Obviously, there's no way I could not
comment on yesterday's Game 7 showdown between Paul Pierce and Lebron James. It was, simply put, the most amazing two-man show I've seen in decisive Game 7 since...well...The new Larry versus Dominique:
The parallels are almost bizarre, aren't they? Both were Game 7s in Boston. One happened in the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the other in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals. In both cases, the winner would move on to face the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. Both featured a Celtics superstar with a wispy porn-style mustache and a rival superstar who might be the most physically dynamic player in the league. If only Brian Scalabrine could have been on the active roster to fulfill Fred Roberts' "awkward white guy cheering from the bench" role, it would have been perfect. (Veal cheering in street clothes just isn't the same.)
In some ways, this duel was (please don't strike me down, Basketball Gods) even better than the Larry and 'Nique show. After all, Bird's performance in that classic Game 7 was just so-so -- and maybe even sub-par -- through three quarters before the Legend exploded in the fourth, scoring 20 points on 9-for-10 shooting. In this case, Pierce and James were both forces for each and every quarter. And whereas Larry spent most of his Game 7 guarding Antoine Carr while Kevin McHale checked Dominique, Truth spent most of his Game 7 guarding LeBron and vice versa.
The final tallies speak volumes: Paul (41 points, 13-for-23, 11-for-12 from the line, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals) and LeBron (45 points, 14-for-29, 14-for-19 from the line, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals). And then when you take into account the fact that they were guarding each other and the refs were letting a lot of contact go and
it was a Game 7, well, those performances were truly legen...wait for it...dary
As LeBron put it: "We both tried to will our team to victory and, just like Dominique Wilkins, I ended up on the short end and the Celtics won again. I think the second round of the postseason, Game 7, these fans will finally have an opportunity to forget a little bit about what Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins did and remember what Paul and LeBron did. This will go down in history." Amen.Not the new Larry versus Dominique:
But before we all get too carried away, let me state emphatically that this Game 7 did not equal that famous Game 7 from 1988. Why? Well, quite simply, because while Pierce and James stepped up and then some, their teammates, by and large, did not
. Kevin Garnett finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds, but he was, for the most part, an invisible man on the offensive end. Ray Allen (4 points, 1-for-6) continued to slump so badly that Doc Rivers exiled him to the bench for long stretches of the game. Rajon Rondo (4-for-11) couldn't hit a jump shot and had to be replaced by Eddie House late in the game.
Delonte West (15 points, 5 assists) was the best non-LeBron Cavalier, but he also committed 6 turnovers and missed a wide-open three with about a minute to go that would have tied the game at 91-all. As for the other Cavs, well, Zydrunas Ilgauskas (2-for-8), Ben Wallace (4 points, 4 rebounds), Sasha Pavlovic (3-for-8) Wally Szczerbiak (zero points, 0-for-3) could have all stayed home.
This was most certainly not the case in '88. First off, the two teams combined to shoot 59 percent from the field -- 72 percent in the fourth quarter -- and commit only 15 turnovers between them. And this was despite some intense, hands-all-over-everybody defense.
Kevin McHale was nearly as good as Bird, with 33 points (10-for-14), 13 rebounds, 4 blocked shots (and, naturally, zero assists). Danny Ainge had 13 points and 10 assists. Dennis Johnson finished with 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 8 assists (not to mention a huge steal-and-basket at the end of the third quarter). And Robert Parish added his typically solid 14 points (6-for-10).
Unlike LeBron, Dominique wasn't all on his own. Randy Wittman was red hot (11-for-13) and finished with 22 points. Doc Rivers (16 points, 18 assists) was fantastic. Kevin Willis had a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds). And Antoine Carr contributed 13 points and 4 rebounds off the bench.
That game was played at an extremely high level on both ends of the ball from tipoff to final buzzer, and both teams -- to a man -- stepped up. That fact, more so than even the back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth duel between the superstars, is why that Game 7 will forever been greater than the Game 7 that we were fortunate enough to witness last night.
But that doesn't mean that Paul and LeBron shouldn't go down as one of the great Game 7s ever.LeBron James, quote machine:
King James is freaking fantastic, no question about it. But his quotes are starting to get to me. He's been talking in third person more and more this season, and while he didn't do that last night, he still had to remind us that he may have lost, but he's no loser. "I have always been a winner, and I am a winner." He's right, you know. LeBron has won a championship at every level except college and the pros. Oh, and the Olympics and World Championships. But other than that...Doc Rivers versus Mike Brown:
These two men can thank Pierce and James for drawing attention away from their dreadful coaching. Doc brought in Eddie House for a short stretch during the first half, and House energized the Celtics and helped change the momentum. Then Doc exiled House to the bench until the closing minutes of the game despite the fact that the Cavaliers weren't even guarding Rondo and his faithless jumper. Why, Doc? Why? And as for Brown...well, methinks Danny Ferry should consider giving Avery Johnson a call.
Okay, now let's go back to Friday night.Paul Pierce:
He shot 5-for-15 and committed 6 turnovers. Hopefully he can redeem himself in Game 7. Oh, wait...Ray Allen:
Ray-Ray shot 3-for-8. He looks awful. He rarely gets open, and when he does, he's forcing his shots. The golden "3" has officially been removed from his locker.Rajon Rondo:
After a dominating performance in Game 5, Rondo got dominated by suck in Game 6: 2 points, 1-for-4, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 turnovers. This kid looked like just that: A kid.Kendrick Perkins:
He had more fouls (5) than rebounds (3), and he continues to move so slowly that Drew Bledsoe was laughing at his foot speed. Not a good sign.Sam Cassell:
DNP-CD. Doc has officially lost faith.Wally Szczerbiak:
The White Larry Hughes shot 2-for-11. He's about to lose his White Larry Hughes status, by the way. Soon he'll just be the Pat Garrity with better hair. Okay, much
better hair.Ben Wallace:
Hm. Zero points, 0-for-3, 6 rebounds. Drew Gooden is laughing at this. You know he is.Sasha Pavlovic:
See what happens when you hold out, kids? You forget how to shoot (1-for-6).Utah Jazz:
Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams both had a chance to tie this game in the final seconds, but they both missed a three-pointer. That hardly mattered, though. The Jazz lost this game when they failed to capitalize on the opportunities they had in Game 5. And you could tell that they started Game 6 with a sense of panic. They looked scared of losing. And they got rattled when the Lakers jumped all over them. They tried to make a run in the third quarter, but when L.A. answered they to rattled again, forcing up threes in an attempt to get back quickly. The best example of this was a terrible jacked three by Andrei Kirilenko (of all people) off a busted play.
Of course, that three-point strategy got them back into the game in the fourh, so I guess you could say it "worked." And the patient almost
lived. I guess it just goes to show how important it is to have a clutch superstar like Kobe -- who scored 12 points in the final quarter -- and savvy, unshakable veterans like Derek Fisher (16 points) and Pau Gasol (17 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks).
The Jazz are a young team, and they played like it. The Lakers are true championship contenders. And they
played like it.Carlos Boozer:
Okay, can we please stop all of the Karl Malone comparisons until further notice? Boozer finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds, but he shot 5-for-16. Except for Game 3, Boozer struggled mightily to deal with the beating he was taking in the paint. Quite simply, the physical play of the Lakers took him out of his game. And say what you will about the Mailman, but he dealt with that kind of pounding every game of his career. And he loved it.
But it's more than that. I couldn't help but notice that Boozer was jogging downcourt on offense all series long. Malone never did that. He always sprinted out on the break, unless he was the outlet man, and he always got two or three easy baskets that way. Carlos would do well to copy that.Tom Brady:
I did not know that LeBron James played for the Utah Jazz. Thanks, Yahoo. And thanks to Colin G., Joe L., Maciek, Michael D. and (UPDATE!) Emma for jumping on this and sending me links/screen shots.
Labels: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Lebron James, Los Angeles Lakers, Paul Pierce, Utah Jazz