Here's a new twist on an old theme...the sad standing bench.
The Orlando Magic: Remember: This was supposed to be a better Magic team than the one that made the NBA Finals last year. All the experts said so. The numbers said so. Their 8-0 record and monstrous point differential through the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs said so. Just like a Weekly World News Headline -- "Bat Boy pregnent with Hitler's Robot Baby" -- it was a scientific fact.
Here's another fact for you: The Magic are now 0-2 in their Eastern Conference Final series with the Boston Celtics. And Orlando is 0-5 all-time in playoff series in which they lose the first two games. Okay, that was two facts, but you see what I'm getting at.
Of course, I've been saying all season that these Magic weren't as good as last year's squad, no matter what lies the experts and their stats were telling us. The 2008-09 Magic had a system. Dwight Howard anchored the defense and took care of the heavy lifting, and Hedo Turkoglu facilitated the offense and took over scoring duties in crunch time. The 2009-10 Magic replaced Hedo with Vag Carter. And that's pretty much where I rested my argument...and I was right. But we'll get back to that.
For the game, Orlando managed only 92 points on 39 percent shooting. Mind you, this was despite a 9-for-13 night from Dwight Howard. Speaking of which, I have to give Pumaman credit. After getting roughed up and beaten down in Game 1, Dwight said he was going to change his tactics. And he did. Instead of trying to elbow past or straight through his Celtic defenders, Howard made much quicker moves, stopped trying to over-dribble and power his way through the defense, and seemingly developed a quick-spin hook shot overnight.
Dwight finished with a game-high 30 points and even went 12-for-17 at the free throw line, which is pretty freaking good for him.
But I made this point yesterday: The Celtics don't necessarily care about stopping their opponent's superstar. Sure, they want to make life as rough on that player as they can, but their brilliance is in stopping "the other guys." I'm always telling BadDave and Evil Ted this, but in many cases, if not most cases, superstars don't win championships. The role players do. The Birds, Jordans, Magics, etc., those types of players are going to get their numbers. They always do. But it's John Paxson or Robert Horry or Steve Kerr hitting a clutch jumper that usually swings things one way or the other. Heroics from an unexpected source.
The Celtics wouldn't let that happen.
The non-Howard Magic starters were 13-for-42 from the field. J.J. Redick was the only player to do much scoring off the bench -- he finished with 16 points -- but went 3-for-9 from the field. Of course, in all fairness, Redick did go 2-for-3 from downtown and 8-for-8 from the line. Moreover, he had 4 assists, a surprising 2 offensive boards (both on the same possession), and helped keep the Magic from falling apart in the first half. In fact, Redick logged 34 minutes and finished with Orlando's best plus-minus score (+5).
Next to Howard, Redick was the Magic's most important player. I hope you see why that was a huge-ish problem.
Here are some other numbers for your enjoyment: Orlando gave up 22 points off only 14 turnovers. Furthermore, they were outrebounded 38-36 and outscored 36-34 in the paint. Those last two disadvantages aren't staggering, except that the Magic were supposed to win the paint and rebounding battles handily. After all, Howard is the best center in the league, right? And the Celtics are a bad rebounding team, aren't they?
Some theories just don't hold up.
Reality check: The Magic hadn't lost back-to-back home games since losing Games 4 and 5 of the 2009 NBA Finals. For all intents and purposes, that ended Orlando's title run. Seems like history could be repeating itself here.
Vince Carter: Like I said above, when they replaced Turkoglu -- who was indeed overpaid by the Raptors but had proven himself as the Magic's go-to guy -- with Half Man, Half A Nutsack, I wrote Orlando off as a true championship threat. With Hedo gone, who was going to take over clutch duties for the Magic? Pumaman, who has 1.5 post moves and can't hit free throws? Rashard Lewis, who's never liked doing the dirty work and can't really create his own shot? Nope, Vinsanity was the Magic's new Captain Crunch. He was the only one who had the capability to do it.
And last night, that fact bit the Magic in their magical ass.
I'll give him this much: Carter hit two or three really tough shots, which naturally led Mark Jackson to exclaim, "And that's why the Magic got Vince Carter...to hit big shots!" And just as naturally, Jeff Van Gundy pointed out that those "tough shots" were actually "bad shots"...and that knocking them down is a sort of fool's gold.
As usual, Van Gundy was right.
Vag went 5-for-15, grabbed only 1 rebound, dished only 1 assist and committed 3 turnovers. But Carter's biggest eff up came when it mattered most. Of course. The Magic were down three points with 34.7 seconds left, but Stan Van Gundy wrote up a play that worked: Carter got free on a drive and almost made it to the rim before getting fouled by Paul Pierce. All Carter had to do was knock down both freebies and the Magic would have a really good chance to steal this game.
Vag bricked the first. Right before the second attempt, the camera zoomed in on Carter's face. I swear, he looked like a Fear Factor contestant who had just been asked to eat a giant plate full of cow testicles that were covered in crawling insects. I immediately said, "Nope," as in, "He is so going to shank that second free throw."
And he did.
Update! Okay, first of all, I realize cow's don't have balls. It was s'posed to be part of the joke. But anyway, Evil Ted and I were just talking about the game and I came up with a better analogy: Have you ever been stuck somewhere -- on a train, or a plane, or in a car on the highway -- and suddenly been hit with a case of diarrhea? All you can do is screw up your will power and try to hold it in. That's the look Vince had on his face...the look of a man who was terrified that he was about to shit his pants. And then he did it.
Said Carter: "I don't take losses well."
That's funny, Vince, because you've had a lot of practice. Everybody knows this is Carter's first trip to a conference finals, right?
Carter continued: "They bring me in to make plays and deliver in crunch time. For me to step up there and miss two free throws, regardless, this doesn't sit well with me."
Well, I'm sure Magic fans are utterly relieved that blowing the game doesn't sit well with you. Like a Hello Kitty band-aid, that just makes it all better.
"Don't blame me. Basketbawful warned y'all."
As Basketbawful reader Kazam92 said:
Hedo wouldn't miss those FT's, he'd likely also hit that 3 that nelson bricked earlier.
just a reminder:
Update! The Ghost of Nick Anderson: I can't believe I didn't include this on my first try:
J.J. Redick: After Game 1, Basketbawful reader Basebawful said: "I think J.J Redick should play more minutes, the guy is a hustler, plays great defense on Ray Allen and shoots great. That run at the end of the game was in part because of him."
To which Cortez replied: "If they go this route...Celtics in 3 because they'll cancel the last game to pay respects to Redick's smoldering corpse."
Well, Redick did get big minutes in Game 2, and for the most part, he delivered. But...he also made the second-biggest eff up of the game.
After Carter bonked those foul shots, the Celtics used their full 24 seconds before missing a shot. Redick grabbed the rebound, but instead of calling time out, he took off toward half court. Not only did he run crucial seconds off the clock, he never made it over the half court stripe before finally calling for time. This meant that not only were the Magic left with only 3.5 seconds, they had to take the ball out from beyond half court.
Okay, maybe that was the biggest eff up of the game.
Said Van Gundy: "[Immediately calling timeout] would have made a big difference. We said in the thing to call a timeout. We didn't make the right play there at the end."
Added Redick: "I made a mistake. I didn't hear the whistle initially. When I didn't hear it initially, I just kind of went, then I realized we should have called a timeout. So that was my fault."
Pretty much, yeah.
I expect him to start smoldering soon...
Rashard Lewis: Back in 2007, a lot of people had a mini-freakout when the Magic decided to give Lewis a six-year, $110 million contract. I mean, how do you pay that much for a guy who can't create his own shot, doesn't generate offense for his teammates, never rebounded well for his size and doesn't play much defense?
But the Magic have gone 170-76 and made an NBA Finals since Lewis arrived, which forced people to kind of back off. But, well, the dude has been lost against the Celtics. Take last night's performance: 41 minutes, 5 points, 2-for-6 from the field, 1-for-3 from downtown, 4 rebounds. If Jackson and Van Gundy hadn't kept saying that the Magic needed Rashard to do something, I honestly would have forgotten he was even out there...that he was even still alive.
For God's sake, J.J. scored over three times as many points as Lewis did!
Mark Jackson, quote machine: As Basketbawful reader Luke pointed out: "Incredible! Mark Jackson just suggested that given the foul trouble of the Celtics big men, Brian Scalabrine could come in and guard Dwight Howard." That was a truly frightening moment for Boston fans. Fortunately for those fans and Scal himself, it never came to pass.
Amar''''''e Stoudemire: When Lamar Odom outrebounded him 19-3 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, well, that should have been a wakeup call, right?
Said STAT: "I'm not giving him no hype right now; he had a lucky game in Game 1. We just got to make sure we box him out. I think I focused so much on [Pau] Gasol and [Andrew] Bynum to where he snuck in there and got 19 boards, so now we just got to make sure there's three guys out there that can rebound well [when] adding Odom. So, we got to do a better job on them."
Luck, huh? See, to me, rebounding is more about hard work and determination than luck. Do you know who leads the Suns in defensive rebounding during the 2010 NBA playoffs? It's 37-year-old Grant Hill with 59 defensive boards. Meanwhile, Stoudemire has only 41 defensive rebounds despite playing 75 more minutes than Hill. What's more, Stoudemire barely ranks ahead of Steve Nash in Defensive Rebounding Rate in the playoffs (12.5 to 10.3). Hill leads the team in DRR at 22.2.
There are several things that bother me about Stoudemire as a big man...and rebounding is one of them. I watch the Suns play a lot, and it seems lik Amar’e isn’t a big fan of going after contested defensive rebounds. And at times, he doesn’t do a great job of boxing out. Again, Lamar Odom outrebounded him 19-3.
Luck has nothing to do with it.
The NBA Draft Lottery: I'll leave this one to the readers:
2. Aaron Brooks for forgetting his pocket protector.
3. The guy interviewing John Wall for giving me the most awkward thing I've seen since I-don't-know-when.
The wizards were gunning for that #1 spot and hit the target. Good for them. They had John Wall in their cross-hairs and took aim at turning their team around and shot for the stars. Shoot, with a little bit of luck, every team has a shot to turn around their fortune. No more riding shotgun for them in this league. Now lets see if they pull the trigger on Wall or shoot themselves in the foot and go another direction. Couldnt have happened to a better team. David Stern has to be happy Arenas will be a mentor to the NBA's next big star. Go Wiz!!
Yesterday's officiating tirade: Yesterday, I wrote a thousand-word post about why the Phoenix Suns got blasted in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Nowhere in that post was officiating mentinoed. Officiating got brought up in the comments section, I made a non-comment, and then things went berserk...leading to the following comment in the BAD comments by Basketbawful reader Fishy:
According to just about every fan, their team would be 82-0 during the season and 16-0 during the playoffs if it weren't for the refs.
When my team loses I tend to remember all the missed free throws, turnovers, bad shots, bad defense, mental lapses, non-box-outs, and all the things MY TEAM DID TO LOSE and THE OTHER TEAM DID TO WIN....
... not a few bad calls that went against us, because there for sure were a few bad calls that helped us too just like every damn game. Every. Game.
Naturally, most fans don't see the calls that go their way, just the ones that didn't.
It gets old people! The refs suck. We know. Now go focus on your team.
Here's what gets me about the whole situation. I never said the Suns lost because of officiating. AnacondaHL, who opened the can of worms, never said the Suns lost because of officiating. All that was said was this: There were some iffy calls on Grant Hill, and based on the numbers -- the Lakers were only +2 on the night when Hill was in the game, and they didn't break the game open until Hill got sent to the bench with his fourth foul and subsequent bogus technical -- that had an impact on the game.
Nobody said the Suns would have won had Grant not been the leading actor in The Phantom Foul Menace. Seriously, go back and reread that thousand-word post that doesn't mention officiating, then read all the comments. Nobody said the Suns would have won...and plenty of reasons were given for why they lost.
Which brings me back to why I didn't bring the officiating up in the first place: I didn't want some Lakers fans freaking out. That fact is, officiating has been brought up on this site -- both in posts and in the various comments sections -- many times during these playoffs. In fact, here's a bad call that went the Suns' way during their first round series with the Frail Blazers...a call, I would like to point out, that was prominently featured on this very site:
Amazingly, even shockingly, there wasn't a big deal made about that or any other crack on playoff officiating. Everybody has been able to either agree that bad calls are made sometimes or they shrug it off. End of story. Because, by and large, Basketbawful attracts a reasonably intelligent crowd of basketball fans who realize that there are countless factors that go into each and every win or loss.
I mean, if there was ONE REASON a team got beaten, my Worst of the Night posts would be pretty damn short, wouldn't they?
So please, as the leading provider of free basketball humor on the Interwebs, I'm asking everyone to do me a favor. Before you start labeling people as "pathetic" or "whiners," do me a favor and just read the posts. If I or somebody else clearly and sincerely states that Team A only beat Team B because of bad officiating -- that lousy calls were the only reason for a win or loss -- then by all means correct that person. But going on a bitter rant about nothing accomplishes, well, nothing. We're all here for a good time, not a war of words.
Update! Joe DeRosa: Talk about crafty: Mr. DeRosa tossed a basketball to an angry fan, and when the fan threw it back to him, Joe signaled for security to throw the fan out...and they did. Well, not really. The Orlando Sentinel says the fan is Wyndham Vacation Ownership CEO Franz Hanning, who was simply moved to another (probably not quite as good) seat. The Sentinel also says Hanning is an acquaintance of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who lives in Orlando.