10 seconds before finally initiating some panicked passing, at the end of which the ball ended up in the hands of Carlos Boozer. For three.

Perspective time from ESPN Stats and Information: "In his 617 career NBA games, combining both regular season and playoffs, Boozer is now 1-10 in his career on 3-pointers. Boozer's only made 3-pointer in his career came on December 30, 2003 as a member of the Cavs... against the Pacers."

In other words, "Boozer for three!" is not the shot the Bulls wanted.

Said Noah: "I caught the ball at the elbow and I was supposed to set a backscreen for Luol. They played it well, they denied the dribble handoff. Really, it was a mental mistake. When you're in that position, you've got to call timeout, so we learn from it."

The failed comeback and Indy's crunch time choke job aside, the Pacers played harder and wanted this game more than the Bulls. They hustled more and came up with all the 50-50 loose balls. The Bulls never matched their intensity until the final few minutes. That's too little too late.

Said Granger: "The mentality is play it like it's the last game you ever play in your life. We played like that tonight."

Frank Vogel, quote machine: "I'm still upset that it's 1-3. We should be up in the series."

The Dallas Mavericks: Jason Kidd's hot shooting and Dirk Nowitzki's fourth quarter heroics in Games 1 and 2 made me feel like I had been sucked into some kind of dark alternate reality. Seriously, I had to do some quick Google Fu to make sure that, like, the Nazis didn't win World War 2 or something.

Well, Game 4 confirmed that I am still in the reality of my birth. Dallas led by as many as 23 points in the third quarter and went into the final 12 minutes with an 18-point lead. Game over? Ha! You saw the 2006 NBA Finals, right?

The Frail Blazers outscored the Mavericks 35-15 in the fourth quarter. Brandon Roy -- who scored 18 of those points -- redeemed himself for last week's jack-assery by hitting the go-ahead shot with 39.2 seconds left.

Said Roy: "I've been in some pretty good zones before, but nothing like tonight."

Added Gerald Wallace: "When people ask me what did I do in the fourth quarter, I'll tell them I stood in the corner and watched The Brandon Roy Show."

According to the AP recap, Portland became the third NBA team in the shot-clock era to win a playoff game when trailing by 18 points or more heading into the fourth quarter. Furthermore, according to ESPN Stats and Information, "The Blazers trailed by 18 after the 3rd quarter, and came back to win. The 18-point deficit is tied for the 2nd largest comeback (in terms of points trailed after 3 quarters) in playoff history." That they did it against the Mavs is, well, not at all surprising. I mean, if any team in these playoffs was going to have a near-historical choke, wouldn't you assume it was going to be the Mavericks?

Said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle: "Did we let up? I think we let up, yeah. There isn't any question."

Added Nowitzki: "You can always, after the fact, talk about what you could have done or should have done. You can go a million ways about it, and afterward you're a lot smarter, but that doesn't help anybody right now."

Brandon Roy, quote machine: "It still just doesn't feel real yet. It was just an unbelievable game and comeback. With everything I've been through this season, they just all came into that moment there on the court when guys were grabbing and cheering me on. It was real special."

The San Antonio Spurs: You know, earlier this season, I (somewhat jokingly) suggested that the 2010-11 Spurs had transformed themselves into the 2007-08 Suns: Potent offense, quasi-adequate defense, vulnerable to hard-nosed physical teams. Like, you know, the Grizzlies. Yes, the Grizzlies. I know. Mind blown.

When Zach Randolph clinched Game 3 with a three-pointer -- shades of Tim Duncan's now infamous (to Suns fans) trey from the '08 playoffs -- San Antonio's metamorphosis into Phoenix Lite is officially complete.

The Spurs might not make it past the Grizzlies. Holy shit.

Said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich: "One would probably think that you'd like Zach to shoot the 3 rather than continue to lay it in against you, so it was a heck of a shot and part of the playoffs is about making shots."

Added Shane Battier: "I think there was a collective holding of the breath at the Forum when that shot was in the air, and it went through. It was one of those moments where it's like: 'No, no, no, no, no, yes. Yes.'"

Duncan, who was defending Randolph, said he didn't think Z-Bo would take that shot. I guess Timmy doesn't read Basketbawful. If he did, he'd have known better.

Said TD: "I leaned back and tried to make sure that there wasn't a quick big-to-big roll, but he hit a 3 from that range. It was a great shot."

Added Randolph: "It was 5 seconds on the shot clock. I had a little space to see it, so I just shot the shot. It went in, but that's the shot I work on and I practice every day shooting so it felt good when it left my hand."

Stat check: Zach went 8-for-43 on threes during the regular season.

Despite it all, the Spurs had a chance to tie the game up in the closing seconds, but Memphis threw a wet blanket on a brain-farting Manu Ginobili, who failed to shoot, pass or call a timeout. That's right: With the game -- and possibly the series -- on the line, San Antonio's Mr. Clutch let the clock expire without even getting a shot off.

Said Manu: "I thought we had a little more time. But no, there wasn't enough time. But now it's easier ... I wish we had called a timeout or done something different."

Now you know how the Suns felt all those years, Manu.

The Denver Nuggets: The dream is coming to an end. I won't rub it in to Nuggets fans that I predicted it. Not because I don't like this team -- I actually do -- but reality was going to punch them in the face eventually. Turns out "eventually" was Game 3.

Losing Games 1 and 2 in Oklahoma City was understandable. But if the Nuggets were going to make a stand in this series, it was going to have to start in Game 3. Only Denver shot 37.2 percent and went 6-for-23 from downtown. Still, despite it all, J.R. Smith had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer...

...but didn't. He may or may not have been fouled by James Harden. But that doesn't matter since no call was made. And now the Nuggets are staring down an 0-3 deficit.

Said Smith: "I thought it would have had a better chance of going in if I didn't get fouled. I guess they didn't call it because he's planted or whatever. If somebody hits your arm like that, I think you still have to call the foul."

Countered Harden: "J.R. had just hit two 3s in a row, we went small to switch everything. As soon as he caught the ball I tried to not give him any space where he could get an open shot."

Final shots aside, the Nuggets should look a little deeper at their own failings. Like letting Serge Ibaka tie his career-high with 22 points and set a new career-best by grabbing 16 rebounds. Ibaka also blocked 4 shots.

Even more damning was Denver's 15 missed foul shots. In a three-point loss.

That's not a one-game aberration, either. The Nuggets are shooting only 69 percent (79-for-115) for the series.

Said Denver coach George Karl: "The free throw line I think is a little nightmarish right now."

Added Smith: "Nobody wants to lose, let alone be embarrassed. That's what they're doing to us right now, they're embarrassing us. They're up 3-0. We're in a real tough position. We have to fight back."

Good luck with that, J.R.

The Miami cHeat: Thanks to a tip-in by Dwyane Wade, the cHeat went up 82-76 with 1:35 left. That lead should have been insurmountable, right? With Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, you'd think Miami would be able to close out the game, wouldn't you?

Only the Sixers went on a 10-0 run in that final minute and a half to win 86-82.

Said cHeat coach Erik Spoelstra: "We've proven all year long that we were able to close those types of games out. We were not able to tonight."

Really, Erik? According to ESPN Stats and Information:

With 3.8 seconds remaining, LeBron James had an opportunity to tie the game, but ended up being blocked by Elton Brand. This continued a trend in which James and Wade struggle in the closing seconds of a close game.

Just a reminder... Including LeBron's missed shot today, the Heat are now 1-19 from the field in the final 10 seconds when trailing by 3 or fewer (or tied) ... LeBron now 1-8 on the season... The Heat were by far the worst in these situations during the regular season.
The cHeat are going to close out this series in Game 5. I'm sure of it. But this game provided a reminder that they are not yet invincible.

Bonus stats: Miami shot 38.5 percent from the field and went 5-for-23 on threes. Philly's bench outscored the cHeat's reserves 36-16. Miami starters Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mike Bibby combined for one point on 0-for-9 shooting.

Final thought: The cHeat should put the ball in Wade's hands in these situations.

LeBron James, quote machine, Part 1: "Intimidation factor? We're not trying to intimidate anybody."

LeBron James, quote machine, part 2: "We're not going to hang our heads all the way to the ground about it."

The Orlando Magic: Game 3 was all like this...

...and all like this...

With Zaza and J-Rich sitting out Game 4, the Magicians shot 39.2 percent from the field and got outrebounded 44-42. Back to the shooting, Orlando went 2-for-23 from downtown. According to ESPN Stats and Information: "At 8.7 percent, it was the worst 3-point performance in a playoff game with at least 20 attempts in the last 20 years." Even worse than when the Kings went 2-for-20 against the Lakers back in 2002. Sorry. Had to work the Kings in here somewhere.

Said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy: "They're playing good defense. I'm not taking anything away from them. But we're getting good enough looks. I don't know what to tell you about the shooting. I really don't."

Whatever the reason -- like, I dunno, Orlando's shooters aren't all that? -- the Magic are now down 3-1 in this series and on playoff life support. Yes, they had a chance to win both Games 3 and 4, but no, they did not.

The Hawks now have three chances to close things out.

Dwight Howard, trash talk machine: From the AP recap:

Howard, an Atlanta native, bantered with the crowd in his hometown, even coming over to the press table to exchange barbs with a couple of trash-talking fans in the third quarter.

"You're the biggest whiner in the league," one of them said.

"You wanna come out here and play me?" Howard responded. "I'm averaging 33 points a game. Just keep drinking your beer."

But the home fans had the last laugh.
Dwight had 29 points and 17 rebounds in Game 4. But you know how I said the Magic had a chance to win the game down the stretch? They weren't running any plays for Howard in the final minutes. Gilbert Arenas and Jameer Nelson were getting the clutch shots. I'm just sayin'.

The Los Angeles Lakers: For the upteenth time this season, the Lakers had a dominating performance in their 100-86 win in Game 3 that made everybody think: "Okay. They're finally back on track. Back in control." And for the upteenth time they followed up a dominating performance with one that was stunningly weak in Game 4.

Kobe Bryant sprained his ankle, but he was shooting poorly before that, finishing with 17 points on 5-for-18 from the field. But Kobe's shooting aside, the Lakers were simply outworked. As Karc pointed out: "Chris Paul had the same number of rebounds as Bynum and Gasol combined (13). And the Hornets were +16 in 2nd chance points. Pretty much says it all."

If that says it all, then Chris Paul's amazing triple-double (27 points, 15 assists, 13 rebounds) should be a major footnote. Holy crap. Where was this CP3 all season?

From Elias Sports Bureau: "The last player with at least 25 points, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds in the playoffs was Oscar Robertson on March 29, 1964 against Philadelphia. He had 32 points, 18 assists, and 10 rebounds in that game. Entering Sunday, Oscar Robertson was the only player in NBA history to do this in the postseason. He did it twice."

Please joine me in saying: "Wow."

Said Bryant: "He's going to have games like this. I mean, the majority of the game, he's just a phenomenal player."

Added Trevor Ariza: "He's maybe 6 feet and he had 13 rebounds. He played unbelievable. He's made our team go all year. He's carried us when we were down."

Speaking of Ariza, he had quite the little revenge game against his old team: 19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and great D on Kobe. According to ESPN Stats and Information: "Trevor Ariza has been the man tasked with guarding Kobe Bryant and the results seem to show him doing a much better job than the Hornets' other alternatives. In the 4th quarters of this series, Bryant is averaging just 0.59 points per play on 3-11 shooting. He has been nearly three times more effective when guarded by others, scoring 1.5 points per play on 3-7 FG."

And, just like that, the series is knotted at two games each.

Said Phil Jackson: "Well, it's a series now. We punked out there on the court tonight."

Chris' weekend lacktion ledger:

Celtics-Knicks: Nenad Krstic crushed a rebound in 7:50 with two turnovers and a foul for a 3:1 Voskuhl.

Lakers-Hornets: Joe Smith headed one brick in 46 seconds for a +1 and a Mario.

Mavs-Frail Blazers: Chris Johnson can now help Paul Allen with his investments after a 2.2 trillion (2:13).

Thunder-Nuggets: Kendrick Perkins spent 19:14 as Oklahoma City's starting big man, getting two boards and a field goal...only to foul four times and lose the rock twice for a 6:4 Voskuhl.

El (Oh El) Heat-Sixers: Juwan Howard (at 2.1 trillion/126 seconds) and Eddie House (at 2.8 trillion/169 seconds) have come up big in the mission to provide Miami with more cap space, while Zydrunas Ilgauskas spent 10:22 as starting big man negating a free throw and board with three fouls for a 3:2 Voskuhl!

Celtics-Knicks: Jared Jeffries jacked over a block in 5:59 with a brick, rejection, turnover, and foul, earning a 2:0 Voskuhl.

Magic-Hawks: Josh Powell provided a field goal and board in 10:54, only to foul thricely and lose the rock once for a 4:3 Voskuhl. Also garnering a Voskuhl ratio was Hilton Armstrong, checking in after 7:49 of unpacking two steals with three fouls for a 3:0 final number.

Lakers-Hornets: Jason Smith buzzed into the ledger tonight after he fouled twice and bricked once in 3:42 for a +3 that doubled as a 2:0 Voskuhl!

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The Indiana Pacers: The nightmare continues. The Pacers have led at halftime all three games. They have held a fourth quarter lead in all three games. They have played the Bulls to a standstill in all three games.

Yet they are 0-3 and on the brink of elimination.

Last night, the Bulls shot 39 percent, gave up 18 points off 16 turnovers, surrendered 15 offensive rebounds and suffered through a 4-for-18 shooting night from Derrick Rose...and won.

This is how close it was:

Was that a travel? You be the judge:

Rose's layup made the highlights, but the real game-breaker was Kyle Korver, who said "Flame the fuck on!" and scored 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting in a three-minute stretch of the fourth quarter. Korver's hot streak began with the Pacers up 70-66 and ended with the Bulls ahead 80-76. As Stacey King would say: "HOT SAUCE!"

Give the Pacers credit. They are The Little Engine That Almost Could. That said, shooting 37.9 percent from the field and going 1-for-10 from downtown in a veritable must-win game qualifies as a "Major Fail" in my book. And you know what qualifies as an "Epic Fail"? The one-on-five bullshit shot Darren Collison pulled the possession before Rose's go-ahead layup. And here's what Danny Granger thought of Collison's shot selection:

Of course, Granger's three-point attempt with 2.2 seconds left was even uglier than the crappy crap Collison chucked up. And Danny knows it.

Said Granger: "We didn't get the look we wanted. That was the best shot we could get. That wasn't the way we wanted it, but that was the way it happened."

Here's more on Indy's fourth quarter fail courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information: "While it wasn't pretty, the Bulls' win over the Pacers followed the same familiar scripts as in the first two games with Chicago's defense tightening up in the 4th quarter. Chicago held Indiana to just 17 points in the 4th quarter on 8-23 shooting. For the series, the Bull are holding the Pacers to 35.4 pct from the floor in the final frame."

Updated! Jeff Foster's Bill Laimbeer impression: He's been at it since Game 1:

This Laimbeer act continued last night:

I don't have the video of it, but after that foul on Rose, Foster brought an elbow down on Luol Deng's head without making any real effort to go after the basketball. Hard playoff fouls are one thing. But swiping arms and elbows in the general direction of peoples' heads and faces in that "Hey! I'm Just Putting My Arms Up!" way is dirty.

The league is now reviewing Foster's fouls.

Update! The weird running guy: Basketbawful reader gf sent in this video:

Joakim Noah, quote machine: On Rose: "We got the best closer in the world. And everybody knows it. And they know it. And we know it. And their coach knows it. And they say it, too. They have no problem saying it. And we all know it, so that's definitely gives confidence to our team."

Kyle Korver, quote machine: Also on Rose: "I would just like to be athletic for a day, let alone be Derrick Rose for a day. I mean this dude, you watch some of these guys and you're just like, 'If I could move like that, this would be a totally different game.' Could you imagine? If I could run and jump like that, you'd shoot whenever you want. That would be incredible. Obviously, it's not going to happen."

Kyle Korver, unintentionally dirty quote machine: Again on Rose: "A lot of things about him are really amazing, but his ability to take that pounding and keep going."

The Philadelphia 76ers: Doug Collins was right. The cHeat are the better team.

Dwyane Wade went crazy (32 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists). LeBron James went crazy (24 points, 15 rebounds, 6 assists). Chris Bosh was, uhm, mildly unstable (19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocked shots). The Nazgul had a 28-19 advantage in free throw attempts over the entire Sixers team. The rest of the cHeat managed only 25 points...but it didn't matter. The 2.5 superstars were too much for Philly.

What do you do?

What do you do?

No, really. What do you do?

Said LeBron: "This is what we envisioned."

The Sixers played tough. They did. Just like the Pacers, Philly played a superior opponent to a standstill heading into the fourth quarter. That's when the Sixers were outscored 27-19 en route to a 100-94 loss that virtually ended the series.

Said Collins: "I'm a moral person, but I don't like moral victories."

I guess I could focus on the misdirected shooting of Andre Iguodala (3-for-10), Jodie Meeks (2-for-8) and Thaddeus Young (1-for-8), but what's the point? Philly couldn't do anything with the Super Friends, who scored 23 of Miami's 27 fourth quarter points (and two of the non-them points came on James Jones' meaningless free throws with three seconds left). All you have to do is glance at the play-by-play to understand that the Sixers couldn't stop the cHeat's big guns down the stretch. All three of those guys took turns scoring.

Philly's just overmatched. And their rebounding sucked. The cHeat set a franchise record by grabbing 20 offensive rebounds. They scored 24 points off those second chances.

Said Collins: "All I have to say is 20 offensive rebounds. That's the end of the story. We can sit here and dance around it all we want. That's the game."

Zydrunas Ilgauskas, legally declared "a statue" in 17 countries, nabbed eight of those offensive boards.

Said Bosh: "Z probably jumps two inches off the ground. But he has such long arms and his tip game is great."

The Sixers will have all summer to think about Ilgauskas' long arms. Starting right after Game 4. Or maybe they can use the extra time off to go see Boobs and Goombas: a Super Mario Burlesque.

The Dallas Mavericks: Let's see: No hot shooting from Jason Kidd (8 points, 3-for-9, 2-for-8 from downtown) or Peja Stojakovic (7 points, 3-for-7, 1-for-4 on threes), no double-digit fourth quarter scoring outbursts from Dirk Nowitzki, and no victory for the Mavericks.

Brandon Roy was "treated a little better" last night and scored 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting in 23:39 off the bench. Meanwhile, Wesley Matthews toyed with Dallas like Road Runner toys with coyotes, scoring 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Yes, those 25 points were a playoff career-high.

Basically, Portland's backcourt ruled this game. Matthews and Roy and point guard Andre Miller combined for 57 points on 20-of-35 shooting. By comparison, Matthews and Roy combined for 17 points in the first two games.

Another big factor was foul shooting. Dallas had a 23-21 advantage in free throw attempts but the Blazers had a 17-13 advantage in makes. The Mavs went 5-for-10 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. And lost by five.

Shaqnopsis strikes again.

Said Dirk: "The free throws hurt. I missed three today, two (actually one) in the fourth quarter, and we had our opportunities. We had our opportunities."

That last line should probably be engrabed on the tombstone of the Nowitzki era Mavs: "We had our opportunities."

Update! Officiating fail: I forgot to mention that Kidd hit a 24-foot "two-pointer" with 12 seconds left to cut Portland's lead to 95-92. Now, had that shot been reviewed (as it should have been), the lead would've been 95-93. Now, maybe Andre Miller goes on to hit his free throws and it doesn't matter...or maybe he doesn't. We'll never know.

Update! Portland fans: Somebody in the Rose Garden threw something that hit Mark Cuban in the face. People shouldn't throw things that hit Cuban in the face. Because it's wrong and stuff.

Chris' Playoff Lacktion Ledger:

Bulls-Pacers: Omer Asik allocated his 2:56 stint between one steal and one foul, earning the bovines a 1:0 Madsen-level Voskuhl.

Mavs-Frail Blazers: Tyson Chandler toyed with four boards and a field goal in 15:24 as starting big man only to take a rejection, lose the rock once, and foul out for a 7:6 Voskuhl. Starting guard DeShawn Stevenson turned over the ball once for a +1 in 4:20.

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