LeBron sure is excited about that all-you-can-eat popcorn shrimp buffet...
Editor's note: This post contains 30 percent fewer fart and penis jokes. You know, in honor of the holiday. Also, Wild Yams continues to cover the Fakers.
Stan Van Gundy and Orlando's end-of-game defense (Game 2): Game 2 was almost a mirror image of Game 1, with the Crabs scurrying out to a huge first-half lead -- 23 points this time -- and the Magicians rat-a-tat-tatting their way back into it. (Is a great three-point shooting team EVER really out of the game?) Orlando cut the lead to 12 by halftime, to 6 by the end of the third quarter, and then tied the score (at 84-84) midway through the fourth. It was back-and-forth for the remainder of the quarter, and then Hedo Turkoglu nailed a three with about 48 ticks left to tie the score at 93-93.
Then there was a flat-out "I do NOT believe they just called that" moment as LeBron traveled en route to an apparent go-ahead layup...and the refs actually blew the whistle. (It was the correct call, so here's a wag of the finger to the Associated Press for saying it was "one of several calls that could have gone either way in a second half filled with whistles." Stating that a clear and obvious violation "could have gone either way" is sort of like suggesting that maybe it shouldn't have been called. Anyway...) After that, the Turkish Assassin hit another superclutch bucket to put the Magic up by 2 points with one second left. That's it. The Magic had to defend the ball for only one more second and they would have taken a 2-0 series lead back home for Game 3. But, well, you know...
Okay, sure, it's an amazing shot, particularly since King Crab isn't exactly an automatic basket from long distance. But there were so many things wrong with Orlando's defense on that play, even Joe Biden couldn't count them all. Here's Basketbawful reader J.R.'s take: "Great shot by LeBron. But it's hard to fathom the bawfulness of Orlando's one second of non-defense on that final play. Why in the world was Turkoglu guarding LeBron? Pietrus had been doing a good job on King James down the stretch, and last time I checked Turkoglu has never been confused with Bruce Bowen. But worst of all, they gave Mo Williams A FREE LOOK FOR THE INBOUNDS PASS as Rashard Lewis just stood five feet away guarding nobody. Too bad there haven't been any recent examples of tall defenders bothering short inbounds passers in endgame situations..." I'm guessing that he reason Van Gundy put Hedo on LeBron was because of his length, which, in theory, would make him tougher to shoot over. And yet, here's a quick quiz: Didn't the Magic sign Pietrus last July because he's supposedly a lockdown defender? Quick answer: Yes. But that said, I was troubled more by the fact that the Magic essentially conceded an inbounds pass to the league's MVP. I will never understand why so often the guy guarding the inbounds pass doesn't do anything. I mean, seriously. There are two options: Either get right up on the guy passing the ball so he can't get the angle he wants or double on the opposing team's biggest threat. Lewis didn't do either. He just stood their. Honestly, it was the worst ending I've seen since the Walker Texas Ranger movie.
Van Gundy screwed up big time...and he knows it. "I'd like to have that last one back from a coaching standpoint. I should have defended it differently. It's crushing enough to lose as a coach, but when you feel like you're the guy who could've made the difference, it hurts a lot more. I just want to win and we should have won." Note that if the Magic go on to lose this series, that one second of lousy defense will probably be the reason why.
Dwight Howard (Game 2): He had a MAN-type rebounding game (18), but he scored only 10 points (3-for-8) and had more blocks against (3) than blocks (2). I've got to tell you, Dwight's offense in these playoffs has gone a long way in explaining why Shaq gets pissed every time somebody compares him to Howard.
Friday lacktivity report: From Chris: "Tony Battie continues his playoff lacktivity with a 3.8 trillion, while preemptive human victory cigars Daniel Gibson and Tarence Kinsey each crawled onto the Power Pad for a sixteen-second dash as Mario Brothers, motivating King Crab to rescue the crustaceans at the last minute!"
The Denver Nuggets: Fresh off stealing home court advantage from the Lakers in Game 2, the Nuggets decided to give the Lakers a "welcome to Denver" present by giving it right back to them in Game 3. The good news for the Nuggets is that even though they don't have HCA anymore, the road team is now 2-1 in this series, so maybe they can pick it back up when they go to L.A. for Game 5. The bad news for Denver (and for anyone who's an NBA fan) is that the refs probably played too big a role in this game; whether it was because they were just worried things would get out of hand, or whether they thought the Lakers were due up for some good ol' road cookin'. Either way, the Lakers enjoyed a 45-31 free throw edge (not that they took advantage of it, since they missed 14 of those tries), and Chauncey Billups was the only Denver starter who didn't pick up at least 5 fouls (two starters, Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony, fouled out). Maybe the fact that the road team has had more free throw attempts in every game in this series is why they have won 2 of 3. I'm just sayin'.
The officials aside, the Nuggets had every chance to win this game anyway, and just like in Game 1, they pissed those chances away. To start with, Denver was out there shooting so many bad threes that you almost thought Antoine Walker and Jason Williams were playing for them. JR Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups combined to go 5-24 from three, and you don't need John Hollinger's calculator to tell you that's bad. Anthony Carter and Linas Kleiza (unable to recreate his Game 2 performance) also poured in three misses, to give Denver a 5-27 performance from distance on the night. On the bright side, at least the Birdman didn't attempt one.
Much like Game 1, the Lakers won this one on the back of Kobe Bryant, who spent so much time at the free throw line they should have just honorarily named it after him. Kobe found that with Melo saddled with foul trouble for much of the game he had a much easier time against the likes of JR Smith and Dahntay Jones (who also combined for 9 fouls). The Lakers also got great play from Trevor Ariza and Pau Gasol (with his series-high in points and his third double-double in all three games in the WCF), but they didn't get much help from anyone else. It was an odd game in that Denver had much more well-rounded contributions, but for the first time in the series lacked a real standout performance from anyone (other than maybe Chris Andersen), and it ultimately cost them the game and the series lead. Despite the good balance from Denver, not everyone played well, beginning with...
Kenyon Martin: K-Mart actually played a pretty good game at the defensive end of the floor, but on offense he was awful; and he finished the game off by doing an Anthony Carter impression that Nuggets fans could have done without. Martin was 3-10 for the game to finish with as many fouls as he had points (6). I'm sure Nuggets fans are wishing he'd fouled out sooner than he did though, since his play on an inbounds pass with the Nuggets down 2 with 37 seconds to go, pretty much cost Denver the game. Keep in mind that preceding this play the Nuggets had called a timeout and drawn up a play, but K-Mart was unable to find anyone to pass it to so they had to call a second timeout to avoid getting a five second call. So here you go, after not one but two timeouts, here is what Neck Lips did with the game on the line:
If just turning it over and giving the Lakers free throws wasn't bad enough (actually it could have been a clear path foul after all, since it looked Melo might not have grabbed Ariza till he was across half court), it forced Melo to use his 6th foul to prevent the layup, taking away the Nuggets best and most clutch player for the end of the game. K-Mart then fouled out himself 14 seconds later for intentionally fouling Kobe after the game was effectively over. At least K-Mart was able earlier in the half to bait Derek Fisher into a technical foul by shoving him in front of the referee.
JR Smith: I understand that the Nuggets really need Smith to get going in this series if they want to give themselves a chance to win, but lately Smith has been looking about as useless on the court as Sasha Vujacic; and like The Machine, Smith just kept firing in Game 3 even though they weren't falling for him. 2-10 from three point range and only 4-15 overall is not what his team needs (it also doesn't help when one of his threes has a point given back due to Smith getting T'd up for taunting afterward). With his shot not falling he should focus more on defense, but helping to allow Kobe Bryant to get 41 points shows poor play at both ends of the floor. The worst thing about the 15 shots Smith took is that you can't help but feel they may have come at the expense of someone else on the team getting touches, namely...
Carmelo Anthony: His streak of 30-pt games was halted at 5 after he only had 21 points in Game 3, and that was largely due to the fact that he only got 13 shots for the game. Even worse for the Nuggets is that 14 of Melo's 21 points came in the 1st quarter, which meant he was largely invisible for the rest of the game. There's no denying that Melo definitely stepped up huge in both games in LA, to the point where he'd started to enter the whole LeBron-Kobe-Wade discussion, but a game like this makes you remember why he's never been a part of that before now. The foul problems hurt, but the guy did still play 37 minutes for the game (second only to Chauncey Billups for the Nuggets). The bottom line is that he needs to get more shots, and his teammates need to make sure that happens.
The Lakers' point guards: I've been talking about it for a while, and I noticed that the TV crew made menion of this before Game 3, but it really is a risky thing to try to have a three man rotation at one spot at this time of the year, and you only need look at the production of the Lakers' point guards in this game to see why. Derek Fisher finished with 4 points in 26 minutes, Jordan Farmar finished with 2 points in 14 minutes and Shannon Brown finished with 2 points in 8 minutes, as the trio went a combined 4-12 for the game. They did contribute in other areas (Fisher had 3 steals, Farmar had 3 assists and Brown had a block), but in the Lakers offense they need these guys first and foremost to hit wide open shots, especially from downtown (where these guys were 0-4), and they just didn't do that.
Sasha Vujacic: Another game in which he had at least as many missed shots as points. I'm not sure what in his recent play made Phil Jackson decide he needed twice as many minutes in Game 3 as he got in Game 2, but maybe The Machine has some compromising photos of Big Chief Trianlge. Or maybe Phil is senile.
The soon-to-be classic "player with arms out complaining" stock photo.
The Cleveland Cavaliers (Game 3): Okay, what happened to the team that was steamrolling its way to the NBA Finals? Could it be that bullying lousy teams like the Pistons and Hawks made the Crabs look a helluva lot better than they actually are? I'll let you answer that question for yourself. (Here's a hint: Yes.) There's no big story here. Cleveland simply got outplayed...despite a few iffy calls that might've gone their way. (Like, for instance, that truly bawful call that fouled out Dwight Howard. If Superman had gotten any more ball on that play, we probably would have found out afterward that Dwight's hand WAS the ball.) The Craboliers got a near triple-double out of King Crab (41/7/9), but shot 37 percent as a team, missed 21 of their 26 three-point attempts and blew nine free throws. That's not how you win on the road in the NBA playoffs.
Even more damning is that this loss came in the face of constant foul trouble for Dwight (who played only 27 minutes), a gak-inspiring shooting performance by Turkoglu (1-for-11) and 12 bonked FTs by the Magic as a team. And oh sweet Lady Marmalade, what an ugly game this was: 86 free throws attempted, 58 personal fouls called, two technicals, and a flagrant. Oh, and about 726 player complaints to the officials. It was painful. I've have hangovers that were more enjoyable to sit through than that friggin' mess. Let's not forget, also, that the flagrant I mentioned resulted in blood, stitches and an ejection:
LeBron James (Game 3): Yes, he was his team's main man last night, but he missed more field goals (17) than he made (11), went 1-for-8 from downtown (you gotta stop shooting them at some point, 'Bron) and bricked 6 free throws, including two in a row with under two minutes remaining and his team down 92-86. Must have been for that Game 2 game-winner...
Everybody on Cleveland who isn't LeBron James (Game 3): Remember all the hand-wringing that went on in Cleveland when Mo Williams wasn't named an All-Star on the first go-around last February? Well, the coaches were right the first time. And Mo sure didn't step up last night: 15 points on 16 shots, 3-for-10 from distance and a game-high 5 turnovers. Delonte West had more fouls (5) and TOs (4) than assists. Big Z went 3-for-10 from the field (including a trio of missed threes) before fouling out in 30 minutes. Sideshow Bob finished with more fouls (6) than points or rebounds (4 each). The bench shot 4-for-11 and finished with more fouls (10) than points (8). Is this REALLY the best team in the league?!
LeBron's amazing "block from behind" on Courtney Lee: NBA.com made this their block of the night:
I just want to remind everybody that when ANY part of the ball is over the cylinder on a shot attempt, touching it is a goal tend. But whatever. Orlando got the offensive board and Rafer Alston hit a jumper less than 10 seconds later. And Courtney Lee learned a valuable lesson: Dunk that ball home next time. And he did (welcome to the poster, 'Bron):
Random playoff thoughts: From Stephanie G:
1. The Cavs are playing like a team with Mo Williams as their second best player.
3. Game 3 of Cleveland-Orlando by the numbers: both teams combined for 98 FGA, 43 3PA and 86 FTs. How is that even possible? That's an abomination. The most pathetic fact is that LeBron had by far his worst shooting performance of the entire playoffs (11-28, 39%) but that was still somehow better than the rest of his team put together (18/50, 36%).
4. The refs in the whole playoffs but particularly in the Cleveland/Orlando series have been god awful. Can I get an amen? How can the NBA look at this and say yeah, this is an acceptable product, let's not try to change anything next year? Games nowadays seem to mostly consist of players complaining to the refs all night, making pained faces, and flopping trying to bait calls, like a game within a game. And then pretty much every game thread on the two forums I visit are composed of people legitimately bitching about the refs anyway. It doesn't help that it seems most of the refs are in their 70s and that LeBron is approaching Wade 2006 "I can do whatever I want and it's a foul on you" mode.
5. Orlando is probably the hardest team to rig against, from a conspiracy nut viewpoint -- they just keep draining threes, which forces the refs to make more absurd calls. Even all those phantom fouls against Dwight weren't enough in the end.
6. Tell me I'm not the only one rooting for an Orlando-Denver finals out of spite for this whole contrived LeBron/Kobe propaganda campaign. I want to see vitamin water execs and the smug talking heads on ESPN jumping out of windows.
Sunday lacktivity report: From Chris: "As Orlando held home court for Game 3, the same folks as the last battle snapped into lacktion, with a new face joining the fray. Tony Battie followed up his wealth-seeking expedition with a 58-second quest through the Mushroom Kingdom for a one-foul/+1 suck differential Mario, also counting as a 1:0 Madsen-level Voskuhl. Also exploring the realm of Giant Land was Tarence Kinsey, who made one giant crawl towards lacktion immortality with what appears to be a one-foul/+1 SUPER MARIO GALAXY of less than a second!!!!!! Daniel Gibson once again continues to avoid contribution, this time clawing out a brick from downtown for a +1 in 2:56. And Anthony Johnson spent a full 6:16 lacking it up with four bricks (twice from the charity stripe) and two fouls for a +6."