By: Shawn Davis
What a great week to be a fan of all things sports related. The L.A. Kings leading the New Jersey Devils, 2-0, in the battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup (snatching both victories in the pressurized environment that is overtime); Johan Santana being the only pitcher in Mets history to face, and sit, 27 batters for a no-hitter (as a Met fan maybe I need to pay attention to this team – which would be for the first time this season, sorry but they are the Mets); Tiger Woods digging into his crate of tricks to post an impressive closing 67 at the Memorial Tournament to notch his 73rd PGA Tour victory (tying Jack Nicklaus for second on the all-time wins list); and the NBA playoffs being tied at 2-2 in both conference series. Whew! Did you get all that? I hope I didn’t forget anything and if I did, oh well, it’s my column.
Shifting focus to the NBA:
I’m going to start with the Miami/Boston series because their most recent game was last night – and my memory isn’t clouded with donuts, women, and booze. (Saturday evening leading into Sunday morning was CRAZY, the good type.) Once this series was set, I felt the Heat would eliminate the green team in five – possibly six – games because of athleticism, health and youth. Every team is banged up this time of year (especially in this ridiculously condensed, car-wreck, dumpster fire of a season) and the team that wins it all should really thank lady luck for making it through.
Boston’s lack of depth, Avery Bradley’s shoulder (and his defense), Paul Pierce’s knee, Ray Allen’s ankle and Boston’s inability to look fluid on offense all combined, in my opinion, would lead to somewhat of a slaughter. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade came into the series averaging 62ppg…COMBINED; which I still feel is too much of a load for two players to carry, but they were on such a tear that I felt Boston would have a tough time defending them well enough to notch the four victories needed to advance.
When Rajon Rondo had that video game-like performance in Game 2 (44 Pts, 8 Reb, 10 Ast, 3 Stl) and the Celtics still fell short by four points when the final buzzer sounded, I shook my head at the lost opportunity. The Celtics’ resilience showed in their last two wins due in part to having the home crowd plugged into their backs, Allen having better lateral movement (and his shooting touch rekindled), their team defense and Rondo taking control of the game at critical moments. Outside of Garnett, Rondo is the one advantage the Heat cannot counter – and he MUST dominate in order for the C’s to advance.
Doc Rivers needs to play Marquis Daniels more in order to give Allen some rest – and to increase the number of players that Miami has to defend. At the end of the day the series is tied but if Wade hits that last shot, I’m writing about the Heat ending Boston’s Big Three era on Tuesday evening. You all know this.
What Happens From Here
It’s a best-of-three now and Chris Bosh has been upgraded as day-to-day, which means he could be on the floor for Game 5. Some analysts call it “desperation” while I view it as no-lose proposition. Integrating him back into the offense shouldn’t be that difficult as Bosh does most of his damage on the perimeter – and isn’t a down-on-the-block traditional power forward where you have to dump the ball into the post, therefore, shifting the entire offensive attack. Why not? If the Heatles are going to be blown up – as many speculate if they don’t win the trophy – they might as well play all three of their best guys. Damn the future! It all ends if Miami can’t win the next contest anyway.
This is a tough one to call because I could see Boston keeping the series a dogfight and I could also see Miami turning on the jets and making the remainder of the series a layup drill. Brandon Bass and Daniels need to combine for over 20 points to take some pressure off Pierce and Allen. Prediction? At the conclusion, I think.
Most of my time has been spent on the West bracket because the basketball has been more desirable to my eyes. Pay close attention to the this tilt; it could be the real NBA Finals. I’m not saying the East winner will be smothered by the West’s representative – not at all – it’s just that the level of play in the Western Conference finals could make the series for the trophy feel anticlimactic and it has happened in past conference finals matchups. Most notably in the 2002 West Finals where the Lakers outlasted the Kings (4-3, and went on to sweep New Jersey); in 1998 when the Bulls beat back the Pacers (4-3, and defeated the Jazz in six games) and in 2000 when the Lakers ripped a Finals berth from the hands of the Blazers (4-3, and dispatched the Pacers in six games). The Finals should be great television but just make sure to enjoy what’s happening before they even begin, no matter who you’re rooting for.
After 20 straight victories, the Spurs have been handed a two-game losing streak at the hands of the team that should still be in Seattle (I know, I had to say it). A thunderstorm is making its way to San Antonio this evening for Game 5 – and I think this will be the best game of the series (yup, you just read that) because it’s the most important one. Whoever snatches control tonight should have a monumental edge going into the next game. I picked San Antonio to win the NBA Finals so I cannot duck out on them because they lost two road games. Home court has held up in this series – and I think it continues – so the Spurs win in seven. However it would not shock me to see the Thunder find a way to reach their first Finals (not counting the Sonics lineage).
What Happens From Here
This is going to a seventh game; I don’t see how it doesn’t. Tim Duncan got on track in Game 4 (21 Pts, 8 Reb) but that was nullified by the output of Kendrick Perkins (15 Pts, 9 Reb, 1 Blk) and Serge Ibaka (26 Pts, 5 Reb, 3 Blks). Tiago Splitter needs to be more aggressive at the rim and Dejuan Blair needs to get more playing time. Is there something going on behind the scenes that has Gregg Popovich reluctant to play him? Odd to me.
Russell Westbrook has been making better decisions over the past two games as it pertains to getting the best player on the team the ball (Kevin Durant) and letting him score. Westbrook was raked over the coals last year because he was too comfortable taking shots that should have been passes to Durant. I think he’s finding a balance and when he plays that way defenders are on their toes on how to attack the Thunder. If the defense can force him to play hero ball (and keep the ball from Durant) they aren’t hard to stop; Westbrook seems to be maturing in that regard.
As for the East series, I’ll take Miami (begrudgingly) to win in seven. I want to be wrong on that one. It’s time for me to eat some donuts.
Photo: Wade, sports.yahoo.com; Westbrook and Durant, lubbockonline.com