I call this photo "The Joy of the Human Victory Cigar."
The Detroit Pistons: There aren't any Bad Boys on this Pistons team. Heck, there aren't even any Moderately Rude Boys. (Okay, okay. Rasheed Wallace probably falls into the "moderately rude" category.) Basically, Detroit got pushed around and beaten up by the Celtics last night. You won't see it in the box score, but that's what happened. There was very little defensive toughness and even less in the way of interior defense. The need for Antonio Keithflen McDyess -- yes, his middle name really is Keithflen -- hadn't yet been so obvious and glaring. Rajon Rondo got to the cup at will. Boston got to the boards whenever they wanted. None of the Pistons were able to fight their way through a pick...and Allen Iverson kept getting knocked around like a ping pong ball by them (particularly when KG's butt was involved). Doug Collins said it best: Detroit is now a finesse team. I'm not saying it can't work -- it did against the Lakers and Cavaliers -- but it sure hasn't worked against the Celtics (as two losses by a combined 30 points can attest).
Honestly, I could probably write an entry for most of the Pistons (Rip Hamilton was 4-for-9, Tayshaun Prince was 2-for-9, Walter Hermann looked like Fabio's evil, greasy twin, etc.) But let's just focus in on...
Allen Iverson: He was torched so badly by Rajon Rondo (game-high 18 points, 7-for-11, 8 assists, 3 steals) that he'll probably be penciling in his eyebrows for the next six to eight weeks. It was stunning to see someone as quick as Iverson get beaten so badly off the dribble. He also made several unfortunate gambles for steals that aided and abetted some of the Celtics fast breaks. The 5-for-13 shooting and 4 turnovers didn't help either.
Rodney Stuckey: From AnacondaHL: "Rodney Stuckey was 1 rebound and 2 assists away from a 15 minute +11 suck differential (0-2, 5 TO, 1 BA, 3 PF)! DAMN IT!" Yeah. Remember, Joe Dumars expects Stuckey to be The Next Big Thing in Detroit. I guess the key word there is "Next"...as in "Not Yet."
I don't care. I'm saying it: Om nom nom nom
Kevin Harlan: During the game, Harlan was presiding over a 'Sheed Watch, trying desperately to predict when Wallace was going to receive a technical foul...even though it never happened. After one call that didn't go his way, Wallace was calmly discussing the situation with an official when that official signaled that Boston had called a timeout. Harlan then exploded with giddy excitement: "Oh! He just got T'd up!" He sounded quite dejected when he had to explain that the ref had simply been signaling for a timeout.
Robert Sarver, Steve Kerr and Terry Porter: I've tried to be patient. I've tried really hard not to overreact. But last night, watching the "Suns" play the Lakers, I became filled with a white-hot rage over what these three men have done to a team I used to love. In their desire to remake the Suns into the Phoenix branch of the San Antonio Spurs (a.k.a. Spurs: Part II), they have transformed something magical into something painfully, achingly ordinary. Apparently, they believe that a Shaq-centric offense is still the foundation upon which championships are built. It is not. And I guess they want Steve Nash to become a latter-day Brevin Knight, dutifully distributing the ball to the team's big men, spotting up, and shooting only when necessary or as a last resort. That's like only using your Lamborghini to do the grocery shopping.
Mind you, Porter claims his team is free to run. Selectively. But that's not how he's calling the shots, so when the Suns do run nobody is filling the lanes or spotting up the way they need to. Nash can't drive baseline or get anywhere near the basket -- which used to be the go-to maneuver from which he found many an open shooter or cutter -- because the paint is now chock-full of Shaq (and often times Amare too). Furthermore, Porter has, amazingly, managed to do something no opposing coach has been able to do for four years: Stop the Nash-to-Stoudemire pick-and-roll. Seriously, Sun Tzu used to get four or five dunks/alley-oops per game. Now it feels like ages between slick pass-and-dunks.
I'm officially living a nightmare...watching a once-beautiful thing suddenly become monstrous and ugly. It's like falling asleep next to Scarlett Johansson but waking up next to Alan Greenspan. Do not try to comfort me. I cannot be consoled. Not only is one of my all-time favorite teams dead, I only just realized that I missed the funeral.
By the way, watching the devolution of Nash -- which, make no mistake, has more to do with how the team is being forced to play than his relative athletic senescence -- made something pop into my head. During Steve's second MVP season, I got into a series of rather heated debates with the Kobe-4-MVP crowd. One of the main arguments that kept getting thrown in my face was Kobe's higher PER (28.0 to 23.3). This was supposedly an indicator that Kobe was making a greater overall contribution to his team's success than was Nash. But I've always argued that a player's PER can be deceiving because it is lowered by the increased productivity of a player's teammates. To wit: Do you know what Kobe's PER is this season? It's 23.3 -- the same as Nash's in '06 -- which puts him at 14th in the league...right behind Al Jefferson. Yet I would be willing to bet my collection of brass Larry Bird door knockers that the same people who used the PER argument against me would totally ignore the fact that Dwyane Wade (33.2), LeBron James (33.1), and Chris Paul (32.3) are light years ahead of Kobe in terms of PER this season.
Don't mistake me, here. I'm not even remotely trying to start an MVP debate this early. In fact, I'd punch myself in the groin if I were. I'm just expressing my continued annoyance at the people, and there are still plenty of them, who use PER without context or perspective.
Amare Stoudemire: I don't know whether he's Standing Tall And Talented after scoring 21 points on 21 shots, but he probably shouldn't be. He would be so much better if he could develop one post move. Just one.
The Phoenix "home crowd": Late in the game, the crowd was cheering for the Lakers and somebody tells me that there was an "M-V-P!" chant for Kobe. Dear God.
Pau Gasol: From Basketbawful reader Jordan G: "My eyes are burning out of my sockets, now oozing down my skin. WHAT THE HELL WAS PAU GASOL DOING?! Was I the only person in the entire world who saw Pau Gasol push Matt Barnes face-first into the hardwood while Stoudamire was at at free throw line? Straight up. Fourth grade bully status. And as he ran down the floor you could hear someone yelling out from the crowd "You pushed him!" and he just gave a shoulder shrug like "Yo no do nada, senor." You could almost read Gasol's mind as if he said, "Dude...you're arguing with the guy that got away with the Chinaman face...didn't you see the Chinaman face?" Yeah, I noticed. But I was too busy hating Terry Porter at the time to care.
Kobe Bryant: His final line looked pretty decent (24 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists), but he shot 8-for-23 (and 1-for-5 from distance). And, frankly, that percentage was only partly due to the Suns' defense (such as it was). I don't know if Mamba wanted to prove something to Shaq or whether he was having flashbacks to the 2006 playoffs, but he forced up some really TURRIBLE shots last night. Even the broadcast team noticed it. Kobe is currently shooting 44 percent from the field...his worst percentage since 2004-05 (the Lakers' first post-Shaq season). That strikes me as more than a little odd considering how talented the team is. Based on his level of skill and abilities, I would think Kobe should be shooting a much better than that. But, as has always been the case with him, that percentage is often an extension of the kind of shots he takes (read that: forces). Yes, I know he draws a lot of defensive attention, but what superstar doesn't? Even guys without jumpers -- D-Wade (48 percent), LeBron (49 percent) and Chris Paul (50 percent) -- are doing better than that. I'm just sayin'.
Sasha Vujacic: This is belated by a couple days. It's Sasha boning a breakaway layup during the Bulls-Lakers game. Many thanks to the Anonymous commenter who left the link.
Another stupid fan: From Basketbawful reader Alexis: "It's only the first quarter, but I'd like to vote for the guy sitting courtside wearing a Lakers' Shaq jersey. Maybe sit one row back and spend the remaining cash on a current jersey. Get it together." Agreed. He and the "Iverson Who?" fan should get together and have a pajama party. Update! I didn't recognize the fan, but Clifton did: "The guy wearing the Shaq #34 Lakers jersey courtside was Michael Clarke Duncan (picture there). And as far as I'm concerned, if Michael Clarke Duncan wants to wear a two-teams-outdated Shaq jersey, Michael Clarke Duncan can wear a two-teams-outdated Shaq jersey. Sir." Uh, totally agreed.
Awesome jersey! Love it! Wear it often, sir!
Gilbert Arenas, quote machine: Don't worry, Wizard fans! Gilbert will be back soon to save the day! Or...will he? From Basketbawful's faithful Romanian reader Alex B: "Not sure if you've seen this one yet, but here goes. From Gilbert Arenas' new book, Tanking 101 (via the nba.com website): 'I don't want to see them struggle,' Arenas said Thursday at Madame Tussauds, where his wax figure was unveiled, "but if this is one of those years where we don't make the playoffs or we finish in last place...that's what happened to San Antonio and that's how they got Tim Duncan and look at them now...and that's for the better." Uh, Gil, isn't it a little early to start thinking about tanking? Geez.